— G. K. Chesterton
The Want of Wonder
— G. K. Chesterton
Never did sun more beautifully steep
In his first splendour, valley, rock, or hill;
Ne’er saw I, never felt, a calm so deep!
The river glideth at his own sweet will:
Dear God! the very houses seem asleep;
And all that mighty heart is lying still!
~William Wordsworth from Composed Upon Westminster Bridge, September 1802
The end of September is wistful yet expectant. We have not yet had frost but the air has a stark coolness that presages a freeze coming soon. Nothing is really growing any more; there is a settling in, as if going down for a nap–drifting off, comfortable, sinking deep and untroubled under the blankets.
Our long sleep is not yet come but we take our rest at intervals. There is still daylight left though the frenetic season has passed.
We take our calm as it comes, in a serene moment of reflection, looking out from the edge and wondering, pondering what is waiting on the other side.
Our hearts irrigate this earth. We are fields before each other.
I shall open my eyes and ears. Once every day I shall simply stare at a tree, a flower, a cloud, or a person. I shall not then be concerned at all to ask what they are but simply be glad that they are. I shall joyfully allow them the mystery of what C.S. Lewis calls their “divine, magical, terrifying and ecstatic” existence.
Clyde Kilby in “Amazed in the Ordinary”
“To make myself understood and to diminish the distance between us, I called out: “I am an evening cloud too.” They stopped still, evidently taking a good look at me. Then they stretched towards me their fine, transparent, rosy wings. That is how evening clouds greet each other. They had recognized me.”
Rainer Maria Rilke, from Stories of God
The sacred moments, the moments of miracle, are often the everyday moments,
the moments which, if we do not look with more than our eyes or listen with more than our ears reveal only…
a gardener, a stranger coming down the road behind us, a meal like any other meal.
But if we look with our hearts, if we listen with all our being and imagination…
what we may see is Jesus himself.
He’s not hidden from us; we are heart-blind most of the time, so wrapped in our own worries and cares that we do not see Him. As the heart veil is lifted, we may see Him in ways and places we could never have imagined.
Open eyes wide, listen with all your being, hearts at the ready, everyday, every moment.
He is here.
“Sir, we would see Jesus.” John 12:21
“We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive at where we started
And know the place for the first time.”
– T. S. Eliot, Little Gidding
I remember the restlessness of my late teens when I learned homesickness was not a terminal condition. There was a world out there to be explored and I knew I was meant to be a designated explorer, seeking out the extraordinary.
Ordinary simply wouldn’t do. Ordinary was plentiful at home on a small farm with a predictable routine, a garden to be weeded and daily chores to be done, with middle-aged parents tight with tension in a struggling marriage.
On a whim at age nineteen, I applied for wild chimpanzee research study in Africa, and much to my shock, was accepted. A year of academic and physical preparation as well as Swahili language study was required, so this was no impulsive adventure. I had plenty of time to back out, reconsider and be ordinary again.
It was an adventure, far beyond what I had anticipated and trained for. When I had to decide between more exploration, without clear purpose or funds, or returning home, I opted to return to the place I started, seeing home differently, as if for the first time, after having been away.
Ordinary is a state of mind, not a place. I can choose to be deeply rooted in the mundane, or I can seek the extraordinary in attentive exploration of my everyday world.
Arriving where I started. It was meant to be so.
“There are only ten minutes in the life of a pear when it is perfect to eat.”
~Ralph Waldo Emerson
A moment’s window of perfection is so fleeting
in a life of bruises, blemishes and worm holes.
Wait too long and nectar-smooth flesh
softens to mush and rot.
The unknown rests beneath a blushed veneer:
perhaps immature gritty fruit unripened,
or past-prime browning pulp readily
tossed aside for compost.
Our own sweet salvage from warming humus
depends not on flawless flesh down deep inside
but heaven’s grace dropped into our laps;
a perfect pear falls when ripe, tasting like a selfless gift.
“A man watches his pear-tree day after day, impatient for the ripening of the fruit. Let him attempt to force the process, and he may spoil both fruit and tree. But let him patiently wait, and the ripe pear at length falls into his lap!”
~ Abraham Lincoln
How is it the same day can be wistful and yet jubilant? More than New Year’s Day, the beginning of autumn represents so many turned over “leafs”. We are literally reminded of this whenever we look at the trees and how their leaves are turning and letting go, making joy as they make way, the slate wiped clean and ready to be scribbled on once again.
Tomorrow the school where I’ve worked for nearly a quarter century welcomes back 15,000 students to its halls and classrooms. We see or are contacted by 2% of those students every day about their health concerns and symptoms. I am struck anew every autumn when each adult comes to the university with that clean slate, hoping to start fresh, leaving behind what has not worked well for them in the past. These are patients who are open to change because they are dedicating themselves to self-transformation through knowledge and discipline.
It is a true privilege, as a college health doc, to participate in our students’ transition to become autonomous critical thinkers who strive to better the world as compassionate global citizens. Their rich colors deepen once they let go to fly wherever the wind may take them.
We who remain rooted in place celebrate each new beginning, knowing we nurture the coming transformation.
To the earnest love that laid the swale in rows…
The fact is the sweetest dream that labor knows.
My long scythe whispered and left the hay to make.
~Robert Frost in “Mowing”
I grew up watching my father scythe our hay in our field because he had no mower for his tractor. He enjoyed physical labor in the fields and woods–his other favorite hand tool was a brush cutter that he’d take to blackberry bushes. He would head out to the field with the scythe over this shoulder, grim reaper style. Once he was standing on the edge of the grass needing to be mowed, he would then lower the scythe, curved blade to the ground, turn slightly, positioning his hands on the two handles just so, raise the scythe up past his shoulders, and then in a full body twist almost like a golf swing, he’d bring the blade down. It would follow a smooth arc through the base of the standing grass, laying clumps flat in a tidy pile in a row alongside the 2 inch stubble left behind. It was a swift, silky muscle movement, a thing of beauty.
This work was a source of his satisfaction and “sweetest dream.” I know now what he must have felt–there is a contentment found in sweaty work showing visible results. I understand that “earnest love” that drives us to work, and tangibly leaves the evidence of our labors behind.
Harvest work is not for sissies. I learned that watching my father’s continual sweep across the field and hearing his whispering scythe.
I wish I too could work with a whisper.