Contemplative Spiritual Disciplines: Slowing Down

We were gathered around a campfire, singing Pete Seeger’s song “Turn, Turn, Turn,” a song he wrote in the late 1950s, made popular by the Byrds in 1965, even reaching #1 on Billboard in US in December 1965. The lyrics of the song are taken from the Book of Ecclesiastes, Chapter 3:1-8. Here’s how Seeger rephrased that famous passage of the Bible:

To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, a time to reap that which is planted;
A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;
A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
A time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
A time to gain that which is to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
A time of love, and a time of hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.

We were camping in a national forest of Western White Pine trees, six humans, two dogs including our black lab female puppy Raven, almost 6 months old, and a beautiful white Retriever named Willow, 9 months old. We were practicing “social distancing” due to the global coronavirus pandemic, and we were also trying out “dispersed camping,” the term given by the National Forest Ranger Service for allowed camping when official campsites are closed. We were maybe half a mile from the south shore of Diamond Lake, camping at the Mount Bailey trailhead, spending two nights simply slowing down.

As Ecclesiastes reminds us, there is a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing. During a global pandemic, we’ve been sheltering at home mostly, refraining from embracing others to slow the spread of this disease that has claimed over a third of a million lives worldwide at the time of this writing.

We were getting away to slow down, head out into nature for a different sense of time, a different rhythm.

I left my laptop home. There was cell service in camp, but on Friday night, I got so caught up in doing nothing, that I found myself turning my phone off, and putting it away. As we pulled away on Sunday at noon, I panicked for a brief flash, thinking I had left my phone somewhere; and then, just as suddenly remembered I had turned it off 40 hours earlier and had forgotten about it for the first time in months.

Memorial Day weekend brought us together with our son and daughter-in-love, along with two other friends and their young Retriever. We drove 6 hours to get to the south shore of Diamond Lake in south central Oregon, near Crater Lake. We were hoping for sunny and warm, but knew it would be cold (weather report predicted low of 28 which was spot on). We were greeted by snow flurries as we pulled into the South Shore Picnic Area. Getting out, we were also greeted by brisk, winter weather, mountain air. All this was expected. We did not expect to be greeted by clouds and swarms of newly hatched lake flies, also known as nonbiting midges, or chironomids. You couldn’t open your mouth without several flying in, making a short walk along the lake a hazardous event.

We decided to camp half a mile away from the lake, up in the pine forest, where there were no lake flies, few mosquitos, plenty of firewood, and quiet. Friday evening, we set camp up, including our tent, and our campfire, with stools and stumps gathered in a circle.

Then we settled ourselves to catching up on doing nothing. I love the Spanish proverb, “Do nothing and rest afterward.” In 2005, I began writing “Cannon Beach Log,” as weekly entries reflecting on the sacred work of “zerotasking,” a word I found in a New Yorker cartoon caption of a scruffy-bearded man in his 40s wearing sweatpants, sitting in a recliner with a cheesy grin on his face.

We are so wired, trained, programmed for doing, that non-doing feels funny, awkward, almost not allowed. It is as though I am breaking an unwritten mutually agreed upon code, and will be looked down upon by decent society, or perhaps cited and fined for wasting my life. We forget that we are first human beings, not human doings.

We are wise to learn to slow down, and waste time with God. Learning to slow down is found over and over in the Bible, such as the repeated phrase describing the heart of God as “slow to anger.” We are invited to enter into God’s rest, into God’s timing for our lives, to not allow worry or anxiety to dominate our souls, but find our rest and trust and time in God’s presence.

Adele Ahlberg Calhoun, in her wise book, Spiritual Disciplines Handbook, asks the following reflection questions related to the contemplative spiritual discipline of “Slowing”:

  1. Are you addicted to hurry, rush and adrenalin?
  2. How do you feel about being stuck behind cars that go slowly?
  3. What is it like for you to choose to do things slowly?
  4. When do you rely on caffeine to get through a tough part of the day?
  5. What is it like for you to eat slowly rather than snarfing down your food?
  6. How have deadlines, timelines and bottom lines affected the pace of your life?

Calhoun offers these “Slowing” practices, ways to learn to slow down and pay more attention to God’s presence today:

  1. Get enough rest.
  2. Practice speaking more slowly.
  3. Look people in the eyes as they are talking with you.
  4. Eat more slowly, paying attention to the taste and texture of the food you are eating.
  5. Sit longer at the table, or around the campfire.
  6. Plan buffer time between meetings with schedules.
  7. Take more pauses in the day, time to sit still, collect yourself, rest briefly, take a few long breaths, pray.

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