I write (and talk) a lot about embracing beauty in the ordinary. The sacrament of the present moment. But some days, I feel undone by life’s unsightliness. The cracks, fault lines and intense suffering takes a toll.
I reread Donald Hall’s The Best Day The Worst Day, about life with his wife Jane Kenyon, the reality of her bipolar disorder and the pain riddled and complicated last years of Jane’s chemotherapy and bone marrow transplant (for leukemia) before her death at age 48.
What I appreciated about Hall’s account is the unflinching and meticulous detail to the nuance and fragility (a la Chekhov, who wrote that writers “must illuminate the actual world with a delicate light”), of moments, where, if we allow it (even in the middle of fractures and disappointment), beauty, literally, walks in… and takes residence.
That does my heart good.
In one encounter with a teacher in India, Hall asks him to define “contentment.”
“Absorbedness,” the teacher replies.
Now, I can’t find absorbedness in any dictionary. But here’s my best guess: “Let life in.”
Let life in… in the wonder.
Let life in… in the complications and the disagreeable.
Let life in… in the unfeigned moments.
Let life in… in the suffering.
Which may be… this moment. Or, as Jane Kenyon wrote, in her final days, “Trust God and be where you are.”
On both sides of the equation—whether living as if beauty is only in the magnificent, or believing that life’s complications interrupt our appreciation of beauty—we assume that we must arrive somewhere else for life to begin. I know this with my heart: with this mindset, it is easy to be obsessed, and because of that, derailed.
In either case, my energy is given to “elsewhere and otherwise,” and I miss beauty (absorbedness) regardless of where it walks.
As a child, we sang a hymn in our church, “This world is not my home, I’m just a passin’ through.” We were taught that life here on earth is a waiting room (more often than not, filled with pain, probably deserved or at the very least to be used for a lesson). And heaven is some kind of bailout system. “Don’t worry,” I was often told, “God will take care of it when you get to heaven.”
I believe differently now. (Not that I don’t secretly wish for some kind of bailout.) But here’s the deal: if you don’t find beauty—or the sacred, or God—here in our world (or in our brothers and sisters who walk this world with us), chances are pretty good you will not find it in heaven.
Of course, while I may believe that, I find ways to obsess over the particularity in bad news here. And when I do that, I don’t let life in.
There is no doubt that we do walk by moments of wonder and delight, moments that ground us. To be here now. Absorbedness. To let life in.
But here’s the good news: When we do stop, when absorbedness is real, we are less likely to walk by this moment. And, less likely to walk by one another.
And, gratitude and thanksgiving grows out of the soil of grace and presence.
GK Chesterton’s affirmation, “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.”
Here’s our invitation: let us celebrate this Thanksgiving week wrapped in gratitude.
When I see primary what is wrong, or where I “should” be or when we arrive (heaven in my upbringing) we miss presence (absorbedness) questions, “Can I help you? Hug you? Hold your hand? Create a place for healing and sanctuary and grace?”
This morning I watched CBS Sunday Morning. Garth Brooks’ interview with Jane Pauley. It made me smile big. Jane asked him if he worried about the pushback he received for his “inclusive” views. “Do you worry if your fans ask, ‘Is he with us or with them?’”
Brooks answer, “I’m with love. Love’s big enough for all of us.” He added, “Hardest question on the planet, why are we down here? We’re down here for each other. That’s why there’s more than one of us.”
In this Thanksgiving week, let’s remember the table is open to all. Joy is meant to be shared.
As I am writing this Sabbath Moment, I see the news that our world lost another bright light.
“Rosalynn Carter, a true life partner to Jimmy Carter who helped propel him from rural Georgia to the White House in a single decade and became the most politically active first lady since Eleanor Roosevelt, died on Sunday in Plains, Ga. She was 96.
Over their nearly eight decades together, Mr. and Mrs. Carter forged the closest of bonds, developing a personal and professional symbiosis remarkable for its sheer longevity.
In the continuum of first ladies after Mrs. Roosevelt, Mrs. Carter broke the mold. Like most of the others, she championed a cause — hers was the treatment of mental illness.
They co-founded the Carter Center in Atlanta to promote peace, resolve conflicts and eradicate diseases. One week a year, they helped build houses for Habitat for Humanity, working on more than 4,000 homes in more than a dozen countries.
Recognizing the importance of caregiving, she founded and served as president of the board for the Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregiving at Georgia Southwestern, her alma mater. Mrs. Carter often noted that there are only four kinds of people in the world: those who have been caregivers; those who are currently caregivers, those who will be caregivers, and those who will need caregivers.
Mrs. Carter’s dementia had blurred some of her memories, her grandson Josh Carter told The Times in August, but she never forgot who her husband was.
They still held hands, Josh Carter said, adding: ‘They still sit on the couch together, in the same place they’ve always sat.’”
(Thank you Katharine Q. Seelye, New York Times)
Rest in Peace Rosalynn.
A blessed Thanksgiving week to all. Savor your moments. And remember, we’re here for one another.
Quote for our week…
“If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is Thank You that will be enough.” Meister Eckhart
Today’s Photo Credit: “Hi Terry, I heard you speak at R.E. Congress last year and have been reading your daily emails ever since. Many thanks for your ‘Incredible Lightness of Being (home)’ take on our sojourn here on this earth. Photo taken on a summer afternoon in Morro Bay, CA of Morro Bay Rock. The whole time on our beach walk just seemed sublime.” Greg Wilhelm… Thank you Greg… And thank you to all, I love your photos… please keep sending them… send to terryhershey.com
Yes, your gift makes a difference… Donation = Love…
Help make Sabbath Moment possible. I write SM because I want to live with a soft heart; to create a place for sanctuary, empathy, inclusion, compassion and kindness… a space where we are refueled to make a difference. SM remains free.
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Letters that do my heart good…
–Hi Terry, This is so true… there are unseen acts of love! I’ve been on the receiving and giving side of this. It makes my heart smile to remember that these acts continue to happen despite how messy our world becomes. Actually, I suppose these unseen acts of love and compassion increase as our world’s messiness increases. Wishing you a Peace-filled week, Darlene
–Hi Terry, I wanted to share that this reflection particularly struck me – gave me God bumps! How we wound, how we forget we belong together, how good people rush to people’s aid. Blessings on your ministry, Terry
–Hi Terry, Thank you for your faithfulness in creating the Sabbath Moment week after week. Take Care, Jami
–Welcome home, Terry! And thank you for enriching our days with the sacrament of the ordinary and an open heart. Sheila
–Hi Terry, Thank you for your human words of guidance and inspiration. No matter how many of your retreats here in Phoenix at the Franciscan Renewal Center than I’ve attended or provided spiritual direction and sat in on all the lectures, I always come away feeling light with feet more firmly on the ground. Blessings and heartful gratitude. Gene
–Terry, I thought of you when I opened this email today. Thank you for being a gardener for my soul! Your reflections, stories and photos touch my heart and challenge me to be that gardener for others. Blessings, Megan
–Hi Terry, I heard you speak at RE Congress last year and have been reading your daily emails ever since. Many thanks for your ‘Incredible Lightness of Being [home]’ take on our sojourn here on this earth. Greg
POEMS AND PRAYERS
you challenge the powers that rule this world
through the needy, the compassionate,
and those who are filled with longing.
Make us hunger and thirst to see right prevail,
and single-minded in seeking peace;
that we may see your face
and be satisfied in you.
Before I begin, I would like to offer a brief prayer of thanksgiving that I have relied upon heavily, especially throughout the past year as we have suffered as a community, and as a nation, and as a world, in so many ways:
Let us remember that we are in the holy presence of God.
We asked for strength, and you gave us difficulties to make us strong.
We asked for wisdom, and you gave us problems to solve.
We asked for prosperity, and you gave us purpose and brains to use.
We asked for courage, and you gave us fears to overcome.
We asked for patience, and you gave us situations where we were forced to wait.
We asked for love, and you gave us troubled people to help.
We asked for justice, and you called us to be just and to lead with integrity.
Lord, we have received nothing that we asked for or wanted.
And yet, we received everything that we needed.
For this, we give thanks.
Dr. Colleen Hanycz
(1/25/21 at the “Introduction to the Xavier Community” event upon her selection as the 35th president of Xavier University)