For many months while I was in seminary, I went every week to visit a parishioner who was homebound. I would bring her communion right after worship, and we would sit and talk about her life, her husband, her love of sports cars, art, her collection of classical music, or little snippets of poetry from whatever she was currently reading. Sometimes we would just sit for a moment in silence, before we would share bread and cup brought straight from the altar of our parish.
We often sat facing a window that overlooked a community garden, and there were bird feeders on poles, wreathed with flowers that changed depending upon the season: first the daffodils, which then subsided to tulips, which then subsided to iris with a backdrop of lilac, which then subsided to gladiolas and lilies. As we would sit and savor our companionship, a goldfinch or wren might swoop into view, grabbing a seed from the bird feeder and then darting away to perch on some leaf or pole which working assiduously to open the shell to get to the kernel. Our gazes would rest upon the scene, and she would turn to me, with her blue-gray eyes shining, and whisper, “Isn’t that marvelous?” with the delight of a person fully content.
I am thinking about my friend today as I sit in my garden and watch the birds at my own feeders dash about like mad. I am able for a few minutes to be at rest while they swoop in and out, in search of food, in search of water, in search of materials to reinforce their nests. Yet they sing with joy at their work, and I think, “That’s the way I want to be when I work. And isn’t it marvelous?”
It is at last that season of the year when I am able to sit amongst the plants on the hillside in my backyard, and simply tune my senses to what is going on around me for a few moments as I pause in the otherwise busy day. The hostas are unfurling and uncurling with a determination that will not be denied. You can feel the vibration of earthworms as they slide into view to escape the water that has puddles around the emerging fiddleheads of ferns. The temperatures finally are above 60 degrees, and there is a breeze in the air that stirs the cathedral bell chimes hanging from the boughs of the pine, providing the bass and the middle to the joyful sounds of the birds all around me. Remembering that friendship that was so dear, I carry the memory of my friend into this moment right now, and her joy and wonder in simple things, her rootedness and contentment in each moment as we sat together.
I breathe, and listen to the birdsong, and the chimes, and the slough of new leaves rubbing against each other as a gust of wind brings them together. Sometimes my busy minds tries to count or categorize the different types of birdsong I hear, but I try to shut down that striving part of my mind and just enjoy being in the center of such a symphony of sound. “Oh, hey, it’s only 75 degrees, and my neighbor’s air conditioner just clicked on,” I think, and then immediately realize I am doing it again. Back, back, mind. Be at rest, and be content. My friend treasured simple moments in her heart, and reminds me still to do the same.
Too often I get caught up in the concerns and petty annoyances of everyday life. I allow myself to put my focus on things which do not generate a sense of peace, but rather a sense of anxiety. And I know I am not alone. We are programmed to respond instinctually to a sense of scarcity, to a sense that we are somehow being at rest places us at a disadvantage. We are too eager for distraction, too afraid we will miss some peak experience or some bit of news.
But my time with my friend showed me that rare gift of contentment and wonder that is so easy to lose. She treasured each moment, and that was where her heart was. She responded with joy to little things of beauty that could easily be overlooked. And though she has been gone for over a year, I remember her and feel like I am sitting with her again, enjoying the industry of the dun-colored sparrow, watching a redbud bloom flutter to the ground to make way for a tiny, heart-shaped leaf that will soon join with her fellows to provide a cool green canopy all summer long. This is a moment I will treasure in my heart. And isn’t it marvelous?