This week a body came for spiritual direction. She was reflecting upon busyness, upon the balance she was seeking in a life of service to God, with space for prayer and contemplation. Amongst other things, she draws and paints.
She related an experience she’d had that morning. She had felt anxious about the amount of things she had to do. She had, perhaps, taken on too much this week. She was tempted to rush about trying to get as much done as possible before setting off. But then something stopped her. She decided to address a couple of urgent matters that could not wait, leave the rest, and then take her time over her travel. She walked slowly, attended to her surroundings, and enjoyed the morning.
We talked about “the voices around [and inside that keep] shouting their bad advice,” and how easily “captiv’d” we are by them: the voices that assert that life is not about doing what we want, but about getting things done, doing what is productive and helpful, being of service to others and to God.
It is not usually my style to offer my own take on matters, but I found myself suggesting to her that walking slowly, paying attention, and painting are gifts that God is giving her. God wants her to enjoy these things. God wants her to be creative. And in a further turn in the logic, that the things she wants to do are exactly the ‘service’ that God wants. To “never hurry through the world / but walk slowly, and bow often” is “praise, reverence, and service.”
What I thought, but didn’t say, is that this is how God incarnates in us: how this body becomes Your body. Because, God wants to incarnate. When we slow down, take notice, open ourselves to the Infinite Creative Potential, then we allow ourselves to be the incarnation for which God longs.
The point is that I too find this profoundly attractive idea difficult to admit (let in, allow to be the case). I too am constituted by voices that insinuate that God is only pleased when I am being useful, or helping people, or being efficient and productive, or improving myself. These are the voices of parents, teachers, exam boards, bosses, officials, etc., who would have me give up what I most love in favour of what is more productive or efficient or (on the surface of it) selfless. What is this need endlessly to be productive? Whom does it serve other than the gods of commerce and fear?
(I like this word, ‘insinuate’: it precisely describes the way the “evil spirit” works:
- suggest or hint (something bad) in an indirect and unpleasant way;
- manoeuvre oneself into (a favourable position) by subtle manipulation;
- slide (oneself or a thing) slowly and smoothly into a particular place.
It is subtle, barely noticed, and has for me the image of a small snake slithering through cracks in walls. (Though the analogy only goes so far because I love small snakes!))
Can it really be true that You take most delight when I sit here and look out the window, or when I write, or, indeed, when I listen to a body for the sheer pleasure of listening? What if appreciation is praise; listening is reverence; creativity is service.
Life, as I keep asserting, is not a self-improvement programme.
So, my dears…
When are you happiest?
What do you most like doing or being?
When are you most at home in your own skin?
What if this is exactly what God wants you to do or to be?
What if this is your greatest gift to God?
What if this is how God incarnates, as you, in the world?