‘I did but see her passing by, yet I will love her till I die,’ – these are words former Prime Minister Robert Menzies used when making a speech to the Queen when she first visited Australia. We’ll never know if the Prime Minister was genuinely swept away by the Queen’s aura as he gazed at her or if he was making the most of a chance to ingratiate himself with her. But we know of other similar stories which may be less ambiguous: for instance, the Renaissance author Dante Alighieri when he caught sight of the beautiful Beatrice, was so carried away by the sight of her that Beatrice became his model for characters in his famous writings even though the two never met again.
My point is that every moment of ordinary life can be seen to be rich with special, even sacred meaning - full of spiritual meaning - if only we have the eyes to see. Jesus himself says: ‘Let anyone with ears to hear, listen,’ [Mk 4:23] and he asks, ‘Do you have eyes and fail to see? Do you have ears and fail to hear?’[Mk 8:18] and finally, [‘What I say to you, I say to all, “Keep awake!” [Mk 13:37]
Just recently, I noticed an item on my screen encouraging the viewer to take time to observe momentary and unexpected events of special beauty or appeal in the midst of ordinary life and to commit that small observation to memory so it could be recalled and savoured at a later time.
I have also heard Catholic Franciscan Priest, Fr Richard Rohr advise much the same thing, only he says to observe the event for at least 15 seconds before letting our attention move away because we need that length of time to commit the moment to memory for later recall.
The point of both observations is to remind us that today’s ordinary everyday life, even for those who have retired or are unemployed, can be rushed and stressful. We experience vast amounts of stimulation coming in to our minds all the time and this makes it very difficult to stay in the moment. In being held constantly mentally busy, we lose touch not only with ourselves but with the transcendent world unavailable to the passing glance. So it becomes important to rediscover inner stillness to put us back in touch with that world. We can do this at least in part by stopping to pay attention to and savouring the world around us. Pausing to notice small events happening around us is a way to reduce anxiety immediately and also to provide at the very least, some pleasant moments for reflection at the end of the day. And even better than that, these experiences can become a focus for thanksgiving for the blessings of life, or to reality, or to the universal consciousness or to God – whichever your view of what is ultimate might be.
It goes without saying that such quiet reflection later in the day on the small but lovely or fascinating events we come across is a fine way in to meditation. More prosaically, recalling to mind those events which make us smile in wonder and delight can be a very useful antidote to those times when we can’t sleep in the middle of the night. That 2.00 – 3.00 a.m. wakefulness is often supercharged with anxiety as we worry about all kinds of issues, past, present and not even here yet and about which – at that moment – we can do nothing. How much more calming and positive it can be to recall the good things!
But going further than that, I would suggest that experiencing such ordinary/extraordinary moments through our senses as we relate to perhaps a beautiful sunset; the song of a bird at dawn; the taste of a meal lovingly prepared; the perfume of a dry landscape suddenly wet with rain or the silky feel of a newborn’s skin are also reminders that God is in everything. Our response of awe or delight is but a reminder of that divine mystery which surrounds us.
And if we walk this rediscovered path with God as our companion and become newly aware that it is in God that we live and move and have our being, who knows where our path will lead us. It may not be to writing famous novels, or becoming influential leaders or martyrs for a cause, but we may become a source of hope, courage and new life to those we meet.
Now, while our chances of having a major life-change may be limited, we may have had a moment which gave a silver lining to the clouds of our day or even changed us in some way. Let’s think about that and give thanks.
The articles here are currently written by Liam McKenna, Lane Cove Community Chaplain.