On Contentment

We churn.

Yesterday, fueled by a morning conversation about commitment (or lack thereof), challenged by an evening swimming with foolish old thoughts of might-have-beens, I churned.  Possible pasts rose up and whacked me in that misty, far-too guilty place, the old smirking internal attorney offering lots of proof of dumb faithlessness and that sorry bug-a-boo of the early-on gifted…unfulfilled potential.   Even as I sat among friends, I hollowed out a place to hide, smiles notwithstanding.  I see the idiocy of such bent-shoulder thinking, but there it is, and God is perfectly happy to sit with me in it, knowing that I will come around because it is His presence I wed myself to so long ago, even with all my faulty meanderings.

I often list, in systematic fashion, my world of unbelievable blessing.   I could bore and annoy with baskets and years of grace.    My mountain of discontent on evenings like last night frankly embarrasses me by light of day.   And then, to top it off, I woke this morning with a pre-cognitive prayer in my mind.   Pre-cognitive meaning as I woke the prayer was simply present, my pre-waking self leaning toward God already, the Spirit knowing I needed an extra ounce of presence in the pre-dawn dark.   Shower, coffee, warm socks, Psalm 139, and the quiet.

In my reading this morning, a quote from Evelyn Underhill caught my attention.   We spend our lives, she said, conjugating three verbs: to want, to have, and to do.   Rings true, doesn’t it?  Human behavior driven by these wantings and doings, the feverish clutching after these desires of ours, we often walk in puddles of unhappiness, comparing our stuff, comparing our selves to the stuff and self of others, and coming up constantly short.  It’s a story we tell ourselves.  Being designed for faith, the stories we tell ourselves shape everything.   Of this I am convinced.

Underhill says the verb “to be” is the important one.  And given that the Psalmist write that God creates my inmost being, and that it precedes, predates any wanting, having, or doing, perhaps she is right.  I have always had a hard separating all these verbs, given that I see things holistically, at least in theory.

Then I open the collected poems of Milosz again, and in much the same way that people report flinging the Bible and finding just what they need to hear in a randomly picked verse, the volume of poetry opens to page 169, and the title gets me immediately.  “A Frivolous Conversation.”

–My past is a stupid butterfly’s overseas voyage.
My future is a garden where a cook cuts the throat of a rooster.
What do I have, with all my pain and rebellion?

–Take a moment, just one, and when its fine shell,
Two joined palms, slowly opens
What do you see?

–A pearl, a second.

–Inside a second, a pearl, in that star saved from time,
What do you see when the wind of mutability ceases?

–The earth, the sky, and the sea, richly cargoed ships,
Spring mornings full of dew and faraway princedoms.
At marvels displayed in tranquil glory
I look and do not desire for I am content.

Milosz wrote this in 1944, and 66 years later, the words land in my lap like long-hidden gifts.    And for a moment, all churning ceases, and I do not hope to be content…I am content.

“…do not let your hands hang limp…”

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