I am typing these words on our deck. It is 7 am on a Sunday morning, my wife and daughter are still asleep. My dog Nova is out here with me. I think she senses that as this month draws to a close I will not be around for much longer. My July vacation will soon end and moments like these will not come again until Boxing Day. I can’t say that it is quiet, the birds are awake and they are making sounds that resemble both singing and yelling. There is also the occasional sound of an airplane and the distant sound of cars on the 103 Highway. But the primary stimulation to my senses are the different kinds of trees around the back of our home and the noisy birds. Nova awaits her food and her walk.
Just before going to bed last night I watched a video clip (an hour) of an interview between an American politico and former Daily Show host Jon Stewart. The interviewer kept asking Stewart when he was going back on TV, when he was going to rejoin the conversation, how he would possibly stay on the sidelines with this strange and historic Presidential election unfolding. Stewart’s response was startling, he said that having removed himself from the “soup” he was now more aware and more present to the reality of what was going on than when he was locked into a daily routine of producing a show each night.
Jon Stewart is too young to retire. He will do other things. And at 52 I have another 9 years before I retire. My work is hardly to be compared to someone who created a TV program watched by millions of viewers. My sermons are heard each week by 150-175 persons each Sunday morning, 15 persons each Sunday night. But there is pressure, most of it self-imposed, to share something that is stimulating, even arresting, informative, inspiring, prophetic and hopefully faithful to the text at hand. I take that responsibility very seriously, I spend every part of the day, when I am awake and not talking or listening to someone, thinking and praying about what I will say that Sunday.
But there is a narrowness and focus to that experience that limits my perception of reality. I like how wide I make my openness to others, the variety of people I engage, but it is always active, always in motion, there is a pressure to keep up, to maintain and push the pace. Sitting here on the deck I can simply take in what I see and hear, I can receive and reflect. I disagree with some contemplatives who suggest that one must “slow down” to have this experience. I think sometimes contemplatives make a fetish of “going slow”. But I do think it is important to take some time to disengage the pace of work and task and simply allow what is in front of you to make you aware of more than you assumed you knew.
The stillness of these moments wash over me. They do not make me more peaceful. But they do help me to understand that what I am and what I do is only a small part of what is. They take the arrogance of my small acts away, they fill me with a sense of more than I can imagine as I race around with energy. My brain still moves too fast to call this “slowing down” but without a deadline or a focus for my next action I can receive reality without myself at the centre.
Last night as we were driving back from the dog walking park my daughter looked up and said, “I love the sky tonight”. Moments like those, in stillness, I will miss as I go back to work. But they will remind me what I don’t know when I am working at telling people what I do know.