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Slowing Down*

Tuesday Morning – I’m out for a run in the neighborhood around the seminary.

The day dawns clear and pleasant. I check my watch and calculate. I’ve got 30 minutes before I have to be back and showering to make the rest of my morning schedule work.

I take off slowly as morning shadows recede. Starting up a gentle hill I feel the small indiscretions of Italian food and drink coming home to roost. A sluggishness in my body. Ugh. A tiny squirrel zips across my path fussing all the way up the tree. Must be a local species . . . small as a chipmunk yet gray with a bushy tail.

I continue the easy climb admiring the carefully landscaped yards. They strike me as profoundly resilient with so much green bursting forth after six months of laying under crushing snow and ice. How do they manage?

I pass one of the many corner vegetable gardens. A perfectly red tomato hangs waiting. I’m surprised at my impulse to pick it, and see how stealing must be so easy. I shake off the thought and attend to my pace and breathing and the way the cool air feels on my skin. I try to keep my body loose and pliant. I take in the morning with my eyes, my skin, each breath.

At the top of the hill I hang a right and run along the busier boulevard. Just as I turn, I catch a glimpse of the sun forcing its way through late summer leaves. I check the time. Yes. Plenty. I think of which route I’ll take and plunge further down the hill letting gravity draw toward the earth. Knowing, I’ll have to climb this hill again to complete the circle. This doesn’t even worry me.

I pass a neighborhood restaurant where I like to eat sometimes. New patio, pavers and furniture. A wooden structure built for making shade. Contractors call it a pergola. In Kentucky they call that a pontoon deck. I grin to myself.

Just then an SUV swerves and breaks thirty yards ahead of me. I see a large gray squirrel run terrorized from under the white behemoth. I give the squirrel (and driver) a little thumbs up. Neither notices my gesture. They are too relieved at avoiding death on such a fine morning.

I try to be a respectable neighbor when I run. Minimally I raise a hand to thank drivers for not running me down in their cars. Especially when there are no sidewalks. I try always to speak to those I pass with at least a “morning.” As I turn the next corner I find myself running headlong into sidewalk teeming with dogs and leashes. I head off the sidewalk, yielding plenty of room.

The poor woman being walked by her dogs barks out a thank you and give me a sunny smile. I say “Ya’ll had a full sidewalk,” returning the smile as I run by in the grass. I can almost hear her thoughts, “Southerner.” I regret the “Y’all.” Helps too many people keep the stereotype going.

I only run a short block and turn back north east again. I pass a yard sign that says simply:

Slow Down

No “children at play” or “railroad crossing.” Just “slow down.”

I don’t let the sign boss me around. I keep my pace and push up the hill. Two women, obviously through with their walk, fill up the sidewalk ahead of me. They seem not to hear my pounding approach. I speak “good morning” to jolt them as I run by in the grass again, dodging another vegetable garden in the process.

The shadows are silent and deep this morning. Sharply contrasting patches of light dart through the trees. The cool air is soft as it fills my lungs.

Then I see the meaning. I’m almost on top of it. The reason someone urged me to “slow down.”

Sidewalk poetry.

I’ve heard about it. Seen a picture once. But never found it under my very own feet. Yet here it is.

I do slow down. Stop actually.

I unzip my running pouch and take out my phone. Snap a picture while grinning ear to ear. I try to absorb the words. But I haven’t really slowed down enough for that. . .

So I continue up the hill. Just the image of sidewalk poetry sinks into my mind. How great is that?! Something to slow down the frenetic pace, spill words right out into the margins that run between streets and yards and vegetable gardens. Like the mail carrier dropped a giant post card or someone’s homework slipped from their bag.

Yet here it is for me. A poem right under my feet.

“I don’t know enough about balance to tell you how to do it.”

That part I caught. I think about balance while I run. One foot then the other. Six days of work then rest. Waking and working then sleeping and resting. Clutter then clean. Begin then end. Begin again.

Something in that poem about “letting go” . . . falling then catching, being caught.

Coming full circle, and finishing up my 30 minute jog, I’m considerably warmer, looser and feeling ready for the day. As I walk for a couple of minutes to cool, I pull out the picture I snapped earlier. I read the poem:

I don’t know enough about balance to tell you how to do it
I think though it’s in the trying and the letting go
That the scales measuring right and wrong – quiver and stand still**

I find myself wondering . . . how do I need to slow down today? What needs hearing? Is it the trying I need more of, or the letting go?

“Quiver and stand still.” This puts me in the mind of a bird a high on branch. I hear a crow’s call. I must have seen it in the far reaches of my peripheral vision. Now it perches precariously atop a sixty-foot oak. I stare up at the black bird and wonder.

Ten Days Later – Reading the poem again and these images from the morning I think of the strange balance that life calls from us. To sleep and then rise to greet the day in endless circles and cycles of life. To breathe in and out – our bodies striving and letting go. Neither inhaling nor exhaling is of greater importance, yet each needs the other to give life.

The larger rhythm of Sabbath, resting and ceasing from work, in order to revel in the creation, is easy to miss. We rest with each breath. We rest with each night. Yet how easy it is to miss how also we might extend that rest to the weekly patterns of our lives.  . .

Slowing down. Letting go. Standing still.

“I don’t know enough about balance to tell you how to do it.”

But week after week I keep trying and letting go.

*Note: This post is part of a series of personal stories which unpack the list of advice, which I compiled for those considering ministry as a vocation, at the request of Pam Durso, executive director of Baptist Women in Ministry.

9. Take Sabbath. Get off your computer, your cell phone, your twitter account, your tv and even your car radio. Don’t shop, spend, clean, fix, solve problems or start any new projects. Just stop all that. For 24 full hours if you possibly can. Allow yourself worship, eating, sleeping, luxuriating in your partner, playing with your family and laughing with your friends. Play games and take a walk. Putter. Dawdle. Lie in a hammock. Read a novel. Rest. Do this once a week and live.

** This poem is entitled “Tipping Point” by Georgia A. Greeley.