As I have been unemployed for a number of months now, trying to finish my PhD and craft a career in the academic world, I have come to realize the importance of truly stopping and enjoying the moment I am in. This hit me, recently, as I was reminded of a beautiful piece by, I think, G.K. Chesterton. If I remember correctly, I think it was from Orthodoxy. Regardless of who it was, the author made a point of considering the animals around us. I have a 2 year old pup called Wellington, and so often she scampers around the yard aimlessly, sniffing and snorting and simply enjoying the moment. At the back of the kitchen, there is a sliding door and a deck from which we can access the back yard. When she heads out, she turns and waits for me to go with her. The joy on her face when I come out to play with here is so evident, not least by the wagging of a short, stumpy tail.
The point the author was making was this: there is beauty in simply enjoying the moment you are in. Previously, I was working around 70 hours a week, rushing from appointment to appointment, writing, preparing, considering, and always thinking about the next talk. I never took moments to stand outside, look into the trees, and just enjoy the whistling of the wind and the feel of the cool air against my ragged beard. It can feel important to be always rushing around. Especially in stressful jobs that hold responsibility. But those moments are illusive at best, and blinding at worst.
My experience of historical study has consistently pointed out to me the uniqueness of each era of history (as well as the old adage that history repeats itself in different ways because there is nothing new under the sun). One of the ways in which our world is very unique is that we have the capacity to always, always, be busy. From work, to family, to the internet, to checking emails in bed, ours is a world of busyness and business. Never more so than currently, as we are all under lockdown due to the Coronavirus. But in times gone by, when the sun went down, you'd gather by the fire, eat, tells stories, be together, and sleep early to rise early. There was time throughout the day to stop and experience the moment. Don't get me wrong, I know well that the past wasn't a bed of roses (just ask the soldier dying for lack of antiseptic or the child going to the dentist with a righteous fear of the pliers!). Work was more labour intensive. Medicine was...rudimentary to say the least.
Nevertheless, the cardinal rule of history, in my judgement, is that we must never allow our present knowledge or experience to presume upon the past. No other era thinks like we think, and therefore their actions, thoughts, worldviews, are unique to their experience. We can study them, but we should be careful about judging them.
And so, as I spend time each day walking Wellington, I take a moment or two to myself. I stand on the deck, I watch her play in the long grass, and I let the air move around me, the rain soak me, and the sun burn me. Because in our basest, fundamental humanity, we were created to enjoy the creation. Busyness robs us of perhaps the most basic aspect of our humanity. We who are created in God's image ought to remember that God created this world to enjoy. Yes, not exclusively to enjoy it; He did create so that His glory would be shown, His image spread across it, and so that He could commune with us and we could worship Him in perfect community. But, also, yes, so that He could enjoy it. We are image-bearers, and part of our work as image-bearers is to cultivate the creation. To cultivate requires more than a scientific knowledge of something. It requires a genuine, true, and passionate love for it. A painter or sculptor loves their art. A musician revels in the intricacies of the secret power of music. A lexicographer basks in the hidden nuances of language and words. A human ought to enjoy the world they live in for their entire life because that is a reflection of our Creator God.
But busyness is the antithesis of pleasure. It kills that experience of basic human joy. And it causes us to, I assert, lose sight of that most wonderful reality about God: He delights in His creation. He sings over His people. He desired communion with Adam, and desires it with His people still. He walked, talked, laughed, and wept, with His friends in the Incarnation. While the disciples caught lunch, He went for a nap in the boat, letting the cool breeze and pleasant heat of the noonday sun bring slumber to His tired frame. He sat with real people, sinful people, and showed them true, unconditional love. He didn't lecture them endlessly about sin (though He did confront it). He taught, healed, rebuked, exorcised, and laughed with them. Jesus was fully human and fully God. He experienced the fullness of human joy in communion. No doubt He stood just outside the door of His home and, in the morning, said a quiet prayer of praise to His Father before the day began. Being. Enjoying the creation.
This is what I am reminded of when I see the playful innocence and youthfulness of the animals. Whether it is Wellington snuffling around looking for squirrels, or the chipmunks watching from their rocky home, or the birds flying effortlessly above, the animals can teach us about the importance of 'being' rather than 'doing.' To be present is to enjoy the moment. To let your senses experience your surroundings. Even if it is simply the breeze as you wait on your deck while your dog refuses to go pee.