Peace and quiet

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(Host) It is the Season of Peace and commentator David Moats reminds us that achieving Peace is sometimes more a matter of “being” rather than “doing.”

(Moats) I remember the story of the rabbi who was at home observing the Sabbath. He went into his garden, and as he strolled past a plum tree, he thought to himself, “I’ll have to prune that tree tomorrow.” The tree instantly withered and died.

We all know the Sabbath is supposed to be a day of rest. The story tells us that we’re meant to rest in mind and spirit as well as in action. I’ve always liked that story because it tells us how important it is to reserve for ourselves time when we stop what we’re doing, but more than that, we stop thinking of the things we have to do. Instead, we sit back and look at what is, including the people around us. We appreciate creation – not as something that needs to be pruned – but which is good in itself.

Even if we don’t observe a formal Sabbath, we can enjoy Sabbath moments when we give ourselves over to enjoyment of family, home, and life. These are treasured moments of peace. They occur when we stop worrying about what we’re supposed to be doing, or what someone else is supposed to be doing, and we sit back in appreciation. It may or may not involve good food. Good food can’t hurt.

Sometimes these moments occur on formal holidays, though a lot of times we get so worked up about our holidays that we’re far from the peace that we’re seeking. These moments are especially important in a society where people tend to measure their happiness in terms of what they have accomplished.

The point of the Sabbath moment is that work, duty, responsibility only take us so far, that real peace requires us to stop, set down our burdens, and observe the wonder of creation and the fact that we’re a part of it. Success in the worldly sense does not breed the kind of deep peace you enjoy when you just sit down and look around at the ones you love.

The point is to be at home in the world, which reminds me of the poem by Mary Oliver called “Wild Geese.” “You do not have to be good,” she writes. “You do not have to walk on your knees, for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting. You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.”

During the normal course of our lives, we are constantly after ourselves to do this, do that, to measure up to some kind of standard that in the end is impossible to satisfy. We have to give ourselves a moment to love the unpruned tree.

In a way each of us may be seen as an unpruned tree, growing this way and that, in need of pruning from time to time, but also in need of the love that allows us to bear fruit. That love can blossom in those quiet moments of peace when what we have to do gives way to what we are.

And what we are is very fine.

This is David Moats of Middlebury.

David Moats is the editorial page editor for the Rutland Herald and winner of the 2001 Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing. He spoke to us from our studio in Norwich.

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