About a month ago, I was late to see my spiritual direction mentor. I turned out of our driveway behind a construction truck going 40 in a 55 zone. The road is one-lane each way for about 7 miles. The trend continued. After we split into two lanes, I was able to pass. But when we went down to one lane again, same deal. What should have been a 20-minute trip took 45. What should have had me wriggling with impatience and aggression didn’t. Strange.
On the way home, for no conscious reason, I decided to drive the speed limit. I’m not a particularly aggressive driver (at least, I don’t think I am), but I’ve always felt that if the speed limit is 55, it’s good to go 60. And I’ve tended to get aggravated if those in front of me have a different philosophy. Still, I was already going to miss Vespers, no matter how fast I drove. The day was sunny and clear, the clouds alive in the blue sky, the river sparkling. There was no rush.
I drove the speed limit all the way home that day, and with one exception, I have driven the speed limit ever since. Slowing down while driving has been a profound spiritual experience. At first, I felt a little silly thinking of it that way, but if the Spirit can manifest in a burning bush or a talking donkey, why not in the desire to drive more slowly, to see the world around me more directly, to give up hurry and rush?
This slowing down has come up in other ways, too. Lately I’ve been noticing again and again what an incredible life I have. It’s a kind a second honeymoon, if you will, minus the sparks and the dramatic sighs. I look out my window at the sunrise over the river, and my breath catches for a moment. Or I sing the words of an antiphon I’ve sung 1,000 times before, and tears come to my eyes. Mostly, though, I find myself moving slowly through our buildings and grounds, or sitting quietly in my room looking at the bed or the cupboard, or laughing with my brothers, taking in the life that God has blessed me with.
The experience is accompanied with a greater appreciation for my own sinfulness, strange as that pairing may seem at first. I made the mistake of reading Cassian’s Institutes before my recent retreat, and I got to notice how often, especially in prayer, I wanted to get up to get a snack or check the latest book deals on Amazon. Hello gluttony. Hello greed.
I don’t feel particularly bothered by these demons, to use the language of the desert. Actually, I’m grateful to be noticing them. They aren’t newly arrived, that’s for sure. And while they do cause me pain, in noticing them anew, I also notice the choice–however small it seems–of how to respond to them. Do I get the snack? Often, I do. But sometimes I say “Lord, have mercy” instead.
The older I get, the more aware I am that, beyond a very little measure, I have no power in myself to help myself. For someone who has achieved his entire life, this is a hard lesson to learn, and also probably one of the most fundamental. I don’t have much ambition these days, for which I give great thanks. I’m enjoying looking around me, breathing the humid air of summer on the Hudson, and giving thanks for this life that I don’t deserve, haven’t earned, and yet, through the divine mercy get to live.
I suppose that’s really it: the divine mercy. God is extravagantly good. Today, that feels like enough.