Deep in the truth of us lies the rough draft that demands edit after edit. — Barbara Mahany, Slowing Time
I got a little lost yesterday.
For many years I’ve made a habit of taking a hike on New Year’s Day. Jan. 1 was rainy, though, and Jan. 2 was merely gray and misty. The legs wanted a workout, and the mind wanted to quit the desk and get to the woods. So I drove to Pinnacle Mountain State Park, where I have hiked many times, to try the Base Trail for the first time.
At the trailhead I chose, the path starts out between the mountain and the Little Maumelle River. When I got to a place where there seemed to be a choice — continue more or less straight ahead, or angle left, away from the river — I chose river. Maybe half a mile later, when the path disappeared at the edge of a field, I knew what I’d suspected for a while. Wrong way.
“Go back the way you came” is the action to take in these situations. But paths crisscrossed the area, and with a rain-soaked carpet of leaves everywhere, it was not always obvious what was path and what was just unvegetated earth. I might’ve been on a deer path for a while before I found the way back out.
I investigated the trail not taken and decided it was the way I should have gone. By that time there wasn’t enough daylight left to commit to a trail. But I’d seen some lovely river views, gotten some exercise, played antiphonal whistling with an unseen bird, walked where I’d never walked before. That still counts as a new year’s hike, right?
I’ve heard that how we spend the first day of the year is how we will spend the year. There might be an element of truth in that. It’s a day of fresh beginnings, of declaring resolutions, goals, intentions, guiding words. But it’s also like saying, “You have this day and this day alone to ditch bad habits and entrench good ones.”
I ate good food in good company on New Year’s. Hugged. Laughed. Prayed. Wrote in the morning. Read in the evening. Spent no money. I’d be happy with a year full of days like that.
But I didn’t go to work or church. Does that mean a year without the places and people who give structure to my weeks? And I put off the dishes and the laundry for another day. Ornaments came down, but the tree is still up. (I enjoy the lights, and the cat enjoys hiding under the tree.) Does that mean a year of procrastination?
Barbara Mahany takes her time in starting her year. In her book Slowing Time: Seeing the Sacred Outside Your Kitchen Door, she writes, “I dwell in my own personal calendar of time delay,” because her life’s calendar began just behind the Gregorian: today, Jan. 3, is her birthday. “The beauty of this stalled beginning is that I’ve extra hours to contemplate the fresh start. To consider hard and deep just how I might aim to live this year.” I think she’s tacitly giving us all that permission.
I’ve had Barb’s book for months, but I’m just starting it now, because its five sections are structured by the year: Winter, Spring, Summer, Autumn, and Winter again. It’s a book I’ll take my time with, as a companion throughout the year.
Seeing the sacred, she says, is all about slowing down, paying attention, seeing, savoring, honoring. I could tell you about the book (the blessings that start each section; the pages where she invites readers to write down, right there in the book, some of our own season-specific memories and associations; her lovely, lyrical, poetic, joyous writing style; the life stories at the heart of each chapter; the recipes), but I’d rather point you to some places she’s written, and some places that have written about her, and let you discover that yourself.
- She writes her heart out at her blog, pullupachair.org — an invitation to her table. We met at a table, so I can tell you she’s every bit as warm and hospitable in person as she sounds here.
- From her essay in Marquette Magazine:
If our days are numbered —and they are, though it sometimes takes the urgency of a day like today to sharpen the edge of that raw truth —we really can’t afford not to notice, not to bristle at the brush strokes of the divine that sweep up against us, leave us with goose bumps, remind us that the holy is all around and that if we listen, really listen, we just might hear the sacred breath that whispers, “Here I am.”
- At Nieman Storyboard, she gives some backstory about the book and the experience of being a journalist writing about faith.
- At Krista Tippett’s On Being, Barb writes about actually liking the dark quiet season that begins on Dec. 21.
- The Chicago Tribune, where she used to work, had some nice things to say …
- as did the Huffington Post.
On the way home from my wayward hike, I made a warmup stop for soup and tea. Her book was my dinner companion, and I found this in January’s chapter. By “It” she’s referring to the spiral of a year:
It is, at heart, a geometry of promise, hope, and, most of all, ascension. It offers us the chance, over and over, to come back to that sacred moment when we stand at the crest of a hill, cast arms wide, salute the heavens, shake off dirt and dust, remap our route, and see if this time ’round we might inch higher toward the summit.
I went back to the park today. Packed things I hadn’t taken yesterday. Talked with a ranger about the trail. Started it at a different point, because last night’s heavy rains had flooded the entry I knew. Hiked to the point of endorphin euphoria, then slowed down, because the knees insisted. Savored birdsong, tiny mushrooms, an ankle-high cluster of red berries, a bent tree branch that looked like a sleepy moose, the water music of small streams, the saturated color of lichens, the various textures of mosses, the sudden smell of freshly cut (or chewed?) wood, even my own sweat. Stopped for a snack of an orange and chocolate. Finished the 3.5 rocky miles feeling good about this day and this year.
It bears repeating. “Deep in the truth of us lies the rough draft that demands edit after edit.”
May we all yield attentively to this year’s editing pen. May we all advance an inch toward our summits. And if we get a little lost, may we have eyes to see and savor the sacred there.
Your turn. What habits, customs, rituals do you have to mark a new year? Are there customs or beliefs about New Year’s Day that you have changed your mind about? What reading are you starting the year with?