Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Stepping into the moment

This morning I was reading Jesus' parable of the mustard seed. The particular commentary I was reading suggested that one way of interpreting the parable is to discover that in each moment lie the seeds of a new beginning.

It seems to me that that's true on at least two levels. Practically speaking, a decision or action taken in one moment can have huge consequences in the next, or just over time. But that expansive seed-to-tree quality can also happen in the space of a moment if I am fully present to the moment. I have definitely had those experiences where time seems to expand infinitely, or a single thought opens a multiplicity of possibilities.

But before that unfolding can happen, we must first develop an attitude of attentiveness -- which is why there are times when just holding a camera allows you to see what you might otherwise have missed. These two photos are a case in point.

I had a friend visiting this past weekend who is also a photographer. She has a show coming up, so we found ourselves driving around the island on a brilliantly sunny day looking for photographic opportunities. I hadn't been able to find my favorite infrared filter (it would have been a perfect day to shoot infrared) and Waterfront Park was crawling with people, so I took her to the almost-always-abandoned bunker that sits on a beach at the south end of the island.

Once inside the bunker, I realized that the tree that has somehow managed to take root in the cement floor was in bloom -- an amazing symbol of hope, growing out of a space that presumably once held guns to protect the harbor. And then, zooming in on the blossoms, glowing against the background of graffiti, I discovered this wonderful juxtaposition.

You could probably claim that both photographs have value; even that the first has a clearer statement than the second. So why do I prefer the second? Partly, of course, because the first is so busy; I much prefer the simplicity of the second. But it's also because in the long run the message of the first, though it seems powerful initially, feels pretty trite to me.

There is a level of observation where we can easily get stuck (and I often do) looking at or pointing to the more obvious messages that indicate there are redemptive capabilities lurking in the world around us. But once you know that, what do you do? A photographer or spiritual seeker who contents herself at that level is almost like a chronic dieter: you find a good diet, or image, or practice; you stay on it for a while, then drift away; and then you realize you've drifted and find another.

But what happens if you zoom in, focus on the moment, look for the seed of the moment? I think that level of attention has the capacity for passion that you can find in a good marriage. Simply by making the choice to stay, to commit, to explore, there is something more deeply rooted that can grow and blossom more fully than a thousand one-night stands. And every moment offers us that choice: to click and walk away, or to stay with it, step into it, look deeper, and find the infinite fullness that lurks within.

With that level of attention, the bread and fish that were meant to feed but one can expand to feed 5000. The single seed can grow to a tree that hosts and feeds a hundred birds. It is that capacity that lurks in every moment. And I think it's possible that what Jesus was trying to tell us in his parable is that it's that fullness, that sense of possibility that emerges when we stop and step into the now, that is the root of what it means to be in heaven.

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