The Peace of Wild Things
When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children's lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
-- Wendell Berry
It’s so easy to forget who we are and why we are here. Even as Covid 19 diminishes, the habits we have developed about social distancing, masks, and limiting exposure don’t disappear overnight. After a year of being vigilant and minimizing so much of our lives, it’s hard to relax into a new way of being.
Then there’s the turmoil in our country: our struggle to deal with the embedded racism in an effective manner; the political divide; as well as the deaths and the economic toll of Covid 19.
As Christians, we are commanded to embrace Sabbath. Walter Brueggemann, the Hebrew Bible scholar, writes “the observance [of the Sabbath] is an act of resistance against having one’s life defined by one’s productivity…. Sabbath is not merely rest from work, but a day to renounce autonomy and self-sufficiency.”
As I write this, I am preparing to be at the beach, to “rest in the grace of the world,” and to try to find freedom from defining myself by my title or job or accomplishments. I hope to rediscover that I am more than what I do, what I own, or what people say about me: power, possessions, prestige. For a time, I intend to be a shell finder, a walker, a reader of mystery novels, and simply me.
Sabbath is part of our week, part of our year, and part of our lives. It’s more than recovering from a difficult Covid riddled year. It’s about remembering who we are and who God is. Someone once said to me, “It’s up to you to think of God and up to God to think of you.” As I walk on the beach, I am hoping to focus on the waves and the wind; to think about the shells in front of my feet, and let the rest go. My aim is to give thanks for the present moment instead of revisiting the past or trying to predict the future.
My deepest hope is that this time is not a “one off.” I don’t intend to return to where I was in my works righteousness mode. Instead, I hope and pray to live into the reality that my external self doesn’t define me, nor does my inability to make the world behave. Once when I was spiritually confused, my spiritual director said to me, “Just do the next right thing.” I thought that was kind of lame advice, but it has turned out to be very helpful. I am not responsible for making the world work. Instead, my task is to live in the present moment and rest in the grace of the world and be free to do the next right thing. It doesn’t mean we disengage from the issues of the day; it means we do our part and try to be open to what God is doing. The freedom the poet speaks of in the poem’s last line is being open to the future God has in store and inviting ourselves and other people to align themselves with it. Disengaging from our routines and our ways of interpreting the world gives us a chance to see the world new and inviting others into newness.
We don’t have to go to the beach for this to happen. Wherever we are in the months ahead, may we all find the time and means to “rest in the grace of the world” and to be “free” as well.