"Give them not Hell, but

Hope and Courage."

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Lessons of the Titanic (Sunday, March 25,2012)

            As far as I can remember, I never had the obsession with dinosaurs that young children (young boys, especially) often develop. Though both of my sons did.

            But I did have obsessions of my own as I was growing up.  They were almost always historical, too.

            I had a fascination with Presidents, and could name all of them by the time I was in the third grade (and by the time Lyndon B. Johnson was in the White House). I also remember having an obsession with the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, of all things—and I read (and re-read) Jim Bishop’s The Day Lincoln Was Shot countless times, and just about had it memorized, I suppose.

            I also remember, from an early age, developing an intense interest with all things related to the sinking of the RMS Titanic.

            In this, of course, I was not alone.

            The sinking of the Titanic ranks as one of those historical events which even people not usually interested in history find intriguing. The first book I read on the subject was, quite frankly, the best: Walter Lord’s 1953 work, A Night to Remember, a gripping, hour-by-hour account of the events surrounding the sinking of that fabled ocean liner. It was another book that I would go back to, and read again and again.

It could be that A Night to Remember instilled in me the novel idea that history—written history, especially—could actually be interesting; that history was not about dry and detached names and dates and long-forgotten episodes—but was, rather, about the story, the drama, the pathos, the strange coincidences and unintended consequences and puzzling connections that have made our human voyage through life so darned interesting.

It was also from A Night to Remember that I learned that really good history books don’t just make our human story come alive and edify and enlighten us—but they get made into movies, too. And that’s a really big deal, and certainly something to strive for.

I was fascinated with the film version of A Night to Remember, and watched it every time I could (though back in the pre-video, pre-digital age which now allows us to watch anything we might want to watch whenever we darned want to watch it, you might see a film you liked two or three times a year on television, if you were lucky). 

In my opinion, the 1958 British film, A Night to Remember starring Kenneth More as Second Officer Lightoller remains the best of the Titanic films, though I also liked the 1953 Twentieth Century Fox film starring Clifton Webb and Barbara Stanwyck titled (just) Titanic. (Apparently, they were going to call that film Nearer My God to Thee, but decided on [just] Titanic so that people wouldn’t think it was some kind of religious movie or something.)

But, of course, neither 1953’s Titanic nor A Night to Remember was the first of the Titanic films: that “honor” belongs to a short, silent film released just a month after the disaster titled Saved from the Titanic, which starred an actual Titanic survivor. A couple of months later, in the summer of 1912, a somewhat longer and more grandiose German film was made about the sinking called In Nacht Und Eis (In Night and Ice), which featured dramatic scenes of events like a riot in the CafĂ©  Parisienne on-board the ship, and flames shooting out of the funnels, and other things that didn’t happen.

But its dramatic liberties pale in comparison to a later German film, titled (also) (just) Titanic, which was released by Dr. Goebbels and the Nazi Ministry of Propaganda in 1943 to demonstrate the incompetence and arrogance and stupidity of the British who were doing a pretty good job around then of demonstrating (in real life) the incompetence and stupidity and arrogance of Nazi Germany.  In rewriting history to show German supremacy, First Officer Murdoch was replaced by a fictitious German Officer named Peterson, who is, of course, the sole voice of reason on what has become an Anglo-Saxon ship of fools.

Of course, more recent years have had their share of Titanic hoopla. In 1996, there was a totally forgettable television mini-series called (you guessed it) Titanic, starring George C. Scott as Captain Smith, which one critic called “193 minutes of missed opportunity… [which] wheels out every myth and semi-myth ever told about the Titanic.” If you missed it, you didn’t miss much.

The next year, 1997, there was Broadway musical—Titanic: The Musical— which won five Tony awards, including Best Musical of the  Season. I’ve never seen it, or heard the album, though a song called “Dressed In Your Pyjamas in the Grand Salon” sounds… different… And at least the original cast recording doesn’t feature Celine Dion.

Which brings us to the most recent Titanic epic—and an epic it is: James Cameron’s Titanic (what else?), released in 1997, the most expensive film ever made up to that time (a budget of $200 million!)—the highest grossing film ever at the time ($ 1.8 billion! still the second highest grossing film ever)—nominated for a record-tying 14 Academy Awards!—winner of a record-tying 11!—soon to be re-released in 3-D in honor of the 100th anniversary of the Titanic’s sinking! It is a movie which sweats exclamation points!  And, in my “humble” opinion, it is perhaps the most over-rated film of all time (though, I confess, it did make me cry).

All of this just goes to show that the Titanic—its history, myth, drama, pathos, tragedy, humanity—has never lost its hold on the popular imagination.

Now, we are approaching the 100thin church.

The Titanic has not only fascinated us through the years. It has inspired us. And enraged us. And made us think. And ponder. And see connections, with our own lives, and life in general, and the life of world. And its meaning.

Or, as a headline in the satirical journal The Onion once read, “World’s Largest Metaphor Hits Iceberg”.

Back in 1943, at the height of the Second World War, the evil Dr. Goebbels seized upon the Titanic as a metaphor for something he detested. He wasn’t alone. Nor was he the first. The Sunday right after the disaster, the Bishop of Winchester preached in St. Mary’s Church at Southampton, where the Titanic had been launched, and spoke about lessons that could be drawn from the tragedy. “When,” the bishop asked, “has such a mighty lesson against our confidence and trust in power, machinery, and money been shot through the nation?” Then, prophetically, he added, “The Titanic, name and thing, will stand as a monument and warning to human presumption.”

The fatal danger of hubris—that’s the lesson usually drawn from the tragedy of the Titanic. “God himself could not sink this ship,” one of the seamen is said to have exclaimed, shortly before the voyage began. Famous and tragic last words.

History is littered by words like these—words of over-confidence and arrogance and puffed up pride which pretend to have everything figured out; which claim to have instituted the perfect human system, which no powers of heaven or earth could even challenge.

Think of those days, not so long ago, when it looked as though our economic system was sailing across smooth waters, unchallenged, impregnable—skippered by self-proclaimed “masters of the universe”—with all of us going along blithely for the ride. Heading straight toward the iceberg through waters of unbridled speculation and credit default swaps and incomprehensible financial derivatives. All of which nearly took the whole ship under.

These are some of the lessons the sad story of the Titanic teaches: Pay attention too the warnings. Pay attention to that which you don’t see. Don’t always trust the so-called “experts”. Think for yourself. Question authority.

Of course, the second week in April in 2012 will bring us another 100th anniversary, this one a little closer to home. The same week the Titanic sailed, Fenway Park opened in Boston. Back in the late 1990s, when I was the driver of a sightseeing trolley, cruising over the streets of Boston, whenever we made the turn from Newberry Street onto Mass. Ave, I would call my patrons’ attention to the lights of Fenway in the distance, ring the trolley’s bell, and point out; “Fenway Park: home of the 1919 World Champion Boston Red Sox!” Then I’d add that Fenway opened the same week in 1912 that the Titanic sailed—implying, of course, a sort of unhappy and tragic parallel between the two. This was before 2004, and 2007, of course—it had been 80 years since the Red Sox had won a World Series, and you all remember how impatient we were all getting. So, in a way, we thought of the Titanic and Fenway as tragic failures, both.

But while it was too late for the Titanic, the same was not true of Fenway and the Red Sox. As Maya Angelou once wrote:

History, despite its wrenching pain
Cannot be unlived, but if faced
With courage, need not be lived again.

History can be redeemed—through hard work and heroism and humility.

The Titanic reminds us to pay attention to how we’re acting, because someone might be watching—or even if no particular person is, then history might be. The epic of the Titanic offers the whole amazing panoply of human be-ing—from the best to the worst: from the dedication of Rosalie and Isidore Strauss, the wealthy couple who decided to go down together; to the dignity of Benjamin Guggenheim and his valet, changed into evening clothes for the occasion. “We’ve dressed in our best,” Guggenheim said, “and we are prepared to go down like gentlemen.”

We remember both the heroes and the villains, and we choose, in all that we do, which side of the line we stand on.

There  are so many lessons the epic of the Titanic offers. It has become a sort of Rorschach test for  how we view the modern age.

Perhaps the greatest tragedy of the Titanic, of course, was the matter of lifeboats. There just weren’t enough to save everyone—at most, just over half of those on board could be saved; as it turned out, of 2200 passengers and crew, just over 700 were rescued.

Then there was the unfair class distinctions that were made to determine who was allowed into the lifeboats. Whether deliberate or not there were twice as many first class men allowed into the boats as third class children. Of 29 first and second class children all except one were saved. Of 76 third class children only 23—few than one-third-- were saved. There were only 4 deaths out of 143 first class women-- and 3 of those were by choice, wives who chose to remain with their husbands. Fifteen of 93 second class women lost their lives, compared to 81 of 179 third class women. If you were down in third class, apparently, you were considered not as “important”, more “expendable” than those on the higher decks.  And often, you paid for this distinction with your life.

Could such a tragedy happen in our own day and time? Do such distinctions of class—of money and position and prestige—still determine who is to be saved, and who is to founder? I’m not sure, but perhaps so. To the extent that such attitudes still prevail among us in today's world, then we have not learned the Titanic’s lessons, and that is perhaps its greatest tragedy. As Richard Fewkes has written: “We only have one… planet to share and we will all sink or survive together or not at all. The privatized first class cabins at the top are only as safe as the steerage cabins on the lower decks.”

Remembering the sinking of the Titanic can become a parable for us, perhaps even as we face this greatest journey in the story of our human race, the very choice of the survival or demise of the human race on planet earth. Will we choose a "life-boat" ethics with the privileged few in the life boats and the masses going down with the ship and perishing? Or will we choose a more just and human ethic in which all of us-- first, second and third class alike-- passengers all together on the same ship, this spaceship earth as Adlai Stevenson put it. Those at the top may  delude themselves that what happens don below is no concern of theirs. But there are others who realize that the survival of all depends upon everyone working together to patch up the leaks, to mend quarrels, and to save the ship of state. To save it we must learn to share our resources, protect our environment, curb our selfishness, and learn tolerance and mutual respect for one another.

           These are but some of the lessons that the Titanic teaches. But remember: lessons taught are not the same as lessons learned. History teaches. But it is up to us to live our lives in the light of what we  have learned from history.

So, in this 100th anniversary year, may we remember the Titanic and learn its lessons well. If we do, then the deaths of those 1500 precious souls ill not have been in vain, but can help us to write yet a shining page or two in this, our great human story.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

"Do Whatever He Tells You" (Sunday, March 18, 2012)

We’re not much into Lent around here. That whole tradition of giving something up in preparation for Easter, meant to symbolize the 40 days Jesus spent in the desert in preparation for his entry into Jerusalem, isn’t part of our Unitarian Universalist religious tradition. It hasn’t ever been, not even back in the old days when this church was still run by the Puritans.

No, we don’t do Lent, not here at church. But we do it at home, my dear Papist wife and I—not so much the “giving up” (which I could use more than she, obviously), but the putting aside a bit of time each day for a brief ritual to mark the 40 days of Lent, and get ourselves ready for Easter.

Which is why I know that today is the Fourth Sunday in Lent, and that, more particularly it’s known as “Laetare Sunday”, and we get to light the pink candle on our Lenten cross, rather than a purple one, as in other weeks. Laetare is from the Latin for “to rejoice”; so, this is “Rejoicing Sunday”—rejoicing because we’re getting closer to Easter; we’re past the half-way point, so the ancient Church declared that it would be a good time to loosen up a little, to give people a break in all their Lenten rigors. So, on Laetare Sunday (which is also sometimes known as “Rose Sunday” or “Mothering Sunday” or “Refreshment Sunday”—that’s my cup of tea—if I had my may, every Sunday would be “Refreshment Sunday”!), there can be flowers on the altar, and organ music, and the priest can wear pink or red vestments, rather than the traditional Lenten purple (I am such a traditionalist, I’m still wearing purple today). Even weddings, which are otherwise banned during Lent, can be held on Laetere Sunday.

Now, the wedding at Cana did not take place on Laetere Sunday. (We know that, obviously, because, there wasn’t any Lent yet.) Other than that, we don’t know many of the particulars of the wedding at Cana, except that Jesus and his mother have travelled a few miles from their home in Nazareth to the town of Cana to be there.  We’re not sure whom the wedding was for. One old tradition says it was the wedding feast of John, the “beloved disciple”, with whom Mary would go to live after Jesus’ death. Another tradition says that the bride is Mary’s niece, the daughter of Mary’s sister; so then it would be Aunt Mary and Cousin Jesus, who had come from Nazareth to Cana for a family wedding.

Whatever the exact nature of the relationship, we know that it’s a close one, because Mary is very concerned when the unthinkable happens: {gasp!} the host runs out of wine. Now, such a lapse in hospitality would be a severe mortification for any of us, even today. (Which is why some of us, as a matter of course, always cook two or three times more than we’ll ever need when we have company coming.). In the ancient Near East, with its extremely strict code of hospitality, this would have been a Really Big Deal. But it has happened, perhaps because wedding feasts in the Near Eastern tradition didn’t go on for a few hours, like ours do; no, they went on for a few days—up to five days, or more. So a lot of wine gets imbibed during that time, and maybe the host didn’t figure right, or maybe the guests were especially thirsty, but at any rate, now they’ve run out. Mary, for whatever reason, knows all about it. Furthermore, she knows who can fix the problem.

So, she goes over to Jesus, who is probably just sitting there, talking with a couple of friends about great spiritual matters, or about the politics of the day between Rome and Palestine, or maybe about sports or something; or maybe he’s sitting all by himself, just chewing on his ice cubes (which is what some of us introverts do at weddings). She says to him, “They have no more wine.”

This is not what Jesus wants to hear. We can sense that he’s no little bit annoyed, too. “Woman,” he says (sometimes softened in translation to “Dear woman”) “why do you want to involve me?” (According to one writer who actually reads ancient Greek, addressing his mother as “Woman” would not actually be a sign of reproach (as it sounds to our modern ears), but rather of closeness and intimacy (sort of like, in English vernacular, addressing someone as “Man”, as in “Hey, man, what’s goin’ on?” So, this commentator says, it’s sort of like Jesus  saying, “Yo, mom, what’s up?”). But at any rate, this probably isn’t what Jesus wants to be told right now (he probably feels like a plumber at a party being told there’s a clogged drain upstairs). “Why do you want to involve me in this?” he asks his mother. “This isn’t any of our business.” Then, he adds (in words that only he and Mary would probably understand) “My hour has not yet come.”

But Mary knows that it has come.

Mary, as the mother of Jesus—as his helpmate and partner in faith at every step of the spiritual journey—knows that he has divine powers to heal, to transcend limitations, to set the world on its head—and that it is time for him to show his stuff right now. His time has come. As only a mother knows, Mary knows that Jesus will come through. As only the Mother of All Nations knows, Mary knows it is time to usher in a new way of relating upon the Earth.

She says nothing else to Jesus, but she probably just gives him that deep, motherly look; their eyes meet; and she knows he will respond. Mary goes over to the temporarily-redundant wine servers, and she says, simply, “Do whatever he tells you.” These are Mary’s last recorded words in Scripture; her charge to the servants—and perhaps, in the Christian tradition, to all of us: “Do whatever he tells you.”

Even Jesus knows that mother (usually) knows best. He goes over to the servants, and he points to six large stone jars—each holding between 20 to 30 gallons of water. “Fill the jars with water,” he tells them, and they do; they “fill the jars to the brim”, the gospel of John tells us. Then he tells them to draw out a draught of water, and bring it to the chief steward, the master of the banquet (the head caterer, I guess we’d say). They do so, and the steward tastes the water, and he is amazed. It’s not even water anymore—it’s wine! We’re not talking MD 20/20 or Ripple here, but the real good stuff—the best. “Ha!” he says, “you people are something! Usually people serve the good wine first, and then the cheaper wine after people have had too much to drink (and are probably too sloshed to be able to tell the difference anyway). But you’ve saved the best until now!

A major social faux pas has been avoided. Everybody gets to stay at the wedding feast and have a good time. Even more, John tells us, in this, the first of his miraculous “signs”, Jesus reveals his glory, and sets out on the road that will lead him, ultimately, to crucifixion and death in Jerusalem and (in the Christian tradition) to his resurrection and glory.

Now, at first the story of the wedding at Cana might seem like a rather strange reason for Jesus to perform the miracle that will get his earthly ministry rolling. People have puzzled over it for centuries, and haven’t quite known what to make of what seems, at first glance, a rather quaint little story. But the story of the wedding at Cana is a bit of scripture that has intrigued me for years, and the more I look at it, the more I think it’s like a hidden treasure chest, full of spiritual jewels.

First of all, just by showing up at the wedding, Mary and Jesus show us, as we hear in a different gospel, that “It ain’t no sin to be glad you’re alive.” There’s no contradiction between enjoying life and striving to walk a spiritual path. Indeed, the spiritual pathway can often lead us into times of joy and celebration and sharing community with one another. Life doesn’t have to be a struggle. It can be a wedding feast instead. Religion isn’t just about stern, dry rituals and serious, dour faces. We need to allow ample space for frivolity, and revelry, and celebration in our approach to the Spirit—just as Jesus and Mary did when they blessed the feast at Cana, first with their very presence, then with their spiritual gifts.

Secondly, we need to do everything in our power to help one another. Mary knew that instinctively, and it was a value she never tired in teaching her cherished son. “They have no wine,” she told him—and then—unspoken—“Do something about it.” When your friend is in need, don’t waste time by asking, “What can I do to help?” Rather, delve deep into your heart and discern what it is that you can do—right then, right there—to lighten his or her burden. It might be something very small; it might not fix their situation in the long run; but it shows that you care, and it demonstrates your love in that moment. No act of kindness is ever wasted.

Don’t stand over others in judgment, but stand by them, trying to help. Jesus didn’t say sanctimoniously (as too many of his so-called followers have been all too quick to do in the years since) “Serves them right, they should have planned better.” Or, “Look at those lushes! They shouldn’t be drinking, anyway.” Or, “What do I care? I’ve got plenty of wine of my own stored away at home? Let’s go back to Nazareth.”

No, Jesus gets up off his bench and does what he can to help someone in need, because Mary—ever practical, ever alert to depth and meaning and purpose in every given moment—ever willing to discern the workings of the divine in the everyday—Mary reminds her son that this is his business—that all humankind is his business—and that we are bound to one another in an interconnected web of all creation.

Mary also knows, deep in her heart, where all this will lead. She knows that from this relatively insignificant and small event, that the world will be turned on its head. She knows that when an age turns, that which once seemed insignificant can become very significant, and that those things once thought powerful and impenetrable turn out to be mere chimeras and walking shadows.

The call of Jesus (and of Mary) is a call to turn the “accepted” and “acceptable” political and social and economic and religious norms of society on their heads. They speak of a world of abundance—abbondanza!—where there is plenty of wine for everyone, and plenty of food for everyone, and plenty of justice for everyone—and plenty of grace for everyone. They speak of a Reign of Heaven where God does not apportion the divine blessings in little dribs and drabs, like a miser handing out coins—but where abundance reigns and there is joy a-plenty.

Jesus doesn’t just make one more teensy glass of wine for everyone, and send them on their way. No, he has the servants fill six stone water jars, each holding from 20 to 30 gallons—120 to 180 gallons in all perhaps—and he fills them with the finest fruit of the vine. That’s a lot of wine for a simple country wedding. That’s the way our Mother Earth and our universe pours out its blessings upon us. The fount of Divine Mercy is, indeed, infinite.

It is religiously significant, I think, that the first miracle of Jesus in the gospel is about celebration. May we ponder that as we approach unto the season of Easter, that particular time when we are called upon to consider the Christian portion of our heritage just a little more deeply perhaps.

May we hear the voice of Jesus calling to us, down through these twenty-one centuries: When you celebrate life with one another—remember me. When you feast and when you dance—remember me. In your communities and in your families, remember me. In all of your holy marriages—in the deepest love of two people for one another—remember me.

May we also, prodded by the wisdom and the urging of our Mother Earth, arise now to live out our truest calling—to love, and serve, and help bring forth a New Creation. When our Mother Earth tells us, “They have no food. They have no water. They have no medicine. They have no hope.” – may we arise from our comfortable seats at the wedding feast, and try to discern what it is that we can do. May we listen to our Mother—and may we listen to the voice of the Spirit in our souls—and may we do whatever the Spirit tells us to do, and go where the Spirit wants us to go—through all the days of our mortal pilgrimage on this Earth.

…whatsoever love elects to bless
Brims to a sweet excess
That can without depletion overflow.

            May the sweet excess of the love that is within us be poured forth abundantly over the face of all our world.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

"Slow Down, You Move Too Fast" (Sunday, March 11, 2012)

            Sometimes, when we rush about, trying to get everything done, and not taking the time to do it right, we get ourselves into trouble. Here’s what I mean:

One day, a man left the snowy streets of Chicago to go on vacation in Florida. His wife was on a business trip and was planning on meeting him in Fort Lauderdale the next day. When he got to his hotel, he decided to send her a quick e-mail from the computer in the lobby to confirm everything. But he had forgotten his appointment book, with her email address inside, up in his room, and he didn’t want to take the time go all the way upstairs to get it. But he knew her address from memory— or so he thought. Unfortunately, however, he missed one letter and his note was directed instead to an elderly minister’s wife, whose husband had passed away only the day before. When the grieving widow checked her e-mail, she took one look at the monitor, let out a piercing scream, and fell to the floor in a dead faint. When they heard the commotion, her family rushed into the room and read this note on the screen:

"Dearest Wife, Just got checked in. Everything prepared for your arrival tomorrow. Your Loving Husband.” Then he added: “P.S. Sure is hot down here."

            Sometimes, it’s important to take just a little more time, and do it right.

            Sometimes, if we take just a little more time, it can pay us really big benefits. And save us some real headaches.

            In 1982, an American physician named Larry Dossey coined the phrase “time sickness”, which he defined as the obsessive belief that “time is getting away from us, there isn’t enough of it, and that you must pedal faster and faster to keep up.”

            Can there be any doubt that there is an epidemic of “time sickness” in our society?

            Between 1973 and the year 2000, the average American worker added 199 hours per year to his or her work schedule. In fact, an average American now works more hours per week than peasants did in the Middle Ages.

            In 2002, Americans gave back to their employers 175 million days of paid vacation which they had earned, but had been unable to take.

            The average American gets about two hours less sleep per night than he or she did a century ago.  (Maybe three hours less last night because we turned our clocks ahead!)

            Time sickness can, all too often, manifest itself as physical sickness. Chronic fatigue, stress, overwork—all, obviously, manifest themselves in a whole array of physical illnesses.

            But they cost us dearly in other ways, as well. Rushing through life too quickly; packing too much in; not taking enough time for rest, relaxation, rejuvenation does violence to our spirits; it wounds us in ever deeper ways than physical. The Trappist monk Thomas Merton once wrote:

            “There is a pervasive form of contemporary violence, and that is… overwork. The rush and pressure of modern life are a form, perhaps the most common form, of this innate violence. To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit oneself to too many projects… is to succumb to violence… [This] frenzy… destroys our own inner capacity for peace because it kills the root of inner wisdom which makes [our] work fruitful.”

            Or, as Thich Nhat Hanh put it:

            “If we are too busy, if we are carried away every day by our projects, our uncertainty, our craving, how can we have the time to stop and look deeply into the situation—our own situation, the situation  of our beloved ones, the situation of our family and our community… our nation, and of other nations?”

It is as though we have sucked into the vortex of the storm, and just can’t break out. We live our lives like the Calvin and Hobbes cartoon in which the harried Calvin mutters out loud: “I know God put me on this earth to accomplish a certain number of things. Right now, I am so far behind, I’ll never die!”

But that’s now how it works, is it? None of us has an unlimited supply of time. We don’t necessarily get enough time to finish everything before we go. To the contrary, even if we live to be a hundred, the years seem so often to fly by. Where do they go? So often, we see the richest experiences of our lives only through the rear-view mirror. Once they’re gone, you’ll never get them back. Oh, we can have memories and reminiscences and pictures on Photobucket and Snapfish; those are all precious, and to be savored. (I love looking at old pictures.) But it’s not the same as being there, is it? Not the same as living through the experience.

And if we rush our way through everything—rush through our work; rush through our shopping; rush through our meals; rush through the time we spend with our children; even rush through our vacations—then we might fall into bed exhausted,  but will we even remember what we’ve done that day (let alone find meaning or purpose in it)? Probably not.

“Why should we live in such a hurry and waste of life?” Henry David Thoreau wrote  over a hundred and fifty years ago. “We are determined to be starved before we are hungry.”

Going through life on auto-pilot is depressing and debilitating, no doubt about it. Going through life with the cruise control set at 80 or higher—no matter what the road, no matter what the terrain, no matter what curves await us, no matter what we’re supposed to be doing and paying attention to—isn’t just depressing; it’s dangerous. It’s physically dangerous (I wonder how many avoidable accidents happen because people are distracted or stressed out or fatigued? A lot, I bet.) Think of the emotional toll it takes, too.

In so many aspects of life, unless we do something with love, we don’t really experience it.  It’s when we love something—when we connect with it on a deeper level; when we have passion for it-- that it makes an impression on us; it sinks in; we remember it; it plants its seed of life within us.

But love takes time. “It is idle, having planted an acorn in the morning, to expect that afternoon to sit in the shade of an oak,” St. Exupery once said. Love takes time, and does not usually lend itself to a “hurry up—faster—faster” style of living. Seeds of real life may be planted—precious acorns in our souls; but unless we give them time and space and nourishment to grow, they will wither and die. Then we will remain “time famished”: starved for authentic human moments, for genuine and deep human contact; for life-enhancing, soul-shaking experiences; for conversation and intimacy that pierces our souls and plants new seeds and gives the flower of love what it needs to grow.

In his book on “time sickness”, Dr. Dossey says that we need to slow down and “step out of time”. He says we need to take “time exits” off the bullet train—off the super speedway—on which most of us have found ourselves.

Sometimes, if we are lucky, and if we are wise, we can schedule these “time exits” on our own:  times of meditation and contemplation… a walk in the woods… a stroll in the neighborhood… times at the gym… an hour a day put aside for reading… an afternoon nap, even… Things like this that slow us down, that give our bodies time to replenish and reconnect, that ease us into the next stage of our journeys…

We need to be conscious and deliberate about taking our own “time exits”—scheduling them when we need them; when we can appreciate them; when they are most useful to us. If we don’t, our bodies might schedule them for us, and just shut down when it needs to—with illness, disease, accidents. “Illness is the Western world’s only acceptable form of meditation,” Anne Wilson Schaef once said. Our bodies need a rhythm of work and rest if they are to function effectively.

Sometimes, we need to take “time exits” and hop off the bullet train. Other times, we need to take matters into our own hands, and rebel. We have to become counter-cultural. As one writer has put it, “We can tell each other to turn off the auto-pilot and cancel the cruise control! We can help each other to slow down, to pay attention, and to be intentional” about how we spend our time.

We can model that kind of behavior for one another—and, most importantly perhaps, for our children. Imagine how far this world of ours has fallen, when families sitting down to eat dinner together has become a radical, counter-cultural act of rebellion! Maybe I exaggerate—but just a tiny, tiny bit.

But changing the way we live our lives means… changing the way we live our lives. That means paying attention to what we’re doing. It means being attentive to what’s happening around us (and inside of us). It means sitting still sometimes, and being quiet, and not doing anything, and just waiting for the still, small voice of God to speak to us.

            Sometimes that takes a certain amount of time. But sometimes not. As my colleague Diane Teichert has written:

            “We can pay attention. We can use our senses to notice more around and within us. We can cultivate a graceful, grateful, attentive approach to daily life that gives it more meaning. It takes no extra time to walk from the door to the car, bus, or train while actually noticing what the air feels like, whether there is a pleasant fragrance or bad odor to it, and what the sounds and sights are around us. But paying attention gets us out of our heads and into our bodies and through them into the world.”

            Sometimes, we need to slow down what we’re doing in order to know what we’re really doing. Slow down in all of our busy-ness in order to discern the meaning and the purpose of the lives we lead.

            “You don’t choose a life, you live one,” a son tells his father in the recent film, The Way. “You don’t choose a life, you live one.” We are called to really live our lives.

            Which is sometimes exciting, but seldom easy.

            Sometimes rewarding, but often demanding.

            And sometimes, keeps us very busy indeed.

            So I don’t pretend that any of this is easy. I know that ministers only work one day a week [JOKE] but I know that for too many of us: “It has become too easy to fill life to the edges, to the brim, to the darkest corners of early morning and late night too, until there are no remainders. Running from one commitment to another, adding tasks between appointments, returning calls between tasks, wedging things too big into times too small, a half hour hear, ten minutes there, or a second right now… borrowing time from one need to address another.”

            But life isn’t supposed to be a shell game.  And I will go a step further and dare to say that it doesn’t always have to be this way, even in this modern world.  

            Sometimes, the best things come to us in life when we slow down.

            And the even best-est things come to us when we sit still.

            “Be still, and know that I am God,” the Old Testament psalmist commands.

            His words echo forth through the centuries. They resound in our own time of noise and tumult and haste. They echo deep in the soul of each of us.

            They remind us to stay alert—to unlock our sense, our eyes and ears—to open our hearts—to keep watch for the Spirit and the lessons we need to learn—oftentimes where we least expect to find them.

            They remind us that out of the tangled threads of our lives, there can emerge a pattern which connects—a deep sense of meaning—an abiding joy.

            If we slow down (or at least try)—and stand humbly before the Great Mystery, humbly before the mystery of our lives, humbly in the blessed presence of one another and those we love, then who knows what amazing surprises these lives of ours can offer?