Nothing Is Wasted
Remember the Bible story about the miraculous multiplying loaves and fishes? (See Mark 6:32-44) How at the end of the story it is said there were twelve baskets of leftovers from the feast?
As a youngster I sometimes wondered about those leftovers. Wondered who brought the baskets and how the leftovers were divided and who got to take them home. Wondered whether there were fish leftovers too, and how they were transported--whether the food was wrapped in cloth and put into pockets or how that worked. And wondered whether some families may have brought their dogs or cats and whether the animals got any of the scraps. Gradually it dawned on me that the rich but untold story of the feast was most certainly under the surface. Not just about how blessings shared are blessings multiplied, but about the women and children (and pets) who were not counted among the 5,000 attendees. The gospel writers may have thought those were unimportant details, but I disagree.
In my experience the real stories of culture and enlightenment and the unfolding of miracles often involve not only women and children and pets but a multitude of other unnoticed or unrecorded details. The meat of many stories (or at least the spice) is in the subtext or the illustrations or the tossed away phrase. And the meat of many of my own richest experiences is under the surface.
Sometime during my first year at college my friends started calling me a curious observer and I was vaguely insulted at first, as if that were a slightly demeaning label and perhaps it was. But I decided to embrace the description and I remember my life becoming richer almost overnight. I started noticing small details like how many colors of green I could see from the chemistry classroom window, or the exact angle of the sun at a certain time of day on special days of the year. I noticed the specifics of what my professors wore and their particular patterns of pacing in front of the class. I noticed whose eyes were puffy from crying and which classmates wrote left-or right-handed. It was amazing how the structure of our lives was shaped by the undercurrents, by the deeper patterns behind our superficial behaviors. Who fussed about the extreme winters and who just put chains on their bicycle tires and went about their business. Who fell asleep in world history after being up at 4 a.m. to work at the radio station. Who withdrew into their own silence, and who met the world with a smile and a greeting. That first year in college was not just about what we learned or who we dated or where we lived or what we ate, it was a rich intro to social anthropology for me. We were connected in ways that were not intuitive or obvious,but we were truly connected by our interactions and motivations and hidden qualities. Those hidden qualities and behaviors were the glue that made our little social system work.
What I could see when I looked below the surface was so amazing that I determined to continue that exploration into my career. I began to notice there were patterns of social support and emotional health that predicted how quickly a surgical patient would heal. There were certain qualities in the nurses I worked with that enhanced our team’s creativity and efficiency while other attitudes spelled trouble and a rough road ahead. The story of all our lives in that surgical intensive care unit was, like the story of the miraculous feeding, rich indeed but most of it was not visible on the surface. It was about who brought the fish, who baked the bread, who brought the knitting baskets, who was willing to share and who wasn’t even aware of the needs of the people next to them. Jesus used everyone and everything present in his hillside classroom to make the Day of the Big Feed the smashing success it was--teaching, socializing, eating, and a mysterious outcome that was better than logic would predict. Jesus knew who the people in the crowd could be if they were invited into a deeper and bigger reality. He showed them they already had everything they needed to thrive, and he modeled the way that could happen--by looking under the surface at what was really there, and sharing it with each other. The whole experience was synchronicity at its finest, and the richness of the story for me is symbolized by the twelve baskets of leftovers.
So remember in this universe nothing is ever wasted. If we notice, collect and integrate the details that are present we can make our little circles and our larger communities smoother and happier places to be. Places of healing and life instead of selfishness and destruction. Become a curious observer this winter. Stay wide awake and see what’s really out there.