In the very strange, and mostly forgettable movie, ‘the World According to Garp” – there is a wonderful scene when the Robin Williams character, Garp, is doing the “Mr. Mom” routine. It shows him preparing breakfast for the kids. Driving them to school while singing at the top of their lungs. Taking them to the park after school. Having a Nerf sword fight on the front lawn. Flying kites. Doing all manner of normal, everyday kind of kid activity. At the end of that montage, you see him tucking in the children, giving them a kiss on the brow, and quietly leaving the room. Back in the kitchen, his wife, now the breadwinner for the family comes home from work. “How was your day, dear?” she asks. Unforgettably, at least for me, he says this most amazing line I think I ever heard in a movie. “I had a wonderful life today.” “I had a wonderful life today.”
That line stuck in my head as containing a truth for living. If I can just be present to my day, to all the normal, mundane activities of the moment, it’s rhythm of silence and interaction, of beauty and of ordinariness, then somehow, it is enough. Then, I can say, at the end of each day, like Garp – “I had a wonderful life today.”
In the prayer of the church called the divine office, the church invites us to that very experience. Each night prayer, the church invites those who follow that prayer to pray the canticle of Simeon – called the NUNC DIMITTIS, (from the first two words of the prayer in Latin) we just heard in the gospel. And though the words are different than those from the World According to Garp, isn’t the sentiment the same? “Now Master, you may dismiss your servant in peace, according to your word. For my eyes have seen your salvation…” At the end of this day, of each day, I am invited to look back and to see how MY EYES have seen the salvation of God breaking into my world. My heart and memory are to see, in the ordinary events, the extraordinary in-breaking of the kingdom of God, right here and now in my world.
I don’t know the history of the divine office well enough to know whose idea it was to include this canticle in the nightly prayer of the church. But I have prayed it long enough to know it was a stroke of brilliance to do so.
• When the days are wonderful and full of blessing, how wonderful to connect them to my loving God – and to be able to say: MY EYES have seen your salvation. And then to look back and remember the interaction where a student shared their heart; the conversation where someone had the courage to challenge me to growth; the moment when the evening sunset filled the sky with radiant beauty.
• When my day was weary, and I fought too many of other people’s battles, and lacked focus and clarity of purpose – how restoring it is to step back and remind myself: God has destined all his people to know his Salvation and Glory – even when I am having trouble seeing it in them. Then I find forgiveness in my heart and the strength to start again – because I desire my heart to be like God’s.
• When the worries of finances drag me down; when I ponder how to walk more deeply the journey of faith, when, in my pity party moments, I wonder if my life really makes a difference – it is so healing to know that my life is a part of that salvation that God has prepared and is preparing for all the nations, even though I may not be aware of how and where and why.
Now, Lord, you may dismiss your servant in peace. For Simeon, to have that prayer so readily on his lips meant that he lived a life prepared for the arrival of God’s anointed one. He lived with a heart that did his part, and trusted the rest to God. And who believed, that right there, in the middle of the ordinary and mundane of life, God’s plan would be carried forward. Can you pray with Simeon that simple prayer each night, and let it give light to your daytimes? Or even simpler, in the words of Garp – will you live each day so that at the end of it, should God ask you, or your spouse or your roomie or your friend, “How was your day?” your answer would always be the same: “I had a wonderful life today!”