“To build the future is, primarily and exclusively,
to think the present.
Even as the creating of the ship is exclusively
the inculcating of a trend
towards the sea.”
~ Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Wisdom of the Sands, ch.89
for the day
We each develop our own self-styled ways for preparing to enter the day. Choosing to pull together some words in the early morning of an ordinary day has suddenly made this moment extraordinary. Awake at 5:30am, I’ve had my bath and now slowly savor my coffee poured from the percolator which has stopped sputtering. Only shoes remain needed to send me out the door, between this moment and teethbrushing. The next hour or so offers the respite of unstructured liminal space. Over the years, friends have referred to my “rituals,” while I’ve seen this as a way for me to own my time. And the practices adapt with every environment I’ve inhabited. Silence; with some words written and more printed words to read. As the morning progresses, I’ll add a look at the calendar and a listen for news. Always radio, never the shrill screen. Gentle lighting. A lengthened morning is also a way to ease the pace.
Last winter, the topic of preparedness came up in workplace conversation. A snowstorm was looming and I said, “as long as there’s some half-and-half in my fridge door, I’m all set.” Readiness for the elements and their offerings seems also to begin with that ubiquitous caffeinated beverage. Ways to gather forces and wits vary with situations and circumstances. Preparation is a many-threaded theme. Both sizing up the workday and gearing up for travels involve constructs of provisions to agree with plans. Tools and the appropriate raiment; something to eat, wallet, and keys. Sometimes an umbrella. A thermos of coffee (there it is, again). Cargo space is always allotted for writing materials. Then there is recollection of conscience. I try to use my mornings for mental preparation. At times, it’s an interior narrative, to tell my stubborn mind things like, “don’t let that bother you,” or “why not try that?” Even just to remind myself that things needn’t repeat themselves. Change never ceases. Just walk to the waterfront, and notice the tides.
Preparation of mind and spirit is as real as any material parallel. It is surely a discipline for a personality type such as mine to keep a steady keel in all things, while also being prepared for the unexpected. Maintaining a consistent inner peace implies a steady connection with one’s foundation. I try to remember the ground of my being, the source of all that lives. In unfettered silence, the longing soul can breathe the bare invitation, Veni Creator Spiritus.
In his book, From Fear to Faith, Martyn Lloyd-Jones mused about remembering foundations in imagery that surely reflected the textures of his home in Wales:
“When, walking on moorlands, or over a mountain range, you come to bogs, the only way to negotiate them is to find solid places on which you can place your feet. The way to get across the morasses and the places in which you are liable to sink is to look for footholds. So, in spiritual problems, you must return to eternal and absolute principles.”
Returning to absolute principles combines taking stock with preparation. Side view mirrors adjacent to a clear windshield. In regrouping there is gratitude for the “givens” in our midst. Somehow it remains more natural to take stock in what is trusted rather than to count fears. Darting across Monument Square, from lunch and back to work, I bumped into an old friend from art school. After we asked each other about how we’re doing, our responses began with being employed. As if that’s the first blessing to count. And this added more to thoughts of preparedness. It began to rain, and neither of us had umbrellas. We kept talking and walking. Perhaps by grounding ourselves during chaotic times by attending to the contents of our basis, we can prepare ourselves to remain calm in the present and through the unexpected. This is central to the life of faith. From the simplest yet most solid aspects, a good launch is possible.
As concerning spiritual progress, my hope is to be ready for unpreparedness. Reading Saint James’ ancient directive to be “swift to listen, slow to speak, and slower to anger” is a reminder against carelessness. We are all much more connected than we realize. This represents the timeless challenge of pondering actions before making an impulsive move. We’d all prefer that in theory, but this culture provokes an “act now” attitude. It is easy to be conditioned- and caught up in feeling forced to grab- so as not to be left out or go hungry. To succeed, one must be quick and smart; the loudest and most ostentatious are heard and noticed. I wonder at how true that is, and how to claim space and time to prevent from being reactive. Even slow speech is deemed a weakness. And slowness to judge?
Oddly enough, the supplanting of phone communication by "messaging" is open to some consideration space between received message and response. Even 5 minutes’ worth of interpretation and sizing things up can produce a more multi-dimensional reply than a defensive reaction. Now to be prepared to instantaneously respond without defense. Perhaps the way is to walk baggageless through days and tasks. Observation is itself a form of preparation- even a fast reflection. There needn’t be much time to be able to regain perspective. Habakkuk the Prophet, in the 7th century BC, documented his restless exasperation- and his struggle to wait and keep watch:
“And then God answered:
Write what you see.
Write it out in big block letters
so that it can be read on the run.’”
Of course, I relish the Divine directive to write the vision and state it clearly. Prominently and portably. Even better, the prophet’s name translates to “the one who embraces.” It is for us to imagine all relevant implications.
One can over-prepare, to a detrimental extent. With all this in mind, it really is mental preparedness by being fully awake that is of most effect. When I think of excess contrivance, it gives me the image of being loaded-down. Tiring to even think about. The running thread tying together these thoughts is the training of trust to traverse the wilderness. Preparation is not really living, just as hits during batting practice are not computed into statistics. That doesn’t mean training is unimportant. Its purpose is its implementation. My favorite professor in grad school told me to, “read with an eye on application.” Perhaps applying the fruits of contemplation into living is in itself a kind of practiced readiness. I hope to reach the place at which recollection and application are intertwined and simultaneously advancing. As with unceasing prayer, I’d even have to make an effort to interrupt my breathing-in of the Holy Spirit. A hope. Hoping to be ready to be unready; to be cultivated for the unknowing and adaptable for the unseen- without my own terms.