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Spiritual Journeys in Gratitude, Compassion and Wonder

Every time you smile at someone, it is an action of love, a gift to that person, a beautiful thing. -Mother Teresa

God doesn’t require us to succeed; he only requires that you try. -Mother Teresa

I was amazed in reading a review of Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light that the saint from India had such difficulty in sustaining an on-going presence of God in her life. I share a similar problem. What follows are three spiritual journeys I take to combat the problem.

The Birth of Molly

With a little help from me and some fertility drugs, Molly was launched, sperm and egg became one. This combined cell divided billions of times over the course of nine months, creating additional cells that knew exactly where to go to form a heart, lungs, arms, legs, fingers, and toes. These new cells received their marching orders from genes, tiny microscopic organisms containing information from Lyn, from me, from our parents, and more distant relatives. All Lyn had to do was eat properly and stay off of her surfboard for nine months.

Molly floated inside Lyn’s slowly expanding body where she practiced breathing, learned how to kick and do somersaults, and listened to her mother’s heart beat and to background noise in our home. A week before she was due, the decision was somehow made to take the great leap outward. After a short but intense labor, I watched in awe as Molly’s head crowned. Then, following a strong, sharp contraction, Molly ejected herself into the capable hands of the doctor.Seconds later Molly screamed, and Lyn’s face took on a new look of deep peace and wonder.

The above is the outline of a story that still creates awe and wonder in me more than thirty years after the event. Create a similar story of your own. Begin with five minutes of mindfulness meditation as you watch your breathing which allows your mind to quiet down. Relive the experience of your story, focus on the deep mystery of creation. Express your deep gratitude to God for the blessing of this wonderful event, and watch your heart expand.

My Friend Adele

I have known Adele and her husband for almost forty years.Three years ago, Adele was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.

As her condition dramatically worsened, I took Adele to mindfulness meditation. I thought about this stately, aristocratic woman with a newly disfigured body weighing less than seventy pounds. I ached as I pictured the feeding tubes, and the persistent nausea resulting from her daily drug regimen. I grieved for her husband and her wonderful children. I expressed deep gratitude for her life, and genuine admiration for her grace in dealing with this dreadful disease. My heart filled, my chest choked with emotion, tears flowed gently across my face.

Participating in the suffering of another is the central lesson of the Christian faith, the meaning of the cross. It leads one to God because the enormity of the experience broadens one’s focus beyond egocentric concerns. In expanded awareness, divine love touches one’s life.

Stargazing

I’m not very good at picking out constellations. I can usually find the Big Dipper with the four stars that make up the bowl, and the three additional stars that create its handle. Orion has been pointed out to me on several occasions. I remember learning about Rigel in high school, the giant star that mark’s Orion’s foot. Rigel is forty times larger than the Sun, and 16,000 times brighter. It is 545 light years away. I think about light traveling at 186,000 miles a second, and the fact that the light I see emanating from Rigel left for earth at about the same time that Columbus landed in America. Amazing!

Moving beyond Rigel, I reflect on our galaxy, the Milky Way, with its billions of stars. The idea that there are millions of galaxies beyond the Milky Way is beyond my comprehension.

As I float back to earth, everything seems so tiny, so precious, so precarious.I feel vulnerable. I think about the Sun and our earth speeding in orbit around it, and the fact that I awake each morning in the same place, in the same bed, with Lyn beside me. How could this happen by chance? How am I protected on this fragile planet that is hurtling through space? What’s behind all this? What makes it work? I thank God in a mindset of wonder and deep gratitude. My heart fills, thoughts of beauty and the goodness of life float through me.

The three thought experiments discussed above all relate to perspective. In witnessing the birth of our daughter, the awesomeness of the event shocked my attention away from self. The same change in focus occurred when I reflected on the suffering of my friend Adele. In mentally journeying to the outer edges of the universe, I looked down on a different world.

Enlarging one’s perspective beyond self, opens psychological space that is filled with love. I am convinced that this love comes from God because it changes me. My thoughts change, I see the world differently. God becomes a living presence in my life.

Rick Herrick is a retired university professor and the author of The Case Against Evangelical Christianity.


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