Friendship, listening, and empathy: A Prayer GuideTwo Hands: Grief and Gratitude in the Christian LifeSabbath Keeping FastingA Renewed SpiritualityNurturing Hope: Christian Pastoral Care in the Twenty-First CenturyThe Power of ListeningJoy Together: Spiritual Practices for Your CongregationPersonality Type in CongregationsPrayers of the Old TestamentPrayers of the New TestamentSabbathFriendingA Garden of Living Water: Stories of Self-Discovery and Spiritual GrowthDeath in Dunedin: A NovelDead Sea: A NovelDeadly Murmurs: A NovelBeating Burnout in CongregationsReaching Out in a Networked WorldEmbracing MidlifeAdvent DevotionalDraw Near: Lenten Devotional by Lynne Baab, illustrated by Dave Baab

Receptivity and offering: Another world walking beside ours

Lynne Baab • Thursday February 3 2022

Receptivity and offering: Another world walking beside ours

“I cannot tell you half of what I see. I don’t have the words. There may be no words. For what I see is another world walking beside ours, a world as gossamer as sea spray in the wind. Its presence comes to me out of the corner of my eye, a fleeting glimpse, a moment’s reward for so many hours riding the currents of prayer. I look and I see it, the sacred land just on the other side of where I am standing, the grace of a different sun in a different sky, the evening shadows that will one day call me home. It is all there, just there, between the cracks of time, beyond the reach of names, beauty so transcendent language falls silent before it.”
—Steven Charleston, retired Episcopal bishop and a Native American of the Choctaw people

In 2022, I want to offer to God my willingness to pay attention to the moments Steven Charleston is talking about, those fleeting glimpses out of the corner of my eye of something more, so beautiful my heart aches. I want to receive from God the blessing of those moments. Bishop Charleston says it’s all there, just there. I have moments when I perceive something more, and I want to learn to dwell in them, rejoice, and let them help me navigate the more challenging moments.

Thomas Merton describes the same idea: "Life is this simple: we are living in a world that is absolutely transparent and the divine is shining through it all the time. This is not just a nice story or a fable, it is true."

Merton, like Charleston, invites us to pay attention, to notice and appreciate the presence of God in small and big ways. Six years ago I wrote a blog post about the quotation from Merton, and I mentioned seven major ways that I see God shining through daily life: flowers, birds, activists, children, poetry, art, and human kindness. Even after I described the ways those seven gifts enable me to sense God shining through the everyday moments of my life, I couldn’t stop writing. I added numerous more objects that can be transparent for me: skies, clouds, the moon and stars; baby lambs and ducklings; chocolate, fruit, a good salad, roast beef; cool water to drink, warm water for bathing, a fluffy towel and clean clothes; dogs, cats and other pets; my home, my desk, my bed, the sofa, the kitchen, the table where we eat. I’m sure you could write an equally long list.

While my list is long, the items on that list are not reliable, sure-fire sources of awareness of God’s presence or of that other beautiful reality shining through. Bishop Charleston is describing something fleeting, “a moment’s reward,” something “between the cracks of time.” Sadly, we cannot make those moments happen. They come to us as a gift.

Receiving the gift of those moments of joy has both a passive and active component. We receive the glimpses with gratitude, gifts of a God who is filled with a “beauty so transcendent language falls silent before it.” We cannot control the gift of those moments, but we can make it more likely we will be paying attention when those moments happen. Every single spiritual practice we can imagine – including Bible study and meditation, Sabbath keeping, fasting, journaling, walking a labyrinth, many kinds of prayer, and so many more – can help us stop and pay attention. Spiritual practices help us make space for God. They help us notice what’s already going on in our transparent world.

However, God comes in unexpected moments. God’s beauty breaks through when we least expect it. All the prayer and Bible study and journaling cannot control God’s work in our lives. I still affirm the significance of making space to learn to pay attention, because all those practices of paying attention involve drawing near to the God whose truth and beauty still shine in the Creation and in Jesus.

(Next week: regrets. Illustration by Dave Baab: dock on Lake Wakatipu, New Zealand. I love to get new subscribers. Sign up below to receive an email when I post on this blog.)

Some articles I wrote about spiritual practices:

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