Pauca Verba is Latin for A Few Words.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

White Lilacs 1895



Speaking with a Jewish friend about the Sabbath, she said its first purpose is to take a break from the money wheel we ride and to give God what is God's due. It's increasingly difficult (seemingly impossible?) for Americans to take a weekly rest from that money wheel, Sunday now just another day for making and/or spending money. Many of us will remember childhood Sundays when stores were closed and family was strengthened. 

Sabbatical means creative rest. When I was twenty-five years ordained I  arranged for a three month sabbatical to Assisi, Italy. While preparing for the time away I asked my priest-spiritual director what he thought I should do during that time. That I framed the question in terms of do-ing, indicates I was still riding the wheel - if not the money wheel, at least the American busy-wheel. And he said, "Each day find a place to sit: above a valley, in a forest, in a garden, on a mountain, by a stone wall, by a church, near a field...and just sit there...even for hours." 

The idea terrified me because I couldn't see how it would be productive. I get it now, that when we sit, attentive, focused and appreciative of what's before us, something happens inside, and we are somehow changed or evolved. I believe it.

Here, Levitan has placed a bunch of white lilacs in a glazed vase for us to look at and enjoy. Thousands of tiny, fragrant, white flowers, joined together in clusters called panicles. The flowers have become a kind of fountain with some green leaves interspersed. There is nothing else around or behind the vase to distract us.

Was it an American who invented the term, multi-tasking? We're not served well spiritually or humanly living that way. "But when you have your cup of tea," the priest said, "just enjoy your cup of tea."  

We might resist the temptation to glance quickly at these lilacs and then run away to DO something productive. If we're honest, fair and kind to ourselves, we can take a little sabbatical everyday, if even for some minutes.

12 comments:

  1. I think many people would agree with these thoughts. Everyone feels the pressures of trying to do too many things in a day. We need to make time to just be. Amen to that.

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  2. I see it as just a small kindness to oneself.

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  3. Imagine! Taking time out is like a mortification sometimes. We have to force ourselves to feel this is deserved. Thank you for the prescription to find the way to a more interior tranquility in Jesus Christ, through His many creations. Levitan's paintings are amazing!

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    1. Yes, they are - amazing! Thanks for following the posts. A blessed Holy Week.

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  4. I find the idea of idle time intimidating. I am always thinking of what to do next and how it will all get accomplished. There doesn't seem to be time to appreciate the flower. How does one clear their mind of the constant thoughts and just let go?

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    1. I remember a time in my life when I was always making excuses why I couldn't sit for prayer. At the same time I was very taken with the monastic saints - especially with the Irish hermit St. Fiacre of Meaux, the patron Saint of Gardeners. A nun said to me, "Pick a time of day and put in your appointment calendar, FM." An hour, a half hour, twenty minutes, ten minutes with Fiacre of Meaux. One thing I've learned is, if I really want the prayer time, I can make it happen. Begin by taking the deepest breaths while sitting comfortably. Archbishop Anthony Bloom has written a fine book (Christian classic) titled: Beginning to Pray. Often when I sit, I say to myself, "Stephen, shhhhhhh." That quiets the inner noise.

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  5. I forgot that Sundays were days to stay home and be with family. No stores, no running to kids'soccer games nor catching up on work. A day of rest. I wishould that we could bring that back more. I wonder how many families even eat together on Sunday, or any day of the week with regularity.

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  6. There's a TV commercial for some kind of breakfast bars. It shows the "typical" American morning household - all the kids and dad going off to school and work and as they go out the door mom throws one of these bars at each of them. Starting the day already harried. And as if that bar of nuts and grains is supposed to hold you till lunchtime.

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    1. No, a quick packaged bite for breakfast won't keep us feeling nourished, just as 10 minute canned homily leaves us with an underwhelming, uninspired feeling week after week. Thank YOU for spiritually nourishing us and keeping our thoughts elevated. Amen to that Father Stephen!

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  7. I agree that we need to take time out of our day to say a simple prayer and sitting in contemplation. Even a short time taken to acknowledge His presence in our lives will go a long way in our spiritual growth. Too often we forget that we are not alone and that there is a greater goal than just making it through each day. This will lead us further into doing things for others and not just ourselves. And in doing that we pass it on and we all grow together.

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  8. I make my way through the Evangelist posts each month, one at a time. When I got to this one, I thought to myself how right you are. It is necessary to stop and take pause. Each year, I rent a cabin up in the mountains, far from home, bringing all necessary supplies for the week. All I do, each day, is sit and read, and take walks. It is not very creative, but my mind opens up to the beauty that surrounds me and I become a better person. You can feel the shift inside of you. It is my necessary retreat from the high powered life that we all seem to live these days. I think of it as a reset and regroup period.

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