About a year and a half ago, before preparing for a 3-week sabbatical to Blue Mountain Beach along the Gulf Coast, my precious “othah mothah,” more affectionately known as “Mama O,” sent a poem/prayer to carry with me on my journey called “The Slow Work of God.” In reality, I think it carried me on my journey. Immediately, it took a prominent position right smack dab in the center of the fridge in my little coastal haven, and with no other competing distractions, technological or otherwise, it was part of my daily reading ritual while listening to the brewing coffee and the brewing tides at the dawn of each new morning. How often I need to remember to be patient with the world, with others, with myself, and with God – a reminder that seems as essential as food and water, and dare I say breath. Often, life’s frantic pace (the pace we can choose to follow or not), ruts of worry, and our human want to be in control (do we trust instead the fast, “efficient” work of self?) withhold that very breath we so desperately need.
How hard is it to “let go” and surrender, much less to God’s “slow work”? It’s so hard that I think I need reminding every conscious minute, and I pray for reminders even in the unconscious minutes of my sleep. For me, letting go, when you say it out loud, can sound so easy. However, what true intention it takes to release our white-knuckled grip of our immediate desire to know, to take off that tightly-fitting mask of who we think we are (versus who we really are), and to shed our deep and self-justified need for safety and security. Through this letting go, I think we can also relinquish the fear that is at root behind all of it.
When I came home from sabbatical, fully recharged, renewed, and surely changed, I pinned this prayer/poem to my fridge at home, hoping to maintain the daily ritual of reading it, praying it, trusting it as truth. My, how the spirit can be so willing, and yet the flesh, so very weak. Just recently, in the beautiful, slowed, intentional space and pace of summer, I noticed this neglected piece and revived it after it had seemingly drowned in the midst of the crowded collage of photographed faces, my shamefully large magnet collection, inspiring quotes, and yes, a few lingering Christmas cards and new baby welcomes.
Do you ever have the feeling that you’ve read something – really read it – for the first time, even though it’s quite possibly the millionth? Finally unearthed from the surrounding rubble, I gave it a second, lingering glance, well, more like an extended gaze, and read each word slowly with my fingertips and a new pair of eyes.
It’s a piece that is worth reading each day, a piece that is worth re-reading each day. It’s a piece that, even beneath a layer of dust, when it finds you, will not leave you, however long it may linger on the front of your fridge, the bulletin board of your classroom or office, or at the bottom of a file folder. It will find you when it is supposed to, however long that may take. Remember, it’s slow work.
While I have passed it on to a number of dear friends and family members over the past year and a half, perhaps it can serve as a hopeful reminder – for today – right wherever we all are – to trust the slow work of God…the countercultural, intentionally slow work of God, which harvests patience and trust, in our lives and in ourselves. May we allow the words to shape us and loosen our hold so that we can let go long enough to feel ourselves “in suspense, incomplete”…as works of art that are most assuredly in progress.
Even though we might feel like we’re falling, maybe that’s the only way we’ll be caught…and then taught how to fly…
The Slow Work of God
Above all, trust in the slow work of God.
We are quite naturally impatient in everything
to reach the end without delay.
We should like to skip the intermediate stages.
We are impatient of being on the way to something
unknown, something new.
And yet it is the law of all progress
that it is made by passing through
some stages of instability—
and that it may take a very long time.
And so I think it is with you;
your ideas mature gradually—let them grow,
let them shape themselves, without undue haste.
Don’t try to force them on,
as though you could be today what time
(that is to say, grace and circumstances
acting on your own good will)
will make of you tomorrow.
Only God could say what this new spirit
gradually forming within you will be.
Give Our Lord the benefit of believing
that his hand is leading you,
and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself
in suspense and incomplete.
-Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881-1955)
French Philosopher, Jesuit Priest, Paleontologist, Biologist, and Visionary