GK Chesterton tells the story of a teenage boy granted one wish by a genie. “Do you wish to be huge or tiny?”
We are all swayed by the appeal of being big, strong and powerful. So, the boy chose huge.
The outcome was predictable: in a few hours, the boy was bored. Because of his size, he walked around the world in only a few steps. Scaled the largest mountains. Like any child 30 minutes after the presents are opened, “Is that all there is?”
You see, Chesterton goes on to say, only “tiny people” can celebrate and enjoy life. Tiny people have nothing to prove, no score to settle, no one to impress. They approach each day, not from power, or the need to dominate or defeat, but from respect. They are fueled by gratitude and the freedom to receive. Here’s the deal: “tiny people” see God incognito in the everyday stuff of life. They savor simple pleasures. Yes. Blessed are the meek…
But somewhere along the way to adulthood, something gums up the system. In everyone’s life, during life’s low points, our inner fire goes out. In my case, more than once. And I was sure being “tiny” wasn’t the answer. But this week I’ve been preparing for the upcoming eCourse, Soul Gardening. About a lesson, I continue to learn. To find success (some version of being powerful or huge) doesn’t necessarily mean that you gain health. So, we go about our merry and hectic way, accumulating and weighing, measuring and posturing, hoping that the balance sheet of life judges us with kindness. Until that one day when you look into the mirror and ask yourself, “Why?” and you decide then and there to set about reclaiming that which has been lost—namely, you.
I do know this. I did not set out to find answers, health, happiness, the good life, or even God. In fact, I did not “set out” at all. I knew only that my soul felt malnourished. Then one day I found myself in the garden, and quite without fanfare, the journey began.
As long as our culture worships at the altar of bravado and swagger, we live disconnected. When we are afraid to be tiny or humble or meek, we live paranoid and anxious. I loved the article in this morning’s NYT, about Pope Francis, the “Anti-Strongman.” That faith is less about the use of power to shape the social order—the stuff of present strongmen and past popes—than about straightforward efforts of kindness and generosity, the gifts from a heart glad to be alive.
This recent magazine headline was too good to be true. “Experts disagree on how to be happy.”
One side says, “Be focused. Organized. Get stuff done.”
The other says, “Don’t do so much. Stop and smell the roses.”
I can picture it. A “my-happiness-is-better-than-your-happiness” bar-room brawl, in the end both sides deciding that happiness comes from kicking the stuffing out of someone else.
This much we know: Like everything else, our culture has turned contentment into some sort of an achievement, a contest, a beauty pageant. And in the end, it kind of defeats the point. It reminds me of a Farside Cartoon. Two cows standing in a field munching grass. One says to the other, “I don’t care what they say. I’m not content.”
For me, I put my money on Mary Howitt’s observation. “He (or she) is happiest who hath power to gather wisdom from a flower.”
Savor simple pleasures. What Rudolph Otto referred to as, “Mysterium Tremendum.” Translated, it means “the bare mystery of simply being.”
It is no surprise that Jesus begins all his parables this way; with a seed, lilies, a camel, wheat, a pearl, a candle. He obviously wanted us to look closely at this world, not some other one. It is here and now, all around us in the most ordinary things, that we find the Kingdom (which he reminded us, “is here”), and that we are in the divine presence.
Being fully alive is a sensual fiesta. Being alive in this world–squarely in the sights, sounds, smells, and tastes of this day.
Irenaeus got it right a long time ago. “The Glory of God is man (or woman) fully alive.”
Simple pleasures are the source of joy because they ground us. They connect us to our humanity, they connect us to the earth, to our senses. Because simple pleasures are extremely sensual. And on a spiritual plane, humans are fully alive when we’re most in touch with our senses. Yes… Belly laughter, Listening to the dawn, Planting a flower, Hugs from a child, A phone call from a friend, A glass of Bordeaux after a long day, The rich smell of the earth after a spring-rain, Tears during a good movie, The consoling purr of a docile cat, Filtered sunlight through the morning bedroom window, Memories of childhood, bacon frying, lilacs in May, Sunday pot roast, and the aroma from my grandfather’s pipe… or Emailing this Sabbath Moment to a friend. (How subtle is that?)
So. How do we re-train our own eye (or mind) to appreciate simple pleasures? Is there a spiritual practice that we can incorporate into our lives, that opens our eyes to the abundant simple pleasures that surround us? (Granted, it would be easier with a book, Simple Pleasures for Dummies.) Answer this: Can you tell me a simple pleasure that happened, that you enjoyed, in the past day?
And while we’re on the subject, it wouldn’t hurt to change the way we talk. We ask, of each other, daily, “What do you do?” Or, “What did you do?” Why not ask, “What surprised you today? What made your heart glad? Where did you see God incognito?”
This we know for certain. There is a connection between simple pleasures and gratitude. Meister Eckhart says that if you only learn one prayer in your whole life, learn this one: “Thank you.”
This week, let us learn the Jewish practice called Shehechiyanu: saying a blessing for new and special experiences. “Thank you God, for allowing me to reach this time.”
Why does it matter? Because being glad to be alive (even in the midst, of grief, broken dreams, turmoil and noise), allows us to spill light to a world on edge. Bottom line: if we let this grace take root, it spills from our life.
What a week. It is Spring. (I know, tell that to our east coast friends.)
And March Madness continues to give us heart palpitations. (Basketball, for the uninitiated.) Speaking of simple pleasures, did you watch 11th-seeded Loyola University secure a spot in the Final Four of the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 55 years. My favorite part? 98-year-old Sister Jean—team’s chaplain for nearly 25-years—is considered the team’s lucky charm. Sister Jean prays with the team in the locker room before the game (each prayer beginning with “Good and gracious God,”) and her wheelchair is taken to the floor after the game, to celebrate with the team. Simple pleasures indeed.
Today is Palm Sunday, and Semana Santa (Holy Week) begins.
Our nation’s kids (with eager adults) marched yesterday. And my heart swelled with pride to see young people at home in their own skin, marching for sanity and justice, willing to say out loud, “help make the world safe for us.” They invite me to live wholehearted. Next week we will talk more about that invitation.
Quotes for the week…
At the back of our brains, so to speak, there is a forgotten blaze or burst of astonishment at our own existence. The object of the artistic and spiritual life is to dig for this sunrise of wonder. GK Chesterton
Each morning I confirm that my aspiration is to learn to live from the awakened heart.
POEMS AND PRAYERS
A Zen roshi is dying. All of the monks gather-and eagerness restrained-
around the deathbed, hoping to be chosen as the next teacher.
The roshi asks slowly, Where is the gardener?”
“The gardener,” the monks wonder aloud. “He is just a simple man
who tends the plants, and he is not even ordained.”
“Yes,” the roshi replies. “But he is the only one awake.
He will be the next teacher.”
let me be aware of the treasure you are.
Let me learn from you, love you, bless you before you depart.
Let me not pass you by in quest of some rare and perfect tomorrow.
Let me hold you while I may, for it may not always be so.
One day I shall dig my nails into the earth,
or bury my face in the pillow,
or stretch myself taut,
or raise my hands to the sky and want,
more than all the world, your return.
Mary Jean Iron
My Prayer For You
When you’re lonely I pray for you to feel love.
When you’re down I pray for you to feel joy.
When you’re troubled I pray for you to feel peace.
When things are complicated I pray for you to see simple beauty in all things.
When things are chaotic I pray for you to find inner silence.
When things look empty I pray for you to know hope.