I don’t remember where I read it, but that’s how a monk described his daily experience of faith as he was living in a monastic community. We fall over…and we get back up again. I like the idea that people who are living their lives dedicated to prayer and the disciplines of community also find themselves tripping up and doggedly returning to the journey because it helps me feel like I’m in good company when I stumble, and it gives me a model of disciplined obstinacy that is inspiring.
I also like it because it doesn’t matter if I’m stumbling into wakefulness and presence, or if I’m stumbling out of it…either way the next move is always the same.
And lastly I like it because, when I was young, my mum had a rock tumbler which she used to smooth and polish stones we collected from Chesil Beach when on holiday in Dorset. The rocks went into the tumbler drum along with a smoothing compound, and they tumbled constantly for hours – days. Then they went in with a polishing compound and they tumbled for more days. It felt like weeks would pass with the rumbling tumbler going in the background before the stones came out smooth and shiny, looking like they had just been washed up by the last wave. None of the stones were precious by any standards except that we had seen beauty in them and snatched them from the rolling hiss of the retreating wave before the next one had a chance to roar in and rearrange everything.
For some time this has been my image of community. The rough edges of the stones being eased away by tumbling into each other with a smoothing compound – the grace of Christ – to help the process along.
The stones don’t have a choice about it. They crash into each other, relentlessly knocking about and although it seems pointless, eventually there is discernible progress. We do have a choice – we seem to be able to crash into each other and not allow the grace of Christ to smooth those bumps or ease into the cracks.
We can crash about and make no progress. Or we can crash about and learn deep compassion and humility. We can even learn to welcome the tripping up as a vehicle for grace although it isn’t until you look back that you can see despite (or because of?) all that falling over, you’ve made progress.
So, on the quotidian pilgrimage – where there is plenty of falling over, crashing into other people in apparently pointlessly painful ways then getting up again and repeating the whole thing – what does it look like to welcome the one who/thing that makes you stumble?
You are familiar, I’m sure, with the story of Mary and Martha, and their embarrassingly public sibling spat. This time, have a read of it with your own daily routine in mind and with the falling over and getting up again/crashing into others in the presence of Christ perspective.
Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying.
But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, ‘Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.’
But the Lord answered her, ‘Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.’Luke 10: 38-42 NRSVA
Take some time to reflect on these questions:
Who are the people you are most often envious of?
Who are the ones you are frustrated by?
Who are the ones you most often complain to?
What do you most often complain about?
What is it, do you think, that you are really tripping over?
What positive change may be effected simply through your awareness, your returning to grace and choosing to get back up again?
You might need to think back over more than the last week, and honestly review the intention of conversations you’ve had…
Pause with a poem
What Martha KnewMarilyn Chandler McEntyre
Busy about many things, she knew how
to cope with others’ agendas
and take the days’ tradeoffs in stride.
She knew that, unlike her sister,
she was not likely to sit quietly
and listen before the work was done.
But she listened. She heard
his voice as she stirred
the pot, and paused, and wept.
She knew that if he had been there
her brother would not have died.
Even when he rebuked her, her heart
opened and her breath
slowed. So she was content
when he finally blessed the warm bread
and gave thanks for the work
of women who know how to welcome
God himself in the midst of things.
Father Thomas Keating wrote: “Daily life is practice number 1 for a Christian, but it can cease to be a practice without the discipline of contemplative [Centering] prayer.”
How does the poem speak into your daily life as practice number 1? Who blesses your work and recognises your efforts. How do they do this and how do you receive it?
How might you offer a rebuke as a call to awaken?
How might you receive a rebuke as a reminder to get back up again?
You may want to write out the poem in your journal, or stick it on your kitchen cabinet/ by your computer screen so that you can return to it during the day and over the week.
The body holds and remembers truths that the mind cannot always keep in focus, and a practice that involves movement or consciously taking up a posture allows for truth to sink into our bones, realigning us with the deep ground of our being which tells us everything is gift, everything is holy and everything offers us the opportunity to wake up to this.
Think outside the box for this: If your habit is to close your eyes and sit inside to pray, what about taking yourself outside, walk, look, listen, feel and let this become prayer within you.
Or choose a practice like mindful eating (you might want to pick just one thing to eat each day with full awareness, gratitude and appreciation);
mindful opening and closing doors (attending to the movement, the sound, the moment of transition from one space to another);
mindful washing up (bringing energy and intention to daily tasks moves them from maintenance to taking care of things and connecting with the grace which eases into the cracks and smooths out the jags);
mindful folding laundry (same thing, just with lint instead of water).
A place for wailing
The temple in Jerusalem was destroyed in 70 CE. All that remains is this wall.
Things fall over. Plans do not bear fruit. Hopes are dashed and effort goes to waste. Sometimes we just need to get up again and recognise that what has fallen over was only ever a castle in the air.
Sometimes part of getting up again is recognising the pain of falling over. Sometimes we need to spend some time wailing for what is lost, acknowledging the hurt we have done or that has been done to us. This is being awake to the pain and suffering in life – our own and others’.
Spend some time reflecting on the experiences in your life where there has been real pain from falling over, from crashing into another. How might you wail over this? How might you welcome the grace of Christ into the space between you and the other?
Just for this week, pick a spot to visit each day to remember and touch into the sting from the grazes on your heart.
You might want to make an offering as a symbol of your desire to heal, of your receiving or offering forgiveness – that could mean lighting a candle, writing a prayer, putting a flower in a vase, finding a stone to make a pile.
Or it might mean making a physical gesture such as kneeling on the floor for a moment or two, bowing your head, making the sign of the cross.
Or you may find some other response rising in you that feels right.