Image taken from Wiki Commons.
It is easy in our daily lives to discount the seemingly minor encounters or experiences we have throughout any given day. We are so busy going through the motions that we often forget to pay attention to where God is blessing us and showering us with His gratuitous love. He is always trying to draw us closer to Himself, but in our brokenness and the monotony of daily living we often don’t see it. I know that there are far too many days when I am merely going through the motions and not paying attention.
I had an experience last week while I was in Virginia Beach that served as a reminder that God is a loving Father who rejoices with us in our delight and who seeks to give us great blessings. Sometimes those blessing come in roundabout ways and through suffering and sometimes they come in daily gifts such as looking into your child’s eyes with love or engaging in a conversation with a friend. These blessings also come in Creation. They are the most often overlooked, I think.
We are so busy driving from one place to another and checking off our to-do lists that a lot of the time we forget to look up and look out. Mass can even become a drudgery and a part of this rat-race that is daily life. This typically occurs when our prayer life has grown stagnant, cold, or non-existent. How can we expect to find God at Mass if we ignore Him the rest of the week? We have to constantly live the mystery in order to move into the greater depths offered to us in the Mass and in prayer.
I know that my days when prayer is last on my list are much worse than the days when I begin the morning praying Lauds and opening my Bible. I’ve grown so accustomed to attending daily Mass that I miss it when I travel and can’t attend. I was gone all last week and since I can’t drive my husband’s work vehicles and that’s what we took to the beach for his conference, Mass wasn’t an option. Instead, I woke up every morning at 5:20 am and walked out onto the beach by myself in the early dawn light while my husband and daughter slept. I sat down on my beach chair, surrounded by ghost crabs cautiously watching me with their adorable steely-eyed stares, and waited for the sun to rise.
I began praying Lauds a few minutes before the sun rose at 5:44 am, so that I could be praying it exactly as the sun broke the horizon to begin it’s ascent. Moments like these have been an important part of my spiritual life for as long as I can remember. I love sunrise and sunset, but there is something particularly special about sunrise.
While I prayed in the morning I also asked to see some dolphins that day. It brings me great childlike joy to watch them playing and hunting off shore. Virginia Beach is known for its bottlenose dolphins. I wanted to go sea-kayaking with them at sunset one evening, but I fractured my fibula and severely sprained my ankle back in mid-April, so my Physical Therapist said absolutely not. Sea-kayaking typically requires a launch into the surf in my previous experiences and even though I am out of the boot for good, I am not cleared to jump for another month. I was disappointed and my husband promised that he will watch our daughter so that I can go next year. She’s not quite old enough to go out on the ocean, yet.
Since kayaking was out of the question, I simply asked God to see the dolphins the way I’ve seen them for years, swimming and hunting around some time between 6:30 am and 10:00 am. He answered my prayer in abundance. I saw them swimming for a couple of hours on Monday morning, but then the weather turned gusty and rainy for the rest of the day. Tuesday the surf was too rough to see them, but Wednesday was glorious.
The sunrise was incredible and the waves had calmed down quite a bit. My daughter and I were out on the beach all morning. I started seeing the dolphins around 8:30 am and they stayed out for most of the day. About 11:00 am I was standing in the ocean while my daughter played in the sand behind me. I wasn’t even up to my knees at this point when all of a sudden three dolphins popped up directly in front of me. They couldn’t have been 10 feet from me. I gasped in excitement as they jumped through the wave in front of me and I turned to Michaela and excitedly yelled “Dolphins!” at her. She stood up just in time to see them start racing down the shoreline. We were amazed they didn’t get beached, that’s how close to the shore they were. Michaela went sprinting after them down the beach. I would have, but I can’t run on my ankle yet so I quickly walked after her keeping my eyes on the dolphins and her. They ran towards a group of swimmers who mistook them for sharks while all of us tried to yell that they were dolphins not sharks. The dolphins then turned and went back out to deeper waters. I was struck with amazement and joy be the encounter.
Two friends of mine from that area–one a former Marine Biologist–told me this is very rare and a great gift. They don’t usually swim that close to shore. The whole day I was filled with happy excitement, telling everyone at my husband’s conference what had happened. Those dolphins were a gift. I had prayed to see dolphins. I only meant offshore like in the past, but this time God gratuitously answered my prayer. It can’t be a coincidence with all of that beach line and thousands of people up and down the beach that those dolphins happened to pop up right in front of me of all people.
Having a fractured fibula has been a more intense spiritual experience than I expected. I am a rather active person and I love to be outside. When I broke it, my kayak and my bike had to be put away. I couldn’t even take my daughter for a walk on the Greenway near the river. I’ve had to spend a lot of time sitting in bed or in the living room. The first couple of weeks I was completely dependent on the generosity of my friends who brought us meals since cooking was out of the question on crutches. I found myself face down on the ground on multiple occasions when I was learning how to walk on the crutches. The word that constantly came to mind was humilitas, God is teaching me humility.
Even with all of this difficulty, it’s been a spiritually fruitful time. Any progress I’ve made is God’s doing, but I turned to more frequent prayer, especially when I couldn’t get to daily Mass the first few weeks. I started to set my day to the rhythm of prayer and to accept the period of inactivity as an opportunity to spend more time with Christ. This inactivity was a good time to establish new habits that could flow into my daily routine when my period of activity returned, as it has now.
It was quite a blessing to be free of the boot and standing on the beach watching the sunrise. It was even more astonishing to be standing so close to dolphins that I could have reached out and touched them. And not to be outdone in generosity, my last morning in VA Beach as I watched the sun rise one more time, the dolphins came out of the bay and were swimming just off shore as the sun began to rise. They hadn’t been out at sunrise any other morning, but that last morning I saw 10 of them out in search of breakfast.
It would be easy to reduce this to coincidence or science. That’s exactly what our culture would do. The dolphins obviously need to eat throughout the day and a tour boat seems to be what caused the dolphins to become trapped leading them to the shore, but there’s no way they would have ended up in front of me of all people if I hadn’t asked with the faith of child to see some dolphins on my visit. I have a very strong connection to God through the beauty of nature. He has a habit of showering me with graces through the beauty of the outdoors and this was no different. I don’t get up before sunrise simply for the sunrise. It is as much a spiritual experience as it is a sensory one for me: body and soul.
God is this gratuitous with His beauty every single day. We are the ones who fail to notice it. In fact, far too many of us have grown numb and can no longer enter into and experience objective beauty. The sunset is merely the sun setting for the evening. The flowers are simply signs of spring and summer. The mountains are there every day. The ocean is the same ocean we see day-in-and-day-out or the prairie or the desert or the plains, etc. We have to maintain childlike innocence in relation to Creation to see the wonders and beauty God gives to us through it.
We have to open our hearts to the Divine Lover who seeks to woo all of us through the gifts of the universe. He reaches down to us body and soul through the senses. The material universe is a sign of His glory. The Sacraments are matter and form. They reach us body and soul. God always reaches us as we are created. We are the ones who end up off balance by an over-dependence or an under-dependence upon the material as it works in conjunction with the spiritual.
Watch a child. They stare at a dandelion as if it contains a whole universe within it. Somewhere along the way we decided that isn’t how adults act or we respond in apathy. There is a reason Christ says that we must be child-like. Only those who open their entire being up to Him in wonder and love can be filled up by Him. The dandelion, even if it annoys us because of the pristine lawn we aspire to, is a reminder of the goodness and beauty of God. We can see the detail, intricacies, and coloring in this “mundane” object that many people disdain. Each flower, animal, mountain ridge, river, crashing wave, etc. is filled with the intricate ordering of of a universe made by God ex nihilo by a sheer act of gratuitous self-emptying love. We are loved into being each day, but we have to open ourselves up to it.
We have to find the courage to plunge into the depths and it is scary. As C.S. Lewis says in The Chronicles of Narnia about Aslan: ‘He isn’t a tame lion, but he is good.’ Besides the depth found in the Mass, the greatest creation with us on this earth is found in our fellow human beings. Each person contains within themselves uncharted depths and the image of God. If we pay attention and we open ourselves up to others freely in charity, we can truly see Christ in other people. It is breathtaking and it reveals the vastness of the human soul made by God.
There is wonder, awe, beauty, and joy in communion with our fellow man grounded in Christ. God’s gratuitous love is extended to us through the people we encounter each day and the people who we form deeper bonds with such as our family and friends. Do we see the people God has given to us as He sees them? Would we see dolphins popping up in front of us after a simple prayer as a gift from Him? Life contains much monotony, but that monotony is transformed when we see God’s movement in every single moment of our day.