The first days of the New Year of 2012 have conspired to create a philosophical wondering trailing me as I’ve gone about the rest of my life. The first three incidents occurred on New Year’s Day with an essay, “On Modern Time,” by Espen Hammer in the New York Times; the second was a travel article by Susan Gregory Thomas on her silent retreat time at a Jesuit center in Pennsylvania, and the third was the silent service we held at church that day.
One of the things I’ve been wondering about is how to create more quiet time in my life when nothing needed doing, when I could simply be. And what that would look like anyway. This morning, I wrote in my journal, “Too many little undone pieces rule my life.” Rewrites on a book; email correspondence; repairs on the house; catch up with farm business and home business; and just recently discovering that my mother, dead these past ten years, has left a trail of “unclaimed property” in the states she lived in, all because I read a newspaper article on unclaimed property in Kansas and wondered, hmmmmm. Wonder if any of my family….. and yes, my mother had left behind a breadcrumb trail through the years.
But it’s January and much as we’d like to move into a new year fresh and clean, much is left over from the old year to clean up and complete. We all have tasks undone.
Espen Hammer wrote that before the advent of the pocket watch in the 16th Century, time was measured by the light slowing growing and in the sounds of birds. That’s still how I wake in the summertime. In winter, I’m more inclined to be the old bear slowing rolling over in her fur for another nap.
Hammer goes on to say that modern society is really unimaginable without clocktime and however we’d like to slow things down, not be ruled by a clock, we aren’t at the same time willing to give up the conveniences of modern life. Anyone want to return to living in the Middle Ages? No shower; no weather stripping or double sealed windows? Lots of cow dung?? I doubt it no matter how seductive returning to an earlier time may seem.
Our lives are ruled by time. Even at the Jesuit retreat center, Susan Gregory Thomas promptly arrived at 1:15 p.m. for her appointment with the spiritual director. But a line near the end was telling: “I did, indeed, have everything I needed–if only I would stay quiet long enough to remember.” Ah. Yes. To Be Quiet. To Remember.
On New Year’s Day, as we were setting up for our church service, we discovered that my husband Cliff, who never forgets anything, forgot the recorded music we use for meditation, offertory, and communion. A fast (and chaotic) dash home? he wondered. No. Wait. Make the service a silent service. And we did; and it was beautiful.
It was interesting to see how the unaccustomed silence unbalanced everything. Our community, like each of us individually, is used to a certain pattern to things, to a certain timing, if you will. Changing the pattern of music, which is a transitional marker in our services, set everyone to wobbling a bit. Cliff’s homily, on reflection as the new year begins, was perfect.
And then, a week later, we came to Epiphany. The theologian, Richard Rohr, wrote, “An epiphany is not an idea…but a truly new experience…” We can do anything with ideas, but an epiphany causes us to have an experience and an experience “demands that the whole person be present and active.” In being present and active, we interact with other human beings rather than just thoughts.
So here’s my New Year’s wish for you: may your year be filled with balanced silences–not measured silences necessarily although “time” for meditation is useful–rather silent moments to collect yourself, to remember you have all you need, to rattle the usual patterns of your life, and to absorb the epiphanies that come, calling you into action.