The Incredible Gift of Life
(Inspired in part by the poetry of Mary Oliver)
November 8, 2015
Text: Psalm 100 excerpt & 1st Peter 4: 8 – 11
My work is loving the world.
Here the sunflowers, there the hummingbird—
equal seekers of sweetness.
Here the quickening yeast; there the blue plums.
Here the clam deep in the speckled sand.
Are my boots old? Is my coat torn?
Am I no longer young, and still half-perfect?
Let me keep my mind on what matters,
which is my work,
which is mostly standing still and learning to be
The phoebe, the delphinium.
The sheep in the pasture, and the pasture.
Which is mostly rejoicing, since all the ingredients are here,
which is gratitude, to be given a mind and a heart
and these body-clothes,
a mouth with which to give shouts of joy
to the moth and the wren, to the sleepy dug-up clam,
telling them all, over and over, how it is that we live forever.
SSo often, the words & insights of poets, especially those of Mary Oliver touch the core of what I am feeling and trying to express. Surely that is the case today as I attempt to pursue my train of thought into the deeper realm of being …. the essence of life …..the greatest of all gifts.
“When it’s over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.
When it is over, I don’t want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.
I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened,
or full of argument.
I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.”
― Mary Oliver
Perhaps because November is the month of my birth, I give more thought to how very precious the gift of life is. Every time a new life emerges from the womb of Creation….. be it human, plant, animal or mineral… there is a surge of energy that comes into the universe.
Ilia Delio, who is a Franciscan Sister and American theologian describes the dance between God and the universe: “God is eternal, self-sufficient divinity; yet the universe contributes something that is vitally necessary to God. Creation is integral to God. It contributes to God what God lacks in his[/her] own divinity, namely, materiality. Evolution is not only the universe coming to be, but it is God who is coming to be.”
Think about that. The Creator needs the Created in order to materialize in the universe. We are given the incredible gift of life and are given the ability to be in communion with the Creator. …to give back life….energy….love… to the Source of our life.
God has no material form, no gender, no race or age.. We are co- creators with God….each and all of us evolving.
Fr. Richard Rohr writes: For many of us, it’s hard to imagine that God is actually evolving. We’ve heard that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). Yes, and God is love, and God has always been love, and God will always be love. But God can also evolve to be more love!
Deep within we long for unity because, at the most fundamental level, we are already one. We belong to one another because we have the same source of love; the love that flows through the trees is the same love that flows through my being & your being. . . . We are deeply connected in this flow of love, beginning on the level of nature where we are the closest of kin because the earth is our mother.
God is not static and neither is the universe….and neither are we. We are evolving toward love. That is the goal….it’s what makes life precious and meaningful…. it needs to be our passion, our vocation.
The recently departed, Dr. Wayne Dyer wrote: The best way to keep your passion alive is to make your number one relationship in the world be that between you and your Source of being. Stay in a state of wonderment and bewilderment over everything and everyone you encounter. Go through life being continuously grateful and appreciative—give thanks for all of nature and the multitude of miracles you see appearing before your eyes each and every day. This is a daily practice for me, and it’s the most prominent factor I can identify for keeping my zest for life alive and well.”
….continuously grateful. Such an important, life changing and sustaining practice… which enlarges our capacity for being and loving. It is frequently the artists…. musicians, poets, philosophers, spiritual mystics who devote their lives to this creative practice who’s gift to the world, is the gift which expands our vision, guides our inner journeys and inspires gratitude for even a clam!
Each one is a small life, but sometimes long, if its place in the universe is not found out. Like us, they have a heart and a stomach; they know hunger, and probably a little satisfaction too. Do not mock them for their gentleness; they have a muscle that loves being alive. They pull away from the light. They pull down. They hold themselves together. They refuse to open.
But sometimes they lose their place and are tumbled about in a storm. Then they pant, they fill with sand, they have no choice but must open to smallest crack. Then the fire of the world touches them. Perhaps, on such days, they too begin the terrible effort of thinking, of wondering who , and what, and why. If they can bury themselves again in the sand they will. If not, they are sure to perish, though not quickly. They also have resources beyond the flesh: they also try very hard not to die. ( Mary Oliver)
Who else but a poet with a deep appreciation for and knowledge of the exquisite mysteries of creation can inspire us to ponder a clam and what it can teach us? Who else but a creative spirit can bring forth metaphors and miracles that remind us of the brilliance of our Creator and the preciousness of all life?
Mary Oliver writes:
“Ten times a day something happens to me like this – some strengthening throb of amazement – some good sweet empathic ping and swell. This is the first, the wildest and the wisest thing I know: that the soul exists and is built entirely out of attentiveness.”
It is these critical moments of attentiveness to the incredible beauty and brilliance of the natural world…that awakens in us an appreciation of and gratitude for our lives in communion with the Divine Spirit and all it creates and sustains.
Author and pastor Chandler Gilbert tells the story of a beautiful summer day in Deerfield, Massachusetts when he visited a craft fair, ambling from booth to booth, captivated mostly by some exquisite nature photographs. One photograph in particular caught his eye, a stereotypical Vermont farm scene, spectacular mainly in its unusual and dramatic lighting. He asked the photographer how he got that picture. “ Did you spot the scene and sit there for hours waiting for the light to change?’
No, he replied, “ I can’t stand waiting around for things to happen.”
So, the secret is to simply BE there at the right moment?
No, he replied, the secret is to KNOW that you are there.”
Attentiveness….. enabled him to capture a miracle of beauty and light….and to share it with the world.
The psalms are filled with songs of praise and thanks to God inspiring people to remember their maker….to be attentive to the power and glory of the Creator. People believed that if they offered praise and thanks to God, their lives would be blessed. Surely, our liturgies today often begin with prayers of praise and thanks to help us focus on the essential…..the bottom line of the why of worship. “ Seek first, the kingdom of God.”
Psalm 1 begins with the affirmation, “Blessed are those ….” Indeed, most of us are desperate for affirmation in our lives…are longing to feel blessed and loved….to have a sense of God’s presence.
Newsweek not too long ago did a feature story on the second largest publishing market in the country _ second only to the Bible _ “bedside bucker-uppers.” These are the so-called “affirmation books,” or “affies” for short, that assure people that they are doing okay in life _ no matter what they’ve done. There is a hot-selling item called “Elf-Affirmation Cards” which offer daily pick-me-ups as you pick them up. Have you seen them?
Jesus was well versed in Hebrew Scriptures ….. in the Psalms and Jesus is an earthly model of gratitude. Like every good Jew, Jesus thanked God before and after each meal. He was raised to be thankful for the food he received. In Sabbath school he learned to pray the Psalms. “Bless the Lord, O my soul …and forget not all God benefits.” Such were the prayers that came from Jesus’ lips. In the Upper Room, where death was imminent in the air, He took some bread and gave thanks. Jesus was grateful for the birds of the air, the lilies of the field, the critters that roam the countryside and the creatures that swim in the sea. He lived a life of gratitude…. attentive to the holy….the presence of God in all things….even in his enemies.
I really like the way author Angeles Arrien interprets Psalm 1 in her wonderful devotional book; Living in Gratitude:
Blessed are the man and woman who have grown beyond their greed and have put an end to their hatred and no longer nourish illusions. But they delight in the ways things are and keep their hearts open day and night.
In communion with God, we are constantly evolving toward love, as individuals and as a universe. Nurturing that connection, both we and the Divine evolve and move closer to God’s kingdom. The psalmist give us a beautiful image of what our lives can be if we are attentive to the Divine and grateful for each moment of our living:
We will be like trees planted near flowing rivers, which bear fruit when they are ready. Their leaves will not fall or wither: Everything they do will succeed.
In communion with the Divine Spirit within us and around us, we will experience the blessings. Our lives will be an outward reflection of the inner grace of God.
Abraham Heschel, American born Polish Rabbi, one of the leading Jewish theologians and philosophers of the 20th century wrote: “ I did not ask for success; I asked for wonder, and God gave it to me.” He published a wonderful book by that title I Asked for Wonder.
Wonder….and what an amazing gift that is. That is one of the many benefits of hanging out with little children whose capacity for wonder is off the charts! One of the summers I was directing a Vacation Church School, our theme was simply …Exploration. “ Let’s go exploring! And on each of the 10 days, we’d meet at the church, don our fun exploring gear and go out in the natural world and explore! We’d bring back or take a picture of some object of wonder and talk about it….. look for its lessons and give thanks to God for the miracles of that day. It was a rich and beautiful time. I remember it well and hope the children, who are now adults, remember as well and are exploring still. Nurturing our sense of wonder, inspires gratitude in our daily lives that makes each day a miracle.
The epistle of 1st Peter is frequently attributed to Peter the Apostle, but many New Testament scholars question that authorship. What matters to me, however is the wise advice it offers us about living grateful lives….about honoring the precious gift of life that each of us has been given and about recognizing the gift of the divine in others. It is once again a call for us to love each other deeply, because love covers up a multitude of sins!
I love that! How true that is! You know the old sayings…”love is blind! You are looking at him or her through rose colored glasses!
10 Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.
When we are grateful for our lives and for our gifts and talents, we want to share them….to bless others as we have been blessed. . to build and nurture an environment of mutual love. It is not only the work of artists and poets and philosophers. It is our work too.
11 If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides.
Our very existence is a gift….and we have many choices about how to spend our days ( grumbling or grinning!) …..about how we can nurture and share our lives. We have the blessed freedom to choose how we relate to God….how we encourage and nourish the Holy Spirit available to us.
“Tell me, writes Mary Oliver, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”
I have to tell you one of my favorite jokes:
A Jewish grandma and her grandson are at the beach. He is playing in the water and she is standing on the shore not wanting to get her feet wet, when all of a sudden, a huge wave appears from nowhere and crashes directly onto the spot where the boy is wading.
The water recedes and the boy is no longer there. Swept away.
She raises her hands to the sky as she screams and cries, “Lord, how could you? Haven’t I been a wonderful grandmother? Haven’t I been a wonderful mother? Haven’t I kept a kosher home? Haven’t I lit candles every Friday night? Haven’t I tried my very best to live a life that you would be proud of?”
A voice booms from the sky, “Okay, okay!”
A few minutes later, another huge wave appears out of nowhere and crashes on the beach. As the water recedes, the boy is standing there, smiling and splashing around as if nothing had ever happened.
The voice booms again. “I have returned your grandson. Are you satisfied?”
She responds, “He had a hat.”
Some of us are not ever satisfied…. may feel we never have enough. Perhaps….just perhaps…. our expectations of our Higher Power are in need of thoughtful reflection and greater understanding of the nature of the Divine Spirit.
I close as I began with the magical, mystical words…the wisdom of Mary Oliver:
Now we are awake and now we come together and now we are thanking the Lord.
This is easy for the Lord is everywhere.
…in the water and the air,
…in the very walls.
…around us and in us
… is the floor on which we kneel.
We make our songs for him as sweet as we can
for his goodness, and lo, he steps into the song
and out of it, having blessed it, having recognized our intention,
having awakened us, who thought we were awake, a second time,
having married us to the air and the water,
having lifted us in intensity,
having lowered us in beautiful amiability,
having given us each other,
and the weeds, dogs, cities, boats, dreams
that are the world.
I am grateful to God for Mary Oliver…for the way she nourishes my soul.
Let us be that for each other and for God….that the universe will evolve toward greater love. Amen!