“My child, do not busy yourself…”

Friday, October 26, 2012 — Week of Proper 24, Year 2

Alfred the Great, King of the West Saxons, 899

[Go to http://www.missionstclare.com/english/index.html for an online version of the Daily Office including today’s scripture readings.]

Today’s Readings for the Daily Office

(Book of Common Prayer, p. 989)

Psalm 31 (morning) // 35 (evening)

Ecclesiasticus 11:2-20 (found in the Apocrypha; also called Sirach)

Revelation 9:13-21

Luke 10:38-42

For most weekdays during the past eleven years I’ve been writing a few thoughts about the readings for Morning Prayer. My Journal software allows me some options to search for content from previous reflections. Today when I read one particular phrase from Ecclesiasticus, it jumped out at me enough for me to search to see if I had quoted it and commented on it previously: “My child, do not busy yourself with many matters; if you multiply activites, you will not be held blameless.” (11:10) I searched that phrase in my Journal. I got some hits. In fact, every time this verse has come up in the lectionary, every other year since 2004, I have written to myself about it. That’s because being over-busy, over-committed is an abiding sin of mine.

In 2004, I reminded myself of a photo in my yearbook from junior high. It’s one of those candid shots that populate student annuals. I’m leaving school for the day, and I’m leaning over to counterbalance about a dozen books that I’m carrying home under one arm as I walk away from the school exit. My wrist barely reaches under my notebook, and the books stretch up to just under my armpit. There’s room for maybe a tiny paperback to wedge in there. It’s in the school annual because it’s funny. It’s also the image I projected.

In 2006, I cited the T-shirt “The One Who Dies With the Largest Checklist, Wins.” I wished I could be more like Mary — choosing the better part — just being with Jesus, instead of distracted by the doing of many things.

In 2008, I quoted from a chapter titled “The Unhurried Life” in a book I was reading then. It tells of a man asking advice from a wise friend. “What do I need to do to be healthy?” The answer: “You must ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life.” “Okay, that’s a good one,” he wrote it down. “Now, what else?” Long pause. Nothing else. “You must ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life.”

In 2010, I challenged my habit of always wanting to say “yes” to every good possibility that presents itself. If it seems like a good thing, I say to myself, why shouldn’t I do it? It’s a better question to ask, In a world with so many gifted people called to carry out their ministries, why should I be the one to do this next opportunity? Is it really my calling?

Twice previously in my Journal I’ve reminded myself of the the discipline of hedging. The image comes from Biblical agriculture. Farmers are told not to harvest border to border, but to leave a margin between their work and the ends of their fields. Two reasons: (1) As a protection against accidentally crossing over into a neighbor’s property and trespassing upon his harvest. (2) To leave the gleanings for the needy. The poor had the right to follow behind the harvesters to pick up whatever may fall to the ground or be overlooked. And they had the right to the full produce on the edges of the fields, the harvest of the margins.

My field is time. If I fill every minute of the day with responsibilities and obligations, there are no margins. I am likely to trespass on another’s time — it is so easy to get behind or, as I did a couple of days ago, forget an appointment. And there is nothing left for the needs of the moment. I’ve left nothing for the needy, including myself.

The one encouraging thing that shows up in nearly all of these entries about my habitual disease of busy-ness is the helpful medicine of Centering Prayer. That practice has been the counterweight that can keep me from spinning into chaos. From the place of still silence I can sometimes move into a full life with intention rather than compulsion.

So, as I write my bi-annual entry from eight years of engagement with Ben Sira’s words, “My child, do not busy yourself with many matters,” I find myself doing what I’ve been doing since at least 2004. I’ll conclude this little bit of writing (another activity checked off today’s “To Do List”), and then I will stop in order to practice Centering Prayer. That’s good. I’ll be better in about twenty minutes.

Past Posts