Sunday Morning

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…
After days of labor,
mute in my consternations,
I hear my song at last,
and I sing it. As we sing,
the day turns, the trees move.

~ Wendell Berry, from “I Go Among Trees and Sit Still” in Sabbaths


Notes:

Poem: Thank you The Hammock Papers. Photo: “Sit a While” by Erik Witsoe (Poznan, Poland, Park Solacki)

Sunday Morning

“On Sundays she got up early in order to have more time to do nothing.”

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

Sunday Morning

October.  Its brilliant festival of dry
and moist decay.  Its spicy, musky scent.
The church’s parking lot deserted
except for this one witness,
myself, just resting there.

Somewhere a radio plays Flamenco.
A spotlight of sunshine falls on the scattered debris.
Blood-red and gold, a perfect circle of leaves
begins to whirl,
slowly at first, keeping the pattern,
clicking against the blacktop
like heels and  castanets,
then faster, faster, faster. . .
round as a ruffle, as the swirling
skirts of an invisible dancer.
Swept off into the tangled woods
by the muscular breeze.
The hoarse cheering of crows.

Inside the dark empty church,
long cool shadows, white-painted wood,
austere Protestant candles thriftily snuffed,
Perhaps a note on the altar,
Gone dancing. Back on Sunday

~ Dolores Stewart, “Outside” from The Nature of Things 


Notes: Poem, Thank you Beyond The Fields We Know. Photo: Pixaby

Sunday Morning

In the margin of my Bible, the heading of Ecclesiastes, I’ve added,

‘Reflections of an old man chasing after ‘good things.’

~ Lisa Anne Tindal, “Vanity and Strife” (Sept 27, 2019)


Notes:

Our kingdom’s gonna be this little patch of green

Well, the sun’s not so hot in the sky today
And you know I can see summertime slipping on away
A few more geese are gone, a few more leaves turning red
But the grass is as soft as a feather in a featherbed
So I’ll be king and you’ll be queen
Our kingdom’s gonna be this little patch of green

Won’t you lie down here right now
In this September grass
Won’t you lie down with me now
September grass.

Oh the memory is like the sweetest pain
Yeah, I kissed the girl at a football game
I can still smell the sweat and the grass stains
We walked home together. I was never the same.

But that was a long time ago
And where is she now? I don’t know

Won’t you lie down here right now
In this September grass
Won’t you lie down with me now
September grass…

~ James Taylor, from “September Grass” (Album “October Road” 2002)


JT Lyrics and post inspiration via The Hammock Papers

Something about long, lazy days and whirring air conditioners

Summer…It must be something about the heat and the smell of chlorine, fresh-cut grass and honeysuckle, asphalt sizzling after late-day thunderstorms, the steam rising while everything drips around it. Something about long, lazy days and whirring air conditioners and bright plastic flip-flops from the drugstore thwacking down the street. Something about fall being so close, another year, another Christmas, another beginning. So much in one summer, stirring up like the storms that crest at the end of each day, blowing out all the heat and dirt to leave everything gasping and cool.

Sarah Dessen, That Summer 


Notes: Quote: Thank you Whiskey River. Photo: Walking Geema

Sunday Morning

HE: I believe in God in every respect, but I don’t expect to understand His will. God is in music. I believe that the great composers speak to us about their experience of God. This is not nonsense. For me, Bach is a constant.

SHE: But you used to have doubts?

HE: Not about Bach.

~ Linn Ullmann, ”Unquiet: A Novel

Sunday Morning

The wind stills for a moment
and
the whole world is silent as a prayer.

Pam HoustonDeep Creek: Finding Hope in the High Country


Photo: Alex William Helin with Still at Lake Buttermere in North West England

Sunday Morning

When one is alone and lonely, the body
gladly lingers in the wind or the rain,
or splashes into the cold river, or
pushes through the ice-crusted snow.

Anything that touches.

God, or the gods, are invisible, quite
understandable. But holiness is visible,
entirely…

~ Mary Oliver, from “Leaves and Blossoms Along the Way” in Felicity.


Notes: Poem via Schonwieder. Photos via Aberrant Beauty

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