Thoroughly Alive

We must hunger after the beautiful and the good...



The afternoon light is the colour of rain as I write. It drifts in over my hands, fills my eyes, makes them quiet. I can feel the morning's whir of thought and word easing to a halt. I've tried to cram an hour more of work in after lunch but my brain is slow, my eyes crave stillness, my heart yearns to put away the screen and take these dove-coloured moments simply to watch the changing sky over the church tower, to speak with a friend, or savour (not devour) the lyrical writing of the novel I began the day before. So I do.

I really do. It's a bit of a triumph for me. Mere weeks before, I would have forced myself forward, driven my brain to distracted attention, egged myself on to more work with intermittent glances at facebook or email or whatever I could find to briefly pep my weary mind. At the time, with exams ahead and papers to finish, the urgency seemed needed. It seemed right to push myself to the edge of my capacity. And I recognise that sometimes a person has to stretch to the limit, a glorious expenditure of self in a worthy and all encompassing cause. I'm glad I did.

The problem is how to get back to normal. To live, again, within the sustainable rhythms of work, rest, relationship, creativity. The problem is that I have trained my mind to frenzy and now that I am back in 'normal' time, my brain is still both weary and restless. Unused to calm, unready for work. The easy thing would be to meet that odd combination with the multifold distractions on offer via the screens that sit so easily to hand. The problem with that is the fact that such distraction could easily become the new norm. Sometimes I wonder if it is. With the pace of life the way it is these days, and the iPhone nearby and the schedule full, I often wonder if frenzy is the default setting for modern existence.

But frenzy does not a writer, nor a soul at peace, make. It's good to be writing again, to be in a season where creativity is demanded of me in the crafting of this next book because it reminds me that I cannot just command inspiration. If I have given my mind nothing but clickbait and hastily screened articles with no real rest or hush, then all I can expect is the static noise of that craziness. To write, to say what I think is truest about myself and words and the stories that form us, I have to create the tilled space in which I can both listen to the Holy Spirit and in which creativity, idea, inspiration can grow, little seedlings of wisdom that will die in too strong a wind of hurry.

I'm learning to write afresh, and I'm learning to live afresh, and one of the first ways I'm learning to do that is to have set times when I do not write. Rather, I rest. Rather, I read, or bake, or sleep, or walk in the world whose summer fields are a feast of beauty. I meet the weariness of brain and body with assent; I recognise my limits. Ah, this is not my strength. I dislike limits. I dislike the weakness of my own body. But to rest, to yield to weariness is the pattern and grace I'm having to relearn in these early days of my writing summer. What's interesting is what it teaches me about what it means to live in general. I cannot expect to live in that joy that is possible in the small gifts of the present if my attention is absent. I cannot ask for closeness to God and peace of heart if I have paid no attention and made no space for the presence of the Beloved.

I'm in a period of recollection. I like this word. I've been reading Evelyn Underhill again these days, nourished by her gentle guidance toward that centre room of quiet in the heart and the prayer that grows from it. To the saints and Christian mystics, the term recollection meant the constant and needed return from the world of action to that inner place of prayer. It means, quite literally, to remember, to take the time to recall the love of God in its present generosity, and so to dwell again in its grace. I like the term because it evidences the fact that life drives us from the inner place. Often, in my idealism, I have considered this my failure. Surely if I were really serious enough about loving God, I'd never feel anxious, never get caught up in distraction, never waste my time on useless things, never feel anxious or afraid.

Recollection though, teaches me that the ebb and flow, the battle, the work, the busyness, the fear, are part of the story I live in loving God. Here, in the broken place, the good work of the everyday is always a fight, and peace must always be claimed, again. And again, and again. I just have to keep returning. Part of that means pushing aside the lesser rest of distraction for the real grace of quiet. That's the rhythm I'm learning afresh, the will and grace to return, to pull myself out of the frenzy and choose times of hush. To put aside good, tough work in order to look, wonder, love. It's the discipline without which I'll never write anything worth reading, and it's the rhythm by which I keep myself rooted in the love of God, the daily, given grace for each moment.

And as the marvelous Anne Morrow Lindbergh said, who also knew the power of recollection, life always "rushes back into the void, richer, more vivid, fuller than before".

May such a richness be yours today.

(Next post: summer reading list! Get your own favourites ready, I'll want to know what's on yours as well...)