This week we’re letting our souls catch up with our bodies. Asking the question “What holds you?” In other words… “What sustains you, and carries you gently through your days?”
I know that some people take exception to my talk about the power of pause, living in the present moment and the art of doing nothing. They don’t like the idea of “wasting time.” Okay.
Well, there’s the difference between wasting time and just being bored. Wasting time really is intentional. You are, quite literally, spending time. On clouds, or lilies, or naps, or silence, or prayer, or meditation, or providing a generous spirit, or coffee with friends (even if on Zoom), or listening to someone’s story, or caring for a flock of birds, or watching your cats fight it out for the best spot on the couch. Which means that you are not mortgaging your time or your life on any old distraction merely out of boredom.
When you do pause… you can pay attention… and there is, literally, an internal recalibration. While nothing is “added” to your life (in the way our world oddly measures “accomplishment”), there is a new awareness of the light that is within. Let’s call it our new internal wealth account.
Here’s the deal: As long as success is measured by keeping score, we lose track of most everything that makes us human and therefore, glad to be alive:
Small gestures of kindness.
Acts of inclusion or community to someone left out, or someone on the fringes.
Extending a hand of healing or acceptance to someone who hurts.
Reveling in the gifts of the senses and being present.
Allowing tears to well up without shame, knowing that our heart is alive and well.
Resting in a moment of gratitude (say, a full moon smiling down over a village in the Rhone Valley, on a clear night, that makes you weak in the knees).
Sharing laughter, a smile, camaraderie, dancing or joy (or all of the above).
Whenever I lecture about gardens (let me re-phrase, when I used to lecture), I’m introduced as an expert. But I do not consider myself so.
Years ago, I wrote Soul Gardening as a call for amateurs, those of us who enjoy the air and watch for miracles. Amateur, that is, from the French: “one who loves” or “for the love of.” Amateur is that part of us still thrilled by the miraculous sweetness of a freshly picked strawberry, or by the way the wind drifts through the wind chimes, heartfelt as a prayer, or by the reassuring strains of contented chatter coming from the finches who convene at the stream feeders. Somewhere along the way, there is something that gets under our skin. And that something begins to slowly transform us from the inside, regardless of whether we’ve ever planted a garden, or whether we know a Delphinium from a daisy. And in the stillness, gratefully, my soul catches up with my body.
‘Tis true. This insidious reminder that we are not enough has always been an opportunity to hammer guilt. As in, why haven’t I done enough?
What’s the list and when is to be completed?
What’s the best I can accomplish and be productive?
Lord knows, it is essential to have something to show for my day. (I’m as tempted as the next guy–there is a sense of wellbeing from having a clean desk.)
So. Pause. Breathe. Make space.
To sit still is to practice Sabbath–meaning literally, to quit.
To stop. To savor uncluttered time. To be gentle with yourself. And yes, to waste time with God. The bottom line? I’m no longer chasing what I assume will fill empty spaces, in order to make me something I am not. Replenishment begins here, “I am enough.”
“Learning how to be still, to really be still and let life happen — that stillness can become a radiance.” Morgan Freeman
Letting our souls catch up with our bodies. The permission to pause. to be still. We miss the point if we assume that the power of Sabbath is in the program or method. This isn’t a test or contest. So, whether we choose meditation, observing Shabbat, walking the dog, Centering Prayer, soaking in a hot bath, yoga, praying the Divine Hours, Taize prayer, walking a labyrinth, an afternoon napping in a hammock, or reading a book in front of a fireplace in a village in France, it begins with this: it is enough to withdraw.
The power of the story in the Gospel of Mark is the verb. “Jesus withdrew.” There is nothing overtly spiritual or spectacular here. Here’s my take: It is a sign on the door, “I’m closed now.”
I love Susan Shaw’s take on all of this, “The most helpful thing I grasped while waitressing was that some tables are my responsibility and some are not. A waitress gets overwhelmed if she has too many tables, and no one gets good service. In my life, I have certain things to take care of: my children, my relationships, my work, myself, and one or two causes. That’s it. Other things are not my table. I would go nuts if I tried to take care of everyone, if I tried to make everybody do the right thing. If I went through my life without ever learning to say, ‘Sorry, that’s not my table, Hon,’ I would burn out and be no good to anybody. I need to have a surly waitress inside myself that I can call on when it seems everyone in the world is waving an empty coffee cup in my direction. My Inner Waitress looks over at them, keeping her six plates balanced and her feet moving, and says, ‘Sorry, Hon, not my table.'”
Jesus is a PR-department’s nightmare. In the middle of his busy schedule (healing, teaching, and caring), with a lot of people clamoring for his attention (“and the whole town gathered at the door”), he withdraws to a solitary place to pray.
His disciples, not understanding, and genuinely put out, they hunt him down.
When they finally find him, they exclaim, “Jesus, what are you doing here… doing Nothing?! Do you want to be a good Messiah, or not? Get back down there! People are counting on you down there. What will people think? Jesus, we need to get you to a time-management seminar. You could accomplish so much more!” (Okay, that is all a somewhat loose translation of Mark’s Gospel, chapter one.)
And yet… the literal translation sounds familiar, even to our modern ears, When they (the disciples) found him they exclaimed, “Jesus, everyone is looking for you!” Haven’t we all heard some variation of this show of displeasure? Implying, “You have some nerve, saying No.”
This way of thinking preys on two temptations. One, it assumes that we derive our worth and value from what we do, or produce. Therefore, we are motivated to be indispensable.
And two, we assume that rest (or Sabbath or withdrawing) is wasteful, and should inflame guilt. (“Shouldn’t you be doing something worthwhile with your time?” we hear the inner-voice nag.)
Like I said, Jesus needs a spin-doctor. Just listen to his response:
The disciples said, “Everyone is looking for you.”
Jesus replied, “Then let us go somewhere else.” And then adds, “We can teach there also.”
Here’s the bottom line: For Jesus, withdrawing is not optional. It is intentional and essential.
I give (relate, care, listen, serve) wholeheartedly only if I am at home in my own skin. When I am in the daily-life-hubbub, I can lose sight of that. Although, I do soooo enjoy the adrenalin rush from being needed. But when I give in to the “should” of being all things to all people, when I give up the need to withdraw for rest and renewal, I lose the rhythm of life that feeds my soul.
In withdrawing Jesus is saying to his disciples, “Do you see that clump of people? Do you know why I have any power in that clump? Because I regularly say No, to withdraw to a place where I listen to a different voice—my Father’s voice—about my identity. And when I return to the clump, I have no need to manipulate, or change or shame anyone.”
“One of the ways to express the spiritual crisis of our time is to say that most of us have an address but cannot be found there.” Henri Nouwen
Prayer for our week…
Making Our Souls Great
To pray is to regain a sense of the mystery that animates all beings,
the divine margin in all attainments.
Prayer is our humble answer to the inconceivable surprise of living.
It is all we can offer in return.
Who is worthy to be present at the constant unfolding of time?
Here we are admist the meditation of the land, the songs of the water, the humility of the flowers,
flowers wiser than all alphabets –
Suddenly we feel embarrassed,
ashamed of our complaints and clashes in the face of tacit glory.
How strange we are in the world!
Only one response can maintain us:
gratefulness for the gift of our unearned chance to serve, to wonder, to love life and each other.
It is gratefulness which makes our small souls great.
Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel
Photo… Yesterday, we used a photo from Anna Haylock of the Norther Lights… I don’t think one is enough. So, let’s see one more… “Last night’s display of the Northern Lights in Alaska. Images are unique and unusual. The images where seen in various locations around the state. I didn’t know which one to send you as they are so awesome and heavenly.” Anna Haylock…