It threw me for a loop when I first read Richard Morgan’s claim that the relatively slow pace of life in his 80s has been a great spiritual gift. Instinctively, I was skeptical that slowing down can be a good thing. I conjured all the memories I could of times I had been forced to slow down. There was the recent fever that kept me in the house for the better part of a day. And in high school, a broken finger kept me from the second half of a lacrosse season. When I’m required to slow down, I tend to feel that I’m missing out on something. My thoughts turn toward the tasks to which I would be tending if only I could move about at my typical, torrid pace.
But Morgan’s writing got me thinking differently. The retired minister makes some striking observations about the spiritual value of slowing down, and soon I started to appreciate his wisdom.
Spiritual Gifts: Slowing Down
In the book Pilgrimage into the Last Third of Life: 7 Gateways to Spiritual Growth, co-written with Jane Marie Thibault, Morgan compares life in his senior living community to life in a monastery. Both, he says, are communities in which the pace and ordering of life require residents to cultivate their spiritual lives in ways they probably would have neglected while living elsewhere. In his senior living community, Morgan finally started tending to aspects of his spiritual life that he should have been tending to all along — solitude, the quiet and inward life of the mind, the practice of paying close attention to all the things we miss when moving through life quickly. When viewed in the right way, slowing down is not a missed opportunity, but rather a great spiritual gift.
Morgan’s insight called to mind an experience I had while taking a river-boat nature tour in Costa Rica. We set out slowly and quietly down the river, the engine barely running. At first all that anyone in our group could see was a giant wall of green on either side of us. I thought, “This is going to be so boring. The animals must be few and far between.” Turns out, wildlife was everywhere — if you knew how to look.
Our tour guides, who had all sorts of practice with this type of looking, could point out iguanas, birds, crocodiles — all hiding in plain sight. By the end of the trip, the rest of us started spotting wildlife on our own, in the exact same places that had previously looked like green monoliths.
Less is More
I am coming to appreciate that in many ways, spirituality is a less-is-more type of endeavor. When we finally make time to slow down, we discover that far more opportunities are missed by moving too fast than by not moving fast enough. So much that is beautiful and fascinating and meaningful to us is hiding right under our noses and only revealed when we can see the spiritual value in things like slowness, patience and cultivated attention.
There are a wide variety of spiritual practices one can explore. Please join with us as we celebrate an abundance of spiritual practices on our journey through this season from Epiphany through Lent.