Maintaining the soul, spirit and inner life in difficult times is a challenge, though reading the psalms suggest that nothing is new.
What is new is the pace of change and the effect that it has on our inner being. I feel it especially these days in my work, but I am not unique.
In publishing and media, we face the daily challenge of keeping pace with new trends and technological developments.
At a recent meeting of some denominational publishing peers, one colleague put it this way, “You are behind every day that you wake up … everything that I need to know I will learn tomorrow.”
Such words can be discouraging; keeping awake and alert to rapid trends takes lots of time and effort and can easily overwhelm.
Since I am a denominational publisher, I also work alongside Mennonite Church USA and Mennonite Church Canada, where we face the challenge of declining numbers, fiscal challenges and draining conflict over issues of sexuality.
While I am called to my work and enjoy it, tending to the spirit and soul has to be part of my vocation.
While some people talk in terms of achieving a “balance” in life, I prefer to think of “grounding,” since it is so easy and quick to get out of balance.
When asked about what keeps me and/or other leaders grounded and invigorated, I can come up with a long list: prayer, rest, reading, the outdoors, exercise, family, celebration and laughter, journaling and solitude.
Here’s some essentials:
1. Keep your soul fed. I feed mine especially through reading. My personal tastes include novels, history, social critique and travel. I especially like the “Spiritual Classics,” since they have passed the test of time. As a guide to spiritual formation, I am currently enjoying the very accessible and cleverly written Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything by James Martin, SJ.
2. Pray. For me this has to be every day, and hopefully more than once per day. A dozen years ago I began studying about and incorporating the use of the “daily office” of prayer into my life, even writing my own small, personal “office.” Office here is understood as a regular form and rhythm of prayer that is mostly corporate, but can be personal, too. I’m fortunate to be in a workplace each day where several of us now pause mid-morning to pray the office together, using our own Anabaptist prayer book, Take our Moments and Days. Prayer is probably the most overlooked and transformative activity we can do. It takes time and discipline. As Eugene Peterson says, the demands of prayer mean, “… entering realms of spirit where wonder and adoration have space to develop, where play and delight have time to flourish.”
3. Enjoy beauty. I’m a news junkie, but honestly, I find much of the news depressing these days. Lay that alongside work and vocational challenges and it’s easy to see too much ugliness. I combat that with a good, daily dose of beauty. I am privileged to live on a hillside that looks out over a valley. Each morning that weather permits, I start my day with a cup of coffee on my front deck and enjoy the light and cloud show that fans out across the mountains west of our home. Music, art, film and reading all contribute to my sense of beauty, but it’s the outdoors that does it best and it’s free.
4. Let your spirit rest. Our inward selves and our minds need days off, just like our bodies. Try to do it in nature. In an article from a few years ago in “Adbusters,” Nicolas Carr (author of The Shallows) wrote: “A series of psychological studies over the past 20 years has revealed that after spending time in a quiet rural setting, close to nature, people exhibit greater attentiveness, stronger memory and generally improved cognition. Their brains become both calmer and sharper … when people aren’t being bombarded by external stimuli, their brains can, in effect, relax… The resulting state of contemplativeness strengthens their ability to control their mind.”
5. Laugh. Some of our family recently went to watch a performance of Shakespeare’s comedy, “Much Ado about Nothing.” Perhaps I was a bit conspicuous, but I laughed hard and loud for two hours and it felt good. Too often there is much in life to make us cry, but laughter can release our emotion in the same way.
We can find and hold onto “still centers” in the midst of storms of change, stress and conflict, but it takes work, effort, intentionality.
It won’t happen on its own.
For the year ahead, I pray for us all to have lives where, “play and delight have time to flourish.”
Russ Eanes of Harrisonburg, Va., is executive director of MennoMedia. This ran as a column in the February issue of The Mennonite.