On Cutting A Quiet Path
多言數窮 不如守中 – more words are meager; prefer hold fast to center, so say the ancient sage, Kung Tze. after twenty and more years, i have gotten custom to this simple house at sunset. who would have predicted that i would settle here for good until the sun sets on me. at his sunset years, Kung Tze and Lao Tze in self-imposed peace retreated to their solace of solitude. their exemplary alchemy grant me courage to seek my own quiet path towards solace of solitude. i suppose all who seek peace seek quietude, from the cluttering, clanging world. where ever i have been, when at sunset, if there is peace of mind, my soul retreats to self – to hold fast to my self’s center.
Recently i offered a friend my excuse to retreat from people. as a monk* sitting at sunset, i quipped, i cannot be in a better place. in solace of solitude, i read, i write, i paint and i pray. my friend smirked incredulously. perhaps his skepticism has merits. being human that we are, it would be impossible to live without others. but this much i confess – without solitude, i can only make pathic noises with others as if speaking into the air. those things that burn my heart remain a smoldering heat without the shades of solitude. the quietude of solitude has trained me to be care-full with words, with fewer words. the ancient sage is wise beyond us. in solitude, there have been days when i utter almost no sounds. there have been occasions when in community i discipline few words. the more i spend time in solitude, the fewer words i have to utter. for indeed more words are poor. holding fast to my center in silence is a truer presence.
The clarity of self recovery comes from an imagination in self awareness. that same friend, after spending suffering years with me, gibed, you are a wild flower that never bloomed. this passing comment over a drink was a profundity beyond his sensibility or mine. little did we realize that this image of a wild flower that never bloomed captures the essence of my truer self. this wasn’t the beginning of my self-recovery but it certainly lays a foundational idea for self-discovery. at sunset, it becomes increasingly clear that in the three epochs of my journey – from adolescence to professional work, from parish ministry to denominational leadership, from seminary professor to a monk in retreat – i have been a wild flower that never bloomed. an un-bloomed wild flower has its aesthetic beauty. yet it is wild with undisciplined, indeed unruly, forms. and it has never bloomed in that has not reached, and never will, full qualitative potential.
This passing insight that my unformed life has limits. not limitations! but limits of possibility not limitations of potentials. this notion of a wild flower that never bloomed has been my singular during my sunset muse. my meditative proclivity is to bloom a wild flower into a graceful bouquet. these periodic meditations continue to nurture my interior. they help me cut a better path toward spending time and sharing space with others. i have refined five daily less and more contemplatives into a path toward quietude:
silence, speak less, ponder more
Grace is lived and enjoyed in cleansing silence. when i imagine grace, i envision the iconic image of Mary, the mother of Jesus. she is a woman of few words. when the shepherds come to behold the infant Christ, the uproar of their excitement fill their stay with exuberant noises. regarding of its celebratory sound it is still senseless noise. but this is written of the mother of Jesus: but Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. there is something profoundly grace-full with silence. those moments and days when in silence i ponder all good thoughts of God’s grace-filled, grace-ful presence. it is in silence where the enjoyment God’s presence is more evident. likewise, often it is out of silence where the fullness of the creative process is more realized. i am never more aware of God’s presence than when in silence i am reading, i am painting and i am writing.
parsimony, spend less, enjoy more
Anxiety is pervasive in this post-modern world. psychology explains it as an anxiety of abundance. we are anxious because we have too much. plainly, i have too much – clothes, gadgetries, collectables, plants, even books. my son witnesses this latter propensity for books to his father. to want more is an addiction that diminishes the pleasure of what we already have. at sunset, i realize more acutely that the feel good moment of owning something new fades haphazardly. the more i buy, the less i enjoy; the more i own, the less i find meaning. there is gracefulness in simplicity, in owning fewer things. a good portion of grace is the blessedness of owning nothing (from A. W. Tozer in his “The Pursuit of God). a good portion of righteousness is to refrain from accumulating more; a good portion of rest is to enjoy what i already have. in a material environment, it is excruciatingly difficult to want less. to cut this urge and kill it, i impose moratoriums on buying. i refuse to buy any more things but am always successful.
moderation, eat less, live more
at sunset, good food is both an enjoyment and an enemy. nothing is more grand that to enjoy good food in good fellowship with good friends. but old age’s slower metabolism requires moderation. as a virtue moderation is more than food and wine; it is a discipline in spiritual formation. to attain spiritual maturity, it is a physical endeavor. moderation of bodily desires is probably the last conquest of true spirituality. the Apostle Paul writes of the fruit of the Holy Spirit in Galatians, in which self control is God’s last conquest and our final redemption. whether in solitude or in community, i seek to live with the seven “s” food rules: all meals are a single simple serving. i snack not; when eating never go for a second serving; having something sweet is not a choice; avoid social eating, like sipping coffee while nibbling a pastry. at all times avoid starchy food. if i must, only those days that begin with a “s” – Saturday and Sunday – that i enjoy regular meals. like all things spiritual, eating is also in moderation.
reading, watch less, reflect more
The nights own me. the weakest moments are in darkness. easily the senseless thing is to fill the void with the mindless glare of our flat screen television. the wave and ebb of loneliness and those in the room play a part. when loneliness is not yet solitude, the insane urge is to click it on. when people are watching, the inept resignation is to sit with them passively. it is so effortless. the irony is that with 200 channels and more, there is nothing worthwhile to watch. still I watch. a better portion of grace is to watch less and watch selectively. so my viewing time is regimented . i can only watch when the day becomes night. i can only watch the allotted shows. for every new show added, an old one has to be subtracted. i read more and everywhere. every space in every room has offerings of reading. once i endeavored to read a book a day. it proofed practically undoable. so now i read two or three books a week. i am never more closer to my self’s center nor to God when reading. it remains a great pleasure at sunset.
hospitality, seek less community, welcome all
At sunset, the valued desire is for less community and more solitude. the weakness of mind and weariness of soul dictate it. the consensus of all my cognitive faculty is to guard solitude daily. solitude is both a departure from and a preparation for community. it would be graceless to seek solitude at the expense of community. and when in community it is grace-full to welcome others. so i practice hospitable presence, where my presence becomes the presence of God. in God’s presence i welcome anyone who seek communion with me. seek not, forbid not i quietly promise myself. i seldom seek community with others, but welcome those we seek community.
during the early years of pastoral work, i attended to A. W. Tozer+ on making vows in ministry. vows are promises i made to myself to guide my life’s paths. they are an iron railing from a precipice; a trespass sign on someone else’s property, lane markers on a highway, a cleft of a rock in a howling storm. these less and more contemplatives have become my vows in life pursuits. they guided and guarded my going out and coming in. they cut a fine path from my solitude to community, and from community to solitude.
*monk is from the Greek μονήρης that means solitary.
+A. W. Tozer was a pastor, writer and magazine editor. Some consider him a modern day prophet in the Biblical traditions.