As a regular contributor to this website and other opinion outlets, I’m in constant consideration of the issues and aspects that comprise our lives in the short and long term. Our lives are full to the point of compaction with events, concerns, details and goals so much so that life itself seems to belong to someone else’s agenda and we are simply cogs in the big machine. It has a very dehumanizing effect on existence itself. Small wonder we never can find or make the time to simply be pensive and touch base with our own souls.
This is not how God meant for our lives to be. He is an intensely social being, and scripture says we were created in His likeness, meaning in the fuller image of His makeup, and not the physical. The most emphatic, repetitive theme in the entire sixty-six books of the Bible is the call to come away and simply be with God. Communion is meant to be not so much a periodic sacrament, but rather a continuous state of seeking the conjoining of our souls with God.
The sad thing is that we have largely lost this essential part of our makeup, which may explain why so many people do such inscrutably horrible things while the rest of us look on in horror, only to quickly forget as the next outrage approaches. It certainly explains the widespread cynicism and callousness of society at large.
Every holiday on the calendar has become a blur of obligations, planning and execution that has our minds and bodies running breathlessly weeks or even months prior to events. When the day finally arrives, it departs so quickly that we barely have a scant few hours to enjoy the friends, family and fruits of our plans and labors. Lost in the crush of details is the actual significance the day is supposed to commemorate. Then life resumes, and we’re on to the next.
Personally, I hate the cycle.
People like to blame retailers for commercializing every holiday until they all run together like one of those endless cross-country freight trains. We sit at the railroad crossing, waiting and waiting for a break that never seems to come. Yet retailers are simply responding to the demands of the marketplace.
When I was a youngster, there were Blue laws on the books that required businesses to shut down on holidays and even Sundays, because our society recognized the value of family and reflection time. It was important then to stop and take a breath each week, before everything resumed again on Monday. Seems quaint, yet it’s one more value we have lost along the way. I’m not suggesting we reinstitute such laws, rather that we attempt to recoup that lost value on a personal and private level.
Reflection is a crucial aspect of the human makeup. The Sabbath was established by God in the Ten Commandments as a weekly time for reflection upon ourselves, our recent thoughts and actions and how they correlate to our relationship with Him. He considered it important enough to frame it within His ten basic demands for proper living.
Even those who don’t practice faith will find this universally beneficial as a discipline. We need to punctuate our short, busy lives with these times of reflection, lest we sacrifice our own humanity to the tyranny of the schedule. We wake one day to find that our holidays are either loathsome because of obligations or have been gutted of all meaning. We’re surprised to realize that seventy-odd years have vanished in a whirlwind of activity, and we feel strangely empty in spite of our efforts and concerns over that span. Our souls require nourishment as much as our minds, if we are to be fully human. Such balance helps to keep us anchored.
There are numerous practical exercises by which to accomplish this spiritual “timeout”, if you will. Among these are prayer, scriptural reading and contemplation, meditation and reflection, and simply enforced times of quiet where the soul has time to breathe, stretch out and be acknowledged.
Jesus set these examples by His frequent retreats from the rigors of His earthly ministry to be refreshed alone in quiet places. I do some of this refreshing waist-deep in a New Hampshire trout stream with a fly rod in my hand. My God is just as much present and accessible in the midst of His beautiful handiwork as He is at the altar of my church. Sometimes more so, as church can tend to get cluttered with details and obligations.
When Jesus’ disciples became caught up in the worries and obligations of their time, He encouraged them to contemplate the flowers of the field and wild birds, and how those simple creatures avoided burdensome concerns by simply affixing their daily dependence on their Creator. There is a powerful message there for each of us.
May this Thanksgiving and Christmas season be for each of us a time of reflection, a pause to allow our souls to breathe in the full meaning of each day, and set aside the petulant buzz of obligations and details. Enjoy the people and purpose of each celebration richly. This is what it means to be human.
Image: Saint John the Evangelist; Boletim do Instituto de História da Arte do MASP (1997); public domain
Lower Image: St.Francis of Assisi Meditating; courtesy of author Eugenio Hansen, OFS
Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.