A dose of grace
A woman stands at the window and stares. We are on the morning commuter ferry, from Vashon Island to Seattle. A snow-covered Mount Rainier dominates the panorama. It stands prominent, imperial in the dawn light. (It is true. Here in the Northwest, the first time you see Mount Rainier, you do a double take. Some Divine-sleight-of-hand. Where’d that mountain come from?)
The woman is wide-eyed, as if she is surprised by the mountain. As if she is seeing it for the first time. All of the other early morning commuters (and there are many) go about their business. Reading the newspaper. Drinking coffee. Paying bills. Talking with friends. Napping on benches.
“Looook,” she announces loudly, “we can see the mountain. Everybody looook!”
She has the demeanor of a person “not all there.” You know what I mean. She is clearly one of those people who embarrass us. (Or realistically, one of those people we choose to ignore.) As other commuters walk by, they (we) knowingly smile at one another and roll our eyes. She’s not normal, we tell one another in code.
“Looook,” she says again, pointing this time, almost reverential, “the mountain.”
I’ve seen the mountain a thousand times, but I figure, “What the heck.” So, I put down my book, and look. The rising sun has just crested the Cascade Mountain ridgeline. It looks as if it is sitting in a saddle between two peaks. The shaft of light from the sun glistens on the snow face of the Cascades, the color of a good English beer. It hits the Puget Sound, and dances across the water, now a golden pathway from the ferry to the sky. Rainier, backlit and venerable in this morning light, appears etched, as if a great artist rendered it in charcoal or pen and ink. The water of the Puget Sound is gun-metal-grey, and calm.
To the south is Tacoma harbor, where a crescent moon hangs in what I can only describe as a melancholy blue sky.
I do not pick up my book again. I look. A morning vista as sacrament–a dose of grace; a brew, fortifying and settling.
“Looook,” the woman is talking again. “The mountain. Everyone looook, the mountain.”
To exit the ferry, we walk by the woman (still standing, still pointing, still talking), wondering, I suppose, what went wrong in her life, what finally snapped, and what made her leave her senses. How sad for her. We walk hurriedly, you know, in order to take care of those more important obligations awaiting us in our day. However. On this morning, the “crazy woman” is my sage. My seer, my rabbi, my priest, my pastor. She is my reminder. For whatever reason, she sees the day without the extra layers of defense. (Or if you’ll permit an impenitent play on words, she seizes the day, carpe diem.)
I tell this story whenever I can. And if you’ve heard me speak, chances are you’ve heard this story. And I never get tired of telling it, because it reminds me that I am grounded and refueled in the sacrament of the present moment.
And, whenever I tell it, I get gooseflesh. And that makes me smile real big. (Meaning the stuff I carry that weighs me down is not quite so heavy.)
It’s not just that she looked. It’s that she lived the moment wholehearted. There is for her a very visceral engagement. She is, literally, all in.
This is what I would love to bottle and sell…
She didn’t need permission.
She didn’t need approval.
She didn’t need skepticism.
She didn’t need a motivation to impress.
She didn’t need evaluation or justification.
She needed simply this… “Looook how beautiful,” she says, “the mountain.”
Here’s the deal: To see (life in its mysterious and extravagant fullness), begins with an inner disarmament. Sooner or later we need to remove pieces of the armor we wear that keep us from allowing life in. I’ll be honest, most of the time, I prefer the armor. I worked many years to fine-tune my armor.
My armor keeps me safe. But it also keeps me from seeing. From feeling. From paying attention. But, hey, it’s a small price to pay. At least I’m not crazy.
It is no secret that we numb ourselves. And it’s all too easy to point the finger at those whose drug comes in pill or needle form. Trouble is, I have found that resentment, fear, apathy, self-pity, being a victim and shame are just as effective. They all serve the same purpose: censor. Each one, numbing us, keeps troublesome feelings (grief, sorrow, sadness, dejection, anger) and wonder (ecstasy, awe, amazement and grace) at bay.
Public opinion is a powerful thing. I think about how we (on the ferry boat) conspired to agree about the crazy woman. “We’re sane, she’s crazy,” we reassured each other. Is it possible that we need numbers on our side, because deep down, we know that only “crazy” people can see?
That the Spirit can madden us, and drive us, literally, out of our senses (or is it fully into our senses?), just like Psalm 37 which reminds us that “They shall get drunk on the fullness of thy house.”
Is that what I’m afraid of, intoxication (what Rabbi Abraham Heschel called radical amazement) with this life? What if we are here to get lost, to fall in love with life, to give in to the courage to be mad with the wonder of it all, to live and dance on the edge of grace (where we have nothing to show to justify our existence)?
And the young woman’s gift to herself? Gladness.
The gladness–to just be.
No, gladness doesn’t tidy our life.
It doesn’t remove pain or sorrow or grief.
It does however let us see the sacred in the midst.
So. Can we live smack dab in the middle of this life–wholehearted, no matter what comes our way?
I didn’t say it is easy. Just that it is worth it.
On my morning walks, my favorite moments are, “I never noticed that before.” Something I’ve walked by many times previous. And often, these days, it has to do with the geese.
They are just past mating season, and it is almost nesting time. To get ready, the geese stake out well defined and defended territories (a peaceful and safe place for momma, during egg laying and incubation) near water. Well, on my walk I pass by eight different ponds. Each one, now claimed by a couple. Today I asked them why they chose that pond. Telling them that I just moved, and wanted to compare notes.
And today, more March Madness basketball, and the Loyola Ramblers beat number one Illinois. Even if you don’t know basketball, it’s a big deal. And I’m smiling big, because watching the game from the sideline, 101-year-old Sister Jean Dolores Schmidt, chaplain for the men’s basketball team, who sees her mission as spreading joy. Let’s just say, she’s really good at her mission.
Quote for your week…
A religious awakening which does not awaken the sleeper to love, has roused him in vain. The Quaker Reader
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–Good Morning Terry, Our small local newspaper ran a pandemic questionnaire and one of the questions was “who has helped you in this pandemic”? You were one of the first to come to mind. I haven’t been a subscriber? Sounds weird… I’ll use Alongsider… of you for long but I look forward to your reflections each day. So, Thank You! They so often resonate with me and make me say out loud “for Pete’s Sake, I’m not the only one”! Enjoy, be with, whatever this day brings. Peace and All Good, Lisa
–Thank YOU, Terry. Just so you will know, your thoughts and cares and insights have been such a blessing this whole past pandemic year since one of your SM followers put me onto your writings. I have felt your pain, enjoyed your humor and gleaned many a useful nugget as I read your messages. Your ‘gift’ delights so many and I am very grateful for you sharing and baring your heart with all of us. Michaele
–Terry thank you so much. So needed today as my soul aches as I am transforming and growing into care giver yet again. The spirit is weak. I had longed for a different retirement but that is not to be. I must lean into this new role. Thank you. I will read this post often. Met you several times at LA Congress. A
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POEMS AND PRAYERS
Then Elijah went into a cave and spent the night in it. Then the word of the Lord came to him, saying, ‘What are you doing here Elijah?’ Then he was told: ‘Go out and stand on the mountain before God.’ Then God passed by. There came a mighty wind, so strong it tore the mountains and shattered the rocks before God. But God was not in the wind. After the wind came an earthquake. But God was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire. But God was not in the fire. And after the fire there came the sound of a still, small voice, or a gentle breeze. –1 Kings
Silence vibrating is Creation
Silence flowing is Love
Silence shared is Friendship
Silence seen is Infinity
Silence heard is Adoration
Silence expressed is Beauty
Silence maintained is Strength
Silence omitted is Suffering
Silence allowed is Rest
Silence re-circled is Scripture
Silence preserved is Our Tradition
Silence given is Initiating
Silence received is Joy
Silence perceived is Knowledge
Silence stabilized is Fulfillment
Silence alone is.
That we might love mercy
that our own nation might be characterised
not first for the beauty of its landscape,
or the glories of its history
but for its kindness to strangers
its care for its weakest members
its solidarity with people living in want,
we pray, O Christ.
And we remember everyone who, in these last days
has suffered fear, sickness, anxiety or bereavement.
There are so many.
Christ comfort and restore them.
God in your mercy, hear our prayer.
Praying for the Dawn, a resource book for the ministry of healing, by ionabooks, edited by Ruth Burgess and Kathy Galloway