Gilead, Our French Press, and Slow Living

Marilynne Robinson's Gilead.

 This is an interesting planet. It deserves all the attention you can give it.”
― Marilynne Robinson, Gilead

I'm often unable to pay attention, especially when the busy seasons start to kick in. Stillness, that oh so needed time to replenish the reserves of the heart and mind, seems to be elusive in our fast-paced world. Productivity is the name of the game (and ironically, I just wrote a post on how to manage your time well so you can get stuff done). Somewhere deep in my heart I know that a frenetic lifestyle isn't sustainable and the day to day is more than a list of tasks to be completed. It is also a challenge to be mindful when our culture seems to value high-speed consumption of goods, including information. We chew and swallow quickly, and before we could even digest it, we're stuffing ourselves with more. Sometimes I find it hard to linger in gatherings when there's a deadline coming up quickly. These thoughts came to my mind as I ate breakfast with my husband today, Coldplay playing in the background. 

I kept thinking about what it means to live slowly while I made my morning coffee and somehow, our French press gave me some nuggets of wisdom. Making pressed coffee is not complicated at all but today I found something special about the method. It requires me to slow down and pay attention to what I'm doing. I was captivated by the process: Boil the water and heat up the pot with some of it, estimate and scoop the amount of coffee needed, pour the rest of the water, stir the coffee to let it bloom, wait, decant, enjoy.

Perhaps it’s the process itself and not just the product that thrills me. I find that this is also true of my relationship with my husband, my studies, and my quiet times with the Lord, where taking in every moment and being fully present brings much joy. As I realized this morning, manually making a cup of coffee reflects this truth. Unfortunately, when the work piles and other concerns fill my mind, being fully present can easily fall through the cracks. But everyday I spend with my husband in seminary, I discover the beauty of slowing down, of valuing people and relationships, and above all, making sure the Lord remains the center of everything. Often this involves either taking it more slowly or going away altogether for a time; even a day of rest, reading a book for leisure, writing my thoughts and prayers down, enjoying a good movie with my husband, not being worried about the perpetual to-do list.

We need to carve out time to walk on the long and scenic route, after long periods of driving at crazy speeds to get as much stuff done as possible. Our wells need to be refilled but we need to create space for this since it doesn't happen automatically. It is in these spaces that we find respite and fulfillment; where we take time for strong relationships to be forged over bare-hearted conversations, where growth is not just about growing taller but also deeper. I believe that there will be more of us to give to others when we take time bring our cups to the Lord so He may fill us up. This is not just for us but ultimately for others as we love and serve them. We have to slow down because at the end of the day, the responsibilities we’ve been given are important but not as much as the people in our lives. Most of all, let's slow down so we can draw near to God, finding strength and satisfaction in him alone. If we want to be spiritually, emotionally, physically, mentally, and socially healthy, we need to invest time. We need to think deeply. We need to be free from distraction. We need to get away sometimes. We need to re-orient ourselves with God at the center.  Thank God for the Sabbath.

I had the same epiphany when I was reading Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead. The book’s narrative lends itself to slow reading, encouraging the reader to savor John Ames’ profound reflections on God, death, reconciliation, faith, conflicts of the inner man, and so on. Within the pages of Gilead, John Ames teaches us to pay attention.

A photo posted by Patricia (@patriciavicta) on

“It's not a man's working hours that is important, it is how he spends his leisure time."
― Marilynne Robinson, Gilead

I'm inclined to agree with the above quote.  It may be hard to sit still without having a mental list of things you need to do. You may feel like you're on autopilot and you're resistant to the thought of turning your gaze away from the demands of work, parenting, school, ministry. By all means work hard, study, create, make a living... But friend, I hope that you and I also take time to hit that pause button, engage the senses, and tune our hearts to what really matters most.

So, how do we start to slow down? 
Fix our eyes on the Lord (Heb. 12:2); delight ourselves in him (Psalm 37:4); cast all our anxieties on him because he cares for us (1 Pet 5:7, Ps 55:22); come to him when we are weary (Matt 11:28-30);  set our minds on things above (Col 3:2). Pray for peace, clarity, and wisdom. Evaluate priorities. Set goals for both work and leisure, ask for help in implementing them. Enjoy the process. Give God the glory, for from him and through him and for him are all things (Rom 11:36).

May your coming week be both fruitful and restful :) -P

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