“The Miracle in the Moment”
“To treat life as less than a miracle is to give up on it. “ – Wendell Berry
Perhaps the truest, purest form of thankfulness is simply not to take life for granted as we are living it. Just paying attention in the moment may be the most sincere expression of devotion in response to God the Giver.
Perhaps, in fact, it is a prayer of gratitude more profound than any ever to enter the official liturgies of our churches just to savor those silent moments sitting with an aging parent who may not remember our visit, or listening to the problems facing a maturing child without giving in to the temptation to offer advice, or sharing a glass of wine with a spouse or partner or friend who has had a really really bad day.
Herein may lie the mystery of Holy Communion, the Eucharistic feast, reminding us that the very word Eucharist is all about a kind of thanks we offer because we have noticed God among us. I suspect that at life’s end we will regret how poorly we attended to the ordinary occasions of tenderness far more than many of the things that clamor now for our attention.
These thoughts have been on my mind lately not least because of the publication of Joan Didion’s achingly unsentimental memoir reflecting on the loss of her daughter Quintana Roo. The book, “Blue Nights” tells the story of an unspeakable grief hard on the heels of the death of Joan’s husband, John Gregory Dunne, which was the subject of her magnificent memoir, “The Year of Magical Thinking” (2005).
“Blue Nights” has an elegant small chapter in which Didion explains the title. She writes: “This book is called ‘Blue Nights’ because at the time I began it I found my mind turning increasingly to illness, to the end of promise, the dwindling of the days, the inevitability of the fading, the dying of the brightness. Blue nights are the opposite of the dying of the brightness, but they are also its warning.”
There are many good books about grief. The best are always memoirs. Over the years, I have found repeatedly in chronicles of sorrow (like C. S. Lewis’ “A Grief Observed” and John Claypool’s “Tracks of a Fellow Struggler”) the same hard-won lesson that we find in Didion’s memoirs, a message not unlike the one expressed by Wendell Berry. Life is a miracle, they remind us, precious in every respect, precious beyond words, and it deserves all the reverence we can muster.
Nowhere is this more true than in our regard for and care of the persons we love but so easily take for granted. The most haunting line in Didion’s new memoir was evoked by her reflection on how all the most ordinary items and objects associated with her husband and daughter now serve “only to make clear how inadequately I appreciated the moment” they were present with her.
So, I want to encourage us to appreciate the moment when “they” are present. Let us enjoy the warmth and insanity, the unintended humor, the differences between us that make us irritating, and the similarities that make us even more unbearable to each other. And when we are separated, for God’s sake, let’s pick up the phone and not let the moment pass. Let’s make it clear that we are not giving up on life or each other. Let’s treat life and those we love as the miracle they are.
As the Book of Common Prayer reminds us to pray: “Most gracious God … We beseech thee, give us a just sense of these great mercies, such as may appear in our lives by a humble, holy, and obedient walking before thee all our days.”