Canon Wade: “The Considered Life”
My friend was your average graduate student—in debt, with four part-time jobs, and a pile of unread books on her night table. She wanted to see God, but she was so busy studying theology that she never took her eyes off of her books long enough to catch a glimpse.
Hers was the problem we all face: we yearn for an experience of God’s transforming presence, because without this it is hard to live a life of gratitude. We know this feeling when life becomes too hectic; so beset with worries about tomorrow, we are unable to give thanks for today. Instead of life moving out in an ever-widening circle of praise and gratitude, life closes in and we collapse in bed at night experiencing God’s absence, or our separation.
One day, I opened the mailbox to find a card from my friend. It read, “I saw God writing poetry on the sky.” The card was postmarked from a town called Tromso, which is north of the Arctic Circle in Norway. Close to midnight, standing beside reindeers and a frozen lake, her feet upheld by packed snow, she saw the aurora—swirls of green and red that spanned the entire breadth of the sky and blanketed the stars. She couldn’t take her eyes off it, this mystical wonder. The aurora is formed by solar wind particles colliding with particles in the earth’s atmosphere. The colliding particles, like a celestial game of bumper cars, make light flick across the heavens.
The experience re-energized her, and after that, she began to discover God other places as well: in her books, in her four part-time jobs, in volunteering at a shelter and in the thanksgiving she gave for good friends and family. It was a gratitude she shared, because she knew that sharing it was contagious.
Now we don’t need to travel so far to see God’s writing in our lives. But we need to set aside the time for contemplation. “Consider the lilies of the field,” Jesus says.
The word “consider” in Greek means to study thoroughly. It is a wonderfully contemplative word. The word consider also comes to us from the Latin considerare, which is even more luscious—it literally means, “with the stars.”
When we take a moment to consider, contemplation lets us see the constellations—encrypted data from God deciphered by way of creation.
And such contemplation lets us see, in the twinkle of an eye, the stars shooting prayers back to God. As they shimmer in the heavens they create their own visual thank you notes papered across the sky. It becomes a starting point for how we live a life of thanks.
“Consider the lilies,” says Jesus. Because the lilies of the field exemplify what it means to live a life of consideration. While we’re driving to work—polluting the atmosphere with our cars—the lilies look up to the heavens. They are, quite appropriately, star gazers. Look at how they stand with arms outreached to God in thanksgiving, and their very fragrance reaching out in service of neighbor.
While we cook dinner, they continue to look. When we collapse into bed tonight, they look still. They know that God writes to us in a sunrise, a sunset, or an aurora, and the writing on the sky teaches us far deeper lessons about the Word itself. We’re the ones who are just too distracted to notice. But if we only considered, imagine what we would see all sorts of auroras, all manner of particles colliding on earth—some connecting in a glow of arabesque beauty while others simply crash and burn.
The two hurricanes that smashed into the Gulf Coast, exposed poverty, poor health care, inadequate education and human suffering. On a recent house rebuilding mission in New Orleans, I saw how the hurricanes exposed the ways in which our bodies had collided and seemingly fractured; the levies broke and with them our systems of communication and crisis relief.
Yet if the hurricanes revealed the ways in which we as a nation failed to consider one another, they also exposed our calling—to be one body, as a community with each other and the earth, to witness and respond to all creation groaning in travail waiting for its redemption from our abuse. If we live into our calling, we begin to see all things constellated by God, and we recognize our call to re-organize, to collide in a way that unites rather than one that fractures.
“See ye first the kingdom of God and its righteousness,” Jesus says. When we consider God’s creation, we see the particles of our world moving like a wave undulating on the surface of the water, rather than colliding—we witness our interconnectedness and the love God has for all of it. If we take a moment to consider, God’s love writ large in creation is seared upon the retina of our soul. A love, we in turn, magnify in the world in ever-widening circles of thanks and praise.
In living a life that makes space for contemplation, we recognize the unimpeachable uniqueness of everyone and everything and stand beside the lilies of the field, gazing upon the aurora and seeing the particles of our lives connecting and colliding in radical face to face encounter with God. And we, like the lilies, will give thanks. And like the lilies, there we stand with arms at full stretch toward God in the thanks and praise and reach out in gratitude and service to neighbor.