Still and Astonished
In March of this year, I read on Facebook about a rare yellow cardinal that was sighted in Alabama. In the comments underneath someone had written, “what’s even more amazing is that the person was not looking at their phone, but actually saw the bird.” The person who wrote that didn’t know how true the words were.
As I read further about the sighting, I found out that Karem Maldonado was there to witness the rare bird because of a conversation with her granddaughter. Maldonado, 66, described herself as “one of those persons who are always go, go, go.” This was so much the case that a six-year-old granddaughter started nagging her about being so busy all the time. The child wanted Maldonado to sit for a little quality time when she came home from school, instead of bustling around preparing dinner.
At her granddaughter’s request, Maldonado made some time. The two of them were sitting in a room with a view of the yard when the cardinal made its appearance. She did not know how long the bird had been coming to her feeder before the day she was still enough to notice it.
One of my favorite poets, Mary Oliver, gave us our marching orders when she gave these instructions for living a life.
Tell about it.”
In the past week, I have had many opportunities to pay attention and to be astonished. I celebrated a fine meal with my family in celebration of my birthday. I spent time with friends and enjoyed natural beauty. I went to sleep to the sound of a babbling brook and the wind in the trees and the crickets chirping. I looked for stars and marveled at the moon. I swam in an outdoor pool fed by an artesian well. The water was 67 degrees and there was no way to ignore that I was in it and how it felt on my skin. I spent time among the trees and read a book about the mysterious life of trees that is most hidden from our understanding. I visited a farm market and considered apples and pears for purchase and brought home a blackberry pie. I went to a celebration of a recent marriage and saw young lovers basking in the joy of each other’s presence. I sat out on the church lawn for two hours and blessed pets and their owners.
Life is amazing, and not just the special times, not just the good times. If we are willing to say, “God is the everything, God is the All,” then we have to be alert for God’s presence in all times, in all places, in all circumstances. Carrie Newcomer, a Christian song-writer and blogger and recipient of Shalem’s 2019 Contemplative Voices Award reminds us of this in her recent blog, entitled, “Note to Self When Walking (Because I Forget),
Note to Self When Walking (Because I Forget)
When walking in the woods,
Or on a path,
Or down the street,
In a store,
Or just upstairs,
When you are intent on going,
Wherever it is you are going,
Notice how the mind can chatter,
Like purple finches in the trees,
Endlessly clicking and warbling,
Rising and falling and rising again.
Notice all your plans and longings,
All the things you got, but didn’t want,
All you wanted, and didn’t get,
All the circular conversations aimed at changing,
What was already said or unsaid.
Notice all the losses you are carrying,
With as much grace as you can muster.
Notice the sky, the feel of the air on your skin,
The sounds or what hangs in the silence,
The hard knot in your throat.
Notice all these things and more,
Because there is always more.
Then let your heart open,
Even just a crack,
A dribble or a dam break,
It doesn’t matter.
Because it is in that opening,
You’ll find a clear space
The one you keep finding
And finding again.
Remember to love it all,
All of it.
Hold hands and high five
With what’s easy and dear,
Ephemeral and brilliantly ordinary.
Wrap compassion like a blanket
The kind we place tenderly,
Around other people’s shoulders,
When the disaster is done and the worst is over.
Love it all,
Without looking for any way out,
Not condoning, just allowing,
For it all to just live,
Where it lives.
Love everything that broke your heart open
That changed you forever,
That made you softer,
And helped you understand,
What you could not have understood otherwise.
Love what you’ve endured,
Love what you are still enduring.
Love the purple finches and the sidewalk,
The view from the upstairs window,
The brambles and wild asters,
And the click of the keyboard.
Love all of this
Small and fragile,
Big and beautiful,
Then take the next step.
With these words the poet calls us to reach out our hands and take hold of the sacrament that is life. Sacraments don’t just happen in church, but happen anywhere that material elements point us to the spiritual and very real presence of the living Christ among us. The call is to have our eyes open for such reminders and in daily moments of pain and pleasure to bow to the sacramental nature of all things. For God is in them. God is in them all. Inviting us to wake up and partake of holiness, of grace, of goodness, of life.