There were fireworks over the river last night! It has been a long, long time since that happened, and it was a treat.
Hyde Park is directly across the river from us and the town used to provide fireworks every year on the 4th of July. It was one of the highlights of the summer during the years that I was a novice and everyone came for the occasion. The neighbors filled our lawns and hillsides and the river was full of boats that came for the show. Many of us went up on the roof of the monastery for a better view, and it was an evening that we looked forward to each summer. Then came financial problems in this part of the world during the 70's and one year the fireworks didn't happen - and they never came back, at least until last night.
I was on my way to bed just before 10:00 when I heard a couple of loud booms. I didn't think anything of it because we had thunderstorms in the area during the afternoon and evening, but when the noise kept coming I started to pay attention. I went out to one of the big windows in the hall that overlook the river and there they were: fireworks! So up to the roof I went, where I reminisced and enjoyed the show. There were no crowds on the hillside and not a single boat in the river. There was just me on the roof and the wonderful colors of the display. And to the north and the south nature was providing its own show of thunder and lightning to accompany the main event. It was a fairly modest display as these things go, but it was a nice one and had a couple of special effects including one deep red heart. I don't know what the occasion was, though Br Bernard suggests that the heart may mean that it was a wedding. But it was so good to welcome the fireworks back to the river and enjoy a balmy evening with the counterpoint of the storms all around us.
Then an interesting thing happened when I got back to my room. I settled down in bed, and was going to do some before sleep reading, but I never opened the book. Instead I replayed the display and let it bring back the times of the 4th of July shows now long past, and as I let all of those thoughts drift through my mind I discovered how full of joy I was. It wasn't any small thing, either. I was really joy-full. It started in the center of my belly, and I could feel it radiating down my arms and legs and it filled my mind and emotions as well. This small event of an early summer evening had given me an unexpected gift - I was, in the words of C S Lewis, "surprised by joy".
And I wonder how often those surprises of joy wait for me and I miss them. I think it is fairly frequent. If I am going to be surprised by anything it is usually some harder or darker experience: one that I really have to work with in order to regain my composure after being thrown off balance. But I know that the joyful encounters are there. I'm sensitive to small moments of beauty when they come, whether provided by nature or by my community or by the guests who come here in such large numbers. But so often I don't really take those moments in. I need to take a minute or two out and to become aware of how deeply that beauty, and the joy that comes with it, can fill my being. That is not something I do very frequently, and so I was surprised last night by how deeply moved I was.
I obviously have some work to do. I have to get more conscious of the joyful surprises of each day. If I don't open up this way naturally, I have to start a practice that will enable me to do it. And I will need to work at this practice. It may seem funny to talk about "working" at something that is really more like relaxing. But 'work' is a good word for the disciplined attention that is required for any change, including the opening to joy. My life will provide many opportunities. I just need to be with it, and to do the work required to be with it.
It's all about opening my heart, of course. This is the center of the path of Christianity, and it's why this particular practice will be important for me. The more I am able to open my heart the more I will become what I am supposed to be: filled with love for life and for my brothers and sisters and for everyone I encounter. This is what I, and every other human being, is made to be and to do. This is what spiritual practice is supposed to accomplish for us. The Christian spiritual tradition is very clear that the path is not about 'spiritual experiences' - it is about love. The fireworks over the river just offered me the chance to wake up to a the possibility of a deeper walking of that path. The rest is now up to me.