Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Wisdom Distilled from the Daily

I've got to tell you the most amazing thing. For many years now, I've been picking up a book, 'Wisdom Distilled from the Daily'. I've read this book in its entirety, and in bits and pieces, way too many times to count. It is written by Joan Chittister, a Benedictine nun. I picked the book up a long way from home, but I thought it was interesting that the book was written by a nun from Erie, about 1 1/2 hours from where I grew up. The book is about living your days in this world by the rules of St. Benedict. It is one of those books that, regardless of how many times I read it, I don't feel like I'm 'getting' it all, but the idea of living a life within the boundaries of the sacred has always fascinated me. As I get older, I feel as if I am understanding this book just a little bit better.
Last summer, a friend that I've never met (is the internet not a strange bond?) sent me a web site which was given over to one of his latest hobbies. This gentleman had taken up shaving with a straight razor, and was quite devoted to his badger brush and his shaving soap. Given the fact that I am not a morning person, this routine struck me as suicidal. I mean, for heaven's sake...a straight razor!!! Anyhow, I looked through this website, trying to understand the point of this. It really fascinated me for reasons I couldn't even begin to fathom.
When I went to bed that night, the shaving site continued to niggle at the back of my mind. And suddenly, it was (ta da!) *epiphany!* All these years of my life, I've been struggling to hang my life on some sacred framework, always looking for that sacredness outside myself. What if, what if, I'd been doing it bass ackward all these many years? What if the sacredness came from within my life, instead of outside my life? What if I looked at the routines of my life and really tried to turn them into rites? Jeremy had turned his routine morning shave into a rite that brought him great satisfaction. I had my own morning rite of brewing my morning cup. I brew the coffee, froth my milk to which I have added one spoon of sugar and one drop of Haitian vanilla. I love my morning coffee. What if I began to look at all the routines that I'd been plodding through on a daily basis, what if I changed my perspective, what if I began to pour the same care and attention to detail that I put into my morning cup into those routines? Would my life not be transformed from the inside out? Could my life become an act of worship? Excited, I got up from bed, and got my book from the shelf and began to read it yet again, with a different eye, with a different perspective. I still don't 'get' all of it, but I understand it better than before.
What the heck does this rambling have to do with anything? I've got a point. Hang with me here. Okay, I was at play practice today. Our director is a former seminarian. He did not complete the program. He did not take his vows. He went to Erie today to listen to Mr. Clinton stumping for his wife. On the way home, he stopped in to visit with his friends, the Benedictine nuns. The hair on the back of my neck began to prickle a bit. Seems that they are quite enthusiastic about the play Mark is directing, and some of them are planning to attend. I could scarcely believe my ears. I had to ask. "Do you know 'Wisdom Distilled from the Daily'? and he said, "Joan Chittister." I have never in my life encountered someone else who knew that book. I asked if she would be attending the play. And he allowed that she might. He did not know. But he did not think she would mind signing a well thumbed copy of her book if she were to show up.
I drove home tonight thinking of the remarkable coincidences that have led to this day. I find a book in a quiet corner of a bookstore a long way from home. The author is from 'my neck of the woods', as they say. The book strikes a resonating chord within me, puzzles me, fascinates me for all these many years. I have an internet discussion about shaving that leads me to a deeper understanding of something I could not understand. I work with a girl who enjoys acting. I decide to do a play simply because I've never done one before. I meet a director who has a tie with an author who has unknowingly created a hunger in me to understand. Am I going to meet her? I don't know, but I would not be surprised. What a strange wheel life is, turning and turning in circles that link and intersect in the most astonishing ways. How can you doubt the divine when you find yourself in the midst of a miracle?


Mike said...

Oh, man, that is a stimulating post!

Rituals are some kind of key that I don't pretend to understand, but having previously thought about this, one question of yours stands out like a flashing light: "Would my life not be transformed from the inside out?"

My answer is "No." Certainly your life will be transformed- There is no question of that! But look at the paragraph you wrote as a lead- up and you will discover you answered your own question with a NO, also. Everything you do to prepare that delicious cup of coffe is an EXTERIOR ACTION.

Shouldn't we conclude from what you said that transformation actually happens from the OUTSIDE IN?

That makes your epiphany even more of a "Eureka!"

It takes a while for outside-in transformation to register because we have been taught that true spirituality necessarily excludes exterior change agents or it's not "spiritual."

But a simple examination of any process for which "spirituality" is claimed blows that idea out of the water. Once the thought of outside-in occurs, you see it everywhere.

Transformation- In my opinion you have done a good job of showing how it actually works from the outside in.

Once understood in that light, the possibilities seem endless.

debby said...

Very good, and will certainly give me fodder for thought.

I think what I mean from externals is that you find yourself thinking always that 'sacred' is separate from yourself. As if your life is a pilgrimage, and if you are lucky, you find that sacred framework before you die. But if you look at it this way: that the sacredness exists already and that we have but to notice those details, incorporate them into our busy lives, savor them, be grateful for those things...and our lives are transformed! As Dorothy discovers, everything that she's ever wanted had been there right along.

That's what I meant from internal...within in the framework of our lives right now.

I like the way that you think, and I will be thinking on your thinks as I do mindless housework today.

Mike said...

Ah, yes, I thought we were probably on the same track!

Now you've got me thinking. Maybe I'll the story of what sent off in this direction on my next post.

BTW, housework is transformative.

debby said...

I'll look for that post!

Yes. Housework is transformative. For the house. :^D