I read recently that this elder stage in life is about the freedom to choose how I want to get tired. I like that, but this time is also about how I choose to stay awake. How I choose to engage, to stay engaged.
Recently, a friend introduced me to the book One Thousand Gifts, by Anne Voskamp, and she challenged me to start my own list of "gifts." An ongoing list in which I record "sanctuaries in moments," (p. 105) and "the cathedral of the moment" (p. 102). Keeping this list encourages me to notice all the gifts that surround me and fill my life.
# 6 A fresh journal, a good fast-writing pen
# 8 The car seat warmer on an early morning
# 18 Spontaneous lunch with a friend
# 24 Reading on the porch in the late afternoon, wrapped in a shawl
# 36 A good hair day!
# 46 The thud of the newspaper as it is tossed on the front porch
# 58 The reds, the yellows, the oranges. Oh my!
# 68 The smell of zucchini bread baking in the oven
# 83 A picture of my father taken this summer--a martini in his hand
# 86 The smell of Bruce's soap when he emerges from the bathroom in the morning
# 99 Gelato from Target--amaretto cherry!
# 106 A full day with a longtime friend
# 128 Safe arrival of a newborn grandnephew
# 142 Sounds of Bruce and Peter playing "hockey" in the front yard
# 163 Pheasants crossing the road
# 170 Laundry chugging along
# 175 Dressing the bed for fall and winter
# 185 Leftover homemade chili
# 196 The gift of a friend's words--"develop a quiet heart"
# 204 Two new books on my desk
# 217 The early morning sound of sandhill cranes
# 225 A clean bathroom and a clean me by 9:00 am
I love this spiritual practice, but I am also aware that as we age these precious present moments are rimmed by so much past, and the temptation might be to let the past swallow us. Instead, I invite the past to be an informant, giving us hints about how to be more in the present. At the same time our present moments at this age are so much closer to the future we all share --our arrival at death's door. "The only place we have to come before we die is the place of seeing God." (p. 108) And that is what the present is all about for me --staying awake in order to see, to know, to experience God in ourselves and in all around us. At a time when the past can dominate, the paradox is to live fully now. At a time when there are daily reminders of our common future as we lose friends and family, the challenge is to live now.
And that brings me to St Benedict and the tree by our garage. According to Esther de Wall in her book Seeking God, The Way of St Benedict, "St Benedict is the master of paradox, and if he tells us to move on he also tells us to stand still." (p 13)
The other day I felt at the center of this paradox. It was time to renew the lease on our apartment in St Paul. 6 months? Month to month? With our house still being on the market we are not able to take the next step and renewing the lease maintains the status quo. Standing still. That same day I packed up more dishes for the day when it will finally be time to move. Moving on. I wonder, Does this give the Universe a mixed message? How is it possible to move on and stand still at the same time?
What could be a better illustration of this paradox than the autumn trees? The leaves are falling, but the tree is still standing. The tree is not completely bare yet, but is in transition. Moving on and standing still seems to be happening at the same time.
I think the paradox of moving on and standing still is all about paying attention. When is it time to move on and what preparation does it take to move on when the time is right? What does moving on mean anyway and what does it require? And move on to what? And when is standing still--persevering, being steadfast and stable--the way to deepen spiritually? What is the difference between standing still and being stuck?
As always there are spiritual lessons, and this paradox seems to lead me to reflections on trust and patience, but also openness and awareness. And about maintaining the spiritual practices that keep me grounded and growing at the same time.
How is the paradox of moving on and standing still evident in your life right now?
And if you were to start a one thousand gifts list right now what would be your first item?