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.