A young minister returned to his hometown in north Georgia. He struck up a conversation with an old farmer. They stood by the fencerow and watched as a new picking-machine rolled through a cotton field. Until now, the farmer had picked cotton using a machine pulled by a team of mules.
“That’s an amazing machine, picking six rows of cotton in minutes,” the young man says in admiration.
“Yes, it is,” says the farmer, “but I’ve got to tell you, I really do miss my mules.”
“Because these machines work day and night, every day. My mules worked only six days a week, and then they needed a rest, so they had enough energy for the next week. When my mules rested, I rested. And I was better off for it.”
In Care of the Soul, Thomas Moore writes that living artfully with time might only require something as simple as pausing. In the world we live in, we are wired for instantaneous, with a premium on speed. It is no surprise that our internal governors can’t help but be set on Rush or Perpetual Impatience; meaning we have no time or space for the gifts of reflection or (my favorite) pondering; or for allowing impressions of the day to sink into our hearts. And we miss wading in the simple joys of life, in the ordinary, the hiding place for the holy.
Here’s the deal: When we give up our mules, we know that something is lost. Because our souls resonate with stillness, slowness and renewal. We know that the mules represent something essential, even non-negotiable. Something restorative and grounding.
This week I loved watching the Pixar movie, Soul, about Joe, a jazz pianist who has a near-death experience and gets stuck in the afterlife, contemplating his choices and regretting the existence that he mostly took for granted.
This from Murjani Rawls. “It makes you question how we view our self-worth. Has life conditioned us to be these hard noised achieving machines as opposed to people who find serenity in just being? Are we that less important because our passions may be walking or stargazing? Are our lives less impactful because we aren’t on a big stage, or we feel that our acts need a grandiose platform to feel relevant? Where I was always seeking the next goal and not taking a second to appreciate what I had just achieved. Or the beautiful moments in between. The connections to people or just the view. Sometimes the reward is the view. It’s not a trophy or a plaque. Sometimes it’s having a second to be present in the current moment… We always think if we get that one big break that only then we’ll start living. We’ll have enough to have time to be present.”
When our go-to question is “what did you accomplish this week?” rather than “where did you find spiritual and emotional hydration?” we hang the hat of our value on the wrong peg.
So. When speed is a compulsion, how do we “go back?” How do we hit the re-set button?
We know in our DNA that sanctuary replenishes, allowing us to make choices to live fully. And in our hearts, we are in favor of the need to slow down—pausing to name and find sanctuary.
There is one minor hiccup; sanctuary is not just a place or space, but a practice (in the same way the mules found the re-set button once a week).
With irony, this pandemic year (with uncertainty and insecurity overload), unsettling and anxiety producing on so many levels, did us a favor by reinforcing the necessity and power of refueling and sanctuary for our well-being.
In a New York Times Book Review Interview, Anthony Doerr (“All the light we cannot see”) talks about a high school teacher who had them read a book and keep a journal. “I fell immediately in love with the ritual… when summer arrived, I didn’t stop; I haven’t really stopped since. I like to think that maintaining that practice all these years—translating experience into language—has helped me become a more attentive person.”
So. How do we practice resting and sanctuary in a world where the enticement of speed and instant information takes its toll unconsciously?
Awareness helps. Because without realizing it, we give up our places of rest. “Flying home from Europe a few months ago,” Scott Brundage (New York Times correspondent) wrote, “I swiped a credit card through the slot of the in-seat phone, checked my e-mail and robbed myself of one of my two last sanctuaries.”
And, in the documentary, Supersize Me, Morgan Spurlock eats nothing but MacDonald’s for 30 days (breakfast, lunch and dinner). After two weeks, his system is not giving him the right messages. He is, literally, numb.
It is the same with speed (or bombardment of any kind, including noise). Our system ends up giving us the wrong messages.
More than ever, we need our “mules”—the permission to pause and the reminder to practice.
One year teaching this material at a retreat, one young man nervously said to me, “You’re not going to go, like all-Amish on us, are you?”
“Maybe,” I answered, “if they make a faster buggy.”
“Oh,” he said.
As if being numbed is not enough, when we do recognize the necessity of what the mules represent, we try to create the benefit with the very mindset that set the mules packing in the first place. John Dewey called it “compensatory maladjustments” or trying to make something right by overdoing or over exerting. I saw an ad for a Speed Bible, allowing one to read and understand it in only minutes. Hmmmm. We could Stop and smell the roses, or, just buy a can of rose air freshener.
In the end, we have scotoma, meaning that we see only what we want to see.
It reminds me of the man who visited a zoo and passed by the lion exhibit. He couldn’t believe his eyes. Lying next to the King of the Jungle, a gentle lamb. This is unbelievable, he thought. Extraordinary, he said, out loud to no one in particular. He sought the zookeeper.
“Sir,” he said, “I am dumbstruck. This exhibit is beyond belief. It is Biblical in its proportion. I applaud you. And I am amazed. How long have you had this exhibit?”
“For almost a year now,” the zookeeper responded.
“But how do you do it?”
“It’s easy, really,” the zookeeper said, “We just put in a new lamb every day.”
So. To begin, we need a new way of seeing.
I do know this: I breathe different when I pay attention. And no, I don’t have any mules. But I do have a lot of birds that live and dance around our pond. They invite me to pause, and to the sacrament of the present.
I love bird bathing and feeding time. (Or, the equivalent of Miller Time for the parents.) You see, we’ve added to our congregation. Arriving home, we find Irv and Dottie (Canada Geese) with five goslings. Oh my. What a treat: often charmingly clumsy, with endearing soft plumage, large eyes, undeveloped wings, and high-pitched squeaking calls. In ten weeks, they’ll learn to fly.
As if that’s not gift enough, our pond has a mallard pair with a new brood; nine ducklings. Now that requires some parenting flexibility. This may help; a little more than a day after hatching, ducklings can run, swim, and forage for food on their own.
I’m smiling big. And this all does my heart good.
Quote for your week…
Deep within us there is an amazing inner sanctuary of the soul, a holy place, a Divine Center, a speaking Voice, to which we may continuously return. Thomas Kelly
SABBATH MOMENT BULLETIN BOARD
Today’s Photo Credit: “Another for your butterfly collection. The flower is an allium – ornamental onion,” Lee Dernehl… Thank you Lee… I love when you send me photos… Keep sending your photos… send to firstname.lastname@example.org
Yes, your gift makes a difference… Donation = Love…
Help make Sabbath Moment possible. I write SM because I want to live with a soft heart; to create a place for sanctuary, empathy, inclusion, compassion and kindness… a space where we are refueled to make a difference. SM remains free.
(NEW address by check: PO Box 65336, Port Ludlow, WA 98365)
In the mailbag…
–Terry – Thank you for sharing your journey with your father’s death. As you undoubtedly know, and as I experience often, our parents never leave us. They pop into my awareness at unexpected times – a favorite flower or food or activity. Such a blessing, Nelson
POEMS AND PRAYERS
I was learning to trust what I could not set in language, keep, control or hold. I would say that I was learning to surrender. To stop warring with myself, to stop needing to be right, to come to terms with shifts and change, to sit on a hill and count my blessings. –Beth Kephart
I Go Among Trees and Sit Still
I go among trees and sit still.
All my stirring becomes quiet
Around me like circles on water.
My tasks lie in their places
Where I left them, asleep like cattle,
Then what I am afraid of comes.
I live for a while in its sight.
What I fear in it leaves it,
And the fear of it leaves me.
It sings, and I hear its song.
all of all
love of all love, peace of all peace, depth of depth
so often, in the midst of all we do, as we are washing dishes, sending email, going to work, and doing all the things we do day in and day out,
we can forget that our time here on this earth is both a gift and a miracle.
do not let us forget.
because sooner than we think, a tomorrow will come
and it will be our last tomorrow and we will have missed the miracle.
we will have emailed, and worked, and complained, and watched tv through the miracle.
we will have let the sunrises, the fresh air, the warmth of a bed, the taste of our orange juice, the first snows, and the cricket chirping slip by as we go about doing all of our so important things.
we will have let our pain and struggles and our tasks and achievements and our accumulation of things obscure the enchantment and richness that can be life.
love of all love, peace of peace, depth of depth –
let us find the holy in all that makes up our life.
let us slow down.
and learn to simply be.
may we find the holy in our coffee, in the spider whose lovely eight legs carry her effortlessly over her web, in the kiss goodnight, in the hot meal, fuzzy blanket, and in the chill of the dark night air.
may we be seekers and makers of the holy.
amen and blessed be.
Elizabeth’s little blog