Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote something like: You can travel the world over in search of beauty, but unless you carry it with you, you will not find it. As we settled into Nags Head and walked the beach in the evening light, I couldn’t help but remember the thoughts of Emerson. This place, this time, this moment was truly beautiful in every way.
The following morning, in an uncharacteristic move, I awoke a little before 5:59 and was blessed to see the sunrise over the same beach. There are not words to describe the beauty of the experience. As the sun climbed higher with each minute, and changed in color from deep blood red to orange to gold and then to yellow, flocks of pelicans darted past and began to skim the surface of the water for their breakfast. What a gorgeous sight.
A moment like this and the beauty of this scene is what I want to carry with me wherever I go. I want to remember this moment of grace and peace. Nature and quiet; awe and perfect beauty. It was a moment of grace at the dawning of a new day that I shared with God. Witnessing this dawning, and watching the unfolding of a new day made me feel very close to its Creator.
What beauty do you carry with you?
Sunday’s celebration in Virginia Beach was a true moment of grace! A former student of mine, and her husband, were having their son baptized. As with so many Navy families, they are far from home and welcome the presence of familiar faces when they celebrate family milestones. And, so, with great joy, we made the trip to help support them during this first sacrament for their son.
What made the ceremony so unique was that it took place aboard the father’s naval ship. While it was far from a cathedral with beautiful stained glass windows or fine wood furnishings, the amazing thing is . . . the Holy Spirit was there in spite of all of it! We celebrated the Eucharist together, signed the child, blessed the water, joined in the prayers, lit the candle, and anointed the child for a life-long journey with Christ.
It made me realize in a very real way that location and place really has nothing to do with baptism. The only place that is important is our own hearts – where we welcome the life of Christ and grow to be members of a community of belief and action.
Baptism opens our hearts to the reality of Christ living in our day and time, within the people we encounter and the experiences we have. It prepares and strengthens us for a life of discipleship and commitment so that Christ can continue to be seen in our day and our time through the work that we do.
What a grace it is that baptisms are still taking place – no matter the place.
Each place we have been shapes us in some way. I never really thought about the truth of this statement until going to the birth place of George Washington in Virginia’s lovely northern neck. George’s great grandfather settled the land and established the plantation in 1657 and generations of Washington’s lived on this beautiful spot at the confluence of the the Potomac River and Pope’s Creek. Historians tell us that while young George did not live there long, he was shaped and formed by the land, returning often in the summers as he grew into adulthood.
I couldn’t help but think how we are all shaped and formed by the land we grew up on, as well as the surroundings and land we encounter each day. We might take a moment and reflect on the land where our roots were established. What was it in the land that impressed itself on our personality and character? And, what do we allow the land to speak to us today?
Being in this amazingly beautiful spot where young George grew up gave me a new appreciation for the lands where I lived growing up. They were many and varied, as my Dad was in the Army and we moved almost every year. Perhaps that’s why I love to travel and seek out new sights. Each new spot is an opportunity to see and take in the wonderful beauty and grace of the universe. Each new spot invites me to learn more about its history and the people who were nurtured there. Each place gives me pause and offers me the chance to open myself to new thoughts, insights and reflections. Each place is a little window into the heart of God.
What spot has shaped and formed you? What spot holds grace for you? There may be more than one!
On Saturday we stopped amid the light rain and gentle mist, like a veil of grace over the Maryland countryside, to visit the historic site of Thomas Stone’s plantation. Stone is a lesser known signer of the Declaration of Independence. He isn’t well known because, I learned while there, he was a more silent member of the founding fathers. History reports that he didn’t talk much or join in many of the debates, but that he had great influence with the quiet strength of his pen.
I immediately liked the man. How often I have wondered if someone would survive history if they were a quite thinker and not a boisterous orator or quick to act. Thomas Stone was a quiet thinker and his story as a Maryland statesman has survived the centuries. His homestead remains and the house has been reconstructed to its original footprint. And, within the modest home, which housed two families, is his original writing desk, where he spent many hours.
There have been so many times in different situations when I have silently thought something, kept quiet, and then went home to write my thoughts in a journal or a letter . . . or, more recently, a blog. And, I always felt I lacked some strength of character for hesitating to speak out.
But, now I know that history has honored the thoughtful, quiet strength of Thomas Stone’s pen. There is great strength of character and graced influence in the ability to communicate clearly through the written word!
Are you comfortable speaking out when thoughts arise? Or, do you ponder and reflect and sometimes only write your thoughts in notebooks that no one will ever see? Each quality is a grace . . . each one gifted by God and uniquely intended for each individual. One is no better than the other. This life isn’t a competition. Our world needs both kinds of thinkers, those who speak out and those who silently reflect and write. Honor the grace that is yours!
Who doesn’t love a break and a change of scenery? I certainly do. So it was with great enjoyment that we packed the car to head out of town for an extended weekend. We were bound for Kitty Hawk and the Outer Banks of North Carolina, but along the way we planned many stops.
Amid clouded skies and a mild rain we made our way into southern Maryland to visit the homestead and plantation site of Thomas Stone, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. Then we went on into the Northern Neck of Virginia to visit the birth place of George Washington. Both were beautiful sites filled with history and an amazing feeling to being connected to the past.
We stayed overnight in Virginia Beach and spent Sunday with friends who invited us to their child’s baptism. It was a unique experience as the baptism took place aboard the father’s Naval ship. We felt very privileged to be a part of the celebration.
Traveling on, we made our way to Nag’s Head where we would stay two nights while exploring the beauty, diversity and history of the Outer Banks.
What a grace it was just to have this change of scenery. As I unpack these experiences and reflect on the four days, I’ll be sharing more of our adventures.
Where have you seen grace today?
On this date in 1969, humanity put the first man on the moon. That was 43 years ago! I remember getting my three-month-old little brother out of his crib to sit with him in front of the television so that he could say he watched the first man walk on the moon. It was an historic occasion. A moment in time. And, think of the progress we have made since then. In that time, there has been an amazing amount of new technology from personal computers to cell phones; digital imaging to the internet. The list is almost endless. Our lives have changed because of the progress we have made since that point in time when the first man walked on the moon.
But the question needs to be asked: How much progress have we made in our spiritual lives in that time? The answer to that becomes more difficult, because we tend to spend so much less time perfecting our spiritual lives.
This all comes to me because I am reading a spiritual classic from 1944 by Caryll Houselander entitled The Reed of God. While there are numerous insightful thoughts and comments to ponder throughout the book, after my experience yesterday, the one I read this morning goes to the top of the list.
In the book, she relates the story of an old man who was loved by many people. He had revealed that the secret of his good nature and companion-ability was a simple spiritual practice. Whenever he met someone, he would greet the Christ within them in secret, before greeting the person out loud.
What a simple spiritual practice! And what amazing wisdom for our day – wisdom that somehow has been overshadowed through the years by the progress of our technological world. Can we take the challenge and rely on the spiritual wisdom of over 60 years ago to give us a renewed progress in our spiritual lives today?
It would be a grace to try.
Today there is reason to celebrate. Five individuals I passed on the sidewalk this morning responded to my “Good Morning” with a “Good Morning” to me! This marks a major change in behavior among people on the sidewalk. Usually, everyone keeps their heads down and won’t even meet my eyes, much less respond to my “Good Morning.” But, today … today, five people risked a response.
This continual effort to be civil and pleasant on the streets of DC takes me back to the time when my oldest child was a year old and we would walk the streets of the neighborhood on our way to see a cow that was in a pasture beyond our housing complex. Each day we would pass the mailman on his route delivering the mail. Each day I would say “hello” to him and then teach my young son the word “mailman,” and to say “hello” to the mailman. Each day the mailman would pass us without recognition, comment, or even so much as a smile.
This went on for months. Then on one of those days, my child spoke his first word: “mailman.” And, somehow the mailman was transformed. He recognized us, smiled at us and responded with “hello.” It became a great event of each day to meet the mailman and say our hellos.
This experience was a lesson for me in being proactive, not simply reactive. And, it was a a lesson in continuing. And, waiting. And being pleasant, no matter the response.
And today, there was fruit for my efforts. What a grace it is to receive a simple smile and “Good Morning” from a complete stranger.
When I got to the entry door of our apartment complex yesterday I was met with a bit of a shock. My key didn’t work. First I checked to see if it was the right key – and it was. As I stood dripping with sweat in the 100 degree heat and humidity, struggling to get into the air-conditioning, I became more and more distressed. I pushed, and tried to turn the key. I struggled with it. I put more muscle into the effort. All to no avail. The key simply wouldn’t turn in the lock. I was stuck. After several minutes of working to no avail, I was thinking about walking back up to the maintenance office when I thought I would try one more time.
I put my key – the right key – back in the lock. I paused a moment, for some crazy reason, thinking that might help. I gently jiggled the key a slight amount, without any force — just trying everything. Then I gently tried to turn it. And the door opened!
Reflecting on this little jam and my final entry into the building has caused me to think of other jams that I have been in that were less successful. Force and obstinacy are not always the best policy. Perhaps when we are up against a brick wall with someone, some job, some experience, forcing the issue is not always the best plan. Perhaps, we might just pause for a moment and then gently proceed – without force – to try to convey our opinions, or tackle the obstacle, or continue forward in the moment.
Feeling my keys in my pocket now reminds me of this little grace. Force is not always necessary. Sometimes a pause, a jiggle, and a gentle turn is all that is needed.
Today I have a renewed appreciation for trees. Not because they are beautiful, which they are. Not because they are majestic living things, which they are. Not because they have unique characteristics like blossoming flowers and wonderful scents, which they do. Today I have a renewed appreciation for trees because they provide shade.
In the heat this morning I realized all over again the grace that a single tree brings to my walk. And then I realized the added graces that many trees along my walk offer me. Shade is pure grace on a day like today – even early in the morning. As I passed by a grove of trees and walked in their shade, I could feel the temperature drop to several degrees cooler. This reduced temperature was not a result of breezes, as is sometimes the case. It was simply because of the shade provided by the trees.
So often I take the trees for granted. But today, I give thanks for the wonderful grace of trees.
Today, I can’t stop thinking about the words of Rabbi Abraham Herschel. What grace there is in these words if we but take the time to absorb them:
Just to be is a blessing. Just to live is holy.
There is enough wisdom here for a lifetime. Certainly it’s enough for today. Just be. It is a blessing.