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Slowing Down

May 10, 2012

Since I learned how to read in first grade, I’ve devoured books.  One after another,  I would frantically read.  Like someone who had just broken a fast or gone months without a good meal, I would read.  I read fast, to find out what was happening and how the book ended.  I read anything I could get my hands on, as long as it wasn’t nonfiction.  I did summer reading clubs in elementary school and racked up the rewards because of my voracious appetite.  In high school, I read any book any one recommended.  I could remember very little of each book afterwards, but I could say that I read it.  Nuances of the story were lost on me as well as important plot developments and details about the characters.  My verbal SAT scores were dismal because of my reading style.  Fast and furious didn’t get one very far on the SAT in the early 90’s.

One summer, that all I changed.  It was my second summer of working at a church camp.  Somehow, I had picked up the Pilgrim of Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard at the quarterly unbelievable book fair in our community.  I started reading the book in my normal fashion, and quickly discovered I was lost.  My speed reading didn’t get me far with Dillard’s rich text and vivid descriptions.  Instead of just plowing through without changing, like I normally did, I went back and re-read what I had already read.  I was taken in my her description of the Appalachian mountains, the area of the world where I was working that summer. The minutae she included in writing of a frog dying, being swollen and devoured intrigued me.  That book changed my world because it changed how I read.

Ever since I read The Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, my life changed.  It was the beginning of becoming more intentional.  Before then, I enjoyed being still and quiet–in small, small doses.  My approach to life wasn’t unlike my approach to reading.  I plowed through it.  When I was unsure about things I moved faster and my destination was everything.  Dillard was the beginning of my being.  Since then, everything has been about being and not just doing or moving.

In almost all literature written by mystics and contemplatives of the world’s main religion, being is central to one’s spiritual walk.  In the book group I am in right now, we are reading Barbara Brown Taylor’s Altars in the World.  The first four chapters have, in essence, talked about the spiritual practice of being, whether it is embracing your flesh, being aware of your physical walking, paying attention to the world and God around you, and being aware of God’s presence from the moment you wake up until you go to bed.  All of those address slowing down and being.

I can learn a lot from my daughter.  Recently, she voiced her dislike for rushing.  Too much of our time at home is spent rushing from one activity to the next, she said.  So, I tried to change.  The activities we did didn’t change at all, but the rushing did.  We established some new routines.   I didn’t push through all the activities to get to the next one.  After school, we sat and ate snack together and talked.  We got homework finished and the piano practiced before doing optional activities (like TV).  We still went from swim practice to t-ball games, with minimal time in between, yet didn’t rush.  Everyone’s been happier.

That doesn’t mean the rushing has stopped all time, especially in my own expectations of myself.  I have gotten better at not rushing my daughter, but I still push to get supper on the table after swim practice.  I still tell myself in my head that bedtime has to happen fast so I can get the kitchen cleaned up.  Then evenings like last night happen, when we lose electricity for 3 hours.  Instead of rushing through bedtime, I am required to sit with my thunderstorm-scared children until they fall asleep in the very dark house.  Dishes are done more leisurely by the light of a camping lantern and instead of staying up too late watching TV, we just go to bed.  It’s a much nicer pace.

It’s also much easier to find God when I am moving at this pace than devouring life.  I notice the owl babies in our owl box, thinking about flying away.  I worry about how the owls are weathering the wind and rain in the loud thunderstorm.  I notice how my little crosses his feet when he sits and the smell of chlorine on my husband, knowing that he swam this morning and that the chlorine in the pool was much stronger than usual.

How are all those things show me God?  It connects me to my world around me.  I ties me to that which I love.  It reminds me that God cares for the baby owls, how wondrously we were created, and how we need each other.

If only I can move at the slower pace all the time, instead of always pushing through to the next activity.

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