Sister Lychen had a word of prophesy every Sunday in her Pentecostal Church. She’d stand up and say, “The Lord has revealed to me that I will be caught up in the clouds of glory.” Every week, the same prophesy.
Eugene’s parents would make him take Sister Lychen a plate of cookies, and when he’d get to her house, he would find all the blinds down, and all the shutters closed. Old Sister Lychen lived in a house of gloom. She was waiting to die. Eugene Peterson writes that Sister Lychen represents a brand of Christian faith where life here and now is just a trial, so that life can really start in heaven. You know, someday.
Eugene had a fantasy of bursting into Sister Lychen’s house, opening all the window blinds, and saying, “Sister Lychen, look! There’s a whole world outside! There’s a world of turtles and hummingbirds and hawks and grizzly bears.”
You gotta smile…
Although if we’re honest we’ll admit that we all have some shutters or blinds somewhere in our mental house. It’s our way of waiting for someday.
“When you coming home, dad?”
“I don’t know when, But we’ll get together then.
You know we’ll have a good time then.”
Waiting for real life to begin. A life free from anxiety and sorrow.
Here’s the deal: We are wired to savor. This life. To be here. Now.
And yet, there are plenty of reasons why we prefer the shutters closed. Including lament about the intrusion of news that swirls and rages. Speaking of, the conversation and speculation about the coronavirus can be unnerving, for good reason, underscored by the fact that we don’t yet have an antidote. Which is a reminder that without a healthy immune system for my spiritual and emotional well-being, I am at the mercy of “viruses” that disconnect me from living in the present: fear, cynicism, withdrawal and discontent.
Lord knows that there’s a plethora of cheerleaders (with can’t miss advice or products) who find great motivation in lists, and will give (or sell) me a list of things I need to do to find inner peace, and live in the moment. Sort of like the movie, Bucket List. That list of things we want (or need or feel compelled) to do before we die.
In a small bookstore, I saw a book called 10,000 things to do before you die. I had just started my own list, with only two things on it, so the number 10,000 made me a little dizzy. So, I did what needed to be done: I headed out into my garden, on this sunny day in February. (No, that’s not a typo.) This is pure gift, the sun warming the healing ache from garden labor. I watch my cat play near the stream, apparently unaware of any pressure about a list of things to complete before cat heaven. The good news? For a chunk of time I didn’t care one whit about any list to check off that would make my life complete.
But hey, if you’re a list maker, more power to you. Just don’t make it so heavy it weighs you down.
I guess if push came to shove, I could make a list with at least two things.
One. Practice the prayer suggested by a Buddhist monk, “If I should wake before I die…”
Two. Savor a Sabbath Moment (or day if you let it stretch). Sit still and let the other stuff go. If you’re lucky, a hummingbird or turtle or hawk (or perchance even a grizzly bear) may stop by. You see, if rest is woven into the fabric of our very selves, then Sabbath is the Creator’s invitation to re-create, dance, celebrate, enjoy, take pleasure in, absorb this gift called life. An invitation to live–to enter into, to be present in–this life, without the need to complete the list for the life yet to be. These encounters or connections (whether our art or our work) is called a gift because it cannot be treated as a commodity. Or hoarded. Or bought and traded. It can only be given, bestowed, offered and shared. It is always on the move, lightening the load of fellow travelers and opening blinds that have been closed for too long.
Years ago, writing a talk about being so focused on our bucket list we miss the present moment, I asked for input at dinner. “Pass the blackberry cobbler,” my son says. At least I tried. But later, Zach brings me the book The Three Questions by Leo Tolstoy. “Here Dad, this might help.” In the rewrite by John Muth, a boy named Nikolai thought that if he only knew the answers to three questions, he would never stray in any matter.
What is the best time to do each thing?
Who are the most important people to work with?
What is the most important thing (the right thing) to do at all times?
In Tolstoy’s version, the emperor issued a decree throughout his kingdom, announcing that whoever could answer these questions would receive a great reward. Many who read the decree made their way to the palace at once, each person with a different answer. The hermit stood up and looked at the emperor. “But your questions have already been answered.”
“How’s that?” the emperor asked, puzzled.
“Yesterday, if you had not taken pity on my age and given me a hand with digging these beds, you would have been attacked by that man on your way home. Then you would have deeply regretted not staying with me. Therefore the most important time was the time you were digging in the beds, the most important person was myself, and the most important pursuit was to help me. Later, when the wounded man ran up here, the most important time was the time you spent dressing his wound, for if you had not cared for him he would have died and you would have lost the chance to be reconciled with him. Likewise, he was the most important person, and the most important pursuit was taking care of his wound. Remember that there is only one important time and it is Now. The most important person is always the person with whom you are, who is right before you. The most important pursuit is making that person, the one standing at your side, happy, for that alone is the pursuit of life.”
Tonight, I raise a glass to this day, and the invitation to savor it. And I look forward to later this week, as I head to Anaheim for the Religious Education Congress. I’ll see some of you there.
Quote for your week…
The spiritual life is not a life before, after, or beyond our everyday existence. No, the spiritual life can only be real when it is lived in the midst of the pains and joys of the here and now. Henri Nouwen
Note: 1. Speaking of living in the present, Our new eCourse This Is The Life, begins February 24. Ten sessions. Check it out and join us. Perfect for those who observe Lent. An invitation to pause and savor the sacred present.
2. Join me: Discover the Shrines of Ireland. September 24 — October 02. Here’s the information.
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Today’s photo credit — First crocus, Nashville, TN, Louis Squires… thank you Lois… (Last week, empty church, Kent Bohls)… keep sending your photos… send to firstname.lastname@example.org
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In the mailbag… because your letters affirm us all…
–Thank you for your words this morning. I woke from a fitful nights sleep. Yesterday I had a very heated and emotional conversation with a friend from the opposite political aisle. It’s not something I do very often. I’ve tended to keep my head in the sand. But conversation is the only way we will move forward from this very polarized situation. It occurred to me as I was reading sabbath moment today that in all my points yesterday, I forgot about love, I forgot about abundance, I forgot about grace. Thank you for your Monday missive. Great way to start the week. Lisa
–Dear Terry, Every week I look forward to your words of inspiration. They spill light into the dark corners of my day and help me navigate the journey, which is always grace filled. A couple of weeks ago I stumbled across this song on youtube when I was pondering the gift of “Living Water”… “The Well” by Casting Crowns. Thank you for the gift that you are. Peace & Blessings, Peg
–Terry thank you for spilling your light. You are bring such joy to people you have never met. That’s living your life with purpose. Thank you. Kim
–Thank you for sending your new book, This is the Life! Today was a gray and rainy day, and your book gave me the permission I needed to delay my to do list in favor of inspiration! Now your new book is filled with a rainbow of colorful post-it notes, reminders to pause and return. When I finished your book, your Sabbath Moment appeared! Bless you for sharing, and for always being there for us. Godspeed always, Sky Ann
–Hi Terry. The sacrament of the present..one of your many gifts to us. As I watch the sky each morning i remind myself of this John O’Donahue Quote. Embrace the day as sacred space. As always blessings and gratitude!! Fran
–HI Terry: I had to write you, I had a wonderful trip made even more wonderful because I received your Sabbath Moment and read your book This is The Life while I was traveling. My husband and I were in the post card perfect country side of New Zealand. You used a term, “Arrested by the Beauty”. And so, that was my mantra during my entire trip as I caught myself in awe of the New Zealand landscape. And as if that was not enough, you shared the video of Yo Yo Ma. I tell you, nothing will stay more clear in my mind (and in my soul) than awakening to the sight and sound of the Huka river outside my window, with Yo Yo Ma playing in the background. I was truly arrested, several times a day, in NZ… by the beauty. You are a wonderful travel partner. Thank you for adding such richness to our days in NZ. Sincerely, K
–Sometimes I feel like that abandoned church. Thanks be to God, the windows are open to the world, so I can’t stay in myself for long. Karen
POEMS AND PRAYERS
I bought a cheap watch from a crazy man
Floating down canal
It doesn’t use numbers or moving hands
It always just says now
Jimmy Buffett – Breathe In, Breathe Out
The path to your door
Is the path within:
Is made by animals,
Is lined by flowers,
Is lined by thorns,
Is stained with wine,
Is lit by the lamp of sorrowful dreams,
Is washed with joy,
Is swept by grief,
Is blessed by the lonely traffic of art,
Is known by heart,
Is known by prayer,
Is lost and found,
Is always strange,
The path to your door.
Never Give Up
No matter what is going on
Never give up
Develop the heart
Too much energy in your country
Is spent developing the mind
Instead of the heart
Not just to your friends
But to everyone
Work for peace
In your heart and in the world
Work for peace
And I say again
Never give up
No matter what is going on around you
Never give up