*Brian Wilcox. 'Country Road'
Road behind my childhood home, in Jeff Davis County, Georgia. We called such an unpaved road a "dirt road."
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Everything that slows us down and forces patience, everything that sets us back into the slow circles of nature, is a help. Gardening is an instrument of grace.
*May Sarton. Journal of a Solitude.
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When resigning as Hospice Chaplain over two years ago, one reason was the unnaturalness of the workplace and work where I was employed. I was to provide compassionate care to dying patients and for their families and friends, as well as spiritual support to staff. Yet, I found myself so hurried that the pace left me unable to relax and feel the compassion patients deserved and I wanted to provide. I was always exhausted, and I seemed always to be working, even at home on weekends to get prepared for the following week. Work and life became haste to meet expectations exterior to the care, demands made by persons who did not prioritize the patient or the Way of caring ~ being in the moment fully with others, allowing the sharing to create a healing context arising from the sharing itself, rather than imposing on patients and staff regulations foreign to compassion and the dying process. Compassion is like life is, and like life, compassion takes time. So, when we speak of slowing down and living in the moment, this is not simply about a healthier way to live for us or about a spiritual fad. This is also regarding a way of caring for others by being-with-others in a natural, unforced manner. The unhurried, patient way is the Way.
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The Sage had disciples who seemed to be always in a hurry, though his teaching was to live in a relaxed, non-hurried way. To encourage them on the wisdom of slowing down and the problem of haste, he shared a tale.
A rabbi and his student stayed a night in a hotel. Before going to bed for the night, the student asked the maid to wake him at dawn, for he had an early meeting. At dawn, a knock at the door awakened him. He arose, thanked the maid, and began to dress in the dark, not wanting to awaken the rabbi. In his haste, the student mistakingly put on the rabbi’s clothing, including the rabbi’s long coat and distinctive hat. He hurried off to his appointment. On the way, he passed by a mirror. Seeing the image in the mirror, he yelped, exclaiming, “That stupid maid! She woke the rabbi instead of me!”
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One of the vows I am vowed to is the Sacrament of the Present Moment. This means that grace is present fully to us this moment. And, I wonder, if I cannot receive grace this moment, this place, why would I expect to be prepared to simply by going to some religious gathering at another place and time?
This reminds me of one of my favorite books, Thich Nhat Hanh, Peace is Every Step. Hanh speaks an obvious but oft-ignored truth, "Only the present moment contains life." As one way to be with this life, he instructs, "Walk as if you are kissing the Earth with your feet." So, life is always present to us, but are we present to life?
A theist may say, "God is everywhere?" Yet, God is not present to me, not experientially, unless I am present to God. Where is that possible? When is that possible? If not now, when? If not here, where?
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May Sarton, in her Journal of a Solitude, told of her dear, aged friend Anne Thorpe and how the latter related so completely and spontaneously to others.
The participation is never passive, shot through with a sudden gust of laughter as it often is, always vivid and original. For me, who am always split between art and life, the wonder is that Anne's immense capacity for experience appears never to be strained or burdened by the many threads she holds in her hands, especially on the island. This is the heart of the mystery. How does she do it? How does she isolate the moment, the human moment, from all the rest? Perhaps because in this she is a poet. I do not think of what I should be doing in the garden or of an unanswered letter when I am writing a poem. I am all there in the timeless world of creation. Anne lives each moment of the day as if it were the first and the last, with the whole of herself.
And, possibly, that is a key to living intimately with this moment: that we live in it with all of who we are. So, to be wholly with God, with life, I cannot withhold any of myself. It seems the Christian Scripture intimates this, when Jesus speaks, quoting from the Hebrew Scriptures, "And you are to love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength." I must, to receive the wholeness of life here, plunge into here with all I am. I must not seek escape ~ anyway, there is no escape. To be fully with this moment, I realize that there is no other moment to live in but this one moment.
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I had a deep, dull ache in my upper-left jaw. A dentist examined my teeth, finding buildup deep under my upper-left gums. He had me recline way back in the chair and gave me an injection for pain. He began digging a metal instrument against the area of the teeth under the gum. The sound was horrible, the grinding of metal against bone. I was tense, body lifting from the chair. I had been studying about relaxing into the moment, not resisting whatever was happening. I decided to try this. I relaxed and the tension left my body. Soon, I found that I was comfortable. And shortly, I was struggling not to laugh with much of his hand in my mouth. This whole experience became hilarious. That decision to relax, to be-with, altered the experience. What appeared ungraceful became graceful.
(C)Brian Wilcox, 2020