Recently I had the opportunity to walk among the giant redwoods in northern California. We drove through the Avenue of the Giants for about 32 miles, stopping occasionally to walk through the groves. Gazing into the immensity of those branches to the tops of the trees and on into the sky beyond, I suddenly felt infinitesimal small. An experience such as this is difficult to name. Although It brought tears to my heart I couldn't seem to get them to my eyes. Standing in such a magnitude of beauty I realized there was no way I could adequately photograph it. That would be like trying to take a picture of God.
Then suddenly I notice, at my feet, the lush green ferns that have grown out of the moist rich compost of dead trees and foliage. In the forest everything is interconnected. They are relatives. It is so easy to be in awe of the powerful steeples of the giant ancestors and not even notice their small lush green relatives at my feet. How often I do that in daily life. Humility rises out of the ground and gazes on me with love. I begin to realize that there is an unseen world right here at my feet made up of lichens, leaves, branches, cones, beetles, centipedes, rodents--more than I can name.
Now I begin to walk more carefully marveling at the community I am moving through.
The joy of interconnection massages me and I feel OK about being small.
"WHAT NINE MONTHS OF ATTENTION DOES FOR AN EMBRYO, FORTY EARLY MORNINGS WILL DO FOR YOUR GRADUAL GROWING WHOLENESS." --Rumi
My 'forty early mornings ritual' ends today and I have, once again, been caught up in the beauty of morning:
And there was silence--especially when I walked into the pre-dawn morning when the stars were still visible.
And so, I will probably continue my morning ritual whenever possible.
It wasn't always easy to be there, and I missed a few mornings, but what I learned is that living awake is a sacramental experience. I also learned, in some small way, that I must make every effort to carry my wakefulness into the new day.
It is not easy to live awake! It is, however, a noteworthy accomplishment to live awake! When we are able to do so the people with whom we live and move and have our being will be richly blessed.
The gospels offer us a fascinating story about a bold woman in need of healing. She is so intent in her desire to be healed that she risks ridicule and misunderstanding. In the midst of a throng of people clamoring to be near Jesus, she pushes through the crowd wanting only to touch the hem of his garment and remain unseen. Just touching the tassel of his robe was enough for her. Jesus felt the power of healing go forth from him and asked that famous question, “Who touched me?” It was a strange question to be asking in a large crowd hemming him in on all sides and his disciples let that be known! Why did Jesus know that someone touched his hem? He felt the power flowing—moving through him—and out of him.
We, too, can experience this power flowing out of us and into us if we but open our eyes to all of life’s happenings. A gentle embrace is a power exchange. Taking someone who can no longer drive, for a journey into the country is touching the hem of God’s garment. Opening an orange for someone when their arthritic fingers will no longer allow them to do so is touching the hem of the garment.
The whole world is God’s garment. When I move through the beautiful outdoor world these days as I practice my FORTY EARLY MORNINGS ritual I am amazed at how (when I am attentive) the Power of the One who created it all, moves out of each flower, each tiny creature, even from the very ground upon which I walk. The secret of course is to live awake so that we can experience that gentle Christ-Power flowing out to us, then from us to others.
When I pause to really behold and even touch a tree it is like touching the hem of Jesus' garment. Try it and, like the woman of the gospels, believe that some small healing is taking place in your soul.
Practice touching the hem of God's garment this week. Be very conscious of how you hold things. Somewhere in his vast array of writings Thomas Merton suggests that the saints preach and teach by the way they sit or stand, by the way they pick things up and hold them in their hands. His words suggest reverence and total presence. Although this sounds easy it is difficult to achieve. Even so, it is worth the practice--it is a spiritual practice.
"The fast pace of our lives makes it difficult
for us to find grace in the present moment,
and when the simple gifts at our fingertips
cease to nourish us,
we have a tendency to crave the sensational."
-A Tree full of Angels: seeing the holy in the ordinary
by Macrina Wiederkehr
Something kind of sad happened in my life recently. I suddenly discovered that I had lost morning. To lose morning is indeed a great sadness. As a child and on through my adult life, morning has been one of my teachers; and by morning I mean experiencing morning outdoors. Inside it is sometimes difficult to even realize that morning is happening.
I have had some health problems recently and seriously began wondering if it had anything to do with my lost mornings. I decided to do an experiment. I have created a little ritual for myself called, FORTY EARLY MORNINGS.
I borrowed the idea from the mystical poet, Rumi who in one of his poems tells us: “what nine months of attention does for an embryo forty early mornings will do for your gradual growing wholeness.”
Forty early mornings! As I spoke these words over and over again, they began to sound like a gift I could give myself. So I began my ‘forty early mornings’ on July 4. This is my prayer and I try not to carry very many words with me. Perhaps a line of scripture, from a poem, or maybe even just the name of someone I want to remember in prayer. My one rule is, use very few words or no words. Just receive the morning. Yesterday my prayer words were, “the Kingdom of God is within you.”
This morning was the sixth day of my FORTY EARLY MORNINGS ritual. It was my no-word day. The morning was foggy and misty. I walked slowly waiting for the sun. Finally the picture above immerged. I beheld it before photographing. I am allowing myself only one picture. After all, my early morning is not about taking pictures. It’s about being in the morning. I try to take my picture fairly early into my walk lest I be tempted to focus solely on photographing and waiting for the perfect picture.
After my picture is taken I often see another picture that I would like to capture, but no, I surrender the urge and just behold the picture. This image is for the heart and soul.
In the picture above, I love the paleness of the sun. An almost presence! A little earlier it looked like a host, the Blessed Sacrament anointing me for the day’s tasks.
Brevity! The word itself doesn't sound very poetic yet the reality of the word points to where poetry comes from. The less we say (the fewer words we write) the more room we have for ‘white space’ – sometimes what isn’t there helps us to see more fully what is there. The fewer words we use to write our message the more likely people will be drawn to read what we write. You've probably heard the saying, "if I had, had more time I would have written a shorter letter." Strange as it sounds it makes sense. To write something provocative and magnetic--something that draws the reader in, you need time for reflection. You need dwelling time. You wait beside the WELL of yourself, listening for a voice of wisdom. Then slowly you lift the words out of deep places within. Sometimes you have to wait a long time for the words to reveal themselves to you. What are you being invited to say? How can you say it without sounding preachy? How patient are you in waiting for the words to be revealed? Have you ever attempted to converse with someone who is so full of words you are unable to understand what they are trying to say?
It's the same with a flower. One flower can speak in ways a bouquet cannot. Gaze at the flower above. Can you hear its message? Are you able to discern the poetry of its short life? Is this one bright piece of beauty enough for you?
Consider the beauty of the message that words have the potential of offering you. Brief is beautiful. Small is beautiful. Less can be exactly what you need. Ponder the words below. You may want to choose one of the words to use in a descriptive paragraph. Keep in mind the wisdom of brevity.
Words to consider: branches, family, blessing, solitude, turtle, meadow, night, courage, possibility, dwell, home, owl, temple, Jesus, healing…
The soup of my own chaos is richly blessed. Each day it is seasoned with darkness and light, possibility and despair, blessings and burdens, joys and sorrows, doubt and faith, hopes and fears, moments and hours.
In the morning I begin to gather the ingredients without noticing that I am gathering them. Hastily I throw them into the vessel of my life and they simmer as I stew. My days are not necessarily dark and depressing yet not as vibrant and mindful as they might be if I could train myself to remember to season my soup with radical presence. How often I forget both head and heart, leaving them in my room on my pillow as I race through the hours, mindless and heartless. Yet for all the inadequate ways I ply the culinary skills of my life when I come home to my evening stew it tastes like a consciousness examen and somehow, in spite of myself, I retire in peace.
Perhaps the reason for this peace is that I seldom retire without glancing over my day: forgiving myself where forgiveness is needed, affirming myself in little ways and asking God for support for the next day.
The soup of my own chaos ascends like incense in the evening hours as I offer to the heavens the only life I have. How grateful I am for the struggle to live with authenticity each day!
"Sticks and stones are hard on bones
aimed with angry art,
Words can sting like anything
but silence breaks the heart."
Although I am one who advocates silence as a spiritual practice I am not, of course, recommending the kind of silence alluded to above. This kind of silence holds us hostage, it imprisons our hearts and locks others out. Indeed it is a heart-breaking kind of silence. Silence is golden, it is said, yet this kind of silence is not golden. It is dark and life-threatening. It does not heal but rather adds to the wound. It is an icy silence devoid of any warmth or attempt at communication.
This debilitating kind of silence can be transformed into a silence that heals. For this to happen, though, we must be able to name our sick silence for what it is. When we allow ourselves to be vulnerable and actually feel the fear and anger that brings on our silent treatment, then we can move into a new and medicinal kind of silence. We will experience a new creation taking place in our lives.