Early this morning I drove from Gardnerville, NV through the Carson Valley to the Reno Airport. The drive framed by the Sierra Nevada Mountains, including the snow laden peaks that cradle Lake Tahoe. There is no urgency and it is a quiet drive, miles of open high desert pastures, a canvas of camouflage tan speckled with congregations of cows. They are still, as if they were asked to pose for a photo. And inclined to please, they said, yes.
Absorbing this medicine for hurry, or blue moods, I smile. I typically think of transit to airports (or waiting in airports) as time to fill or tolerate, on my way to what really matters.
I remember a statement made in the Irish Times by a Connemara man after he was arrested for a car accident. “There were plenty of onlookers, but no witnesses.”
It’s like the tourists who religiously follow the advice of travel journals, and miss the unanticipated “sacred places.”
We’ve consumed many books or sermons about the correct way to live life. Which, sadly, we assume, is a life other than the one we have today. In other words, we haven’t trusted that we are empowered to witness and savor this life.
On this morning drive, the tranquil backdrop gives my mind wandering room. Which is a good thing, since I don’t have a Sabbath Moment written yet. And a wandering mind makes space to absorb beauty and stillness with an affirmation of serenity.
I’ve needed to face the parts of my life that derail too easily. That’s not fun to admit.
I give way to exhaustion and resentment (they seem to go hand in hand, and I give myself grief for it). Have you ever had that… where you wake up one day—spirit drained—and wonder where the joy went, and why?
It doesn’t help that I’ve marinated in a world that is duty-bound to resolve or fix. No wonder we feel the weight of anything out of sync.
I get a geyser of email, much of it uninvited. But I’m seduced by many of the pitches, because they promise me a bigger and better life, one that makes a difference and breaks the bank every month. “What did you do of significance?” One asks, wondering if I make the kind of money I deserve to make. And I think, “Well, I don’t know about the money, but I had a great chat with some cows in the Carson Valley this morning. And that did my heart good. Does that count?”
When it comes to significance, here’s the deal: There is extravagant value in tending the soil of my soul.
“By means of a diversion,” Pascal reminded us, “we can avoid our own company 24 hours a day.”
In an episode of The West Wing, CJ Craig (White House chief of staff) is wired, tense and distracted. Her love interest shows up, middle of the workday, at her White House office, “to take her for a walk.” She consents (but not without a fight, you know, so much “to do”). On the walk, she fidgets and asks, “So, what was so important, taking this walk.”
He says, “Just to see.”
“Well,” she tells him, “this is not the day for it.”
It made me laugh out loud. Sure, I want to live this moment mindful of the sacred, but this is not the day for it. As if there is a special day for it? In our western mindset, living in the present becomes a staged event. Staged to be “spiritual.” As if this is something we must orchestrate. Or arrange. And we sit stewing in the juices of our self-consciousness. “Am I present? What am I doing right or wrong?” All the while, missing the point.
And we don’t need the Sierra Nevadas to have moments that invite us to stop, pay attention and be at home in our own skin. Thomas Merton said, “One of the best things for me when I went to the hermitage was being attentive to the times of the day: when the birds began to sing, and the deer came out of the morning fog, and the sun came up—while in the monastery, summer or winter, Lauds is at the same hour. The reason why we don’t take time is a feeling that we have to keep moving. This is a real sickness. Today time is commodity, and for each one of us time is mortgaged. We experience time as unlimited indebtedness. We are sharecroppers of time. We are threatened by a chain reaction: overwork-overstimulation-overcompensation-overkill.”
And I say, that’ll preach. As long as we live in oblivion, distracted or waiting, we bury the very things that might set us free.
A Hasidic Rabbi was interrupted by one of his followers while he was tending his garden, “What would you do, rabbi,” the student asked, “if you knew the messiah was coming today?” Stroking his beard and pursing his lips, the rabbi replied, “Well, I would continue to water my garden.”
Before we decipher life, let us see life.
Before we wish for another life, let us feel this life.
Before we give in to “if only”, let us hear this moment.
Before we succumb to “someday”, let us inhale this day.
Before we trade in this life, for the life we should have, let us taste this life.
We make the choice to be open. To be available. To be curious. To be alive. To be willing to be surprised by joy. To know there is power in the word “enough”.
And the good news? We carry this capacity to honor the present into every encounter and relationship. Meaning that we honor the dignity that is reflected by God’s goodness and grace. This means that every encounter can be a place to include, invite mercy, encourage, heal, reconcile, repair, say thank you, pray, celebrate, restore, refuel.
Count me in. What’s next? Well, that’s where I miss the point. Making a difference is what spills from a grounded life.
So, I’ll follow Mary Oliver’s Instructions for life, “Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell about it.” When you do that, “what’s next” takes care of itself…
Illustrious painter Andrew Wyeth admired Edward Hopper. Wyeth enjoys telling of a party after an opening at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Wyeth and Hopper were invited to a cocktail party on a penthouse terrace. Abstractionists Stuart Davis and Jackson Pollock were talking techniques and philosophies. Hopper, off to one side, suddenly tapped Davis on the shoulder and said, “Very interesting and I’m sure you’re right. But can you boys deny that?” He gestured out at the glowing tones of the setting sun striking across a skyscraper. “Everybody was silent,” remembers Wyeth. “That was it. There was nothing they could say.”
I spent a couple days in Gardnerville, Nevada. With the good people at St. Gall’s and a good group from Reno. We gathered under the watchful eye of Jobe’s Peak. We talked about Creating Sanctuary and savoring the sacrament of the present moment. Next time I visit, I’ll tell them about my chat with the cows.
Quote for your week…
We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience. Teilhard de Chardin
POEMS AND PRAYERS
Life will break you. Nobody can protect you from that, and living alone won’t either,
for solitude will also break you with its yearning.
You have to love. You have to feel.
It is the reason you are here on earth.
You are here to risk your heart. You are here to be swallowed up.
And when it happens that you are broken, or betrayed, or left,
or hurt, or death brushes near, let yourself sit by an apple tree
and listen to the apples falling all around you in heaps,
wasting their sweetness.
Tell yourself you tasted as many as you could.
Today I’m flying low and I’m
not saying a word.
I’m letting all the voodoos of ambition sleep.
The world goes on as it must,
the bees in the garden rumbling a little,
the fish leaping, the gnats getting eaten.
And so forth.
But I’m taking the day off.
Quiet as a feather.
I hardly move though really I’m traveling
a terrific distance.
Stillness. One of the doors
into the temple.
Holy Spirit, Giving Life to All Life
Giving life to all life,
Moving all creatures,
Root of all things,
Washing them clean,
Wiping out their mistakes,
Healing their wounds,
You are our true life,
Awakening the heart from its ancient sleep.
Hildegard of Bingen (12 century)