by Christine Sine
I have a confession to make. Tom and I are addicted to Grand Designs, an intriguing British reality show in which each episode documents a unique home-build or renovation from start to finish. A few nights ago we watched two episodes that followed two men who built their homes in response to life changing illnesses.
The first episode was a financial advisor who spent more than a week in a coma following a brain hemorrhage. Following his recovery, Bram Vis and his wife Lisa build an enormous house on the Isle of Wight. Their original £850k budget spirals out of control and the final cost was close to £3 million.
The following episode was about Angelo Mastropietro, who after being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis purchased an abandoned cave house in Worcestershire. The cave had probably been inhabited on and off for over a thousand year and to help him cope with his diagnosis, he planned to almost single handedly, create a contemporary but modest dwelling for on a £100,000 budget. His house is now available on airb&b Britain
What particularly struck me was the contrast between Bram and Angelo. Bram’s illness seemed to leave him with a grand sense of entitlement and the feeling that the world owed him anything that he wanted. The episode ends with him hunched over his financial books trying to figure out how he will continue to pay for his gigantic mortgage. He has little time to notice the restful beauty of the sea around his creation. I wonder if another stroke is inevitable and how his family will cope with the aftermath. (Latest information on the house is that it is on the market for £3.9 million.)
Angelo on the other hand obviously relishes the task before him, and though he ends up needing more help than he expected, finishes his one bedroom cave house for little more than his original budget. This episode ends with Angelo, his family and his friends sitting out on the newly created patio enjoying a glass of good wine and BBQ and enjoying the forest view. His project seems to have given him new life and possibly helped improve his health.
Are We Doing Violence to Our Souls?
As I reflected on these episode I was reminded of a Thomas Merton quote in Parker Palmer’s latest book On the Brink of Everything.
There is a pervasive form of contemporary violence to which the idealist… most easily succumbs: activism and overwork. The rush and pressure of modern life are a form, perhaps the most common form, of its innate violence. To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit oneself to too many projects, to want to help everyone in everything is to succumb to violence. More than that, it is cooperation in violence. The frenzy of the activist neutralizes his work… It destroys the fruitfulness of his own work. because it kills the root of the inner wisdom which makes work fruitful.
Palmer goes on to comment
Merton names one of our deepest needs: to protect and nurture the “root of inner wisdom” that makes work and life itself fruitful…. We can live that way only if we know when and where to seek sanctuary, reclaiming our souls for the purpose of loving the world. (On the Brink of Everything 140)
It seems to me that Bram is doing violence to his soul by over committing time and resource to his grand dream. Angelo on the other hand seems to have found a place of peace and sanctuary through his building.
How often do we too do violence to our souls through over work and overcommitment because we don’t know where to find sanctuary for our souls or how to nurture our inner wisdom?
As I thought about this I realized that there are a number of ways I have in the past done violence to my soul. I have overworked and over committed myself sometimes because I thought God wanted me to, at other times just because I couldn’t relax and work was the only part of my life that was in focus.
Eugene Peterson’s The Message comes to mind:
“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”(Matthew 11:28-30)
Recognizing that God does not intend us to overwork but invites instead into a rhythm of balance and relaxation is not only liberating but it is one of the best ways to free ourselves from the tendency to do violence to our souls.
Do We Know Where to Seek Sanctuary?
And where do we find sanctuary for our souls?
You don’t have to build a house to find out.
Take a few minutes to prayerfully reflect on this today.
Take out your journal or a clean sheet of paper and some colored pens.
Close your eyes and create a free form doodle with your non dominant hand for 30 seconds repeating the question “Where do I find sanctuary for my soul?”
Open your eyes and prayerfully reflect on your doodle. What catches your attention?
Respond by coloring the shapes that emerge.
As I conducted this exercise this morning I realized that it is not the “grand designs: of my life – my writing and activism that provide me with sanctuary for my soul I find it in the small spaces of my life – the breathing exercises, reciting of poems, awe and wonder walks around Greenlake with Tom. Most of all I find sanctuary in fully entering into Sabbath each Sunday and to make sure that happens I need to plan my week so that I don’t feel tempted to write blog posts on Sundays or get ready for speaking engagements.
I love living a life with that revolves around God’s unforced rhythms of grace where my soul is nurtured by the quiet contemplative practices that center me and provide sanctuary. To do this however I must:
Commit to nurturing practices
Say no to overwork
Rest in the unforced rhythms of grace.
What is God saying to you in this moment? Where do you find sanctuary?