For several weeks I saw him in the distance as I took my sunrise walk on the Cape Cod beach I frequent. He resolutely walked the beach with metal detector in hand. I often wondered why he bothered. It was October, tourist season was over, and he couldn't retrieve more than a handful of coins or maybe an occasionally a lost watch or cheap piece of costume jewelry in the course of his hunting. Yet, he came back day after day, just as I came back daily for my contemplative prayer walk. I must admit that I judged his practice. He was quiet, and that was good news to me as I silently prayed with clouds and waves as companions. I had always found metal detecting a distraction from experiencing the beauty of the beach. "How can you trade the wind and waves for a few pings on your metal detector?" I thought to myself...until one morning, when our paths crossed in the parking lot. After exchanging pleasantries, I asked him in a gentle way, “What do you like best about metal detecting?” His response surprised me: “I can't sit still. But, each morning, while I'm on the beach, playing around with my detector, I have a chance to be quiet and let go of whatever's bothering me.”
Rumi, the Sufi mystic, once affirmed that there a hundred ways to bow down and kiss the ground. Could my sunrise companion be practicing one of those hundred ways? I learned from him that meditation can be practiced in at least a hundred ways, given our particular time, context, personality type, religious background, way of processing information and imagery, cultural background, and ethnicity. We can, as the Desert Father asserted, “become fire” in a variety of ways.
I have a friend who fishes. He never worries about catching anything. But for a few hours each week, he is fully attentive to the moment. “When I'm fishing,” he says, “I live in the now. I have no worries. I simply enjoy this moment.” In the film, “Chariots of Fire,” Olympic runner Eric Liddell rejoices that God made him fast and when he runs, he can feel God's pleasure.
Meister Eckhardt proclaimed that God not only loves the world, but that God also enjoys creation. While spiritual practices require intentionality and focus, the reality is that if God is everywhere—and that's the meaning of omnipresence—every activity can be an open door to wholeness, holiness, and divinity. One of my favorite singer-song writers Carrie Newcomer sings "Holy as a Day is Spent" and notes in the course of the hymn that folding clothes, making breakfast, listening to cars drive by, and watching a dog run in her sleep can be openings to God's presence. As a writer, I love her line: “The empty page/The open book/ Redemption everywhere I look.”
Becoming fire is an everyday process. It is opening the holiness of every task and every person. There are hundred ways to be become fire and bow down to the divine. In my book Becoming Fire: Spiritual Practices for Global Christians, I chart a few of these practices—gratitude, centering prayer, walking in beauty, healing affirmations, healing touch, confession, praise, breath prayer—and invite you to discover your own pathway to God. The ever-present, ever-inviting God whose love and mercy is new every morning gives us a multitude of ways to find our home in God's presence.
Pause awhile today and find a path with a heart, as Don Juan avers, and follow it where it leads and joins a plethora of other paths on life's holy adventure. If you can meditate with a metal detector, then who knows what practice might kindle your spiritual fire?
Bruce Epperly is the author of many books on spirituality, including the recently released Becoming Fire: Spiritual Practices for Global Christians, available now.