Reflections by Jerry Webber

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Velocity's Pull on the Spiritual Life

I have circled around the word velocity recently as a descriptor of my spiritual state. Velocity describes the reality of a life which gets ramped up slowly, subtly, without my noticing. As life's velocity increases, insidiously calling for more -- more time, energy, attention -- daily existence begins to feel out of sync, careening wildly from moment to moment. Velocity keeps its foot pressed to the gas pedal.

I remember a phone conversation with a mentor decades ago, the man who was most responsible for my vocational path, who influenced my choice of seminary, who was an early role model in so many ways. Separated by miles, I asked him over the phone how he was doing. I still remember his answer these decades later: "I'm lurching from crisis to crisis."

I knew then, as I know now, that "lurching from crisis to crisis" is no way to live life deeply, though I knew from experience exactly what he was suggesting. I've lurched from crisis to crisis aplenty in my own life -- often wearing the lurch as a badge of honor -- and I suspect you recognize lurching as a part of your own experience, too. Especially in the West, lurching is assumed to be the norm, not an aberration. In fact, if pressed, many of us would insist we don't have a choice, believing pedal to the metal is "just the way life is for me."

Like riding a super-train, I can live at such velocity that I observe the landscape through which I travel as a blur, as here-one-second, gone-the-next. I become a traveler speeding through the terrain as swiftly as possible.

That kind of velocity also means I lose touch with people. Connections get frayed. I don't have time for conversation. Actually, I don't have time or patience for anyone or anything not traveling at the same velocity at which I am traveling.

Family members don't respond to texts quickly enough to suit me.

Being put on hold by someone at the mega-corporation and listening to elevator music for an hour feels like an insult to my self-importance.

Deadlines I had not anticipated feel like an affront, a personal insult: "Don't they know how busy I am?"

Emails go unanswered for days.

Excessive velocity has all sorts of ripple effects on me.

About 20 years ago, I read Henri Nouwen's words: "Without silence and solitude it is impossible to live a spiritual life."

You can frame Nouwen's statement -- which has proven accurate, at least in my own experience -- in any number of ways.

**Without time to be still, life will be a blur.

**If you don't make space to ask, "Who am I?" and "What am I doing?", the oughts, musts, and shoulds will consume you.

**Without silence and solitude, life will be an endlessly repetitive cycle of lurching from crisis to crisis.

**If you don't pause to sit still regularly, you can never truly know the "you" who lives inside your skin.

**If some external thing, some external person, or some external norm determines your velocity, you will miss the one life that is hidden inside you.

** If your existence is all strategy, time-line, and accomplishment, you'll never connect with people in a life-giving way. People will be your accessories or they will get in your way.

I walked over an acre of land yesterday in about two hours. For several months I've been on the speeding train, so over dirt and rock I walked slowly. I had no agenda but to set foot on as much of the soil as possible. I wasn't trying to accomplish anything. I felt no compulsion to hurry. I merely wanted to walk, to notice, to listen. The late Gerald May called it "the power of slowing."

Several things stood out to me. I'll mention one.

The birds (Cardinals, Eastern Bluebirds, among others), the plant-life (60 foot oaks, irises, hostas, rose bushes, and pine trees coming up volunteer), the clouds, breeze, and drizzling rain . . . all did not care one bit about my velocity, about how busy I have been . . . not one care that my tax return needs to be tended to, that I have phone calls to make, appointments to keep, details about life that require some strategic maneuvering on my part.

Schedules and plans and "lurching from crisis to crisis" don't mean a thing to the created world . . . the created world which, after all, has a wisdom all its own. Only I, as the human in that setting, had felt the compulsion to travel faster than a human is made to travel.

Whether my velocity allows me to participate in this other, more inviting world or not, creation goes on singing, breezing, drizzling, foraging.

At question, at least for me: "In which world is my deepest, hidden self most invited to participate?"

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