This reflection is the cover article of the October edition of Crossroads, the monthly newsletter of Saint Andrew’s Episcopal Church. You will find that newsletter on our web site at: http://www.standrews-madison.org/the-crossroads
It’s hard for me to believe that it is September already! And by the time that you all read this it may well be October… Where did the summer go? I was talking to someone the other day, expressing that sentiment and they told me that they felt like they had not yet had a summer. The school year has started, we are back at work, the appointments and the commitments have ratcheted back up, and here we are, on the treadmill, pushing into a headwind once again…
That’s where I was the other day as I went blazing through my day, doing things I love to do but feeling overwhelmed and out of breath. What to do next? Which item on my lengthy list should I attempt to check off in the few minutes that I had between the bolded items on my calendar? I only had about five minutes.
It’s easy to get sucked into the whirlwind and spin through the day, doing everything on our list, trying not to let anyone down, working to keep everyone happy, their expectations met, their work flow uninterrupted by our failure to produce according to the timeline we have imposed upon ourselves. It’s all so important. It would be wrong to stop, even for a moment…
Or would it? I found myself in just this place earlier this week. There was too much to do. It wasn’t all going to get done in the time available. I couldn’t see a way out. And so out of exhaustion and despair I sat down. I was on my way through the church, heading for my car, going as fast as I could and I stopped and sat.
It is so easy to forget. It is so easy to relegate the thing that we most need to the bottom of our to do list. Maybe that’s because our culture doesn’t see it as productive. Maybe it’s because it feels like we are cheating, taking away from the time available to accomplish the “real” work of the day. It is so easy to forget that in just five minutes we can find ourselves in a place where the work feels manageable, where we have less anxiety, and where we can remember that we have some control over the way we approach our “list.”
I sat in my chair in the church and took some deep breaths. I tried to relax by shoulder and neck. I place my feet squarely on the floor and moved my spine in to a neutral posture. I took a few more deep breaths. And I began to pray.
Attention and intention. If we take a few minutes to pay attention to our bodies, to direct our intention to that moment of sacred space that lies within us, to find ourselves in the presence of God we can find ourselves renewed, refreshed, able to see things more clearly. We may even discover that our anxiety is without real merit or cause, that we do have the time and the energy to accomplish the things on our list. We may even come to remember that we have chosen the work we are engaged in and that we are doing it, and doing it well, fulfills us and brings us joy.
Ok. Maybe I just went over the top a little… But if the tings that we are doing, that are taking up all of our time, that are causing us to rush through your day, anxious and exhausted are not, at the core, things that give us joy and fulfillment, then maybe we need to look for other things to do! There are things that we “have” to do, things that are required of us, perhaps because of choices that we made long ago. There are things that we cannot jettison just because we don’t love to do them any more. But there have to be things in our lives that meet us where we are, that nourish and sustain who and what we are. We need to have those moments of “vocation” that help to keep us balanced and healthy. We need to focus our attention and our intention on pursuits and in ways that fulfill us and make us whole.
In just five minutes? Nope probably not. But those five minutes are a start. We can’t begin to understand the ways that we are being called to fulfillment and wholeness in one five minute pause, one five minute breath, one five minute prayer. But if we do it often enough, and refuse to let the anxiety that the unrelenting pressures and pace of our lives breeds deep within us push our real hopes, dreams, and longings to the bottom of our list we might begin to see the light at the end of the tunnel. We might even discover that there are lights all around us that we hadn’t taken the time to notice. We might even realize that we have a light within us that will sustain and light the path as we journey on together!
I have several “favorite” prayers that I say when I remember to focus my attention and intention for those precious five minutes. One of them is psalm 63:1-8. Take another five minutes and look for it. Speak the words softly as you read it. Read it more than once and let your attention, your intention turn inward as you relax your body and breathe. Then let your attention and intention turn outward to God, and feel yourself come home.
Psalm 63 Deus, Deus meus