It is, as we say in these parts, September Already. Labor Day is late on the calendar this year, and we are nearly a full week into September. The agricultural fairs are in full swing, school started a week or two ago, and while the days have been fine and hot there is a breath of autumn on the evening air. It whispers sweet nothings to the shy maple trees, their topmost branches just beginning to blush.
I was up to camp for a few days this week, with no internet. Spouse’s favorite vacation is a week in a rented camp by a lake where he can go fishing; I’m not into fishing but enjoy the quiet when it’s just the two of us. Sometimes our schedules don’t line up and he goes by himself, sometimes we do something else together, sometimes he gets a camp and one of our families joins us. This time he found a place close enough to home that I joined him for part of the week.
Knowing there was no internet I’d intentionally not packed the computer or the tablet – instead I packed my journal, a selection of yarn and a pair of knitting needles, some canvas boards and a few tubes of paint, and a couple of books that had nothing directly to do with current events or seminary. I meant to bring my camera but left it on the kitchen table and decided not to go back for it. (The photos in this post are from vacations past, not from this week, but you get the idea.)
Be present, I said to myself.
You can take photographs any time.
This time, just be there.
If you really need to make a picture, you have the stuff to paint with.
I spent the first day taking naps – plural naps! – and the second day alternating knitting and reading on the deck overlooking a smooth clear pond, watching loons dive and bob and call, listening to the rustle of wind in the trees and the lapping of the water on the stones, and getting a little too much sun in a few places. I ended up neither painting nor writing while I was there; I realized that I can and do engage in both of those at home, sometimes too much and at too frenetic a pace, and that this brief vacation was an opportunity to engage in the spiritual practice of intentional presence:
Be. Be here. Be here now.
One of the books I packed was Sabbath, by Wayne Muller, and this was the right book for time spent intentionally slow and lazy in the warm sun and cool wind. By rights this book ought to be read by littles, a few contemplative pages at a time, as I had read bits of it before and will read again. It is, as the title suggests, a series of reflections on the practice of keeping sabbath, of taking intentional rest, of stepping back from the busy stream of busyness – of business – as usual.
For all that I am a contemplative soul, I have not been spending much time at rest these last many weeks. Travel, classes, finals, family commitments, the layered troubles of self and home and world; all of these scream for attention and the demand, the need, is endless. It is very easy for me – even when I am not visibly doing anything – to be tangled up in my own thoughts, tumbling around ideas, polishing conversations I have had, or need to have. This week I spent two days intentionally setting aside those formation-related thoughts whenever I found them wandering in.
Not now. There will be time for that later.
I am not doing that today.
I am here, now.
I can see in my mind’s eye the sunlight through the leaves of the tree beside the deck, half-covering the blue sky. I can feel in my memory the warm-cool touch of sun and wind on my face. It is something. It is enough.
I am of course home now, and back on the computer. The cats have almost forgiven me for being away. I am holding at metaphorical arm’s length all of the things left undone: the writing and the reading, the purchasing of books for fall classes, the applications and the assignments, the unfinished awkward conversations, the depth of commitments demanding that when we fail at relationship we return again, always, already, with honesty and love.
I am tired of this. And I would also not be doing anything else.