A Joyful Resting Place in Time

I am on vacation…in a pool…in the Florida sun… where I wished to be several days ago back in frigid Minnesota.  I am here…but…not quite here. I am moving forward to something even in the water…not standing still in this pool. I am doing my prescribed water exercises. “Lift left knee. Extend arms. Pull arms to side as left knee goes down and right leg lifts. Keep abdomen tight. Keep neck and upper back muscles relaxed. Repeat.”

I’m doing the exercises, but even in this pool, I think I have to be moving forward, advancing to the other side. One, two, three steps. Eleven. Turn, repeat to other side. Count steps to give sense of progress.

Even in the Florida sun in this quiet pool with no distractions, I seem to feel I must accomplish something. Be on my way to something. If I’m in the middle of the pool, I’m working to get to the other side. When I reach the far side, I turn and start pulling for the opposite side. Until the counting of strokes reaches 100.  Then I change the exercise routine…and repeat…one, two, three, four, five, eleven, reach goal, turn, repeat until I count 100 strokes.

I get out of the pool, dry off, take my place in the lounge chair. I’m having trouble just being here…alone…in the Florida sun…by a pool surrounded by palm trees and tropical birds. I turn on the MacBook Air and, as I do, I recall that I am refusing to be here…where I really AM…right now. My spirit is placeless.

A tiny lizard perches on the arm of the lounge chair next to mine. I look at it; it stares at me. The lizard throat blows up like an orange balloon bigger than its head. I move. The lizard scampers away. This is the place where the lizard lives. I do not. I am human, able to be everywhere at any time, but homeless, scurrying like the lizard for a resting place.

I put down my passenger ticket to everywhere and nowhere…the MacBook Air… and reach over for the hard copy of The Art of the Common-Place: the Agrarian Essays of Wendell Berry I’ve brought for a quiet moment like this…a time to think….a time to dig deeper to get some perspective on life and the world. I open to the Introduction.

“Novalis, the German romantic poet and philosopher, once remarked that all proper philosophizing is driven instinctively by the longing to be at home in the world, by the desire to bring to peace the restlessness that pervades much of human life,” writes Norman Wirzba.

“Our failure – as evidenced in flights to virtual worlds and the growing reliance on ‘life enhancing’ drugs, antidepressants, antacids, and stress management techniques – suggests a pervasive unwillingness or inability to make this world a home, to find in our places and communities, our bodies and our work, a joyful resting place.”

The closest I get to that resting place is my daily afternoon nap back in Minnesota. I am not alone in the nap. Maggie and Sebastian join me in the siesta. Maggie cuddles up close to my head; Sebastian rests against my thigh, reminding their cerebral, restless friend, though without intention, that I really am in one place…at home…in the same time and space with them. If I am distracted when the time comes for the daily nap, Sebastian comes to get me and herds me up upstairs. “Come on, Dad, it’s nap time.” He and Maggie are attuned to time and place, the angle of the sun, the rhythms of day and night and our location in space while Dad is racing around the world and the universe on his MacBook Air looking for a resting place when the resting place is right upstairs in Chaska, Minnesota.

We humans think we are superior to the lizard who scampers down from the lounge chair, a superior species to the West Highland White Terrier and the Shitzu-Bichon Frise, yet we are less at home within the limits of creation itself…the limits of time and place…here in the Garden…where we are restless until we are timeless and spaceless…erasing all limits on the MacBook Air or the iPad…until we become…like God.

Discontent with embodied existence and valuing little, we scurry away, not seeing, not touching, not hearing, not feeling anything much but one, two, three, four…eleven on our way to nowhere in particular where perhaps the MacBook Air will take us vicariously to a joyful resting place…outside the Garden of time-bound lizards and dogs and human beings…a delusional placeless place beyond dust to dust, ashes to ashes… and we miss the whole experience…on the way to some place which is no place.

I want to learn to be in one place at one time. I want to live less anxiously. More present, one might say, to embodied life in this one spot where I really am…this one place… and find within it a joyful resting place.

Ever feel invisible?

Sometimes I feel invisible.  People walk by me on the street or in the mall…and it’s like I’m not there.  People walk by like ghosts talking to ghosts.  They don’t see me.  They’re somewhere else, not really there.  They walk like people.  They talk like people.  They look like people.  But their eyes are somewhere else…in some far off place. Their heads down, reading or writing a text or staring into space, babbling to someone who’s not there.  They don’t see me. I’m invisible.

I have the same experience driving to and from work.  Drivers cut in front of me or run up behind me. They laugh and smile and wildly gesture, but there’s no one else in the car! When their driving puts me in jeopardy, and I honk, they keep talking.  They don’t look and they don’t hear anything but the voice on the other end of the cell phone. Even my Toyota’s invisible; it’s become a non-material world.

It’s nothing new really.  Western spirituality has always been dualistic. It says that we have a body and we have a soul – the physical and the spiritual.  We just have these bodies for a while.  We don’t really die; we just get rid of these bodies and fly away like birds set free from their cages.  It’s an old Greek philosophy that made its way into the writings of St. Paul.  The world of “the flesh” is evil; the world of the spirit is good.

The rudeness on the highways and in the malls, in the coffee shops and even in our homes is but the latest expression of this deprecation of bodily existence.

The voice on the other end of the phone is more important than the person in front of me, and the ones I cannot see or hear or receive a text from are unreal…in Iraq, Afghanistan, and anywhere else I decide to hang up and nuke their worlds into the permanent invisibility of nonexistence or the fires of hell.

I sit quietly at the airport gate, waiting for my flight. Used to be people would at least acknowledge one another’s existence – the bare fact that you were really there and not somewhere else or nowhere – but now they’re on cell phones, babbling away as though the room were empty except for them. Because, I suppose, we’re ancient Greeks with head sets, cell phones, and iPods, seduced by the old idea that we are meant for non-embodied existence. It’s just me and my invisible world, and you with yours, a rude collection of loud mouths and headsets, mouths and ears disembodied from eyes that see, noses that smell, hands that touch and minds that actually think in the silence between our noises.

Touch is a basic need. My dog knows it.  I know it.  Hearing and speaking are important. But the most important communication comes by touch. An animal that goes untouched becomes wild and crazy.  So do we.

To touch and be touched is a vulnerable thing. We crave it. But to touch and be touched is a vulnerable thing. It reminds us of our embodied selves, our mortal selves, our dependent and interdependent selves. The non-material world is safer. Unlike the body, the worlds in our head are invulnerable. In the world of disembodied spirits

The oldest Christian creed says “I believe in the resurrection of the body” because those who developed the creed saw the body – the physical world,  the material world, the world of the five senses as not only “good” but essential to existence itself. There is no human life without a body. The body is not a thing to be shed. It’s a gift that places us squarely in time and space.

Next Sunday is Pentecost, the day the babbling stopped, the day the Spirit transformed their separate worlds. Tore down the barriers of language, class, race, gender, and nationality with the sound of a mighty wind so profound that they all stopping babbling and listened to the Voice that spoke in and through the strangers around them.

It may be hard to comprehend exactly what happened on the Day of Pentecost – tongues of fire descending and resting on each one – but it’s not so hard to make the translation for us in the era of instant communication lonely crowd.

Do you feel the wind and the tongues of fire calling us back into the celebration of embodied existence?  Isn’t it time to see each other again? Talk with people who occupy the same space?  Time we grow up and stop talking to imaginary friends or hanging up on real people who don’t do what we don’t want them to do? Time we recover the spiritual joy of physical community: the recovery of sight, smell and touch.  Time we pay attention to common courtesy. Time to notice that the person on the other end of my cell phone and I are not the only ones in the universe: a Pentecost in disembodied world of the 21st Century.

Share your story with a “comment”.