A mother was standing on the beach with her young children. They stood at the edge of the water and watched as the water rhythmically pushed its way towards them; waves crashing at their feet. They stood and stared at the immensity that lie before them. Almost too much to take in, the littles turned their back on the great spectacle before them and began digging a hole in the sand. There they waited for the water to fill the hole. They had created a hole to catch a little piece of something grand. ~Gertrude Mueller Nelson
As summer nears its end and cooler days begin to usher in, I recall my time, just a few short weeks ago, that I spent at the shore. Every day I’d rise in the quiet hours of the morning, gather my prayer book and head out to take in the early morning sunrise on the beach. The smell of the salt air coupled with its gentle breeze lifted me from the day to day heaviness as it transported me to another realm. How healing this place is for me. As the sun crept above the horizon, its tiny beams of light began to dance upon the water. It was as if God was reaching down to me with His light and sending his love and grace with each new ripple of the waves.
In the book that inspired this post’s title, To Dance With God by Gertrude Mueller Nelson, the author suggests that it is the very business of religion to invite the great creative power in and to create the barriers that protect [us] from what is too powerful.’ She likens it to the words of God to Moses on Mt. Sinai “Come no nearer. Take off your shoes, for the place on which you stand is holy ground.” This holy ground is both container for and protection from the power that lies beyond.
In a nutshell the book speaks of our loss of the sacred wonder and mystery within the rituals of the church and her approach to create ceremonies around them. Nelson says, “Something holy, something sacred, happens which makes the symbol, the object used, become indeed holy. Through the consecration the holy enters into the object used and the object used becomes holy; simple objects become the container of the sacred.”
We hear in John 16:12, “I have much more to tell you, but you cannot bear it now.” Nelson writes,
“In the same way we cannot head straight into the awe of the Almighty….we turn our back on what is too much and slowly create the form to hold a piece of what is uncontainable.”
Our ‘hole in the sand’ is the small acts of faith which allow us a way to communicate with God where we meet him in the moments of our life. Like the ebb and flow of the waves, we beckon Him to draw nearer, knowing when He appears too big we turn our back to contain a little piece of Him in safety to our waiting heart. This, I believe, is the urge we have to draw deeper in our faith throughout our life’s journey.
This past weekend ended a series of Gospel readings called the Bread of Life discourse. Week after week we unpacked John 6, imparting upon us a deeper appreciation for the celebration of the Eucharist. As with the children who dug the hole to catch a little piece of something grand, the author likens this to our journey with Christ and gives life to the words we heard in this past Sunday’s Gospel – “This saying is hard; who can accept it?” John 6:60.
The mystery of the Eucharist is the source and summit of our faith. We cannot think our way around such mysteries as there is too much to behold. Jesus asks us, as he did the apostles, “Do you also want to leave?” John 6:67, we must choose to walk in faith or walk away. Will we respond as Simon Peter did, “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of everlasting life.”? John 6:68. This acceptance of the mystery sets the foundations for the building blocks of our faith.
My time at the beach reminded me of the wonder and imagination of small children. Some ran away as the massive body of water pushed towards them while others ran gleefully, without fear, into the great unknown. Children live in the moment, accepting what is immediately before them; not the grandeur of the bigger picture. Oh, how much we can learn from this simplicity. The trees sway, the birds float, the bees hum in a rhythm that just is; no planning, no instructions, they just know to move with the wind.
As we grow, life and its rules and regulations have an inert way of ordering our lives to conform to society as that wonder and innocence slowly slips away. The ways of the world step in and we begin to intellectualize our experience creating a tension and divide between our humanness and the Divine; slipping farther away from our Creator…and the search begins.
Perhaps we can learn a lesson from a scene from one of my favorite movies, The Sound Of Music. It is where Maria is caught up in the beauty of the mountains that surround her and her response is to lift her arms towards heaven and dance.
So how can we be present to the mystery in the moment? How do we awaken to these experiences and re-capture the Divine within our humanness? How do we change the way we see and interact with the world?
Immersed in the noise of the world, we have forgotten God’s voice. The daily grind and the secular way in which to deal with it become our new religion. The secular world teaches us that when we are broken we need to find a way to be fixed. People long for what is missing and spend the better part of their lives searching for meaning in what they do each and every day. This is often where people begin their search and seek out religious experiences. Religious rituals give us an identity and communal strength.
For many of us cradle Catholics, we attend church as an orderly set of rites in which we have become familiar. We pray the prayers, sing the hymns, stand, kneel, and sit with a rhythm that is comforting and safe. But to find our way back to our creator we need to rediscover the rhythm of the sacred; using our senses to touch and feel and become aware of the mysteries before us. Accepting that in our faith is a mystery that we are not meant to fully comprehend. To move beyond the ordinary words into a realm of presence where the heart begins to move in rhythm with knowledge of the intimacy we share with the Creator. ~Gertrude Mueller Nelson
If we are not careful, even while being immersed in religion, we will continue to miss Him in the ordinary and continue to seek ways in which to make sense of life’s experiences. I’ve experienced this myself. I’m involved, I volunteer, I pray, I attend Mass and still, I search for the Sacred. Over time, I realized without the proper dose of mystery within, these things are futile. I question my faith when I cannot take in the entire picture and fail to see the Sacred hidden in the ordinary – the places where we can experience God in whatever season of life we may be in.
God has created us in His image and likeness, giving us everything we need to fulfill our destiny. These gifts are the means in which we are to find our way back to Him. These feelings and emotions we experience are all part of being human. They are to be acknowledged and find a proper way in which to understand and use them as tools for our journey. In this way, we feel the reality of the darkness and the light, the joy and the pain. With every experience and the feelings they evoke in us, we have the opportunity to see the Sacred, but we must listen carefully.
So He said, “Go forth and stand on the mountain before the Lord.” And behold, the Lord was passing by! And a great and strong wind was rending the mountains and breaking in pieces the rocks before the Lord; but the Lord was not in the wind. And after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of a gentle blowing. 1 Kings 19:11-12
Eventually the mystical awareness will intersect with the intellect and bring about growth, change and understanding in small pieces. Just enough to capture, like the children digging a hole in the sand. These aha moments are like the waves of the ocean, there is an ebb and flow. A constant movement that teaches us how To Dance With God.
I hope you enjoyed your visit here today. If you did, please share your thoughts in the comments below. If you think your friends would like it, I’d love for you to share on social media using the hashtag #gardenerstouch