When I was a kid, my brother and I played baseball everyday in our backyard—aluminum bat with a tennis ball, so the home runs would fly. The backyard was tiered with three levels, which made a pretty novel field.
Most days out, we imagined ourselves as our favorite teams. He was the San Francisco Giants of Will Clark, Kevin Mitchell, and Matt Williams. I was the Kansas City Royals of George Brett, Bo Jackson, and, my favorite player, Kevin Seitzer.
And one of the best parts was mimicking the batting stances of our hitters. Seitzer would angle his knees in together, hold his hands in close to his face. And then I’d slap a double over our first wall.
Baseball is a game of rhythms. Be patient and pay attention. Watch a batter. He doesn’t just stroll into the batter’s box and swing. Everything’s timing. Everything’s ritual. Redo the velcro on the batting gloves. Tap the dirt off the cleats with the end of the bat. A practice swing or two. Digging in with the back foot. A slight bounce with the knees.
And then there’s the pitcher. Every pitcher has their own unique windup. Feet on the rubber. Bring the ball to the glove. Stare in for catcher’s sign.
It has a way of wiping the slate clean. If you missed the spot on your pitch, or swung at a pitch out of the strike zone, or the ump made a bad call, you start the calming routine again to reboot. It puts the past in the past so the focus is one this one singular present moment.
Eugene Peterson writes in his book The Contemplative Pastor:
In Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, there is a turbulent scene in which a whaleboat scuds across a frothing ocean in pursuit of the great, white whale, Moby Dick. The sailors are laboring fiercely, every muscle taut, all attention and energy concentrated on the task. The cosmic conflict between good and evil joined; chaotic sea and demonic sea monster versus the morally outraged man, Captain Ahab. In this boat, however, there is one man who does nothing. He doesn’t hold an oar; he doesn’t perspire; he doesn’t shout. He is languid in the crash and the cursing. This man is the harpooner, quiet and poised, waiting. And then this sentence: “To insure the greatest efficiency in the dart, the harpooners of this world must start to their feet out of idleness, and not out of toil.”
Feet out of idleness. Such a great image. I wonder if hitters and pitchers think of it that way. How do you go about your life in the world coming from a place like that?
The spiritual life is a little bit like that.
There’s a story about Jesus where he gets into a boat on the lake and tells his disciples to go to the other side. Then he lies down and takes a nap. Seriously. Before long a storm surprises them all. The disciples are freaking out. Jesus is snoring. They wake him up. He tells the storm to stop it. And it stops.
Now, the text doesn’t say this, but I imagine Jesus groggily fluffs his pillow, curls back up, and immediately goes back to sleep. I’ve often heard sermons from this story with this lesson, since we can be like Jesus, we can tell the storms of life to settle down. But I wonder if that misses a bigger point. I wonder if the lesson of the story is that we can sleep during storms.
Jesus with feet out of idleness.
How do we do that?
Practicing a variety of spiritual disciples can contribute. One way is regular meetings with a spiritual director. A spiritual director listens with you as you listen to God. Meeting with a spiritual director often looks like a one-on-one monthly checkup to reflect on what God is up to in your life.
A good spiritual director asks lots of questions. How are you experiencing God? What is God speaking to you? How are you cooperating with God? What does prayer look like for you? What does Sabbath look like? What does your spiritual life actually look like compared to what you wish it looked like? Is that idealized version even a healthy and realistic vision of the spiritual life?
Personally, I meet with my spiritual director twice a month. I know it’s a safe, confidential place to vent my frustrations, celebrate my victories, and express my doubts. I know for that hour, I’m paid attention to and I’m listened to. Sometimes what my director reflects back to me stings a little bit, but I know it’s true. And it’s not unusual for my director to tell me, “Everything’s going to be okay. You’re normal.”
It’s almost like finding that settled place to set my spiritual feet. It’s almost like mimicking the batting stance of Jesus. It’s where I’m teaching my feet some idleness.
If you’d like to find a spiritual director in your area, visit Spiritual Directors International (http://www.sdiworld.org/find-a-spiritual-director).
Peter is married to Jackie. They have two toddlers and reside in Tulsa, OK. He’s a spiritual director and ordained deacon in the Oklahoma conference of the United Methodist Church.
He lived in Seattle during the Mariners’ historic 2001 season of 116 wins. He’s still waiting for them to win the American League pennant. He writes at The Sabbath Life, where you can subscribe to his newsletter, and he can be followed on Twitter @thatpeterwhite.
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