We’ve begun holding chapel services again every Monday from 12:10-12:40pm in Dahl Chapel. In a hard-working academic community such as ours, I believe it is important to provide a moment of holy “pause,” an opportunity to catch our spiritual breath, and time each week to reflect on this journey of life and faith. Today’s service featured some beautiful Taize music led by Dr. Dan Ott on piano, Carleigh Shannon, ’11, on flute, and Emily McClay, ’14, on cello. All are welcome to attend these ecumenical worship services. What follows is my meditation on Matthew 6: 24-34 from today’s chapel service.
“Do Not Worry”
Rev. Dr. Teri McDowell Ott
February 21st, 2011 – MC Chapel Service
I am the type of person who can be easily distracted. I may be physically present somewhere (bodily present) but sometimes my mind and my attention are elsewhere. And this, of course, has its consequences.
For instance, I may be at home with my children but in my mind I am still here at work worrying and thinking about our next chapel service, or about a prayer I am trying to write, or about a conversation that I had…only to wake up and realize that my 3-year-old son has just given himself a “haircut” with the kitchen scissors.
Or, I may be sitting somewhere playing with my Iphone, obsessively checking my email, only to wake up and realize that I was missing the most beautiful sunset.
Or, I might be at a party or a reception thinking that I really needed to talk to the person across the room, only to wake up and realize that the person I was with was actually saying something really interesting and that I was missing an opportunity to connect with her.
So I sort of constantly have these moments where I “wake-up” and realize what I am missing when I allow myself to get distracted, or when I allow worry to carry me away from the present moment.
One such “wake-up” moment in particular stands out in my mind because my daughter really got my attention. I was at home, but I wasn’t really at home, because my mind was still here at work….when all of a sudden Ella (our 1 ½ year-old daughter) crawls into my lap, takes my face in her chubby little hands, puts her nose to my nose, and with big, wide, attentive eyes, starts saying, “Hey! Hey! Hey! Hey!” Well, needless to say, she definitely got my attention.
At last Friday’s “Meaning of Life” discussion in the Weeks House, Corbin Beastrom, a freshman, caught our attention by quoting a story by Leo Tolstoy. In this story an emperor goes in search of the answer to what he felt were life’s most important questions: What is the best time to do each thing? Who are the most important people to work with? What is the most important thing to do at all times? The emperor’s search ultimately takes him to an old hermit who lives high on a mountain and who was known to be an enlightened man. The hermit didn’t answer the emperor’s questions immediately, though, instead he asked for his help in digging a garden outside of his hut because the earth was hard and he was an old hermit. Then, while the emperor was helping the old hermit with his garden, a man suddenly runs up to them with a life-threatening wound. So the emperor attends to the man and his wound and saves his life. After all of this, it is very late and the emperor decides to go home thinking that the hermit does not have the answers to his questions. But then the hermit surprises him by saying, “But your questions have already been answered. The most important time is now, he said. The most important person is the person you are with. And the most important pursuit is making the person standing at your side happy…for that is the pursuit of life.”
I think Jesus would agree with this. In today’s text Jesus says to us, “Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own…But strive first for the Kingdom of God and his righteousness.” In today’s text Jesus reminds us that we are alive today! Tomorrow doesn’t even exist yet….but today….today is a gift….today is full of potential…today is full of beauty, and grace, and God. So don’t take today for granted. Don’t let worry carry you away from today.
I can hear Jesus now, “Don’t let worry carry you away from loving your children and being attentive to your children today. Don’t let worry distract you from that beautiful sunset, or that bright red cardinal singing in the tree, or the feel of the earth under your feet, or the way the clouds dance across the sky. Don’t let worry carry you away from the person sitting next to you, from the potential to touch a life with your attention, from the potential to make a new friend. Don’t let worry seclude you so much in your own little world that you fail to recognize the plight of others…that you fail to recognize those who are poor…or those who are pushed aside…or those who are feeling unwelcome and unnoticed.”
Yes, I can hear Jesus now, and I can feel him, taking my face, your face, our faces in his hands, putting his nose to our nose, and saying, “Hey! Hey! Hey! Hey!” You are alive today! Today is a gift! Do not worry! Instead, strive for the Kingdom of God.
So…let us take a moment…this moment…to follow Jesus’ advice….to be present in this space….to notice the beauty that is here waiting for us….to notice the person sitting beside us…to hear the music that is calling to us….to notice the God who is here for us….in this moment….in this hour of worship…in this day….that we have been given as a gift to treasure and as an opportunity to realize…..
Now to the God who calls us to be fully present in this moment be all honor and glory, thanksgiving and power, now and forevermore. Amen.
 As told by Thich Nhat Hanh in The Miracle of Mindfulness: An Introduction to the Practice of Meditation, (Beacon Press, Boston, MA, 1975), pgs. 69-75.