Relearning the Art of Noth-ing

As I remember it, when I was growing up in Buffalo NY every summer had at least a few days when the temperature soared to the high 80s or more, a real heat wave, the dog days of summer. In those pre-Cambrian days when no one, at least not in my neighborhood, had air conditioning and life ground to a halt, motherly urges to go outside and play fell on highly resistant ears, or we went, slowly, with the journey halted on the front porch where we sat and watched the world go by.

Living next to a city park meant plenty of pick-up baseball games, and games of tag or "Mother May I" or walks to the nearby swimming pool, but we would have none of that, let alone pull out the roller skates. Even jacks seemed too demanding.

At night I would sleep with my head at the foot of the bed, next to the open window, hoping the screen was secure and I wouldn't slip out, falling two stories to the yard below. Our house sat higher than the one next door, so there was at least a possibility of a breeze. Ears strained to hear the slightest rustling of leaves in the towering elms and maples that lined the street, giving hope that finally the temperature would drop and the active life of a ten-year old could resume.

Heat no longer enforces that kind of summer hiatus. Air-conditioning subverts all the wisdom and necessity of ceasing physical activity during the day--sit still all day? avoid physical activity from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.? But why, when I can live and move and have my being in the bubble of forced cool air? A constant 72, or 74 or even an ecologically responsible 76 degrees. More time to work, to get things done, to accomplish something!

Every summer I have to relearn the art of "noth-ing." Never heard of it? Think of it as a verb (and not a left-over hyphenate from the 60s as in "at-one-ment"). "To Noth" (rhymes with goth) means to do nothing, to rest from the busyness of work, to let go of the cult of productivity and the myth of efficiency to which most Americans, including those in ministry, fall prey. Our operative theology really being: Time is not to be wasted! DO something! Your self-justification and salvation depend on it. So does the Church's!

"I must be about my Father's business" becomes a souped-up rationale for making sure we control our time and our environment and most of all the outcomes! And that call to "Be still and know that I am God" gets pushed to the side or deferred to special moments of intentional mysticism. Yes, I am talking to my self, I know, when I suggest that perhaps the best way of dealing with the heat, metaphorical and real, is to take a break from being busy, and productive, and perhaps even a break from our vocations, and to learn to watch more, to rest in the grace of the moment and to listen for the breeze in the trees that tells us that the Holy Spirit is at work whether we are or not.   

Kathleen Russell is the Joe and Jesse Krump Associate Professor of Cultural Research and Associate Professor of Pastoral Theology.  Prior to joining the seminary's faculty, Kathleen worked in parish ministry and as a Clinical Pastoral Education supervisor in two different locations.