precious moments 

  view on my walk home in Asheville

 Though I have never been so lucky as to boast a collection of porcelain figurines with sad, tear-drop eyes, I do have a collection of precious moments, made all the preciouser when I take time to notice that I’m in the midst of one such moment. I thought this a lot when we were in France last summer, wanting to suck up every minute, not losing a beat, not shutting my eyes to any experience–even walking down the street. 

It’s funny, though, the other times that strike me as precious in retrospect usually aren’t exceptional in the moment. Taking an early morning run on Duke’s West campus, walking down Morningside Drive to the place I housesat in Edinburgh, or stopping in at my favorite frozen yogurt store in St. Louis–these mostly mundane experiences are so sweet when I reflect on them now. 

  

This evening I remembered that I’m in the middle of another such moment–this sacred time in the mountains, walking to yoga camp and back to the grocery store, hot, sticky days and cold showers to calm down for bed. Surely I’ll look back on these days with the same affection and warmth that other exceptional adventures have afforded me. 

What’s even more important to realize, though, is that every moment has the capacity to be a precious moment. It doesn’t have to be a far-flung locale, a grand adventure, or any thing out of the “ordinary.”  Every moment, if we approach each one with awe and expectation, can surprise, delight, challenge, and transform us–if we allow it and are open to the change we’ll undergo. 

I’m reminded of the bit of the book,  Screwtape Letters: the present moment is the point at which humans touch eternity. There is great possibility in meeting God, in experiencing growth, in celebrating something precious every single moment, if only we will hold and recognize each moment’s precious offering. 

happiness list

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1. I’m alive & well!  I was in a car accident last night, and was able to walk away from it (maybe more later, maybe not).  It was an honor to wake up this morning, feed my menagerie, make a cup of tea, and sit quietly–like “normal.”

2. a section from Learning to Dream Again that I read this week, which challenged me to respond to others’ sin and shortcomings with grace–not with resentment, or with justice, or even with mercy, but with grace (more than justice & mercy–complete forgiveness and acceptance).

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light through the West window at Evening Prayer this week; Trinity Cathedral, Columbia, South Carolina

3. autumn sunshine.  There’s something warm, quiet, reflective, and somehow cool at the same time, about the light this time of year.

Our Deepest Gratitude

Around many tables this afternoon, probably at the table where you’ll be sitting, a moment will come when each person will be asked to reflect and recount the things for which she or he is thankful.

Some people do this all year round, a friend of mine thinks of three specific things he’s grateful for before he lets his feet hit the floor in the morning.  I know a few people who keep gratitude journals, jotting down events, or people, or moments during the day.  The journals let them look back and remember these treasured moments in the following weeks and months, which makes them feel grateful again–because they’ve probably forgotten those little fleeting gifts in the interim.

It seems that for us humans, it’s often much easier to remember negative things than positive things.  Look at the ancient Hebrews–I don’t mean to pick on them as exemplary in this area, because they certainly aren’t–the Bible is made up of common life examples, situations in which any person would do the exact same thing.  As God’s people are wandering around in the desert, they complain to Moses–do you remember those stories?  They’ve just seen God’s protection of them at the Red Sea, cutting off the Egyptians from pursuing them, and with the image of the great waves crashing over the heads of their enemies still burned into the backs of their minds, they turn to Moses and say, “Are we there yet?!  We’re going to DIE out here!!  This is absolutely HOPELESS.  We should go back to Egypt.  Let’s take a poll–who wants to go back to Egypt??”  It sounds a little like the back of my mom’s minivan on the way to summer vacation.

Do you remember what happens next?  Our Gospel lesson alludes to it; God provides food for them in the wilderness by raining down manna on them.  The manna is something that can be baked into bread which the Hebrews gather up every morning when they wake up–it falls and rests on the ground overnight, like dew, the Bible says; maybe something like the frost we experienced on our lawns this morning.  The word “manna” in Hebrew translates as, “What is it?”  Its substance is mysterious, we don’t know exactly what it is, even today.  But in another way, we, as well as the Hebrew people, know exactly what it is–it’s a blessing, it’s a witness to God’s love and care.  So the Hebrew people gather up these little scraps that remind them how much God loves them and cares for them.

What is our gratitude except Manna?  The journals my friends keep are proverbial baskets full of manna, pages and pages of reminders of God’s goodness and love toward us.  Our greatest gift which God sends from heaven as a symbol and reminder of his love is Jesus Christ, his only Son, God incarnate.  In today’s Gospel lesson, some people ask Jesus, “What sign are you going to give us then, so that we may see it and believe you?  What work are you performing?” (v.30)  Do you recognize the skepticism?  Maybe first-century people aren’t so different from people today.  “How can you prove that God exists?”  “How do you know that Jesus is God?”

Jesus responds to his interlocutors that it was God who was behind the manna their ancestors ate, as they well know; and besides, God has provided for them the true bread which is standing right in front of them.  They’ve already seen signs–their ancestors witness to them about the manna provided in the wilderness.  The actual eyes beholding Jesus in first-century Capernum didn’t see the manna falling, or ingest it into their own bodies, but their very existence was evidence that their ancestors hadn’t starved in the wilderness, but that they’d been sustained by something–by manna, the children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren were told.  And so, these children generations later knew and trusted that the manna had fallen and had been a tangible testament to God’s care for His people.

It’s the same for us.  We haven’t seen Jesus in the way that the people in our Gospel lesson today did; we haven’t seen Jesus the way that Paul did on the way to Damascus or Jesus’ disciples did after his resurrection.  But we know Jesus came, and lived, and died, and rose again because we have our ancestors’ witness to those events.  We stand on the shoulders of our great-grandparents in the faith, trusting their testimony about the God made human in Jesus Christ.  Further, because we exist as Christians and children of God, we ourselves are witnesses, we are a testament to God’s love and power.

Our great-grandfather-in-the-Faith, G.K. Chesterton said, “The test of all happiness is gratitude; and I felt grateful, though I hardly knew to whom.  Children are grateful when Santa Claus puts in their stockings gifts or toys or sweets.  Could I not be grateful to Santa Claus when he put in my stockings the gift of two miraculous legs?  We thank people for birthday presents of cigars and slippers.  Can I thank no one for the birthday present of birth?” (Orthodoxy)

“be safe out there”

Has anyone ever said that to you? Someone, probably many people, probably your parents, has expressed their love and care and concern by wishing for you to “be safe out there.”
Isn’t that a common sentiment of mothers to their children? (whether expressed in exactly those words or not) It’s a wish for protection that the proclaimer cannot provide, an acknowledgement of the uncertainty outside the walls of the home, a desire for the hearer to be surrounded by the blessing of safety.
When I recently heard this sentiment expressed by a fellowship breakfast regular (that is to say, the mostly-homeless crew of 10 or 40 who gather for breakfast Monday through Friday at St. Joseph’s Episcopal Church in Durham) to another attendee, I was stopped cold.
It was the tail end of breakfast service, most people were getting up and leaving, or already had, and this man is one who usually helps to clean up by stacking chairs, wiping down tables and vacuuming.
He said, “Be safe out there” to a woman who held an infant. Some mornings when I’m running with my dog, I see her going to breakfast, pushing her stroller.
Throughout the day, I see a lot of the people with whom I share breakfast, waiting for buses, walking Ninth Street. “Out there” is the street, is downtown. Outside, in cold and heat and rain.
Friends of mine have recently had babies, and visiting them in their homes, I’m accosted with anti-bacterial gels before I cross the threshold. We talk in hushed tones, babies are changed into new outfits several times a day.
The mother and infant I know from breakfast have very different concerns. “Be safe out there” isn’t just “I love you”–which is what a patent might mean when speaking to offspring, or “don’t do anything stupid on your way home” –which is what one college student might mean, talking to another at the end of the night. “Be safe out there” is talking about much bigger, much more basic things here. If we have no sensible reason–because of where we live, how much food is in our cupboards, how easily we can bathe ourselves and our children, our access to electric warmth and coolness–to fear for our mortal safety, but our sister and her baby must face those questions daily, what luxury are we invoking when we wish each other “safety”?