Text: Genesis 1:1-5, 1:31-2:3
We know what kind of culture we live in by paying attention to our daily conversations; how we engage one another, and the words we use so naturally that we don’t even think about them. One of the most common greetings in Canada is “how are you?” It usually prompts a brief exchange of greeting or it sometimes initiates a long and meaningful conversation that we never intended at the first place. Sometimes I wonder if the person who is asking such a question is really interested in how I am. It’s not what they say but how they say what they say. The level of my response depends on the level of their asking: how much they mean what they say.
For example, I remember somebody asking me how I was doing without even looking at me. I felt disrespected, and it made me wonder why he even asked when he was preoccupied with something else.
Recently I ran into a colleague of mine in a convenient store during the Conference annual meeting. Of course, he asked me how I was. We exchanged a very casual greeting. He was with his company and I was with my boy, so it wasn’t a good time for us to have a real conversation. Even so, the tone of our conversation said something about how we treated each other however momentarily we met. We treated as if we were more interested in the stuff around us than each other, as if none of us didn’t really matter. We just followed what most people consider as normal or customary, checking things out, but failing to look after each other in a respectful way.
The moment we meet or greet somebody is the only moment we are given, and therefore it’s not to be taken lightly. How can we be so generous in talking about things don’t really matter, but not being so generous in talking about what our souls are longing for, tending each other’s soul? Perhaps I am sensitive to the way we communicate, because I know well how I hunger for a real, genuine and meaningful conversation, and because I know that I am not the only one.
One of the lessons I have learned by living different cultures in various locations is that we shape our culture more so than it shapes us. Each of us is responsible for what kind of world we want to live in. Day by day and moment by moment we are creating our culture. We need to be more mindful of what we do or say even if it’s a simple greeting like “how are you?” to the people around us, because it all adds up to our collective experience.
Our good intention, however, doesn’t necessarily guarantee us to have a meaningful encounter. We are simply too busy to change our routines. Better still, we praise each other on how busy we are. When people ask me how I am, I sometimes say “I am busy”. The usual response is “Oh, good for you! Being busy is good!” I first have to admit that my answer, “I am busy” isn’t really about how I feel or how my soul is. Rather it’s about the tasks I have to do or things happening around me and how I can’t control my pace. Our admiration for busy people comes from our assumption that we are productive when we are busy. That’s not necessarily so. I also want to challenge the idea that being more productive is better. It leads us to believe that life is not worthy if it is not loaded with hectic schedule.
It’s not easy to answer to the how are you question. First, we don’t always know how we are. Second, even if we know it, we are not sure how much we can actually reveal. We ask ourselves, is it the right time, and is she the right person to talk to? We avoid the real answer, and just follow the usual pattern, saying “I am fine” and turn quickly to the different topic such as the weather.
I went to my neighbour the other day to borrow a tool. We were close enough to be willing to help each other. I asked how they were. The wife was hesitant, trying to say something but her words didn’t come easy, and the husband said to her, “Just say okay.” Later I learned that they were having a tough time, helping out their daughter who was getting divorced.
Our souls are like wildlife. They are shy. They only come out when they know it’s safe to do so. It takes respect and understanding for our souls to reveal themselves. Our souls thrive on a good companion who is willing to listen and support no matter how unproductive we are. Mary Oliver’s poem, “Wild Geese” invites us to be free from anxiety or pressure that we don’t have to be busy in order to belong.
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.
Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting –
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.
In a world where we put so much value on newer, faster, bigger and more, we desperately need a place where we belong without any string attached, where we can just be ourselves. Summer provides the best opportunity for us to be in such a place. No matter how we like to spend our summer, the scorching heat of the sun forces us to slow down. It’s the season to relax, calm, and rest knowing that all will be well. It’s the season we affirm our deep trust in God, who saw that everything was good, and who completed the process of creation by resting.
Recently I’ve noticed how people are impatient. As the temperate arises drivers become less tolerant honking their horns unnecessarily, and speeding up like a race. It’s not the heat we can blame on. When we don’t go with the flow, when we go against what each season is teaching us, we become restless. Resting is a countercultural experience. By resting we say no to a world which makes us restless. By resting we reclaim not only our place but also our neighbours’ place, including every living thing, all creatures great and small and the land itself. By resting we create a culture of tending our souls.