Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Doing Less So We Can Live More

Letting Our Souls Catch Up
By means of a diversion, we can avoid our own company twenty-four hours a day.
—Pascal, adapted from Penses

An American traveler planned a long safari to Africa. He was a compulsive man, loaded down with maps, timetables, and agendas. Men had been engaged from a local tribe to carry the cumbersome load of supplies, luggage, and “essential stuff.”

On the first morning, they all woke very early and traveled very fast and went very far. On the second morning, they all woke very early and traveled very fast and went very far. On the third morning, they all woke very early and traveled very fast and went very far. And the American seemed pleased. On the fourth morning, the tribesmen refused to move. They simply sat by a tree. The American became incensed. “This is a waste of valuable time. Can someone tell me what is going on here?”

The translator answered, “They are waiting for their souls to catch up with their bodies.”

The sacred necessity of stillness is an invitation to savor the pleasure of slowness and the moments of stillness or even silence, letting them work their magic.

In her book The Solace of Open Spaces, Gretel Ehrlich talks about the idea that space can heal, that space—created by silence—represents sanity. Silence can be a fullness rather than a void. It can allow the mind to run through its paces without any need for justification. It can let us recover those parts of the self that have been so scattered, so disparate, throughout the week. To sit still is a spiritual endeavor.

To sit still is to practice Sabbath, which means, literally, to quit.

To stop.
To take a break.
To make uncluttered time.
To waste time with God.

A Powerful Pause for the Days Ahead
Find a bench to sit on. If you can, buy a new or used bench or chair just for sitting, preferably outside. Practice going to that spot at least once a day just to stop, to quit, to let your soul catch up.
This is the book that gave us the final push to actually live that commandment to make the Sabbath holy by resting. Which is a lot more difficult than one might think.

Keeping the Sabbath holy had been coming to my consciousness more and more while preparing to write a bulletin insert about the Third Commandment. In many places, The Power of Pause emphasizes this specific point which had seized my imagination in my readings:
Perhaps most interesting is the reminder from The Navarre commentary quoted above that God doesn't prescribe how we take rest, simply that we do so. It is the rest itself which is holy. That is a freeing concept that invites us to self evaluation and prayer to determine just what it is that we need to let go from the week so that we may have renewed vigor when we take it up again the next day. This can be surprisingly difficult to do, as practitioners of keeping the Sabbath will testify. It is at the moment when we are struggling not to turn on the computer or clean out that drawer or write up that report that we discover just how addictive work is to our society and in our own lives.
The book is written in very short chapters which are divided seasonally so that readers may consider the various meditations on rest in relationship to the world around them. One is encouraged to read a meditation daily or weekly to reinforce the concept. Being me, I read the entire book in one sitting. It is simply written, easy to read, and has much good food for thought.

The one criticism I have is that the author, at the publisher's bidding I imagine, quite often urges the reader to visit Loyola Press's special section to click on "Book Extras" for something applicable to the section one has just read. So here is a book that urges us to disconnect while simultaneously telling us to fire up the computer and ... connect. This was a misstep and I would urge in response that any reprints remove this "extra" which gave Tom and me a hearty laugh when I came across it.

Other than that, which is a small point indeed, I have nothing but praise for this book. It is not just for Catholics but for all Christians and, indeed, I would venture to say for all Americans. I will be keeping it on my bookshelf so I can reinforce the message that resting can be holy and rejuvenating when the modern world pulls me away as it so often does. Highly recommended.

I received The Power of Pause from Loyola Press as a review book. Clearly I'd have pushed it on you no matter where I got it or if I paid for it. It's a keeper.

1 comment:

  1. I ordered the book last month and have been reading a chapter every few days. I need a constant reminder to pause and rest. I have enjoyed the book very, very much so far. I am going to use it as my bedside-just-before-I-go-to-sleep reading. I also broke one of my cardinal rules of reading...I didn't start at the beginning. Since it's summer, I started in the summer section.