This time of year, for many, can be an overwhelming confrontation with all that there is to do. The holidays fade away. The decorations come down. We return to the world, carried along by our resolutions or our goals, our dreams for the year, or our need to make up for lost time over the holidays. We are thrown back onto the treadmill. Each day is just another step forward on the doer’s march.
And just as we return to the world, the world also returns to us. Utopia slips away. We become overwhelmed by the weight of the world: the circus of politics, the outrage on display, the drama, the clickbait. . . as our hearts and minds get whipped around on the never-ending roller-coaster in our information age, fueling our doing or inner chaos all the more. True presence becomes more difficult. It is easy to react.
It would be idealistic to say that all of this avoidable. Doing is part of what it means to be human. The world is where our lives unfold. But contemplation is undoubtedly more vital to the health of the soul during times like this. I love Julien Green’s summary of contemplation in his 1985 biography on Saint Francis, God’s Fool: “Contemplation asks the individual to leave himself behind, to give way to God and be united with him.
As far as I can see, it’s not simply a matter of giving up habits that pose an obstacle to the inner life, but of breaking away from the cares of the world in solitude and silence, of driving away what the seventeenth century called diversion, in all its forms, whatever the eye can see, the ears hear, and the senses experience. That’s just the beginning: Contemplatives must also reach a state of absolute inner silence, must quiet the tumult of their own thoughts, dispel all their ideas, especially the ideas they form of God, because they are almost invariably false. In this mental nakedness the faithful soul will have the best chance of approaching its Creator. And to do that it must take the humanity of Christ as its point of departure to ascend to the mystery of the Trinity.”
Sometimes to enter into this space of inner solitude and silence, it seems that I first must free myself from the chains of my doing. May this “prayer" be your benediction and reminder as you bravely go about the world and your day:
The only thing you owe
to anyone or anything
is your full presence.
There’s really not that much
to solve or decide,
to fix or to do,
to defend or prove,
to find to arrive
if you let the moment take you in.
The idolized destination
is the prison of your mind—
prohibition, the doer’s drug,
ambition, the ego’s fuel,
perception, the world’s arena,
each leading to a dead end.
You think you owe all these things
but you’re the debt collector
pounding on the door of your soul,
focusing on the lack.
Fall freely into each moment,
in doing and in being,
and see what grace will say today.