“Before you speak,
it is necessary for you to listen,
for God speaks
in the silence of the heart.”
~ Mother Teresa of Calcutta
Anticipating some days off, my thoughts turned to the preparation. After all, there was much to do before the road trip. Ironically, the prize of unstructured time has been the result of rigid planning. But must this be so? Perhaps there are alternatives to the usual prefatories. Looking forward was joined by gathering material, working on my car, and surveying weather conditions along with calendars of events and maps. I knew enough to find humor in this, being one who is content to simply perch and write. With these milder weather months, the perching and writing may easily take place outdoors- at sea, and along mountain trails. Destinations and pathways alike comprise sojourns of all lengths and modes.
By force of cultivated habit, necessities began accumulating near my desk as thickening vegetable patches. The small piles were then succeeded by three bags: a duffel bag for clothing, a camera bag, and a backpack for writing materials and books. A small typewriter was already in my car. From the corralled vital spare parts, such as a pencil sharpener, a bottle of ink, a battery charger, some leaves of Ko-Rec-Type, and instant coffee, wafting late-summer air drew me from the packing to my open window.
Along the outbound road to the Friends Meeting House, late-afternoon skies presented a pale, housepaint backdrop for the verdant landscape I traversed. And among the leafy trees, swaying with storm-foretelling wind gusts, stands the red brick chapel. Very fortunately, the proprietors had propped enough windows open to invite in the expectant breezes. Being an occasional attender at their community, each instance is a fresh encounter in notably sacred space. I chose a seat near one of the open windows, and with the other congregants entered the shared and sanctified silence that attentively waits upon the Holy Spirit. After a short time, cool winds began filling the ancient, high-ceilinged sanctuary, intensifying with distant hints of thunder. In this prayerful environment, with eyes closed, swirling winds brought to mind the devotion that centers around the refrain, Veni Sancte Spiritus, and in the midst of human silence the rains arrived in full force. Though nothing was spoken, everything was surely noticed. With that evening’s experience in mind, I drove further up the Maine coast.
Along the way down-east, I leisurely stopped to enjoy towns, open shores, and woods. Content to simply perch and write, there were many such opportunities. My gratitude for this spell of respite seemed to exceed the amount of my writing ideas. Forest trails, birds, and ocean waves are surely welcome distractions. We can indeed inscribe our thoughts by looking from our pages and out toward nature. Further still, resting in harmony with the grandeur of creation does not always require words. Often the sacred silence is needed so that heartfelt words can be found. The tree-sifted wind atop Mount Megunticook called to mind the Quaker meeting house that had been filled with cool rainwashed air. This particular sojourn wasn’t turning out quite as I expected, though I hadn’t brought along any projects. This time, getting away to write became retreating to observe and to listen. Not for accomplishment, but for reflection, attending to place and time.
Silenced into listening, I was more compelled to look at temporal summer skies than to specifically describe them. Finding a mountain stream during a hot day, I soaked my hands and face in its startlingly cold water- then sat on a rock just to listen to its continuity. It remains the same stream, even though changing waters ceaselessly cascade along its way.
Listening, attending to the moment, resembles reading. Carefully absorbing surroundings, the mind becomes better able to articulate. In this sense, the trees and waters become means for lectio divina, inviting self to broaden perspective. And like attentive reading, observing is not passive. It means turning away from doing and toward being. The word assiduous finds appropriate use here, encompassing such meanings as diligent and industrious, as well as attentive- and being continually present. The root word, “assidere,” means “to sit down to.” As one that is content to simply perch and write, I am brought to consider the timeless roots of contemplation. The assiduous persevere in their sense of application, in a ready disposition. Ancient language includes the Hebrew word “yeshiva,” referring to being seated to learn, and the Welsh “eistedd” (as in “eisteddfod”) meaning to assume a seat as a reciting raconteur. The action implied is one of attentiveness.
Now returning to my humble quotidian experience, I’m eager to try applying a better appreciation for place and time in the old routine. A time-honored studio photography way of testing a new lens is to tack a newspaper page or a large map to a bulletin board and make a series of exposures at varied apertures. The test allows for an evaluation of how well the lens retains its field of focus. In a life of full-time work, agenda-free days are occasional exceptions. During lunch hours and front-stoop evenings this week, I’ve tried beginning journal entries with describing what is immediately proximate. What is seen, what is heard, and how does the food taste? The light as it appears right now will be different within a few minutes’ time. The sparrows that are content simply to perch on the next bench away from me will snap to flight in the twinkling of an eye. This day cannot be replicated, and that prospect may come as a relief. Preparations and maintenance are constants, albeit with their adaptations and variations. But the woods, winds, waves, and ways warrant our awareness. And it is for us to attend.