It is harvest time in certain parts of the world. Nature has discontinued its brilliant, colorful burgeoning forth and has taken on the more somber tones of brown and gold. Like a mighty bear, it seems to have gone into hibernation, to be at rest. As is true of so many other things in life, this appearance is deceiving. We might even say the quality of rest which nature enjoys in autumn determines the abundance of growth to take place in spring. To force growth at this point would result in a caricature of nature.
So it is with other aspects of our lives. Good skiers, for example, know the exact moment to relax and let go in order to achieve maximum fast, free, more ecstatic movement down the hill. The opposite could result in a disastrous tumble. Good swimmers know that the greatest forward movement in a side stroke takes place during the time they lie inert in the water after a strenuous thrust. Well-timed rest moments are advantageous in relationships as well. Workers need time away from their jobs; wives and husbands need to get away from each other periodically, and some of us need to give others a vacation from ourselves if we tend to concentrate too much on relating with others, talk too much, over-work our ideas and so on. Interludes like these improve rather than hinder our work and relationships.
Leisure, however, is a difficult virtue for us to practice. The work ethic, especially in western culture, is deeply ingrained; it often prevents us from enjoying life itself. To be disengaged from any activity at all for a stated interval of time is totally foreign to us. Even during retirement we may work harder in order to have a larger house or another TV set or another boat. In the meantime we have no time to enjoy what we have. Still, if we value a life of prayer, practicing such total disengagement might be worth considering. In prayer it is during moments of surrendering everything—activities, thoughts, ideas—that, paradoxically, the experiences of God, ecstatic moments “happen” to us.
—Mary E. Penrose, OSB
Sister Mary E. Penrose is a Sister of St. Scholastica Monastery in Duluth, Minnesota. She edits readings for the liturgical Hours and writes reflections for the Community. And she is a tutor for the African Sisters attending The College of St. Scholastica. She was editor of a journal, Spirit & Life, for 18 years.
Read all Sister Mary E.’s reflections.