“Summertime, and the livin’ is easy,” sings Bess in Gershwin’s opera, “Porgy and Bess.” But my summer is not proving to be that easy this year; between an overbooked calendar and the flare-up of a chronic malady, I find myself moving much more slowly, and feel much less “productive” than I like. Everything in my training and upbringing has been calibrated to the old Isaac Watts verse, “How doth the busy little bee improve each shining hour…” Yet that is not my speed in these first days of summer. I am moving very slowly. So I was very cheered when I saw a sign for drivers in another state where there are significant turtle populations saying, “Slow down for the turtles,” warning drivers to be mindful of those creatures along the highways who are moving very slowly to fulfill their purpose in being alive. This afternoon we were reading in Chet Raymo’s artful and provocative book, Natural Prayers, (Hungry Mind Press, 1999), about his observation of a female leatherback turtle in the process of laying eggs:
Pluck and patience. Necessary virtues if one is going to watch turtles.No other creature so big moves and acts with such deliberation…it is the intimacy of another age, a slower, more patient age, an age willing to wait for a month, or a hundred million years, if necessary, for something to happen. (97)
Maybe The Holy One has use for a slow-going creature like me this summer, one that is not operating at the speed she used to, not even keeping up with an agenda she used to set for herself. I am greatly heartened to read the compelling book by Christopher Smith and John Pattison, called Slow Church: Cultivating Community in the Patient Way of Jesus and Smith’s subsequent book, Reading for the Common Good. These reflections help me to re-calibrate my “busy bee” expectations, and to accept and to honor the speed at which I am able to go, against the adrenaline and speed driven agendas of many of the surrounding cultures, including mine. Instantaneous reactions and warp speed may be the prevailing currency of the those systems around me, but my body and spirit are not able, maybe not even longing, to keep up. Smith reminds me of transformations and learnings that can only happen at “turtle” speed.
When I look at the sacred text, the only reference to slowness of the Holy One is a slowness to anger, and surely that must be something very important for me to cultivate in this season of slowness. Again, the culture of tweets and Instagram encourage quick shooting from the hip of bile and vitriol, but that does not seem to be what an imitation of Jesus is about…maybe I need the space to slow down my reaction time, to be more judicious and spacious and grace-filled in my responses.
I am also reminded of Teilhard de Chardin’s wonderful charge:
Above all, trust in the slow work of God…it is the law of progress that it is made bypassing through some stages of inability, and that may take a very long time…Give our Lord the benefit of believing that his hand is leading you, and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself in suspense and incomplete. Above all, trust in the slow work of God, our loving vine-dresser. Amen.
In these “turtle days” of summer, I am presuming to trust in the slow work of God!