What if resting, all by itself, is the real act of holiness?

My great-grandmother was a lifelong Baptist who spent the last four decades of her life worshiping with the Methodists because by then there was only church left in that tiny farming community in Lower Alabama…She was so quiet in her convictions that I was 10 or 12 before I noticed that she went straight back to her room after church every Sunday. On other days, she was always busy — shelling peas or snapping beans, crocheting or quilting or sewing — but on Sunday her hands fell still, and her sewing machine sat silent. The foot-pedal Singer she’d ordered from a catalog sometime during the early 20th century was still in daily use until a few weeks before her death in 1982, but she never sewed on Sunday.

When I went looking for her help with a tatting project one Sunday afternoon, I found out why. Tatting is a kind of lace made of tiny knots tied in very fine string. The trick is to tie the right kind of knot without tangling the string into the wrong kind, but I had made so many of the wrong knots that I couldn’t even figure out how to unpick the tangle and start again. I found her sitting in a chair under the window, her Bible in her lap. The book was very old, with edges so worn they curved inward toward the pages, as soft as a puppy. I knocked on the open door. “Mother Ollie, can you help me with this?”

All these years later, I think about the heartache it must have cost my great-grandmother, the one whose bedroom I shared whenever the house was full, to disappoint a child she loved so much. But that day she could not help me with my needlework. “Not today, honey,” she said. “The Lord tells us not to work on the Sabbath.” And handwork, by definition, is work.

I’ve thought of that conversation many times over the years. Sunday has never been a day of rest for me. I’ve always used at least part of the day to catch up with work, with email, with the myriad responsibilities that fall to people in the sandwich generation. I don’t know anyone who takes Sunday off anymore. If we aren’t doing professional work, we’re doing the housework that won’t get done once we leave for work on Monday morning.

But it’s not as though the world stopped on Sunday in Lower Alabama, either. The crops — and the weeds — in my grandfather’s fields continued to grow, whatever the day. My grandmother still had papers to grade and lessons to plan. The peas in the bushel basket on the back porch would not shell and can themselves. Nevertheless, my people put their work aside on Sunday to nap on the daybed or sit on the porch and rock. They didn’t ask themselves, as I do, whether they could “afford” to rest. God obliged them to rest, and so they did.

There are many, many people for whom this kind of Sabbath is not an option. People who work double shifts — or double jobs — just to make ends meet, truly can’t afford to rest, but I could reorganize my life if I tried. I could focus on priorities, spend less time on things that matter little to me and make more time for those that matter most. Somehow I had simply reached the age of 57 without feeling any obligation to sit still.

That changed the day after my book tour ended last week. Possibly I am just too old to learn the art of solo travel: of lying in a different bed night after night and actually sleeping, of finding my way through new cities and new airport terminals. I love meeting book people with all my heart, but by the end of book tour all my body was in revolt.

I sat on the sofa with my laptop, planning to get started on the 90 million emails that had piled up in my absence, but instead I fell asleep. I tried the wing chair next to the sofa with no better results. When I found myself looking at the one clear spot on my desk as a good place to lay my head, I gave up and went back to bed, rousing myself barely in time for supper. Then I slept 11 hours more.

Nothing in the third commandment identifies which day of the week should be the Sabbath. It doesn’t even mention the need to attend church. Its chief requirement is to rest. “Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy,” reads Mother Ollie’s Bible. “Six days shalt thou labor, and do all thy work: But the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work.”

Reading those verses again made me wonder: What if resting, all by itself, is the real act of holiness? What if honoring the gift of our only life in this gorgeous world means taking time every week to slow down? To sleep? To breathe? The world has never needed us more than it needs us now, but we can’t be of much use to it if we remain in a perpetual state of exhaustion and despair.

The next day, I didn’t even try to work. I took a walk around Nashville’s Radnor Lake, the best possible way to celebrate a day of rest. The temperatures here have finally dropped, the rains have finally come, and Middle Tennessee is now serving up one fine October day after another.

At Radnor, the beauty-berries were gleaming in all their purple ripeness, and the asters and the snakeroots were still in bloom. Behind its mother, a fawn was foraging, its springtime spots just beginning to fade. A great blue heron was standing on a downed tree at the edge of the water, preening each damp, curling feather and sorting it into place. A fallen log just off the trail boasted a glorious crop of chicken-of-the-woods, and the seedpods of the redbud trees were ripe and ready to burst. At the lake’s edge, the sound of a lone cricket rose up from the skein of vegetation next to one of the overlooks. Its song was as beautiful and as heart-lifting as any hymn.

~ Margaret Renkl, from “What if resting, all by itself, is the real act of holiness?” (NY Times, October 21, 2019)


Photo: Radnor Lake State Park in Tennessee by Michael Hicks

With you Rachel

The water in the creek is often surprisingly warm. After the first shock, it is easy to stay in. It is perhaps thirty metres long and I swim fast and methodically up and down. I don’t like to talk or mess around when I’m swimming; or it might be more accurate to say that I can’t imagine being able to mess around, can’t imagine being free from my own rules and ambitions, and more accurate still to say that I’m frightened of what might happen if I were. Instead I set myself a target and count the lengths. My husband dives in and swims for a little while, slowly, without particular direction. Then he turns over and lies on his back and floats, looking at the sky.

~ Rachel Cusk, in Coventry (Farrar, Straus and Giroux. September 16, 2019)


Note: Photo Gif via poppins-me

Saturday Morning

Beauty brings us to a halt: it imposes, if only for a flash, the cessation of activity. (On the lawn in front of the library, seeing a runner in red shorts complete the last flailing strides of a sprint before pitching forward, his fingers caressing soft dirt: I let my book fall.) Indolence and aesthetic experience both involve feelings of unbidden influence, involuntariness or absence of will. But where the experience of beauty is often significant and always pleasurable, idleness is more equivocal in its effects and character. Essentially contentless, idleness obtains its phenomenological shape from the objects around us—the pliancy of a chair, the gloss of an advertisement—and the thoughts and desires within us.

O’Connor, to his credit, resists conflating idleness with aesthetic bliss, or animal repose, or other unambiguously positive varieties of passivity. Yet experience without content has little to recommend it. Without some consciously chosen value that organizes how we do nothing, we may find that our idle time makes us less free rather than more.

~ Charlie Tyson, from “Idleness” in The Point (September 5, 2019)


Source: Quote – Thank you The Hammock Papers. Photo: via see more.

Saturday Morning

Let my words become like a skilled
Potter’s hands,
Quieting,
Smoothing your life
With their knowledge,
Reaching into your tender core
And spreading you out
Like the morning …

~ Hafiz (1315-1390), from “Your Shape of Laughter” in “The Subject Tonight Is Love. 60 Wild and Sweet Poems of Hafiz


Photo: katrinauld. Poem via finita–la–commedia

Saturday Morning

Oh, the coming-out-of-nowhere moment
when, nothing
happens
no what-have-I-to-do-today-list

maybe half a moment
the rush of traffic stops.
The whir of I should be, I should be, I should be
slows to silence,
the white cotton curtains hanging still.

~ Marie Howe, “The Moment” (via Poets.org)


Photo: Eylül Aslan

Saturday Morning

Leave it alone…

let the bones cool…

~ Lisa TaddeoThree Women (July 9, 2019)


Notes:

  • Inspired by: “One of the most difficult aspects of the frantic rush through a busy life is that we often do not allow even the smallest notion of “completion” to enter the picture of our daily lives. We often rush from task to task, so much so that the end of one task is just the invitation to start another. There are no gaps in between in which we could take even a few seconds to sit, to take stock, to realize that we have just completed something. Just the reverse: how many times do we hear ourselves say, “I haven’t achieved anything at all today?” If you can practice cultivating a sense of completeness- even a glimmer, right now, in this moment, with the little things of life- there is a chance that you would be better able to cope with those aspects of mind that keep telling you that you are not there yet; not yet happy, not yet fulfilled. You might learn that you are complete, whole, just as you are.” ~Mark Williams & Danny Penman, Mindfulness: An Eight-Week Plan for Finding Peace in a Frantic World (via Make Believe Boutique)
  • Photo (via Newthom)

you breathed in peace…we seldom know what is irreplaceable

 


Notes:

  • Post title: “I can tell you that your eyes were at rest / As the momentous world moved beyond you, / And that you breathed in peace that quarter hour. / We seldom know what is irreplaceable. ~ Glen Coe, from “While You Slept” (via The Hammock Papers)
  • Butterfly gif via poppins-me

Driving I-95 S. With Hammer at Rest.

A nothingburger during a nondescript morning commute a month ago.

Not a Vuong nothing Moment that changed everything after it.

But it changed Something.

Why this particular Moment among the billions?

Why is it called up when it is?

And here IT comes again this morning.

This Moment. It’s pulled forward, to the front. Taking its right hand, sweeping aside the incessant swing of the Hammer on the searing molten metal, of not enough, not good enough and Now.

And it’s exactly at this Moment, when the Hammer rests, and Vuong’s luminescence offers its cooling respite.

It whispers listen, pay attention to This. And it hangs around until I do.

The pre-rush hour traffic on I-95 was detoured onto Exit 2. GPS routes me through Port Chester. I pull up to a stop light, and there they are.

Father and Son. Son, maybe 4 years old.  Dad is wearing an overcoat, much too heavy for the season.  Son looks up to his Dad, Dad bends over and picks him up, hugs him tight, then sets him down.

And they walk. Dad’s lunch box swinging in his left hand, his Son’s hand swinging in his right.

Let’s play it again Vuong. One more time.

The Hammer rests, for this Moment.


Photo Credit

Walking Cross Town. Solvitur ambulando, as they say

Thursday. Metro North train pulls into Grand Central. The morning calendar is light. I’m in no rush to get across town to the office.

I sit on the train reading Ocean Vuong’s new book: On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous. Justin Torres’ book review: “the book is brilliant in the way it pays attention not to what our thoughts make us feel, but to what our feelings make us think.” And he’s got it exactly right.

I sip it page by page.

The train clears, and I sit alone. Train engines shut down. Air conditioning rests. I sit in silence.

I finish the chapter, with eyes skimming Vuong: “We sidestep ourselves in order to move forward.” 

I tuck the iPad into my bag. I pause for another moment to enjoy the quiet.

Our feelings make us think…” and I feel just below the surface of the skin, the pull, it tugs, whispering: It’s time, it’s time you get back after it. You had your moment.

‘We sidesteps ourselves…’

I resist the pull for another moment, noting its strength, bordering on a Tsunami. Please, give me another moment. Just one.

I grab my bag and walk.

Instead of 47th, I walk up one block and take 48th street. Mixin’ it up a bit.

Silver Star Spa. Small door for an entrance. Chipped paint. Sketchy. “Best Asian massage in NYC.” I bet. [Read more…]

Saturday Morning

I am going to try to pay attention to the spring.

I am going to look around at all the flowers, and look up at the hectic trees.

I am going to close my eyes and listen.

~ Anne Lamott, Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith


Notes: Quote via risky wiver. Photo: By our very own Kiki! Taken on 10 years ago on this day on May 4th, 2009. What a coincidence!

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