Day 23 – Meander Mount Pleasant

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I left my old job on Thursday. So Friday I was free to wander the city. Have you ever had one of those days? I left the house with no real plan or destination, so I meandered the sidewalks of DC.

I started with lunch at 2:30. Pizza. Delicious. It was fun to idle time in the restaurant, picking up random conversations among other day-time loafers. I thought of my former coworkers at their desks. I missed them, but I did not miss going to work.

After lunch I picked up books on hold at the library. The Mt. Pleasant branch is a striking classical building, whose entrance is tucked away on the side. You go up what feels like a secret staircase to an interior door.

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From the library it was natural to walk a few blocks over to Mt. Pleasant Road. I ambled down the main strip toward 16th Street and then continued south along 17th Street. I stopped to take pictures of odd signs or interesting windows, whatever caught my eye or invited me to linger.

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I noticed several expressions of devotion, besides churches. There was a framed picture of the Virgin Mary stacked on a market shelf with a coffee pot and cheese grater. Outside a senior center I saw a sculpture of a person with arms raised in resurrection-like celebration. The Potters House looked closed, but its painted candle still burns alongside the stencil quote from the Bible.

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I forget how saturated a “secular” city can be with signs of faith. Most of my friends are not religious, which is probably true for most Washingtonians. Do those signs and statues offend them, or do they overlook them like I often do? I wonder what token or expression of spirituality would cause my friends to notice and be moved. I don’t mean converted or convinced. I just mean a positive impression, like making them smile or think or feel love. Maybe some image or thought would stick with somebody long enough to earn a place in their mental curio cabinet.

Then I think, Jesus Jeremy, you’re the expression of devotion. It’s your words or actions, small but interesting, that catch someone’s eye and invite them to linger. What inside me is as beautiful or quizzical as that storefront sign? I’ve been exploring the city, but here is an invitation to search within.

 

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Day 21 – Drink Beer, Talk Art, Get Serious

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I went to the Bier Baron Wednesday night to check out a drinking and discussion group. The special was a burger and beer for $10. The topic was art and how you learn to see. (Nice surprise to run into my friend Catherine.)

A local artist walked us through slides of art, describing how to see what they are about, how we process our reactions, and what this tells us about seeing things in daily life.

She drew particular attention to images of suffering–sketches of the homeless, photos from the Depression, images from 9/11. “Do you see these images or people,” she asked, “or do you look away?” Nothing goes well with beer like a robust conversation about pain. But something struck a chord with the twenty of us.

After the presentation several peopled mentioned that images of suffering linger in their mind more than sunsets or flowers. Others said suffering spurred them to action, while others said it caused discomfort. I wondered how being Christian shapes looking at suffering, since the cross is a key symbol of that faith. How you deal with pain, particularly when little or nothing can be done about it, is a big life question for those willing to ask it.

I am aware that my mind is full of vivid images of suffering. I lost a job unjustly. I held the hands of both parents, and two grandparents, as they died. For one, I was alone. I was mugged, beaten, and left bloodied in the street. Plans for a new career were put on hold, and questioned if they would ever happen.

I have much to learn about how to look at these experiences. One thing I have learned so far is that sometimes the only victory is not running away.

Stay. Sit. Hold the hand of a dying loved one so that they are not alone. Stare down the darkness and imagine a flicker of light. Look at the pain; don’t turn away. This too is true, though not the whole truth. Accept the hurt as a bleak sacrament that is itself and a mysterious opening to something truer and more real.

I can open my eyes to suffering because there’s more to see than the pain. What I am willing to see may break my heart, but I am convinced it will also break my heart open. There is more to receive, more to see, more to become, for those with eyes to see.

“The hearing ear and the seeing eye—the Lord has made them both.”

Proverbs 20:12

“Do you have eyes, and fail to see? Do you have ears, and fail to hear?”

Mark 8:18

Day 17 – Struggle

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The novelty has warn off. The the 30 day challenge has turned challenging.

The search for new things is work. Some days are routine, some events average, and some feelings not worth reporting. Can’t I let this flower be a flower and not a gateway to enlightenment?

What’s more, the act of writing can create, even fabricate, a structure to the experience. Just knowing I will write about my day, changes the way I act or think. I look more intently. I stretch to find new angles. I sift every moment for a nugget of grace worth sharing. But what if I turn up nothing but dirt?

Christianity has this idea called sacrament. Basically, ordinary things like dirt or flowers are both themselves and ways to experience something deeper, truer, or more beautiful and profound. There’s a trick though. The beauty is hidden within the ordinariness, like a secret whisper you have to lean closely to hear. For those who are willing and open, you may encounter something real in the flower, which can change you in lasting, imperceptible ways.

Several years ago I hiked across the Pyrenees mountains. The first day was magical. I saw wild horses roaming the ridge, I stared down plunging views to valleys below, and I was awed by endless sky full of massive clouds. But what changed me was a clump of grass. I was sitting on my backpack taking a break, when out of the corner of my eye a tiny patch of earth seemed to radiate light. I leaned closer to see a single drop of dew nested in the center reflecting the sun, like a hidden diadem. I was captured by this tiny bead of fire just waiting to be discovered.

For me, that drop of water was a sacrament. Of course, not every moment of the trip was as weighty or momentous. But I did start looking differently in order to see more.

I suppose that is what I’m doing on this 30 day challenge, trying to see more, letting different experiences throw me off kilter so I can catch sight of the beauty hidden in the dirt. Not every moment deserves a blog post. But every moment is worthy of the disciplined work it takes to see, to reflect, and to be open to what might be God hidden in plain sight.

 

 

Day 2 – Long Walk Home

As we go about the world, everything we meet and everything we see and hear and touch, far from defiling, purifies us and plants in us something more of contemplation and of heaven.

Thomas Merton

 

I walked home from work today. A three hour stroll along unknown streets. I ambled across the Capitol lawn, snaked up through Noma, and wandered around Eckington, Bloomingdale, and Shaw.

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No rush. No map. Just seeing, hearing, and touching everything that I could.

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I listened to my body, resting when tired, snacking when hungry, changing into sneakers when dress shoes began to pinch. And now I am home. No deep meditation or forced reflection. Just gratitude and wonder.

I wonder how the path walked me, shaped me in ways I don’t yet know, purified me from the expectation for anything more than the gift of a long walk home.

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