Often it is some brush with mortality that awakens the heart.
Annie Dillard lived a long time beside Tinker Creek, but it wasn’t until she nearly died of pneumonia that she began to go down and sit by that creek, watching the frogs and the bugs, the birds and wildflowers. She jotted down notes, kept coming back, seeing deeper and deeper into this one particular landscape. She gathered up the scraps of insights and published them as Pilgrim at Tinker Creek.
On July 2, 1505, the legend says, Martin Luther was a happy go lucky law student at the University of Erfurt. Luther was riding his horse back to school after visiting his parents when he was caught in a horrible thunderstorm. Lightning struck so close that the air pressure from the bolt threw him to the ground. “St. Anne help me!” he cried, “I will become a monk.” It’s likely that Luther had thought often about becoming a monk, but it took a powerful dislodging from the usual course of life to prompt his ultimate decision.
Humans are awesome and awful creatures of habit. We get up and do the same thing over and over, day after day. We don’t see the mystery that rests at the heart of life because—well, because we can always do that tomorrow. “What a wonderful life I’ve had!” said the French novelist Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette, “I only wish I’d realized it sooner.”
It makes sense, then, to pay attention to the disruptions in our lives. When we are laid low by sickness (even if it is not unto death), when our plans are disrupted, when something blocks our way. The immediate response is to “get over this” and “get back to normal.”
Carl Jung said, “God is the name by which I designate all things which cross my path violently and recklessly, all things which alter my plans and intentions, and change the course of my life, for better or for worse.”