touch the holy

| March 21, 2019

A reflection on Rainer Maria Rilke’s poem:

This press of time

We set the pace.
But this press of time —
take it as a little thing
next to what endures.

All this hurrying
soon will be over.
Only when we tarry
do we touch the holy.

Young ones, don’t waste your courage
racing so fast,
flying so high.

See how all things are at rest —
darkness and morning light,
blossom and book.

Rilke’s words remind me that rest is not the same thing as a lack of movement. Blossoming is transformation; books yield themselves to outside influence.

Darkness and morning light continuously wax and wane.

Rest is a quality of stillness within life’s perpetual shifting. Babies and small children naturally rest. Whether they’re fast asleep or running around like wild things, they don’t seem hurried to get on to the next task. Maintaining this inner state of rest is a challenge as we get older, and our culture doesn’t nurture it.

What does it mean to be at rest in the midst of human adulthood?

For me it takes practice. I have to choose moments of stillness in order to cultivate an attitude of rest.

I choose to write for a half hour rather than immediately opening my email.

I look up from my writing and notice my shadow on the floor.

I gaze at the dusty side table without getting up to clean it.

I watch the steam from the teakettle as it rises along the side of the cabinet, catching the sun.

I notice the reminder I wrote on my whiteboard. I pause for three deep breaths before I move on to the next task.

Moments of stillness help. They settle me back into my self.

Still, pausing in the middle of the day doesn’t always quell the restlessness I feel. I think there’s a bigger issue at play: a sense that I can never do enough. In comparison to the vast majority of people on the planet, I have great privilege. How can I rest when the world is calling out for help?

Lately I’ve been reflecting on the words of Henri Nouwen:

“So many terrible things happen every day that we start wondering whether the few things we do ourselves make any sense. …Here the word “call” becomes important. We are not called to save the world, solve all problems, and help all people. But we each have our own unique call, in our families, in our work, in our world. We have to keep asking God to help us see clearly what our call is and to give us the strength to live out that call with trust. Then we will discover that our faithfulness to a small task is the most healing response to the illnesses of our time.”

Also the words of Thomas Merton:

“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 the violence of our times.”

Merton’s words are strong, aren’t they? They nonetheless ring true to me. All this hurrying feels like an insidious form of violence.

“Only when we tarry do we touch the holy,” Rilke writes. What if touching the holy is not a self-indulgent choice? What if I touch the holy in order to share the holy with others?

I’m curious: when do you feel that you are touching the holy? And if you take Nouwen’s words to heart, what “small task” do you wish to be faithful to?

Category: beauty, journey, love, remaining calm

About the Author ()

Hannah Lynn Mell grew up a missionary kid in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii. Now she lives in Rowley, Massachusetts with her exquisitely kind husband David, their plucky three-legged cat Thomas, and a needy-yet-lovable dachshund named Birdie. She's worked with singers since 1998 and loves to help people of all ages free their voices.

Comments (2)

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  1. willaworks says:

    Lovely. I respond to the issue of over reaching to attempt to help so many—- because we feel we should and we can…but then we become inefficiently ”…carried away by the multitude of conflicting concerns…”🙏🏼