There is not one blade of grass, there is no color in this world that is not intended to make us rejoice. ~John Calvin as quoted in John Calvin: A Sixteenth Century Portrait (Oxford, 1988)byWilliam J. Bouwsma
It is too easy to become blinded to the glory surrounding us if we perceive it to be routine and commonplace.
I can’t remember the last time I celebrated a blade of grass, given how focused I am at mowing it into conformity.
Too often I’m not up early enough to witness the pink sunrise or I’m too busy to take time to watch the sun paint the sky red as it sets or to witness our horses turning to gold in the evening glow.
I didn’t notice how the light was illuminating our walnut tree until I saw the perfect reflection of it in our koi pond — I had marveled at a reflection instead of the real thing itself.
I almost missed the miracle of a spider’s overnight work in the grass; from a distance, it looked like a dew-soaked tissue draped like a tent over the green blades. When I went to go pick it up to throw it away in the trash, I realized I was staring at a small creature’s masterpiece.
I miss opportunities to rejoice innumerable times a day. It takes only a moment of recognition and appreciation to feel the joy, and in that moment time stands still. Life stretches a little longer when I stop to acknowledge the intention of creation as an endless reservoir of rejoicing. If a blade of grass, if a leaf turning color, if a chance reflection, if a delicately knit tent in the grass — if all this is made for joy, then maybe so am I.
Even colorless, plain and commonplace me, created an image-bearer and intended reflector of Light.
There is a day that comes when you realize you can’t bake enough bread to make things turn out right, no matter how many times you read Little House on the Prairie to your children. There aren’t enough quart jars to fill with tomatoes or translucent slices of pear to keep you from feeling unproductive. There is no bonfire that burns orange enough in the chill October night to keep your mind from following the lonesome howls and yips of the coyotes concealed by darkness in the harvested cornfield just beyond the circle of your fire.
And when you step away from your family and fire, into the dark pasture and tip your head back, feel the whole black bowl of sky with its icy prickles of stars, its swath of Milky Way, settle over you, you know that no one and everyone is just this alone on the Earth though most keep themselves distracted enough not to notice. In your hollowness you open your arms to God because no one else is enough to fill them. Eternity passes between and no one knows this but you.
The hum of their conversation, the whole world, talking. When it is time, you turn, grasp the woodcart’s handle, pull it, bumping behind you across the frosty grass, up the hill to the house, where you step inside cubes of light, and begin to do ordinary things, hang up coats, open and close drawers, rinse hot chocolate from mugs. And you are still separate, but no longer grieving bread. ~Daye Phillippo “Bread” from The Exponent. Vol. 124 – No 75 (May 3, 2010)
Try as I might, there aren’t enough chores to do, nor meals to make, nor pictures to take or words to write to distract me from the emptiness that can hit in the middle of the night. We each try to find our own way to make the world feel right and good, to give us a sense of purpose for getting up each morning.
Yet life can be harsh. I hear regularly from my patients who fight a futile struggle with pointlessness. Hours, days and years are hollow without loving and meaningful relationships with each other, but especially with our Creator.
My work here is simple: to find meaning in routine and the rhythm of the seasons with a desire to leave behind something that will last longer than I will. In those moments of feeling hollowed-out, I am reminded that God-shaped hole is just as He created it. God knows exactly what I need— I rise like leavened bread becoming more than I could ever be without Him.
The ordinary in me is filled by the extraordinary.
No one compels you, traveler; this road or that road, make your choice! Dust or mud, heat or cold, fellowship or solitude, foul weather or a fairer sky, the choice is yours as you go by.
But here if you would take this path there is a gate whose latch is love, whose key is single and which swings upon the hinge of faithfulness,
and none can mock, who seeks this way, the king we worship shamelessly. If you would enter, traveler, into this city fair and wide, it is forever and you leave all trappings of the self outside. ~Jane Tyson Clements from No One Can Stem the Tide
What we call the beginning is often the end And to make an end is to make a beginning. The end is where we start from.
We shall not cease from exploration And the end of all our exploring Will be to arrive where we started And know the place for the first time. Through the unknown, unremembered gate When the last of earth left to discover Is that which was the beginning; ~T.S. Eliot from “Little Gidding” The Four Quartets
I can, with very little effort, remember the restlessness of my late teens once I learned homesickness was not a terminal condition. There was a world out there to be explored just beyond the gate of my childhood barnyard, and I just knew I was meant to be a designated explorer and traveler, seeking out the extraordinary.
Ordinary simply wouldn’t do. Ordinary was plentiful at my childhood 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 their 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, choose another path and retreat to 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. I saw home differently, as if for the first time, after experiencing the world in all its glory and ugliness. The next path I took, I needed to leave the trappings of myself behind, unlatch the gate with the key I had been given from the very beginning. The hinge of faithfulness opens the gate wide.
I must remember I have chosen the path that leads to forever, though neither smooth nor easy. Entering that unknown, unremembered gate means I will arrive where I started, back at the beginning and knowing the place for the first time.
What seemed to be the end proved to be the beginning… Suddenly a wall becomes a gate. ~Henri Nouwen from A Letter of Consolation
Do not ask your children to strive for extraordinary lives. Such striving may seem admirable, but it is a way of foolishness. Help them instead to find the wonder and the marvel of an ordinary life. Show them the joy of tasting tomatoes, apples, and pears. Show them how to cry when pets and people die. Show them the infinite pleasure in the touch of a hand. And make the ordinary come alive for them. The extraordinary will take care of itself. ~William Martin from The Parent’s Tao Te Ching: Ancient Advice for Modern Parents
Parents can hold expectations of success for their children that reflect their own deficiencies or failures. After all, we want the world to be a better place for them than for us.
Yet no academic degree, no bank account, no notoriety or award can match living an ordinary life filled with extraordinary love.
I did disappoint my parents despite checking off all the boxes they hoped I would achieve in my younger years, because in retrospect, I disappointed myself.
I tended to cling to old grievances and resentments, withholding myself emotionally from them. I could have been more compassionate in their failing years, more available even though physically present. That is something I cannot undo except to pray now for forgiveness for my own deficiencies and failures.
Giving birth to three tall kind people who we have sent into the world, I hope for them what I wish I had understood when I was sent into the world by my parents: living an ordinary life of extraordinary love is more important than anything else they set out to do.
I rejoice as I see them foster such love with their spouses and their children and their communities: remembering, noticing and breathing life into each new day.
Seeing that, I can let go of my own disgrace and disappointment in myself.
There is an ancient conversation going on between mosses and rocks, poetry to be sure. About light and shadow and the drift of continents. This is what has been called the “dialect of moss on stone – an interface of immensity and minuteness, of past and present, softness and hardness, stillness and vibrancy…
Most lie low, flourishing with damp, harvesting sunlight, no commotion, moss mouse-silent, even through wind and hail, stoic through motors roaring fumes, through fat-clawed bears grubbing.
They can soothe the knife-edges of stones with frothy leaf by leaf of gray-green life, and burned-ground mosses cover destruction, charred stumps, trees felled and blackened. Cosmopolitan mosses likewise salve sidewalk cracks, crumbling walls.
They root in thin alpine air, on sedentary sand dunes, cling to cliff seeps beneath spilling springs. For rest, they make mats on streamside banks, for pleasure produce silky tufts, wavy brooms of themselves in woodlands for beauty, red roof moss for whim, elf cap, hair cap, sphagnum for nurturing.
I believe they could comfort the world with their ministries. That is my hope, even though this world be a jagged rock, even though this rock be an icy berg of blue or a mirage of summer misunderstood (moss balm for misunderstanding), even though this world be blind and awry and adrift, scattering souls like spores through the deep of a starlit sea. ~Pattiann Rogers from “The Moss Method”
In this part of the world, mosses are everywhere. They are so much a part of the green backdrop, they become invisible as part of the scenery. Our lawn is mostly moss carpet in some spots, and many shingles on roofs sprout verdant fuzz.
Trees and rocks are festooned with moss: draped, painted and garlanded. Moss rugs make bare-foot tree climbing a more comfy adventure with branches forming hairy armpits and cushiony crotches.
Moss is softens our sharp edges, it forgives our abrasive surfaces, it heals the wounds and gaps and cracks. It becomes balm-like therapy for a struggling world baring its teeth in anger and misunderstanding.
I say let it grow: green, gentle, generous and grace-filled. We all can use more of that.
It can happen like that: meeting at the market, buying tires amid the smell of rubber, the grating sound of jack hammers and drills, anywhere we share stories, and grace flows between us.
The tire center waiting room becomes a healing place as one speaks of her husband’s heart valve replacement, bedsores from complications. A man speaks of multiple surgeries, notes his false appearance as strong and healthy.
I share my sister’s death from breast cancer, her youngest only seven. A woman rises, gives her name, Mrs. Henry, then takes my hand. Suddenly an ordinary day becomes holy ground. ~ Stella Nesanovich, “Everyday Grace,” from Third Wednesday
The only use of a knowledge of the past is to equip us for the present. The present contains all that there is. It is holy ground; for it is the past, and it is the future. ~Alfred North Whitehead
It matters less what has happened or what will happen. What matters is happening right this very moment – in the tire center waiting room, the grocery store check out line, the exam room of the doctor’s office. Are we living fully in the present and paying attention?
We are sentient creatures with a proclivity to bypass the present to dwell on the past or fret about the future. This has been true of humans since our creation. Those observing Buddhist tradition and New Age believers of the “Eternal Now” call our attention to the present moment through the teaching of “mindfulness” to bring a sense of peacefulness and fulfillment.
Mindfulness is all well and good but I don’t believe the present is about our minds. It is not about us at all.
The present is an ordinary day transformed to holy ground where we are allowed to tread:
We are asked to remove our shoes in an attitude of respect to a loving God who gives us life. We are to approach each other and each sacred moment with humility. We turn aside from the dailiness of our lives to look at what He has promised. We are connected to one another through our Maker.
There can be no other moment just like this one, so this is no time to waste. There may be no other beyond this one. Right now, this moment sorely barefoot, I am simply grateful to be here and connected to each of you.
I was cold and leaned against the big oak tree as if it were my mother wearing a rough apron of bark, her upraised arms warning of danger. Through those boughs and leaves I saw dark patches of sky… I looked to the roof of mom and dad’s house and wondered if the paisley couch patterns would change during the day. My brother peeked from a window and waved. When the bus came, I pawed away from the trunk, fumbled, and took my first step toward not returning. ~Dante Di Stefano from “With a Coat”
We shall not cease from exploration And the end of all our exploring Will be to arrive where we started And know the place for the first time. ~T.S. Eliot from “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 funding, 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.
Returning back where I started – knowing the place for the first time.