Soak it all in
Standing in a pristine Alaskan stream, the fisherman’s first catch, a lovely eighteen-inch trout. The fisherman and his friend admire it. “Most impressive,” his friend says thinking of the delectable evening meal ahead. And then, unceremoniously, the fisherman tosses the fish back into the stream.
A second catch, and then a third, each catch a bit larger than the last. “Amazing,” says his friend. But again, each beauty is tossed back into the stream.
The fourth catch, a smaller fish, maybe six inches in length. This one the fisherman keeps for their evening supper. His friend has seen enough. “You catch three prize winning trout and throw them back. You catch a runt and keep it. Why?”
The fisherman is matter of fact, “Because I only have an eight-inch frying pan.”
And this retreat memory floats to the surface; one less-than-thrilled participant approached me at the end of the second day. The retreat had us all talking about “embracing the sacred present”; celebrating Grace in the irreducible uniqueness of daily and ordinary existence. One project included collecting small articles (from our walks) of wonder (a leaf, a bird’s feather, a misshapen stone, a piece of green glass on the beach, etc.), each a reminder to use in our final liturgy of celebration.
“This is not what I expected,” she told me. “I assumed the retreat would be much more spiritual.”
Laughing out loud seemed an un-pastoral response, so I bit my tongue. I do know that her comment was more about her expectations than the experience itself.
And truth be told, in my own way, I have done the very same thing. I carry a frying pan that precludes my ability to see the many gifts (and surprises and wonders) of life. Our frying pan is the metaphor for the way in which we see, view, determine, make choices, respond, and in the end, foreclose on life. A way in which we don’t see. It is scotoma, or selective blindness.
As a young man I had a finely tuned theology of God.
But all that mattered to my spirit, was that I had “certainty”.
How did certainty become the buoy needed to tether our wellbeing?
But then again, no real surprise, as there is something about transparency and vulnerability that unnerves us.
As if it requires the moral price tag of weakness, and we will be found wanting.
So. What’s our invitation here? What do we assume tethers our wellbeing?
Why is it difficult to fess up to our frying pan?
Why are we so afraid of being wrong or uncertain?
I take heart in C.S. Lewis’ wonderful reminder that “What seem our worst prayers may really be, in God’s eyes, our best. Those, I mean, which are least supported by devotional feeling. For these may come from a deeper level than feeling. God sometimes seems to speak to us most intimately when he catches us, as it were, off our guard.”
I too easily, relegated God to certain experiences. You know, the “more spiritual” ones. Every other experience, I “threw back into the stream.” As a result, my beliefs (suppositions and assumptions which were unquestioned and unchallenged) excluded the presence of the sacred from so much of my life. I had eyes, but I did not see.
There is an odd sense of control in a one-size frying pan.
With two consequences: One, we assume, wrongly, that we can orchestrate a spiritual encounter.
A young man, with plumber-credentials in hand, stands at the railing looking over Niagara Falls. “I think I can fix that,” he said.
And two, we’re stuck in our certainty.
A man lost his car keys. It was night and he looked frantically near a street lamp. A passerby, asked the matter.
“I’ve lost my keys,” the man answered.
“Over there,” he pointed.
“Well if you lost them over there, why are you looking over here?”
“Because,” he answered, “there’s more light over here.”
It turns out that the opposite of faith is not doubt, but assumption of certainty.
Or the absence of mystery, questions, confusion and doubt.
We are unable to be surprised, Or in awe.
The irony is that the “frying pan” (scotoma or selective blindness) not only confines us, but we live in a world where fear and ego dominate.
The alternative to my one size frying pan? Gratitude.
Thomas Aquinas’ reminder that true “religion is supreme thankfulness or gratitude.”
Life is a gift. This life. This moment.
Franciscan teacher John Duns Scotus (1266–1308) helps here. He tells us that God did not create genus and species. God only created “this-ness,” (in Latin haecceity). He said that until we can experience each thing in its specific “thisness,” we will not easily experience the joy and ubiquity of Divine Presence.
Here’s the deal: Thisness invites savoring, and gives birth to wholeheartedness, joy, empathy, compassion and connection. In the sacrament of the present, fear and striving do not own us, and we welcome our imperfect parts.
“We may ignore, but we can nowhere evade, the presence of God.” CS Lewis reminds us, “The world is crowded with Him. He walks everywhere incognito. And the incognito is not always easy to penetrate. The real labor is to remember to attend. In fact, to come awake. Still more to remain awake.”
However: Be Careful.
This way of living will mess with any finely-tuned-system.
It will mean…
Celebrating, embracing and savoring the ordinary gift of this day; the sacred in the ordinary.
Embracing the sacred in the midst of the conflict, the upheaval, the pain, the happenstance, the mistakes.
Seeing God in the face of the other, the hurt, the angry, the unclean, the enemy.
It will mean celebrating a bawdy, unkempt spirit and an untidy misunderstood God. A Spirit of love and transformation present in everyone–doling out the extravagant gifts of that love and grace, in kindness, service, healing, hope and celebration.
Our weather here is next door to perfect. And spring is a daily unfurling of color and unabashed pageantry.
Our goslings (yes, I used our) are in the charming awkward gangly stage, growing into their bodies with enthusiasm. Each day a gift. What did you do today? I was asked. I did my best to soak it all in.
Reading this from Thomas Merton I smile real big, “Marvelous vision of the hills at 7:45 am. The same hills as always, as in the afternoon, but now catching the light in a totally new way, at once very earthly and very ethereal, with delicate cups of shadow and dark ripples and crinkles where I had never seen them before, the whole slightly veiled in mist so that it seemed to be a tropical shore, a newly discovered continent. A voice in me seemed to be crying, “Look! Look!” For these are the discoveries, and it is for this that I am high on the mast of my ship (have always been) and I know that we are on the right course, for all around is the sea of paradise.”
Quote for your week…
My god, how magnificent life is, precisely owing to its unforeseeability and to the often so strangely certain steps of our blindness. Ranier Maria Rilke
Note… Let us continue to find places where our souls and spirits can be nourished and refueled. I’m grateful for those who have joined us– Sabbath Moment Daily Dose. Tuesday through Friday. A quote, a paragraph and a prayer to refuel us. Daily nourishment. This is in addition to Monday’s Sabbath Moment… and the new book, The Gift of Enough–a journal for the present moment.
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In the mailbag…
–Terry, We have always enjoyed your spirituality, humor, wit and the love and support you give us. Art and I are Fall Campers at Shrinemont. We know you are scheduled to be at Fall Camp this year and we are looking forward to seeing you there. God Bless, Loretta
–Hi Terry, I am rereading Clarissa Pinkola Estes book from 1993, Women Who Run With the Wolves. Your post today sounds like you are yearning to “run with the wolves”, being who you naturally are, not who you have been told to be (and I bet you spent time telling others how to be, as I have!) I am a recovering Catholic and it’s a trick to squirm out of that strait jacket of guilt, repression, and judgment. Not to say there aren’t other streams of that faith (the mystics/shamans hiding in plain sight) that somehow have let reality through the “crowd control” practices organized religions employ. Stick with Mary Oliver and all the poets who speak to you in spoken words and song. Dance more. Maybe howl a bit? Love ya, Vicki
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POEMS AND PRAYERS
Listen to your life. See it for the fathomless mystery that it is. In the boredom and pain of it no less than in the excitement and gladness: touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it because in the last analysis all moments are key moments, and life itself is grace.
Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which He looks
Compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which He walks to do good,
Yours are the hands, with which He blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,
Yours are the eyes, you are His body.
Christ has no body now but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
compassion on this world.
Christ has no body now on earth but yours.
St. Teresa of Ávila
(On the Feast of the Ascension)
Love After Love
The time will come
When, with elation,
You will greet yourself arriving
At your own door, in your own mirror,
And each will smile at the other’s welcome,
And say sit here, Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart.
To itself, to the stranger who has loved you
All your life, whom you ignored
For another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,
The photographs, the desperate notes,
Peel your image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.