Wednesday, August 29, 2012


I set aside all this time today to write a blog post, and all I can seem to do is put half-formed thoughts on the screen and promptly erase them. It's pretty a pretty senseless way to spend three hours, but I guess it's better than wasting time on Facebook. Anyway, I give up. It's not working tonight. Maybe tomorrow. In the meantime, here's a Merton quote for the three of you that read this blog.

"Then it was as if I suddenly saw the secret beauty of their hearts, the depths of their hearts where neither sin nor desire nor self-knowledge can reach, the core of their reality, the person that each one is in God’s eyes. If only they could all see themselves as they really are. If only we could see each other that way all the time. There would be no more war, no more hatred, no more cruelty, no more greed…I suppose the big problem would be that we would fall down and worship each other. But this cannot be seen, only believed and “understood” by a peculiar gift."

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Gratitude, the Heart of Prayer

Our parish priest, Father Pat, speaks often of the need to experience all of life as gift. Everything we do, every moment we draw breath, is saturated with miracles which would inspire awe in even the hardest of hearts--if only we would take the time to notice. Gabriel Marcel (my favorite philosopher, if you were wondering), in "The Mystery of Being", calls this sense of wonder in the face of reality "the participant perspective". A participant being one who encounters reality, as opposed to one who only observes it. It is the difference between "people watching" at Starbucks and connecting with a stranger over coffee.

There is, to my mind, much to gain from thinking in these terms. Most of us live our lives primarily as observers. The miracles which envelop us are merely oddities to be quantified and categorized before we move on to the next thing--which we ultimately treat in the same fashion. Don't believe me? Spend some time with a child. My little girl can spend HOURS looking at rocks. Each one she brings to me, explaining why it is special. This one sparkles, another has lines that you can only see if you hold it a certain way, this one is shaped like a cat, this one looks like a grey cat (I think they're friends), and on and on, ad infinitum... I know that some day she will cease to see the world the way she does now, and will no longer appreciate the individuality of every bit and piece in a pile of gravel. She'll say, "Oh, rocks. Yeah, I've seen tons of rocks before," just as you and I do. But for now, she is a participant in the mystery of the world. And she invites me daily to abandon my observation and come look at miracles with her.

So, today I realized something profoundly important. The only appropriate, adult response to the experience of wonder is not "Wow!", but "Thank you." My workday changed the moment I had this epiphany. Every piece of wood that passed through my hands became a blessing. Every task I was given turned into an opportunity to give my daughter something she lacked (or had already used, e.g. this months power and water). Even when being pulled away from a job in which I was completely engrossed and content--which I usually hate because it breaks my contemplation--I was cheerful. First, I found myself at a job site crawling around in mud beneath a house trying to uncoil PEX pipe and hang it from the floor joists, and all I could think was, "This sucks great!" I was so happy to be working... to be able to do something. I came out from the crawlspace at noon (covered with Carolina red mud and a few spiders) and found out I was getting sent to another job site. This time, I'm cleaning paint off vinyl siding with thinner and an old t-shirt. It's 90 degrees, I'm in sweating buckets in direct sunlight, and all I can hear is the homeowner and her kids eating popsicles in the pool. 


I am alive. Not only am I alive, but I have people who love me. Some of these people love me so much they take care of me when I am in need. Others of these people I am able to care for. I am not only alive; I have a place in the world. I don't have much luxury, but I have enough to build a coop for my future chickens and to buy a camper top for my truck. Our bills and debts are being paid. My little girl ate her dinner tonight (even though she didn't like it). My wife makes me delicious dinners/lunches. I'm learning a trade that I love from a man I respect. My friends are always there for me. We have a pretty nice home on a great street. We have things in our house--things many people don't. So what if I have to work in the sun. The blessings in my life clearly outweigh the difficulties and struggles.

Today I learned another thing profoundly important. I learned once more to see my life for what it is: a blessing and a gift. Are there things I would like to change? Ways in which I would like to grow? Yes, of course. But primarily, I am thankful. I learned today to participate in the mystery of being alive in the world. I learned to look at things in a different way, and to be more joyful as a result. I learned to share my joy with other people.

Today, I learned for the first time how to pray. 

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Beginner's Mind

"The opposite of acedia is not the industrious spirit of the daily effort to make a living, but rather the cheerful affirmation by man of his own existence, of the world as a whole, and of God--of Love, that is, from which arises that special freshness of action, which would never be confused by anyone with any experience with the narrow activity of the 'workaholic'." -Josef Pieper

Beginner's Mind:
I have recently started working for a home repair/renovation company, and in my work I've had some thoughts which are  not (I hope) completely devoid of value.

One of the jobs I've been working for the past couple weeks is a beautiful maple bathroom vanity. I'm still very new at this work, so what I've learned so far is how to select lumber, cut it down, sand the pieces to exact thickness and width, and create panels from smaller bits using clamps and glue. After the cabinet maker has put all the pieces together, I also sand. And sand, and sand, and sand. This past week, I spent about 50 hours sanding. It's exactly the kind of work a former monk needs; it lends itself easily to contemplation.

Everything about wood is a mystery to me. Monday through Friday, I go to work and cut trees apart, then try to put them back together in a useful form--trees that have lived longer than I have. I am surrounded by furniture and floors and doors... each piece made from a thing that was once alive in a particular place and time. Every knot in a board, every change in the grain pattern or the color of the wood is unique to the tree from which it came.

I learned today that trees are cone-shaped. (I don't know why I never thought of that before.) That's why wood grain looks the way it does. The patter of U-shapes going down a board are the result of cutting through a stack of cones (the annual rings). Amazing! Maybe not to you, but it's amazing to me.

We are engulfed in a world full of things we don't understand. That's why even the best of us can be taken apart by a child asking "Why?" again and again. Because, at bottom, we don't understand even the most basic elements of the world around us. We are only able to live out our lives because we grow out of childhood and stop looking at creation with wonder and awe. But it's all still there--all the things that made us ask "Why?" as kids are still right in front of us, defying comprehension--even in a simple piece of wood.