If I really keep my eyes peeled and my ears open, if I really pay attention to it, even such a seemingly limited life as the one I live will speak to me. That’s what he showed me, in ways that I couldn’t have envisioned. Frederick Buechner is an extraordinary gift to my life.
The man, Buechner, died this last week. His life will continue to share the vividness of his message that is fleshed out in stories from his own life and the lives he created in his novels. Listen to your life, he explained, is the essence of everything he was trying to say as both a novelist and a preacher. So, I’m listening to my life because he showed me how.
For the past four years, I’ve lived with the beauty of the natural world front and center. The ways this physical place communicates with me are startlingly sensory and have their own pattern of revelation.
I have said many times that living in Victoria is a gift we’ve been given. The abundance of life, masses of rock teeming with substance, shoreline, water, and sky never appear the same. I’ve come to depend upon the unfolding of my generative relationship with this place.
Eudora Welty writes that the events of our lives happen in a sequence of time and find their own order of significance that “is a continuous thread of revelation.” For me, that revelation comes through a pattern of wondering, sensing, experiencing, and noticing that there is something to listen to. Reading and writing weave together the threads.
Usually, well always, I wonder about things. There are a few questions that are perennial: What do I do? What does God do? What just happens? I don’t expect to hear an answer. I suppose a lifetime of measuring keeps me asking. I am sure these are distracting questions. Listening is not an answer but a way of making a place for ourselves to belong.
This summer, we have experienced some of the lowest tides in years and so much of the rock usually below the water is exposed. I’ve walked out a bit farther and observed the life that clings to those rocks. I look closely into the slippery verdant patches where I can’t safely walk. The birds can, though. That blue heron rests on one edge for a time, and then I spot the four oystercatchers.
The birds’ black bodies show off those long red beaks and fleshy legs and feet. I hadn’t seen them for a couple of months. I suppose they were taking advantage of the bounty the exposure provided so they lingered. I took time, too, to watch them.
At first, I wasn’t certain the sound I heard was coming from those shorebirds. The sharp loud cry hung in the air. I looked up, expecting to see a crow flying overhead. The oystercatcher’s beak was indeed opening into the air. I sat down to listen and take in the spectacle.
Oh do you have time to linger…
Little did I know how it would take me a few more days to remember; to remember again the gift of persisting in that moment. How could I not sit down on that rock and listen? That’s also the day I read Mary Oliver’s poem “The Invitation.”
Savouring Mary’s insight, I heard that my own flamboyant birds, those oystercatchers, did not strut and call for my sake or the man near me who also stopped to wonder about the birds. They did it for the sheer delight and gratitude for the snacks the sea left them when the water changed course.
There is a pattern, dare I say, to how God speaks through my questions, experiences of each place, and, yes, other people’s words that open me beyond my limited way of seeing the world.
The birds and rocks and water teach me how to live in this world—to soak up this place in delight and gratitude.
Believe us, they say,
it is a serious thing
just to be alive
on this fresh morning
in this broken world.
(from ‘The Invitation” by Mary Oliver)