Though I've felt disconnected from any formal practice of religion for years, I still feel reverence in certain spaces. City living requires I find sanctuaries to step away from the frenetic energy and the grounds of Washington DC's Franciscan monastery provide such refuge.
The architecture, the vibrant gardens, and the stillness draw me back time and again. That day was no different. Sitting before the grotto, I was in a state of wakefulness taking in the messages of my surroundings. I believe wisdom lives everywhere if we're open to taking it in.
A tree caught my attention as I took in the landscaping. Its trunk was shaped like a tuning fork. Immediately, I was reminded to attune myself to the vibration of nature and that everything else is man-made distraction.
As a cardinal sliced through the scene before me, I was then drawn to some dying leaves. Their autumn fire was such a contrast to the spring greenery surrounding them. The theme that emerged seemed to be that of uncoordinated seasons. It reinforced the cycles of life, how opposites coexist, and that sadness and joy can surprisingly occupy the same space.
Then his cries broke the silence.
On higher ground, before a mosaic of Mary, a lone figure began a stream of consciousness prayer. The volume of his voice shattered the relative silence. Initially annoyed, I managed to settle into a curious space instead.
Who was this man? What was his story? What was the source of his fervor-or his pain? I could make out only pieces of his speech, a line of scripture here and there.
He continued for a few minutes then his prayer-or sermon-was over as abruptly as it started.
The silence engulfed me once more. I plunged deeper.
I thought about me in that holy place with my relationship to religion. Having been raised Catholic, I only identify as spiritual. I say that without a modicum of disdain or superiority. The "spiritual, not religious" tribe is not without the hypocrisy often ascribed to religion.
I only know that for me, spiritual means I believe that God can be found in all things. I saw it in the tree, the cardinal, the fallen leaves. After my ego backed down, I managed to find it in the praying man.
He had found It in the mosaic I had previously passed by. I didn't recognize It there.
The Divine has many faces and we have a particular set of eyes with which to see. I am reminded of the poet Hafiz and Where is the Door to God?
Where is the door to God?
In the sound of a barking dog.
In the ring of a hammer.
In a drop of rain,
In the face of everyone,
in all we can behold.
Returning to my silent contemplation, my gaze fixed upon a beautiful flower. And once again, I understood that scripture is written upon each divine petal.