Expect nothing. Live frugally on surprise. – Alice WalkerThe Magnolia Plantation on the Ashley River is doing some brave new work, and is lucky to have D.J. Tucker, an enthusiastic human being if I have ever met one. He heads up the From Slavery to Freedom Project involving the restored slave cabins there.
I visited recently for a delicious heritage food dinner cooked over an open fire, and upon entering this place of most beautiful of gardens, I was surprised to be greeted near my car by strutting peacocks! Fantastically colored peacocks, roaming in the yard!
Thanksgiving recently made me think about gratitude, so a bit of sleuthing turned up surprise as one key to the virtue. A book by the wise David Steindl-Rast sits on my bedside table right now. Art, too, gets made when one is most alive. And awake to wonder.
“Have you ever noticed how your eyes open a bit wider when you are surprised?” he writes in Common Sense Spirituality: The Essential Wisdom, “It is as if you had been asleep, merely daydreaming or sleepwalking through some routine activity, and then you hear your favorite record on the radio, or you look up from the puddles on the parking lot and see a rainbow, or the telephone rings and it’s the voice of an old friend, and all of a sudden you’re awake. Even an unwelcome surprise shakes us out of complacency and makes us come alive. We may not like it at first, but looking back, we can always recognize it as a gift. Humdrum equals deadness; surprise equals life. In fact, my favorite name for the One I worship in wonder — the only name that does not limit God — is Surprise.“I remember spiritual giants I have been privileged to meet, he continues, — Mother Teresa, Thomas Merton, Dorothy Day, His Holiness the Dalai Lama — I can still feel the life energy they radiated. But how did they come by this vitality? There is no lack of surprises in this world, but such radiant aliveness is rare. What I observed was that these people were all profoundly grateful, and then I understood the secret.
He writes that surprise does not make us automatically alive. Aliveness is a matter of give-and-take, of response. If we allow surprise merely to baffle us, it will stun us and stunt our growth. But as it also involves editing I think, like one does as a photographer. The secret is editing down to the best. And as they wisely say 12 Steps, Take what you will and leave the rest. “Every surprise is a challenge to trust in life and so to grow. Surprise is a seed. Gratefulness sprouts when we rise to the challenge of surprise. The great ones in the realm of Spirit are so intensely alive because they are so deeply grateful.” Wow.
Cheers from the Lowcountry this fine, cold December Day. May this month bring nothing but surprises.