During a sleepless night last week, I gathered up The Book of Common Prayer and headed toward my favorite chair. For as long as this book and I have lived together, we’ve been nothing more than a bit of window dressing in each other’s lives. Now was the time to undress the window, to see what layed beneath our mutual coverings. I wiped away the fine coating of dust resting on its gold edges, then sat down to peruse its unfamiliar interior. It’s examination of me will come later, as we begin to keep regular hours.
For a few weeks now, I’ve been thinking of praying the Daily Office. And that evening, with the answer literally at my fingertips, I wondered how best to keep the Office’s divine appointments. The recommendation is to divide the three daily readings into a morning and evening prayer practice; alternatively, the editors suggest a feast of all three readings in one sitting.
But desiring a bit more structure — no, needing some semblance of prayer rhythm in my life — I ignored both recommendations for my own three course meal plan, which was to pray at first light, after lunch and before retiring to bed. But what seemed do-able in the dark quiet of the night has not been so in the light of busy full days. In a week’s passage of time, I’ve yet to keep my second and third Office appointments.
It’s the same with all my life. Rather than feast on bread, I fast on crumbs. Or maybe, as I wrote to a good friend yesterday, I scatter time here and there — a few crumbs toward gardening, a few toward spiritual direction matters, a few on the contemplative prayer class that I facilitate, and more than a few here in this web log. Then there’s everyday life — the cooking, laundry, housekeeping; the butcher, the baker, the candlestick maker — and with no intention to do so, I find myself burning the proverbial candle at both ends. And I wonder why it’s hard to sleep.
But sometimes, in spite of my fast crumbled lifestyle, I sit down to a ‘just right’ bite of spiritual nourishment. Macrina Widerkehr’s A Tree Full of Angels offered that perfect sustenance for yesterday, given a backwards glance at my last few posts. In a chapter titled, Gather Up the Crumbs, Sister Macrina writes:
“Why aren’t we saints?… I want to suggest a common cause. The reason we live life so dimly and with such divided hearts is that we have never really learned how to be present with quality to God, to self, to others, to experiences and events, to all created things. We have never learned to gather up the crumbs of whatever appears in our path at every moment. We meet all these lovely gifts only half there.”
Sister Macrina goes on to counsel that EVERYTHING in our lives can be “a stepping-stone to holiness” if only we allow ourselves to be nourished on the crumbs of life, the experiences of what life has to offer us in the now. That I call my contemplative prayer group Everyday God makes me wonder if maybe it shouldn’t be called EveryTHING God. Would a name change open my eyes wider to see a bit of God-splendor in all my everyday crumbs?
As I read Sister Macrina’s words, my mind drifts back to the recent story of my uprooted Civil War Daffodil and I realize that Cosmo’s unearthed treasure became my own grace-filled crumb. Such it can be with all of life, whether I plant myself three times a day in front of The Common Book of Prayer or not. As with Hansel & Gretel, crumbs are all I need to lead me toward home and God, as long as I don’t allow the hungry hands of clock gobble up my attention.
So why does it now hit me square between blind eyes that these thoughts about crumbs, accompanied by the rhythm of my daily crumbs, also respond to my haunting question of the week. This question is the sort to leave behind crumbs hard to shake off; one appropriately given life by the ghost of Emily, the heroine of Thornton Wilder’s Pulitzer Prize winning play, Our Town.
The question is posed in that famous final scene of the third act, where a heartbroken ghostly Emily decides to run away from her visit to the living, in favor of re-joining the rest of the dearly departed at the Grover’s Corners graveyard. Beseechingly, Emily looks for a crumb of hope as she asks the Stage Manager about the blindness of humanity.
“Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it? — every, every minute?”
“No”. Then after a thoughtful pause, “The saints and poets, maybe — they do some.”