Better Off: When things of the spirit come first

Credit: Druh Scoff, http://www.flickr.com/photos/robertcz/2047944359/

Sometimes we don’t choose to go slow.

We’re sideswiped by sickness, bedridden, lost to the sheets. Some of us have bowed to the quotidian nature of home economics: bending low to clean floors, collect toys, over and over and over again.

Myself, I feel the grip of slow most firmly on the inside days. The long hours passed with small children on the sixth day of rain.

While I feel like I’m standing on the brink of madness, it’s in this slowness, the repetition, Kathleen Norris tells us, that we can begin to recognize and savour the holy in the mundane circumstances of daily life.

“The fact that none of us can rise so far in status as to remove ourselves from the daily, bodily nature of life on this earth is not usually considered a cause for celebration, but rather the opposite… We want life to have meaning, we want fulfillment, healing and even ecstasy, but the human paradox is that we find these things by starting where we are, not where we wish we were. We must look for blessings to come from unlikely, everyday places.” Like laundry.

The Internet and other technologies allow us to escape the inner gaze while, painfully slow moments — peeling carrots, herding a three-year-old, waiting for a bus — necessitate reflection.

Dorothy Day, co-founder of the Catholic Worker Movement, knew the importance of the still hours. Each morning she would rise and greet her coffee and the psalms.

“Workaholism is the opposite of humility, and to an unhumble literary workaholic such as myself, morning devotions can feel useless, not nearly as important as getting about my business early in the day. I know from bitter experience that when I allow busy little doings to fill the precious time of early morning, when contemplation might flourish, I open the doors to the demon of acedia. Noon becomes a blur – no time, no time – the wolfing down of a sandwich as I listen to the morning’s phone messages and plan the afternoon’s errands,” writes Norris in The Quotidian Mysteries. “When evening comes, I am so exhausted… It is as if I have taken the world’s weight on my shoulders and am too greedy, too foolish, to surrender it to God.” (Emphasis mine.)

Perhaps that is the key: viewing the hours of the day with honour, seeing them as precious and treating them as such. Each moment is given as a gift, the terminally ill know it full well, yet we healthy, upwardly-mobile types drain the day of its possibility with our “busy little doings.”

As our technology has sped, so have our heart rates. Our thoughts, once paced by stories spoken, the rhythm of our steps, the text on a page, are rushed by an onslaught of information with which none can keep pace. Pop-up windows, Twitter feeds and round-the-clock news updates, give us no moment’s rest.

And so we must take it. We must arrest the time for ourselves. A.J. Jacobs, editor at large for Esquire and the unreligious author of The Year of Living Biblically, chooses to take a technology Sabbath every week.

We need moments “free to contemplate both emptiness and fullness, absence and presence in the every day circumstances of our lives,” writes Norris.

“We can become aware of and limit our participation in activities that do not foster the freedom of thought that poetry and religious devotion require; I cannot watch television, for example, and write a poem.”

Christina Crook is a writer who lives in Toronto, Ontario; see her blog here

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