Let's talk about your need for holy leisure, interior freedom, poetic education, creative expression and cultural engagement. Authentic, joyful, humorous...many talks to choose from...custom crafted presentations...workshops, retreats, group facilitation...let me help you!
The Race gives us a glimpse into the endless round of self-neglectful business that is robbing a woman of the peace of resting in her Lord. She wakes, with the jolt and intensity of a runner at the starting block, having anticipated and rehearsed the day’s demands to the point of near-sleeplessness. We feel sorry for her, hurting herself as she is by the hyperactivity that clearly is leading her to physical breakdown and, possibly, to the point of madness. But, we see in her mania an element of free choice that prevents our interpreting her predicament as inevitable, or unavoidable.
The poem is full of choice words with several layers of meaning that combine to place the characteristics of such driven-ness into relief against a background of love – of self, and of God. Here are just a few examples:
Writhe: twist in pain, twist into coils
Compress: press hard, condense, contract
Mania: ungovernable frenzy, excitement manifested by hyperactivity and elevation of mood
Design: mental scheme in which means to an end are laid down
Restive: stubbornly resisting control, uneasy
Heady: willful, rash, head-first, intoxicating
Coil: tumult, trouble
These images all fight – as the woman fights – against relaxation, and true rest. This woman’s coping, or self-defense mechanisms have gone horribly awry and are now destroying her. She is doing violence to herself, to the day, and to those around her, whose needs and humanity she speeds past.
The Race speaks of the subtle seductive power of ideas. Unless they are translated into reality – dull and tedious as that process may be – they may lure us into a world of imagined virtue, imagined freedom of movement, imagined rest that undermines the very things ‘vain imaginings’ represent. We may lose our footing in the imagined future if we dissipate our energies by grappling with virtual problems. Grace does not, cannot flow into virtual life. That territory – for all our work to know and control it – is an unmapped waste: “ungraceful and uncharted time”.
As one whose own life is the stuff this poem was made of, I can speak firsthand about the antidote for this woman’s – for my – impotent, cramped, pragmatic, heedless life. The cure is, pure and simple, real rest. The Source and Summit of this elixir? The Eucharist. Christ, fully present, waits for the soul to turn, simply, to Him for refreshment, for new life.
The poem echoes Christ’s words (in a vision) to Bl. Angela of Foligno: “Make yourself a capacity, and I will make myself a torrent,” and alludes to the last line of John Donne’s Holy Sonnet 14 (“Nor ever chaste except you ravish me.”) I include a discussion of The Race in my talk, A Prayer, A Poem, A Person, a Place, to illustrate both poetry and the poetic person – one whose very being is, like a poem, a place of encounter with Reality.
It is my prayer that, by winning people over to the practice of true Sabbath-keeping – Eucharistic Sabbath – I can help restore the calm, surrendered, interior spaciousness that will invite Christ’s torrential grace, more and more, into the world. “Slowed to a singleness of soul,” the double-minded man can become whole, and participate in the glorious freedom of the children of God.
Note: Since the poem is a bit longer than usual, I’ve got a pdf of it for you, here.
Don’t waste the food! Don’t waste the oil pastels and the good watercolors! Don’t waste the expensive fabric, the nice paper, the good wine! Above all, don’t waste time playing, chatting resting! Have you ever thought about the paradox of forming the highest things?
To learn to turn ideas into works of art, we must indulge a bit – not recklessly, but with some daring – in wasting art supplies. Give a kid the kind of art supplies you don’t care if he wastes, and I’ll bet they’re also not satisfying to use, either. Interest will wane. To learn to cook, we need to take some risks with foods.
No skill at words is acquired without long practice tossing away and rewriting ‘wasted’ words. No friendship is strengthened without great ‘waste’ of time together. No love is proved by other than life poured out in service. To turn feasts into practice for the Eucharist, we need to taste the finest wine (Note: the ‘finest wine’ I’ve ever been able to afford cost $26 a bottle, but it’s the thought that counts, and paisano is great for most meals. As fans of Rumpole, we call ours ‘Chateau Kaw Embankment’!)
We must learn to value and to give what is of highest value. There’s the paradox. Only a child can give, or use up, or waste with complete abandon, and only an adult can rightly value things. It is the work of growing up to become able to bear the tension of doing both. To give without knowing the value does nothing to honor the recipient, and to value without giving communicates no actual good.
A priest once counseled that if time is our greatest asset, the best gift we can give Him is to waste it. Since I write and speak about Holy Leisure, this was great reinforcement! Sabbath rest is all about learning to be, to be acted upon, to be whole and offer that wholeness to Christ. It can be very, very hard in our goal-oriented, product-producing, efficiency-loving culture to let go and give God some simple leisure time. Even our Christian culture tends toward purpose-driven lives and accomplishing great things for God.
I hope you’ll learn to waste boldly where the great thing being accomplished is YOU!
I recommend Richard Louv’s Last Child in the Woods frequently – and not just to get people to bring their kids out to my house in the country! The fact is, living on our ‘farm wannabe’, I can see for myself the benefits Louv describes. What’s more, I can see the effects of ‘time in nature’ on ‘nature deprived’ kids who come out to play. Last Child is a warning to us all of the dangers of abstracting children from the natural world. [Read more…]
It often surprises people to find out that I do not prescribe or proscribe activities for the Sabbath. As the author of ‘the Catholic Sabbath book,’ I’m expected to tell people what to do, or not do, to keep the ideal Sabbath. The problem is, my whole approach is exactly opposite – strongly rooted in the real instead of in an abstract ideal.
I’ve found that, in every area of life, Sabbath-keeping included, people need help understanding how ideas get realized – how to move from the Ideal to the Real, or from theory to practice. In this talk, I focus on that process, discussing the role of symbols, of freedom, of gestures, and of leisure in the development of one’s own approach to Sabbath-keeping.
I love the way this process parallels artistic accomplishment. An artist must learn to realize ideas, and so must every individual, garden-variety Catholic. I believe that attention to the design of an authentic and personal Sabbath is the key to making our lives works of art. If I can help open this door for others, I’ll be very happy!
OK – here you go: In this talk I do just that – give concrete, practical ways to dip into the kind of leisure that brings interior equanimity and leaves you more whole, more human, more able to balance all the demands of life.
Caution – one of my ‘theories,’ is that part of what makes your Sabbath practice effective in developing your capacity for Christ is conscious design of that practice. You can hear what might be done (and get some good ideas, see what resonates with you, be stimulated to overhaul your Sabbath day), but you still must choose what you will, or won’t do, freely. In that freedom is your authentic consideration of the ways you tend to get unbalanced, lose equanimity, wobble.
Sabbath is tonic – it brings you back to a clear, centered ‘tone’ from disintegration that has taken you in any number of different directions. Sabbath brings you home, if you’ll learn to practice it without legalism, without license – freely. And I’d like to help you do that!
Here are some other ways I’ve spoken about Sabbath over the years.