Have you ever met someone who never seems to be in a hurry? Their body language is calm. They walk slowly and never run anywhere. They smile gently and laugh quietly but never too exuberantly. I know some people like this. Most of them are monks or nuns and live in monasteries. A couple of them live “in the world” but somehow manage not to get caught up in the noise and speed. Their outer life reflects a peaceful inner life.
It’s been a few years since my last pilgrimage to the monastery I used to visit once or twice a year, for a week at a time. Recently a friend and I discussed traveling there together soon, maybe this fall. I think my soul is beginning to hunger for it again.
Today I stumbled upon a website with an article from last December called, “No Time for God.” The author links to an article in The Guardian from back in 2002, which includes an interview with the two remaining nuns at a Greek Orthodox monastery in Yorkshire. The interviewer asked the abbess why the population of the monastery had dwindled so much. Here’s a part of her answer:
She believes that one of the reasons fewer women choose to enroll is a growing inability to sustain an "inner life". "We have been robbed of our inner resources; elevator music is all around," she says. "All the silences are covered. These days it is considered cruel to have a quiet classroom for children."
Is there too much instant gratification? She nods vigorously. She says that the women who came to the monastery but did not stay, did not "know what to do sitting in a room by themselves".
This morning I woke up but stayed in bed for an hour, thinking about how much I have to do today (and this week) and it all sounded so “busy” that I didn’t want to begin the day. I’ve been on a fast-track for most of my life, but I go through phases where the pace picks up considerably, as it has recently. When I finally got up (my sweet husband not only brought me my coffee in bed, but warmed it back up in the microwave and brought it back to me when he realized I wasn’t getting up) my instinct was to make a list. I live by lists. And so I wrote down the 6-8 most important things I need to do today, and then I prioritized them. And then I walked into our dining room and lit the candles in our icon corner and said my Morning Prayers. The first line is “Lord, grant me to greet the coming day in peace.”
After the prayers, I read the quote of the day from the 2011 Daily Lives, Miracles and Wisdom of the Saints calendar that we keep on the reader’s stand in our prayer corner. This one is from Elder Paisios the Athonite:
“Those who are in the world must not despair when they are over-come by many passions and when their nature is unruly and races passionately downwards. Rather, they must trust in the almighty power of God and turn the steering wheel of their powerful engine back onto the road toward God, upwards. Soon after they will pass other slow-moving cars, which for years have been driving the road towards God.”
Until I read this, I hadn’t really thought of my love for speed as a passion, but I guess it is. I love to go fast. I drive my car too fast. I move quickly from room to room in my house, not wanting to waste time and always in a hurry to get to the next place, the next activity. One of my favorite movies is “Top Gun,” and I love this scene where Maverick and Goose talk about “the need for speed.”
So, if I understand Elder Paisios correctly, what I need to do is turn my love for speed into a love for God—to become as passionate about my spiritual life as I am about my “outer life.” I don’t know if that would slow me down or not, but one way or another, I probably need to let Jesus take the wheel.