Dr. Donald DeMarco
There is considerable wisdom in the popular maxim “Stop and smell the roses.” A recent study done at Rutgers University, and reported in the Journal of Personality and Individual Differences, indicates that taking the time to appreciate people and the little things in life can play in important role in our overall happiness. Even taking the time, literally, to smell flowers, can be a healthy antidote to what is called the “rat race” in which we often find ourselves.
Jean-Pierre de Caussade, of the Society of Jesus, wrote The Sacrament of the Present Moment to help his readers hear God’s voice as he speaks to us at every moment, and with love. This 300-year-old classic asks us to put aside our ego and pride so that we can be open to God’s salvific grace that is available from moment to moment. Each day, the author assures us, is a sacrament that we should not ignore.
In another 300-year-old classic, The Practice of the Presence of God, Brother Lawrence advises us that “whatever we do, even if we are reading the Word or praying, we should stop for a few minutes – as often as possible – to praise God from the depths of our hearts, to enjoy Him there in secret.”
“[W]hy shouldn’t you stop,” he asks, “for a while to adore Him, to petition Him, to offer Him your heart, and to thank Him?” There should be many stop signs in our daily lives that invite us to listen to the voice of God. The horizontal dimension of life should not eclipse our vertical relationship with the transcendent.
“The world is too much with us; late and soon,” said the poet, William Wordsworth: “Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers; little we see in Nature that is ours; we have given our hearts away, a sordid boon.” Our excessive preoccupation with money has dulled our spiritual faculties. We have traded in Homo sapiens for Homo economicus. There is little time to stop and think. Our lives remain unexamined; our destiny, undiscovered. Speed robs us of the opportunity to appreciate all the beauty that lies around us.
Speed has become a central characteristic of our culture. The 1982 movie “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” is an excellent encapsulation of America’s love affair with speed. It portrays teenagers trying to grow up too fast, working at fast-food restaurants, engaging in fast sex, listening to fast music and taking fast-acting drugs. There is no time either to think or to live. Unfortunately, the movie was regarded more for its entertainment value than for its timely moral message.
Technology, from speedways to the high-speed internet, has certainly sped up our lives, but at the price of reducing our face-to-face relationships and opportunities to appreciate the sacrament of the moment. In walking to work, we become involved in a host of interpersonal exchanges. If we ride a bicycle, these exchanges are fewer. But if we take the car, though we gain in speed, we lose in personal encounters. Getting there becomes all-important.
A character by the name of Yonatan Frimer has recited Hamlet’s “To Be, or Not To Be” soliloquy in less than a minute. At this speed, however, the message is completely unintelligible. It is fair to say that Shakespeare would have preferred a slower pace. Speed obscures. In “getting there” faster, speed erases all the vital experiences we could have enjoyed along the way. Life is to be lived, not rushed.
Mozart, who knew something about music, taught that the silent moments between the notes were more important than the notes themselves. This is a key to understanding the spiritual significance of his music. We might also say that in those silent moments between one action and another we begin to appreciate and enjoy the life that surrounds us, and perhaps even hear the Word of God. We need to stop and think, rather than stop and go. We need to meditate, to look over what we often overlook, to count our blessings. Life should not be a high-speed, endless merry-go-round, but the continuing opportunity to savor the blessings that God has strewn at our feet.
Dr. Donald DeMarco is a Senior Fellow of Human Life International. He is a professor emeritus at St. Jerome’s University in Waterloo, Ontario.