One of the many blessings which come from saying the daily office at the Cathedral with my colleagues at 8:30 and 5:00 every day is that we wade into, and are washed over, by the psalms. Two thirds of them are deep laments and one third are praise psalms. At the monastery the praise psalms were sung in the morning and the lament psalms in the noon, evening and night services. But at the cathedral we simply work our way through the psalms in a month rather than in a week and so the two different kinds of psalms sneak up one one like when we were kids and one never knew which scoop of the cereal would present the small, plastic toy or which little ceramic animal would be found in the tea box.
The psalms are honest. They betray the very human reality that life can be hard; and that we humans live with a constant hum in our lives of fear, the way a lightbulb in a room – or a fan – might present a low, nearly inaudible background hum, recognizable only when it stops in a power outage.
Today I meet my team of neurosurgeons to figure out what to do with my skull.
The fan of fear in the background of my life rises to the forefront and takes a bow like the first chair violin taking a bow after a concert in which the violin had been only one sound among many. When fear arises in me, I notice the quality of it. Is the fear physical, existential, spiritual, emotional? Its is about the loss of something I want or encounter with something I do not want? Is it a threat from outside me or is it simply (as is so often the case) a threat which my mind has worked up into a tornado from the breeze in which it was first presented?
This morning I breakfasted on these plums picked last night before the sun set – warm from the sun’s love. The blushes of blue and green set against one of my favorite red glaze recipes from northern china – the famous “chun red” – calms and delights me the way taste used to. The tea soothes my throat. The candle reminds me of the many people who pray with me. The dog sighs just loud enough to sound the alarm of peace. The planet seems to conspire to respond to my fears by saying that though all may be hard (or easy) all shall also be well at the same time.
My teachers are trying so hard to teach me that living in a world without any suffering would not be good for the human race or at least, would not be good for me. We seem to grow inside with the suffering we encounter, as long as we have the tools to stay in the present moment, along with the psalmists, and simply tell God, honestly, what we think – what we long for – what we consider outrageous and egregious – what would delight us.
God is not Santa. But God is not absent either. And if I can really and truly see the plum in my hand and taste at least its golden yellow and its blueish skin with my eyes, then beauty alone has the power to remind me that God has made this place and this life good. No matter what we make of it.