Seamus: “Dear Santa, I hope you like our cookies!”
Meara: “Dear Santa, I don’t want you to eat all our cookies.”
Eamon: “Dear Santa, racecar.”
“I have advice for people who want to write. I don’t care whether they’re 5 or 500. There are three things that are important: First, if you want to write, you need to keep an honest, unpublishable journal that nobody reads, nobody but you. Where you just put down what you think about life, what you think about things, what you think is fair and what you think is unfair. And second, you need to read. You can’t be a writer if you’re not a reader. It’s the great writers who teach us how to write. The third thing is to write. Just write a little bit every day. Even if it’s for only half an hour — write, write, write.”
Sometimes finding the still point comes from doing, being faithful to the practice of your talents. Then the Spirit brings to life that beautiful result around which your daily work revolves.
Every year at the beginning of Advent, I begin to plan two things – the handmade gifts I will make for Christmas, and the huge deals I will take advantage of on Cyber Monday. It seems that second plan never materializes.
This year, I was determined to knock out a big chunk of my Christmas shopping on Cyber Monday. We’re a little tight on money these days (who isn’t?) and I was sure I could get a bunch of good deals for a lot of the people on our list. I camped out on the computer all day. I thought and rethought. I compared prices. I added and deleted items from my shopping cart for hours.
And I didn’t end up buying a single thing.
Every year, the desire of my heart is to give those I love intentional gifts, thoughtful and meaningful and full of my love for them. I abhor the buy, buy, buy mentality that I usually still end up falling into come late December, when my extravagant handmade intentions have not been realized. And buy, buy, buy is exactly what you are supposed to do on Cyber Monday. If you don’t buy this TODAY, all the websites scream, you will miss out on this amazing deal! Do it now! Don’t wait, don’t think, just buy!
Now, is it possible to buy affordable, thoughtful gifts for everyone on your list on Cyber Monday? Yes. Was this my attitude yesterday? No. Will I hand-craft the perfect gift for everyone on my list this year? Yeah, right! I never do. But at least I can try. And I can refuse to let the people I love most turn into a check on my to-do list. Christmas gift-giving seems to have turned into a burden these days, and I hate that. What is burdensome about giving those closest to you in the world something that will bring them joy? I’m challenging myself to give gifts of love, whether they are from Target, or off of my knitting needles. How about you?
This morning, I found myself in my fleece-sheeted bed with my three year old under one arm, my two year old against my back, and the cat purring on top of me. When my first son was born, we hardly ever let him sleep in bed with us, worried that we would never break him of it. Now I sadly imagine the near future, when babies will have disappeared into the bodies of taller, more independent children. My husband always loved falling asleep with the babies. He still reaches for the smallest after a hard day, the two of them dozing on the couch together.
These warm little creatures nestled against me bring so much peace – we are each other’s refuge and rest, a still place of perfect love, nothing asked but everything received.
“The light of truth burns without a flicker in the depths of a house that is shaken with storms of passion and fear.”
This line from Merton reminds me of a poem I wrote called There Is a Face that opened with these lines:
There is skin, and under
the skin, bone and under
the bone, a steady light –
a tall flame on a still night.
I wrote it imagining our bodies as the house Merton speaks of – a hall of flesh and bone with a holy fire burning deep inside. That still flame, that unwavering light, is the Love which created us and for which we were created. The still point is finding and living in the fire of that Love.
“When you don’t know what to do, do the dishes.”
When I was part of a group studying contemplative prayer through Thomas Merton’s writings, our facilitator used to say this. He meant that when we are confronted with the big mysteries – God, peace, eternity, fulfillment, silence, what does it all mean? – sometimes the best response is to do the menial, daily task that happens to be right in front of you.
Pretty good advice.
There are so many things I should be doing at any given moment that it’s easy to get lost in the midst of all of them and end up doing nothing. Or end up doing a lot of things, but not doing them very well. When all of the tasks – menial and monumental – are swirling around me, calling for my attention, sometimes the best place to start is the dishes. There is comfort in picking up each one, rinsing it, putting it in its proper slot in the dishwasher, and in its proper place in the cabinet. I may not know where I’ll be in five years, but the dishes? Those I can do.
If only the rest of life were that simple – pick up a dream, a goal, a career, put it in the right spot, and everything falls into place. Voila! Your messy life is clean, your sink empty and gleaming.
So it’s not that simple. But at least it’s a start. Now please excuse me. I have to go do the dishes.
My first baby is FIVE! He just started KINDERGARTEN! And though I can’t believe my little curly-headed son is now a big boy who wears Star Wars t-shirts, there’s a lot of sweet in that bitter because I get to hear him say things like this:
“I think how God made us is, he got a lot of people puzzles and He put them together and threw them down to earth.”
It’s the second day of my 31 day blogging commitment and I’m already behind! But since, as T. S. Eliot says, “What might have been and what has been/Point to one end, which is always present,” I will move on from what I didn’t do yesterday and write in the present moment.
For really, isn’t that what the still point at the center of the turning world is? Me. Now. I am the still point of my life. You are the still point of yours. The great and complex world spins around us, and though we may feel caught up in its chaos, we are only ever in the present moment, doing the work that is in front of us to do.
I want to open my hands – to let yesterday’s mistakes and tomorrow’s worries clatter to the ground. Right now I am here, in the quiet dark of the early morning, the stillness like the intake of breath before the exhale. Soon my family will be awake. Soon breakfast will be made and lunches packed and husbands and children sent out the door. And there is a centering point also, in the work of our hands, work well done, tasks completed.
Today, I hope to be where I am, and only there. There is peace in that.
31 days, 31 posts, one subject. A little daunting, a lot exciting. I found this challenge here. I wanted something to keep me writing, so I’m going for it. Like the title of my blog, “At the still point of the turning world” is a T.S. Eliot quote—broad enough to fill 31 days of posts, narrow enough to keep me focused. Read the whole poem here.
I’m always looking for the still point—I want to hold onto it, rest in it, live in it, even though I can’t fully explain what it is. But here are 31 chances to dig deeper. (As I post new entries in the series, I will update the list below with links for each day.)
Day #1: What Is the Still Point?
Day #2: 5-Year-Old Theology
Day #3: Henri Nouwen on Standing Still
Day #4: An Empty Sink
Day #5: Thomas Merton and the Still Flame
Day #6: A Moment of Contentment
Day #7: Cyber Monday – The Day After