Also Listen on:
We have all thought of doing something that we more often advise others to do, to ‘step back’ from the confusion and hassle of life, to get better perspective, to allow emotions to calm and make difficult decisions in a wiser way. In a healthier culture than the kind ours has become, life itself provided these opportunities even if they weren’t always taken up. There were pauses, religious seasons like Lent or slow travel in uncomfortable carriages rather than our fast travel in uncomfortable planes and trains
Today we have to make a personal effort to step back from the torrent of the ‘ten thousand things’, the swarm of distractions, deadlines, demands for immediate response and the difficulties of daily life. (Even at Bonnevaux. My computer just froze and I had to restart).
Step back now, if you have time, and search for Chapter 16 of the Tao Te Ching. Here’s a taster:
Empty yourself of everything. Let the mind rest at peace.
The ten thousand things rise and fall while the Self watches their return. They grow and flourish and then return to the source. Returning to the source is stillness,
which is the way of nature.
The impact of Covid could be broadly described as either bringing people into great distress or bringing people to rebalance and pre-prioritise. I know many in the second group who intended to learn their lesson of Covid, to step back, but who quickly became as swamped by the ten thousand things as they were before, or even more.
Mary, looking out over the mist-covered mountains, is a symbol, not just of the neglected maternal side of God, but of contemplation as an integral part of human flourishing. What she didn’t understand, she ‘pondered’. The Greek word (symballousa) is only used once in the Bible to describe how she responded to the challenges of the pain-filled and wonder-full mystery she was caught up in. It is the root of the word symbol, which means to bring or throw together.
To perceive symbolically is more than merely thinking about something or analysing it looking for an answer or explanation. It is to ‘symbolise’ it, that is, to bring it together into the whole. For that we need to step back from thinking for a while. It doesn’t mean we have to go to a mist-covered mountain. Our twice-daily meditations are sufficient.