Archive for October, 2008


Thursday, October 16th, 2008

Over the past two weekends, I did three activities that managed to free my mind from thoughts of work worries, economic troubles and bailouts. The first was with a small group, the second a larger group, and the third with thousands. The first was with people very much like me, the second was with people mostly like me, and the third with an extremely varied group. The first was largely self-centered (in the literal sense), the second family-centered, and the third, “other”-centered. All three were enlightening, but I really can’t take credit for the enlightenment. Each activity was initiated by another person – my wife, my mother, and my daughter, respectively.


Years ago, my wife became involved with a group of folk I will call “contemplatives.” One of the things these folks do is spend time in silence, usually in a somewhat organized event known as a contemplative, or “silent”, retreat. (After my wife had led a few of these events, I threatened to start a web page for her with the tongue-in-cheek tag line, “Contemplative Baptist – No Drinkin’, No Dancin’, No Talkin’.”) Anyway, she found a nice, small, rustic (dare I say, rural?) retreat center in south-central Georgia, and we’ve spent several weekends down there over the past few years. In addition to me, the group included my wife, three of our (presumably) adult children, a niece, and a family friend.

Singing after dinnerA typical weekend starts with dinner on Friday night, and a brief religious service, after which we “enter into silence.” At this center, the silence isn’t total – we participate in several other brief services over the weekend, and we have the option of meeting with a staff member for spiritual direction, but we mostly remain in silence. Eating meals in silence may be the most challenging, followed closely by trying to remain silent while watching shooting stars streak across the dazzling night sky. The weekend concludes with a Sunday morning service, then the silence ends in time for dinner, some impromptu music, good-byes, and departure. I’m not sure the music happens every time, but it has happened every time I’ve been there, because they always tell me to bring my guitar.

Naaaaah, I'm not a goatSome people, read, others write or draw, some walk around soaking up nature, many sleep, some presumably even contemplate, although exactly what they contemplate is known only to them. I chatted with Steve, who recommended some books. I read a C.S. Lewis novel I didn’t know existed, walked beside a soybean field, worked a crossword puzzle, went for a run, watched some goats in a pasture behind the house, and even took some time to contemplate.

My theology has grown older as I have, and I probably have more questions than answers at this point, but the weekend seemed entirely too short. One of the things I pondered was how my beliefs affect my work, and especially my work relationships. No bolts out of the blue, but some challenging and encouraging thoughts.


Sugar Cane Mill

Friday night and Saturday, my parents held our second annual cane grinding. My Dad has been growing sugar cane as a hobby (yes, I’m serious) for several decades. He found an old cane mill, hooked a garden tractor where the mule originally pulled, and learned how to cook the juice down to make pure cane syrup.

For years, he decided to when cut and grind the cane by some undisclosed divining method, and we all helped out if we could make it. But recently his health and memory problems have taken a bit of a downturn, and last year Mom decided that we needed to Have A Plan. So she designated a weekend, and told us all to show up and help. It worked so well that we decided to do the same thing again this year. There were 25 of us, and it went well. The weather was perfect, everyone had a job to do (thanks to my most-organized sibling), and other than a couple of minor glitches, we pulled it off as planned.

Fall is always sentimental for me for lots of reasons, and this event magnifies that feeling, since its roots go deep into my Dad’s childhood, and since there are leaves to rake, and winter to prepare for.


Family gathers for support

My wife, older daughter, and I left the cane grinding before the syrup was cooked down to return to Atlanta. My daughter has a close classmate in medical school, and this classmate’s mother has leukemia. My daughter asked if we would participate in the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society fund raiser and Light The Night walk.

A mile of balloonsThe gathering at Centennial Olympic Park in downtown Atlanta was mostly cheerful and upbeat, with a lively cover band, and thousands of participants. There were pizza and snacks, face painting, and those inflatable kiddie toys that seem to defy the laws of physics. But the merriment was frequently tempered for me by the all-too-frequent sight of a bald head, usually on a young face, unbelievably optimistic in the face of chemotherapy. Becca’s friend’s mother even came to the event, and her family members took turns pushing her wheel chair throughout the walk. My wife met a young man from a local college walking with a friend whose prognosis was grim, but who, for the night, bucked up and walked down famous Peachtree Street surrounded by red, white, and gold balloons, representing supporters, sufferers, and those no longer with us.


Walk this way...Against the backdrop of intense work pressure, financial fears, election shenanigans, and general chaos, I feel extremely fortunate to have received a healthy dose of perspective through these three events. There really are things that are more important than the almighty dollar, and what’s on TV. And I resolve to keep looking for those important things, lest I be blinded by the false idols of the unimportant.

Yesterday’s fortune cookie read, “Life is a tragedy for those who feel, a comedy for those who think.” I would add that, for those who can figure out how to do both, it will be even richer.