I cut the quote out of the spiritual journal “Weavings” and hung it on the wall, behind my desk in the pastor’s office in Brooklyn:
“To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands,
to commit to too many projects, to want to help everyone in everything, is to succumb to the violence of our times.”
Its author, Thomas Merton, paired pursuits as a poet, social activist and student of comparative religion with life under a vow of silence in a community of Trappist monks farming in Kentucky.
I remembered Merton and his insight last week at an OF leadership gathering — during our reconnecting with one another and God… before getting to the meat of our meeting. October’s reflection question is: “what changes in your life reflects the season– where can you recognize a cessation of earlier efforts that are now yielding some harvest?”
Three of nine who shared admitted they did not see, nor could even imagine any let up in the onslaught facing them. Listening to what’s on their plates, I believe them!
There are times and situations in life, where facing a crush, you just have to figure out how to keep it together and shoulder on through. And, tragically, for some people’s lives, survival itself demands unrelenting effort.
But my psychologist friend Bill, with his thicker hermeneutic of suspicion would also ask… in his careful, non-judgmental way, “How does all your busyness serve you?”
Nursing our overburdenedness and stress has its payoffs. That’s why we talk about it so much. Why there are so many articles and books and news reports about it. Busyness makes us feel important. In demand. It both energizes and motivates us.
Bill would add gently, but pointedly, “It also gives permission to avoid deeper issues, what you’d rather ignore.”
Beloved, life in our accelerated American culture does seem to be getting busier:
~ with all the sensory overloads and immediacy of modern technology… ~ with caring simultaneously for both the generations before and after us… ~ with longer work weeks and the line between home and work becoming increasingly blurred.
But your distracted pastor knows, having too much to do — over-commitment and consequent forgetfulness — are not only outside forces or external situations. Over-functioning to distraction is also internal, a way we choose to structure our lives.
Busyness often serves as our good excuse. Overstretched and overwhelmed, we’re off the hook. Too busy to expect ourselves to do what is difficult, or to face what we don’t want to. Busyness give us a free pass. We duck the hard stuff, those pressing questions, the changes we really ought to make…
Bill would say, “Being crazy-busy helps maintain your sense of self-worth, but it’s a crazy way to do it.”
You see, that same trick, busyness, that lets us get by, also robs us of richer, deeper life.
All our socially-engineered and internally-constructed attention-deficits and preoccupations protect us in one way, but at a cost. They flatten life out. Save us the discomfort of facing life’s difficult complexities, but translate into delivering less jeux de vivre. We’re forced less to confront our own limitations, but we’re left with shallower lives.
Running around like chickens with our heads cut off instead of choosing to go deeper… we miss out on a wholeness that comes of the difficult integration of life’s heights and depths. Instead, we’re busy all the time, but only with fragments.
Beloved, slow down. Quality surely counts as much as quantity!
I find it helpful to remember: Jesus never traveled faster than his own two feet could propel him. 3 miles an hours leaves time to think.
See you in church on Sunday,
(where we’ll be thinking more about what helps us get through),
If you want to receive these E-pistles automatically, electronically each week or if you know someone who would, please let the church office know.