Gratefully Astonished

Pay attention. Be astonished. And tell about it. We’re soaked in distractions. The world didn’t have to be beautiful. We can and should think about that beauty and be grateful. — Mary Oliver

I came across this quote when reading a blog post by Brandon Hook yesterday. Brandon was fortunate enough to attend an event where both Mary Oliver and Billy Collins, two of my favorite poets, spoke. (Lucky you, Brandon!)

Brandon’s reflection and Mary Oliver’s words reminded me of how grateful I am for those precious and brief instances when time seems to pause and a flickering window of awareness opens before me. You’ve no doubt experienced similar moments. It might be that instant when you hear the song of birds overpowering the roar of traffic. Maybe such moments come in the silence of freshly falling snow, when the world is still and peaceful, blanketed in hope. Perhaps such bliss fills your heart while watching the delight of children at play, noticing that for them time has little meaning. Children live fully and joyously in the present moment until we teach them otherwise.

The most recent awakening to life came this week when we lost power during Superstorm Sandy. We were lucky; our electric was only off for 24 hours, while others in our area were looking at up to a week of outage. We had a camp stove, oil lamps, a french press for coffee, and a big industrial eight-burner gas stove at our disposal right next door. It was a minor inconvenience, for we were safe and comfortable. But I was astonished by the silence and by the ceasing of constant waves of information streaming in via the Internet and radio.

There was no hum of refrigerator or clank and whistle of the radiator pipes. Traffic noise outside our front windows was nonexistent. Our cell phones were powered off to conserve battery life. The only sound was the natural noise of a relentless wind as the western edge of the hurricane passed over us. In the eye of the storm all was quiet, and I was astonished afresh at how much is lost in the hustle, bustle, and frenzied scurrying of our modern life.

We played Scrabble by lamp light. We slept late under think blankets. We relished the hot coffee that was a result of the combined effort of camp stove and press. We cooked a big meal to use up what would spoil in the refrigerator, inviting friends to join us. Mostly we gave thanks for the many gifts we take for granted, and we prayed for those upon whom Sandy visited stunning devastation.

Not all is beautiful, but there are hints of beauty to be found in all of life. I continue to be astonished at the beauty of so many people helping one another, of neighbors reaching out to neighbors, of strangers helping strangers, and of emergency responders doing their work with dignity and strength. Countless moments of grace and light are everywhere.

We must, you and I, pay attention. We must treasure this lovely, fragile creation and one another. We must be astonished by the small glints of beauty and kindness, the nanoseconds of hope and grace that fill our days. And, oh how we must learn to be grateful for it all! Give thanks for those who tell and point the way–for the poets and prophets and the everyday saints. May it be so. May this beautiful life be so.

Photos by sblezard, david_shankbone, and Paul Lowry. Thanks!


6 thoughts on “Gratefully Astonished

  1. I remember so vividly when living in Meridian ,MS years ago, we had friends visiting from Kentucky. We were giving them a tour of our new house,chatting and laughing. Our little three year old suddenly chirped up with, ” please, lets go back in the den where we can get some peace and quiet!” I’m reminded of the Scripture that says, “Be still and know that I am God!”

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