reconciling things

“Allow it all to happen: beauty and terror…” Rilke

This morning in liturgy the phrase “Indeed, religion with contentment is a great gain” (I Timothy 6:6) hit me like a soft pillow to the face. For a moment, I felt like everything would be OK. I felt like at that very moment, should Jesus have given me a vibe check, I would have passed. It was a moment where I felt, “Yeah, it’s actually OK. I am OK, even if things don’t change. I have this! I have this liturgy and this very moment in Jesus’ presence. I’m good.” Of course, the moment was fleeting, as I said. It did not stay, but it did come and for that moment, I understood.

Contentment is a tricky thing, right? Because, I don’t know about you, but contentment usually conjures up feelings of a full belly, a warm fire, someone tender to cuddle up with, and everything feels right with the world.

But, that cannot be what this Scripture means, otherwise it wouldn’t be tied to religion. (Which as Flannery tells us is not a big electric blanket, but the cross.)

In pondering this with my daughter I remembered suddenly, a little breathing exercise I used to do when things were truly at their worst—when my life was imploding and I didn’t know how I could possibly keep coverting oxygen to carbon dioxide. I would say with each breath, “This is all there is. This is all there is.” And not with the tone of a child who whines after opening his presents, “Is this all I got?” But, rather, the idea of, this moment is all I have to live. I don’t have to take on the next 20 years. I don’t even have to figure out the next 20 minutes. Right now, this moment, this is what I have. It’s really the only thing I have. The past is gone and the future is not promised.

This is all there is.

This is all there is.

My pastor’s words in the Confessional also came flooding back “If you think of the next thirty years and start imagining your house empty and you an old lady sitting on your couch alone in your bathrobe you won’t be able to do this. But, if you offer him today…”

This is all there is.

This is all there is.

Today. Just this moment. Just this beautiful precious moment with the I AM. God, the Eternal Present—outside of time, but present to us only in the moment, ready to fill every corner of every breath—the deep and the shallow—with himself.

Contenment then is less about satisfaction and more about acceptance. And not the sad resignation kind of acceptance, but the grateful kind filled with fiat. To be able to look at that beautiful Sacred Heart and say, “Yes, I gratefully accept this moment” that is contentment. Religion with that kind of contentment is such a great gain. I can hold it only a moment before it passes, but it’s dang good. Maybe I can grasp more of those little moments. Maybe as I return thanks for each of those moments, I can find more of the gift within each.

Maybe like Chesterton said, this happens when we learn to say grace. Not just grace before meals, because even a toddling child can recite the prayer before meals. But, “say grace before the concert and the opera, and grace before the play and pantomime, and grace before I open a book, and grace before sketching, painting, swimming, fencing, boxing, walking, playing, dancing and grace before I dip the pen in the ink.”

Oh, I have become the worst whiner in the last six months or so, unable to see the forest for the trees. My cross felt heavy and so I have been throwing a tantrum about it for months. It has not made it lighter.

Although nothing has changed. Life is still slogging along and I am still fighting those uphill battles and praying some audacious prayers that go unanswered, but remember this, if you remember nothing else:

This is all there is. (Inhale)

This is all there is. (Exhale)

This is all there is. (Inhale)

This is all there is. (Exhale)

And in this very moment, side-by-side with some tough stuff, there is grace and God’s love and the tender affection of friends and children who are sticky with maple syrup and noble work and Liturgy, incense, and ancient chants. There are still full moons and sunsets and hot water bottles to stick under the covers to warm up cold toes. There are cups of tea and deep breaths and memes sent from friends that make my phone PING. There is the silence and the still small voice of the Spirit. There is poetry and philosophy and gothic literature. There are things I will never understand no matter how hard I try and there are the moments I give up trying. All I have to hold is this moment. And the good thing is that even if this moment is awful, I can breathe it out and breathe in a new moment, which has the potential to be lighter. Or heavier. But, still a new moment. And I only need to hold it for a moment. Just this beautiful breath. This is all there is.

One thought on “Contentment

  1. The biggest takeaway, the ah-ha moment, from Sarah Wilson’s “First We Make the Beast Beautiful” was that anxious people don’t live in the present. They are back in the past, but usually way out in the future. Congratulations on finding those present moments to live in and savor. It’s a gift.


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