Monday, February 18, 2013

The Fountain (the "sidewise glance")

And in that instant I understood that if I were to pay attention to the spaces between and just behind the things I thought I needed to look at, there was no limit to what I might witness . . .  It's not just the genius or the personal friend of [God] who can be privy to great visions. Sometimes all it takes is looking just to the side of the obvious. . . . beauty and epiphany bide their time in the sidewise glance.          - Trebbe Johnson in "Where's the Temple"


Before my children came along and life turned topsy-turvy, I spent a year training as a Chaplain through a residency at a large regional hospital.  Several times a month my fellow residents and I worked grueling on-call shifts, covering the long, dark hours from 4 pm until 8 am the following day.   
After a long night on-call the last thing I wanted to do was fill the chapel fountain, but there was no avoiding it - it had to be done.  If we didn’t fil the fountain, the pump would blow, again, and the Pastoral Care Department Budget couldn’t handle any more pumps, at least that’s what the Department Head said.  So, on my way to brush my teeth in the women’s room and freshen for the day ahead, or after a rousing middle of the night emergency in the trauma department, I would turn into the small chapel that seemed strangely spooky in the dark quiet of the hospital’s off-hours. 
The fountain sat, bubbling, in the middle of the small gray space.  The room, constructed it seemed, of great slabs of gray stone, resembled a tomb and I didn’t relish venturing into its dimly lit cave.  Moving quickly I headed to the Islamic prayer corner, stepped gingerly over the prayer mat and opened the door to a hidden room that housed, among other things, an organ and a white plastic bucket. 
Grabbing the bucket ,I headed to the women’s room just down the hall where I would fill it in the public sinks.  The sinks, of course, were equipped with automatic shut-offs and were too shallow to hold the bucket, so I had to fill and dump, fill and dump with a secondary Styrofoam vessel poached from the cafeteria while battling to keep the water on.  My twin boys who play “fill and dump” endlessly in the bathtub would’ve love the job, but I and my fellow chaplains were less enthused. 
Walking in quick little steps I would gingerly carry the full bucket back down the hall trying not to slosh and spill, then into the chapel where I dumped it into the little bubbling square.  Then, if I were really doing the job well, I would repeat the whole process.  We were really supposed to do two buckets a night, but on the nights when I felt with certainty that five more minutes spent filling and dumping would prove to be the end of me, I got by with one. 
Often, someone forgot to fill the fountain.  Often, we complained.  And often, we suggested with no little amount of indignation, that the job was beneath us and should be added to the long list of tasks performed by the maintenance department. 
One day, though, as we were cycling through yet another stream of indignation and discontent, our department head spoke up.  While I don’t remember his exact words, he said, in his typical calm, quite manner, something to the effect of, “You know, this comes up every year.  Every new group of residents wants to get out of filling the fountain.” 
Then that old gray-beard added, “I always like to think of filling the fountain as a symbol of how we care for the spiritual health of the hospital.  We are bringing living water to the people here and when we don’t bring it, things run dry.”      
Well then. 
It takes a certain kind of vision, doesn’t it, to recognize the potential for the mundane tasks of daily life to be transformed into prayer, into a window – a threshold – for the holy.  This, I believe, is how Jesus saw the world.  This is why Jesus could watch a woman sweeping or a hen gathering or a farmer sowing and see beyond flesh and blood to the image of God made manifest, glimpses of the holy truths that undergird the warp and weave of our flesh and blood world. 
For me to be a follower of Christ is to make this transformation too, to allow for daily incarnation, to seek it even, in the smallest and simplest moments of my day.  To me, this is why Lent matters, this season in which our outward practices become a reflection of our growing spiritual freedom, this season in which we attempt to “bear about in our bodies” in some new way, the life and death and resurrection of Jesus (2 Cor 4:10).    

During Lent we affirm, as a community, that even our most earthly desires -  our growling stomachs, our sugar-craving appetites - might open in us a doorway into the presence of the Living God.

If you enjoyed this post, you might also like Baskets of Leftovers.
This post is shared with Playdates With God and Hear it on Sunday, Use it on Monday.

4 comments:

  1. Isn't it amazing how changing our perspective about a mundane job like filling the fountain can be shifted when we focus on the truth it represents. I feel like that's true not just of lent but of all areas of life. You've encouraged me in an area that I've grown weary in and I'm certain this "new perspective" will lighten my load. :)

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    1. Thanks, Beth. To me, there's so much grace in the way God is so constantly present. I need this SO much as a stay-at-home mom to four. God continually finds me in boardbooks, laundry piles, little faces and so many other litte-big ways. The contempative spirit really is a gift that can lighten all things. Peace to you!

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  2. Daily incarnation in the simplest moments of our day. Yes! That's what I crave...

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  3. Daily incarnation. Beautiful, Kelly. Chewing on this.What a beautiful way of seeing that old gray-beard had.

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