Apr 13 2011

Embracing Idleness

A couple of weeks ago I shared with you about my discovering the poetry of Mary Oliver. In addition to ordering a number of her volumes of poems I also purchased a book by Thomas W. Mann called God of Dirt: Mary Oliver and the Other Book of God. This book not only does an excellent job of discussing the spiritual side of Oliver’s poetry, it also has much to say in general about the role of creation in spirituality.

In his book Mann says “The first order of a spiritual attitude toward the world is simply to pay attention to our place in it.” He goes on to add, “This requirement may seem so obvious that it is needless to say, but, in fact, most of us do not pay attention to the natural world in our everyday lives.” Mann points out that our failure to take time to pay attention to the world around us “produces the incapability of experiencing an epiphany.” He next quotes a passage from one of Mary Oliver’s poems: “Listen, says ambition, nervously shifting her weight from one boot to another–why don’t you get going? For there I am, in the mossy shadows, under the trees. And to tell the truth I don’t want to let go of the wrists of idleness, I don’t want to sell my life for money, I don’t even want to come in out of the rain.”  

Mann explains that if we are to experience God in nature we will have to learn to be idle; he writes, “Paying attention requires idleness, and far from being the Devil’s workshop, this is sacred, Sabbath time.” This is something I needed to hear. I tend to avoid idleness like the plague. It’s hard for me to be still and yet God says to us through the Psalmist, “Be still and know that I am God.” (46:10) My fast paced life and also my fast paced photography (Rob Sheppard says I remind him of a jackrabbit taking pictures) no doubt limits the opportunities God is given to speak to me through His “other book”–His Creation.

I must somehow learn to embrace idleness and make it what it should be, “sacred, Sabbath time.” It won’t be easy but because I hate the thought of missing out on God’s revelation just because I’m too busy to pay attention I’m going to give it a try.


 (I took the two images above yesterday on the Hana Highway on Maui, Hawaii.)