Whenever I am on Job’s Pond in the morning, my neighbor beyond the yew tree is up early and I hear the sounds of utensils and dishes; spoons hitting the edges of tables; eggs being broken open and the like.
Every morning, in her 81st year, she arises and joins God in the activity of continuing creation. She does not create ‘ex nihilo’ as God does, ‘from nothing,’ but she constantly takes up the good things God provides and makes of them something wonderful.
The ingredients are there, all around us. Am I, are you, are we daily taking up the invitation to co-create with God what we are capable of making?
Maybe a smile on a child’s face?
Maybe a loved one reminded that she is loved?
Maybe a meal to be shared with a hungry person?
Maybe . . .?
Forty minutes ago I arrived at Job’s Pond at Portland, Connecticut. I got out of the car and just breathed. Blue cloud-marked sky. Green grass. Quiet waters of the pond. Absolute silence. Just the kind of moment I love. Just the kind of moment I need much of the time.
But tonight it is different.
Across the water is the local YMCA summer camp. It is still set up as it has been since June. Kayaks and peddle boats upside-down along the shore. The enclosed area marked out where it is safe for the kids to swim. But the sounds of their summer joy have drifted away.
Everything felt different. What was it?
Ah! Obviously. It is the first time this year that I have felt the summer slipping away, pulling away from the dock and beginning the trek to wherever summer’s spend their winters. That must be somewhere deep in the heart of God.
I stepped out on the deck and sat down. I looked over at the empty camp. Although I interact with people all day every day, as individuals or in groups, I also make sure that a certain amount of the time I am on my own. In those latter times I almost never feel what I have felt on this beautiful evening. Alone. Without. Alone.
I am glad that this does not come to visit me much. This feeling of emptiness which teams up tonight with that sense (true sense!) of the passing nature of all things. The camp and the kids were here. Now they are not. The summer was here. Real and bright and loud and happy. And now, it is passing away.
The passing nature of the present moment – as my friend Marina McCoy drew it forth skillfully from her love of Saint Augustine in her post on this, his feast day [see graceinmidlife.wordpress.com – is always true. But there are some “now’s” when that truth can almost take your breath away.
I have been privileged (sometimes in very difficult circumstances over the passing years) to stand with families, to pray and cry and hope with them when a loved one has left this world. In all that time I have managed somehow to almost never think of my own mortality. Maybe the time was not right, although I believe in my heart that to live with a sense of the reality of one’s own passing nature through this life makes life infinitely richer and love (actually) possible at all.
But tonight, I do think, not in a morbid sense but truly – and unexpectedly – I am going to die. I am going to die. There is going to be a day, and indeed hundreds, thousands, likely millions of days, when I will be a memory if that, a part of the past, here no more.
The thought makes me want all the more to live this evening, and this night, and tomorrow. To live them fully and humanly and lovingly and well.
Out on the deck one of the neighbors greeted me as she swam by, as she does the length of the pond every morning and every evening. We each commented on the beauty of the evening. And of the truth that summer is passing, and of our hope for an easier winter. And then my next-door neighbor, out on her porch, unseen through the century-old yew tree between us said, “And then spring will come, as it always does. A new spring. Thank God for that.”
Indeed. Thank God for it all. For the coming of all, for its growth and blooming, for its life and color and noise, for its quieting and weakening and moving toward divine silence, and for the rebirth of new things that are also the same.
Early this morning the world broke into morning prayer time to inform me that the stock exchange in China dropped almost another 8% overnight and that I should expect more trouble today on Wall Street.
Several thoughts occur.
Being a bona fide complete and total non-economist, I have absolutely no idea whether this all represents the biggest financial story of the 21st century in development (eclipsing 2008), or the second biggest, or merely a blip on the big computer screen of the world.
I can’t help thinking.
Would it not be the height of irony if communism finally did bring down capitalism, not in the ways envisioned by any earlier revolutionaries, but rather by a communist system undertaking to do capitalism and ultimately not sustaining it well, or perhaps at all?
Are you and I compelled to follow the scenario that this trouble represents absolute threat to what might be called variously our ‘happiness,’ or ‘way of life,’ or our ‘hopes for the future’? For years now I have heard about China pouring money into the USA and owning a lot of ‘stuff’ in this country – certainly not least in the world-class megalopolis beside which I sit and write this morning.
Does my happiness and life and hope depend in the end on dollars and cents? (I know, now I’m getting crazy!). I must learn about economics so that I can speak to whether or not …
I agree with what I hear Pope Francis saying, that an economic syste
m that puts humans first is the only just one; and that a system that puts profit first is ultimately not only inhumane but immoral,
must I agree with ‘the Donald’ whose every word and gesture seem to indicate that the economic system works when it works for ‘Number One,’ for little old me, and the rest of you be damned?
For the moment, and I suspect for longer, my native sympathies – formed as they are by the Gospel of Christ, though I am a miserable disciple of his and carry on only by divine mercy – are toward Francis.
In fact, whatever might happen on the markets today, if it just happened to remove from Donald’s personal coffers the $1,000,000,000 he is willing spend on the run for the presidency, it just might be worth the sacrifice this would impose on my retirement and yours.
Is human life a numbers game? Or is it something more?
During the two years just before and after I was twenty I had two experiences which led to religious conversion. The first occurred when I was waiting at a bus stop on a wet afternoon. It was opposite the Odeon cinema, outside the station, and I was surrounded by people, shops, cars. A friend was with me. All of a sudden, for no apparent reason, everything looked different. Everything I could see shone, vibrated, throbbed with joy and with meaning. I knew that it had done this all along, and would go on doing it, but that usually I couldn’t see it. It was all over in a minute or two. I climbed on to the bus, saying nothing to my friend – it seemed impossible to explain – and ast stunned with astonishment and happiness.
The second experience occurred some months later. I left my office at lunch-time, stopped at a small Greek café in Fleet Street to buy some rolls and fruit, and walked up Chancery Lane. It was an August day, quite warm but cloudy, with the sun glaringly, painfully bright, behind the clouds. I had a strong sense that something was about to happen. I sat on a seat on the garden of Lincoln’s Inn waiting for whatever it was to occur. The sun behind the clouds grew brighter and brighter, the clouds assumed a shape which fascinated me, and between one moment and the next, although no word had been uttered, I felt myself spoken to. I was aware of being regarded by love, of being wholly accepted, accused, forgiven, all at once. The joy of it was the greatest I had ever known in my life. I felt I had been born for this moment and had marked time until it occurred.
A real gift of this time supplying for the chapel at Amagansett is its flying in the face of our usual shared way of life.
Usually we are in some measure stressed, rushed, under pressure, short-on-time, wondering how to get it all done, and add whatever other phrase might describe your like experience.
Coming here, you arrive at a quiet chapel, a peaceful cottage, a bustling village of vacationers, and are afforded up to a week to experience, learn, and enjoy all of that. Why? In terms of ‘doing’ (in a sense), so that you can celebrate one Eucharist on the Sunday at 10 am. That’s it.
No money is exchanged, but the gift of time is given with open generosity, as God gave it from the beginning.
The irony is that, in this context, with more inner freedom and an easy pace, more gets done.
So, consider finding gracious ways to give yourself and others the gift of time.
I arrived last evening at Amagansett out east on the Island. I will be supplying for Saint Thomas Chapel here this weekend. It is a pretty village, an old and quaint little chapel (inasmuch as I could see it at dusk last night) and a comfortable cottage behind it.
I slept uneasy last night, with vague dreams about the downsides of me as a person. It was weird. Then I woke early this morning with a feeling of fear – not of anything in particular, but just of fear. Prayer begins to help. The beauty of this morning begins to help. Going out in a moment to search for strong black coffee will help.
But more importantly, as this feeling is unusual for me, it moves me to pray for the many around the globe who live with real fear, and real reason to fear, day and night all their days. Dear God, embrace them all – mothers and children, soldiers who don’t want to be soldiers, those in pain, all who fear. I have no reason to be afraid in the shadow of what these brothers and sisters of mine suffer today. Abba, be God for them, present, warm, strong, sufficient in every need.
Yesterday, I was in a funk. My body was sore and I had a headache under my eyes that wouldn’t go away. I grumpily stumbled my way downstairs to sit down with my coffee, open my laptop and almost instantaneously get bombarded with instant messages and “high priority” emails. Too many things unexpectedly popping up and I started to slip into a mental abys of stress and negativity. As much as I like to tell myself, “I’ve got this” and that this whole working and getting chemo thing is easy-peasy, sometimes, to be honest, it’s not easy. Sometimes, it’s hard. Really really hard. Sometimes trying to balance working full time and having the effects of treatment weigh me down is, a lot. Yesterday, as I sat at the table ferociously pounding on my keyboard, I began to panic thinking about everything that I needed to get done before heading to…
Each of us on the Bishop’s staff have been asked to prepare an ‘elevator speech’ to share this morning about what our work, our ministry, our piece of the pie, is about. I have come to recognize in myself over my life a distinct tendency to see the grays, the ambiguities, the unspoken possibilities, the unmet difficulties, the unrecognized potentials, rather than the black-and-white, what is in place, the details that are carrying on their back things as they presently are.
As a result, I don’t think there is a building tall enough to contain an elevator speech that I might prepare, that is, a summation of what I am about with others that might be spoken as the lift moves from the basement to the roof.
However, because one is sometime required to do what is not native, and in doing so to be stretched in helpful fashion, here goes:
We live in a moment in many ways marvelous, where and when ever-new technologies and gadgets invite us to interface, associate, relate with, hook up and plug into one another. And yet, in a measure so deep as to be rarely recognized for what it is or dared to be spoken with clarity, we live in a time of profound disconnection with each other, as monads trolling social media ultimately alone, walking darkened virtual streets, companion-less in a way we cannot bear to admit. In this 21st century world, the Mercer School of Theology remains to offer an invitation to information, inspiration, and the possibility of insight by bringing us together into conversation about the gifts of the past, the present, and the possible future. Centered in Jesus Christ, the insight that counts is not the one that we might offer you. The insight that matters is the one that you might discover in our company. Mercer exists to forge connections among persons, and in that discovery to find that we are connected together with God. In that connection. we know ourselves as agents of transformative love.
Or, to put it more briefly: We live in empty fantasy. The Gospel invites us to full and saving reality. Mercer is here to help. Go!
The new week begins with six wonderful relations – through my paternal grandmother’s side! – here for a brief visit. They are presently hailing from Florida, Idaho, and Massachusetts and have just been at a family reunion in Pennsylvania.
God bless the times in the world today when we manage to slow down long enough to actually see and hear one another. Those moments are too few and far between. Jesus, particularly as he appears in Mark’s Gospel, was very much on the move through the land. But when he stopped to be with someone, he really stopped. And was present. Right there.
All the “slow” movements, beginning I think with the ‘slow food’ movement are onto something very important. It takes time to be human. It takes time to think, to allow ourselves to truly feel what our emotions are at this moment, what they are telling us or asking us or warning us about or celebrating.
There is even a ‘slow church’ movement now. I, for one, like it. I think perhaps that the turtles in the old Comcast “Slowsky” commercials