I have been thinking a lot these days about the word practice. As our faith community continues to live into the joys and challenges of ‘Practicing Beloved Community’, our theme for this year, I am finding that I have ample time to ruminate on the meanings of these three seemingly simple words. Lately, I have been stuck on what it means to practice.
Over my lifetime, I have practiced many things. I have practiced the piano and the French horn. I have practiced running. I have practiced patience as a parent, a spouse, a coworker, a friend. I have practiced prayer. The thing about practicing is that there is the underlying understanding that one may get better but will never perfect whatever one is practicing. This will certainly be the case with practicing beloved community. Our hope is to get better at being community, of becoming more and more beloved with and toward one another. The reality is that we will never be perfect or even very good at it. Practicing always keeps us hopeful……and humble.
The last three days I have been practicing awe. It is a noble endeavor made easier by the view from the windows of the inn where we are staying on Whidbey Island. Our windows face Puget Sound and the Cascade Mountains. Depending on the typical cloud cover that is the personality of this part of the world, we are treated to an ever shifting glimpse at this gift of Creation and Creator.
On the beach outside the inn sit two wharfs, one old and abandoned and another the entrance and exit point for those who make their living providing fish for the island and beyond. The worn and rickety wharf, no longer in use, seems to be home or resting place for gulls, pigeons, ducks and one enormous heron who sweeps past us with regularity as if to remind the other birds who is king of the hill. His call is unlike anything I have heard before. Deep, guttural, like the smoky song of an aging jazz singer.
As if all this weren’t enough to ground my practice of awe, a lone seal swims back and forth in front of our deck. Moments after we arrived in this beautiful place, I noticed him. His head popped up above the frigid water and seemed to look right at me, welcoming me to stop, look and listen. His gentle, fluid movements through the water provide a cautionary message. “Be still and know.”, he seems to say.
And so while I have, as always, brought books and work along that could occupy my time on these languid days, I have found myself just watching him. At times we seem to be looking one another square in the eyes as he challenges me to practice awe. Awe at the beauty around me. Awe at the fact that I did nothing to create this beauty or sustain or maintain it. Awe at my own ability to perceive the opportunity as the gift it is. Awe at the call to prayer and connection with the Holy this experience offers.
Like my brother Job before me, I am often filled with self importance. I can move through my life with an urgency that makes me believe my work is more grand, more important, than it is. It is then that the Holy speaks to me with the words showered on those who think too highly on their human selves:
“But ask the animals, and they will teach you,
or the birds in the sky, and they will tell you;
or speak to the earth, and it will teach you,
or let the fish in the sea inform you.
Which of all these does not know
that the hand of the LORD has done this?
In God’s hand is the life of every creature
and the breath of all humankind.”
These are some words that can guide the way to awe. Today I will continue to practice awe over and over, not with the hope of perfection, but of the assurance of humility. For one more day, I will have the view of mountains, water and seal to guide me.Perhaps the awe practiced here can continue to keep me awake and humble.
May it be so.