I have one bad habit. Well, actually I have several, but I do have this one. I like to read when I am eating. I will bring my latest issue of Newsweek to the coffee shop and read while I am consuming my food. As a result I am often not fully aware of what I am eating.
I am told this is not good for me. The Slow Food Movement tells me so. So does my counsellor. Apparently, reading while eating is not a relaxing combination of activities. Digestion is compromised. And I don’t get to really enjoy my food.
What is worse, I am not really aware that I am eating. I feel vaguely hungry after such reading-eating episodes. My stomach feels full. But my spirit does not. Which is as good a metaphor of modern life as any.
It’s actually not too difficult to live like this when the gurus of the day remind us “only the paranoid survive” (Andrew Grove, CEO Intel, 1996). It’s kinda hard to focus on the croissant in front of you when you are constantly looking back over your shoulder.
As a result, most of us are “filled but unfulfilled”, in the words of Henri Nouwen . In his classic little book on the spiritual life, ‘Making All Things New’, Nouwen points out that galloping through life, disconnected to the things we do in the present, leads to lives characterized by boredom, resentment, depression, and loneliness. Nouwen wrote his book in 1981. Just imagine how far we have come since then.
Is there any way out of living lives where we are never at home in the present? This is a key question for our times. Otherwise I can imagine all of us in our senior years, wondering where our life went. And wondering what our life meant.
Nouwen recommends the twin disciplines of solitude and community as an antidote to the “filled but unfulfilled” syndrome. I am surprised at how many spiritual writers suggest the same two disciplines. (Remember Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s ‘Day Alone’ and ‘Day With Others’?)
I suggest that one of the things we can do on our Sabbath is to make time to revisit the week that has just passed. Recall the highlights of the week. Think of the bright points. A deal closed. Making love with your wife/husband. Preaching a sermon that touched lives. A fun moment with the kids. A good meal with a good friend. Good conversations you had. A good movie you saw.
Revisit those moments. Savour them. You’ll be surprised how blessed the week was. Your soul fills satisfied. You remember again the goodness of God. Your faith is strengthened.
Revisit the tough moments as well. Remember the pain. The embarrassment. The grief. The anger. As we connect with our pains, we take the first steps of our healing. And ask yourself, what did I learn from those painful episodes? What did I learn about myself? About people? About life? About God? As you taste the pains of your life, and reflect upon them, you take a few more steps on the road of wisdom.
If we can’t stop running in our Monday to Saturday life, we must at least take time to process our lives, to digest our lives, once a week. Unfortunately, the way many of our churches are structured, we are also running and breathless on Sundays as well. So we have to be disciplined enough to make the time for life reflection. In this you have to decide whether you want to obey God or man.
As for community, we all need people to walk with, if we are to discover meaning, and God, in our lives. Last Saturday I had dinner with an old friend. I have known him for almost thirty years. I remembered him as the one who cried the loudest at the funeral service of my late wife. They had gone to school together.
We ate at his club. We were both going through major transitions in our lives. We talked about our past. We revisited the paces where we had walked together. We talked about our present. It was a safe time and a safe place to pour out our feelings, both good and bad. We listened. We helped each other work towards Christian perspectives on the issues we were dealing with.
When we walked towards his car to go home, we were surprised that three hours had passed. It didn’t feel that long. But the conversation over dinner had helped to strengthen our faith. We looked at the future a bit more confidently.
We decided we would do this more often. Indeed we decided we would intentionally choose whom we would grow old with. We would make time for these special friends. We would help each other find meaning, and God, in our lives.
Solitude (Mark 1:35) and community (Luke 24:13-34). We need both to anchor our lives in these fast paced times.
I don’t expect the pace of life to slow down anytime soon. But we don’t have to be prisoners of chronos, victims carried helplessly along by the speed of life, our lives filled, but unfulfilled. With solitude and community, we put our roots down in Christ, seeking to understand the kairos significance of the events that make up our life.
We don’t have to live lives that are characterized by boredom, resentment, depression and loneliness. Not if we pro actively do what is necessary to continue to experience the fullness of life that is our birthright as children of God.
Your brother, Soo-Inn Tan