I don’t remember the last time I’ve been more uncomfortable.
I couldn’t decide if my discomfort came more from the thoughts bubbling, like a toddler in clothes that don’t quite fit, or if it came from my blurring vision. I sat in the hard chair feeling naked and vulnerable.
In the dark, my dialating eyes scanned the lengthy room and landed on fuzzy eye charts and a big black blob that I knew to be the exam chair. All of this waiting left me yearning for my normal comforts. The unreadable book in my purse and the unscrollable iPhone seemed to taunt me with their uselessness.
I just had to sit. . . and uncomfortably wait.
The irony isn’t lost on me that my dad’s name is James. I’m a doer to the core with chronic to-do-list-itis. Maybe you’re afflicted as well. With three degrees by the age of 28, I’m a seasoned hoop jumper who loves nothing more than looking back on a day with accomplishments. Our culture cheers this on saying, Go do it! Achieve! Bigger! Better! Work harder! But when I read the words of scripture, I’m not so sure about the wisdom of these voices.
I wonder if I’ve been an asthmatic shallow-breathing in tasks all my life, when I was designed to take a deeper breath.
The name of God that appears most often in the scriptures is YHVH. We often see it written Yahweh, but the original is vowel-less, virtually un-pronounceable in English. I learned through a Nooma video that to “say” it at all sounds more like breathing. I love the image of us speaking the powerful name of God with each breath–whether we’re conscious of it or not.
With finals now in my rear-view mirror, this teacher feels a larger space for breathing opening up. Many people would welcome this respite, but to be honest, it scares me. Last year was the first summer in a long time, when my schedule was wide open. My newfound free time came in the form of maternity leave, so the to-do list still filled up. Even with diapers to change and cries wailing, the quietness of the summer space–and a body flooded with estrogen–left me feeling sad and unsettled. I loved my new baby, but often I just couldn’t settle into the quietness of the space.
As I approach this summer, part of me wants to scold myself, “Snap out of it! To slow down is a good thing, you ungrateful ninny!” A wise work colleague reminded me this week that I’m not swimming in the same hormone gumbo. She sees me in a way that few people do, and gave me a vocab lesson that I want to take to heart this summer. Il dolce far niente is the sweetness of doing nothing, or sweet nothingness in Italian. Perhaps it is more of a sweet One-thing-ness or sweet Holy-one-ness that I’m truly longing for.
In St. Benedict’s Toolbox, the Nuts and Bolts of Benedictine Living, a book recommended to me by my friend Michelle, I’ve been learning to listen for God’s voice not only through scripture, but also through the words of contemporary writers. Lately Thomas Merton speaks to me, but I also heard that still small voice in a most unexpected place. The song Vienna, by Billy Joel, came on a TV show that I just knew I shouldn’t be watching when my to-do list was calling, but the lyrics settled on me like Vicks Vapor Rub.
If you’re a busy-bee like me, ignore that clamoring to-do list for three-and-a-half minutes to just–stop. Soak in the words of Billy Joel that echo Luke 10:41-42 and Matthew 6:34, with a simple turn of the word Vienna to “Heaven” or “your Father” or “God.” Here’s the video/audio link:
Vienna Waits for You – Billy Joel