Thursday, December 1, 2016

daily ritual I should call prayer

with a perfect reason, often a sweetness
has come
and changed nothing in the world

except the way I stumbled through it
--Stephen Dunn, Sweetness

We ought to approach prayer the same way we approach art museums.

There is too much to be said in prayer to say it all.
There is too much art in the museum to see it all (at least today).

We walk into the Gallery 127, looking for the Seurat everyone is making a fuss about. But a small Monet catches our eye.

Monet, with his sunlight, is telling us something about the sun. It is beautiful. He is speaking in a code we know, but we only know because we, too, have seen the beauty and we imagine it. He is revealing the sunlight in globs of paint, stuck inelegantly in the corner of the canvas.

With a magic code hidden in our eyes, we capture the message that Monet has encrypted in his gauche oils. The joyful globs of paint become sunlight. We now it is so, because we too have seen this vision of the sun: a specific sun we have seen peep through stormy banks of clouds on a gloomy day.

Just like Paul, Monet revealed the light, brought to light an inscrutable mystery, but in oils instead of ink.

If we were so intent on reaching the Seurat, which everyone tells us ought to be our destination, we would miss out on the Monet's small revelation.

We must stop and look at the painters who are shedding light today. We follow the small shards of beauty that catch our eye, stay with them as long as they enchant us, and continue on as our eyes begin to weary.

We'll stop by them again on the way out, and next time on our way in, and that small painting will take new meaning with each new visit, its daubs of paint a dappled beauty for eternal pondering.


We ought to approach prayer like a deconstructed latte. (Postmodernism's a hungry beast folks, there is nothing safe from her deconstructing powers.) Deconstructed lattes are a trendy new phenomenon in the coffee world, that I once discovered in a posh East Village coffee nook. Led there by Instagram and my fashion forward friend, I was witness to a ritual of coffee nearing the liturgical.

The barista presented us with a neat wooden board holding three small espresso glasses: one containing a shot of espresso,  one a small bit of "not quite raw" milk, and the third the two elements combined in an actual latte. The underlying logic behind this is that when you taste the two ingredients separately at first, you can better distinguish their unique tastes in the latte. You train your senses to look for these two tastes, and your discipline results in a fuller enjoyment of subtle differences in flavor usually glossed over.

When you begin your day with prayer, in the silent peace that radiates from the morning sun, you can better pause to find that peace in the chaos of the day. When you begin your day resting in the quiet embrace of God, it is easier, throughout the day, to taste the undercurrents of peace that run through the tangled events of life. In the morning's exercise of quiet, you have primed your senses to taste grace, and you can find its melody in the synesthetic symphony of the hustle-bustle of the everyday.

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