The Glory of Nothing


In the first blush of the season of Epiphany, I think I had one today.

I was talking to a friend on the phone last week. He said,

I’m not really enjoying work. My commute to D.C is a bear. My work life is winding down toward retirement. But what am I good at these days?

Well, I’m good at taking my two-hour walks around the lake. But—that’s hardly something that will get you another consulting contract.
Be like if I went in to meet with a CEO….
‘So what are your strengths?’
‘Well, sir, I’m really good at walking around the lake. I’m excellent at noticing the squirrels and the birds and the barren trees and the little ripples on the water.’

We laughed. None of that has any “value” and yet it was what he was drawn to, more and more.

I thought about those words, and what it feels like to “be good at” the little things, the things that don’t matter in the world, the things that can’t get us noticed or promoted.

Today I am reading one of those Christmas cards sent late.

As for me, I catch whiffs of a second childhood! I know wonder with pleasure at so many things: (“What is that whirly thing up on a pole”? “Why is that roof shaped like that?”) And recently, reclining regally in the recovery room after cataract surgery, I was absolutely delighted to be offered “saltines, grahams, or animal crackers.” Animal crackers! Of course! Then I had to bite my tongue to keep from calling out to all the other aging recoverees, “Did you choose animal crackers, too?”

It is the same theme. Noticing the whirly thing. Wondering about the shape of a roof. Exulting in the taste of an animal cracker, how it calls up a flurry of memories. Simply paying attention to “little things” can seem pointless, even silly. All the allegedly important people are noticing the bomb in North Korea, the knife-wielding terrorist in Paris shot dead, the angry mob in Oregon, Marco Rubio’s stack heel boots, and you? You are noticing the awesome markings on the tiger cat you have had for twelve years but never really seen until just now. All the key people are tweeting about Tom and Gisele’s new diet, and you? You are just noticing how the sun slants in the window, treating yourself to Now.

The spiritual life will always feel too ordinary, too plain, too drab. It will not seem exciting enough. Simply being will feel like a waste of time, like nothing is happening.

So we have to stick together, sisters and brothers, if we want to live a deeply human life. Very few people will encourage or support us in this life of simple being. The whole zeitgeist will blow us off the map. We have to be held in some community of love, where, if we tell someone about the shape of a roof or the color of lake water or the taste of an animal cracker, we can get a nod at least, a yes.

18 Responses to The Glory of Nothing
  1. Eric
    January 7, 2016 | 2:39 pm

    Glad to have my brother’s wisdom in my inbox again. You were definitely missed. So often after your posts the first word in my mind and on my lips is Amen……to be firm, confirmed, reliable, faithful, have faith, believe….. so be it. Amen.

  2. Matt
    January 7, 2016 | 2:55 pm

    I fight the “it feels too ordinary, too plain, too drab” impulse daily. My mind doesn’t want to embrace it.

  3. Ellen Tillotson
    January 7, 2016 | 6:18 pm

    David, this is the first I’ve read your blog–glad you are back at it and that I’ve stumbled across it! How nourishing! Thanks, brother!

  4. Don Livingston
    January 7, 2016 | 8:43 pm

    Love your blog… glad you’re back

  5. Art
    January 7, 2016 | 9:11 pm

    Hmmm. I didn’t know how much I missed this… Until this post. The first of your return posts and my eyes were blanched. I was just so happy to see you were back. The second post, I am stirred. Eyes, mind, and heart in a swirl.

    I live in the simple… But need to see the spiritual within it. Rather than skip to the next page. I need to pause and find comfort in reflection on the simple page in front of me. Thanks David, I will try.

  6. clark s johnson
    January 8, 2016 | 10:01 am

    So glad you are back. Have always enjoyed reading your blogs, just one of the many talents you are given!!

  7. Dawn
    January 8, 2016 | 11:07 am

    So glad you are tapping into and sharing those creative parts of your soul once again with this blog. Thank you for nourishing my soul and reminding me of the value in simple things. When I take the time to really contemplate them, I often experience their power and potential which is just waiting to get noticed and inspire me. Thank you!

  8. Linda
    January 8, 2016 | 11:16 am

    Isn’t being in the now how we see God’s perspective? The simple joys in the everyday is where we see His handprints. I need the small miracles in each day to hold onto Joy. Thank you for your perspective on this journey.

  9. Michael Anderson
    January 8, 2016 | 1:06 pm

    David, I needed this. Simple idea simply and elegantly expressed. Thanks. As I read, I thought of meditation; for me it’s an embrace of nothing, an embrace of my fear of insignificance. The more I do it, the less fear I have. So I guess I’m on the right path. Thanks again.

    • David Anderson
      January 8, 2016 | 2:31 pm

      That’s a perfect description of what meditation feels like–Merton’s term was (I think) “the Palace of Nowhere.” But–you just feel less fearful, more serene, a little more patient, a little freer.

  10. Barbara Miley
    January 8, 2016 | 1:50 pm

    David, I think I “unsubscribed” yesterday due to so many incoming “things” in my email box that don’t “speak” to me. I opened yours this a.m. to see if/why I wasn’t unsubscribed as I had requested…Then I began to smile as I read it and tears poured…You were writing straight to me in response to my asking to jump ship and dive overboard. Thank you for these water wings that landed right in my arms!! Please DO NOT “unsubscribe” me from your mailing list. “Once I was ‘crowded with stuff and now I can focus again'” on God’s simple things (paraphrased the Blind Man) — and ‘simple’ friends when they speak to my heart and I know my heart is being received into theirs in return. Peace and Shalom to you this day, Simply, and Always.

    • David Anderson
      January 8, 2016 | 2:25 pm

      You’re not unsubscribed–glad to have you onboard. And –keep living the life of simple being.

  11. Ginny Lovas
    January 8, 2016 | 5:22 pm

    Friends chide me about not having and using the latest technology – I am the one without the I Phone. You know what – I am happy about that. I know I miss a lot, but like your friend, I am more busy watching the antics of a squirrel outside my window, or one of my cats being very comfortable in a spot of sun on the living room rug, or one of my favorite’s – staring at the sky and water at Calf Pasture Beach in Norwalk. Those kinds of things bring me closer, I think to what real life is all about. I am probably very boring! Ginny

  12. Elizabeth Ohlson
    January 9, 2016 | 9:41 am

    Yes and Amen! Thank you.

  13. David Anderson
    January 9, 2016 | 7:02 pm

    You can never say it all in one post (or you’d better not, anyway)–but one thing I wanted to add is–When we attend to the “little things,” it doesn’t mean that we don’t see the big things, the bomb in North Korea, as I mentioned, the mob in Oregon, the mass shooting de jour. It just means that when we see these “big” things we don’t have to be reactive, we don’t have to go where the news anchors want us to go. We can see these things and not go immediately to fear, anxiety, revenge. We can pause for a critical moment and know both where our worse angels (in Lincoln’s terms) want us to go, and where our better angels can wing us. Salvation is found in that one split second.

  14. Johnna
    January 14, 2016 | 8:00 am

    Great to see your words again, David. You posted this on my birthday, so I consider it a present! May your 2016 be full of little moments and glimpses of everything that is in anything you see.

Leave a Reply