Monday, April 4, 2011

The Spiritual Potato Sack Race

  Greetings to each of you,

     Several years ago while I was a first order brother in the Society of St Francis, I had a "street experience" which not only changed my life but also taught me a lesson about "mindfulness".  It happened as I walked up San Francisco's Market Street while wearing my Franciscan habit.  I was on my way to find a store in which I could buy a little gift for a newly-arrived grandchild.  Throughout my adult life I had a pattern of "fast paced" walking through crowded city streets.  Barreling along at break-neck speed, with my mind focused on possible gift suggestions, I plunged across an intersection.  In the midst of its confusion, I thought that I had heard someone, from behind me, call out to catch my attention.  What my mind perceived, above the "mind-noise" of gift buying, had been very faint - yet it had sounded real. By now the traffic flow had changed and I had to quickly finish crossing the intersection.  In the safety of the opposite curb-side, I turned-around to see if that faint voice was attached to any of those passers-by.  Cross traffic had resumed and there was a scurry of bobbing faces on that opposite side.  No one in that mob seemed to want anything except to move on their way.  Had the faint voice only been an electrical "misfire" in my brain or had someone monentarily wanted my presence in their life?  I didn't know.  I moved over to the relative safety of a building at that corner and had to ask myself the question.  Had some one reached-out for my help, only to realize disappointment by my busied state of "attention deafness" lack of mindfulness?
     You see, this was not one of those easy questions we some times ask ourselves.  I was in my Franciscan habit - a witness to my Christian mission in life.  I was supposed to be the one whom others could approach and ask for help...for prayer connection to God...for my compassion...for my attentive presence.  And I had failed to hear and respond to a possible request, the nature of which I will never know.  Maybe that person had been brought to that particular traffic crossing for the purpose of a helpful encounter with me?  I felt at a loss.  I had failed in this possible witness to God's love and care of someone in need.  This actually brought tears to my eyes.  Hunkered up against that building, I had to take a minute and tell my loving God that I was ashamed and sorry for my lack of attention to those around me.  It was necessary that I ask for God's forgiveness...and there, near that busy intersection of life, I made a promise to God...a promise to increase my attention to the call of humanity around me... a promise for a stronger "mindfulness" in my life. 
     A few weeks later this episode came back into my consciousness and, on that occassion, I had time to be "quiet with God" and let the Spirit speak more completely about it.  Strange enough, God's words to me were framed in a childhood memory.  I remembered some of the games which we children had played at parties and picnics...hide and seek and races of all sorts.  In particular, one race stood out in those memories.  Maybe you've also played it as a child?....a potato sack race.
     If its not part of your experience, let me explain it.  Its a race which involves several paired teams and the goal is achieved by the first team to reach the finish line.  The paired individuals each put one of their legs into a potato sack (or some type of bag).  Hanging on to each other and holding up the loose bag with the leg in it, the team walks, hops, runs...or whatever...toward the finish line.  Not so easy!  If the kids are savvy, they soon realize that it is best to TAKE SOME TIME and not to rush the race.  Also they realize that only ONE OF THE TEAM MEMBERS should command the speed and direction of movement.  There must be coordination of the "bagged legs" or confusion and a probable fall will result.  It's also necessary that each member of the team "hang-on" to each other for dear life.  You see, the successful technique requires TOTAL ATTENTION to the "dominant" racer's movement and plan.  You can not be "attention deaf" and thinking about the first place prize.  You must be fully mindful to your partner and their every movement during the race.
     In my meditation upon this memory, I heard God's Spirit clearly say to me,..."Donald, when you walk through life each day with Christ Jesus, imagine that the two of you are in a potato sack race toward a divine purpose.  Christ has placed one of his legs in that bag and now offers to you the opportunity to place one of your legs in there too.  Hanging tightly onto Christ and pulling the bag up, the two of you can go forth to do God's work in the world.  But remember, you are not the dominant leg in that bag!  Your task is to be constantly ATTENTIVE to every movement of Christ and to imitate it by following in an exact manner.  Let Christ establish the speed and direction of your path and when ever Christ wishes to stop and relate to someone along this path, you must also stop and participate in God's work with that person."
     A vibrant Christian life, similar to the needs of that potato sack race, requires our constant attention (mindfulness) to each movement of the Spirit in our life.
     My prayer for you is..."Lord, each day as I walk with you, keep me always mindful that I must walk at YOUR PACE...not my own.  And let me rejoice with you every time you stop to love and care for some one along today's life-path."  Amen

God's blessings to each of you and peace            Donald Luke

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