Every Day Spirituality
There is a story that I heard from a preacher long ago, and this is
the way I recall it. Two men were walking down the street in Manhattan.
One of them was a Native American and the other a first generation New
Yorker. Friends for a long time, they were walking in silence until the
Native American said, "Listen to all those crickets!" The
other man furrowed his brow and said "Crickets? All I can
hear is cars and horns and buses and barkers. How can you hear crickets
over all that noise?" The first man stopped and said, "Watch
this." He took a handful of change out of his pocket and dropped
it on the sidewalk in the midst of the traffic and din. Up and down the
block, heads turned to see where the money had fallen. The first man
turned to his friend and said, "What we hear has everything to do
with what we listen for."
All week I have been thinking about the topic of everyday
spirituality. I have been thinking about discussions from our Search
Committee and our Christian Education committee on how we, all of us,
can discover moments of peace or dimensions of God in our pre-existing
everyday lives. How can we have the opportunity, the discipline, the
blessing of something divine in our ordinary times. And I have deepened
my belief that such a practice is central to our health as Christians
no matter how demanding or incongruent it might seem with what we do.
I don't usually turn to the scripture this early in my sermons but I
want to today to receive a Biblical model for seeing and hearing the
the day, because it is rich and fantastic as well as basic and
The story from Mark is the last in a series of four pronouncements
that Jesus will suffer, die, and rise, and that the last shall be first
in the new realm. Apparently this message was tremendously important
and the disciples could hardly grasp it. This time Jesus uses a new
example to make his point. He takes something invisible and makes it
visible. That is, to make his point about the new order of things in
God's realm, he takes a child and puts it in front of his disciples.
Now children were invisible in Jesus' time. Remember how whenever he
grasped one the disciples said, "Cut it out?" Children had
zero status. This child is so invisible that the gospel writer can't
even remember if it was a boy or a girl. Our English says
"he" but the original doesn't know he from she. Yet Jesus'
action was simple: He took the child, put it in the midst of them --
which is a rich phrase -- and embraced it in his arms. Jesus doesn't
embrace too many people in his life so this too is of enormous import.
The same way Simeon hugged Him when He was a baby, He now hugs another
There are many layers of meaning in this quick tale, but one close
to its heart is this lesson: to understand God we have to see things
right in front of us that we haven't noticed before. As one commentator
says, the disciples didn't even know they were missing the kids, but
they do now. In their everyday lives, they were asked to observe those
made invisible and notice more about what was all around them.
Now, as I told you, I got up a head of steam about this early in the
week, so I've been asking myself, how do I do this? How do I notice the
crickets in Manhattan or the invisible signs of God's kingdom in my
midst? And part of the answer is quite simple. I choose to. I make the
effort to. I change a little and proceed differently. And anyone can do
if we believe Jesus, everyone should.
So I was in downtown Boston on my day off. I was walking near Post
Office Square and the Fleet Financial Center. And everyone was walking
with their heads down, so they could listen to their cell phones and
jaywalk without injury. And I was behaving that way too, rushing for
the T at Park Street. And suddenly in front of the Fleet I saw these
spindly little trees, with two-inch trunks. And I looked at them, and
they were absolutely beautiful, and they had these tiny little leaves,
and I focused on those, and I realized that I could hear those leaves
rustle even above the horns and phone conversations all around. And it
was a beautiful moment. And I remember it now.
The next day I was at the Registry of Motor Vehicles. Talk about an
arid wasteland! I was waiting an hour to hand in a form that I wish I
could have mailed. And I remembered my challenge, and I looked around
and listened, and this time what I heard was just as important as the
leaves. I heard so much anxiety and fear in people's voices. So much
discomfort and I realized that this is how we lead so much of our
public lives. Which concerns me. But as I listened, since I was causing
myself to do this, I kind of smiled, too. The mere idea of trying to
hear something from God at the Registry rather amused me, and the fact
that I did, on some level, delighted
me. And it stretched me further.
The core of an everyday spirituality is choice: you must choose to
have one. The starting point of this spirituality is observation:
listen and look at what has previously been invisible. Then seeing you
must act. You can develop methods for all this on your own, or you can
use one of mine. On the back of your morning program is a simple prayer
based on the letters ABC, CBA. It is easy to memorize for use near
Downtown Crossing or even state agencies. Abiding, Bountiful
Creator: Comfort, Bless, Amaze. It is just a resource to remind
yourself who you are and whose you are anywhere, anytime. You can
change some of the words if you want or find others entirely. What you
need is a simple prayer that can be offered everywhere to start this
Now, you might be asking at least two questions: how can I
realistically use this in my law office, my teaching situation, my
child care time, my professional situation? And, if I start listening
to leaves and anxious people, won't I lose my professional edge, won't
I be distracted, won't I tune out on the very world that we so often
hear that God values?
First, have you got time for email, phone calls, or online shopping?
Have you got time for TV and radio? You've got time to spend ten
seconds at the office or in your home or in your car saying a six word
prayer. You can pray and operate heavy machinery on the same day.
The second question is deeper, though, and can't be answered too
quickly. Will I lose something in this process? Here the answer is yes
The best way to begin this answer is sideways, drawing a lesson from
Zen Buddhism, which is not a specialty but an interest of mine. One
expression of Zen Buddhism -- a path of liberation -- identifies Four
Noble Truths. The first of these says that life as we usually live it
is burdened by suffering and frustration. The second says that clinging
to things, grasping at them, is the cause of suffering or frustration.
And this grasping stems from a type of unconsciousness that ignores its
surroundings. It is blind to the gifts of creation that are all around.
The third truth says that nirvana, which is good, is literally the
cessation of holding onto things that are overwhelming. And that
nirvana, the cessation of grasping, leads to waves
of joy and creative power.
The Christian story says much the same. Good or bad, where your
treasure is, your heart is. Go, release what you have. In losing you
discover finding. This yoke is easy. Even Jesus did not grasp even at
being God, but emptied himself. Those with eyes to see and ears to
hear, get started. The Christian story recognizes that life as we
usually live it is burdened by broken ways and unnecessary possession
where suffering abounds. Yet we are called to see the fullness of
creation as well as things all too often invisible such as rustling
leaves, neglected family members, the homeless, the abused, the
frightened foreigner, ourselves. Nirvana and repentance have a lot in
common. They both take a new direction starting today.
The Christian story says we do lose something with an everyday
spirituality. We lose some practices and habits and blinders that we've
used, maybe even to keep ourselves operating at a productive pace. And
that is risky and scary. But we gain something, too. We gain a sense of
the values of God that diverge from our culture's values. I'm not
saying all do, but I must report many do. Yet God earnestly calls us to
these alternate values not so that we will lose something or join a
particular team but so that we will live in a new way that shares and
promotes the health of all.
What are you listening for? What measure of suffering or frustration
in your world do you long to release? What are you missing that is
right in front of you? How much would you like to see this entire world
pursue liberation? How many concerns of those in need do you long to
An everyday spirituality is not a stress management trick or a quick
fix for systemic problems. It is not a short cut. And it does cost
something. But it is one ingredient of embracing a divine creation and
of seeking harmony with a divine imagination. It's good for us now,
it's good for the long term, and it's good for this world. It is
available any time you are ready. Why
not now? Amen.
Copyright © 2003 Kenneth F. Baily. Used by