I start every morning by walking my dog and then having a cup of coffee. Whenever I can--even on rainy days or hot and humid days--I try to have my coffee on the front porch. There I sit, cup of coffee in hand, with no cell phone, no headphones, no book, and no journal and pen. I sit in my rocking chair and I just rock. I rock, I listen, I look, I ponder, and I sip my coffee.
As I sit, I always hear the traffic from 11th Street and from Hwy 92/A Avenue. But I also hear birds--and see them too. I see the ways that the cardinal pairs come to the feeder--one, then the other. One always eating, the other always on the lookout. I watch the hummingbirds hover down to sip some of the homemade nectar (sugar water) that we put out for them, and then catch a glimpse of new baby bunnies snacking on some of the cracked corn I have sprinkled on the ground for the sparrows.
I wish I could say that this was all a part of some intentional spiritual practice that I was doing, but it's not. This sacred time and place has happened quite accidentally. One day I got home from walking my dog and I was hot. So I went outside with my morning coffee to enjoy the nice breeze that was blowing. When I got outside I realized I had put down my phone somewhere in the house. I didn't feel like going back inside to look for it, so I sat down, sipped my coffee, and rocked. Back and forth. Watching, listening, and contemplating. And from that simple mistake, a practice--or at least a routine--was born.
Though I have come to view this time as holy and sacred, I haven't always. It was just a part of my morning routine. And yet, I have come to find that this is one of the few times in my day that I slow down enough, am still enough, to draw closer to the Divine.
Lauren F. Winner shares the wisdom of a fourteenth-century text from an unnamed English monk that reads, “You only need a tiny scrap of time to move toward God." Which is fantastic for those of us who only have tiny scraps of time at one time to devote to such things. It's fantastic to think that in as little as the time it takes to simply drink a cup of coffee, each of us can move closer to God if we are but willing to open ourselves to doing so. It's fantastic to know that communing with the Divine doesn't necessarily have to be another time-suck in my day.
And yet, there's also something that pulls on me, inviting me to more deeply ponder just why it is that "scraps"--of time, of my attention, of my life--are all I seem to have to give to drawing closer to the One who made me. Where are the rest of my life, my attention, and my time going? I'm not always sure, and maybe it doesn't matter. Maybe it's simply enough to know that God can work with scraps. Maybe it's enough to know that even when my priorities are all out of whack, even when my attentions are anywhere but God, even when I'm worried, or over-functioning, or in pain, there are small moments in which I am moving toward God anyway. And maybe the power in these scraps of time is more about me finally noticing the Divine drawing near more than it is about me--about us--doing something particularly holy to draw near to God.
I have to wonder if that's the "spiritual practice" of it all: Noticing. Being still enough to see and hear that the One we seek is already here--drawing near to us. Coming as close as a hovering hummingbird, watching out for us just as a cardinal pair watches out for one another, feeding us and nurturing us the way spilled cracked corn nurtures tiny bunnies.
Learning to notice the nearness of God in my scraps of stillness with you,
Rev. Melissa Sternhagen
Rev. Melissa Sternhagen was called as the pastor of St. Paul Congregational UCC in June of 2020. Prior to her call to St. Paul, Pr. Melissa worked as a hospice chaplain in the Ames, IA area, following pastorates at rural churches in Central Iowa and Southern Illinois. Pr. Melissa is a second-career pastor with a background in agribusiness and production & supply operations. She received her M.Div. from Eden Theological Seminary in St. Louis, MO, and holds a MA Ed. in Adult Education and Training, and a BA in Organizational Communications.