Tuesday, September 12, 2006

On Slowing Down

Try as I might, I continue to find it hard to slow down. Today, though I am supposed to be on a sabbatical, I found myself still running from here to there--concentrating on getting things done. Sometimes, like when one is writing a dissertation in the midst of teaching full-time, adherence to the Protestant work ethic can be a good thing. But, I wind up focusing so much on the task at hand that I can't really seem to live "in the moment." I sometimes watch my students (for many of whom this is their primary orientation to life) and wish that, for just one day, I could learn to relax and enjoy what that day has to offer.

Because I am without a car here, I am dependent on the weekly bus or the occasional lift into St. Cloud in order to get groceries. So, today, when Elisa called from the office and offered to take me along while she ran some errands, I closed up shop at the library (despite being on a good roll!) and went along for the ride. As it turned out, I had to spend close to two hours in a grocery store. Yes, that's right, folks--the guy who does grocery shopping like hunting deer (seeing how fast items can be collected and the store vacated) had to go around the store, slowly pushing a cart and pretending to look at items. It was a strange feeling. But, in the end, I probably did a better job of comparing prices and getting exactly what I needed than in times past. And, besides, I even got two pieces of fried chicken at the deli--a treat for one who is usually cooking for himself.

Even at Evening Prayer, I think I'm becoming known as the guy who is always racing to write things down. I don't want to miss a thought before it gets away from me. So, reaching into my pocket for a piece of paper, clicking on a pen, scratching out some notes--all of this can draw unwanted attention and the occasional "eye of judgement" from the monks in the opposite choir. "Who does that guy think he is," I can sometimes hear them thinking.

The year I went off to college (1975), the group, "Lovesong," disbanded and the lead singer, Chuck Girard, recorded his first solo album. There was a song on that LP I used to play over and over called, "Slow Down." Girard says that this song still draws more fan mail than any other he ever wrote. It is based on the text, "Be still and know that I am God." Chuck does something very interesting, musically, in this song. When he gets to the word, "slow," he intentionally holds it out until you almost think it's not going to end and the song continue on to the next word, "down." This is a great example of how form can reinforce content.

My hope is that the sheer intentionality and slow, sedate pace of Benedictine prayer will help me to S-L-O-W down. I still have my "to do" list which is probably much too long. There's a lecture to prepare, a seminar to get ready for, a couple of papers that will need to be sent off for presentation at conferences. But right now, I need to learn to take it slow, to learn to breathe, and to realize that God loves me. Whether I get everything done on that "to do" list or not!