“This tastes like heaven,” my son Zach says, eating from a small bag of popcorn, picking out one kernel at a time. We’re at the base of Diamond Head, spending part of the afternoon in a farmer’s market on the east side of Oahu, Hawaii. These local markets are a smorgasbord for the senses. Kiosks of exotic flowers. Crimson, vermilion and port-wine red, yellows of sunshine and sulfur, Baltimore Oriole orange, and thundercloud blue. The air is suffused with the scent of coffee. And garlic. My arm is freckled with powdered sugar, a confetti from fresh beignets, just lifted from the griddle. I take a bite of a beignet and a sip of Kona coffee.
I close my eyes.
My son is right.
This does taste like heaven.
Scott Russell Sanders observed that, “For the enlightened few, the world is always lit.” Which is another way of saying that the requirement for enlightenment is pretty straightforward: let yourself live like a kid.
My beignets with Zach happened over 16 years ago, but still floats around in my memory, and settles whenever I need a reminder about embracing the moment; living in the sacred present.
In his book Too Small to Ignore , Wess Stafford (President of Compassion International) tells a story from his childhood on the Ivory Coast of Africa. A village is visited by a convoy of French colonial officials for a government survey. Their questions had to do with “expectations of the future.” (Including numbers and size and growth and development.) Stafford writes, “The chief and his tribal elders tried to explain to their exasperated visitors that they really didn’t know the answers to those kinds of questions, because the future had not yet arrived. When the time came to pass, then the results would be apparent.” This, to be sure, made the officials less than pleased. And they left, in a huff.
That day, at dusk, the village gathered in the chief’s courtyard. He said, “I want to talk to the children tonight.”
“We are not like them,” the chief told the children. “To them time is everything; the smaller that men can measure the day, the more angry they seem to be.”
The chief went on. “The present is now–the days we live today. This is God’s gift to us. It is meant to be enjoyed and lived to the fullest. The present will flow by us, of course, and become the past. That is the way of a river, and that is the way of time. The Frenchmen cannot wait for the future to arrive. They crane their necks to see around the bend in the river. They cannot see it any better than we can, but they try and try. For some reason, it is very important for them to know what is coming toward them. They want to know it so badly that they have no respect for the river itself. They thrash their way into the present in order to see more around the bend.
They miss so much of the joy of today all around them. Did you notice that as they stormed into our village, they didn’t notice it is the best of the mango season?
Though we offered them peanuts, they did not even taste them.
They did not hear the birds in the trees or the laughter in the marketplace.
We touched them with our hands, but they did not really see us.
They miss much of the present time, because all they care about is the unknowable, the future. The present is all we can fully know and experience, so we must.
We must love each other. We must smell the hibiscus flowers. We must hear the singing of the weaverbirds and the grunts of the lions. We must taste with joy the honey and the peanut sauce on the rice. We must laugh and cry and live.”
Whether he knew it or not, the Village Chief took Jesus seriously.
Remember when Jesus said, “Behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you.” Meaning “is—right now—in the midst of you, right here.”
Meaning, this ordinary moment (whether tranquil or untidy or befuddling or exasperating) can be a container of grace, the Sacrament of the Blessed Present.
Meaning, that the visible and the invisible are one. The Celts called such places “thin places”, places when and where the sacred is almost palpable.
Yes, I get it. And I teach it. And yet my mind easily convinces me of the opposite. Like the colonial officials, I can miss what is right in front of me. Now, I look for “beignet moments”, and walk in reverence, taking off my shoes. When our mind tells us that the kingdom is still yet to be, somewhere in the future, we give up who we are today, for who we think we should be.
I understand that distraction and exhaustion may be our new normal. However, if I live each day from that paradigm, I’m unable to give, care, listen, reconcile, mend from my whole heart. And here’s the deal: When I’m away from the present, I’m not at peace.
“Ultimately, we have just one moral duty,” Etty Hillesum wrote. “To reclaim large areas of peace in ourselves, more and more peace, and to reflect it towards others. And the more peace there is in us, the more peace there will also be in our troubled world.”
Thank you Etty. Etty did not write that sentence from a dispassionate distance. Etty was a young Jewish woman who lived in Amsterdam during the Nazi occupation and who died in Auschwitz, one of the millions of victims of the Holocaust. We didn’t know about her meticulous diary until decades after her death. From the day when Dutch Jews were ordered to wear a yellow star, up to the day she boarded a cattle car bound for Poland, Etty consecrated herself to the wholehearted task of bearing witness to the inviolable power of love. To honor the sacred present with sensitivity to human suffering and gratitude for beauty in the everyday.
Fun fact: today 02/02/2020 is the first eight-digit palindrome in over a century (same forward and backward).
Enjoying the Super Bowl. And grateful for the sun outside. It rained all but one day in January here in the Seattle area. Yes, that’s a record.
But, Iris Reticulata is in bloom. Spring is around the corner.
Quote for your week…
If you want to identify me ask me not where I live, or what I like to eat, or how I comb my hair, but ask me what I think I am living for, in detail, and ask me what I think is keeping me from living fully for the thing I want to live for. Thomas Merton
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In the mailbag… because your letters affirm us all…
–I hope your winter isn’t keeping you sidelined. I’m sure you are magically turning those proverbial lemons into lemonade. Love and prayers, Anita
–Wow Terry. I just finished This Is the Life and once again you have shared wisdom and truth in your wonderful style. I am so very grateful. I have read Pause each year for a long time and now This is the Life is added to the “read it every year” list. In this time of thanksgiving, thank you for spilling your light. Blessings, Fran
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POEMS AND PRAYERS
Compassion asks us to go where it hurts, to enter into the places of pain, to share in brokenness, fear, confusion, and anguish. Compassion challenges us to cry out with those in misery, to mourn with those who are lonely, to weep with those in tears. Compassion requires us to be weak with the weak, vulnerable with the vulnerable, and powerless with the powerless. Compassion means full immersion in the condition of being human. Henri Nouwen
Woke up this morning with
a terrific urge to lie in bed all day
and read. Fought against it for a minute.
Then looked out the window at the rain.
And gave over. Put myself entirely
in the keep of this rainy morning.
Would I live my life over again?
Make the same unforgiveable mistakes?
Yes, given half a chance. Yes.
Raymond Carver, from The Collected Poems. © Knopf, 1996
May you awaken to the mystery of being here and enter the quiet immensity of your own presence.
May you have joy and peace in the temple of your senses.
May you receive great encouragement when new frontiers beckon.
May you respond to the call of your gift and find the courage to follow its path.
May the flame of anger free you from falsity.
May warmth of heart keep your presence aflame and may anxiety never linger about you.
May your outer dignity mirror an inner dignity of soul.
May you take time to celebrate the quiet miracles that seek no attention.
May you be consoled in the secret symmetry of your soul.
May you experience each day as a sacred gift woven around the heart of wonder.