The male Anna’s hummingbird flitted about the delicate branches of the creosote bush outside my office window, eating all-but-invisible insects as it went. The iridescent purple of its chin and cap gave my eyes a target to follow as it darted this way and that, its movement reminding me of how eyewitnesses describe UFOs; hovering then taking off at an amazing rate of speed then stopping and starting at will in all three dimensions. The diminutive bird would occasionally light on a branch, sometimes grooming itself. At rest it’s possible to appreciate their beauty. In motion you appreciate their athleticism. It’s hard to believe that a bird whose weight is measured in grams is phylogenetically related to dinosaurs.
Contemplating the hummingbird reminded me that life is so much darting about, punctuated with periods of rest. Yet only at rest can we appreciate the beauty, even in ourselves, much less the world around us. We flit from one thing to another, often moving in three dimensions at concussive speeds. We live our lives on the interstate, occasionally stopping at a rest area to pee or at a fast food joint, because to relax and savor good food would take too much time.
In contrast, the ancients named the constellations and stars and developed elaborate myths surrounding them because, let’s face it, there wasn’t anything else to do. They had no place else to be. They couldn’t be in a hurry, there was no place to go and the only reason to rush was if something was chasing you. Like a sabretooth tiger, for instance. This gave them time to develop philosophy, religion, and mathematics, to name a few. When the ancients decided it was time to go someplace, odds were that someone was already there, which led them to develop weapons and war. The ancients weren’t perfect. We’ve only perfected what our ancestors began.
Modern life is best lived on the back roads, where rut, curve, and cliff require slow speed and attention to detail. It’s best lived holding the hand of the one riding shotgun. It’s best lived in the slow lane and enjoyed away from the freeway. Even in the city, walking is often the best mode of travel and, yet again, walking hand in hand with one’s love is the preferred method. At least for me.
Sometimes speed is a necessary evil. That’s a fact of modern life and I am not ready to trade Southwest Airlines for a Wells Fargo Stage. But life cannot be lived at speed. It cannot be savored, it can only be tolerated and then for only so long. If we don’t rest, we burn out. We die. That is true emotionally and physically. And also, I believe, spiritually.
The gospels tell us that Jesus regularly went away alone to “pray”. Sometimes all night. I’m not certain, but I doubt our Western mentality captures ancient Eastern “prayer” very well. It was likely a time of spiritual rest and meditation for Jesus and I think we should follow his example and make prayer a time of rest and restoration, not of making requests and trying to figure out how to manipulate God into changing His mind. I no longer believe that prayer changes God, but I fervently believe it changes us.
Living life to its fullest means taking the time to slow down. It means being able to rest on our own branch to appreciate and savor the time we are given, none of which is promised to us. It means making time to stop and watch the hummingbird and listen to it speak.