..all man’s miseries derive from not being able to sit quietly
in a room alone. Blaise Pascal
After living over sixty years in the same house, my ninety six year old mother recently moved. We had cajoled, pleaded, and argued with mom about a move for some time. The more we talked the more resistant she became. We brought in her pastor, a beloved nephew, her doctor, and her friends to convince her of the merits of assisted living. Once I tricked her into visiting a place “just to check it out, mom, see what it’s like.” She pronounced that the wallpaper was horrible and remained adamantly against moving anywhere beyond her own backyard.
Home health aides came five days a week. She received meals on wheels and wore a bracelet on her wrist with a button to connect her to emergency assistance. She spent most of her time alone in her room drinking her tea, keeping an eye on the neighbors, and watching the birds and squirrels through the long Iowa winter.
“I know what these places are like,” she told me. “They dope you up. I’ve spent a lot time in these homes.” She had – first, with my bedridden, great Aunt Ethel, then my grandfather, and finally my father. She chuckled telling the story of going to see Dad one time and finding a resident sitting next to him holding his hand. My father, even with Alzheimer’s, always cut a fine figure with the ladies. As mother walked up to bring him some ice cream, the woman looked at mom sternly and asked, “Well, who are you?!” “I am his wife,” mom told her.
The last time I tried to convince mom to move, she silenced me with the words, “Why should I leave here when I am so content? I have everything I need.”
Well, yes. Why should she leave? How rare to be content and feel you have everything you need. She lived through the Great Depression and missed out on many things most of us would call necessities. In her deprivation she had mastered the priceless art of being content with what she had.
As my siblings and I prayed and fretted, God intervened. Compression fractures in her back and being in so much pain she couldn’t leave her chair accomplished a move for mom. She was carried off to a place, as Jesus told Peter, “You do not wish to go.” (John 21: 18) A week later, settled in at the care center, mother said, “This is a good place. They are very good to me here. The food is good. It is wonderful they have places like this.” When we asked her if she wanted us to get her a TV for her room, she declined saying, “Oh I watch TV out in the common area. I have everything I need here.”
Some days I look out on the world and see a bunch of self righteous, entitled brats, all pushing, shoving, and scheming to get what “what’s owed them.” Other days I see the fear and desperation of people with shallow roots, who must hold themselves up with external supports of power, influence, possessions, and success. I recognize the brats and the shallow rooted, because it takes one to know one. Daily I face the temptation to shore myself up with the perishable things of this world. I know the thirsty grasp for water of those with shallow roots.
Without a vibrant interior life and a self deeply connected to Goodness in whatever name one gives it, we do not fare well in seasons of loss, storm, and disaster. Without the ability to be self reflective and to enjoy the company of one’s self, I am a prisoner chained to a cell built of my own insatiable neediness.
I heard a story recently about psychologist Carl Jung who once advised a very busy and successful man, who came to him for treatment, to spend time each evening alone. The man returned to the Dr Jung to report he felt no better. He had shut himself up in a room, read, and listened to music. Jung told him, no – no reading, no music. He was to do nothing, just be with himself. The man protested that he could not possibly do that. He didn’t like being with himself. Dr Jung responded, “Why this is the self you have been inflicting on others for fourteen hours a day. If you cannot stand to be with it, how can you expect others to?”
You need not leave your room. Remain sitting at your table and listen. You need not even listen. Simply wait. You need not even wait. Just learn to become quiet and still and solitary. The world will freely offer itself to you to be unmasked. It has no choice. It will roll in ecstasy at your feet. Franz Kafka
When the time comes, when I am carried where I do wish to go, I want to be like mom.
So I practice. Each day I sit in my room, learning to become quiet and still and solitary. By golly it happens: the unmasked world rolls in ecstasy at my feet, whooping and hollering. I do not lie. I feel as indulged and pampered as a first class tourist on a cruise ship. I have everything I need. The world has no choice. It will scintillate, dance, and shimmy in delirious exaltation of its creator.
Go ahead. Take a seat and wait for the show to begin.
Be still and know that I am God.
I am exalted among the nations,
I am exalted in the earth.
I am exalted in the rooms of the old.
I am exalted in the cell of the prisoner.
I am exalted in the ruins of the city.
I am exalted in the penthouse and palace.
I am exalted in the peasant hut.
Everywhere and always
I am exalted in my kingdom
which you will find within you.
and know. Based on Ps 46:10
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