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Sunday, October 3, 2010

It Might Have Been Otherwise. A Poem About Forgotten Grace.

I got out of bed
on two strong legs.
It might have been 
otherwise. I ate
cereal, sweet
milk, ripe, flawless
peach. It might
have been otherwise.
I took the dog uphill
to the birch wood.
All morning I did
the work I love.

At noon I lay down
with my mate. It might
have been otherwise.
We ate dinner together
at a table with silver
candlesticks. It might
have been otherwise.
I slept in a bed
in a room with paintings
on the walls, and
planned another day
just like this day.
But one day, I know,
it will be otherwise.

Jane Kenyon from Receiving the Day, Dorothy C. Bass

Recently, I've been reading of  Bass's Receiving the Day as part of my early morning. It's the kind of spiritual reading I've done ever since getting involved in helping people live intimacy with Christ. I find this genre of writing settling and freeing because it so counteracts the jangling, fractured  life so many of us have resigned ourselves to in our "I'm late. I'm late for a very important date! Hello, goodbye. Hello, goodbye. I'm late! I'm late! I'm late!" world. 

Bass's lovely book called me to back to a more humane and humble way of living my church planting existence, reminding me of gentle rhythms we lived at the retreat center in Simsbury. Those days had their share of frenetic trying to keep up, but the atmosphere of listening/noticing a house of prayer teaches always called us back to preserving a quiet heart before God. It was part of the contemplative landscape as so many of our guests attested to. The noise of life had to submit to the silence of gazing at God with a smile and a tear.

 Kenyon's poem struck a chord in that I am so easily lured into forgetting the astounding grace of simple gifts and God's constant love gestures filling an ordinary (or even an extraordinary) day. Living in a bustling city doesn't help:

Being able to shower with hot water.

Having someplace to put my clothes.

Being able to walk and see. 

having money in my pocket to give away.

Having a lovely wife who gives her life to me every day.

Hot coffee.

Being able to work.

Having someplace to go.

Garbage bags, toilet paper, clean water, a couch to sit on, shoes, being able to drum, being able to think straight, books, color and sunlight, a glass to drink from, freedom to choose, someone else knows my name, etc. etc. etc.

The deal is, you and I both know "it might have been otherwise," for each of us. The disheveled people endlessly pushing shopping carts on the streets of Northampton remind me all the time.

More importantly, someday I know, it will be otherwise. This earthly plane will no longer be my abode or that of everyone I love. Perhaps today death or unexpected chaos will break down my door and change everything. It does in every person's life from time to time. So Kenyon and Bass remind me to not be foolish about the exquisite grace of what my friend recently called "the splendid ordinary." I need to recapture the blessing of paying attention to the subtle presence of ordinary grace through which God unendingly gifts my day with love and care. In so doing, I free myself to gratitude, giving back and creativity. I notice and am lightened by His thoughtfulness. His mind-boggling attention to the tiniest of details adorning and sustaining life, mine and yours, will undo us if we let them . . . if we open to and receive them.

Pay attention today to grace and peace and solidity and love and people and place. 

All of it truly "might have been otherwise."

Someday, it surely will be otherwise. But not at this moment.

So with this moment, open your arms wide to Jesus and receive the day, no matter what time it is. Then bend your neck to thankfulness as your offering of love and humility. 

While you're at it, decide to make this simple receiving and offering A WAY OF LIFE.

(it can be, you know)


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