Mystic Mondays June 27, 2016
I was lounging around yesterday morning at what was really my place of worship–at a bakery out front at one of the sidewalk tables enjoying the heat of the sun and the shade of a large umbrella. Behind me was a couple who were chitchatting about a variety of topics that were only important to them. Finally the woman asked her partner, “What do you have on your agenda today?” The man paused for a brief moment and said, “Nothing really. We could just sit here all day if we wanted to.” I wanted to step in and say to them, “That reminds me of the Buddhist saying, ‘Don’t just DO something; SIT there.'”
Of course, I refrained from butting in and trying to play the wise sage on a Sunday when I wasn’t preaching and they weren’t looking for any unsolicited wisdom. Like me they were just enjoying a sweet nothingness for a couple of hours on a perfect Sunday morning where the sun and the breeze were all they needed to caress their souls.
It’s a little ironic that I am writing about the wisdom of “sitting” on this day that follows more than a week of having my butt planted in front of two large screens while we debated, voted and prayed our way through more than a hundred overtures at the Presbyterian Church’s biennial national assembly. I swear my chair has permanent indents carved into it that will never fit anyone else’s cheeks ever again. Sitting is the last thing I want right now!
But the Buddhist saying isn’t literally about sitting; it’s about “not doing.” It’s about setting aside our “to do” lists in favor of just taking time to be. I reminded my congregation a couple of weeks ago in sermon that in the beginning God didn’t create human doings; God created human beings.
I have found this especially helpful in recent years. I have to admit that most of my adult life has reflected an embodiment of human doing. I have always been reasonably ambitious never satisfied with just meeting minimum expectations or achieving mediocre results. Ask me to finish something in an hour and I am likely to have it done in thirty minutes or do twice as much as I have been asked to do. The Protestant work ethic is alive and well in me.
But all this emphasis on doing things better, bigger and faster is feeling more and more hollow every year. The old motto of “Don’t just sit there, do something!” sounds shallow and, quite honestly, exhausting. My soul seems to be craving more sitting time, quiet time, and nothing doin’ time. I am tired of doing more. I want to be more.
There is an old story of an American who joined an aboriginal tribe on an outback pilgrimage. On the first day they covered a great number of kilometers. The same was true for the second day and the third day. On the fourth day the whole tribe sat under a tree and refused to budge. The American wanted to press on berating them for wasting precious time and money. Finally a translator explained to him, “They’re letting their souls catch up to their bodies.”
I think I know exactly what they are talking about. In recent years my pace has slowed down. But it doesn’t just feel like the natural onset of aging and resigning myself to a body that does not have the strength and stamina it once did. I often feel like I refuse to go faster than my emotions and my soul will allow me. I can still force my body to keep up with my overly scheduled life, but I can feel something inside crying out, “Wait for me! You’re racing off ahead of me.”
The people in Greece and Turkey taught me this when I cycled there in 2014. On numerous occasions I was asked to stop, drink Greek coffee or Turkish tea and just take time for sitting, conversation and relationship. At first I resisted it–I had so many miles I wanted to cover I would think to myself. But more than that my Western sensibilities nudged me to politely refuse at first.
It would have been one thing if a meandering pedestrian had invited me to join him for tea. But often it was the shop keepers who were also engaged in commerce who pulled up a chair next to their cash registers and made sure that honoring me was as important as making transactions with the occasional customer. I was struck by my inclination to turn down their request in order to honor their business day and their intention to make sitting and talking and connecting a higher priority than the doing of business. I had assumed they had things to DO. They had assumed that I would want to BE with them.
I learned from the Greek and Turkish people that being is often more important than doing.
Well, gotta run…lots to do today. Guess I’ll never learn!