Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Little Things....

After reading this I realized that I have those 'little' moments that though they seemed insignificant at the time, they truly stand out as special moments to me...what about you? I started listing some of mine, but I realized in listing them...they do seem insignificant if you're just reading them, but to me they matter and I hold those 'little' moments as SPECIAL moments instead.

The Little Things: A Christmas Devotion

By Cameron McAllister

The second chapter of Luke, which tells the story of Jesus’s birth and his kingship, contains a haunting and easily-overlooked verse: “But Mary treasured all these things, pondering them in her heart” (2: 19). As I think of Mary’s response to her newborn child, I am struck by her profound insight: the little things matter intensely.

I wonder about the most significant moments of your life. I wonder where you were, what it was you did, who you were with, if you were with anyone at all. I wonder how different you’d be without those moments, or how different those around you would be—your friends, your families—maybe even the world, for that matter. I’m also curious as to whether strangers would share your enthusiasm were they to be let in on the secret, or if they had some hidden point of vantage from which to survey your most significant moments, those memories most of us stuff frantically into our hearts as though they were treasure chests, which of course, they are.

E.B. White, beloved author of Charlotte’s Web and Stuart Little, recalls this childhood memory:

I didn’t care for athletics, being skinny and small, but I liked ice ponds and skating, and on winter afternoons and evenings I would visit a pond and skate with a girl named Mildred Hesse. Her eyes were blue and her ankles were strong. Together we must have covered hundreds of miles, sometimes leaving the pond proper and gliding into the woods on narrow fingers of ice. We didn’t talk much, never embraced, we just skated for the ecstasy of skating—a magical glide. After one of these sessions, I would go home and play Liebestraum on the Autola, bathed in the splendor of perfect love and natural fatigue. This brief interlude on ice, in the days of my youth, had a dreamlike quality, a purity, that has stayed with me all my life; and when nowadays I see a winter sky and feel the wind dropping with the sun and the naked trees against a reddening west, I remember what it was like to be in love before any of love’s complexities or realities or disturbances had entered in, to dilute its splendor and challenge its perfection.

Personally, I’m reluctant to share my most significant moments with you. Not because they’re improper or scandalous. For the most part, they’re not embarrassing. But then again, they’re not much to brag about either. They’re just small, comparatively speaking. Quite small. So small, in fact, that, once spoken out loud, they become instantly diminished, like snow melting before it hits the ground, or photographs that turn vital moments of your life to stone. More importantly, they’re things and scenes I can’t make you see the way they ought to be seen. In some ways, I’ll always be the kid in front of the glass window, breathing too hard to see past my own excitement, frosted across the glass. Indeed, most of us can’t see past ourselves into the scenes and roads that have taken others to where they stand today.

I should be clear about what I mean when I say significant moments. Here’s what I’m suggesting: a significant moment is a brief but pivotal event in your life, exempt from public scrutiny, which translates poorly to others because of its seeming irrelevance and lack of general resonance, but without which, you would not be the same person. War and Peace and Anna Karenina are both Herculean accomplishments in the world of fiction. Their author, Leo Tolstoy, never knew what his mother looked like and possessed no pictures of her. It was this “minor” detail about his mother that drove him into a frenetic search of the past and resulted in these two books, but, nevertheless, left his detail-obsessed mind perpetually unappeased.

Or, I could tell you about the first time I saw a film in which the protagonist was reading a book by Jacques Cousteau entitled, Diving for Sunken Treasure, and I could tell you how I was never the same after seeing that title. I felt that that little sentence was a perfect and complete story and narrative of a given person’s life: beginning, middle, and end. And yet I’m confident that few of you will have had that reaction or would sympathize with this sentiment, yet it happened to me as inevitably as an autumn leaf becomes a faded photograph of the summer sun.

I know you’ve had these moments. We rarely notice them at the time but without them we’d be somewhere else, not here. I was reading an article by David Bentley Hart in First Things. If you’re familiar with his writing you’ll know that it’s generally quite academic. But in a rare moment of devotion, he reflected on a housekeeper his family had when he was a child, whom he affectionately referred to as Aunt Susie. He visited her in the hospital when she was gravely ill and he confesses:

It would be quite impossible for me to explain what the hour we spent there was like, or what effect it had on me. I can only say that Aunt Susie spoke about her love of Christ in a very clear and confident way, with a power that the weakness of her voice did nothing to diminish. From that day to this I have never heard another profession of Christian faith that seized me with such irresistible force. I am not a very emotional person, as it happens, but I was almost overwhelmed by the unutterable beauty that emanated from her.

Just as we were about to leave, Aunt Susie said that the Lord was telling her she would not see us again. We assured her that this was not so, and that we would be back before long, but she was quite certain that she was right, and so her last words to us had something of the quality of a valedictory blessing. And, of course, she was right; she died before we could make another visit to her bedside.

This frail and fragile lady, this delicate moment, left an indelible mark on Hart, a scar from which he will never recover, but one to which he’ll always pay tribute. He recognized that the little things matter intensely.

Where, too, might Augustine of Hippo have ended up, had he not surrendered to a strange small voice in a garden in Milan, crying Tolle Lege: “Take up and read”?

But how are we to deal with the world on these terms? A world that has always demanded Blockbuster moments—Waterloos, Jurassic Parks, X-Files—you get the picture. Really, it’s always been this way. More so in the past, I’d argue. There aren’t many subtle insights into the sacred in the everyday in Beowulf; we don’t follow Dante’s encounters at the post office or his hagglings at the marketplace. That wouldn’t be interesting. We’ve always wanted bigger, better, louder. The howling world will always cry for spectacle and epic battles, but we are all of us, made of moments. Moments both fragile and small.

Similarly, Christmas shares this indelible quality: a fragile young mother, the small voice of an infant. Christmas was initially a small affair despite the many efforts to turn it into the next Blockbuster moment. Yet, ironically, it is a colossal event, only manifested in small circumstances. Shepherds, as far from the nobility of the day as you could get, were some of the first to be let in on the secret. Mary, Joseph, the no-vacancy inn, the manger rocking the Rock of Ages. How strange, how quiet, how small.

So again that haunting verse in Luke 2:19 that says, “But Mary treasured all these things, pondering them in her heart.” In other words, she safeguarded them, stowed them in the only place fit for such treasure, the place where we are free to revisit Aunt Susie, to glide gloriously on thin fingers of ice with Mildred Hesse. Mary recognized a moment significant enough to stand on its own without public approval, a moment too small for most of the world, but one so great, nonetheless, that only a heart could house it. A small moment that has, quite literally, turned the world upside down, tipped the scales, brought heaven to our doorsteps. A small event set between a squalid manger and a brutal cross.

No doubt, I’ll continue to watch for the Blockbuster moments, the loud spectacles and parades that deafen my ears, and offer enough drama to keep me silent and entertained. But I pray that I’m ever mindful of the fact that the world stands on a thin line between a manger and a cross, and that a significant moment, a pivotal event, secretly stowed and treasured by Jesus’s mother in her heart, has allowed me to stand where I am today. The little things matter intensely.

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