The Moose of Mindfulness

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I keep looking around me.
The face of the moose is as sad
as the face of Jesus.
Mary Oliver

I spent the week of Labor Day in Grand Lake Colorado, a tiny town built around the largest glacial lake in Colorado. The town is nestled against the entrance to the west side of the Rocky Mountains National Park. My husband and I hiked everyday in the forest. My hope on all the hikes was that I might get a glimpse of some of the wildlife in the park–deer, elk, a big-horned sheep, an otter or a beaver. My husband, who is a geologist, was on the lookout for rocks. These, at least from my perspective, are far less elusive than the wildlife, but I do envy him his ability to see things in a stone that are invisible to me. When it comes to rocks my geologist husband is a true contemplative–he can indeed “see the world in a grain of sand.”

One morning we came downstairs from our condo on the lake to find a group of people staring intently into the yard across the street from us. I asked them what they were looking at, and one pointed into the partially fenced yard. At first I didn’t see anything—then I looked closer. A bull moose was lying in the grass just yards away from us! From time to time he looked at us but you could tell he wasn’t bothered by us. Occasionally, he shook his head; his antlers were so massive, I was amazed he could even hold his head up. Everyone who saw him wanted to get a picture—what a photo op this fellow presented! But I was transfixed. I could not take my eyes off the moose. How could this 1200-pound wild creature be calmly napping in a yard in the middle of town? Okay—a miniscule town, but still. . .

Finally I went back upstairs, but the mystery was too great. I came downstairs again to see if the moose was still there. He was. I edged a bit closer. I stared into his chocolate eyes. Somehow this moose knew me and I knew him. I knew he had an awareness I lacked. I thought, “I haven’t meditated yet this morning,” and then I understood that I was meditating because my attention was clearly fixed on the one thing in front of me–the moose. I was not too close to the moose—there was a safe distance between us–but I felt the energy radiating from this creature—it was the same energy that radiated from me—and, yes, the same life force that radiated from all of us as we watched the moose in a kind of awed silence. I could be perfectly present in this moment because I had never seen anything like this moose. I had glimpsed a moose before from a distance through binoculars but this one was in the yard across the street from me! I don’t know much about moose so I had no overlay of opinions and assumptions to place on this creature—I was just with him in that moment. I could really see him and what I saw was a miracle. I got a new insight into the line from Mary Oliver’s poem “Some Questions You Might Ask.”

I once got in trouble for teaching that poem to a group of Christians. The person in charge took umbrage at that very line—“the face of the moose is as sad as the face of Jesus.” I still don’t know what that line “means,” but I know it is true. Jesus was sad because we so often fail to “see.” His great love for us made him sad that we tend to sleep walk through life. The moose woke me up.

Oliver says “I keep looking around me.” That’s a habit I want to cultivate, because I know I continue to fall back to sleep—in fact just hours later when I walked by that yard again I assumed the moose was gone. Someone had to point out to me that he had merely moved further back into the yard. Left to my own devices I would have completely missed seeing this wonder again. But for a mystical moment of presence I was mindfully aware of the reality of St. Paul’s words in Acts 17. Divine Mystery (God) “is not far from each one of us for ‘in him we live and move and have our being.’” All of us.