13 October 2011

"First Law of Lethargy"*

*The title of this article is taken from the CREDO Eclectic article title by Herb Gunn.  His article in that newsletter (on Facebook) inspired my thinking along similar lines.

Background:  Sir Isaac Newton's first law of motion:  An object at rest will remain at rest unless acted on by an unbalanced force. An object in motion continues in motion with the same speed and in the same direction unless acted upon by an unbalanced force.

Retirement is an interesting endeavor.  Since I have never done it before, the only references as to the experience comes from those who have and are retired.  I am quickly learning that retirement is like fingerprints -- no two are alike.  For those not yet retired:  it is okay to listen to the experiences of others, or to watch those experiences emerge in others; but don't believe it will be the same for you.  It won't.

The first two months (July & August) were spent at a near frantic pace as we changed our entire plan for being settled in our Lee's Summit, MO home and community and shifted to the purchase of a not-yet-built townhome in Sarasota, FL.  This was not on our familial radar until literally days prior to my date of retirement. 

By the end of July, we had had made two trips to Sarasota -- the first at the very beginning of the month to look at opportunities and existing condos, villas and townhomes -- the second at the end of the month to finalize the contract on a townhome, which is part of a final phase of a condominium development.  In between, we completed enough paperwork to reforest the Amazon basin; spent countless time on telephones and emails; got to know the FedEx office folks on a first name basis (overnighting parts of contracts and mortgage initiating docs); had work done and did work ourselves on our current home to prepare it for the real estate market; divested ourselves -- room by room -- of thirty plus years of accumulated materials that did not meet our mutually agreed criteria:  do we absolutely love it; have we used it in the past two years; when we move, do we want to take it with us to the new home?   In the end, we are probably a good 2,500 lbs lighter in our earthly load.  I have to readily admit.  I don't miss anything and the house feels much larger and more peaceful.

The work of July continued into August.  Work on our current home moved outside.  While we have kept the house and yard in very good shape over the past eight years, fine-tuning, reworking and replacing schedules suddenly became compacted into these first two months.  While it placed a fair strain on the budget, we managed to complete about 95% of what we planned.  The other 5%?   They comprise our two basement storerooms.  We have a finished basement that is multi-use.  Off of it, there is the mechanical room with a lot of storage space and another room that could be made into almost any kind of space, but is used to store things that belong to our two daughters and items which have been categorized "undecided" in our sweeping simplification of life and belongings project of July/August.  We figure three days work max to complete the entire project.

We are now approaching mid-October.  Folks are looking at our current home, but no offers yet.  They have poured the foundation for the building of which our townhome will be a part in Sarasota (they send pictures almost weekly of the progress).  I have done Sunday supply occasionally, and we have worshipped in parishes in Lee's Summit and Independence.  We made a trip to South Bend, IN to co-host an engagement party for our younger daughter and her fiance.  I spent nine days in the Black Hills doing interviews that will, hopefully, lay the platform for a book I want to write (part of my original retirement plan).  I was accompanied on this trip by my dear friend, Don Palmer.  It was sacred time and space to be sure, as I showed him parts of the Hills not seen by tourists...but known to current Native Americans (Lakota, Cheyenne, and others) and indigenous peoples for at least the past thousand years.  Denise and I just finished a four-day trip to St. Louis for time together and sightseeing in celebration of our 30th wedding anniversary.  Oh, and I went to our diocesan priests' conference in between the Black Hills trip and our St. Louis trip.

So, my experience thus far of retirement has not included anything like "puttering about," or quiet days of reading, or even sleeping late for that matter.  Lethargy has not been a word to be applied to my experience to this point.  HOWEVER,  there is something unsettling about this particular manner of sustained motion.  It wobbles!

I never experienced a consistent routine in 33 years of parish ministry.  Parochial life has a certain rhythm, but it is regularly broken by the unexpected, the crisis, the emergency, or the issue that mark most days.  One really has to be a priest to know what a priest enounters.  Regardless of the jokes about "working only one day a week," a parish priest's life is not really his/her own.  After three months of not being in parish work, I look out the back door of our home, while sitting at our breakfast nook table and see the same scenes I have seen countless times in our eight years here.  BUT, it looks very different.  I realize that, for the first time, I am REALLY seeing the details, hearing the sounds of life, smelling the fragrances coming to me on the breeze wafting through the screen door.  I am engaging my environment.  I am becoming mindful.

I actually realized I was spiritually lethargic while on sabbatical in 2008.  My mentors, Ben Rhodd (Leading Eagle), Lyle Noisy Hawk and Martin Brokenleg patiently opened my eyes, ears, nose and heart to the vastness of and engagement with creation...as the Creator wants us to experience it.  I lived those three months of June-August 2008 in what the Celtic Christians called the "thin place" -- where heaven and earth touch.  It is vastly transformative.  It is also easily lost.

The expectations of daily life in the current culture do not recognize nor much permit walking in this thin place...even in the Church.  It is considered non-productive.  However, deeper exploration of scriptures and tradition show us that it is exactly the place God would have us live.  It is the place of transformative growth.  I thought I had lost that place after sabbatical.  I suddenly realize it has always been here.  It was I who was lost to it!

My forward movement is being impacted by forces that are actually balancing in nature -- contrary to Newton's first law of motion.  My lethargy has not been one of lack of motion but lack of mindfulness -- non-attention to the deeper realities around me. 

Folks I regularly engage tell me that my eyes are brighter, my walk is more relaxed, I laugh more easily, and I have a more laid-back attitude.  My friends who work at the local Starbuck's have started calling me "The Dude."  My hairstyle and demeanor remind them of the Jeff Bridges character in "The Big Lebowski" (a Cohen Brothers movie that has re-emerged as a cult classic for young adults).  I have promised to wear my bathrobe over my clothing on Halloween...and I will do it.  My hair is now touching my shoulders, I've dropped a few pounds of weight.  Mostly, I am becoming the real me...the one God knows, and I am getting to know again.   Welcome home Fred!

My love in Christ,

"The Dude"
At Large and Running Amok
Lee's Summit, MO

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