An Em-bell-ish-ing Table: Sweeping The Ship

This image above is a rare of one of a Medieval woman sweeping, thoughtfully shared some time back by Under the Gables. What moves me here is her sense of purpose and calm as she sweeps, and her home is like a ship in feeling...a ship on a sure course. Exactly the sort of calm and gentle sureness so many of us have lost...and deep down so long for. I've just been very taken with this "sweeping the ship" feeling lately.

Its a feeling we all know, some more often than others perhaps.When a ship has lifted anchor, and set its course, something in a person lets out a deep sigh... you know you are on course, and simply need to make sure you care for your ship and stay on tight, its that blessedly simple. For some folks, they LIVE this way, their life is just this sort of sure ship taking hold of Him.... and topsy turvy life that i have had, well i look on with yearning.

And yet this ship-ness really comes in my life too sometimes, most often when i'm standing by my little kitchen sink doing the dishes or stirring something in a bowl or cooking something on the stove....which is probably why i'm so enamored of that kitchen window. I see that little window and it reminds me of that feeling. Its a feeling where something relaxes inside becuase you know you are doing what you should be doing then, there isnt this back and forth trying to decide. But its more than this too, its this feeling that you can relax into what you are doing, like you are on a track and the path has been smoothed and you are protected and your ancestors have done much like what you are doing now and you can feel their gentle circle around you, and your guardian angel feels there right there beside you, and things feel just especially softly shining and...real.

There are periods of time when i will wake up practically singing (in contrast to many other mornings believe me), and its exactly becuase thats when this "ship" feeling is strong. When i wake up on mornings like that, i notice its the mornings where there are simple concrete things that need to be done.... like make the soup, organize the closet, and the like ("bell" sorts of things; well, that will make more sense later). Mornings on the other hand where the goal is more abstract like 'make such and such a plan' or 'find a place to move to' and the like, well those mornings i wake up feeling really anxious rather than with song. Its this vague sort of anxiety, stifling. And it has to heal...becuase it batters that "ship".

Been reading this book my finace gave me recently. Its from 1949, called Peace of Soul by Bishop Fulton Sheen, and he talks about this stuff in a really wonderful way. A few qoutes compiled:

"Modern anxiety is different from the anxiety of previous and more normal ages in two ways. In other days men were anxious about their souls, but modern man is principally concerned with the body; the major worries of today are economic security, health, the complexion, wealth, social prestige, and sex (These priorities must return to focus on the state of one's soul).... The second characteristic of modern anxiety is that it is not a fear of objective, natural dangers such as lightning, beasts, famine; it is subjective, a vague fear of what one believes would be dangerous if it happened. That is why it is so difficult to deal with peaple who have today's type of anxieties; it does no good to tell then that there is no outside danger, becuase the danger that they fear is inside of them and therefore is abnormally real to them. Their condition is aggravated by a sense of helplessness to do anything about the danger...

(But ) Conversion becomes possible the very moment a man ceases to blame God ...and begins to blame himself; by doing so, he becomes able to distinguish between his sinful barnacles and the ship of his soul...

The unconverted soul was often exhausted, fatigued from having used up all its energies trying to find a purpose in life. It was tired in its mind and then tired in its body. A mind that cannot decide where it is going next soon exhausts itself by indecisiveness. Anxieties and fears posess the mind and fritter away the strength of the body. But once the goal of life is discovered, one does not need to waste his energy trying to discover it; the energy can now be spent in making the journey. The travel circulars are thrown away as one plunges into the joy of a voyage of discovery.

Many a young student in college is confused becuase he is without a philosphy of life or a pattern of existance. His education is but a substiution of this theory for that , a jettisoning of one relative point of view for another. The statistics he studied in his senior year become obsolete the year after graduation. His professors, who used the philosophy of Spenser as their inspiration twenty years ago, are now using Marx or Freud.---within another ten years they will have found another substitute. Education has become little more than the mechanical replacing of one point of view by another, as the automobile displaced the horse and buggy. The mind is constantly solicited by contrary and contradictory points of view; it becomes more harassed than a body in constant oscillation between chill and fever. With conversion, education becomes an orderly progression from one truth which need never be disgarded to the next. The student is given reasons and motives of credibility for an ordered philosophy of life; his education is now a growing penetration into a central mystery, a sounding of new depths of truth. His knowledge and understanding accrue, as life expands from cell to cell in the developement of every living body. "

And this was in 1949......before the info-flood of modern computers, before the incredible speed of better mass communication, and before the speed up of upheaval in the world in so many ways its overwhelming...a flooding to both the body and the mind. Sure a far cry from the calm sureness and in-the-moment-ness and "realness" of that ship-ness. Another image of this anxiety can be seen in this favorite post below. No link since its no longer online (it was from Tonia's (of The Sacred Everyday) old blog Study in Brown):

"Too much stuff takes time: time to sort it, use it, dust it, look at it, and time to decide if it goes in the hefty bag.

The past few days my mind has felt cluttered like this. An hour's reading on the internet yields a lot of stuff to think about. My bookshelves are lined with books waiting to be opened and digested. Phone calls from friends and family reveal needs that require attention, thought and prayer: magazine articles, homeschool schedules and lesson plans, gardening books, recipes, nutrition information, Bible studies, correspondence, conversations and blogs: I can hardly string together a clear thought.

Because there is so much information and opportunity instantly available, it is easy to want to make myself responsible for it. The truth is, I can't"

This bombardment is very very real, and so counter to that life of sure calm, that "ship-ness". And this bombardment from the world may be more intense today, but i wouldnt be surprised if its always existed. One traditional way to deal with this is to enter an abbey or monastory, donning a sacred habit on one's body and heeding the bells of prayer in ones life...small requirements indeed when these things help keep one on His ship rather than drowning in the pulls of the world. Yet this is not the only way to do this. I've been very taken lately for example with
Maggie's series on lay women's headcoverings and modest dress,...she has so aptly called it "developing a uniform". And having such a uniform, just like having a habit, is very helpful in seperating from the bombardment of the world. There is just something about this, a habit or a uniform kind of "holds you", reminds you that you are on His ship...and this helps you to simply "rest" in that ship, to let it help you simply focus and do your duty. Such a relief! Truly, this is core stuff.

And then there are the bells. In monasteries (as well as in town in days back) bells ring morning noon and night calling one to prayer. This too, is just so core. From Take With You Words:

"The bell tells us to drop the small tasks we imagine to be so important—and many of them are, in their time. But their time is not now, says the bell. Now is the time to leave them behind and go at once to attend to the great work, the work of prayer, which is our rehearsal for an eternity in communion with our beloved Christ and our service to all those we hope to gather up with us into that eventual delight...

What is given us to know (as the bell rings) is that we still have now. "Now" is not to be held lightly. "Now" is not a mere way station through which we pass without noticing it as we hurry on to somewhere else, which always looks more important before we get there. "Now" is the time for our conversatio, our conversion, our shedding of the inessentials that hinder us along the road where, Benedict tells us, "we shall run [toward our end] on the path of God’s commandments, our hearts overflowing with the inexpressible delight of love" (RB Prologue 49). "Now" matters."

And just like there is not only a habit but also a uniform as a way to help enter a more sacred life, there are also different kinds of bells (see here for a great reflection on this). For me, standing at the kitchen window is one of my most precious bells for example. For its there that i do the dishes and cook, and in doing those things a bell has been heared. Becuase when doing those things, its the same feeling in its own way as when a nun hears the prayer bell...the worries of the day are put aside becuase it is time for this form of prayer. The nun opens her prayer book, i pick up my dish sponge or mixing spoon. Both, when done contemplatively, are a way to heed that bell that says "stop the worldly stuff and do your sacred duty...and rest in that." Whatever can call us away from our abstract anxiety into simply "doing little things with great love" (as St Therese put it), well that can be a bell.

I've been slowly learning that's why those mornings when i wake up knowing there are just clear simple tasks to do (make soup etc) are the ones i'll wake up suddenly "singing" rather than anxious. Becuase deep down i know that day ahead is filled with bells and so something in me rests in that. That is the way every day should be somehow.

Back on Candlemas, had a dream about em-bell-ish-ment. It was this short simple dream where i woke up to find that this really nice beach stick (one i have in real life) was suddenly covered with gorgeous carvings and had a little green shoot also growing from it. In the dream i was thinking, oh, so this is why we need to keep things simple, because it all will get embellished. And months later now, i believe that even more strongly. Our "uniforms", our "bells", they help us simplify and seperate from what threatens to drown the ship. And thinking of a ship's journey...on a ship one packs light....few material things, often a simple schedule too (funnily enough, ships also have a long tradition of using bells). It will all get em-bell-ish-ed in the end, so the simpler the better.

A life of bells

Perhaps its the sweetest way to cling to His ship...

And to sing there.

And to sweep...

(Images from Under the Gables, and Take With You Words)

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