Welcome Home Again

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Steps to my own back door.

Almost instinctively I did it again. While waiting in the dentist’s office, I picked up the shiny Capital Magazine, featuring “innovative houses and people” in the capital of British Columbia where I live. I skipped the people and looked directly at the charming character home, as they call houses from another era here in Victoria. It was steps from the ocean and one of this city’s most beautiful public parks. The owner was an artist who had filled the house with treasures that made it his own and held my coveting gaze.

I have already lived most of my life. I even live in a rented character home. Yet, I keep looking for a sense of home that seems elusive. Maybe I’m a little afraid that like Moses, I will only greet it from afar. However, I’m thinking that isn’t exactly the truth.

In The Return of the Prodigal, Henri Nouwen opens up a new way of thinking about homecoming. In his deep reflection, Nouwen moves between Jesus’ parable (Luke 15:11-32), his own close study of Rembrandt’s painting of the story, and his own lived experience with the understanding that we are all longing for home—of some sort. I joined a study group that spent several weeks using all three perspectives to engage more intentionally in this story for our own lives.

I know that I experience a bit of envy when I encounter people who have established themselves in a place. When I hear, “we’ve lived in this house for 25 years” and hear the stories connected with that life of seeming stability, I long for that sense of belonging. In my own reflecting, I wrote that Jesus’ parable of the return of a prodigal son offers me another opportunity to hope that those words from Deuteronomy 33:27 that “The eternal God is your dwelling place, and underneath are the everlasting arms” is Jesus’ true idea of homecoming. Those words from the Old Testament framed my impending and unexpected relocation not quite a year ago.

At the time that Nouwen became invested in Rembrandt’s painting of the Prodigal, he was giving up (my words) a prestigious and productive life as a teacher at Harvard Divinity School and moving toward a communal life of ministry with mentally challenged people in an L’Arche community founded by Jean Vanier. Nouwen intimates his own risk to make this leap that upended the familiarity and the control that teaching and writing afforded him. He surmises:

I had never before given much attention to people with a mental handicap. Much to the contrary, I had focused increasingly on university students and their problems. I learned how to give lectures and write books, how to explain things systematically… I had little idea as to how to communicate with men and women who hardly speak and are not interested in logical arguments or well-reasoned opinions. I knew even less about announcing the Gospel of Jesus to people who listened more with their hearts than with their minds and who were far more sensitive to what I lived than to what I said.

For years I had instructed students on the different aspects of the spiritual life… But had I, myself, really ever dared to step into the center… and let myself be held by a forgiving God?

 Jean Vanier, founder of the L’Arche communities is a spiritual giant in Canada where I now live. Vanier’s father was Canada’s most beloved 19th Governor General and his family revered even to this day. Jean Vanier died recently and I found myself drawn even more into his life story and with my own understanding of Henri Nouwen’s transition to the L’Arche Daybreak community. I could learn from both men’s experience of homecoming at a pivotal time in their adult lives. I wondered how their leap of faith intersects with my own longing.

In a news article in The Globe and Mail, Ian Brown, whom I know personally as a Christian contemplative, wrote about Vanier’s life in quite a different light than the traditional obituary of accomplishment. Confronted with his recognition of the “cry for friendship” of men he met when he visited a psychiatric hospital in France, Vanier’s leap of faith transformed his initial fear of the disabled into the future mission of L’Arche that established the unique value of every person through communities of communal living.

Similar to Nouwen’s life trajectory influenced by his encounter with this mentor, Jean Vanier left his work as a popular professor at St. Michaels College at the University of Toronto to live in a small house with two men who were patients at the psychiatric hospital he had once visited. Vanier recalled that the men didn’t care about his knowledge or ability to do things, but simply desired his heart and presence as they shared everyday living. Brown states that unlike his parents, Jean Vanier was “shedding status.” L’Arche history records that Vanier “has been very intentional about going down the ladder of success. He believed that is what Christ asked of him.”

Maybe I’m fortunate to have my idea of “settled-ness” upended. Maybe my life is blessed because I have been forced to “give up” ways that were known but increasingly filled with unrest. In that life, I thought I had some control. I was familiar with what I thought was possible; I had decided the kind of life that I wanted but didn’t actually live that life of abundance. I had… but…

I’ve written before about using the right tools of life for the wrong reasons. Maybe that is what is compelling about both Henri Nouwen’s and Jean Vanier’s stories. Their trajectories speak of moving beyond accomplishments like education and profession and even family expectations. They both were welcomed home in the heart of God.   Have I really ever dared to step into the center… and let myself be held by a forgiving God?

 In the last place we lived, I spent a great deal of energy getting my physical house in order to welcome other people and even Mitch and I home. Even though our recent move has been miraculous, I haven’t “felt” that settled-ness or security. Even though I may not have overtly recognized God’s presence, deep inside me, I know that Jesus recognizes me. Jesus has looked for me and walked a little way along this road to welcome me. Just like the welcoming prayer I’ve been attempting to mean, The Welcome Practice invites me to notice and let go of that sense of security that I attach to home. I simply need to be open—open to the divine presence and action in my life.

I have been wishing and maybe am still for a physical place to belong. Yet, over and over, I keep running into another possibility for home, a place I can’t actually sit down in—or can I?

Have I missed God’s welcome? I’ve been very reluctant to settle in here, imagining I have to be the one to find my place. Maybe, instead, Jesus is searching for me.

Spaciousness. A word and idea I’ve been hearing a lot lately.

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View of Olympic Mountains from a high point just a few blocks walk from our house.

In the last few days, I’ve been looking at pictures that Mitch, my beloved partner in life, takes in the park, in the woods, or on the shore of the Pacific Ocean in the city where we live. We want to enlarge a few. When I am looking at them I am reminded of the spaciousness of the landscapes we view here. The expansiveness of very old cedar trees that have towered toward the sky for hundreds of years, the expansiveness of our ocean view that even stretches to the Olympic Mountains that are another country away, or the sea of flowers that take our breath away in a local yard or park open us up to the breadth of the natural world. That sense of spaciousness cannot be captured. The pictures only remind me of the awe I experienced at the moment when I was standing at that spot.

The spaciousness of this place is tangible and being open to what is beyond my physical surrounding is a kind of spaciousness, too. I am narrowed by my thinking that I don’t do the right thing or I waste the time I have. I am narrowed by expectations that cause me to think less of my own life or the lives of others.  I am expanded when I cultivate another view from the inside as well.

I’ve read the verses from Phillipians 4: 6-7 thousands of times. I’ve repeated over and over, days on end, “with prayer and supplication, with gratitude” to remind myself how not to be anxious about living. A few days ago, I used these verses for Lectio Divina, and I learned again that the spaciousness of God reverses the narrowness of trying to figure everything out when I am anxious. The time I spend in silence and gratitude cultivates God’s spacious presence.

The lesson came in an unexpected way last Saturday.  My friend traumatically lost her husband a couple of weeks ago. As we gathered at her house for a meal after the celebration of his life, I witnessed the kind of roominess that is engendered by God’s opening of our spirits.

My friend is known for her baking—supplying, in this case, a most elegant chocolate cake that was filled with memories for this family. Her 10-year-old nephew reminded her that he would “decorate” the cakes. She gently replied that there might not be any decorating on this day.

But then, when the time came for the cakes to be served, I witnessed her and her nephew Matt standing side by side at the kitchen counter that faces out on one of those expansive views of the Pacific Ocean.

My friend removed the chocolate cake from each springform pan and placed it on a plate. She loaded the top with hand-whipped cream and fresh raspberries.  I supposed that was probably her intent for readying the cake for serving on this difficult day.

However, Matt stood beside her with the professional pastry bag with the fluted tip in place. He loaded the bag with more of the whipped cream and deftly decorated the top of each cake with another layer of sculpted cream. The pair seemed to work effortlessly through 5 cakes lovingly prepared for gathered family and closest friends.

Maybe at some point in time, she showed him how to do this task—but I saw none of that at this time.  I watched her just seamlessly offer him the next step to finish what she had started, without saying a word. No “good job” or checking to see if he needed more cream or directing in any way; just giving space to be in that moment.

To live in spaciousness, our responses aren’t reasoned out, even in the most challenging circumstances or in the daily hum. Thomas Kelly, in Testament of Devotion, says that the Light within revises our reactions to the world so that they are “spontaneous reactions of felt incompatibility between the world’s judgments of value and the Supreme Value we adore deep in the Center.”

There is a wideness in God’s mercy from this spacious view.

The Hum of Home

I heard someone on the radio say that just as Hebrew is to Judaism and Arabic is to Islam, the body is the language of Christianity. I’ve been sitting with that wonder for a few weeks.

A sacred language is the particular language of revelation. In An Altar in the World, Barbara Brown Taylor says that wearing our own skin is not a solitary practice but one that brings us into communion with other embodied souls. She goes on to assert that God trusted, and I would add still trusts, flesh and blood to bring divine love to earth, maybe even using a body as an instrument of divine revelation.

What would it be like to know “more God” instead of “more about” God in our bodies?

 The Word incarnate. There is something precious and non-negotiable about this world and a divine heart within it. There is something profoundly to be noticed here, wonder’s presence. There is another way of conceptualizing the Word incarnate.

In a reflection on John 1: 1-14, Father Thomas Keating contemplates a material all-powerful vibration of the Eternal Word of God,

Now that creation has evolved and life itself has occurred, it seems that this initial vibration of the Word is still going on at the deepest level of everything that exists. This is the Word with whom every human being from the beginning of time has been in contact. This is the Word whose body, so to speak, is the universe, and in a more particular way, the human family. The eternal creative Word penetrates all creation as a kind of primordial “hum”. (You can almost hear it if you are quiet enough.)

Over the years, several physical practices have deepened my communion with God and my own body in this world. I write every day on paper using pencils and pens of varied colors and millimeters of ink that change the sensation and emphasis of the script. I write out each letter by hand, thoughtfully cross out the word that doesn’t represent what I am discovering, decide where to leave white space and page breaks, and mark up an emerging insight that I didn’t intend.

When I walk the dog, I stop to touch the smooth red and green underlay of the peeling bark on the arbutus trees that are native to this area. I pay attention to the unusual royal blue flowers that line the walk of my neighbor’s house. I pick up wooden rose pinecones and take them home for safekeeping before passing cars crush them. These seemingly ordinary things are, borrowing the words from Barbara Brown Taylor, “drenched in divine possibility.”img_0051.jpg

 

At the Luminous Wisdom School retreat I just attended, I’m thankful that Fiona, a participant like me, shared what seemed like a simply personal and particular physical challenge—that she was experiencing tinnitus and found herself filling each moment at home with music or a podcast to deaden the annoyance. The leader of our retreat and teacher of contemplative practices suggested that Fiona use the ringing in her ears as her “sacred word” during centering prayer. In centering prayer, one chooses a sacred word or another symbol of consent to God’s presence and action within. Returning to the word when our mind wanders and physical distractions occur. Fiona wondered aloud what it would be like to make sacred something that she found debilitating. I wondered what it would be like to imagine that sound as God’s presence.

In my case, I first noticed the cicadas in my ears several years ago. Initially, I only heard them later in the evening when I was reading in bed. I thought the sound might be some kind of utility buzz from the inner workings of the 50’s era house where we lived or maybe an odd noise from the decades-old television antenna that towered near my bedroom window. It wasn’t long before the ear insects showed up in church, too, in the beginning silence of prayer.

Over time, I’ve normalized the sound I hear that is always there, especially in the quiet. Most of the day, I don’t pay much attention to the gentle hum. When my mind is engaged in listening to something else, like the voices in my head, I don’t even know it is there. So, when Cynthia suggested that that sound could be the sacred word for prayer, I decided to try that alongside Fiona.

Astonishingly, the usual strain I experienced to choose and keep my focus on one sacred word melted away. I could physically feel the nano-second of release of other thoughts that my mind chose to grab and the seamless return to the noise that is always there awaiting my return. The insect-like noise doesn’t hold hidden meanings like my own wordsmithing of a sacred word does. Often, when I repeated my sacred word I found that more thoughts rushed in to further elucidate the meaning or justify my choice and both undermined the intention of centering prayer—to let go of distractions and to abide in God’s presence.

Could I listen, really listen, to that hum in my physical body to know “more God” instead of “more about” God?

In Richard Wagamese’s final novel, Starlight, the protagonist, Frank, is nurturing Emmy’s relationship with nature in which Emmy learns “to walk into the land fully open” and for the land to enter her. To me, the idea is akin to abiding in God and God abiding in me. After lessons on seeing, Frank expands the lesson to include deep listening.

…when you push your listenin’ out you can hear everything, I kinda figure it’s on accounta ya open yourself up to it all…

You get connected to what you hear. You become a part of it. It becomes part of you.

 In the deep listening, Emmy finds her calm center. God’s presence is a place to belong. That hum I can hear in my body is a tangible place, a spacious place to rest.

Listening to ringing in my ears is simple but not easy. This kind of listening requires no judgment, no analysis of what God is saying; it is simply consenting to and resting in the presence and action of the spirit. Maybe that is the ending of my story of the hum for now—that listening to whatever is God in us is to seek that presence in our body and to experience the spaciousness of creation. I can hear the hum.

Free to Let Be

It’s over for now. When I look back on the previous blog, my reluctant approach and actual fear of arranging rideshares for a retreat seem so trivial. Now, the riders and drivers are matched. I worked on this task for almost a month. In the past few days, people I love have faced much greater and life-changing circumstances and choices that make what I’ve been concerned about seem even more inconsequential.

When I was a teenager, I had the 5-year question. Faced with a challenge, a decision, or an embarrassment my internal response would ask, “Will this matter to me in 5 years?” As a 16 year old whose parents seemed to have deserted me, the question gave me a sense of rationality and control. Now, almost 50 years later, I wonder …

I don’t have words to explain what I wonder. “It” skirts between what some call synchronicity, or maybe the will of God, or what is meant to be—but none of those are exactly it. My ever-evolving question is what do I do and what does God do in my life? What I am certain about is that it isn’t that simple. The unexpected is never quite explainable. However, what can I take from these patterns of my life?

In the rideshare task, the most recent “matches” were made in thin air. Two riders, who had not responded to my initial email, suddenly, turned up needing rides. Both were coming via the airport; one of them landing on Tuesday, a few hours before the retreat, which was being held at a remote Education Center that was a two-hour drive away. The other was coming on Monday and would also like a ride back to the airport after the retreat was over on the following Sunday.

Miraculously-or not, I received an email from my friend Liz, that Sarah Smith was a possible new driver, not on my list. Sarah was away for the weekend so I had to wait several days to make contact with her. She had a small car, she said, so needed agile riders and, oh, could they be around the part of town where she lives? Miraculously-or not, Sarah was 15 minutes from the airport and the second rider was staying near the airport and an agile young mother. Yes, what seemed at least improbable was serendipitously and graciously arranged.

Another congruent choice I made last week was to listen to an audio of one of Thomas Merton’s lectures to novices at Gethsemane from the mid-1960s that appeared on my youtube stream on our television, instead of watching yet another poor quality video retake of House Hunters. The audio begins with an everyday issue: how to take care to minimize bath towel usage each week. What evolves from that quotidian beginning, left me examining how circumstances unfold. And, yes, choices we make have a way of bringing rivers of thought and practice together.

In a dialogue of sorts with the young men entering the monastery, who seemingly have a corner on the “will of God,” Merton’s insights are liberating. I transcribed a portion of the lecture that gives insight to the unfolding of my life wondering.  I have taken some liberties with names (Linda for Alfie) and condensed Merton’s argument.

What is God’s will? We asked that question wrong, we ask as pagans not Christians. When we are asking what is God’s will, we are asking what is my fate? …In other words, we assume that God’s will is predetermined, see, that God has sat up there in heaven, in a secret office and he reached in the filing cabinet and he pulled out the files and looks in [Linda].

“Elijah and Michael,come over here, what’s the plan for Linda?” 

They get together and there is this secret plan, see, and Linda, who doesn’t even exist yet, is born, and she comes into life and reaches the age of reason and says, “I’ve got to find out the plan.” …When it comes to contingent affairs, where there is a matter of choice, what is God’s will? …

Merton says that what happens in our lives (my wondering question) is a matter of the freedom that God has given us and that the “will of God” in the life of a Christian is the work of both God and the person together. Merton calls the intersection of these two freedoms an invitation on the part of God. Whether it involves vocation or anything in life,

…you are not supposed to guess and you are not supposed to figure out, it is something you worked out by free response. And what are the indications for the invitation? You have to take them in their existential facts, they are there or they aren’t. In other words, what happens is there are concrete facts or reality that you run up against in life and these things are manifestations of what God has planned or the manifestations of his whole idea which isn’t a plan ahead of time so much either.

 …God, from a certain point of view, has no plan in the sense of a plan beforehand because there is no before and after with God, he works it out as he goes along. It is all one with him; there is no past, present, and future. We think in terms of having a plan and working it out because that is the human way of looking at it.

 A wise human being usually thinks before he acts and there is nothing wrong with that, see. I’m not saying you are not supposed to think. This question of an inexorable will completely determined beforehand which we have to meet up to is the idea not of God’s will but of fate. God’s will is free and our will is free. And God is inscrutable in so far as he is free because nobody knows; you don’t even know how your brother is going to act with his freedom. So you don’t know of course how God is going to act either with his freedom, what do you do about that? 

Do you have to know beforehand what God is going to do with his freedom? Where do you fit that in, I mean supposing he decides to blast you with a thunderbolt or something if he wants to, what about it?

Faith, hope, and love, this is where theological virtues come in, there you put the thing on a completely different plane, you see… When you are dealing with persons you are dealing with what is free. So when it comes to faith, hope, and love you accept God as one who loves you freely and you trust his love and you trust that his freedom is going to be the freedom of one who loves. And you trust love and it is a totally different dimension. You don’t ask love to guarantee its plans for the next 500 years. Love is love and you let it be love, that’s all.

The circumstances of my life, then, are all matters of life and death, really. If God sees no past, present, and future, all life is conflated into this very moment.  I’m learning in this seemingly small stakes rideshare arranging to let go—to practice not figuring it all out and to give space for lots of ways of “working out” that I don’t have control over, that I don’t know, that I cannot predict or even imagine. I’m practicing spaciousness—to be less bounded by time, and response, and even what is or not my responsibility.

Whether it is God’s choice, my choice, someone else’s choice, or the aligning of freedoms of choices, I don’t know. But I do know that I can trust that whatever it is, what some call the mystery, does evolve with or without my concerted effort. It is about letting go of the boundaries, like time, or whatever else occupies my attention in a state of brace—that keeps me looking and longing instead of living into.

That’s what I’m learning from the mundane to the miraculous, to lean into love, the miracle of a new day, a moment of wonder, even awe. Whether for 5 minutes, 5 years, or 5 centuries, to let it be. And, I’m sure it’s not over.

Learning to Lean In

I don’t know why I said I would do it.

I don’t even know why I said I would volunteer. Those words just came out in conversation one day because I really do want to expand the small space I inhabit.  I thought whatever the task might be, it would be one that would be more in line with my strengths, not my weaknesses. And when she offered that I might consider arranging rideshares for an upcoming retreat, I knew it wasn’t something I’m particularly good at doing, but I thought it would be okay.

On Monday, I received the “list” of those who had offered rides and those who needed a ride. I began contacting participants via email on Tuesday. The advice I was given was to contact first the people who have offered rides to find out where they will be and how flexible they are about meeting up with others. Then, I could contact those who needed rides. I didn’t exactly take that advice. I forged ahead and just emailed everyone the same day.

My reasons were good ones, I thought. First of all, I don’t like to email people I don’t know, so I wanted to get that initial awkwardness out of the way. I spent too much time making sure the message was not too formal or too familiar. Maybe the truth is that, in this case, I didn’t want to reveal too much of myself, for my fear to peak through, I just wanted to get the business done. In hindsight, I should have at least introduced myself.

I realized too late that some of the people I was emailing knew each other and had been in retreat together before and others were newer than I, and thought I knew something more. A few wondered if I just wanted a ride myself or had an “official” capacity that caught them unaware. A few didn’t even realize they had offered to give another participant a ride or now needed a ride themselves. Many had personal stories to share of sick friends, doctor visits, and international travel that made their journeys unique. What I thought was straightforward information, was not.

Geography was another unexpected challenge for me as a newcomer (but remember I didn’t tell anyone that simple truth). The retreat is “up island,” as they say here. There are several ferry routes that people can take from the mainland, surrounding smaller islands, and even within the island. Even for people who live on the island, I’ve quickly learned that I can’t assume the route by one’s location. On the Malahat (the portion of the TransCanada highway going up island), accidents or rockslides close the route at least once a month for hours at a time, essentially cutting off Victoria (the largest city) from the rest of the Island. There are no easy exits since the stretch of road rests perilously between higher elevations of forests and the ocean. The only option for drivers is to take a smaller ferry or a multi-hour detour. People are creative in travel, I’m learning, to avoid this highway, taking ferries in all kinds of configurations and the way there might not be the same way home.

The truth is that I’m carrying too much for this task. I’m carrying these practical concerns but I’m also holding on to fears like how I present myself to these people I don’t know. I was afraid of being too personal when actually the opposite (not introducing myself and my lack of knowledge about travel) caused more work to figure things out. I was thinking too much about the task instead of simply encountering gracious people with cars and riders with stories to tell. I’m paying more attention to the agony of my inadequacy, or at least the inability I perceive might be true.

Now, it is the next week and I’m trying to not carry too much of the burden of figuring it all out.  I’m learning to practice leaning in toward the Light, my Lenten desire. Leaning in toward the Light means that I have to let go of all the if’s, the things I don’t know yet.  I have to let go of the fact that I don’t know these people and to instead consider this task as a way to get to know someone and their generosity in sharing both a literal and spiritual journey forward. I am learning to lean into the advice and practiced wisdom from my new friend who asked me to do this. Leaning into the light means that I shake off the dust of uncomfortable-ness and self conscious-ness to see the wonder and witness of the light beyond myself.

Carry nothing but what you must

Lean in toward the Light

Let it go, shake off the dust

Lean in toward the Light

Today is now, tomorrow beckons

Lean in toward the Light

Keep practicing resurrection

Lenten Leaning

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Lenten Rose in my backyard.

A curious thing about writing is that ever so often, I write a sentence and I’m not really aware of what it means until I reread the words on the page. I wrote in my last blog one of those emergent insights: Truths come gradually and at the same time, in the very moment when they make the most sense.

My husband, Mitch, loves the song, Lean In Toward the Light, by Carrie Newcomer. I wasn’t so captivated.

Last Lenten season, Carrie’s notion of “the beautiful, not yet” (the album title with the song, Lean In Toward the Light) was my survival mantra with so many unknowns in my immediate future.

Now, I’m on the threshold of the next spring. As I half-consciously listened to Carrie’s album the other day, two words in the Lean In song caught my attention: practice resurrection. The words are the last line of Wendell Berry’s poem, Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front, and call us to lean into the mystery and risk of an unknowing life. Those two words drew me in so that I might hear what I needed to hear for this moment in my life: lean in.

“Lean in” has become a popular feminist notion since Sheryl Sandberg, chief operating officer of Facebook, published her best selling book with the same title a few years back. According to grammerist,  lean in means to grab opportunities without hesitation. That description is consistent with Sandberg’s vision but doesn’t fit my own. I’d like to change the word “grab” to “ease into,” which I believe is more fitting for how I imagine leaning in.  My revised definition is more in line with an older meaning for lean in: to incline into something, such as a skier leaning in at a turn or pedestrian leaning into the wind during a heavy gale.

Leaning in requires strength. Leaning in is physical and emotional and conscious. Leaning in is a beginning, not a plunge. Leaning in implies being supported; I am not alone. Leaning in is my theme for this Lenten season.

During the coming 40 days until Easter, I plan to gently lean in. Lean into the abundance of opportunities that move me out of dark places, while at the same time, make the dark places okay. Easing into the light takes away the sharpness of the contrast. This posture is akin to letting in a little light to challenge the darkness, the deficit thinking that binds me. I practice resurrection when I lean into the newness of this moment.

My focus for this Lenten spring is to discover the divine light that does shine through everything and everyone when I lean in to see it.  In Carrie’s words:

Lean in toward the Light.  Keep practicing resurrection.

 

Invention to Discovery

In her novel, Fugitive Pieces, Anne Michaels describes history as the gradual instant, when we recognize that things have continued to move and change even without our awareness. Our personal recognition of change might seem sudden, but it isn’t. Looking back we see how proclivities of our own and other people’s lives have shaped what now seems extraordinary. In an interview, Michaels answered the question: How does history inform the present?

It’s a moral question. In moral terms, there is no before and after, then and now. How we live determines how we will act at any given moment. Our ability to do the right thing is not going to just suddenly spring from us out of nowhere. Our doing the right thing is like a muscle. Morality is a muscle and has to be used. Our doing the right thing depends on how we have lived before that moment comes to us. History is the gradual instant, the gradual present… In other words, there is a responsibility in daily life, in that daily life is what becomes history. It is the source of the formation of the huge event. It’s not separate from how we live every day. People always ask, “How could it have happened?” “How did this happen?” when, in fact, it’s not so hard to see how it happened. History erupts from the present moment.

Spiritual insight, rather than an epiphany, is also a gradual instant. We recognize, over the course of time, moments in our own lives and intersections with other peoples’ thinking and living that bring depth and meaning. I believe these encounters are not solely from our own lived experience but are also gleaned vicariously through circumstances of others’ lives, both real and imagined. Stories, in all forms, matter—we use bits and pieces of other people’s stories that generate abundance in understanding our own.

I recognize the gradual instant that erupts from the accumulative layers of spiritual reading and writing that I have practiced for much of my life. I’m not sure when or how I came to recognize the process of my morning routine as a ritual. Over the years, the order and substance of this contemplative time has both evolved serendipitously and followed specific patterns that I took from others, building a kind of spiritual muscle memory as Anne Michaels describes.

When I read Richard Wagamese’s introduction to his book of meditations, Embers, I brought my own history of scared mornings with me. The author explicitly describes his morning spiritual practice that I wanted to use to refresh my own. I, too, read from several texts each day that over time have moved among devotional, scholarly, contemporary and spiritual classics and include scripture reading. It is a gift when I see connections and gain insight woven in between these texts.

Wagamese capaciously describes his morning ritual. The silence, the warmth and scent of his cup of tea, the rising smoke of his tribal medicines, and the shadows of dawn echo the sacredness. I wrote down for myself his protocol that is steeped in his Ojibway ceremony. And even though I don’t have such a rich heritage in my own experience, there is enough that is familiar that provides a foothold for me to pay attention to the ritual, the ceremony of the routine that made a difference.

I need the ritual. What and how I read, the order of reflection and prayer, writing down my thoughts and even showing up are part of my morning routine. A ritual, according to Frederick Buechner, is the performance of an intuition, the rehearsal of a dream, the playing of a game. The ritual of my morning allows me to practice listening to God, even if I am not always able to sustain that listening throughout the day. I discovered an order of ceremony in Richard Wagamese’s ‘morning table’ as he calls it that offered me new possibility.

Now, in the morning, I make a cup of coffee using my manual coffee grinder and my red ceramic pour over cup. I hadn’t thought of this as part of the ritual, using these tangible aromas, tastes, warmth, and breath to call myself to the scared presence of morning. After a more intentional order of three readings, I close my eyes and intentionally ask what the readings have to tell me that day. After a prayer of gratitude for all the goodness that is present in my life, I ask to take the sacredness of this ritual into the day to perform the role the Creator has asked of me.

On that first day of my own morning table, I read from Embers that in silence, I reclaim myself and that “allows me to move outward into the clamor of living.” The Buechner reading for the day reminded me that the gift of now is a process of discovery rather than invention. The Psalmist (24) encouraged a pure heart that doesn’t get caught up in trying to craft the vision of my life, nor lifting up my soul to what is false— both my invention. The thread throughout these readings is one of discovering rather than striving to do or be something.

I use my gifts to discover this life, to sit back and watch it unfold. When I create stories about other peoples’ lives and even my own life, I am inventing not discovering. Discovery is when I interact in real time and see the good and the challenges and meet both head-on—with goodness—trusting God, myself, and other people.

Discovery is when I find that glimpse of beauty I need in life to always see something anew. Using the Psalmist words, may that beauty seep into my bones and my subconscious—where stories come from. May I discover that that nourishes me quietly and calls me to something more worthy than the distractions of the day.

I won’t suddenly have a miraculous life…or maybe I will. As I look back over my life one day, I will see the gradual instant. The moment after I realized the ritual of discovery, with gratitude, to be ready to do what the Creator asks of me each day. Truths come gradually and at the same time, in the very moment when they make the most sense. As I write this, I realize how concretely this understanding is at the heart and praxis of my new morning meditation.

Discovery instead of invention came as a gradual instant, not a sudden knowledge, but a gentle emergence from the memories and practices I’ve been doing for a long time. My recent day of discovery wasn’t so sudden and yet, it was an epiphanous moment. It was a gradual building of my capacity to make connections, to hear what I needed to hear, maybe even the voice of God.

For more than thirty years, I have shown up to this time of meeting God and myself. It was an instant of recognition or maybe an instant of being able to name for myself that

Life is grace, for instance—the givenness of it, the fathomlessness of it, the endless possibilities of its becoming transparent to something extraordinary beyond itself.