In the sanctuary, Shalom UCC, Richland, WA
“Contemplation is life itself, fully awake, fully active, fully aware that it is alive. It is spiritual wonder. It is spontaneous awe at the sacredness of life, of being. It is gratitude for life, for awareness, and for being. It is a vivid realization of the fact that life and being in us proceed from an invisible, transcendent and infinitely abundant Source. Contemplation is, above all, awareness of the reality of that Source.” Thomas Merton
Thank you, Sir Thomas Merton, Brother Merton, for those eloquent words. I cannot say the same thing in the same way, but I want to reflect – contemplate – your words. Your words bring me back to an experience of life I have always known, an experience of life I have had the pleasure of relishing, these later years, from time to time.
In the past several months, my husband, Jeff, and I have had our yard redone. The privilege of having a beautiful place right outside our home is something I cannot fathom, for the most part. Having grown up in rented flats in a working class neighborhood, I never dreamed I would have a yard of “my own.” And yet, it is a privilege to have a beautiful, safe place, a feast for my eyes, a privilege that does not escape my awareness. As I write these words, children and mothers and fathers today are being forced from their homes, leaving with nothing, victims of battles that are not their own, conflicts they did not make.
But the true luxury of the new lawn is that I love to sit on it, lie down on it, do the child’s pose on it, smell it, run my fingers over it. The cat loves the new lawn, too! LiLi is not a friendly sort, but when I walk onto the lawn, she jumps over the chairs on the porch, over the brick edging, over the plants, and onto the lawn, to join me in my moment of refreshing. Every single time. She comes right over to me, and every few moments she gets closer and closer, nudging in. She loves the smell of this luscious new lawn, too.
Here, for a few moments, I can be present to the scent, to the color, to the feel of the lawn.
Here, for a few moments in my day, I can be present, also, to the color of the sky, to the smell of the bushes as I take a morning walk, to the dogs that pass me, with interest, as they go on their morning trek with their owners.
I have not always been present in my life. To be present is a present – indeed! – in my ordinary life. When I am present, I see the lovely in the ordinary. When I am present, I see the simple nod of the head, the acknowledgement. When I am present, I see the flicker of grief cross the face of my beloved friend. When I am present, I breath, and sigh, and notice whatever is present to me, then, now, now, now, now.
There is nothing more simple, and more grand, I think, than to know life in the present. I don’t do it perfectly – there… my mind wanders, as the mind does. But when I am present, I am also grateful. Completely, bountifully grateful.
As I write, I realize there are no words to express this presence. Probably Merton struggled to find words, also. So many of Merton’s writings are about the matter of the abundant beauty in the world.
After I began to know “presence,” I began to know that the beauty, the magnificent beauty of all that is, had always been there. I, however, had not always been there. I had lived so much of my life with concerns – thoughts, worries, preoccupations – of so many other things. And those concerns were all inside me, I carried them with me, they weighted me down, they kept me facing down. I did not see what was present to me, around me, even then.
After I began to know “presence,” I said to a friend: “the world is so wonderful.” She reacted – immediately – to that. The world is not wonderful, there is poverty, and hunger, and violence, and war, and nation against nation… Of course, all of that is true. I live every day grateful for the privilege I have to be present. I know the world is not wonderful. I hope the life I live will leave a better mark on this world.
And yet, there it is, the complete, utter, miraculous wonder of… this… present… moment.