Going through his five-year-old son’s backpack, a father found a picture of a little boy standing under a rainbow crying. His first thought was, “Oh God, my son is having some serious problems.”
When he asked his son about the picture, the little boy told his father that he had been playing at school, and he saw a rainbow. “Dad,” the little boy said, “the rainbow was so beautiful it made me cry.”
The child is arrested by (captivated by, rapt in, awestruck by, absorbed in) beauty. Why? Because he has no restrictor plate in his soul.
All of earth is crammed with heaven,
and every bush aflame with God,
but only those who see take off their shoes.
Elizabeth Barrett Browning
The child experiences his rainbow moment “without shoes.”
I agree with Amy Rosenthal, “If rainbows did not exist and someone said wouldn’t it be cool to paint enormous stripes of color across the sky, you’d say yes, ‘That would be very cool–impossible but very cool.’ Children are totally tuned into the miracle of rainbows–that’s why they are forever drawing them.”
In the world of a child, awe precedes faith.
In our adult world, we place a premium on belief (or belief systems) instead of awe.
We put the cart before the horse.
Somewhere down the road our filter (as adults we have filters–which act like security checkpoints–for evaluating, judging and appraising events or emotions on a cost-benefit basis) removes us (distances us) from the experience,
…from our emotions,
…from our yearning,
…from our pain,
…and from our prayers.
It reminds me of the woman who told me that her prayer time was always bogged down by the fear that she “wasn’t doing it correctly.”
“To pray is to take notice of the wonder,” Rabbi Abraham Heschel writes, “to regain a sense of the mystery that animates all being, the divine margin in all attainment; prayer is our humble answer to the inconceivable surprise of living.”
Jesus is unequivocal. “Unless you become like children, you will not experience the kingdom of Heaven.” For children, wonderment grows in the soil of surprise.
It is all about our capacity to receive.
My friend tells me the story about an ecumenical and integrated church service, held in northern Louisiana. She attended the service with her priest. The service integrated black and white clergy, of various denominations, including black Methodist and black Baptist preachers. It featured a choir from one of the local Black Baptist churches.
For my friend, raised in Louisiana, having lived her life in a segregated world, this was a new and challenging experience. The service began, and she was wholly enthralled. She felt it, viscerally; the way the music lifted her up, nourishing and full of joy. It surrounded her, and filled the sanctuary. It was her first experience in a church where she “gave in” to being enraptured.
Absorbing the music, inspired by the preaching, feeling a connection to the people around her–in pews filled with all manner of folk, mingled color and status, shared smiles and laughter–she told herself, “This is what heaven will be like.” She let her tears flow freely.
In the car after, beginning the drive home, her priest said (in a tone undisguised), “Wasn’t that positively dreadful?”
He continued by listing all the problems and blunders with the liturgy, oblivious to the woman’s joy.
His words stung. She sat silent, assuming she had done something wrong to give in to such unadulterated joy.
We have moved from wonderment to consumption. It becomes the very antithesis of beauty–predicated on rushing, hurry and urgency. There is an attempt to “Christianize” it, by adding Jesus or God to the price tag. Eugene Peterson points out that in the end we have some kind of “spiritual self-help consumerism (lead, teach, garden and cook like Jesus; 3, 4, 5, 10, or 21 laws, steps, or plans for the meaningful life), all of which leave us busier, more accomplished, but never filled.”
So, sadly, we wean our children from wonder. I love the practice in Jewish tradition; children are given a taste of honey on their tongues during the celebration of the Torah. This is to remind them that the word of God is “sweet as honey” (Ezekiel 3:3).
Again, Rabbi Abraham Heschel’s reminder that “We teach children how to measure and how to weigh. We fail to teach them how to revere, how to sense wonder and awe.”
The consumer myth tells me that there is something else I must add to my life. But savoring is not about addition. It is about subtraction.
I begin by removing the restrictor plate. Which is learning to let go of my need for some kind of assumed need for control. And when I do, I see that there is a connection between savoring and mindful awareness.
Four years ago, I had a connective tissue disorder. I assumed last week it had returned. I was wrong. I have the flu. (Which is not precise, as the flu does whatever it wishes. My first time with the flu and no expectations, I received this pastoral nugget from my friend Ed, “You’ll be gently led to death’s door.” “Thanks, that’s heartwarming.”
And I like this discerning medical question, “Do you feel like you’ve been hit by a truck?” I nod. “Yep, that’s it then.” And after telling my doc I’d experienced fever for six days, she said, “Oh, you must have one of the real flus.” Real flu? Maybe I don’t want to know.
Let’s just say that being mindful hasn’t been my strong suit this week. So, I needed that five-year-old boy’s rainbow reminder. Telling me that it’s never too late to tend the soil of surprise. I’m grateful for your well wishes, notes and cards. A blessed week to all, on our way toward Christmas Eve…
Here’s the deal this Christmas…
If I am rushing, I do not see.
If I do not see, I am not present.
If I am not present, I cannot savor beauty. Or joy.
Quotes for your week…
Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful, we must carry it with us or we find it not. Ralph Waldo Emerson
Everyone needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and cheer and give strength to body and soul alike. John Muir
POEMS AND PRAYERS
You have traveled too fast over false ground;
Now your soul has come to take you back.
Take refuge in your senses, open up
To all the small miracles you rushed through.
Become inclined to watch the way of rain
When it falls slow and free.
Imitate the habit of twilight,
Taking time to open the well of color
That fostered the brightness of day.
Draw alongside the silence of stone
Until its calmness can claim you.
in this Advent season, may we give
To our enemy, forgiveness.
To an opponent, tolerance.
To a friend, our heart.
To a customer, service.
To all, charity.
To every child, a good example.
To our self, respect.