Have you ever heard of a brachiopod? Well, I hadn't until this past fall. I came across an unusual shell fossil deep in the woods one day and asked a fellow fossil-lover what it was. He smiled and told me a few things about brachiopods and that the particular one I had shown him was between 300 and 500 million years old, dating from the geological era of the Cambrian period to possibly the Permian period. Brachiopods (two-valved marine creatures) lived millions of years ago in shallow seas. One side of the shell has a depression in the middle, and the other side has a raised ridge down the center, making brachiopods only symmetrical if you cut them down the front in the middle, but not if you take apart each side of the shell. I love these fossils. More important, I love that I can hold in my hand something so ancient that once was so full of life. This particular brachiopod was connected to our ancient earth before humans roamed the planet. Can you imagine just how magnificent these earlier days of earth must have been?
After I found my first brachiopod, I started seeing more deep in the woods--I only noticed them where I expected to find them. But one day I happened to look down at the edge of a gravel road and saw a whole brachiopod fossil among the chopped rock. I realized that I never would have expected to find one in such an "unnatural" environment. After all, gravel doesn't seem like anything natural or ancient. But it is . . . it comes from the broken-down, millions-of-years-old rocks. Even though we use it for our roads and such, its source is the same as any rock. And all rocks are VERY old.
This got me to thinking . . . again. Sometimes I gloss over things that are of value. I only expect to see valuable things in certain places, so I've trained my eye to NOT see the valuable things of life in the unexpected places. By living in this narrowly focused way, I miss out on so much beauty and joy and growth. I love the John O'Donohue quote: "Many of us have made our world so familiar that we do not see it anymore." Everything deserves a second glance, a gaze even. The gaze allows our hearts to open a little more and let something that is often times unnoticed get a second chance to shine, to share its truth. The gaze slows us down and allows us to connect to our world in a more intimate and connected way. If you look into someone's eye's long enough, for example, you can't help but feel connected to them in a way that makes words virtually powerless. Eyes connect . . . the gaze connects. It activates the heart and soul. If we really take the time to stop and look at something or someone, we will hear a message or learn something that is valuable to our life. God will use that moment of connection to speak. That small moment of the second look, the extended gaze, will hold much power and importance. Try it. I know you'll be amazed at what you really see and how your soul is touched.
Finding beautiful, ancient fossils in unexpected places also reminds me to never limit God. Don't expect to only find Him in the usual places: church, funeral homes, and such. God is everywhere. He is in the leaves that fall to the ground in autumn. He is in the nurse who comforts a patient with cancer. He is in the handicapped person who is longing for human contact. He is in the marriage that has become unraveled but is finally coming back together with humbling honesty and forgiveness. He is in the coffee shops of the cities among friends, who get together for a moment of confession. He is in our greatest achievements and our most disappointing failures. Gaze into the present moment and see where you find Him in any given situation. His presence will not disappoint. It's only we who disappoint ourselves by not letting the holy and divine reach into every moment.