Sometimes my thoughts have a strange way of coming together. Often two or more unrelated things give me a basis for conclusion that make me scratch my head and say, “Where did that come from?” Today is one of those days – a serendipitous collision of a passing thought with the morning lectionary reading that may or may not “work” in the world outside my mind. Here goes:
On my coffee run to the kitchen this morning the few words I heard exchanged were about the lovely morning weather. The sun was full up and shining on all things green (before 7:00 am!). As I left the kitchen I heard a remark about how beautiful the new-mown grass looked and I felt the same, satisfied with the hours I spent yesterday preparing it for the group of retreatants arriving today. As I sat in my chair and prepared to write, it struck me that mowing the grass on our 11-acre property has become a spiritual practice for me. I speak about it as my leisure because it gives me a chance to be outside in nature with all the color and diversity, the scents on the breeze, the small animals scampering away at the roar of the mower’s approach. It takes focus, however, to get the job done well. I am not free just to ride around without paying attention to the pattern I’m creating. Staying with the line of what has just been cut is essential to a neat and complete result. If my mind wanders into something I see – a new wildflower perhaps – I lose my line and have a wobbly patch that needs to be corrected. Paying attention does not mean I can’t enjoy the ride, but it does mean I need to stay awake and alert.
The gospel for today (JN 21:15-19) contains that famous and often pondered over exchange between Jesus and Peter where Jesus asks Peter three times: “Do you love me?” with Peter seeming more frustrated with each repetition. By the third time he is so frustrated that he blurts out, “You know everything! You know that I love you!” whereupon Jesus tells him just a bit about what the future might look like and why Peter might want to remember the love he has proclaimed so vehemently for Jesus when events call for that measure of love.
What came to me as I read that was the repetition and the necessity of keeping the mind focused – in this case, on what the heart knows. If I forget where I am in the mowing, it all goes awry. If Peter lost the certainty and depth of his love for Jesus (and that of Jesus for him) for even a moment in the toughest times to follow, he might have lost heart. As it was, all reports are that he endured everything that came to him as privilege because of his inner certainty of Christ with him all the time.
If we practice every day – whether in prayer, relationship or mowing the lawn – it may be that we are more able when the tests come. When God asks me in the many moments of the daily routine, “Do you love me?” my answer may be all I need at some future time to stand up to the challenge of love where life or death is the result of my response.