Three russet leaves rattle on a dogwood branch in my neighbor’s back yard, holding fast against the late-autumn wind. Chattering wrens, sparrows and chickadees fatten their tiny bodies at the birdfeeder outside my kitchen window. Squirrels leap from treetop to rooftop to earth and back again, gathering acorns to stash in their wild, oversized nests high in the bare branches. The sage and lavender in my garden have cast their final tender blooms to the ground and curled leaves around stems in a protective pose. Even the once-bright blooms of hardy mums have dropped their ruffled heads in surrender. The dawn arrives later and dusk falls earlier. It is December.
I turn the calendar page with sweet anticipation of our daughter’s return from five months of study and work in West Africa. A time to savor the approaching holidays and prepare for celebrations with family and friends. A season for reflection on the challenges and changes of this long year, and a time to ponder possible new directions in the next.
I read something by Thomas Merton recently that grabbed me by the heart and held me in my chair as I sat still and tried to absorb it. Merton wrote,
To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit oneself to too many projects, to want to help everyone in everything, is to succumb to violence.
The frenzy of our activism neutralizes our work for peace. It destroys our own inner capacity for peace. It destroys the fruitfulness of our own work, because it kills the root of inner wisdom which makes work fruitful.
(from Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander)
Whew . . . sobering thoughts. And . . . guilty as charged. So, what to do about the “violence” Merton describes?
The trees and perennials in my little city garden are entering a period of dormancy. This is what they require in order to bear fruit and blooms year after year. During the initial stage, called “quiescence”, growth slows in response to environmental cues. The second stage of dormancy, called “rest”, allows the plants to develop stress-resistant seeds and buds that will reemerge and blossom again in the spring.
Even certain species of animals hibernate, reducing the amount of energy they must expend to get through the long, cold winter months. For them, it is a pure survival mechanism.
Likewise, a season of dormancy or hibernation can be healing and regenerating, even necessary for survival, for us humans.
In his book Sabbath: Finding Rest, Renewal and Delight in Our Busy Lives, ordained minister and therapist Wayne Muller writes:
If busyness can become a kind of violence, we do not have to stretch our perception very far to see that Sabbath time – effortless, nourishing rest – can invite a healing of this violence. When we consecrate a time to listen to the still, small voices, we remember the root of inner wisdom that makes work fruitful. We remember from where we are most deeply nourished, and see more clearly the shape and texture of the people and things before us.
So, with the turn of the calendar page, I have decided to consecrate this month of December as a time of dormancy, of hibernation for myself. A time of soul-nourishing rest before the season of rebirth and renewal that follows winter solstice and the beginning of a new year.
Among the other projects I’ll be setting aside, I won’t be publishing any new blog posts during December. I’ll be scaling back my volunteer commitments. I’ll be limiting my time on email, voice mail and social media as well. Even as I’m typing this, I’m trying to imagine the tenor of days that aren’t dominated by the ping of incoming emails, the buzz of the cellphone, the ever-expanding wall of social media status updates and scrolling online chats and text messages. I’m sure it will feel strange. But I look forward to the peaceful void.
Question of the Day
How might you create for yourself times of soul-nourishing rest throughout this holiday season, whether for an hour or two at a time, for an afternoon, a day, or longer? Consider making that a gift to yourself this holiday season.
If you know others who might also need the gift of soul-nourishing rest, feel free to pass these reflections on to them. One easy way to do this is to use the LIKE or SEND buttons below.
Wishing you, and those you love, abundant joy and true peace,