My favorite bike ride is a stretch of road through longleaf pine and wire grass. Winding my way one evening this past November, a call rang in my earphones. My wife Beth had the results of an ultrasound from the day before, and I had a long ride home to come up with an explanation for it other than pancreatic cancer.
A looming threat can profoundly change how we see the world, our priorities, and the next moment.
A famous author said, “Pain is God’s megaphone to wake up a sleeping world.” For the past few months, some days more than others, this looming threat has caffeinated my faculties, making me far more awake, aware, and grateful for the smallest things. Life’s simple, daily gifts become far more precious when forced to see and experience the fleeting nature of our days. In such times the daily buzz of hurry, noise, and crowds lose their powers of distraction.
Everyday demands tune our ears to the mere measured world. Philosopher Charles Taylor calls this limited frequency the “imminent frame.” It’s a resignation to the compass of a tangible world. But every now and then our field of view increases beyond what we can comprehend. Sometimes we see past what is, to what could be. For instance, all the parks in Orlando were once just an inkling of imagination. To quote Walt Disney himself, “It was all started by a mouse.”
Wisdom is that apprehension of heavenly things to which the spirit rises through love. — HONORÉ DE BALZAC
Just as our imagination can get us out from under what we already know, so too can the soul apprehend more than it comprehends. Under threat, we more willingly lift our eyes from the instrument panel to the horizon and fly by intuition. Life is so daily. We are driven by its demands, allured by its measurements, and distracted by worries borrowed from the future. We typically have no ears for meaningful things. Under threat we cherish meaning more than measurements–beyond our normal capacity under daily static.
From what are we being awoken?
Dallas Willard says the two most popular religions in the West are denial and optimism. Either one can make you comfortably numb. Denial willfully ignores reality. You see it in the alcoholic protecting himself from the wreckage he has caused, so obvious to everyone else. Similarly, optimism bi-passes reality. You can see it in the moralist who presumes upon an outcome and calls it hope. Optimism masquerades as hope, willfully deflecting possible difficulties of a broken world. Whereas, true hope faces reality with the strength of a bigger promise.
Comforts of denial and optimism come at a cost. Sightings of truth, beauty, and assurance may pass us by without our notice. Such sublime moments often appear like hummingbirds perched in elegant clarity. We apprehend something bigger than a point of time can hold. With the slightest movement of the mind to close its grasp, it darts away. Perhaps still within view but not within reach. Meaning is far less elusive when we wake up from the stupor of denial and optimism.
Welcoming the dawn
Poet and theologian Malcolm Guite wrote a series of sonnets to invite meaning into the day. Inspired by another poet in the 6th century AD, he notes how waiting with expectation takes humility and acknowledges dependence. Wisdom, like agriculture, requires a patient rhythm among changing seasons.
O Wisdom, coming forth from the mouth of the Most High, reaching from one end to the other, mightily and sweetly ordering all things: Come and teach us the way of prudence.*
An imminent frame meets our hungers with a turning of a knob or the pulling of a lever. Deeper desires then go untouched. A gray cynicism then can settle around modern life. But from time to time, we taste the fountain of colorful wisdom. That yearning itself for bigger and lasting things suggests a bigger picture. An appetite or deeper desire is the yawning of “eternity set in our hearts” (Eccl. 11:5).
If you are interested in receiving updates about Beth’s progress, please register at her Caringbridge site.