On Reverence

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I was grumpy this morning, like most. But while I pouted and hurried and tried to do all the things, Andrew stood in the middle of the kitchen floor, giggling about his jeans shrinking, pointed to his backside and declared (in his best five-year-old voice) “Look, now they hug my bum!” For every ugly, angry-at-the-world comment I had to make, he had silliness and joy enough to cover it. By the time I left for work, he’d broken me down, butterfly-kissing me out the door.

I was thinking about this fraction of my day, this minute–easily forgotten–moment in a lifetime, when I realized I was communing with God as much as Andrew. That it was God, incarnate in the body and soul of Andrew, who I’d actually encountered. For days and days and days, I’ve prayed away my anger, asking God to come and crush it–then suddenly! he was there in my kitchen, alive as ever. And I can only figure he’s been there all along, if only I’d had the eyes to recognize him.

I think this is often (if not always) the presence of God among us, embodied in our sphere of direct contact. I refuse to believe he is a distant God, but so present and full of love as to meet me by the refrigerator wearing the face of my husband. Right here. Waiting to commune with us, if we will stop long enough to let it happen. If we will pay attention, baring open hearts and reverence for every tiny thing.

Hear it as Barbara Brown Taylor describes:
“Reverence may take all kinds of forms, depending on what it is that awakens awe in you by reminding you of your true size. As I learned on that night of falling stars in Ohio, nature is a good place to start. Nature is full of things bigger and more powerful than human beings, including but limited to night skies, oceans, thunderstorms, deserts, grizzly bears, earthquakes, and rain-swollen rivers.

But size is not everything. Properly attended to, even a saltmarsh mosquito is capable of evoking reverence. See those white and black striped stockings on legs thinner than a needle? Where in those legs is there room for knees? And yet see how they bend, as the bug lowers herself to your flesh. Soon you and she will be blood kin. Your itch is the price of her life. Swat her if you must, but not without telling her she is beautiful first.

The easiest practice of reverence I know is simply to sit down somewhere outside, preferably near a body of water, and pay attention for at least twenty minutes. It is not necessary to take on the whole world at first. Just take the three square feet of earth on which you are sitting, paying close attention to everything that lives within that small estate. You might even decide not to kill anything for twenty minutes, including the saltmarsh mosquito that lands on your arm. Just blow her away and ask her please to go find someone else to eat.

With any luck, you will soon begin to see the souls in pebbles, ants, small mounds of moss, and the acorn on its way to becoming an oak tree. You may feel some tenderness for the struggling mayfly the ants are carrying away. If you can see the water, you may take time to wonder where it came from and where it is going. You may even feel the beating of your own heart, that miracle of ingenuity that does its work with no thought or instruction from you. You did not make your heart, any more than you made a tree. You are a guest here. You have been given a free pass to this modest domain and everything in it.

If someone walks by or speaks to you, you may find that your power of attentiveness extends to this person as well. Even if you do not know him, you may be able to see his soul too, the one he thinks he has so carefully covered up. There is something he is working on in his life, same way you are working on something. Can you see it in his face? You are related, even if you do not know each other’s names.”
(pg 22-23, An Alter in the World)

May you take these words within you, and allow them to renew the eyes of your heart.


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2 comments

  1. I was completely and utterly captivated by this beautiful piece – indeed, I felt the world recede in the couple of minutes that it took for me to read it. What can I say, but yes. Yes to the sacredness in everything, even in your morning grumpiness xo

    • Oh sara! I am so so glad. This is exactly how I feel about the whole book! Needless to say, I highly recommend it. Thrilled it has impacted you. And I agree, there is holiness even in grumpiness!

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