Two years ago, as a gift in celebration of my final vows, Bro. Dan O’Riordan decided to treat me to a Broadway show. We ended up seeing The Color Purple, which turned out to be an excellent choice. Aside from the tremendous music so greatly informed by the gospel and blues music traditions, I was struck by the richness of the prose, as I hadn’t read the novel by Alice Walker since I was in high school and had forgotten most everything about it.
For some reason, I still don’t remember many plot details, but the one thing that production burned into my memory was a line delivered by the character Shug Avery, an insightful theologian and woman with a reputation.
“I think it pisses God off if you walk by the color purple in a field somewhere and don't notice it. People think pleasing God is all God cares about. But any fool living in the world can see [God] always trying to please us back.” Ain’t that the truth, Shug?
To be perfectly honest, I am not a huge fan of New York City, and one of my absolute least favorite places to be in the world is the theater district at night. I have nothing against the shows, even though I only see about two per decade. What I really hate is being in the brightest part of an already very illuminated metropolis. There are things I like about cities, and there are even things I like about Manhattan (including Korea Town). But my general preference is for more natural areas where the nights get dark and quiet.
Artificial lighting has done great things for us. It benefits public safety, and for better or worse, it helps us be productive later into the night. It allows us to explore ocean depths. I have never seen a city kid though who wasn’t amazed at the stars when he or she finally got a chance to see them on a clear night some place far away from urban light pollution. What really bothers me is not streetlights and neon, but rather that we often don’t even know what we’ve lost in exchange for these conveniences. Yet we call it progress. To think of the magnificent night skies God has made for us and that we don’t even know we’re ignoring—I don’t know if it pisses God off or makes God cry.
I’ve heard many people claim that water has no taste (except when it tastes bad). Here in the Dominican Republic though, water has become my general drink of preference rather than just a healthy choice. In Spanish, fresh water is known as agua dulce, and once you start paying attention, that is just about right! Good water is sweet and far from tasteless once you learn how to appreciate it—something that is hard to do when we are so used to much stronger, artificial flavoring.
I love the cold showers I take here, both because that is the available option, and also because it is often hot enough that the cold feels refreshing. To be honest, the water isn’t even cold, but just unheated. In the USA however, I am so used to having a hot shower regardless, just because I can, that it always took a great act of will to get into a cold shower, and then it was usually only when there was no other easy option. I hope I can still enjoy cool showers when I return to New England.
There are some things that we don’t appreciate until they are taken away, but a great many other simple joys that we fail to sufficiently notice because of the many loud, fast, and shiny distractions surrounding us. Not everybody has the patience to meditate, but perhaps you can find a morning soon when you can drink your coffee however you like, but without anything to read or watch, not even on your phone or computer. Drink it slowly, and think about what things—or people—in your life you may be failing to appreciate. And in that moment, let your prayer be a simple thanksgiving.
Then again, it doesn’t even have to be a cup of coffee. Water will do just as well.
The “ear candy” and “brain food” for this week are closely linked to each other and to this blog post as they reflect in different ways on the ordinary blessings that surround us, sometimes even in contradiction or difficulty. The NYTimes Opinion piece chosen as brain food approaches this through reflecting on the choice to live simply.
Ear Candy: “Blessed” by Lucinda Williams
Brain Food: “I Highly Recommend Joining this Cult” by Lisa Pryor