Sunday, October 26, 2014

Live Your Life

"Sunday Morning"
- At the Desert Retreat House -

When Sunday rolls around I often think about people who are going to church on this day.  It seems to me that when it comes to religion and spirituality, people tend to get very, very serious. As a parish priest I would always find it somewhat entertaining to watch faces whenever I would stand in front of a congregation and say the words, "Let us pray"- immediately heads would bow, eyes would shut tight and faces would take on a very pensive, somber and sometimes even a foreboding look- after all this "God" stuff is pretty serious business. 

When it comes to religion and spiritual practice many people feel as if they have to get it right - the right doctrine, the proper prayers, carefully obeying all the rules, wearing the right vestments, using the proper meditation techniques, chanting the mantra in the correct way - it makes me tired just thinking about it.

It am reminded of one of my favorite stories in the Christian gospels. 

Jesus takes his disciples on a little hike and as they are walking along, the disciples are trying to get him to tell them what they have to do in order to be good disciples - they want to make sure they get it right. But, Jesus' response was probably a big surprise to them because he told them that they shouldn't worry so much about getting it right - he told them not to take themselves so seriously. As they walked along he asked them to observe the beautiful flowers growing in a meadow. He stopped and they all listened to the sounds of birds in the air and felt the gentle breezes blowing on their faces. He told them not to worry so much, not to be so anxious. He told them to trust the moment, to savor everything the moment has to offer.  By doing this they would indeed be his faithful disciples. It's a great story. 

The other day I came across a link sent to me by a friend of an interview from the NPR program, "Fresh Air." Radio host, Terri Gross, was speaking with the celebrated children's author and avowed atheist, Maurice Sendak. Since he is now getting up in years, Ms. Gross inquired about his life-experiences over his many years.  As he sat under an arbor of beautiful old maple trees in his back yard, he tearfully cried,  "I am in love with the world. so very grateful for my life, so abundantly thankful for everything and everyone that has ever come my way - the good as well as the bad. I am truly a happy old man." 

Mr. Sendak ended this very touching interview by sharing a piece of profound wisdom with his radio host as he quietly recited a little mantra: 

Live your life! Live your life! Live your life!

As I listened to this interview I found tears streaming down my face as I realized that this gentle man, an avowed atheist, had just offered me a powerful spiritual insight--saying almost exactly the same thing Jesus once told his disciples while walking in a field of flowers, listening to the birds of the air.  

Yesterday I sat with my wife having a quiet lunch at a local restaurant on a beautiful autumn day in the desert. I was savoring the food, relishing our conversation, fully embracing the gift of that moment together, and I kept hearing those words of that "atheist" who had offered such tender spiritual guidance:

Live your life! Live your life! Live your life!

When I come to the end of my days I want to be able to say, "I am a happy old man."