[re-post 2013 with addition of fresh Pope Francis material. Intermittent posts until Saturday, May 26 as I begin a crazy stretch!]
“If, then, I were asked for the most important advice I could give, that which I considered to be the most useful to the men of our century, I should simply say: in the name of God, stop a moment, cease your work, look around you.” ― Leo Tolstoy
A friend of mine who is a musician and works as an administrator at a college told me that when she gets stressed, or feels constricted by the press of deadlines or angry faculty, she slips out back into a small grassy area with her guitar and plays/sings for a few minutes before returning to her office. She said, “It’s a game-changer. Art billows the sails of my soul so I keep joy in my work.”
Such an artist.
Sometimes I feel this is becoming the only message I want to teach: “Stop! Look! Listen!” often enough to be present to the present moment.
The now alone is where God dwells, where life is lived, love is found (and lost), and where all joys finds a home. In so many ways, our culture of distraction smothers our contemplative capacity to receive reality at the “speed of life,” which yields its riches only to those who wait. In the words of St. Teresa, la paciencia todo lo alcanza, “patience obtains all.”
See, now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation! — 2 Cor. 6:2
Pope Francis said this all so eloquently in the new documentary on him:
We live with the accelerator down from morning to night. This ruins mental health, spiritual health, and physical health. More so: it affects and destroys the family, and therefore society. “On the seventh day, He rested.” What the Jews followed and still observe, was to consider the Sabbath as holy. On Saturday you rest. One day of the week, that’s the least! Out of gratitude, to worship God, to spend time with the family, to play, to do all these things. We are not machines!
Like the monks, we must choose to pause from the busy labors and activities of life, in rhythmic patterns, to transition into the Sabbath of play, song, dance, praise and thanksgiving. Making time to simply receive and lift up each moment restores wonder.
When I was on an 8-day silent retreat back in 2012, my 80-something year old spiritual director asked me to spend a whole day at the Omaha Zoo. He had me read Matthew 6:26-34 while I was there, which begins with these words:
Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?
He said, “Ask God to let nature teach you as you spend that day.”
Biggest lesson learned? Linger longer over the many small things in the world, like Solomon the Wise:
Four things on earth are small,
yet they are exceedingly wise:
the ants are a people without strength,
yet they provide their food in the summer;
the badgers are a people without power,
yet they make their homes in the rocks;
the locusts have no king,
yet all of them march in rank;
the lizard can be grasped in the hand,
yet it is found in kings’ palaces. — Proverbs 30:24-28