I’ve just finished an enjoyable novel called The Art of Racing in the Rain. It is written from the perspective of a loyal and faithful dog named Enzo, which makes the book incredibly endearing. (I love dogs!) But the unusual vantage point also gives a remarkable insight into our human lives as well. Enzo, I suspect, is Buddhist for his thoughts often remind me of a Tibetan exercise for compassion: try to imagine yourself inside the face of every single person who passes.
In the novel, the wife has been diagnosed with an inoperable and incurable brain tumor. The outlook could not be more pessimistic. Yet, one evening, she dresses up in her finest evening gown, a gorgeous dress, long and navy blue. She has a lovely string of freshwater pearls around her neck and her makeup is just right. Most beautiful of all, she has a dazzling smile on her face as she announces to her husband, “Today is the first day I am not dead.”
Try and imagine yourself inside her face. She is most keenly aware of the fragility of life yet professes a hope that is far greater. Enzo is inspired and, from that moment, vows to live every day as if it had been stolen from death . . . to feel the joy of life . . . to separate from the burden, the angst, the anguish that we all encounter.
Though goodness, mercy, and unconditional love can seem worlds apart from this so often tragic and cruel world, people of different faiths nonetheless believe that God does connect with us; that eternity is somehow related to our mortal and finite lives; that God guides us and leads us. The spiritually evolved dog, Enzo, points beyond the tragedy, transcending the pain, with a the gift of sacred awareness.
That, too, might sound rather Buddhist to you! Yet we read what such a life of sacred awareness looks like the Book of Acts. Paul has a vision to go to Macedonia; he is then led to a prayer meeting by the river where a woman named Lydia has her heart opened to hear the good news; she and her entire household are subsequently baptized (Acts 16:9-15). The Holy Spirit is behind all of these actions; yet it took a sense what I’m calling “sacred awareness” for people to respond as they did.
I also want to stress that, to cultivate sacred awareness, you don’t have to be the Apostle Paul. You don’t have to be a wealthy merchant like Lydia. A great spiritual teacher in the eighteenth century, Rabbi Zusya, once said, “When I get to the heavenly court, God will not ask me, ‘Why weren’t you Moses?’ Rather [God] will ask me, ‘Why were you not Zusya?’”
Put more positively, it is God’s love that works through us. Poet Mary Karr observed, “Breath is God’s intent to keep us living . . . If you’re breathing, just presume you’re supposed to be alive and start looking around for some way to make yourself useful.”
Try and imagine yourself in someone else’s face.