As I applied deep purple paint to white muslin, a pervasive calmness, completely unconcerned by my lack of attention to it, eased over me. With each long stroke I made, this calming moved its way through my being, freeing my mind from anxieties, deadlines, and the not subtle beckoning of my burgeoning to-do lists. While I did not notice, my body did; my breathing settled into a rhythm of belly expanding inhales and full exhales. Though my friend quietly labored adjacent to me and a young musician made time with trumpet and metronome, I myself was alone in a singular moment composed of equal parts intention, concentration, and presence. All my focus channeled into the work before me. For the first time in days—weeks—I settled into a meditative state.
I am so grateful for regular employment; that it is comprised of meaningful work alongside many world-changers signifies for me an extra special blessing. Two part-time jobs and some intermittent pulpit supply has filled my days and many late nights with the purpose I crave; purpose satiates me and it is often too much. For as people who are in relationship with me may honestly allude: I am sometimes absent, flitting between attention spans and the next thing, hiding behind screens to get it all done. And I almost never stop.
I no longer try make it to the gym or practice yoga.
I can’t wake up any earlier for semi-regular journaling and Lectio Divina.
Creative writing, recreational reading, and laying in the grass in the sun have all but ceased.
And that is why a few moments among purple paint and white cloth were so generative. My body instantly fell into familiar rhythms of cause…resistance…meaning-making…solidarity, imparting to my mind clarity, to my body release, to my soul an ineffable light-ness. Although I spent not a great amount of time engaged in it, the act of painting a message of solidarity course-corrected my own body’s out-of-sync rhythms.
And so I ponder: is that not the purpose of spiritual practice—to simultaneously release and engage one’s mind, body, and spirit? Because sometimes, at least for me, the work is the spiritual practice even as the practice sustains me in my work. (Thanks for this insight Sharon Fennema.)
Much like I feel in the prospect of creating well-crafted verse or a deft turn-of-phrase, catching the perfect moment in a photograph, or putting a period at the end of a rich, concluding paragraph, the practice of arts-based social justice gives me life even as I aspire to give life through my work.
My body understood this instantly when I stepped into the artists’ space inside an Oakland-based social justice cooperative a few weeks back. When my own hands held and manipulated the hand-painted drop cloth made by other activists. When I tape together trimmed pieces of paper to form a large-format message of hope. When I am with other justice types praying with our bodies as we engage in an action. When I am writing late at night to compose an article or a sermon infused with what I pray is truth and above all, great hope.
I reflect back to the morning we hung a banner over Yerba Buena Island above the Bay Bridge freeway. That effort comprised in every way both the work and the spiritual practice, experienced as a total rush for the composite parts of my entire body. And that kind of practice generates healing rhythms within and among other bodies that my own can sense, feel even. Like air moved by butterfly wings, we are all of us affected by each other and our intentions. Our practice feeds our intention and our intention informs our practice.
For anyone engaged in vocation, juggling multiple responsibilities, and existing in a matrix of relationships (I think here about one of my ‘dorters’ who is not only raising our grandsons but running a business; one of my peace-making colleagues who defines the meaning of hustle and grace; students writing papers and writing sermons; educators whose calling for teaching compels them into multiple spaces and forms of teaching), balance can seem elusive, as if it is a luxury we feel we can’t slow down long enough to cultivate. It is a state of imbalance where I find myself as I write in the space between the previous thing and the next.
This seemingly constant tight-rope-walking state I find myself wobblily navigating is why I am grateful my friend asked me to help make a banner. Taking a paint brush to white cloth to create a message of hope was for me a moment of centering. Perhaps I can leverage this recent experience to perceive just how much of my work can be generative and restorative—at least in-between moments of deliberate meditation and spiritual practice when I feel as though I am falling into the net below. (Praying there is actually a net.)
And perhaps balance, for me, will seem less like mechanics and a skill to acquire and more like a way of moving between and among my intentions.
Being Right AND Happy