There is such a thing as sacred idleness,
the cultivation of which is now fearfully neglected.”
These are the words of Scottish author and minister George MacDonald, (1824-1905), written in a world that I have trouble envisioning as rushed or lacking in opportunities for idleness. The Model T was still a few years away, and electricity wouldn’t find its way to my corner of rural Pennsylvania for decades. There was some question as to whether or not farm families even wanted or needed electricity.
And yet. Sacred idleness was “fearfully neglected.”
Perhaps MacDonald was remembering hot afternoons forking hay into the mow or frigid mornings breaking ice in the watering trough with chapped hands when those words poured from his pen.
When you left work today, how many stops did you have to make on the way home?
How many calls did you make during your commute?
How many times have you reached for your phone in the past 15 minutes?
What did you do while you were cooking dinner?
What about after school/after work activities – how many kids are you taking in how many directions?
How long did your family sit at the dinner table on any given night this week?
Look up the word multitasking, which MacDonald had never heard of, and you’ll be awash in information about why it is good/bad/easy/impossible/beneficial/harmful.
I believe George MacDonald is still right – work is not always required. But it seems like "busy-ness" is required. Look at how we have filled the extra time that used to be devoted to hard physical work: Technology. Empty entertainment. Frantic rushing from one event to the next.
Maybe the reasons have changed, but it appears that we continue to avoid the deep water of sacred idleness in our lives. Forging upstream to a quiet pool through the rushing water of current crazybusy culture isn’t easy. It will never be just right, or convenient to choose a different way.
Always, the oughts and shoulds will clamor for your eyes, your ears, your hands, your attention like a bevy of school children wanting to be chosen first and right now, “pick me, pick me, pick me.”
Maybe it’s time to say – eeny, meeny, miney, NO to one more activity,
and yes to sacred idleness.
Imagine what that might look like for you, today, just for ten minutes.
What might it look like to cultivate some sacred idleness?
Stare. Listen. Wander. Linger. Wait.
Be still and know.
Just ten minutes to start. (I think you'll want to find another ten after that.)
Power of pause...