Friday, March 02, 2012

enforced holy-days


We went on a holiday at the end of February, spending a week in Indian Wells, California.  It was a warm, welcome break for both of us, but especially for me.  For the first time in awhile, I really unplugged from my responsibilities at church and school (and blogging).  Part of this unplugging was possible because I worked ahead and completed all my reading, assignments, and tasks.  The other reason that I was able to let go much of what I usually try to stay on top of was because I was sick for the first 3 days.  Yep.  Not throwing-up-everything-I-eat sick (thank goodness), but fever-and-cough-and-sinus-infection-no-energy sick.  I learned that sitting upright on a plane to LA can be a bit of a stretch for a feverish person, so I flopped down sideways on the empty seat beside me instead of reading a book like I had planned.  The fresh air and sun revived me a bit when we landed, and the 2 hour drive into the desert was bright and beautiful, filled with many amazing sights.  But when we arrived at our destination, I began to wilt.  We went for a short walk in the sun (which I had been looking forward to for weeks), and my pace was slower than an aging tortoise.  How could it require so much effort to put one foot in front of the other? 

I spent a few hours in bed each afternoon during the next few days and slowly regained my strength.  During my brief and inconvenient illness, I realized that my thoughts and energies were no longer on my responsibilities at school or church.  What filled my mind were much more basic thoughts.  I concentrated on breathing in the life around me and living in thankfulness.  I got out of bed in the mornings, went outside in the back yard and stood in the sun for a few moments.  I picked a grapefruit off the tree and stood there some more.  These were moments just to take in simple things like breathing, standing, sunshine, looking at the pond, and feeling green grass between my toes.  A shower became an occasion for much rejoicing.  Water, warmth, clean smells, cool tile, and the energy to stand for 10 minutes.  Astounding!  The highlight of my mornings became eating a fresh grapefruit and savouring each flavourful pod.

Because I tend to be a very responsible person (and slightly perfectionist as graduate students are prone to be), my mind is usually not at rest.  I am always thinking of the next weeks and what I need to accomplish.  I always have lesson plans, teaching ideas, and writing thoughts running through my head.  Being sick took the focus off of my incredibly important responsibilities (that's a bit of sarcasm in case you missed it) and put it back on the basics that I take for granted:  eating fresh food, walking, breathing, sitting still in the presence of God and others and just enjoying the richness of the moment. 

I think this is perhaps what prayer and fasting are supposed to be about.  If we embrace these disciplines and learn to do them well, we begin to drop our self-importance and get back to the basics of breathing and being thankful.  We start to train our minds to be still and know that God is God.  We listen and look instead of planning and performing.  We begin to know that being a faithful person is not about taking on responsibility but learning to lean on someone much more capable than we are.  We see more clearly that we are weak and inadequate, and instead of scaring us, this realization relieves us.  We exchange our responsibilities and burdens for the peace of God.

I must confess that I don't pray well.  I don't fast well, either.  My mind seldom stops running on its self-devised treadmill.  Sickness forced me to relinquish control of my responsible self for a few days and instead enjoy the hallowedness of the moment and see again the sacredness of this life.  I want this peace and freedom to become a regular discipline instead of the result of an occasional, incapacitating illness.  I want to choose stillness and rest as a regular holy habit and not require a physical collapse from infection to enter into that peace.

Jesus, teach me to pray.  Teach me to fast.

the photo:  the landscape near Yucca Valley, California.

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