‘Those were the broad days! … And the smell of the air! I used to spend a week just breathing.’
Treebeard, from The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
You must always have something to do. You must always fill every nook and cranny with fuss and bustle and busyness. Or, failing that, with the screenful fug of distraction. Don’t you ever dare take time to reflect. Don’t you ever dare give yourself room to breathe. Don’t you ever dare be idle, or let the dust settle, or daydream. And, oh, you want to complain about your wellbeing?
We have been conditioned to fear spaciousness. Far better to distract ourselves than feel deeply. Far easier to wash ourselves in the endless stream of content than confront the really real.
Yet every week that goes by without true rest, the toxins of toil build up in our souls. Every week that goes by in which we do not reach shakingly into our feelings, the un-aliveness seeps further into our bones.
For the sake of our souls, we have to stop. For the sake of our being, we must revolt against the tyranny of ‘do’ and ‘distract’ and instead build a thousand heavens of ‘be’.
We must cultivate spaciousness; re-learn doing nothing. Not occasionally. Not as a treat. Not as a last resort in response to burnout. It has to be a rhythm. Deeply embedded. Never avoided. Regular and non-negotiable. For the longer we go without, the less real, the less human we become.
So may the broad days find you again. May the savour of larger, greener airs suffuse you. And may you spend a week just breathing.
This reflection was taken from my ‘Lord of the Rings at Lent’ devotional series. Follow me on Instagram @gideon.heugh for more.
You wake up anxious. Sleep was a respite, but now your worries are pouring down your throat. Somehow you breathe. Somehow you get out of bed and make coffee. You try not to face the day, but instead go to your room and close the door.
The year is insistent in its turning; already the world can feel the nudge of spring. Six a.m and you dare to pull back the curtain. There is a glow on the horizon. You switch off your light, clutch your warm cup, stare into the repenting dark.
The dawn never hurries; it is too sure of itself. You open the window, despite the cold, and lyric of blackbird and robin pours in. The sky slowly weaves a story. You may struggle to agree with it, but you cannot prevent a word like beautiful from seeping into your blood. The tears are from pain, yes, but something else besides. You woke up anxious. You face the day.
The earth and the sky declare it. Wonder does not have to be a pursuit. Meaning is not a treasure to be snatched at.
The trees do not stand there for so long for nothing. When the song thrush sings it seems to do so with its whole body, and more besides.
I peeked through the curtain last night and Jupiter and the stars were just… there.
Science tells us that acts of kindness are a better treatment for depression than therapy. You think we would have figured it out by now. So many centuries since Galileo, but still we misplace the revolution.
To be awed is a choice. Are we willing to look around?
An Instagram post speaks of unleashing the divine within. Fine, but you could be empowered like nothing else and still be lonely as hell.
Love is a web. A thread on its own will do nothing.
Love is the leap of faith that shows the chasm was never really there. If only we believed in entanglement. Instead we are sold self care.
How different are you really from the tree, or the song thrush? Assume nothing.
Put up a wall and you are less alive. The first shall be last perhaps because they’ve left everyone else behind.
Awake now my love— the bells of life are sounding through the frost. Awake now my love— the lowly are telling stories of bright strangers in the hills. Awake now my love— the divine is singing longingly of what it means to be you.
Make now your humble door— the star-drunk pilgrims are not looking for a palace. Gather now the crowns of bloodberry and green— the Christ smells of sap and wet bonfire smoke. Ready now your journey from the desolate before— the mother of the new is in labour; awake now, and be born.
Winter now your soul. Make good of the cold. Do not carry on as normal— as though the long nights were not telling you to fold into your roots, to quit your reaching, to clear your schedule and curl into a ritual of hushening ease.
Winter now your soul. Make good of the cold. There is no use in clinging on— let yourself let go; settle into deep sighs under thick blankets, the candles summoning dulcet shadows on the wall. Empty is not devoid, it is the space to breathe, the hollow for the seed, the sanctuary in which you can slowly regather yourself.
Do you have a practice of ‘wintering’? How do you plan to slow down during this fallow season?
I’ll be taking an extended break from social media at some point, and using the long evenings to light candles, read more, take time to reflect, go to sleep early.
If you want something to help ground your wintering, then it’s not too late to grab a copy of my Advent devotional, ‘Darkling‘.
Whatever you do, I hope you have a beautiful winter.
We walk the lanes, our breath before us, the earth and the sun at grateful angles.
The ease of your steps, the brightness in your eyes is a lesson. Hands held, laughter, taking time as it is— the being here that makes life worth the trouble.
Each day is new colour in the leaves. We point this out to each other, cross the roads carefully.
There is little purpose to our strolling, nor should there be. The delight of this world is gratuitous; the design of beauty merely to be beautiful. I don’t need to tell my daughter how wonderful this is.
We stumble upon the chestnuts, hundreds of them, a new ground, some of them split open in invitation. I show you how to avoid most of the spikes (you can’t get around getting hurt completely) and we fill our pockets—just one more, more and more.
I stir this feeling into a pot of soup; living simply is a comfort food.
It’s Midsummer’s Eve. A time when magic gathers thickly. When light is sugared and warm and the dark has an aura of what-if. The year’s waning begins, but not before the waxing gives one final flourish.
There is rumour of God leaping from branch to branch in the greenwood, fay and unpredictable—Christ-as-Puck, weaving spells upon the twilighted. You will be told unconvincingly that it was just a dream.
Who knows what you could become when Spirit is in his mood. Who knows what could burn away in Midsummer’s bonfire if you let it. Cast off; leap over; take that twinkle in your eye and run with it.
Grace is the Faerie Queen, sultry, seeking, tasting the air to catch the scent of your yearning so she can roll in the grass with it. Go now with hot daring. Go and be transformed.
God is not the lion— fearsome and aloof, living only for its own; God is not the lamb— farmed according to our appetite, slaughtered for the mouths of the Sunday privileged; God is the worm— quietly making an remaking the ground beneath our feet, creating, often unseen, the fecundity out of which abundance might grow.