I’m always perplexed when I see people at concerts trying to film the experience. What we can capture on our phones won’t look or sound all that great – certainly not as great as the recorded version or professional photos we could look up later. Really, the purpose of being at a concert is just that: being there. Feeling the music vibrate through you, being among the crowd of fans, enjoying proximity to someone whose talent you admire. None of what is great about a concert can be captured by our devices. In fact, trying to do so actually places distance between us and the experience we seek to capture.
I feel this way in so much of my life. When I stumble across the good, the true, and the beautiful, I want to hold onto it, to make it stay forever. I move almost reflexively from the encounter to plotting to make it permanent. God drips goodness on me, saturating my life with grace, and rather than marinating in those moments, I miss them because I am already asking for more.
This happens often with my children. They do something that melts my heart like peek-a-boo at bedtime or spontaneous kisses, and I scarcely have time to appreciate the moment before I am struck by the reality of how quickly time passes. I try to soak these moments in, and yet I find myself preoccupied with the bitter-sweetness of it all. The beauty and the intensity of my love for them is overshadowed by my sadness at the brevity of childhood. Just be, I remind myself, or the moment will be gone.
When the Israelites journeyed through Egypt to the Promised Land, God gave them manna every morning. A bread-like substance covered the ground, and he instructed the Israelites to gather only what was needed for the day; anything above that would spoil. Every day, he fed them. For forty years, they learned to depend on God anew each day.
On this journey you and I walk together, our pilgrimage from here to Home, God offers us this daily bread in the form of moments, the sustenance that makes life worth living. Thomas Merton called these moments seeds of contemplation; always before us is an invitation to enter this life more deeply, to see in this moment, this task, this person before us, the ways in which God is loving us and calling us to love.
The noise of our lives often drowns out these quiet invitations. We become swept up by the pace of our culture, or, exhausted, we check out entirely, mindlessly embracing distractions that numb rather than fill us. We forget to embrace the reality before us. We miss the manna. Or, we do recognize it, but fall prey to the opposite temptation. Starving for meaning, we attempt to make the moment last forever – to have our bread and eat it, too.
Of course, I want to store up every ounce of the goodness of life and relish it all – my children’s smiles, laughter in conversation with a friend, the rare glimpse of a hummingbird at rest. But moments can’t be hoarded. Like the bread from Heaven, they go stale when we try to store them up. They aren’t meant to last; they serve to awaken our longing for the eternal, drawing us beyond ourselves. They point to something more, to the transcendent Love that patiently awaits our attention.
At the Transfiguration, Jesus allows the disciples a glimpse of his divinity. In awe, Peter has the impulse to build, to make a permanent place for the experience. We want permanence. God offers us something greater. He offers us another day. He asks us to trust that he will again fill us. So often we make the mistake of relegating the spiritual to something otherworldly, and our focus on transcendence eclipses the reality that God is closer to us than we are to ourselves. The spiritual cannot be separated from the everyday. God is in all because God sustains all.
We meet Our Father in prayer, arms outstretched, asking for our daily bread. He answers us, offering something new every morning. Let’s not forget to taste it.
Copyright 2020 Samantha Stephenson