In our atrium, a large, hand painted treasure chest sits in the corner. The History of the Gifts is one of the major presentations in Level II of Catechesis of the Good Shepherd. We open the box to find four boxes each filled with still more boxes.
Each box contains a sampling of God's gifts -- gifts from the sea, from the earth, from plants, from human and animal life. We unroll a long narrative highlighting different aspects of creation. We examine a close-up shot of an owl's eye. It looks like a butterfly. We pick up bugs and a speckled bird's egg. We crack open nutmeg and allspice. We pour over sparkling geodes and bang flint on a rock. We sniff and feel dozens of spices, stones, and herbs. Technically, we're not supposed to taste anything, but sometimes the children lick the rock salt or sample the cinnamon sticks.
Here on earth God has given us the essentials -- water, hard metals from which we fashion tools, salt, plants and animals to feed and cloth us. We then move on to ponder the unessentials -- God has given us elements that sustain our bodies, but also blessings that feed our souls. What is the point, exactly, of a dolphin or a dogwood? Why is a sunflower both edible and beautiful? Why do we have cows which many of us eat, but also dogs which we simply enjoy? What is the point of a sunset or a rainbow or a lush snowfall? Why are babies so achingly lovely?
We've recently spent a week on the coast of South Carolina. I can't look out over the Atlantic and fail to feel closer to God who, in the words of songwriter Michael Card, "made the universe fall from His fingertips." We have seen alligators and starfish, horseshoe crabs and stingrays. We have ridden the waves and biked the beach. The kids wish Live Oaks grew in our neighborhood. They have climbed and climbed through these amazing trees that look like something out of a Dr. Seuss story. The weather has been amazing -- warm enough to swim, cool enough to pull on a sweatshirt in the afternoon.
I write so often (too often) about the tribulations that are part and parcel of life with little children. When I added labels to my archived work, the top label wasn't Love or Family; it was Real Life -- that messy business involving spilt milk and plumbing issues and fevers and poop. During our week at the beach, I had the presence of mind to notice the many grace-filled moments -- the many gifts -- that came our way:
The leisurely lunch during which everyone downed great seafood and chatted and looked out over the harbor. Ainsley colored. John was sweet. Dave taught Kolbe how to win at Tic Tac Toe. Tim made me laugh.
The bike ride that involved no broken chains or toddlers who refused to wear helmets, but did include beautiful scenery and a cool breeze.
The hours spent sitting in the sand while Ainsley yelled, "I dig!" John searched for crabs. The older boys rode the waves with their dad.
The morning the entire household slept until 8:45. When did that last happen?
The afternoon I lay napping on the couch looking out through an open door at the swaying palm trees.
I often reflect that God is not a minimalist. This world of ours is full and varied and surprising. So much that I have enjoyed this week has no utilitarian value whatsoever -- except to feed my soul, which, really, is more useful than anything else.