By Steven Norris

     When this little gem popped up in my social media feed this week, I burst out laughing: “I ran the ‘Middle Aged Dad’ triathlon today. Post Office. Pharmacy. Carwash. Finished in 1:21:00.” I believe that all of us can identify with this friend’s reluctant pride in being able to cram so much activity into such a little amount of time. I have a tendency to pride myself on such efficiency.

     Sometimes, however, it is important to get off the merry-go-round. About two weeks ago, I packed my car and drove toward the South Carolina coast. For a few days, I joined the monks at Mepkin Abbey for a time of retreat and a different pace of life.

     The community of Mepkin Abbey has been around since the 1960s. The men that call it home come from the Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance (commonly known as Trappists). Their community was birthed out of the Gethsemani Abbey in Kentucky, home of the most well-known Trappist monk, Thomas Merton.

     The way of life for these men is markedly different from the hustle and bustle of my typical week. Their days are oriented around seven times of prayer, beginning at 4:00 a.m. and concluding at 7:00 p.m. The devote their time primarily to silence, meditation, and manual labor (mostly agricultural) to benefit the community.

     The practice of silence is foreign to most of us. We may not even notice the unceasing noise that typically surrounds our days. Television, radio, traffic, telephones, conversations, and the constant running of electrical appliances become the soundtrack to our day-to-day lives. In fact, we have become so accustomed to the noise that silence can be uncomfortable for many people.

     It is not obvious, but intentionally being still — both in body and in voice — can be quite risky. When we do, our innermost selves begin to come out of hiding. Thoughts have a chance to “sneak up on us” when we pause long enough to let our minds wander. Fears and anxieties demand to be attended to and heard. Dreams that have laid dormant for months or years begin to emerge. Memories long suppressed somewhere deep within the cells, muscle, and bone of our bodies reconnect with conscious thought.

     Retreats like this can be hard work — not because we are pushing our bodies to their physical limits, but because we are attending to the soul. Such time is about doing the “inner work” that rarely makes it to the top of our priority list as we succumb to the “tyranny of the urgent.” The great spiritual teacher, Dallas Willard, was once asked by a student, “What do I need to be spiritually healthy?”

     After a long pause, Willard responded, You must ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life.” 

     The student wrote down the words and waited for more insights. Thats a good one. Now what else is there?”

     Willard’s response: There is nothing else.”   

     I sheepishly write this in the midst of one of the busiest weeks I can remember. What would it look like for you to ruthlessly eliminate hurry in your own life?