The priest speaking at recent church event warned against becoming so busy that we don't take time to notice the beauty of God's creation around us and God's grace in our lives. As he spoke my daughter reinforced his exhortation.
A friendly couple sitting across the table from us gave my eleven-month-old daughter a straw. It seemed insignificant and I paid minimal attention as she fidgeted with the new toy. I was happy to have her occupied for a few moments so I could listen to the talk. After several minutes I realized she hadn't put down the straw. She was staring at it intently. She turned it over, bent it, twisted it, pulled it, poked with it, shook it, banged it on the table. She was fascinated with the straw for twenty minutes.
Observing her fascination with a straw reminded me of a passage I recently read by GK Chesterton:
When we are very young children we do not need fairy tales: we only need tales. Mere life is interesting enough. A child of seven is excited by being told that Tommy opened a door and saw a dragon. But a child of three is excited by being told that Tommy opened a door. Boys like romantic tales; but babies like realistic tales — because they find them romantic.
It's been a long time since I spent any significant time bring fascinated by a straw, but watching my daughter reminded me of the beauty and wonder present in the world all around us if we'd only open our eyes to see it. The priest was right: too often I allow myself to become so busy that I don't take time to pause and soak in the beauty around me. The magic I once found in opening a door had been lost.
Nevertheless, there is hope! Chesterton points out that fairy tales help us to recapture the magic we once saw in the mundane. Maybe it's been a while since you've read some Mother Goose stories, but quality art, music, literature, cinema, and television hold this same power. However, it is not sufficient to simply see the screen or hear the speaker. We must stop and reflect on the truth and beauty we have beheld, as I try to do in my reflections on this website.
That being said, Chesterton reminded us that we were once as excited by real life as by the fairy tale. If we can return to that childlike wonder or if we can learn from our children who still possess that wonder, then we can find the same excitement around us every day. Domestic churches are filled with opportunities for this awestruck wonder. My most cherished moments as a father tend not to be the grandiose milestones. Rather they are the quiet moments when I've simply watched my daughters and I've been in awe of God's work in them.
How many of you who are parents have taken minutes to just stand beside your child's crib and watch her sleep? Have you sat on the couch and watched your child playing with her toys without intervening and without being distracted by a TV or phone? Do you remember how it felt to have your newborn sleeping on your chest? How long can you sit and stare at your child's smile? Have you nuzzled close while nursing her or giving her a bottle? Is there anything in the world that compares to a toddler giving you a hug and telling you she loves you? I even videoed a newborn daughter crying because I recognize it is a miracle all those little muscles knew how from the moment she was born, and I know that someday even that will be a precious and distant memory.
I can't point to the exact date and time of any of these memories, but these are the cherished moments when the glory of God was on display and I paused to simply behold it.
When my daughter played with the straw she pulled it and twisted it which are not actions we typically take with a straw. Pondering the experiences of our lives may similarly require us to examine familiar experiences from new perspectives or to examine aspects we don't usually consider. My daughter spent a longer time examining the straw that I ever would have. Pondering our experiences requires ample time for reflection. While this wasn't the first straw my daughter had seen, she acted as if she had never seen a straw before. We may need to approach our experiences with fresh eyes and see them anew.
While wishing on a star may not make our lives become real fairy tales, we can recapture the wonder and excitement of the simplest experiences in our domestic churches if we take time to ponder and recognize God's presence in these moments. Sometimes this wonder is prompted by a magnificent sunset or by my wife's smile as she lays in the bed next to me. Sometimes this wonder is prompted by an ordinary straw.