Sometimes when I am outside, it hits me how majestic and wonderful nature can be. Since I grew up in rural Indiana, I have always known this to be the case. However, we live much more insulated lives than people did when I was a little boy. We live in controlled environments much of the time. We use air conditioning to keep it cooler in the summer and, then, turn on the heat to keep the rooms warm during the winter months. I am not complaining and am not suggesting we go back to the good old days!
But I do think living life in an insulated way leads more of us to live more unaware. Because our environments are controlled, we shape our reality as much as it shapes us. This does not make us crazy, but it does allow us to live in a kind of illusion. When it is nearly one hundred degrees on a summer day, it probably is a comfortable seventy-two degrees inside. We have little awareness of the reality of nature. And we never give it any thought that we are living in an unnatural world inside our little buildings.
Again, I am not calling for a return to days like those of my youth. Even if I could call for that kind of thing, it would be naïve of me to think there would be any followers. Instead I call for a raise in our awareness and consciousness. This goes to the heart of spirituality, as I understand it. I do not think we can be naïve and spiritual at the same time.
So I try to be cognizant of nature. Fortunately, I go out into nature enough to practice my awareness. But it does take practice for me and all of us who live our lives more artificially inside buildings. Because I grew up in the Midwest, the seasons were part of my experience. I loved all the seasons. Each has a glory of its own. There is a marvel in the particularities of spring, summer, fall and winter. They all have things to offer to us.
One of my favorite recent memories, for example, came on a pretty autumn day. The leaves had begun the colorful change. The sunlight in the fall season is different than it is all during the summer time. I recall it to be a lovely fall day. I headed out of my building for a destination on the other side of the campus. I felt the warmth of the sun, although I still had on a light jacket.
It was the kind of day you just breathe more deeply as you walk along the sidewalk. I remember seeing a woman, whom I know, approaching me from the other direction. Neither of us was walking fast. It was a day too beautiful to be in a hurry. Hurry usually destroys the spiritual. As she came closer, my eyes met her eyes. As I typically would do, I offered a greeting. “Hello,” I said.
We came closer. She extended her left hand to reveal something. I looked more closely as the distance between us diminished. Her hand held a red leaf. She extended it so that I could get a good look. “See,” she uttered. It did look pretty---lovely the way autumn prepares beauty for our pleasure. While I did enjoy the glimpse of beauty, I was not prepared for anything more.
As I began to pass her, she held it a little bit higher. And then she said, “Look what God gave me.” The profundity of that statement nearly riveted me in the moment and in that place. Her words shook me out of my half-conscious state. I was expecting a pleasantry and got, instead, a profundity. God had given her a gift and she had, in turn, given me a gift. Gracias! It was grace. Thank you.
In the moment she had become my spiritual mentor. She had shown me how to see and how really to see such that I could understand. I suspect most of us, like me, would not even really see leaves. After all, in the fall season there are so many of them! Even though they are pretty, at some point we become numb to the beauty…as unbelievable as that might seem. Her simple words yanked me into full consciousness.
She had seen a leaf---a lovely red leaf. I could have seen that, too. And perhaps, I had seen it. But my sight and attention was merely in passing. There would be no hint of appreciation. Not only had she seen, but had really seen. She stopped and picked up that leaf. She brought it fully into her awareness. She saw deeply. She had been taught a significant lesson by that red leaf. That simple leaf became a mode of God’s revelation!
That deep appreciation in her soul led her to something both insightful and profound. It was that simplicity, insight and profundity that enabled her to offer me the spiritual lesson I was not looking to get: “Look what God gave me.” She had been led from the leaf to the Holy One! And she carried the witness of that revelation in her hand and had offered it to me. No wonder I was touched.
It was as if she had offered me a glimpse into what God was doing to gift all of us. But we live too much time inside---inside buildings and inside our own little lives. We have eyes, but don’t always see much. We may be smart, but too often we don’t know much. I have learned. I am now open to and looking for God’s gifts. I am thinking they are all over the place. Gracias!