Friday, March 22, 2019

evening sacrifice

You were more marvelous in that simple wish to find a way than the gilded roofs of any destination you could reach. — David Whyte

It's Thursday night, and the roof is actually gilded.

Three bodies walk into a darkened chapel, and sigh ourselves into pew pockets. We have just missed benediction, but its lingering incense still saturates the air. I stupidly realize that (of course) incense makes the air thicker. It's vapor and smoke, it crowds the atmosphere with excess atoms. It's not made up of imaginary molecules. All that scent costs something, has weight and heft.

But incense makes its presence felt not just in the air, but in your lungs. It's a heavy filter on your nose, it clings to your clothes and hair. Incense doesn't just rise up to heaven, it clings to earth, hungry to instigate some olfactory sea change, draping the entire community in a sticky cloud of sweetness. Perhaps this is the sort of the prayers the psalmist is invoking.

I sink into this pew like it's a miniature Sabbath.

Earlier, on the subway bench, chugging up the one train to this darkened chapel, I had finally realized that I didn't have to do anything. There was no book I had to read, there were no emails to check, I didn't have to be thinking or producing or writing anything. I was not on anyone's clock. And I felt whatever inside of me was wound up during the work day uncoil. I was, you could say, resting.

I am not used to resting, I am used to producing. Because most of my "hobbies" also demand production: writing, creating, thinking, applying, planning. Any time that is not spent producing is catastrophically categorized as "wasting" (most of this "wasting" time let's be honest is Twitter). Even time spent with friends becomes producing: cultivating communal relationships: check.

But what do I do for "rest"? Running is not quite rest. I certainly do it because of the weird kink in your brain that begins to crave it like no food. But I also know that it's productive, because it's getting exercise: check. Just another notch on my to-do list. Reading is not quite rest, knowing that whatever I'm reading is another "unit of literature" consumed, to borrow a friend's phrase. It could potentially become a piece of writing, I should analyze and process it, form an opinion about it that's more nuanced than a knee-jerk reaction (like to The Goldfinch, which I just finished and deeply loathe, but am open to being convinced of its goodness). Thinking isn't quite rest. And writing certainly isn't rest. Cleaning my room or apartment or organizing the sundry bric-a-brac that demand organization, hanging my icons, printing out photographs for the frames—this is certainly not rest.

Cooking: no. Baking: maybe? Watching VEEP? Wasting time, for sure. Sleeping—productive, always!

One Sunday, I realized I needed to rest. And so I set aside the day to doing so. The day did not look much different: I went on a run, I went to a coffee shop. But the running, the reading, the journaling, were done for the sheer enjoyment of it, for rest, in the name of resting, rather than being done in order to hopefully achieve rest.

All the activities were done with the intention of breaking a routine of productivity. This is a luxury in New York City, where one quickly feels the pressure of everyone working and hustling 24/7. You can never catch up with anyone, but feel yourself constantly, perpetually behind. This leaves no time for rest. Every precious second must be used.

New York City is very bad at Sabbaths.

So you must find small ones: a moment in a subway car and in a darkened chapel where your body unwinds, and you sink into the present with nothing else to do and nowhere else to go. I wouldn't trade these moments for anywhere or anything else in the world.

To sit in a darkened chapel, and feel yourself existing; to study a subway ad, while sorting through the tangled ball of thoughts that accumulate throughout the day—these are moments of being. All need to produce is relieved, the call to till the earth and subdue it is suspended for a moment, and I just breathe.

The incense pours into each breath, reminding me that moments of silence and rest are the moments we are most, perhaps, able to love those who people our atmosphere densely with their smoke.

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