Primitive religion is not believed, it is danced!

Arthur Darby Nock

Earth's crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God;
And only he who sees takes off his shoes;
The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries.

Elizabeth Browning

Saturday, November 19, 2011

The Practice of Saying No

The snow has come here in Eastern Oregon.  This morning, after plowing the driveways and freezing what remains of an amputated thumb (it is sooo sensitive to cold now), I am sitting here drinking coffee and looking out at what is a very white and very still landscape.  The sun has not quite risen and the whitened forest has an eerie look, like something out of "A Nightmare Before Christmas".  All grays and whites and misty vagueness.  

I started thinking about my annual pilgrimage last week to Les Schwab for the "changing of the tires" ritual.  Although I got there plenty early (from my perspective) I was told it would be around 2 hours before I would get the pickup back.  Resignedly I settled in to wait, with absolutely nothing to do.  It was agony!  And I suddenly realized how difficult it is for me to stop and rest.  In fact is is not only difficulty, it is weird and painful.

Recently I was reading Barbara Brown Taylor's book "An Altar in the World".  In it she talks about some important "practices" that she thinks we as spiritual people ought to pursue.  One of them is the practice of "saying no."  That chapter (which echoes Wayne Muller's thoughts in his book "Sabbath") really spoke to me.  Taylor suggests that in our culture we are conditioned to say "yes", and see "yes" as they way to find success and joy.  "Yes, I want the job", "Yes I will marry you", "Yes I will help!"

But she believes that we all need to adopt the spiritual practice of saying "no".  I think she has something here.  It may well be our inability to say now that causes us to end up in a life that is both shallow and exhausting.  For yes, being busy does not necessarily equate to depth or satisfaction.  What happens to us when we live live roaring down our life's path in fifth gear?  Part of what happens is that we find it hard to slow down, to rest.  We wake up in the middle of the night still in gear, with our mind worrying about jobs, money, the future, our children.  We find ourselves in a moment where there is nothing to do, and we just can't shift from fifth to neutral, or even to first, and there we are, anxious, pacing, unsettled.

Taylor references Abraham Heschel who says that the first holy thing in all creation was not a people or a place but a day, "a place in time.. into which human beings are invited every single week of our lives."

It is not that God calls us to do "nothing" on the Sabbath.  It is not a matter of, as Taylor notes, "Remember the Sabbath Day and keep it boring."  But it is that God calls us to rest.  It is that God calls us to be free.  It is a time to "be"  and to remember that we live in this earth, among all its beauty, surrounded by unique and special people.  It is also a time to live in God.  "When you live in God" Taylor writes, "your day beings when you open your eyes, though you have done nothing yourself to open them, and you take your first breath, thought there is no reason why this life giving breeze should be given to you and not to some other....it begins when you let God hold you because you do not have the slightest idea how to hold yourself,...when you lose yourself long enough for God to find you, and when God finds you, to lose yourself again in praise."

But we can't do any of this.  Walk in the snow, have a picnic on a summer day, sit on the porch and look at Mt Joseph, watch the birds on the feeders... until we learn to say "no".  No to that extra task.  No to sheer busy-ness.  And it helps to remember, that behind our "no's" are "yes's"  When we say no to yet another volunteer activity (gasp) we might be saying yes to giving our own soul much needed rest. Or yes to our body (as we take that walk), or yes to someone we love, as we spend time with them, perhaps in silence,
with a cup of coffee on the porch, doing nothing more than watching the sun filter through the trees on a warm afternoon.


No comments:

Post a Comment