Stop, look, listen

[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

10 comments on “Stop, look, listen

  1. Jennifer says:

    Ah, yes. Slowing down. The thing I keep telling myself I have to do but never make the effort to actually do. (You already know some of the story, Tom, but just to fill in anyone else who might be reading this.) About a month ago, I was actually actively praying for guidance on practical ways to slow down when my prayer was ‘answered’ in the most unexpected way: I was in a collision and experienced a concussion. No, I’m not saying that God desired for me to have a concussion but the timing was impeccable, and a lot of good has come from this enforced stop and time of recovery.

    Stopping everything was so hard for me. The fact that my concentration and thinking were impacted as well meant I couldn’t even keep my brain busy while I lied there in the dark. I had to call quits on all of the activities in my life. My dad even flew across the country to take care of my kids while my husband was at work because I couldn’t do it.

    As I recovered I had to learn for myself via a couple significant setbacks, despite all the advice I kept hearing to be careful and take it slower than you think you need to, that in fact I really still have to pace myself even though I’m feeling mostly better.

    Waking up each morning with a greatly reduced to-do list and knowing I have a limited amount of energy to expend for the day anyway I have been afforded the luxury of being very intentional about how I use my time. Basically, I’ve been blessed with a chance to rebuild my daily routine (and to a lesser extent that of my family) from scratch. And that has been a great grace.

    I’ve been rebuilding my day around prayer, meals, walks down to the river with the pup, and playing with the kiddos. It’s a new family rule the kids must hug me every time they see me and they’re happy to oblige. I love it.

    I’ve been afforded so many more opportunities to look and listen here at home and out in my quiet riverside neighborhood. It’s been a wonderful blessing.

    I was talking to my neighbor outside yesterday — another busy mom– and she was sorry to hear about my concussion and said, “it’s really the last thing you needed on your plate!” And I paused and I realized that in a strange way it’s actually exactly what I needed.

    Thank you for this beautiful post and important reminder. God bless you, my friend.

    • Thank you for sharing your story. “It has been a great grace”. What can be said? The way you have found in this painful event so much good, even as you always remained honest and real, shows the foundations that had been laid long before this. In your family, especially. Your rebuilt world is a fresh rediscovery of family, and of the rhythms that serve family. O Jesus, when you act and draw us to yourself, you can’t not create and re-create family. It’s who you are, what you do. Continue to raise your daughter to full health and vigor, and preserve the new goods you have established. Protect her and her family from anything that would distract from the love that fills their home and breathe your Holy Spirit into their home with power this Feast of Pentecost!

    • Katy says:

      Thanks for sharing this, Jennifer. I agree with Tom about the “foundations already laid”. Great new family rule 🙂 Enjoy this time of healing. God bless you in your recovery.

  2. Nos says:

    “small scale” J + + + + + + + . know my dearest friend my prayers are with the Fabrizi family. . . So often we pray but we don’t listen for GODS answer. . . So often the prayer is ,hey GOD I need , I want , it appears as though you have gotten to that part of the LORDS prayer when we ask that HIS will be done I’m so exited for you . Tell your hubby again what a saint he is for putting up with you for all these years . . . lol. Lol…lol… I’m really laughing out no I’m howling out loud . . .. be well dear friend
    P.S. Thomas thank you for this forum to express our thanks an LOVE. . . P.B.W.Y.A.A.

    • Sometimes I think the real purpose of the blog is you all. Not me. I am just the host who welcomes fellow sojourners to journey with each other

    • Jennifer says:

      Thanks, nos, for your prayers and reflection. God has used a talking donkey to get things done in the past…I’m sure I’m nearly as stubborn as a mule so anything’s possible. I’m sure my husband is grateful for your sympathies… He IS a saint 😉

      And yeah, Tom, I’m also so grateful for the community that’s bloomed here. I’m so blessed to have stumbled upon you all.

  3. Nos says:

    Just got back home from my first grandchilds 8th grade graduation from our local catholic grade school . . . Community what a wonderful grace. . . Go in Peace to love and serve our LORD + + + + + + + P.B.W.Y.A.A.

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