Near the end of Lindsay’s three-week trip to Italy, I received a brief text that spoke volumes about how, even in the most stunning of locations, we can begin to feel adrift, anxious for something to root us to our own rhythm again–work, ritual, a familiar tea cup, a bedside table stacked with books waiting to be read. Of course, this restlessness can strike at any moment, even in the midst of the most peaceful day at home or the most hectic week at work.
During times of great restlessness, I feel tempted to fill the questioning silence with easy, accessible noise to distract me from my soul’s discomfort. I have a rolodex of options: a purchase on Amazon, another hour at my computer, my favorite BBC shows, or my favorite extrovert option–planning a party or at least finding a friend for coffee. These are fine things in themselves (and I do throw a good party), but by forty, I know myself well enough to recognize my old tactics. And I must honestly ask myself: what is my spirit actually panting for?
I find the response to my question in silence and listening, sometimes simply in the act of walking into the garden, falling on my knees, and weeding. I need places where I can be long enough to find what I need to take me through another day of living and loving the people and earth around me. Among the poppies and the clover and the roses, I find space to sort through all that clatters in my head. With my hands in soil, I grasp a few fundamental words that orient me to what is real. There is robust beauty there, and poems to be found, like this one I finally wrote down after weeks of carrying it about with me.
Rhododendrons, Western Washington, Spring 2018
As our plane started its descent, we glimpsed them:
Thousands of rhododendrons
spilling pink and orange watercolor across the city’s somber pallette.
I thought of what a preacher told us.
This world is a warzone, he said, You get to be William Wallace
in Braveheart. Can you think of anything better?
Later, hands cradling three ripe plums from our tree, my husband said,
I think this world is a garden.
Did you know there are some 800 varieties of rhododendrons,
holding early morning mist in Japan,
arching sinuous branches over forgotten Appalachian footpaths,
unfolding fuchsia petals in rugged Nepalese mountains?
In my suburban town near Seattle
they sing on every street corner.
Behind our pea trellis and the raised bed
sown with cosmos
rhododendrons crowd, shoulder to shoulder,
offering nectar to bees and hummingbirds.
Some days you can see my gladness
from the air, peach- and lavender-colored blooms.
On others, I am quiet, an evergreen leaf, pearled by rain.
This is God’s garden
and today I am content to hold the dew.
P.S. We’d love to know what metaphors spring to mind as you think of this world we live and move in. As always, we are honored by all your thoughts and reflections as we share this journey into wonder together.
PS2. To see Lindsay’s actual text from Italy, please check out the Back Page.
Remember us? You haven’t heard from Each Holy Hour in awhile, but here we are, back again in your inbox. The reason for EHH’s prolonged silence rests with me. This past year, I said “yes” to too many things. In addition to our family’s full time business, parenting three kids, and writing, I took a position as a middle school teacher and, shortly after that – as if life were not full enough already – my husband and a business partner opened a gym. In their own right, each of these commitments has merit. As additions to a family life already running near capacity, the extra time, energy, and stress, these added were far more than anticipated. By February, my husband and I were both working with no margin, every waking moment accounted for with some obligation, each night dropping, spent, into scant sleep. The refrigerator kept running out of food. The dog rued her change of fortune with deep, exasperated sighs. Slag piles of laundry accumulated at the bottom of the clothes chute. More times than I care to remember, my husband and I ran out of patience with one another.
Though I knew I was running on empty, when my church asked me to speak on the topic of seeking God’s presence for a Lenten program, I agreed. I prepared my talk, clipped on the mic, and began confidently. Halfway into my presentation, I repeated the question upon which I’d been asked to reflect: What does it look like for me to intentionally seek deeper intimacy with God?Suddenly my eyes began to smart. I could feel my mouth pull out of shape. I choked out the next sentences in a voice that hardly sounded like my own.
“Seeking deeper intimacy with God looks like all the things I’m notdoing. It looks like being outside. It looks like a device turned off. It looks like writing my way into a deeper and more nuanced experience of my life. It looks like cultivating real relationships beyond my comfort zone. It looks like ennobling my life by keeping my mind full of the beautiful language, imagery, and ideas of our sacred stories. It looks like asking hard questions of my life and seeking to align myself with their answers, however challenging that may be. I know all these things. And yet, here I am telling you I’m notdoing them.”
There’s a peculiar malady I’m affected by, perhaps its symptoms are familiar to you, in which I resist admitting I’m in over my head. Though my hair may be visibly graying, though I’m slugging down coffee by the liter, though I’m touchy at the slightest suggestion that the milk is getting low and I should have thought to pick up another gallon, to acknowledge how thin I’m stretched is to admit personal deficiency. At the Lenten talk, this confession came out sideways, quick hot tears that spoke far louder than my carefully crafted speech.
Today is the first day of the school year being finished, and with it my job. In a steady June rain, I took the dog for a run. Eager to be out, she galloped down the trail, sniffing clumps of yarrow and rooting at the base of cottonwood stumps. The rain beat evenly on the mosses, the fallen logs, the heifers in the field. It dripped off ponderosa needles and wild roses. It worked its way through my clothes and shoes, soaking me thoroughly. The dog tore through a puddle in the trail, displacing the pollen collected on its top. Dashed to the puddle’s edge, the pollen encircled it like an aureole, a halo as sure as any that shimmers around a saint’s head. It reminded me that rain or shine, the world is filled with holy things. I don’t have to prove my worth, or earn my way to this grace. It just is.
Recently, I came across a quote from Buddhist writer Jack Kornfield. “In the end these things matter: how greatly you loved, how gently you lived, how gracefully you let go of things not meant for you.” It turns out that, though I loved teaching, and though the opportunity to extend my time at the school presented itself, I had to let it go. At this season, it isn’t meant for me. I don’t know that I let it go gracefully – rather fitfully and with considerable consternation. But, if I’ve learned one thing this year, it’s that I can’t hustle my way into loving greatly and living gently. I can’t say “yes” to every opportunity, even good ones, without losing things I treasure along the way – like you and the community we’ve built at Each Holy Hour. So, here we are. As the Benedictines say about any contemplative journey, “Always we begin again.”
P.S. As always, we love your comments and interaction!
It is winter, the bleak midwinter, the interminable haul between the end of Christmas and the first crocus. I’ve been remembering a grey, ugly January afternoon many years ago when we still lived in Pennsylvania, when the snow had turned black with car exhaust. In those days, the kids were young and still needed me every moment; silence was rare, a solitary walk still rarer. But that frozen day, I needed to be by myself. I left the girls with Martin and tromped up a neighborhood hill to my dear friend, Nancy’s house. I lingered on the curb and surveyed her garden.
It was rather a mess: the chard and lettuces had shot to seed long ago; a tangled vine curved around the front door. I remembered that the summer before, robins had made a nest in the house eaves. Nancy had instructed the entire family to stop using the front door in order not to disturb the fledglings. A few short weeks later, she left the garden and the robins and lay down in a hospice bed; shortly afterwards, she died. She had battled cancer for three years. I watched as her three young children followed her casket up to the front of the church.
On that January afternoon, the robin’s nest was empty. Nancy was a zealot for sustainability and permaculture, and her yard showed it: an almond tree’s bare branches rose above a tangle of spent basil. Around the side of the house, there were still blackened stalks of tomatoes and limp pea vines. There was the patch where she’d plucked the delicata squash last fall and handed it to me with great awe, as if it were a sacred thing–and it was, pin-striped yellow and green.
Nancy and I were much like sisters in those years; we swapped kids, spent long afternoons peeling apples for sauce. She taught my daughter to read and I taught hers to sing. In the sick, miserable months when I was pregnant with my youngest, she sat me on the stool in her kitchen and fed me soup out of her favorite pottery bowl. We dreamed gardens together. Late in her illness, I made her soup, I went with her to the clinic, and in the silence as she breathed in oxygen, I recited “The Owl and the Pussycat” to pass the time.
Now, in her winter garden, there was silence again. I went to work, yanking up dead snarls of herbs, cutting back perennials, scooping up armfuls of leaves. The dry, brittle plants I pulled and piled up for compost were the same she had tenderly put in the ground months before. As I cleared the soil back to a dark, black richness, I felt the weight of this sacred duty, and the greatness of my love for her. I felt, too, the surprising, miraculous presence of life. Unbidden, even offensive to me who worked in sorrow, I smelled the coming spring. I snapped back a dead perennial stalk and there was a flash of green. The dried basil was redolent of summer; the earthworms, I knew, were curled tightly just below my fingers, sleeping until the earth would warm again.
A while after I tidied her garden, I accompanied Nancy’s family to visit her grave, still a unhealed gash in the pale grass. Around us, farmland rolled away in a sea of undulating hills. Nancy’s children stood beside me, young and vulnerable, desperately missing their mother. Nancy’s husband raised his eyes and searched the horizon. “We look for the eternal spring,” he said.
I wondered at the time if those words came straight from the liturgy of the Greek Orthodox Church, to which the family belonged; for each word seemed to me to bear mysterious promise–like the perennials in Nancy’s garden. We look for the eternal spring. Those are the two things I remember from that season following her death: the silence of working in her garden, and the simple goodness of her husband’s graveside words. Not gaudy or extraneous or saccharine, those words bound up pain and longing and faith at once, and I have carried them with me ever since.
In this new year, may we be present with each other, holding one another in silence, with love, with the goodness of sacred words. May we find solace in the seasons of this beautiful world, and in the wonder that bids us look beyond the brittle stalks of winter.
In my twenties it was walruses.
“I’ll never become an expert on walruses.” That was my wistful thought when I made the decision to move to Montana, fresh from college seminars on post structuralism, moral beauty, and environmental imagination. I had just spent six months in Tanzania, where I’d gained a passable ability to converse in Swahili, a taste for ugali, and a love for the bushbabies who clattered rocks off my metal roof each night. The world seemed excessively open and curious and I seemed full of agency. I believed implicitly in the immortal words of Dr. Seuss: “You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose.”
I’d never cultivated particular interest in walruses, so giving them up as a possible life career caused me little more than the passing thought: here is a direction I won’t be going.
One door shut.
But all others seemed to gape open.
I’m nearly two decades beyond the time when I ruled out walruses once and for all. And life looks incredibly different from forty as it did from twenty-two. Less branching possibility, more prescribed probability. Fewer trips to faraway continents, more trips to the grocery store.
Recently I read Amor Towles’ novel, Rules of Civility. In the book’s final pages the narrator reviews her life. As she thinks about her husband, her career and the life she built in New York, she reflects, “I have no doubt that they were the right choices for me. And at the same time, I know that right choices are the means by which life crystallizes loss.”
I took a photo of that paragraph because I wanted to have it down just so. Like Towles’ narrator, I love my life. I feel the fit of each significant life choice and harbor no doubts about them. I thrill when I walk out my door and think again for, perhaps, the thousandth time, “I can’t believe I get to live here.” And, even so, I’m cognizant of the losses – all the walruses along the way – that indwell each gain.
I don’t mean this as lament; rather as stock-taking, as faithful render of life as I find it. And there’s something compelling about all these losses. They pile up not like so much inanimate dust, but like little flints that sometimes, when struck just right, still spark with latent energy.
As Towles’ narrator stands on the balcony thinking back on the right choices through which her right choices “crystallized loss,” she says, “I knew too well the nature of life’s distractions and enticements – how the piecemeal progress of our hopes and ambitions commands our undivided attention, reshaping the ethereal into the tangible, and commitments into compromises.”
The idea of piecemealing life has such an honest ring. While I want my life to hum with the passion of worthy commitments, the groceries in the fridge persist in disappearing, my kids grow out of their soccer cleats, they clamor for homework help. Bills arrive in the mailbox requiring payment. And that bathroom is not going to clean itself. Life feels way too tangible and all too compromised.
But then, from somewhere deep inside something ineffable sparks and flares. At times, these sparks seer and blister – things have gone by, doors are shut. But sometimes these sparks seem to glimmer with a hint that all things treasured up in one’s heart are never gone, that all the branching profusion, though seemingly pruned years ago, is suddenly found miraculously intact.
Is it possible for both to be true? Does the spirit obey its own physics – wherein things coming and going are all mixed up with one another, wherein losses are real and, at once, never truly lost?
Friend, whatever walruses you bear, bear them well and with love. For we are all complex, expansive beings, and our hearts are immense and capable of holding much.
P.S. As always, we love your comments and interaction. Thank you!
This week, I suddenly became terribly sick of myself. Let me explain—I’m not sick of the self who hikes, writes stories, reads with my kids. I am sick of my facsimile-self, the one I trot out on social media platforms and in letters to editors and bookstore owners. In the midst of promoting my first picture book, I am making myself literally nauseous.
This practice of being real with myself and others—I thought I had it figured out after the tumultuous, navel-gazing teen and early-twenties years. And I’m thrilled that I’ll soon hold my first picture book. But as a person who hates yammering on about her own work, the endless self-promotion required of writers these days makes my stomach churn. It’s like gazing into a mirror too long, like snapping too many selfies (like the endless shots I find of my tween on my phone). In a culture where we’re trained to post carefully selective snapshots of our lives, I’ve been wrestling with this question: How do I remain authentic in a society where, to get things done, to promote, you must adopt a certain measure of—well, if not deception, then slant?
In the Atlantic article “How to Hire Fake Friends and Family,” Roc Morin interviews Ishii Yuichi, the founder of “Family Romance,” a Japanese company that hires out actors to anyone who is willing to pay enough. Say Thanksgiving rolls around and your prospective in-laws are looking forward to meeting your mother. But she’s embarrassing: chews tobacco, swears audibly, shouts about politics. Worry no longer! Simply hire an actor who will play the perfect mom. Yuichi has played the parts of loving fathers, acceptable husbands, perfect boyfriends. His company has provided supportive colleagues, fall-guys, even healthy partners (complete with cheat-sheets of memories) to lonely people whose spouses are suffering dementia.
While Yuichi admits to occasionally feeling badly about long-term gigs (he’s been playing father to a girl who fully considers him her real father for years now), he defends his company by explaining that providing short-term comfort for people in an unjust world is legitimate. As for being deceptive, he points out that culture is already on that bandwagon: “I believe the term “real” is misguided. Take Facebook, for example. Is that real? Even if the people in the pictures haven’t been paid, everything is curated to such an extent that it hardly matters.”
But today, wearied from too much time on social media, I know that it does matter. It matters deeply to me that I am known and know others in a real way. As I walked down a sodden path in the park with my dog, I finally articulated exactly how I felt: lonely.
Of course though social media is new, the tension between appearance and authenticity has always been an issue. Van Gogh spent much of his life wrestling between the poles of who he was (many dismissed him as a ne’er do well) and the pressure to appear successful. In this letter to his brother, Theo, he vacillates between begging his brother to understand him and defending his authentic, searching self: “What shall I say; our inward thoughts, do they ever show outwardly? There may be a great fire in our soul, but no one ever comes to warm himself at it, and the passers-by see only a little bit of smoke coming through the chimney, and pass on their way.”
I love to think of the fact that many years later, I, with countless others, come to warm myself at Van Gogh’s soul as I read his letters. In his words, often wrenching, often beautiful, I find a friend.
Sometimes our feelings of isolation go deep, beyond the reach of friends, and today at the park I felt that. So I told God: “I am lonely today. Sit with me, please.”
And as I write to you today as honestly as I can, without tipping the camera to block out the pile of laundry on the floor or turning my face to show you my ‘best side’ or trying to convince you to buy something, I invite you. Today, slow down; be present to yourself and to others. Pursue genuine, authentic, communal soul-building. Step up to the hearth, take a deep breath, and warm yourself.
P.S. As always, we love your comments and interaction! Please leave a message–and thank you!
On Wednesday, as students straggled into school, hungover from Halloween candy and the revelries of parading late in their costumes, the STEM teacher and I aired the documentary, “The Last Man on the Moon.” This documentary chronicles the life of Eugene Cernan, commander of Apollo 17, the last of America’s lunar landing expeditions.
To say I have even casual interest in space science would be a generous stretch. While I’m awed when the occasional Hubble Telescope photo crosses my path, I usually glaze over when reading sentences like the one at the bottom of the previous paragraph. As a writer of realistic fiction, my imagination is decidedly terrestrial. I’m lit up by human stories and expeditions to that vastest of interiors: the human heart.
So I was ready to pass a sleepy morning in the company of pacified 7th and 8th graders and if I gleaned some space science knowledge, so much the better. What I got instead was a fascinating exploration of the paradoxes and emotional minefields which no rocket shot can shake from the human heart. Perhaps it was the extremis of being an astronaut — literally out of one’s element, suspended above the world — that dialed up the volume on the constant human scuffle between loneliness and connection. “I felt that all of humanity was with me on that mission,” Cernan says of his first spaceflight with Gemini IX. And yet later, when looking back at his three days on the moon during the Apollo 17 mission, the Earth rising like a blue pearl in the distance, he spoke of incredible loneliness. Accompanied by all humanity and yet, at once, all alone: Isn’t this a striking picture of our perennial condition?
On the lunar surface, Cernan traced his daughter’s initials in moondust. This heartfelt act of bestowing what he cherished most to that distant surface struck me. It was as if marking her initials there made them timeless, delivering them to a place where moth and rust cannot destroy. And yet, his relationship with his daughter and wife were fraught; sabotaged by the intense singular focus of his career, marked by his absence. “You think going to the moon is hard, try staying home,” his wife reflected on watching the broadcast of her husband out there on the spearpoint of human technology. Eugene Cernan made it back, but ultimately his marriage didn’t survive. Some frontiers are too vast to cross. Some journeys end with loss.
I’ve been thinking about Gene Cernan and the moon a lot over these past few days. In what ways does loneliness and deep human connection nudge shoulders in my life? How much I want what I most love to be lifted above time, to be kept safe from the world’s corrosive effects. But even now, while I have breath and life, am I giving the earth-bound, time-bound things I love my full presence?
On August 25, 2012, Gene Cernan climbed the steps to the pulpit at Washington National Cathedral to eulogize his friend and fellow astronaut, Neil Armstrong. “Neil, wherever you are up there, almost a half century later, you have now shown once again the pathway to the stars…You can now finally put out your hand and touch the face of God.”
I, for one, don’t know much about pathways to the stars. I’m the type who firmly stands with Robert Frost when he says, “Earth’s the right place for love: I don’t know where it’s likely to go better.” But Cernan’s words over his friend’s casket resonate all the same. I hear in them a rich longing for the infinite resolution to all our finite journeys. No rocket can lift us there–yet daily, we are invited on this most daring expedition.
P.S. You can watch the entirety of Cernan’s moving eulogy for Neil Armstrong here.
As a writer, I care passionately about words. As my church’s artist-in-residence, I share prayers and mediations with congregants, choosing words with painstaking care, knowing that what comes out of my mouth has the power to comfort and deepen or distract and harm. As a mother of three girls from elementary to high school, I am a vigilant moderator of words. Just yesterday, I took my eleven-year old aside for the umpeenth time, locked my eyes with hers, and said, “You may not say hate anymore.”
In this cynical time when public insult is only one tweet away, I found it encouraging when my husband came home from a conference and told me that the facilitator had closed with a blessing. The facilitator, who is from an Indian-Kenyan heritage where benedictions are an integral part of life, read a blessing that invited its listeners to move from self-protection to vulnerability and love for others.
In a country where our right to free speech is protected by law, I often feel as though words feel cheap, bandied about thoughtlessly. But what we say flows from who we are, and that makes each word pregnant with meaning. Words start wars, end relationships, rip through families. As I endlessly tell my children, we are responsible for every word, however thoughtless, that leaves our lips.
But what about words chosen intentionally with love? Why are we so often dismissive and cynical of gentleness? In our preference for biting satire and one-liners, have we created a desert devoid of genuine kindness? Have we as a culture forgotten how to bless one another?
“In the parched deserts of postmodernity a blessing can be like the discovery of a fresh well. It would be lovely if we could rediscover our power to bless one another. . .It is ironic that so often we continue to live like paupers though our inheritance of spirit is so vast,” Celtic mystic and priest John O’Donohue writes in his book, To Bless the Space Between Us.
I have found nothing more powerful than words carefully crafted in love and imagination. No matter what your spiritual background, this is a heritage we can all share, a common language of blessing. You don’t have to be a writer or a poet or a priest. Beginning to bless another person can be as simple as pausing in the midst of a hectic day to say to a friend or colleague, “You do good work;” “You are a delightful person, and may you find delight today;” “May you find courage in this hard situation.” These are profoundly powerful to hear. We are parched for authentic, attentive words.
So often I neglect to bless others because I am weary; I feel I deserve to receive and have nothing left to give. But in the act of blessing others, we create streams of grace that flow over the giver and the receiver: “The quiet eternal that dwells in our souls is silent and subtle; in the activity of blessing it emerges to embrace and nurture us,” John O’Donohue writes. “Whenever you give a blessing, a blessing returns to enfold you.”
This week, though I am at turns blinded by cynicism and wearied by life, I hope to open my eyes to see whom I can bless. Authentic, simple love: it is the center of who we are. Let us not forget that we are made to find beauty in others, to name it, and celebrate it.
So this week, may you be enfolded by transforming goodness, and may you have the courage to open your arms to others and to speak in wonder and love.
P.S. This week, I highly recommend:
—this interview between Krista Tippett and John O’Donohue (one of my all-time favorites on On Being).
—this reflection by Parker Palmer– “The Gift of Presence, the Perils of Advice” which includes this amazing quote from Mary Oliver: “This is the first, the wildest and the wisest thing I know: that the soul exists and is built entirely out of attentiveness.”
—this lovely blogpost I serendipitously stumbled upon by farmer and family physician Emily Polis Gibson, which reminds me that blessing others is also (and should often be) a silent gift, a benediction of attentive listening. Check out the quotes to the right of the post–there’s a beautiful one by T.S. Eliot included.
P.S.S. We are profoundly thankful for all of you. As always, we are excited to expand our wonder by hearing your comments and recommended reading! Please share either in a comment on our blog or on Facebook, or contact us here.
Yesterday, my husband and I took a walk through a beautiful fall afternoon. Our dog nosed at animal trails and loped through a stand of golden aspens. The afternoon, in all respects, was gorgeous, the sort of full-color fall afternoon you know will soon be memory. My husband looked up. “Do you know what the weather is going to be tomorrow?”
I stopped in the middle of the trail and automatically reached toward my phone. Some part of my mind halted. “Don’t do it!” I said to myself. I pulled an empty hand back and picked a spear of grass instead, twirling it between my fingers. “No idea,” I answered my husband, “we can look when we get back.”
Sustained attention, we all know, is under assault. I recently listened to an interview about “the arms race for human attention” with former Google design ethicist, Tristan Harris. This interview was darkly illuminating about the persuasive psychology upon which internet content and smartphone applications are built. Far from neutral, the technology which frames our lives is engineered to maximize habit-formation and addiction. I feel moderately aware that my attention is being hijacked, and yet I still tune in to the ever-ready supply of constantly refreshed newsfeed, headlines, and emails.
We each have an inner garden to cultivate. Our hearts and minds, our brain space, our attention, are ours to tend. This work is our birthright. And everyday, I sell some portion of this birthright for meager return. Today I sold it for one trip to Facebook, nine or ten worthless checks on my email, and several swipes on national headlines.
I want my attention back. I want my inner garden to be rich with rare and exotic flowers cultivated over years of patience, effort, and considered attention. In this era where statistics show the average attention span has dropped below that of the common goldfish, I can’t assume that reclaiming my attention will come easily. Literally billions of dollars are arrayed against it.
Recently I came across this quote from Marcus Aurelius: “Men seek retreats for themselves, houses in the country, sea-shores, and mountains… But this is altogether a mark of the most common sort of men, for it is in thy power whenever thou shalt choose to retire into thyself. For nowhere either with more quiet or more freedom from trouble does a man retire than into his own soul…Constantly then give to thyself this retreat, and renew thyself.”
As I read this quote, something stirred inside. My modern mind feels abuzz with lists and worries, with reminders and to-dos. It couldn’t feel further from Aurelius’ trouble-free retreat. Yet it is within my power to retire into my own soul, to journey deep into that wilderness. Though billions of dollars clamor otherwise, each and every moment, the choice to make such a journey is mine.
P.S. What is your answer for leaving the constant buzz and “retiring into your soul?” We really want to know! Leave a comment here or (ironically) on EHH’s Facebook page, or send us a message.
Recent events have wound me tightly. I’ve been worrying over my middle school daughter’s ineptitude with homework, fretting over a new lump in my breast, mourning the passing of our neighbor’s dog, and opening my newsfeed with a pit in my stomach. On Monday morning, standing in front of the bathroom mirror, reflecting on nuclear war, undone English assignments and mammograms, my heart began to pound.
“I am battling the approach of a panic attack,” I realized. I’m not alone. In her article, We Can’t Survive in a State of Constant Agitation, Sharon Salzburg tells the story of Jeanine, who wakes in dread to the news on her phone. Fearful that she will miss anything, she lives her day agitatedly glued to a screen:
“She would not respect herself if she turned a blind eye to the painful truths of the world, but the world breaks her heart. This habit does not do anything to help her change the things she is so concerned about. In many ways, it substitutes for action.”
I found Salzburg’s article right after reading about the devastation in California. Okay, I thought, time to shut my computer. Time to act. But how?
My vocation lends itself to contemplation more than action, which is often a source of much consternation for me. Growing up in a family of do-gooders (in the best sense), I struggled with my identity. I felt as though I was put on earth to find beauty, to listen to it, to write it. Such work is so often unquantifiable (hundreds of pages scrapped, hours of quiet seeing and being that seem to help exactly no one). And though my work takes me right into the middle of suffering, my actual output can feel ineffectual and insignificant.
But this work–writing and being–is what I have been given to do. So this week, I took action. I met with people and laughed, prayed, talked and listened. I went for long walks in the woods. I knelt down next to my dog to see the world from her eyes. I stopped to wonder at the way the sun lit golden oak leaves. I made an appointment for a mammogram. I helped my daughter with her homework. I said goodbye to my neighbor’s dog and then I picked a bouquet of flowers from my fading garden for their family. I did laundry and made dinner and wrote.
And I tried to love it all, like so many people have before me. I take strength in the odd, unquantifiably wonderful lives of people like Van Gogh. He never knew that his work would amount to much but understood that living in this world is a complicated, messy thing that has less to do with productivity and more to do with the immeasurable. “It is good to love many things, for therein lies the true strength,” he wrote to his brother Theo, “And whosoever loves much performs much, and can accomplish much, and what is done in love is well done.”
At the beginning, and middle, and end of all things, this is my sacramental work, and your work too. So if the world ends in a blinding flash while I am sitting next to my daughter at the kitchen table; if I am standing in a glade of young alders with my dog; if I am here, at my window, writing; I want to be loving fiercely all the while. For I have found that living well in the mundanity of the day-to-day requires great courage and audacious love.
So wherever you are this week, whatever you are doing, may you have the strength to turn from fear to love. May you choose to hope. May you seek wisdom to do your work well. And may you find joy in this good, infused world.
P.S. What is the good work you have been given? We would love to hear from you. Please leave a comment on our blog, Facebook, or send us a note . If you’re on Instagram, use hashtag #thisgoodwork. You can find our daily Instagram posts, with quotes from inspiring people and photos of daily wonder, at each_holy_hour.
P.P.S. For further reading to help you in your journey this week, I recommend these articles:
We Can’t Survive in a State of Constant Agitation by Sharon Salzberg;
Vincent Van Gogh on Art and the Power of Love. . . by Maria Popova;
The Hollowness of Autumn Leaves Space for Light, by one of my favorites, Parker Palmer.
Oh, yes, and this one: You’ll Never Be Famous, and That’s Okay by Emily Esfahani Smith