A couple of years ago, I stood at the airport car rental counter to pick up my reservation. “Good news,” the agent told me. “We’re going to upgrade you!”
I tried to work up some appropriate gratitude. “Okay, thanks.”
“Your upgraded vehicle will be…” he announced, his keyboard taps providing the drum roll, “a Ford Fiesta!”
Now, there’s nothing wrong with a Ford Fiesta. I got along just fine with my rented Ford Fiesta. But in my mind, rental car upgrades usually mean bigger, more powerful, and more luxurious in some way–a sports car or an SUV, something leather-lined and shiny and muscular. The car I was given was, well, none of those. I mashed the gas pedal and it lurched and wheezed asthmatically. The tailpipe gave off a menacing rattle. What exactly was I being upgraded from? Whatever it was, I did my best to receive this little gift.
I’m convinced we have to learn to write the little gifts that come to us. To write christianly is to pay attention to the working of the Spirit in our lives. Because writing is hard, we can think this means writing only the epiphanies and big insights. But most epiphanies dawn slowly. Waiting around to write until we have something big to say is like waiting for lightning to strike. People who are waiting to write aren’t usually writers.
Instead, try writing the little things. What you see: the hooded seeds of the box elder, that hen’s foot scaled in slate, the single blade of grass that curls around your damp hand as you weed in the dew. Write what you experience: breath, heart, passion as fierce as the grave, but sometimes too that dull waiting, that blunt force pushing through days like ice. Write these things, because as contemplative master Thomas Keating put it, “Daily life is a continual and increasing revelation of God” (Open Mind, Open Heart, 18). The little gifts are pinholes on eternity.
In one way, sin is a failure of imagination. Because of sin, we become flaccid observers. Our days bore us. The moments dull our eyes. There’s nothing to see here, or so we think, and so we shuffle along. Grace offers a flicker of possibilities opposite and good and beautiful. It cracks our eyes open to the giftedness of the littlest things. That’s what we have to learn to begin to write. Tell a little story.
Let me tell you a little story. Something has been crunching and shifting my spine in the night. Some unconscious worry, maybe, set loose in the vulnerability of sleep? It comes in like an evil elf anti-chiropractor and works me over. It shuffles my vertebrae like a deck of ivory cards. It wads my spine like tie-dye, rubberbands me into a clump. I wake up tight and popping, sleep wringing out of my brain in fractal patterns with too much white space.
But I know something else is afoot. It’s that child, that two-year-old son of mine who comes by night, camouflaged by shadow, and helps himself to our bed. It’s he who kickboxes my kidneys and levers my spine with his elbow. He’s the same one I push by day on his tricycle, stooped for blocks in a forbidden yogic pose.
In the morning, I swivel my feet onto the floor. I bend in runner stretches and breathe. I do a few pull-ups, and my spine pops like a campfire. My small son is still there sleeping, splayed and fearless where he nestled between my wife and I. That too is a little gift.