Three years ago, my husband, overflowing with fifteen years of love, gave me a gift to Great Britain. There we visited the Cathedral at York. Expansive architecture. Detail upon detail. Unknown carvers and masons and painters. The lowest tombs beneath the highest ceilings.
The cathedral pressed us into its mold: Now you will worship. Now you will look up. Now you will speak softly, walk quietly, enter into silence. Linger. Listen. Look for the sacred and the sage.
The outer inspired the inner and I was wont to bow to the stillness. It wasn't the details I wanted so intensely, but the expanse. I sought for this outer spaciousness to move inward. The train would not wait for us but I had a cathedral to drink.
It used to be that I'd slide and scramble for a few months and then take off in one sudden leap to a day of silence and solitude. Like ascending a runaway truck ramp, the breathlessness of the busy suddenly crashing. I'd hold off on conversations with the almighty, on study on worship, until the setting was right; keeping everything on my heart's list until forced to speak it into the quiet. True, there was rhythm in this practice; like a waltz, heavy beat on the one, less on two and three.
I've found, this year, a more flowing practice. A more subtle silence. A practice of margin. It doesn't press on me by an ordered setting, a date on the calendar. It isn't stuffed in, but rushes out in the everyday whenever it wants. The silence and stillness comes out of that now-found inner spaciousness. And I give it blank breadth like a canvas to flow onto and give me a picture of that I'm to become and do and hear.
Weekdays surprise me with their gifts of margin. On Tuesday when the learning objectives were met, while boys were involved in other activities, my words could tumble forth. Likewise, somehow, in that art class on Thursday sitting next to the smallest boy trying to create the face of a dog I was with him in stillness. Friday, the morning had for me a quiet house, a conference talk and time to chew. It's not always silent. I'm not always alone. But I'm listening and reflecting and abiding with more and more margin. Even in engagement I can still find abstention.
Weekends are not crammed full. Or maybe they are and I've just redefined what full means. Yesterday each event bumped into the next. But I didn't feel breathless or used or crushed. My heart and mind were open to change, I thought through gratitude, I was present in the moment. The inner stillness comes more easily than ever.
This week the disciplines were in typical play. There was prayer and study, worship, fellowship, meditation, submission, service. That's well and good -- necessary breathing exercises Yet, there's one that acts as guide and gate for all, that both marshals and accompanies -- the discipline of margin: the place of listening, the place of rest. All others grow from its soil.
The opportunity for a day of silence and solitude comes up every month at which time I hold it in my hand and ask if I should take it. The answer has returned, "No. You already have it."