I am sure one of the personal benefits I get by writing a daily inspirational piece is the benefit of paying attention. That is not to suggest that folks who don’t do this kind of discipline don’t pay attention. However, I know I pay more attention because of the discipline. Paying attention builds on my assumption that ordinary, daily life provides much content for spiritual experience and reflection. In fact, that links to a functional definition of spiritual that I have: experiencing the Presence in the ongoing present of our lives.
This means there are lessons, challenges and assurances all over the place. I get ideas in very predictable arenas, like the daily lectionary I use from the Benedictine monastic tradition. The lectionary simply guides me through some daily spiritual readings. It gives me a focus and framework for taking a bit of time to reflect, to pray and to wait. I call it “waiting time,” rather than “wasting time.” And then, there are the serendipitous arenas of inspiration. These can be surprising and often come from surprisingly odd places.
This inspiration originates in one of those surprises. Last evening I went for a walk. There is a little shopping area near where I live, so I headed there. My walk was not at all serious. Probably I should say I ambled along the sidewalk. I was rather aimlessly watching people, some birds soaring and anything else that caught my attention. And then I saw it. I saw a sign on the front glass window of a store. It was a green sign, painted with black letters.
The sign seemed like a proclamation. It announced in bold letters: Life is Full of Unexpected Events!” I added the exclamation point; the sign did not have it. At first, I was a little surprised. That is a pretty bold statement. In fact, it could be read as a kind of biblical announcement, if not from Jesus, at least from some important figure. It’s not God speaking, but it does sound a little like revelation.
I looked and saw the business is a financial investment business. “Ah,” I thought, “that is a sneaky form of advertising.” And then I began to pay more attention and to reflect on the meaning of the sign. It had invaded my present moment and I began to wonder whether there was any sense of the Presence that I could discern?
Quickly, I became aware that the words on the sign are meant to create a mindset or perspective for all of us. From the perspective of the business, I think they want people to be a bit wary---perhaps, even a bit fearful. It should make us untrusting of our world and situation---you never know when some unexpected event will happen! I almost laughed out loud. The sign is setting us up to expect unexpected events!
It also occurred to me the sign is suggesting unexpected events are either negative (bad) or not wanted. At least, that is how I framed it. I saw it as a sign to create unwariness and some pessimism. And the business (I think) is there to help us cope with all those unexpected events that will happen. After all, life is “full” of them. Clearly, this is another assumption.
I am not so stupid as to think no unexpected events happen. But this is the juncture my spirituality thinking cap went on to my brain. Spiritually speaking, I do not think that life is “full” of unexpected events. Clearly, life has unexpected events; but life is not “full” of them. And secondly, I don’t understand that unexpected events are always negative or something to fear.
I would like to think a spiritual person---a person of faith---is someone whose faith shapes his or her view of the world. A person of faith does not need to live in fear. In some ways I think the sign is painting a “worse-case” scenario. I don’t think a person of faith has to have a naïve “best-case” scenario. But I do think a person of faith can have a confidence that whatever happens, there is reason and hope that we can live and, even, thrive.
Having said that does not mean we can ignore the grinding poverty that many folks around the globe face. For them, it is already as bad as it can get. An unexpected event for them is more likely to be good than bad! Perhaps the same thing goes with people who are suffering---economically, physically or emotionally. Again, life is already so ornery, any new thing would be a good event.
I am not naturally an exuberant, optimistic person. But I am a person of faith. And that faith breeds hope. I can live with the hope that not all unexpected events are bad. And if the unexpected event is something I would rather not have happen, it does not mean that I can’t cope. My spirituality is a wonderful gift that helps me cope with those unexpected events that come.
I can think of my own cancer diagnosis years ago. That was an unexpected event that I surely did not want. But my faith, my hope, my community and my own resilience came as gifts to cope with an unwanted event. And I grew. And I know some day I will die. It won’t come as an unexpected event---I fully expect to die. It would be unexpected to die this day. But even if I do, I have faith, hope and love.