The Practice of Is
by Tyra Arraj

Essence and existence. Two key thoughts in St. Thomas Aquinas. But what do they mean, and how can we see what they mean in our daily life?

This is a flower. That is a tree. A flower is not a tree. A tree is not a flower.

But what do they have in common? A flower IS. A tree IS. A flower has isness. A tree has isness.

Try to practice "is." Take a flower in your hand, and admire it. Look how delicate it is, how colorful it is, even how temporary it is. Focus in on each tiny part, and be amazed at how such a thing came from a tiny seed. And then, instead of just looking at the flower, look at the flower in its overpowering isness. The flower is, and it is permeated through and through with being. It is. It exists.

I cannot create a flower. I cannot even do a good job of imagining all the intricacies of a flower. A simple flower is way beyond my personal power. The isness of this tiny creation shakes my universe, my whole concept of what I take for granted. Its isness defies definition, it shakes my logical acceptance of the world I know. Because in looking as deeply as I can in the isness of a tiny flower, my little mind is trying to encompass the whole mystery of existence. I could never create a tiny flower so that it shimmers in the sunlight, but far beyond that, what is this "is" that makes the flower exist?

One day I was walking down the path to our greenhouse, and all of a sudden my cupped hand momentarily caught a bee in mid-flight. For just a split second I could feel the tiny wings beating against my fingers, and my breath was taken away because of the wonder of its isness.

We were camping high in the mountains, and I surprised a young fox, warming itself in the new dawn. The sunlight illuminated its alert ears and made them glow redly.

I have had the rare privilege of filming people in our work, people who have important stories to share with us. And a surprising thing seems to happen. As I focus in on their faces and listen intently to their stories, it is as if in sharing with us they are also giving us a glimpse of the mystery of their own inner being. The person you may not even notice on the street becomes alive with the wonder of his or her particular journey toward the ultimate answers, and I can see in their eyes a sense of a far greater reality than just the person in front of my camera. No one can ever fathom the depths and beauty of each individual person, even with all our imperfections and worries.

My cat looks out the window, and the sunlight highlights each whisker. He glows in the sun, and I marvel at the very fact that he is. He loves me, he purrs, he likes to be close to me, and he is.

But the most overpowering experience of all is when my husband looks at me with eyes filled with love. That is the moment when his spirit shines forth, flooding my own spirit with his love. And I know beyond a doubt that that love comes not only from him in all its splendor, but from He Who has created both him and me. And for a special timeless time the three of us – him, me and the Creator – come together in a wordless union of eternal love.

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