Here we are again - another series of short meditations on knitting and quilting and toast, because here I am again - serving as chaplain at the Kanuga Knitting and Quilting Retreat. This year's theme for our morning and evening worship was "What Wonders There Are to Behold," exploring God's creation (which is mostly to say, again, knitting and quilting and toast) through each of the five senses.
Psalm 104; John 9:1-10
Sometimes I remember to look for it, and other times I forget that I'll see it - that first sight of real, true mountains somewhere beyond Birmingham along Interstate 20, as we make our way from Jackson, MS, to Kanuga. I love that moment, and whether I've been watching the scenery or not, anticipating their appearance, the sight of those mountains instantly fills me with delight, no matter how much Alabama road construction I'm navigating. I can't help but smile, and breathe more deeply, and relax my grip on the steering wheel just a little, along with my grip on whatever has been occupying my thoughts. And inside the car with its recycled air, I'm smelling evergreens and layers of leaves, feeling the movement of a rocking chair, hearing silence broken only by birdsong, tasting morning's first bite of toast.
What wonders there are to behold, so many of the psalmists sang, marveling at all God has made, including ourselves, made with eyes and ears and noses and hands and mouths for beholding God's wonders. God could have mountains for God's own delight - do you remember, in Genesis, how very often we are told that God look at what had been made and called it good, very good? - but so great was God's delight that it could not be reserved for God alone. We are created with an extraordinary capacity to experience and be transformed by the wonders of this world.
Our bodies are filled with and covered in specialized cells, remarkable receptors for light and sound and smells and touch and taste. They take in everything around us and send it as electrical impulses to our brains, where what we experience is shaped into images, memories, knowledge, and insight, a patchwork of color and scent and soft or rough, a weaving of sounds and sweetness and saltiness and wonder.
What we see makes up as much as 75 percent of what we perceive - it is the sense, when our eyes are healthy and open, that we rely upon most. And our eyes are up to the task, each one made up of millions of working parts. We are so conditioned to respond to visual stimuli that when we understand something, we say, "I see."
So what do we see? I wonder if, most of the time, the better question is, what do we not see? What are we so focused on that we're blind to everything else, like the people in the gospel story who only recognize the blind man by his blindness, and not by any other characteristic?
God's vision contained an entire creation, and each individual element in it. So are we, made in God's image, capable of extraordinary sight. We can take in such big pictures as a beautiful lake...and notice any number of details, like the play of light on wind-driven ripples, the perfect reflection of clouds and sky when the lake is still, the infinite number of shades of green among the trees along the shore. A conference room full of people...and the way a smile grows on the face of the person sitting beside us. A finished quilt so large it takes two people to hold it up...and how the quilter cut the fabric in that one square to keep the blue flower intact. A whole row of stitches perfectly (or mostly-perfectly) executed...and the way that knit-two-together leans just a little to the right (don't worry, it's supposed to do that). A pattern we just aren't sure we can master...and the next step in that pattern, which we can.
Perhaps it does take time to recognize our ability to see, to allow our sense of sight to inspire us and not merely inform us. Here, on retreat, we are given just such a gift. If, and I'm not saying this is likely, but if we get caught up in anxiety over the numbers and words and patterns of this day, in the same way we can so easily get caught up in the to-do lists and appointments and obligations of our daily lives away from here...if all we can see is what doesn't delight us, Leo Tolstoy wrote, "In the name of God, stop a moment, close your work, look around you."
What will we see today? The hands at work beside us, how they hold the yarn just so, or move their fabric past the needle with such care. The last of the snow hiding in the cool shade of a cottage. The dropped stitch, the crooked seam...and the people all around us who can help. The bird riding a current above the lake. The pink yarn so saturated we can't look away. The dance of flames in a fireplace.
In the name of God, look around. What wonders there are to behold! Amen.