One of my favorite memories from childhood regards a day of unexpected adventure. We had come to the end of a busy Christmas. School was just back in swing. And our day off was supposed to be spent cleaning up the remainders of the holiday mess. I must have been about twelve, old enough to know how much cleaning had to be done and dread it, old enough to feel a sort of dull-eyed boredom with the ordinary around me. I missed the color of Christmas. I dreaded the blank, grey days of school and work and January sanity ahead.
Imagine, then, my surprise, when my mom, after a glance at the doleful faces my siblings and I lifted, gave a long sigh. “All right. Change of plans. Let’s go exploring,” she said. I think we stood there for a moment, startled. But she shooed us off to gather hiking shoes and backpacks with sketch books while she packed a picnic. It was a strangely mild day, and within a few minutes, we had piled in the car and were off on an adventure. We listened to music and sang at the top of our lungs as my mom drove up into the mountains. We ate a picnic by a stream. We dared the freezing water and gathered a bunch of river-smooth stones. When we got home, we lit a fire, made hot cocoa, and piled on the couches to read aloud. I remember curling in next to my mom, feeling such contentment with the world, with our home, and such a sense of hope and interest in the coming days, something renewed from my boredom of the morning.
I’ve thought often of my mom’s impromptu adventure with us that day, because it is something I have learned to repeat in my own adult life. I have realized that when weeks of intense, demanding work or busyness go by without rest or space, my mind becomes exhausted, my capacity for joy lessens, and with it my sense of gratitude for the life I have been given.
There is an art to the cultivation of wonder. There is a rhythm that must be struck if you are going to keep your spirit fully alive to the music that life, when artfully lived, may be. The music wells up amidst moments carefully claimed, moments wrestled free of distraction from all that must be done and bought and given. But wonder, hush, those signposts of a heart welling up with the holy, come rarely amidst the frenzy of modern life. We live, most of us, at a hectic pace. We live at the pace of Internet and freeways, we move at the pace of other people’s countless needs, at the speed necessary to provide - money, food, care - for ourselves and others. In the unresting, unrelenting forward motion of adult life, nourishment of the soul seems more about getting a meal on time than a moment of transcendence.
But one of the things I always return to if I take the time to think about it in the opening of the year, is the fundamental need to live in wonder. To choose a state of mind not hectic, not constantly harried, but one steeped in a chosen simplicity, something almost childlike in its innocent awareness of the beauty present and possible in the ordinary, particularly in the spaces of home.
When I become aware of a dull, bitter spirit in myself, I take a day away…at home. I ‘go adventuring’ within the realm of my own walls, setting my home to order and taking the time to savor the ordinary wonders of life again. I get a stack of books and take some time to read. I cook a good meal. I spend some time just listening - to music, in prayer, or even just in silence. I take a walk. I light a candle. And every one of these simple actions helps me to return to a place where my attention isn’t scattered and strained, but focused. On the one beauty, the one person, the one grace before me. And suddenly, the world doesn’t seem as grey and hectic. Rather, in the confines of my ordinary life, in the space of my home, hope grows afresh and possibility rises in my heart because wonder has returned to my eyes.
A rich day at home with good books, good food, quiet, rest - small, ordinary gifts these. To some, they may even seem frivolous. But I am convinced, no, more like convicted, that to claim a few still spaces in which beauty is found and silence kept, is to open the door to God. The discipline, yes, I think you can call it that, of beauty, is an antidote to distraction. It battles the frenzy of our modern self-importance that keeps God, and the humility he desires in us, away.
Child-heartedness, innocence, simplicity, these are conditions of holiness, that fundamental health to which the soul must ever aspire. Wonder doesn’t mean a separation from care and sin, it means a chosen state of faith. A willed decision toward purity of heart. A state in which expectation is the operative consciousness, in which hope is native to each decision, in which thanks, sometimes simply by way of revelry in what is to be found amidst the ordinary, is the ground of discovery, education, and creativity. It is, I think, a state of grace, that fundamental orientation of self required by belief in a Father God. For to him, we are all, eternally, children. The world is his ceaseless gift, and the wonder with which we meet it in the very core spaces of self and home becomes our thanks… and our joy as well.
Whew! Launch week is over and our second of 4 conferences has come to an end. What an amazing time with women from all over the US. Now, I am resting up in warm California with a friend before heading into 2 more conferences. Sure loved being with you all. So fun for Sarah sharing a memory from our home today, a part of our story. So happy so many of you are loving the Lifegiving Home.
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