There are times in our lives, though they may be few, when God punctures the veil between eternity and the here and now. It's as if God pokes a hole, reaches in or down or both, and shakes us at the foundations, begging us to stop, look and listen. Pay attention The Spirit tells the human spirit. Please notice this.
We call these magical moments, revelations, epiphanies, Grace, or simply times of unexplained transformation. Einstein had such a moment when he wrote down E=mc2. Mozart, age four, could learn a piece of music in a half hour. His abilities were astonishing. He was rightly declared a genius, but still there appeared to be something “other” involved. What we casually call genius, is on some level, eternal in character. Galileo was able to challenge centuries of religious belief, by allowing us to see that the earth was not the center of the universe. Even here we must ask if God was not involved in the science which inspired Galileo to be able to claim, at great personal price, a whole new vision of the universe.
When those of us who are not categorized as geniuses have such a moment of insight or raw clarity, we often experience it accompanied by a lump in the throat, being moved to tears, or a pervasive smearing of goosebumps. God seems to have ways of letting us know that a Spirit is present. Is our Higher Power casting a spell upon our soul? Is this a miracle, or is all of Life a miracle? However we wish to describe it, since mere words fail to capture the full experience, we are left with a deep sense of having been touched by God. The heavens have opened for a second or two, but our awareness had grown in size and depth and insight. We have made contact, or been contacted.
My poor attempt here to offer the most basic meaning of a revelation, will not prevent me from further attempting to share one with you. My words may ultimately prove futile and fail, but they are the all I have -- and in this case, we’ve got.
I went to see my sister. She was lying in bed, her hair a shock of snotty yellow, her complexion like congealed wax. She had tubes coming out of her all over the place, and though reassuring that she was still breathing, I saw no real life going on there in the rumpled bed. Her kidneys had shut down in three days, and her whole being now functioned at a far more sluggish pace. They kept trying to drain the fluid from her bloated body, while attempting to get her to sip on ice cubes. It all felt ridiculous and absurd. How did her health and life unravel so quickly? Then I was jarred back to reality by the obvious, her health had been fading for years, just like my own, and often by our own stupid choices – obesity and lack of exercise the most obvious.
I could not get ashamed at this moment, nor pour a thick goopy syrup of guilt all about her being, as I was just as big an offender as she, and in many respects, more so. Plus, what good would guilt do now? To be honest, what real good does guilt ever do, except pummeling us with what we have long known, and even longer had no evident control over? Shame, guilt’s saucy sister, would love to lure us into a pity party any time of day or night, but again, to choose to attend such a dreadful affair is a pure waste of time.
I suddenly saw my sister when she was quite pretty, smaller but not petite, and her eyes sparkled and she had a stunning smile. She was always on the phone, and laughter was incessant. She had longed for a boyfriend for such a long time, but as her weight grew, so did her chances decline. She could land a boy by offering him what he wanted, but she never got what she most wanted, which was to be loved, cherished, and adored, and to have a home and family of her very own.
Somehow, I began to picture her as a mother. I have no idea where the images came from, but I saw her tucking in a couple of kids, and preparing a meal, decorating a Christmas tree, hiding an Easter egg, and whipping up a beautiful cake. I also imagined her being kissed passionately by a guy who looked like one of the dancers on the old AMERICAN BANDSTAND. I even saw her winning a prize, and offering the simplest but kindest acceptance speech, giving all the credit to our mother.
I was then startled by memories long forgotten. They came back to life, a resurrection if you will. The time she let me be the butler at her Halloween party, then made me show all of her friends how good I could dance, especially the “mashed potato”. I thought about how she let me borrow her car to pass my driver’s test, and how she had consoled me when the brakes failed on that same car when I went to Prom, and I rammed the car ahead of me in the infamous line at Memorial Hall.
Her life had always been one of longing and yearning. She was sad much of the time. Trying to find a place or a peace of some kind; trying to fit, or belong, or be a part of something intimate and strong; trying to locate a little joy or happiness or meaning. I never think of my sister as calm or content. I can’t recall a time where she seemed to be comfortable in her own skin. She was a mass of need, and that mass just kept on growing over the years.
The happiest time in her life was when she got to take care of my son a couple of days each week. She was a wondrous Aunt, and my adored their candlelit spaghetti supper, and the never-ending trips to the toy store. I think he loved having her all to himself, and getting away from the overly busy, over-scheduled lives of his clergy parents. The time was just right, and for a while it was a heavenly arrangement.
I felt bad for a moment thinking how distant she and my son had grown, for no other reason than that her need had long ago outgrown his capacity to meet it, and he just often chose to go in hiding to keep himself from being swallowed whole.
I watched her labored breathing for a bit, and said a prayer. I asked for her to be comforted and held in God’s arms. I asked for some mercy for her. I asked her to know she was a good sister, good woman, good friend, good aunt, good soul, and just plain good. It was such a pure and simple prayer, and I was left dumbstruck by the fact I truly believed every word I spoke to God. I was seeing her at this time through God’s eyes. I knew it then, and I know it now. I had, if ever so brief, been given the gracious gift of eternal eyes... Of seeing us as God sees us.
She awoke and reached out for me, as she must have done so often as a little girl. She looked so small, fragile, delicate, and lovely. I imagined how my Dad or Mom picking up their little blonde darling, and squeezing her tight. I went over and gave her a big squeeze. She looked at me as if she knew something was up, but for now, didn’t want to know. She knew her brother was here and she was safe, and the room felt full and cozy. There was love in the room. It was enough. At last.
In American culture, we tend to have a horrid relationship with time. We often try to kill it. We believe we can buy it. We are confident we can make it. We seldom lose track of it anymore, because we so seldom do the things we love most. We are hellishly good at wasting it.
Time is not easy to waste. Even when we are doing nothing, we are often making the best use of our time. We will then read good books and listen to good music. We will putter in the garden, or go for a long leisurely stroll. We will take delicious naps. We lounge. We cook. We become Sabbath, even for others. We take on the spirit of being at ease, calm, relaxed, ready to stop, look, and listen. We are in fact ripe for intimacy. We write letters and make phone calls. We clear out clutter and remove the cobwebs -- from our minds as well as the ceilings.
Doing nothing is often when we are being exactly who God would wish us to be. We finally pay attention to what matters. We notice the beauty of the season. We show interest in what Life has to teach. When we are doing nothing, we are open to receiving and letting God in. Only then can we be embraced by the Grace which is the ground of our being.
When we stop all the doing, we can start being. We can be awake and alive and aware. We can be compassionate and concerned and care. We can be willing to learn and love and grow. Spirituality is not something we do. It is something we can only choose to BE. Spirituality is the process of doing less and less and less.
The ONE true way to waste time, is to become too busy. When we become too busy to bother, to notice, to pay attention, our lives become a whirlwind, and our state becomes chaotic. Busyness is the culprit behind most of our wasting of time. Busyness is the business of ignoring our lives. It is our way of escaping the spiritual fact that we will all lose the race against Time.
Isn’t it strange to think that we are often wasting time, when led to believe we’re being productive. The problem is that what we are producing is soul numbing stress. Real productivity must be eternal. It must possess qualities which last. We need to be productive in our loving and forgiving, being gracious and generous, committed and loyal. Productivity without a point is not productive. It is the spending of time. Treating time as if it were a commodity to be bought and sold. It is failing to negotiate with Time on how it wants to use us.
Be careful. What you may think of as wasting time, might just be what God calls entering eternity. Think about it. When you lose track of time doing something you are passionate about doing, which engages you fully in an act of creation, then you have not only become a co-Creator with God, but you have moved into eternity. When we lose track of time, time has not gone missing. It has simply been transformed. Eternity equals the absence of time, which in turn equals the abandonment of all clocks and calendars.
How we experience our time is crucial to a spiritual life. The only way we can truly waste time, is by becoming so busy that we fail to pay attention to the Spirit working in our days. To waste time is to not have time for God, Self, soul or spirit. It is to neglect the seeking after a glimpse of Grace. It is spending dawn to dusk talking the talk, and never once talking with God.
A major course in spirituality is learning how not to waste time. This means being fully engaged in learning the lessons of the earth, how to receive tutorials of the heart, and how to respect the myriad ways our own lives teach us about what is of importance and consequence. When we are busy trying to bring heaven to earth, we are leading a full life. When we are busy trying to grab our piece of the pie, then we are full of that sick spirit which will eventually make us puke.
Time, my friends, from the right perspective, is always on our side. Even when we must spend days slogging through dreary routine, we still have the capacity to seize a moment of eternity. Time can work for us, when we are not trying to control it or change it or challenge it to a duel. When we embrace Time, accepting that it is in charge, we not only go with the flow, but we can receive its spiritual current. We can be led and called and absorbed by a most loving God.
Slogging is suspended when the human spirit connects with the Spirit of God. These are those holy moments when Time and ego disappear, and we are at one with the pulse of God. These are the miraculous days of great Grace, when we feel fluid and fine in every respect. We smile then, knowing the full joy of walking at the pace of a skip, or feeling the desire to strut. It is that rare time of truly walking the walk.
Names. Places. List items. Great lines from movies or books. The plot of a favorite TV series episode. Political bulletins. Even good gossip. Everything these days scoots about my mind, often quickly disappearing from view like mice. My mind suddenly goes blank. The present takes a vacation somewhere near Aruba. I am void.
I grow determined. I plot on how I will catch the mice. I will bait them with memorization and careful review. I will trap them in a mind kept agile by cross word puzzles and ample reading. I will poison them with the curse of cue cards carried in my pocket.
We have nametags at church now. It is such a blessing. Is there anything worse than a pastor, a supposed gourmet chef of intimacy, who searches a face hopelessly for some sign of recognition. Referring to you with that oh so precious and ugly “oh you”.
We always know when someone doesn’t have a clue who we are. It is written on their face, and in the stilted awkward language they are now speaking. As I age, I find this mice infestation to be terrifying. I try to tell myself it is normal. Mice come in out of the cold. Minds become Swiss cheese as the years’ pass. Still, it is an anxiety ridden reality.
Mice don’t give me the “willies” anymore. I don’t find them repulsive. I try to think of them as cute little baby squirrels. But when I find their droppings in my kitchen drawers, I want to puke. Just like what I feel when I forget the name of a friend I have known for decades, or when a sermon veers hopelessly off course, or I can’t relocate the point I was trying to make.
Oh well. Mice. We all have them at some point. Scurrying in and out of holes and cracks in our aging minds. Just pray for a good week. Only one or two sightings, and no droppings.
Life. My life . Our lives. They are picking up speed – so it seems. Can’t believe the brevity of our days. The foggy blur of the leap from birthday to birthday. The seeds of anxiety which blossom ferociously in my soul. Questioning time left, priorities, and the swarming lack of certainty.
I wonder out loud. I ask often about the point. The purpose. The meaning. The rhyme and the reason. There is less clarity, and a mushrooming mystery. I feel confident it is indeed all tied to love somehow, and yet I find the loving harder and harder to do and be.
I resist loving. I try on occasion. I really do. A few times I explode with it. I have no idea why it's so hard to forgive, or why I still can be so jealous, or how it is that I still want to poke out the speck in my neighbor’s eye. Am I really that predictable? Is that the sum of being human?
I find Christ more compelling than ever. This wild story of irrational love. A bloated tale of unearned Grace. A coming of eternity saga. How he simply lived it. Walked it. Trusted his God so fully. Lost all fear. Would not follow the world one more step. Became not simply the image of God, but the actual reflection.
I wish I turned to Christ more. Moved more easily in his direction. Sat at his feet. Let his spirit wash over me. So that experiencing waves of being beloved, might free me to unleash the love -- I know in my soul, which lies within me.
It is so utterly stupidly simple. We are here to love. We are here to be Christ. We have little time. But we busy ourselves with matters which are so ridiculously silly. We worry endlessly about money and reputation and popularity and climbing the ladder and winning and being known and noticed. In calmer moments, we claim the truth that all of Life is just the receiving of the gift. Life requires no other achievement than the embracing of the day.
My mind jumbles and races. My fears play tricks, and are like ants in my pants. I sweat the small stuff big time. I try to figure out the riddle which is not a riddle. I know I am often the punch line of the joke. The joke is on and in me. I am a man of faith with just a trace of belief. I have my moments though. Like this one. It happened last night.
I sat in my Lazy-Boy next to Patty in hers. It was 3:15 a.m. We were listening to nature’s music from our TV. It was called “The Melody of Wind”. Patty doesn't snore, she purrs. I watched her breathing. It was good to see her body at peace, the ragged edges of pain smoothed.
I thought about all that once was. Her belly laughs. Her flurries of cleaning and cooking and enjoying clans of conversation. Her delight in long lazy drives, and finding dives with great food. Her enjoyment of holidays, and her raucous need to make all birthdays giggly and girly.
It felt so long ago. Carefree days. Times when we dreamed daily of the joy to be found in skipping “school” for a day. Being truant. Chasing beauty all about, and refusing to be even remotely responsible. Where did it go? How did all that gusto evaporate? Who could have predicted the paralyzing numbness of these days of late? How could her rotting health have swallowed our lives whole?
Then she awoke. Her eyes like ice. Such pale pale blue. Her skin still so pearly, as is her hair. She asked me, “What?” I told her, “Nothing, just enjoying the view.” She said, “That is a sweet thing to say.” I told her I did my best. And I did and do. Most times, that is. She fell back to sleep.
It was nice to be nice. It felt good to be kind. At least I can be that. A bit kinder. And so, I sought sleep. Hoping that tomorrow, I would continue to try and be a little bit kinder. It was the least I could do, and I knew Christ would agree.
I think I fell asleep around five a.m.. The last thing I remember was just the slightest piece of pale pink grey light, and the landing of the Journal Times outside my door.
This Life of ours. It isn’t rocket science. It isn’t Trivial Pursuit. It certainly is not a climb up a ladder to nowhere but a despairing fall. It is merely the sacred opportunity to let our poor hearts break a little. A broken heart remains the divine remnant of a life well lived. The single sign of having heard the Word, and become the echo.
I snore. I can’t hear myself snore, but I can feel the rumble. I know that I am capable of waking the dead. My dreams are full of them – the dead. They cartwheel about, and occupy a place of reverence and intrigue. My sleep is like a tornado. It leaves a distinct trail of damage, and a vast area of the night which is left shockingly untouched.
As I tumble into sleep. I can hear my heart plead for the power of mercy, and I realize that Christ is about. All about. The all of it. And that is it. I am finally. Soundly. Sleeping.
Reverend William R. Grimbol has spent the past 30+ years helping people create and develop strong spiritual connections with loved ones and God. He is also a published author, with over a dozen books to his credit.