When Thomas Merton “left public life” to join the Trappists, he wrote, “I am not physically tired, just filled with a deep, vague, undefined sense of spiritual distress, as if I had a deep wound running inside me and it had to be stanched.”
Okay, I know that wound. Which is why I love the reason for his change. Being drawn to a silent and ascetic life was not just to “get away” or run from life’s chaos. “(Life) fills me with awe and desire.” Merton wrote. Count me in. Maybe not the Trappist part, although I come very close.
Never Cry Wolf is the story of Canadian Farley Mowat, sent to the northern tundra to study the impact of wolves on the diminishing Caribou herd. This clueless non-native, humors the locals, as they are certain he will meet his bleak death by cold, or wolves, or both. Farley survives and the land, the people and animals that live there, shape his life. The cinematography is dramatic; vistas of grandeur, peaks majestic and landscapes frozen, bleak and austere. While the movie is about “wolves,” it is also about Farley’s new “eyes,” as he is being “reintroduced to wonder.”
Yes, I like that; reintroduced. Meaning that something happens to diminish our capacity for awe, to savor and to cherish.
In our attention economy, diminishment is no surprise, as we are daily bombarded to numbness. A kind of detachment.
So, here’s my question: what does the reset button look like?
“I used to have this appetite for my life, and it’s just gone,” Elizabeth Gilbert wrote, “I want to go someplace where I can marvel at something.”
I’m writing this eight time zones away from home, in the Alentejo region of Portugal. Here’s what I know about travel. If we’re lucky, it helps reshuffle the deck and there is a thinner membrane to the sacred; you know, occasion to absorb wonder and allow us to marvel. But of course, I am speculating about all of this while I sip exquisite wine in Cartuxa Winery (founded as an Order by Ignacius of Loyola, in 1540). Yes, Saint Ignacius. So, I sip my wine, and smile big. (The Jesuits left in the 1700s. The name Cartuxa is from a connection with Mosteiro da Cartuxa, a Carthusian monastery.)
It is my prayer for each of us. To continually be reintroduced to wonder. But let’s unpack this. This isn’t a skill set to add to our repertoire. Or a check list to complete. Farley Mowat practiced a paradigm shift; Proust’s invitation, the “real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.”
Many years ago, I spend some time in a village in Holland, near the border of Germany. As friends, we sat around the river and swapped stories and laughed from the gut. One evening around sunset I jumped on my bike and rode through the village. I stopped near a wall and watched a villager in her garden. She was bent at the waist, had a small garden tool in her hand and was scratching the soil around her lilac shrubs. She was doing it lovingly, coddling, caressing. It seemed like she had nowhere to go and was in no hurry to get there. An old stone wall surrounded her garden lot, and a stone path surrounded by emerald green grass led from the gate, flanked by autumn blooming flowers; monkshood, asters, hollyhocks. Tears welled in my eyes and I was filled with some longing for something that was yet unnamed. I knew this for certain: around me it was blessed. I wanted to jump the fence and give her a hug for the gift she’d just given me, understanding that rediscovering wonder is about seeing with new eyes.
Awareness (rediscovering) begins here. We are at home in the sacred present moment. And the gardener in me comes alive, because grounded begins with actual ground; to this time and this place. Here, I am on the lookout for wonderment and gladness. Sometimes, literally, arrested by beauty.
And, this is important; this someplace (this grounded and sacred place), may be literally where we are standing right now.
There is a self-preservation enticement to be sure. Which is why I do not see the connection between groundedness—immersed in the sacred present—and my capacity to care. To rejoice, grieve, weep. To reach out, give, serve, replenish and restore.
Here’s the deal: Groundedness (the sacred present) marries gratitude and spills, becoming generosity and transformation. Why? Because I want to share this gift of wonder. “Did you see that?” “Did not our hearts burn within us?”
A small art gallery near Lake Galway in Ireland holds an
exhibition with local art. A poet of no small renown drops by to view it.
As he finishes his perusing, a local farmer arrives. Once a year, the farmer
visits the gallery. He lives on the shores of Loch Corrib. The gallery owner
introduces the men.
The poet gladly revisits the exhibition with the farmer, pointing out intricacies and hidden symbolism. The farmer listens carefully. When finished, the farmer says, “Thank you. That was interesting, and you showed me things I would have never noticed. You have a wonderful eye. It is a great gift. I envy your gift, I don’t have that gift myself. But I do have Teannalach.”
“What is Teannalach?” The poet asks.
“I live beside the lake,” the farmer tells him. “And you always hear the ripple of the waters and the sound of wind on the water; everyone hears. However, on certain summer days when the lake is absolutely still and everything is silent, I can hear how the elements and the surface of the lake make magic music together.”
A week or so later, the farmer’s neighbor comes in the gallery. The owner asks about the word Teannalach. “Oh yes, they have that world up there. I’ve never seen it written down, so it’s hard to say what it means. I suppose it means awareness, but in truth it is about seven layers deeper.”
As Sabbath Moment deadline approaches, I’m struck by the need to write something “meaningful”. Instead, I walk outside of our village, a few miles on a very, very narrow road, surrounded by Quercus suber, cork oak trees on a rolling landscape bucolic and simply elegant. The cows and sheep serenade me, reminding me to savor the gift.
Quote for your week…
The purpose of life is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experience. Eleanor Roosevelt
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Today’s photo credit — Rainbow, Quinta do Mouro Winery, Alentejo, Portugal… keep sending your photos… send to firstname.lastname@example.org
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In the mailbag… because your letters affirm us all…
–Hello Terry, I learned the song, ”This Little Light”, as, “this little light, I’m going to let it shine because someone down in the valley is looking for a home.” Thank you for shining your light! Judi
–Terry, I’m late reading this. Lovely. Here’s to the new year 2020 and its entry into a new decade. blessings & with love, Shauna
–Thank you for lifting me up, brushing me off and encouraging me to smile as I reach out to the someone who needs company! Life is good! Carolyn
–Thanks for helping keep my spirits up, Terry… I love this, from MLK: “the world is all messed up. The nation is sick. Trouble is in the land. Confusion all around…. But I know, somehow, that only when it is dark enough, can you see the stars.” Michael
–Thanks Terry for today’s Sabbath Moment. I woke up rather discouraged and tired of being “kind”. Your words helped me get refocused to get back into shining my light. Thanks for your faithfulness each week. Paul
–Terry, A group of us from our yoga group visited this amazing orphanage in Puerto Vallarta, it filled my heart!! If you are ever in PV visit! Always love your wonderful SM. The one this Monday was amazing. Be sure go to Just Mercy. Perfect movie for Martin Luther King weekend. Linda
POEMS AND PRAYERS
In the evenings, I walk down and stand in the trees, in light paused just so in the leaves, as if the change in the river here were not simply known to me but apprehended. It did not start out this way; I began with the worst sort of ignorance, the grossest inquiries. Now I ask very little. I observe the swift movement of water through the nation of fish at my feet. I wonder privately if there are for them, as there are for me, moments of faith.
Barry Lopez (River Notes)
Honey Of My Failures
Last night, as I was sleeping,
I dreampt – marvelous error! –
that I had a beehive
here inside my heart
And the golden bees
were making white combs
and sweet honey
from my old failures.
May I never not be frisky,
May I never not be risqué.
May my ashes, when you have them, friend,
and give them to the ocean,
leap in the froth of the waves,
still loving movement,
still ready, beyond all else,
to dance for the world.