On the big and small.

Unoriginally, I must start with a sunrise. Yet another sunrise. I thought I would write today about the parable of the prodigal child – today’s gospel, but the sunrise, you see…

Here at the monastery, I live on the roof. Well, on the fifth floor of a four-storey building, so a door leads right out onto the roof, and there I come out in the mornings as the sun rises over Lake Superior and separates into a blazing light and a shimmering light, and reigns above in glory as clouds sing and ravens dance about with me, here, at the top of the world.

lake sunrise 3

I lost myself in the sunrise again. It happens to me quite a bit. And coming downstairs for morning prayers, anticipating the small movements of the day in this one place of a million places on this one planet of trillions of planets in this one universe, I thought.

We have been progressing in knowledge so quickly in the past few hundred years… We have begun to understand the universe so much better, so much more deeply and in so much more detail — almost enough to be struck on occasion by the glimpses of some future comprehension of just how impossibly, mind-bogglingly, vastly complex, how enormous this universe must be. We’ve touched the ocean with our toe and are watching a poignant little ripple be absorbed into the slowly breathing surface, positing from it the distant hurricanes, the time-measuring watercolor of the corals, the whale song, and the black landscape of the Mariana Trench. How insanely huge and complicated is the reality in which we live? Insanely… Insane. How many worlds occupy the same space at the same time?


How little of reality can a human mind hold – really hold, grasp, not as an abstraction – before it bursts?

We almost know enough to know that we don’t know, don’t we? The depth of the well of discovery to understand how the world works and why… The detail. The scale. The scope. Impossible to imagine. Maybe… infinite. Can we comprehend what that means?

And then, the sun rises over Lake Superior.

lake superior sunrise 2

I know how it sounds. No, I am not saying that mystical experience is a substitute or even complement to science. I am saying something else entirely.

Bypassing rational inquiry, we get occasional glimpses of the nature of the universe — multiverse, if you like — better yet, Reality — brief as they must be if we are to emerge still capable of rational thought and self-awareness, and those moments that flood our minds with absolute wonder and awe, leaving no room for anything else, at the unspeakable, unfathomable enormity of Creation in its utter minute interconnectedness, those moments give us no evidence and no data, but like nothing else they give a good shake to our priorities’ sifters. Certainly they do to mine.

To me, they are reminders that the ways of Life are mysterious and never in vain, and that the world is good and worth fighting for, and that giving up does not exist. They are immersions in the awareness that all things are one on a level so much more than basic — ultimate, primordial, completely core — that all we see and say and do to navigate time through our semiotic systems as selves relating to selves and to objects — must be taken with a grain of salt.

And another thing. This time, for some reason, this was especially pronounced for me. After BIG reveals itself, for one glance, in a flash, like Krishna unveiling Vishnu the Ultimate Divine to his prince Arjuna on the eve of battle, and I stand there, drenched in the miracle and beauty and having lost almost everything about that moment but knowing with every quivering fiber of my being that it has been, I realize with more acuity than ever how much bigger BIG is than my wildest attempts at imagining the morsel of it that I am able to posit.

lake sunrise

And then I know with more acuity than ever how little difference there is between the big and the small in our everyday lives. On the scale of Reality, everything we dream of achieving, everything we’ve ever known to name and to prize is a tiny little thing – a precious little thing, maybe, but tiny nonetheless, and the greatest and most famous heroes of Earth — Mozart and Moses and Mother Theresa – are just about as great on the scale of Reality as you, my dear friend, who endeavors your best every day for the world, and no one has ever heard of you but those who are near.

It is such a relief to throw back my head and down my hands and float with the current of Reality’s flow, along the stream of Love, wherever it will take me. It is a comfort to think of “success” or “achievement” or “competition” and laugh. How can one measure success? What greatness can we possibly achieve over others for it to make a difference to Life Universal? No number of readers or viewers, no amount of money, no degrees, no number of monuments or healthy children, not even millennia of cultural memory on this little blue planet can do that.

And yet, what greater thing can one do than bring the world closer to the Kingdom of God? They say about the greatest of us, “He changed the world.” You, my friend, have changed the world today. Every day. Right? Every person and creature on every inhabited planet in this universe and every soul in every universe and all things that have come together and fallen apart and reached out in love or recoiled in hatred have changed the world today.

We do small things to change the world. We don’t know how big they are, the ripples from the things we do, but that’s all right. We don’t have to. Because all things we do, whether they seem small or huge on the scale of planet Earth, are really very, very tiny. Only they flow together in Love, and Love flows toward the Last Day, when all our small tiny deeds will have finally changed the world.


Contemplate this

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    • Sr. Ann Marie on September 16, 2013 at 09:44
    • Reply

    I remember, a little over a year ago I suppose, I was walking down the cloister walk to Morning Prayer, and beheld one of those beautiful sunrises over Lake Superior, shining beautifully through the windows of the cloister walk and into my eyes, almost blinding me. And in an instant I had a sense that God had said to me that that sunrise was God’s gift, every single day, to remind me, in those moments when I forget, when I get caught up in too many little things and forget the bigger things, to remind me: “I love you all over again today!” And as a sat in Morning Prayer today, I saw that sunrise shine brilliantly, shamelessly, joyously, through the windows of the doors that give entry into the chapel, and that light traveled and shined and rested on the altar, making our two lit candles almost useless, and I smiled to myself and remembered…to notice in the little moments the bigger things, the biggest one being that God loves us unconditionally, unceasingly and indescribably, all over again, every single moment of our lives. If only we had eyes to see, ears to hear, and wisdom of heart to take notice.

    Thank you for a lovely post and photos, Maria.

    Peace to you – Sr. Ann Marie

    1. Indeed, that walk to the chapel and back is such a lovely and peaceful time framing our prayer. It is almost part of the ritual for me when I am here.
      Thank you, dear Sister. And peace to you as well.

    • Erik on September 16, 2013 at 20:56
    • Reply

    “He on whom God’s light does fall, sees the great things in the small.” Piet Hein

    1. Amen, my friend. What greatness in a small thing have you seen recently? Tell, share.

  1. Maria, we need so much to be reminded of what really contributes to the building of the Kingdom of God on earth in preparation for the creation of a new heaven and a new earth. When scientists tell us that the flapping of a butterfly’s wings in Australia has an impact on the weather in South America we should try to imagine what
    contribution all human acts performed out of love have on building up that kingdom! Jesus reminded us of their
    value & merit and St Paul reminds us that the greatest feats performed without love are worthless. So who are the great ones on earth? Whom will we always cherish and remember? Those who showed their true love for us through their deeds. When I try to imagine what God is like as a human person, I take all the individual and beautiful qualities and traits of everyone I know and have ever met and put them together in one person because all their gifts come from and mirror God.
    Mary Catherine, OSB

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