Tuesday, April 08, 2008

care: a matter of drawing close (with thanks to charles ringma)

Even the best of busyness engaged in with the purest of hearts for the good of others will catch up with you eventually. Or so I've found this last few days when stress and exhaustion reared their ugly heads. I think it has something to do with this:

We cannot simply live for others. A life that is totally focused on others and shows no regard for itself will eventually disintegrate. The idea that such a life is the highest form of spirituality is a misunderstanding of the rhythm of the inner life. That rhythm recognises that we need to be nurtured, refreshed, and empowered if we are to continue to give... we need to care with a care that springs from being nurtured ourselves.
Charles Ringma

I'm still figuring out this rhythm of the inner life... or maybe I already know the rhythm, but I fail to move in time with it. I see this or that good thing I might contribute to, a person here or there whom I can help, and there I go racing from one person, task, need to the next. The last two weeks are a case in point.

This evening I soaked in a bath full of bubbles and I'm feeling more rested and balanced, less like I am disintegrating, more nurtured, refreshed and slightly more empowered to give. A good sleep should do the rest.

This busyness thing is a running theme for me. I am constantly overcommitted. I have now obtained a copy of 'In Praise of Slow' but am yet to sit down and gain inspiration and insight from its pages. I have however found a chapter in 'Animal, Vegetable, Miracle' by Barbara Kingsolver that was helpful. She writes of the conundrum of time, in which we rush to 'save' a few minutes here, 'snatch' an extra moment there when in reality we have twenty four hours a day, every day, no more, no less. We cannot save time, all we can do is cram more into our allotted hours, for as Kingsolver writes:

Every minute I save will get used on something else, possibly no more sublime than staring at the newel post trying to remember what I just ran upstairs for.

The solution? Could it be accepting each twenty four hour day as it comes and making the most of each minute instead of trying to create space for the magical, ever out of reach moment when
we can indulge in something really enjoyable? Life does not consist of lounging around reading books or engaging in pleasurable hobbies. Those things are good and right, but so are cleaning the bathroom, cooking the meals and washing the dishes. The key to me seems to be cherishing the cleaning, cooking and washing up, or as Kingsolver puts it:

...attending to the task in front of me - even a quotidian chore - might make it into part of a good day, rather than just a rock in the road to someplace else.

I haven't made it to such a state of enlightened attending, but I am edging my way in that direction. My busyness last week was not a matter of saving time or cramming endless duties in for the sake of it. I wasn't grudging in my meting out of time, tapping my foot impatiently for the moment I would be free to do as I wished. I just forgot to care for myself in the middle of caring for others and it all caught up with me.

Lessons in the journey of life - maybe by the time I die I will be dancing to the tandem rhythms of ministering to others and providing space for my own nurture!

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At 5:57 am, April 09, 2008, Blogger Cherie said...

You'll be dancing to the tandem rhythms long before you die, Cecily, for your inner self is already testing out the steps.

Make time to read the book. It'll help.

And remember that God can save the universe, can care for the needy without us. A need does not constitute a calling. Sometimes he uses us, sure, but I don't think he ever intends to keep us hurrying and exhausted for that is the state that keeps us the most spiritually bankrupt. Exhaustion, hurriedness now and then, sure, but not perpetually.

I have found that the key you mention, to cherish the small tasks along with the large ones is fundamental for me. It makes all the difference.

I remember reading a story about a guy who visited a monastery. He noted that one of the monks, Brother Bartholomew, whose job it was to wash all the dishes after each meal, was always cheerful, always interested, and hummed while working. He asked him, "How is it, Brother Bartholomew, that you find such joy in your every day existence?"

Bart answered, "Because I do everything as if were for the Savior. I scrub this pot until it shines, and while I scrub I feel as if I am scrubbing my soul." He felt satisfaction that the job he held was important to the sustaining of the monastery, to the monks health and well-being, to meeting the needs of the visitors, and to his own edification from God Himself. The monastery was a place where the Lord was honored and in keeping the place running and the monks fed, the ministry kept afloat, those occupying the place had a space to listen and be. For Bart it was simply between him and his God - for he truly felt that any and all tasks, done for the Lord, were worthy and worthwhile - not just the preaching, the teaching, the charitable work - no, all work, done for the glory of God and for the love of one's fellow man.

This is the attitude I try to take when I'm cooking, gardening, cleaning the toilet, for all these jobs make life possible and safe and pretty for my family and anyone entering my small world. I see all life's undertakings -whether restful or active - as slices of creation and in this way I reveal a bit of my 'made in His image'-ness. The big services I do in front of others have their own reward - satisfaction, recognition, gratitude, etc. - even though I don't ask for reward. It's the little, seemingly unnoticed 'beings and doings', done out of love and for the good of myself and others - without recognition - that test my soul. Do I grumble or do I love? There is satisfaction in creating order and beauty, and those compassionate things reveal some of the love of God to the world.

Sorry I'm rambling on and on. I wish we could have a face to face. You and I are on such similar journeys. Amazing. You give me lots to ponder.

Blessings, Cecily!

At 9:09 am, April 09, 2008, Blogger Robyn said...

I should probably print this out and stick it on my fridge or somewhere prominent! Pertinent words Cec...
I'm glad you took some "me" time.


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