Sacraments

Vermont SumacThroughout my life I have been lucky enough to have elders around who took pleasure in greeting each day. They would say something like, “Today is a good day. I awoke and realized the Creator has given me another day of life. I am grateful.”

One of those elders was a man named Luther Rackley. Luther was 88 years old when I knew him. His family had settled the ranch he owned in the mountains of northern New Mexico sometime around 1915. I was the foreman of the small ranch next door, and I offered to be of use whenever he needed me. Luther was an exceedingly kind and gracious man who regularly literally rode me into the ground as we went about our work.Luther’s grown kids were making their way in the arts. One was a successful Shakespearean actor in Britain. Another was a filmmaker. I believe yet another worked for National Public Television. Luther, an accomplished weaver, had taken up weaving while being treated for Leukemia ten years earlier. Each winter, when ranch life slowed down due to deep snow cover and cold, he passed many days at the floor loom.

Luther loved his wife of well over 50 years, and clearly the feeling was mutual. It was a pleasure to sit in their company. Conversations were inevitably complex and far reaching, the food consistently excellent, and their house filled with light from many windows. After some forty years Luther’s smile, intelligence, and wisdom remain a solace to me.

Luther never used the word “sacrament,” yet he made it abundantly evident that he felt each day to be exactly that, a gift from the Creator to be treasured, lived fully, and held sacred. Every now and again he would, without furnishing details, mention his illness and appreciate the ways it had changed his life. Since then, I have met others who faced life-threatening illness, survived, and felt profound gratitude for the experience. It seems odd to speak of illness as a sacrament, yet for some it is just that.

I have gotten to an age where mortality is a conscious companion. I am often reminded of an old Inuit song, in which an elder remembers the anxieties of his younger life, and appreciates the opportunity to go out in his kayak to greet the rising sun and witness the “light that illumines the world.” I am aware the Inuit seafarer of the song holds the world to be sacred, and lives in the presence of the Holy. For him, dawn is a sacrament, as is much that fills his days.

I’d like to report that, like the Inuit man, I have let go of worry. Alas, this is not the case. Anxiety all too readily gains a foothold in my life. I understand that fear limits my ability to fully engage the world. I also know that when I cease rejecting the fear, subtle doors open, and my life takes on deeper, more complex layers of meaning. I seek to remind myself that anxiety is a part of life, and as such must also be sacred.

I imagine there is much to life that most of us would rather reject than embrace. Luther did not reject much: racism, greed, meanness. Mostly he lived life with arms wide open to embrace the next moment. He was an extraordinary teacher.

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