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Eating Bread Religiously: Living in the Moment

 “Earth is crammed with heaven,and every common bush afire with God…”-E.B. Browning  For the Porter family, Friday nights have become synonymous with dining at Nicola’s Kitchen, a friendly little neighborhood restaurant that our kids love.  They love being recognized by the waitresses, they love the familiar surroundings, and they love the bread.  Nicola’s makes this warm rosemary bread, and serves it as a wonderful appetizer.  John Michael, in particular, likes it and for him it is the dinner.  On one occasion, a family friend joined us for this Friday night meal and was soon enthralled with the way John- John was eating his bread;  gently, lovingly, and with great joy.  “Look at how into the bread he is;  it’s like a religious experience for him.”  If we had only observed John Michael in this state of reverie while eating at Nicola’s we could easily explain it as him enjoying his favorite food, end of story.  But we see John Michael enraptured by simple things all the time, certainly enough to say that this is one of his gifts.  He has a remarkable ability to live fully in the moment, a moment most of us miss in our rush to get on with the important issues of life.  And in these given moments, filled with simple things, he is able to identify and accept the gifts God offers there. This all occurs in the course of everyday activities because God wants us to see, and hear, and understand in a certain way.  He wants us to value what the powers of this world have deemed insignificant and small.  These blessed moments carry glimpses into eternity…of peace, love, communion, and everlasting happiness…and remind us of how close Heaven is to us all the time.  They appear in many different contexts because God likes variety.  Time of day or night is irrelevant because they come from outside time.  Location is inconsequential as well because all of His created world is sacred.  God is always reaching out to us, calling to us, showing us His reality.  We are all sent these moments, kairos moments, moments that are not measured chronologically because they cannot be measured at all.  How can one quantify things of the Spirit?  These moments, and what they bring, ultimately escape words.  One can talk about the felt experience, but descriptions fall short in the end.  Mystics and poets would agree.  In a world that lives too often for the moment, with a grabbing-and-hoarding orientation, John Michael’s gift of receptivity in the moment stands out.  Heaven has begun on earth for him.  Antoine de Saint-Exupery, in The Little Prince, wrote, “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly;  what is essential is invisible to the eye.”  While those of us who are not special needs (in medical terms, anyway) see with our eyes, John Michael sees with his heart.  He has an intuitive knowing about what is essential in life, and is not distracted by the things that God has not deemed truly important.  Recently, a friend was sharing with me his deep concerns about whether his son would be accepted at his alma mater YaleUniversity.  As I listened, I found myself thinking about all the issues I’m anxious about:  ‘Is this person upset with me?’  ‘Did the audience truly like my speech or were they just being polite?’  ‘How will I afford college tuitions for my children?’  ‘Will the Stock market rebound?’  These concerns matter on some level, but are they really worth the amount of time and energy I give them?  It can be easy to shrug off what others might consider anxiety provoking, but consider for a moment what the anxieties are in your life…the concerns that jerk you out of the present moment and either throw you back into the past, or catapult you into the future?  Jesus promised that God would care for all the needs of His children.  How much do we believe this?  How differently would we live if we really believed it deep down in the depths of our souls?  And I wonder about John Michael, who will not be applying to YaleUniversity, does not worry about whether someone is saying nice things about him, will not need to pay for his children’s college tuitions, and doesn’t even know what the Stock Market is.  What, if anything, is he anxious about?  He doesn’t have the vocabulary to tell me explicitly, but his behavior tells me that anxiety is not a burden for him.  True, his medical diagnosis places him in a different category than you and me.  But if we believe what our faith tells us, we don’t have to be Down Syndrome to live as freely as my son does.  John John’s secret lies in his commitment to living in the moment, and enjoying the simple things God gives him there.  I can almost hear the echo of St. Paul writing to the Church at Philippi from his dark, dank prison cell in Rome, while he waited for his certain execution:  “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances…”  John Michael enjoys ecstatic moments over more than bread;  a gentle breeze caressing his face, bright lights on a Christmas tree, a grape flavored popsicle, dappled sunlight kissing him through a canopy of trees, a prayer being recited in church, and raindrops dancing around him in the garden.  His eyes may widen or close, he may sit silently and motionless, head titled slightly back, or jump up and down in place, giggling and waving his hands in joy.  He has many more facial expressions than words, but during these times he’ll occasionally say, “God power,” or “beautiful”, or “church people.”   I so wish I could see what he sees, know what he knows.  My son seems to be taken into a world of wonder, through a portal I can’t recognize until he’s through it.  I feel like I’m a step behind him because I’m moving too fast.  He’s with me, but not.  Then, he’s back and the moment is gone.  There is no short-cut technique that could force open the door;  his entry ticket is his way of being.  He just is…and these moments come with remarkable regularity for him.  I wonder if they come for all of us and we just aren’t paying enough attention.How different would our lives be if we lived with sensitivity, and openness, and respect for the simple things?  What if we weren’t so busy;  busy being productive but not fruitful;  important but not meaningful;  pious but not holy;  successful but not faithful;  knowledgeable but not wise.  Would heart attacks and cancer be such epidemics?  Would we constantly be on the brink of war, as individuals and as a nation?  Would people still be dying of starvation in our own cities?  Would the earth be so polluted?  Jesus said that the Kingdom of God belongs to the children.  Being humble and poor in spirit, in awe of God’s goodness and aware of our dependence on Him;  this is a start.  There is so much to attend to, but how much of it is eternally significant…and how much do we miss?  I think the holy often wears the ordinary as a disguise. God comes to us in and through the natural world.  He is the God that guides with a pillar of cloud by day, and a column of fire by night.  He is the God of the burning bush and the rushing wind.  He leaves His fingerprints on sunrises and sunsets, points the way with a star, chooses birth in a stable, baptizes with water, heals with mud, and gives Himself to us in bread and wine.  Why, then, should it come as any surprise that He would use a Down Syndrome boy who experiences a taste of Paradise in rosemary bread to teach a seminary graduate about the deeper issues of life and faith?  Lord God, help me to value the simple things, and thus meet You in them…and thank You again for my son.

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