In a few hours, 2019 will bow out and hold open the door for 2020. I’ll be toasting in the New Year with friends – an almost every year gathering for the seventeen years I’ve lived in Wareham. When the festivities end and my husband and I are back home, I’ll take a few minutes to thank God for the year just past; then, I’ll begin 2020 by writing about blessings – the happy ones, sad ones, hard and easy ones. I hope you share a few of your own along the way – conversation is so much more fun than monologue…
I pass under this tree half a dozen times a week, on my way to the library, grocery store, or out for a daily walk. I’ve admired its leaves as I’ve walked toward it, and I’ve appreciated its shade in the summer. But I don’t know that I’ve looked up from beneath it. Until my son walked with me, showing me how to take pictures with my new smart phone. It was when Jared raised his camera to take this picture that I looked up and saw how blue the sky looked against the golden leaves. How could I have passed under these branches so many times, blind to their graceful stretching?
A bird’s-eye view can be amazing, and I love seeing things from above. But if this picture is any indication, a groundhog’s-eye view offers its own beauty.
The effect of one good-hearted person is incalculable.
Oscar Arias Sanchez
[Nobel Peace Prize winner, former president of Costa Rica who worked for peace and justice throughout South America]
It doesn’t take millions of dollars or an Ivy League education to change the world. Those things can be helpful, sure enough, but true change is accomplished because it is rooted in the compassionate heart of an individual or group. It’s not really that surprising, if I give it some thought.
The catch: the good-hearted person may never see the change he or she effected. Isn’t that a wonderful truth? The good done remains a mystery to the one who began the whole thing.
It brings to mind another saying: there’s no end to the good you can accomplish – as long as you don’t mind who gets the credit…
May I be thankful enough for what I have and who I am to be unconcerned with receiving credit for the good I might do…
It’s a line from Irving Berlin’s song, delivered in Holiday Inn by Bing Crosby. In the scene, he’s sitting down to a beautiful Thanksgiving dinner alone. A record cheerily plays Bing singing about all the things he’s thankful for while the live Bing sits alone, feeling sorry for himself. He talks back to his recorded self, listing life’s faults and shortcomings. Unlike the line in the song, there’s plenty more he’d like to ask for.
This being a Hollywood musical, everything works out splendidly for everyone involved, and the movie ends with amazing singing and dancing.
Most of us know life isn’t an Irving Berlin musical. We don’t get the girl (or boy, depending), our career plans go awry, and there’s rarely world class singing and dancing to celebrate at the end of each calendar year. Even for the people whose lives work out that way, everything gained doesn’t guarantee joy and fulfillment – no one and nothing can provide another’s happiness and contentment. There will be arguments and bad days.
Bing’s character may be wrong in the everyday sense: a laundry list of positives without the inevitable negatives is naive at best and misleading at worst. But he’s right in the much larger sense. When we know that our lives are held by God, that we are God’s beloved children, we don’t bet our joy and happiness on our current circumstances. We are enough because God delights in us. We may ask for more worldly goods, but there’s nothing more our spirits need to live holy lives. We can be happy, not because what we have is always enough, but because we are always enough. We are always loved. And so, with Bing, we can sing: how could anybody ask for more?
[Irving Berlin, Holiday Inn soundtrack, recorded in 1942, released by Sunbeam records, 1979 & 2004]
Dear God, tonight I give everyone I love back to you…
The words are only the doorway, meant to be moved through. Say them knowing that God listens and waits for you. Not because you owe an account for every good, bad, and indifferent thing you though, said, or did – because you are a well loved child coming home after a long day’s adventure, and God wants you to share everything that happened.
It’s one of the great comforts in life – sinking down into a steamy bath on a cold night (or a cool one during a heat wave). We are formed in water in our mother’s womb, so perhaps taking a bath is a reminder of our beginnings. For whatever reason, it’s a wonderful to end our day the way we began our lives.
It takes about twenty minutes for our bodies to become soft enough to slough off the skin cells covered with the grime of the day. A little soap on a face cloth does the rest, and we emerge restored in body; if we use the time in the tub to let go of the day, we can emerge with soul and heart refreshed as well.
We baptize with water as an outward act of a inward transformation. I wonder why I’ve never thought to take bath time as a way to remember this sacrament until now…
My grandmother had us help with supper dishes once everyone was done eating – cleaning and putting away everything used for cooking or serving. Tabletops and cupboards were wiped clean, and the wet dish towels hung to dry overnight. But dish duty didn’t end there: by the time everyone headed to bed, the kitchen sink was full of tea cups and plates from bedtime snacks. Before she slept, she washed and dried all of them, returning them to the shelves and cupboards where they belonged. It’s no good starting a new day with yesterday’s dishes in the way, she’d say. I want to start tomorrow with a clean kitchen.
Turns out, my grandmother had the right idea. Beginning the day with a clean kitchen is beginning with a clean slate. The morning tasks are done more easily when the work space is clean and all the necessary utensils are ready to use, in the physical sense and psychologically. Dirty dishes in the sink aren’t always just dirty dishes: they are a symbol of a burdensome life routine. The simple investment of ten minutes and a dollop of dish soap gets a necessary chore done and offers a tomorrow without the burden of today’s leftover messiness.
Have you noticed that spiritual practices are much the same? They are simple steps and actions designed to be done at the beginning and end of the day; they are repetitive, requiring an investment of time and energy; they can’t be done once and for all, and they enhance the lives of those who do them. Left undone, life becomes an inconvenient mess.
The Jesus prayer, meditation, lectio divina, daily readings – just a few of the practices that can help you put your soul’s house to rights every night and wake up to God’s new day ready for whatever will come. I’ll remember this when I see dishes in the sink.
If I’m the chef du jour, these words move my focus from food prep to table fellowship. If someone else is cooking, it’s my signal to leave whatever activity I’m doing in favor of breaking bread with loved ones.
What a marvelous way to meet the needs of the body while nourishing the soul in the company of others. For the meal and the time with others I am equally grateful.
This question is often the beginning of meal and snack prep, and a way to gauge how much food needs to be made – a pragmatic piece of courtesy.
Are you hungry? If you are, what will satisfy your hunger? When I ask such questions of others and of myself, I can better meet true physical needs and become aware of when I am eating (or offering food) when no need exists. Are you hungry is offering me the grace of intentionality in my eating and drinking, and a way for me to offer the same to others.
When asked in a spiritual sense, are you hungry? is an invitation to partake of God’s nourishing presence – as necessary and satisfying as food for the body. Perhaps Jesus spent so much time eating with others because he wanted them to make this connection. Perhaps we continue to break bread in his name because we realize that making the connection is the every day miracle we are starving for.
[This morning, I’m writing at the Dunkin’ Donuts just down the street from my home. Iced Signature Latte in hand, it struck me that this isn’t a question asked of anyone standing in the impressively long line of people working their way to the register. What can I get you, hot or iced, would you like an order of hash browns with that are the questions asked and answered. Perhaps the assumption is that anyone entering must be hungry or at least thirsty. For me on this particular day, it’s not an accurate assumption.]
Table Blessing: Thank you for the world so sweet, thank you for the food we eat, thank you for the birds that sing, thank you, God, for everything. Amen.