I love the uplifting story Sue Monk Kidd tells about her grandfather.
My grandfather was a lawyer, a judge, and a farmer. He was frequently busy and conquesting, but I remember also that he sometimes entered the golden moments of wu wei. He and I used to go fishing at one of the little ponds on his farm. He would sit and hold his cane pole over the water, becoming as still as the stumps that jutted up from the water. I usually tired of fishing fairly soon and went on to other things, like dandelions. One day having given up on the fishing, I was playing in his old black truck when I noticed that his fishing bait was still on the seat. I remember being surprised that my grandfather had been out fishing an hour or more without bait.
I grabbed the bait basket and raced over to him, “Granddaddy, how can you fish without bait?”
He tilted back his hat and smiled as if he had been caught in some delicious secret. “Well, sometimes it’s not the fish I’m after,” he said, “it’s the fishing.”
Sign me up. Although, it’s not easy in a world where we are reminded to live life faster, bigger and newer… in order to claim the “life we deserve.” In the meantime, of course, life is full, complicated, messy, frustrating and demanding. We are—take your pick—exhausted, overwhelmed, stressed, frazzled, plum tuckered, drained, sapped, running on empty, done in, overbooked, gummed up, stuck, trapped… and at times, we are without a clue.
I have been in Antigua, Guatemala this week. And I’m fascinated by how we require our lists, even on vacation. Because Lord knows it’s not easy fishing without “the bait”—what with our assorted expectations and shoulds.
Well, here’s the deal: sometimes, we need times and places just for fishing.
Times and places to decompress.
Times and places to receive and be replenished.
Times and places to “be still and know.”
A weight is lifted.
Walking a familiar calle in Antigua, toward my friend’s house, I have a memory from a previous visit.
From a small open doorway, light spills out onto the darkened cobbled street. It is evening. Salsa music pulsates, and mingles with the night sounds of the city, sating the surrounding air. There is little that is subtle about Salsa music. You feel it viscerally, deep into your gut, and as it takes hold, it fashions a blend of exultation and giddiness. I am in no hurry. So, I stop. And stand at the door sill of Salsa Chapina, and watch. I am an audience of one.
The light, in a room no larger than 12-feet-square, comes from bare bulbs–overhead, rudimentary and in no way nuanced. But then, this scene does not require the “correct” lighting to create mood or affect. I watch two young people (in their early twenties I am guessing), learning to dance Salsa. The instructor counts, 1-2-3-pause-5-6-7-pause. They (students and instructor) are unmindful (or unconcerned) about my presence.
I know this: The music massages my own weariness.
A weight is lifted. From my shoulders and from my spirit.
On the streets of Guatemala, watching two kids learn to dance, I feel an unusual mixture of enthusiasm and infatuation and sensuality and eagerness and hope and buoyancy and trepidation, and a rare childlike bliss. It is not surprising that when I leave the door sill (the music still in the air as I continue on), my mind goes through the requisite quiz needing justification for the existence or presence of this crazy infatuation with life. Even if it is only for a moment.
I have been asked in emails about my time here in Guatemala, “Has the trip been meaningful or beneficial?” (For those who follow Sabbath Moment, you know that I have been—for this past week—at the mercy of my dentist. For those of you who do not read SM, I will tell you that I have been—for this past week—at the mercy of my dentist. This is the kind of rhetorical information that made me a good preacher. With very lengthy sermons.)
For Sue’s grandfather, fishing means, “be there, when you are there.”
Is that it? Am I afraid to simply be? Whatever that may be: infatuated, uncertain, hopeful, empty, optimistic, lost, delighted, lethargic, sanguine, sad?
Or maybe afraid to embrace the stab of joy I experienced, watching those kids dance. The vicarious gratification watching someone fall into the moment (literally to fall into life), and to be buoyed by the power of the dance.
Of course, there is the hassle of letting go of my need to manage life with the bait; you know, of conditions, expectations (scripts) and requisite outcomes. It means no longer linking the sentence, “That didn’t turn out like I planned,” with a kind of filter that prevents us from touching all the sensory, corporeal, potent, earthy, tangible and mystifying parts of life.
I know that if I hang on to my shoulds, something of life is leeched from me.
Let go. Just be. It’s easy to say. And it does make a charming bumper sticker. However. It’s not just about what I let go of, but what I choose to replace it with. There is more to feeding and nourishing the soul than a list of to-do’s and guarantees (sorry, list makers). Whether intentional or serendipitous, you can’t always plan for expected results.
So. Back to the question about my trip. For starters, it’s not the right question.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m in favor of the larger questions about “meaning,” and finding reasons, and explanations, and even enlightenment. But first, can it be enough to just savor the fishing? Or to salsa until all the angels and saints have joined the party? Or at the very least, watch a couple kids, and let the music seep into our soul.
A weight is lifted.
This week from Bruce Kramer’s We Know How This Ends (his writing about life with ALS). It stopped me many times. He writes, “Strength is only available through care, care for one’s self, and care for others. Even the healthiest among us need respite… The fact is that none of us is truly finished until the great lessons have been learned.”
Yes indeed. Self-care always leads to caretaking.
Without my iPhone, daily life here in Guatemala untangles differently. Gratefully, clamor and demand take a back seat. We walk 5 or 6 miles a day. We sit in Parque Central. We people watch. We read. This week Johnny Cash’s, Cash; Michael Meade’s, The Genius Myth; Levitin’s, This is your brain on music; and Peterson’s, Long Obedience in the Same Direction.
I agree with GK Chesterton, “There are people who pray for eternal life and don’t know what to do with themselves on a rainy Sunday.”
Quote for your week…
There can be no other occupation like gardening in which, if you were to creep up behind someone at their work, you would find them smiling. Mirabel Osler
Notes: The fishing story from When the Heart Waits, Sue Monk Kidd
POEMS AND PRAYERS
The miracles of the church seem to me to rest not so much on faces or voices or healing power suddenly near to us from afar off, but upon our perceptions being made finer, so that for a moment our eyes can see and our ears can hear
what is there about us always. Willa Cather
I, who live by words, am wordless when
I try my words in prayer. All language turns
To silence. Prayer will take my words and then
Reveal their emptiness. The stilled voice learns
To hold its peace, to listen with the heart
To silence that is joy, is adoration.
The self is shattered, all words torn apart
In this strange patterned time of contemplation
That, in time, breaks time, breaks words, breaks me,
And then, in silence, leaves me healed and mended.
I leave, returned to language, for I see
Through words, even when all words are ended.
I, who live by words, am wordless when
I turn me to the Word to pray.
Give me this life.
Give me this life, too.
That I may hear you,
That I may hear your secret life.
That I may breathe the unknown air.
That I may hear this snow as it nears.
That I may hear the snow as it kisses the earth.
And find peace in the silence of this world.
From his song, In The Silence