I spent most of my life running. Family, work, extended family, other commitments -- I'd squeeze in a few moments of silence, a few deep breaths, but often those moments felt like just one more demand. I'd joyfully read Isaiah during Advent, the season that's all about waiting, but mostly my Advents were the whirlwind of added requirements related to Christmas. When I retired from my job, I stepped back from professional busy-ness only to be hit by an avalanche of intense family needs.
Finally, life handed me a pause. I know the old saying, "The urgent is the successful enemy of the important," but I had been doing "urgencies" for so long that I really didn't know how to define myself without them. In the pause, I felt discomfort and guilt. Friends had many good ideas about things I could dive into, but, for some unrecognized inner reason, I didn't dive in. Then a friend invited me to join her in a small art class, just six of us, just six weeks, where a wonderful teacher essentially created space for us to see what was in front of us, in quiet, and to convey it onto paper in any way we were able, with no judgments about quality or talent. I wish for everyone some experience of liberation like that. To be asked for no more than to see what's in front of me? And, even more, to be without judgment about myself? That hadn't happened since I was maybe 10 months old, I'll bet. I think it probably was helpful that this happened in community: even tho I knew only my friend in the group, all six of us were practicing together. And I'm sure it was helpful to have some sort of physical activity. And, chuckling, I realize as I write this that maybe it was important at some level to have a product, that pile of artwork I accumulated, a few of which I could call somewhat artful. That class was a steadying time and gave me a path into meditative art.
During that "pause" time (and through to today), I also continued as a member of several non-demanding groups, including two of real meaning for me: a parish reading/discussion group and a group where we share our nighttime dreams. Those two groups kept me in touch with my inner life and with my values as well as with the question of how I was translating both into action. But they didn't give me an answer to the ubiquitous "What have you been doing lately?" I wonder if, in having no answer at parties, I had to move past guilt and shame and (even if only for self-justification) I had to dip my toes into inner simplicity and humility.
Then in 2012 came a new invitation to action that involved several members of my two important groups. I said yes, and that experience has transformed my life. If I had already filled up my life, I would have had no space for it. I may not have been able to even hear the invitation. I am completely confident that having preserved some empty spaces in my life, and being aware of the longing that was in them, were essential parts of my ability to become deeply engaged and ultimately transformed. For me, this has come through Solidarity with Sisters and our life with the women religious of LCWR. Your invitations will be your own.
What I'm offering is my experience of being willing to wait until the right invitation comes, the invitation that rings the bell in your soul that's been wishing to sing out. That willing waiting turned out to be really important for me. It's still important for me to pause. I still need empty time to listen for the right invitation in this moment. God can speak in busy-ness, but it's hard to hear without deliberate quiet.
Reflecting on waiting, I think of a lovely poem by Welsh poet H.W. Davies, in his 1911 book Songs of Joy and Others (which also reminds me of Mary Oliver's poems):
What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.
No time to stand beneath the boughs
And stare as long as sheep or cows.
No time to see, when woods we pass,
Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass.
No time to see, in broad daylight,
Streams full of stars, like skies at night.
No time to turn at Beauty's glance,
And watch her feet, how they can dance.
No time to wait till her mouth can
Enrich that smile her eyes began.
A poor life this if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.