I often try consciously to cultivate “the deep eye”, to look closely at things around me so as to see “the shimmer on the stone.” One day, a good many years ago, I planned to cut down a dead elm tree aside a long, wooded, dirt and gravel driveway by a house in the Adirondacks. I was looking forward to the raw power of the chainsaw and its rich throaty sound. The chainsaw had other ideas; it wouldn’t start. Deep down I was half relieved. Undaunted, I set off alone, with a rather dull ax slung over my shoulder, down the driveway to the fated elm tree.
I began chopping “at” the tree. It was muggy and there I stood, sweaty, buzzed by bees and mosquitoes, trying to avoid the poison ivy, but exhilarated nonetheless.
As a priest I don’t often see the results of my work. How people are affected by what I say in the pulpit or in counseling is something almost impossible to measure. I could see the tree however gradually being chipped away. Professional woodcutters might not have liked my style—the cut looked like a mangled beaver’s cut—but nonetheless the tree fell with a crash and half way down, just for the effect, I cried out, “Timber!” My hands were blistered and they ached as I de-limbed the tree, but I was happy. I noticed the rings on the wood, the smell of freshly cut timber, and the grape vine loaded with grapes that had hung in the branches of that elm tree.
What is called “contemplation” in religious circles is really just what we might call “noticing” — noticing the little things around us, finding God in them, and thanking God for them. The “deep eye” is something most of us have to cultivate. Take the time to look for “the shimmer on the stone?” I find that when I do, the rest of the day is never quite the same.