Pastor Bea Chun
The alarm rings; time to get up. Then what? There are many ways we can start the day. Go for a run, turn on the news, check e-mail, make breakfast, let the cat out. Lately, thanks to the writings of Kent Nerburn, I have adopted a new way to begin my day. I step to the window, look out, greet the new day, and then I sit by the window for some time. I just sit there and do nothing. I just sit still.
The view from my window is not particularly spectacular. I live in a condominium complex and my window looks out over the rooftops of two garage structures. Behind the garages is another row of town houses, and behind those town houses I can see the top half of several trees. Two trees, in particular, have become the anchor for my window sitting. They are in the middle distance, which I find a pleasant distance on which to focus. One tree is quite tall and stately; the other is slightly smaller. The tall tree appears to lean toward the smaller one in a protective gesture, like a big brother. Sometimes the trees sway in the wind; sometimes clouds pass over them; sometimes birds come to sit. Mostly, they are just there, rooted, grounded, solid. As I sit there with the trees, I become a little bit grounded as well. Something in me settles down. After a while, I might read from scriptures, and sometimes I sip a cup of tea, but mostly I just sit still.
Then, later my day becomes quite busy. There are appointments to keep, meetings to attend, visits to make, paperwork to catch up with, and big and small crises that require my attention. But, my day always goes better when I have started it with the trees and sitting still.
This is particularity true on days when there is terrible news. A mass shooting in Orlando. A terror attack at the Istanbul airport. News from a friend who has just gotten a devastating medical diagnosis. The world is full of such heartbreak. It assaults us from all sides like storms.
Sitting still helps me withstand such storms in the same way that wetlands help absorb the flooding of a hurricane. This important function of wetlands has slowly become clear to us, especially after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Sandy. Both hurricanes might have been less devastating if there had been more marshland to slow down and soak up the deluge of water.
In the past, wetlands have often been viewed as “wasted space”. They were filled in and paved over to make room for suburbs or industrial sites. Some wetlands were even used as garbage dumps. Now we are finally waking up to the consequences of paving over those wetlands, and, in many places, restoration projects have begun.
This is an important lesson that we can apply to our spiritual life as well. Just as wetlands are not “wasted space,” but rather a gift of nature to absorb the impact of a storm, so is sitting still and doing nothing not “wasted time.” Rather it is a gift to ourselves to absorb the impact of emotions.
With 24-hour news coverage, and with constant updates from social media, we rarely get a break from troubling events that stir up our emotions. At the same time, our calendars often look like the marshlands of our country: filled in and occupied with all kinds of things (including garbage). And so perhaps our calendars and our days are in need of restoration. Perhaps we need to free up some time to doing nothing, just sit still. Perhaps we need to restore some ‘marshlands of the soul’.
May you be blessed this summer with quiet times!