I don’t do well in small spaces.
When life becomes claustrophobic – when my world begins to feel small – I get nervous, agitated. I don’t like feeling that I’ve gone through my day (or days on end) without doing anything more than dealing with my stuff. Between being ill, trying to negotiate the pedantic morass of selling and buying houses (could they make it any more difficult?), and dealing with relational issues at work, my world feels as though it is closet-sized and I’m looking in rather than out. I don’t like the feeling.
It was with relief and gratitude, then, that I stumbled on to today’s offering at The Writer’s Almanac, part of my daily practice of trying to look beyond and above, to find this poem by Canadian poet, Robyn Sarah:
It is possible that things will not get better
than they are now, or have been known to be.
It is possible that we are past the middle now.
It is possible that we have crossed the great water
without knowing it, and stand now on the other side.
Yes: I think that we have crossed it. Now
we are being given tickets, and they are not
tickets to the show we had been thinking of,
but to a different show, clearly inferior.
Check again: it is our own name on the envelope.
The tickets are to that other show.
It is possible that we will walk out of the darkened hall
without waiting for the last act: people do.
Some people do. But it is probable
that we will stay seated in our narrow seats
all through the tedious dénouement
to the unsurprising end — riveted, as it were;
spellbound by our own imperfect lives
because they are lives,
and because they are ours.
Her name was new to me, so I did a bit of digging and found the poem is part of a collection called A Day’s Grace. I also found an interview, which held this response to the question, “How does spirituality inform your writing?”:
“Spirituality” isn’t a word I’m comfortable with, but if God is dead I must have missed the obit. (Don’t people confuse God with the belief in God? Belief may be dead — at least as a fundamental common assumption of our culture.) Can I talk about how spirituality informs my writing — no, I don’t think I can. But that doesn’t mean I don’t think it’s central. I think it probably is central. About the best I can do is to come back to that gasp of responsiveness to the world — the poet’s “O.” I try to be receptive: to the moment, to the world — of which language is a part. I try to keep myself open, to pay attention. To pay attention to the things that come my way, my daily “givens” — and to pay attention to language, as my chosen medium of response to those givens. In Hebrew the expression that translates as “Pay attention” is “Sim Lev.” It means, literally, “Put Your Heart (here).”
Jesus’ biggest temptations were about being everything to everyone, or capitalizing on people’s vulnerability to grab power; I think mine center around thinking life is going to be something other than what it is: one of these days I’ll get through all of this daily crap and get to the real stuff of changing the world and all. From that mindset, the daily details turn to drudgery because they are meaningless obstacles to what I need to be doing to feel as though I matter, creating a slow leak of grace from my life that is suffocating because the details don’t end and life is what it is.
And the poet says, “Put your heart (here).”
My world is small, by any measure. The ticket with my name on it is to a specific and short-lived show that will be missed by most of humanity. My world is small; our God is not. If I am most tempted to clamor for a bigger world as a way to a more meaningful existence, then I am most called to dive into the details, such that I begin to see just how much grace my little world can hold if I pay attention to all that passes so easily as incidental.
Jesus came to earth and spent his days walking and talking and eating and drinking and having any number of inane and, I’m sure, somewhat irritating conversations with both his disciples and the religious leaders who opposed him. He didn’t hold a World Evangelism Conference or plan Jesuspalooza. Perhaps it’s not so much that my world is small as it is my world is only as claustrophobic as I allow it to be. I can choose to see only the drudgery or I can put my heart (here) and discover the expansiveness of grace that underpins it all. If I’m paying attention, then the details, whether large or small, offer me the opportunity to be a conduit of that grace. If I’m focused on having a ticket to the wrong show then I contribute to the walls closing in on all of us.
Eugene Peterson’s version of Micah 6:8 says it well:
But God’s already made it plain how to live, what to do, what God is looking for in men and women. It’s quite simple: Do what is fair and just to your neighbor, be compassionate and loyal in your love, and don’t take yourself too seriously— take God seriously.
Justice, mercy, and compassion need specific street addresses in order to take root and grow. Grace needs a face, and hands and feet. Even under the canopy of as grand a gesture as the universe that surrounds us beyond our comprehension, it is the specificity of the Incarnation – that God put God’s heart (here) – that redeems the drudgery or the details and breathes hope into our imperfect lives. The tapestry of grace is being woven one small stitch at a time.
The best I can do with my life is to pay attention: to put my heart (here).