January 28, 2021

Simply Living


Wheat Fields with Reaper at Sunrise (detail), Van Gogh

A man knows when he has found his vocation when he stops thinking about how to live and begins to live.

– Thomas Merton
Thoughts In Solitude

* * *

Most of my life, I’ve been waiting to live.

The pattern has been like this: seasons of thinking about what it means to live and waiting to live and hoping to live, interrupted by moments of living.

I’ve spent most of my days thinking about life, pondering what will enable me to live. Hoping for that break that will allow me to live. Counting on that change that will lead me to circumstances in which I can live. Afraid that if I commit myself to living now, I will miss out on the real living that might have been.

Then, every once in awhile, life breaks through.

I hear my grandson giggle uncontrollably, and I know my place in the world: I am like Abraham, the father who laughs, and the promise is in the seed. I live in my family.

I sit in a living room with an octogenarian, while her demented husband lies drooling on the pillow in his hospital bed next to her. Though we have known each other less than an hour, she entrusts some of her deepest feelings and fears to me. I live in her tears and whispered confidences.

A line in a sermon I am preaching catches me off guard and deeply moves me. I pause. I catch my breath. I hear myself speak more softly and personally, and the people in front of me are my friends. We connect. In the word on my lips, the Word that did not originate from me, but came like an unexpected breeze, I live.

Driving down the road, I sing along with a favorite tune. It surprises me when my voice breaks and my eyes tear up. There’s some kind of life in that music, life that swells in my chest, life that carries me away. I live in the song.

The greenest groomed grass, immaculate raked soil marked with white chalk, the shape of a precious diamond, the smell of oiled leather, and smack of honed wood on cowhide. A leisurely day in the sunshine. Narrative and tradition emanating from a radio speaker. I live in the game.

And this is my vocation — to simply live. Having found life and having actually experienced living, I find I am much less anxious to search for it, to think I must change my circumstances, do something different, pursue some new interest, gain some new insight, achieve some new status. As Merton says,

Suppose one has found completeness in his true vocation. Now everything is in unity, in order, at peace. Now work no longer interferes with prayer or prayer with work. Now contemplation now longer needs to be a special “state” that removes one from the ordinary things going on around him, for God penetrates all.

I would not claim that this describes me, or that I am anywhere near “completeness in [my] true vocation.” Heavens no!  But I would testify to a bit more contentment, a bit less anxiety; a bit more acceptance, a bit less restlessness.

A bit less thinking about how to live, and a bit more living.

What are you waiting for?


  1. CM, I wish I had a clue what was holding me back!! Both my husband and myself are going through a very dry spell, frustrated and unhappy at work, and the daily grind of the work week. I am reading books on suffering, even though this feels like a low level toothache sort of suffering, compared to the misery of so very many others who love and serve the Lord. We don’t know if we are being called to sell everything and do something very different with these last fifteen years or so of active full time work, or if only our attitudes and schedules need to change. It is out of character for us to wander around with a “is this all it is” attitude….so prayers would be welcome.

    • Thanks Pattie. The Spirit is hovering over the waters. Chaos will be tamed.

    • Pattie, I can definitely relate. I’m approaching retirement and just can’t seem to pull the trigger, and yet I know I’m missing so many opportunities that would be much more fulfilling. Fear, lack of faith, inertia…
      You and your husband are in my prayers. (Your prayers would be most welcome.)

      CM, this was such a timely post for me. Thanks for this and all you do.
      (Yeah, thanks a lot. You’re pushing me to let go of what I know and step into the abyss.) 🙂

  2. Wonderful post, Chaplain Mike! Words to live by.

  3. flatrocker says

    Thank you. Awareness tends towards comtemplation which points us to gratefulness. And peace springs from our gratefulness. Is it any wonder then that our misty eyes seem to follow?

    Your writing today reminds me of a profoundly beautiful piece by Abraham Heschel called “Gratefulness.” A beautiful way to embrace the gift of this day before us.

    “To pray is to regain a sense of the mystery that animates all beings, the divine margin in all attainments. Prayer is our humble answer to the inconceivable surprise of living. It is all we can offer in return for the mystery by which we live. Who is worthy to be present at the constant unfolding of time? Amidst the meditation of the mountains, the humility of flowers – wiser than all alphabets – clouds that die constantly for the sake of His glory, we are hating, hunting, hurting. Suddenly we feel ashamed of our clashes and complaints in the face of the tacit glory in nature. It is so embarrassing to live! How strange we are in the world, and how presumptuous our doings! Only one response can maintain us: gratefulness for witnessing the wonder, for the gift of our unearned right to serve, to adore, and to fulfill. It is gratefulness which makes the soul great.” – Abraham Heschel.

  4. Poignant and beautiful.

  5. Life is a roller coaster. Ups and downs. We struggle, we have victories,happiness, sometimes despair.

    The general pull is a downward one. We Christians know that our lives and the life of the world are not progressing…but are in the giant grist mill that God is using to slowly bring it to an end.

    But…we also know that that is not the end of the story.

  6. “seasons of thinking about what it means to live” – isn’t that living? To contemplate God and one’s relationship with Him and His creation is a gift of life in itself. As Descartes postulated, “I think, therefore, I am.” I almost lost that ability from a stint in ICU, where doctors told my wife I may not have the same cognitive abilities once I woke up from a 3 week drug-induced come.

  7. I appreciate this Chaplain Mike, it validates what I have been considering. (I don’t have this down by any means)

    What I have been sensing inside is that I am called to serve others in love or maybe better said, I was born to bless.

    If I can love & bless the ones that cross my path it is enough. Caring for my grandchildren or helping my daughter when her busy life spins out of control. Being my husbands hands and feet when his chronic illness flairs, or listening to heavy heart without singing happy songs to them, then I am serving my Lord.

    I recall the many tortured years that I lived under the threat of God’s displeasure that I wasn’t doing His perfect will along with the fear that He was counting my many sins against me and all the guilt of not being a perfect Godly woman my heart aches.

    I spent so many years trying to find God’s will for my life, when now I wonder if all the time it was front and center under my nose. O, the agony I could have spared myself if I understood that he has called me to my ordinary mundane life.

    When I look back at the spiritual abuse, the controlling sermons turning Christ into a sin book keeper, a rigid task master whose yoke is not easy, nor His burden light, I sign a deep sigh and thank Him that he is leading me to a place of rest. However, it is a struggle to accept, almost too simple or good to be true, hard to jump off the wheel after so many years of doing.

  8. David Cornwell says

    In your reply to the post of Pattie you said, “The Spirit is hovering over the waters. Chaos will be tamed.”

    During this past summer I made this basically the theme of my life. Life becomes so out-of-control sometimes. Best intentions get swept before you in a huff of wind that sweeps all before it.

    I had so much to do outside and around the house just to maintain and get a better grip on things. And so I started praying that God would help me tame the chaos. Just the simple act of releasing my needs to Him had unbelievable power. An so gradually I found ways to tame the chaos around me, and to bring some order and beauty back to the situation. In so doing my own spiritual chaos also was subject to some taming.

    I believe that this is far more than the simple psychology of “positive thinking.” For one thing some of the things I wanted to accomplish never got done. But others were settled in a way that I had never before thought of, and with a more balanced permanence. Much of the work was physical, outdoors, in vegetation, dust, sunshine, and rain. So it is with happy surprise I felt this presence once again.

    Word of wisdom from Proverbs:

    “When he established the heavens, I was there,
    when he drew a circle on the face of the deep…

    “when he marked out the foundations of the earth,
    then I was beside him, like a master worker;
    and I was daily his delight,
    rejoicing before him always,
    rejoicing in his inhabited world
    and delighting in the human race.”

  9. Muff Potter says

    Love the Van Gogh! Don McLean was right, this world was never meant for one so beautiful.

    • Much as I like that McLean song, I think he got it wrong.

      All the beauty you see in Van Gogh’s paintings is beauty he found in the world, its people and life. His paintings vibrate from within with light and color because of his love for that beauty.

      It was not a lack of beauty in the world that did him in, but the pain in his own mind that cut him off from the world and its beauty, causing a separation which was unbearable for him.

  10. Those of you intrigued by CM’s comment, “The Spirit is hovering over the waters. Chaos will be tamed,” should check out Moby’s instrumental “God Moving Over the Face of the Waters.” Beautifully done, and a nice song to accompany a meditation/prayer.

  11. “Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans…” John Lennon

  12. Good thoughts, C.M.

    And I don’t think God minds if we at times forget him in the midst of simply living.

    That something exists tells us that God has invested value in things, in creation; it’s okay to lose ourselves in the occasions of beauty that we encounter, to experience and perceive things directly, to paradoxically honor the skill of the Creator by forgetting his presence as we enjoy his handiwork.

    In fact, I think it’s not only okay, but a gift that he wants us to receive with grateful and open hearts.

  13. Tears flowed as I read this! Thank you! I lived in your writing!

  14. Headless Unicorn Guy says

    It reminds me of what I find over and over in Jewish sources:

    The idea that God wants you to LIVE YOUR LIFE.

    An idea which seems alien to our breakaway offshoot of Judaism, from St Rose of Lima monastic asceticism to Teen Mania Acquire the Fire Wretched Urgency.

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