The bicycle racks in the local swimming pool parking lot are empty. The metal basketball goal that leans to one side at the end of my neighbor’s driveway is silent. It’s quiet on the streets in my neighborhood during the day.
Something is different.
This year, for the first time in four years, I won’t be driving from San Antonio to Austin to attend classes every other weekend. No papers due, no exams, no 300-word readings to get done this week. A community of which I was a part will go on without me.
Something is missing.
Perhaps in your house an oldest child has left for college and the new family dynamics are under construction as you figure out how to be with each other. Or the baby is now in kindergarten and Mom is thinking about going back to work. Maybe a spouse has retired and you are under each other’s feet, upsetting established routines.
So if everything is in place, why am I so restless? Because, says William Bridges in Transitions – Making Sense of Life’s Changes, transitions are messy. Even when they are happy transitions, good transitions, there is a time of adjustment. The new bifocals may be just what we needed to see better, but there is always a period of getting used to them when we miss the bottom step or have trouble reading the newspaper. Our eyes and our stride are adjusting.
Transitions are uncomfortable; they leave us with a void that we rush to fill. After I finished graduate school this past May, I spent the summer remodeling my kitchen. Now that the paint cans are back in the garage and the power saw is under its plastic hood, I am skulking about the house looking for the next project. The bathrooms are likely candidates. Pass me my plumber’s wrench.
But keeping ourselves busy is a dangerous avoidance technique, says Bridges. Between the endings and the beginnings we need a time out in what he calls the neutral zone. Sometimes we name it liminality, a time when we are on the threshold but are not quite ready to step through the door. It’s counter-intuitive: our society is not good at introspective waiting. “We live in a context where things start with a switch or a key,” says Bridges. “If things don’t start properly there are procedures to follow in order to discover what is wrong. For something is surely wrong – mechanisms are made to start when we want them to.”
The psalmists wisely turned to the rhythm of nature in times of distress and unrest. Day after day, season after season, God’s primal creation attests to his steadfastness:
“The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge.
They have no speech, they use no words; no sound is heard from them.
Yet their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world” (Psalm 19:1-4).
God’s sovereignty remains from one generation to another, the psalmist reminds us, for he “established the earth, and it abides” (Psalm 119:90). It was he who set the earth on its foundations, and “it can never be moved” (Psalm 104:5).
Perhaps the unending summer of South Texas is a blessing: it’s hard to rush into the fall season when the wet-blanket heat and humidity of August mornings flow right on into September.
Even so, this is a plea to get outside. Over the next several weeks, ReflectionsOnline will be considering nature as spiritual practice and will be offering some meditations, suggestions, and guideposts.
Several opportunities are already in place, particularly the Cathedral Park Meditation Walk at the Bishop Jones Center in San Antonio. The walk is a short (30 to 45 minutes) self-guided journey around the beautiful grounds of the Jones Center using downloadable audio recordings, with opportunities to sit and enjoy. Find out more about it here.
On September 14 at the Jones Center, in conjunction with Contemplative Arts Month being sponsored by Viva Bookstore and Abode Contemplative Care for the Dying, we’ll offer a two-hour morning mini-retreat. Learn more about it on the Calendar and Events page.
On September 22, Cathedral House Gallery opens its newest exhibit,” Seasons,” with an afternoon (2 to 4 pm) reception. The Jones Center grounds will also be available for walking that day.
Our calendar lists other retreats, workshops, lectures, and seminars.
But you don’t really have to leave your backyard to take a break in nature. Go outside, stop, sit, breathe, listen, enjoy, talk to the trees, observe the squirrels. Go into neutral for five or ten or 15 minutes. Let go of the endings in your life, and open up to the possibilities of what may be ahead. But maybe not quite yet.
Marjorie George is editor of ReflectionsOnline and Reflections magazine. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.