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Seeing All of Time

The opening passage from the book of Proverbs basically says that the book is to help women and men to learn, to grow in wisdom and self-discipline, to bring confidence, guidance and good sense. But, verse 7 says, "When you stand in awe of Yahweh - that is when you begin to really understand."

Etty Hillesum describes one of those ineffable moments of standing in awe of Yahweh in her journal:

… I am filled with a sort of bountifulness, even towards myself; … And a feeling of being at one with all existence. No longer: I want this or that, but: Life is great and good and fascinating and eternal, and if you dwell so much on yourself and flounder and fluff about, you miss the mighty eternal current that is life. It is in these moments – and I am so grateful for them – that all personal ambition drops away from me, that my thirst for knowledge and understanding comes to rest, and a small piece of eternity descends on me with a sweeping wingbeat. ~ "Etty Hillesum: A Life Transformed," by Patrick Woodhouse

These messages are somewhat difficult because I’m trying to describe a feeling or experience that is beyond words. But do you get the gist of it? Have you had those moments, perhaps fleeting moments, where you stepped outside of your small self for a moment, where there was no time, but only the current of eternity connecting you with all that had ever been and all that ever would be? They are moments of awe and clarity, and yes, as Proverbs says, moments when we begin to really understand. We understand what is real and what is illusion, what is important and what is not, what is lasting and what will soon pass away. 

For me, I think of moments like driving to the hospital to give birth to my first child and drawing strength from all the women who’d ever given birth. I think of what it feels like to sit with someone as they take their last breaths. Significant milestones have a way of connecting us to a deeper current - graduation, marriage, baptism. But, nature is probably the first thing most of us think about: how tiny we feel under a sky full of stars, or gazing at the mountains, or sitting by the ocean.

Rachel Remen tells the story of Harry, an emergency physician, who working the evening shift in a busy emergency room when a woman was brought in about to give birth. She was too far along for her own doctor to get there for the deliver. It would be up to Harry. The nurses quickly got ready. Dad was positioned at his wife’s head. The baby was born almost immediately. While the little girl was still attached to her mother, Harry laid her along his left forearm. Holding the back of her head in his left hand, he took a suction bulb in his right and began to clear her mouth and nose of mucus. Suddenly, the baby opened her eyes and looked directly at him. In that moment, Harry stepped past his technical role and realized a very simple thing: that he was the first human being this baby girl had ever seen. He felt his heart go out to her in welcome from all people everywhere and tears came to his eyes.

Harry has delivered hundreds of babies. He has always enjoyed the challenges of deliver, but he says that he had never let himself experience the meaning of what he was doing before. He feels that in a certain sense this was the first baby that he had ever delivered, as in the past he would have been so preoccupied with the technical aspects of the delivery that he doubts he would have noticed the baby open her eyes or have registered what her look meant. He would have been there as a physician, but not as a human being. 

How many moments like this do we miss? Somehow so many of the moments that connect us to eternity seem to focus on being young or old… maybe in-between we’re too distracted to feel that eternal current underneath all the ordinary moments in life. We get so caught up in the minutiae that we lose sight of the whole. We get so caught up in our ego that we miss the big picture.

Parker Palmer has a new book out called, “On the Brink of Everything” a title he borrowed from a young mother blogging about her 16 month old toddler who, she wrote, “is on the brink of everything.” Oh, those early years where all of life is so fresh and new and full of wonder. Perhaps that is why we like to be with children, because they bring that back for us. They help us remember how it feels to walk barefoot, to smell a flower, to bake cookies and dye Easter eggs, to go to the zoo and feed the goats, to walk the beach and play in the waves. All of life is stretched out before them and while watching them we touch moments of awe, and moments of gratitude and fullness, as we’re reminded of the amazing, wonderful world we live in.

But Palmer’s new book isn’t about children. He uses the phrase “On the Brink of Everything” for himself, at 80-years-old, as he stands on the brink of the rest of his life, including his death. From this standpoint, he talks about the awe and wonder that he’s finding now that he’s slowed down a little. Perhaps the closer we come to our imminent demise, the more acutely aware we are of the awe in little everyday things – the sunrise, a hot cup of coffee on a cold morning, simple gratitude at waking up at all.

The mother who blogged about her 16-month-old says that her daughter “approaches the world with one giant, indiscriminate expectation: delight me.” Palmer says he wants to approach life with one expectation of himself: to delight in the gift of life and be grateful. To find that unbridled delight opens up a window to awe and the Eternal Source.

Mark Nepo tells a story of a Pueblo family living in the cliffs. While the men were hunting, the women cared for the young children. In one family, a mother found her young son standing on the edge of their dwelling, looking out across the canyon. She asked what he was looking at. The little boy said, “I’m seeing all of time.” She moved closer to her son and asked, “And what does all of time look like, my son?” The little boy spread his arms toward the canyon, “I’m flying with my eyes, Mama.” She kissed him on the top of his little head and replied, “Remember this. For there will come a time when you will be surrounded by other ways, and you will need to remember what you’re seeing now.” 

Remember… that's what we need to do. Remember the times we’ve seen all of time… the times we’ve touched eternity. They will help put life in perspective, they will grant a deeper understanding of life and people than we could ever get in reading a book, or attending a class, or going to worship.

Remember… all that has come before and all that will come after. Remember… when we get caught up in fear and worry and distress… remember and delight.

Love & Light!