“Regarded properly, anything can become a sacrament, by which I mean an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual connection.” Barbara Brown Taylor, An Altar in the World.
It’s so weird when everything in your world starts to tell you the same story. So much of my reading and my vacation have come together to wake me up to Holiness all around me. My Icon-Writing workshop at St Gertrude’s Monastery in Idaho immersed me in my own native languages, art and prayer. Going to worship with the sisters everyday was a treat, and painting the image of Mary and Baby Jesus as I learned more about the spiritual life of the Eastern tradition was a way of learning to see with new eyes. I felt as if I was sinking into world that is the essence of life for me, kind of like coming home and having mac & cheese the way your Mom made it. Suddenly I was breathing more deeply and my mind opened to images and connections that usually only come in dreams. I felt more awake and energized and at the same time more rested and restored than I had for a long time. I felt as if everything was holy: every brush stroke, every conversation, everything my eyes saw and my ears heard and my hands touched.
My stay at a fancy hotel in Walla Walla after the workshop was briefer than I planned. What would have been the ultimate luxurious enjoyment in any other time, just irritated me, because I was surrounded by people who lived so differently than the deeper world I was still carrying within my eyes and heart. I hit the road a day early, driving down Oregon #395, through Pendleton for lunch with brother, John, and free to wander and look. Wheat fields were stitched gold by harvest, and wrapped around every slope. Stands of blue-black trees began to fill the valleys, and cottonwoods marked where water snaked across the land. Mountain passes and views across the abundance of cultivated flatlands arrived in their turn, and occasional rain clouds speckled my windshield. I was immersed in the life of God’s amazing creation, spread before me like a feast. A feast for my eyes, surely, as they were newly opened to see from my heart, but a feast for my mind, as well, as I began to think like the Psalmist who wrote, “how manifold are your works, O Lord! In wisdom you have made them all.” Each mineral in the soil is critical to the web of life that spread before me, each raindrop a part of the grand scheme of life that goes on all around without our help or observation.
On my second day driving toward home, I spent some time at the John Day Fossil Beds. When I turned onto Highway 19 and headed north, I realized I’d never taken the time to really look before.
I stopped at the Thomas Condon Visitors Center and picked up a map before heading up to Kimberley for peaches. What an amazing story is written in the hills and rocks surrounding you. Such glorious works! It made me want to sing and shout and I found myself thanking God all over again for the gift of eyes to see and the time to have them opened to the stunning beauty and mystery of the world around me.
Our Monday evening Book Club is beginning to read “An Altar in the World.” Barbara Brown Taylor asserts that we already have all we need to see the holy all around us, that the whole world becomes the House of God when we have the eyes to see it. Our previous book, “Sabbath,” reminded us of all the ways that Sabbath time gives us the opportunity to rest and be restored to our proper place in God’s world. All the bits and pieces came together in the ‘dream time’ that let my heart connect with my vision. It was just what I needed to see the Holy shimmering in front of me, a visible and outward sign of an inward and spiritual connection.
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