I woke up this morning to my mind buzzing through my/our to-do list. I have:
- Wood to stack
- A side dish for dinner with friends to prepare
- A blog post to write
- Emails to send
- Leaks in our workshop to patch
- Porcupines to catch1
- Cabinets and shelves to build
- A bakery to start2
- Two books to write3a
- Five outdoor programs to plan3b
- Et cetera ad nauseum
Our to-do list, of which this is the tip of the proverbial iceberg, holds enough to keep us busy for the next five years, at least. With the hint of the day’s first light, all those little (and huge) bullet points descended upon me at once. What did I do? I am proud to report I didn’t try to tackle a single one. I didn’t even make an action plan. I’m even more proud to report that I didn’t roll back over for needless sleep to escape the scary buggers. Instead, I peeled my reluctant body off my bed, the warmest place in the yurt, fumbled for some clothes, made a fire, and went outside and stood in the cold.
Mark and I are developing a rule of life for our homestead, or perhaps more palatable for post-modern tastes, a rhythm of life. The sole purpose of this rhythm is to aid our waking up to the infinite source of life, that is God, in every moment and to act freely out of that reality. It’s a big purpose, but this “rule of life” is one of the most effective practices in my journey of waking up. Commitment to this rhythm is why I didn’t attend to my to-do list the moment I woke up. In fact, I was out of bed for three hours before I gave those bullet points my attention.
Our rhythm is simple. Its simplicity is the very thing that makes it challenging, and thereby refining. We pray together every morning around 7am, again around noon, and yet again before dinner (or before going to bed if we go out). Work happens between these set-aside times, not before and not after. When I allow this rhythm to shape my day amazing things happen.4 I get in a solid eight hours of work – usually a mix of mental and physical work – with an ease and quality that escapes me when I allow the to-do list (and all its accompanying anxieties) to shape my day.
Of course, I don’t always bend my will so graciously to this discipline. I often wake up with a base-line of anxiety, certain that if I don’t get to work straight away the world itself will crumble around me. Sometimes I manage to ward off this temptation and turn my heart toward prayer and the natural world around me – the way I intend to start each day.
I revel in the beauty of both Creator and creation until the time finally comes to pick up the to-do list and get to work. My heart groans. Can’t I just stay here? What I was chomping at the bit to do only two hours before now becomes an act of the will.
Eventually I turn to my work and am reminded of the joy of it all – of creating, of engaging my body, of critically crafting an experience. The work flows. I am losing myself in it. I don’t want to be anywhere else. And in the midst of that high, the silent call to prayer rings out. I need to put down the hammer, the computer, or the paintbrush. I know the work will be there tomorrow, but I want to keep doing it now!
I see Mark reluctantly pull himself from his work and in camaraderie, if nothing else, I do the same. We read the gospel, we sing, we confess our shortcomings, we sit in silence, and we give thanks. Once again, I’m grateful to have heeded the call.
As I shape my daily life around this self-imposed cadence my relationship with time is revealed. I see with new and uncomfortable clarity how often I want to stay when life calls me onward. This fall, I went on pilgrimage to France. I stayed at Taize Community for one week and walked for two weeks through the mountains and villages of south-eastern France. I experienced days of rich consolation where it felt like every step was buoyed by the felt presence and love of God. Other days it took all my strength (and calling on God’s strength) to keep fear from ruling my heart. I felt great resistance to moving on from the most vibrant, nourishing places. I even started to make plans for how I could stay at places longer, sometimes fantasizing about ending my walking journey altogether. God, it is good for me to be here, let me make a dwelling and stay in this spiritual vibrant community… or this cozy and hospitable home… or this known, safe corner of the world (c.f. Luke 9:28-36). Each time, in the midst of my anxious calculating, I heard that same silent call that tells me the day’s work is done. “Stay watchful. Keep moving. The present moment is at hand.”
The natural world is a great teacher of this particular lesson. Every sunrise, every flower, every season is an invitation to be present to what is in the moment without begging for it to stay. This morning, as I walked the path I do most mornings, the wetland invited me to make a detour. The sun had just crested the far hill, but its rays had not yet reached the low, protected vale. The overnight frost encased every slender stem, each shriveled flower, the tiniest twigs, and wispy blades of grasses. The indirect glow from the sun illumined the fragile crystals turning our wetland into a field of diamonds. I entered the heart of this wonderland and as I brushed up against the reeds and the red osier dogwood, a shower of sparkles dusted my clothes for just a moment. My heart oscillated between sheer joy of this gift and a desire to capture it. I contemplated running for my camera, knowing even as I considered it that my grasping to preserve the moment would rob me of its very gift. Instead, I kept my slow pace, following the deer’s path through the temporary masterpiece, soaking in the wisdom of the melting frost.
“It comes the very moment you wake up each morning. All your wishes and hopes for the day rush at you like wild animals. And the first job each morning consists simply in shoving them all back; in listening to that other voice, taking that other point of view, letting that other larger, stronger, quieter life come flowing in. And so on, all day. Standing back from all your natural fussings and frettings; coming in out of the wind.” – C.S. Lewis