In our culture, and even in our churches, we often get pretty stuck in our heads, so full of all those thoughts and ideas and words. We expound on them endlessly. We argue over them. We devote lots and lots of time and energy to exploring them. And they can be important. But, at the same time, they are not the whole story. God, Spirit, Sacred Presence, the Universe, Mystery, the Holy, the Ineffable, Awe and Wonder. There are lots of words to choose from. Pick one. Pick several. It doesn’t really matter what titles we use – they all point to a reality and an experience beyond the capacity of words to fully capture or express. There is a reality beyond our thoughts and ideas and words. It is a reality that is beyond our ability to control, but within our capacity to experience – anytime and anywhere. The ancient Celts had a concept they referred to as “thin places” – experiences where the veil between this world and the larger reality grows thin. The catch is that we need to pay attention so we don’t miss it.Lately I’ve been pondering two words that I became aware of in the last couple of years. Coddiwomple (isn’t that a great word!) – to travel in a purposeful manner towards an as-yet-unknown destination. And Saunter – to travel reverently toward (or through) a holy place. Both words do a nice job of describing how I like to engage in exploring the world around me. But recently I began to realize that these two wonderfully fun and evocative words might also provide a good description of how I have lived most of my adult life. I’ve never really had a “master plan.” Mostly my journey through this life has involved trying to pay attention and listening for the promptings of Spirit. Sometimes I’ve been at least moderately successful at this practice, and sometimes not so much. But always I find myself coming back to this pattern of living – an intentional paying attention and noticing, an openness to the expansive reality within me and beyond me. After 64 years of living I think it is safe to say that I am a confirmed Sauntering Coddiwompler. And happily so.
We find hints and clues and glimpses of this reality and this way of approaching our living in the words of the poets. They have a way of capturing our imagination and pointing us to that which is beyond our capacity to fully grasp or comprehend. In the 13th century the Sufi poet Rumi wrote –
Today, like every other day,
we wake up empty and frightened.
Don’t open the door to the study and begin reading.
Take down a musical instrument.
Let the beauty we love be what we do.
There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.
The wonderful Mary Oliver urged us to step into the Mystery when she offered this bit of advice –
If you suddenly and unexpectedly feel joy,
Give in to it!
She also had this to say on the matter of exploring this wider and wilder reality –
You are young. So you know everything.
You leap into the boat and begin rowing.
But listen to me.
Without fanfare, without embarrassment, without any doubt,
I talk directly to your soul.
Listen to me.
Lift the oars from the water,
let your arms rest, and your heart,
and heart’s little intelligence,
and listen to me.
There is life without love.
It is not worth a bent penny, or a scuffed shoe.
It is not worth the body of a dead dog nine days unburied.
When you hear, a mile away and still out of sight,
the churn of the water as it begins to swirl and roil,
fretting around the sharp rocks –
when you hear that unmistakable pounding –
when you feel the mist on your mouth
and sense ahead the embattlement,
the long falls plunging and steaming –
then row, row for your life toward it.
(West Wind #2)
And in one of her most famous poems of all, Mary Oliver provides us with this description of the kind of experience I’ve been trying to express –
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention,
how to fall downinto the grass,
how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed,
how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?
(The Summer Day)
All of this is more than just some speculative ramblings and idle chatter. Such experiences really do happen in the lives of ordinary folks like you and me. I know this to be true because I have had them. One day several years ago on a walking path next to the Spokane River I was stopped in my tracks when the world around me suddenly became hyper-real. Everything was alive and I was connected to all of it. All I could do was stand there turning slowing as all of my senses were filled to overflowing. This is the poem I wrote in response to that experience –
it started out small -just some flowers
(as if it were possible to describe
any flowers using the word “just”)
but then one thing led to another –
the setting sun shining
in that particular way it sometimes does
flowering bushes with such delicate blossoms
it took my breath away
until finally the whole world opened up
to reveal its beauty
my heart seeing what my eyes alone could not –
loveliness on top of loveliness
even with my regular diet of awe and wonder
it was almost more than I could process
my internal circuitry could scarcely take it in
what can I say?
sometimes the beauty of this world simply cannot be contained
Which is why I sat up and paid attention when I first saw this video clip. It’s from the film “An Interview with God.” A journalist has been invited to interview someone who claims to be God. They meet in a local park. This scene takes place immediately after he shakes hands and walks away from that interview. What grabbed my attention was how well it captured the feeling I experienced on that walking path next to the river.
But after all is said and done the question must still be asked, “So what?” Why does any of this matter? What difference does it make in the living of our lives in the world? I submit that it matters immensely. The payoff includes a powerful sense of peace, and an expanded awareness of the world we live in and the ways in which we are connected with everyone and everything there is. That sense of connection leads to greater compassion (it’s harder to judge someone with whom I am intrinsically connected). And the icing on the cake is a deep and abiding sense of gratitude that transforms the ways in which we perceive and experience all of life. In short, our experiences in life become deeper, richer, more meaningful, and more fulfilling. And it all begins with paying attention. Take a deep breath and step into the Mystery.