The Pace Of Peace

Every Christmas season, we hear songs and messages proclaiming peace on earth, but we so seldom see peace in those we encounter in stores, at work, in our families, and, often, in ourselves. We are busy and fatigued and scrambling about. Nothing feels peaceful about this holiday. Too many of us have forgotten the pace of nature in winter, the pace of creation replaced by the pace of consumption. This Christmas, we went to my father’s place just outside Oak Island. The house sits on the edge of a river and a marsh.

It was there that I stopped to consider the pace of winter: a time to conserve energy, of reflecting on the closing year and the one that is to come, and of dreaming. I consciously slow my pace down. Not in the Christmas rush of stores, I need no longer felt the inner turmoil of a hurried hustle and bustle of people. Now I could simply enjoy being somewhere without the concern for being somewhere else.

Sitting on the back porch of the house, I inhaled deeply the fresh, crisp air that felt more like late autumn than winter. I gazed out over the water, noticing the occasional osprey, heron, or seagull. My younger son sat out there with me, binoculars in hand to get a better look and his bird guide to identify those he saw, which he entered in his nature journal.

I had my own book in hand, The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper. It’s one of my favorite books and is the perfect seasonal read since it takes place just before Christmas. I love how Cooper’s writing caused me not to rush through the words but to linger and savor their beauty, especially in descriptions like this one:

“The snow lay thin and apologetic over the world. That wide grey sweep was the lawn, with the straggling trees of the orchard still dark beyond; the white squares were the roofs of the garage, the old barn, the rabbit hutches, the chicken coops. Further back there were only the flat fields of Dawson’s farm, dimly white-striped. All the broad sky was grey, full of more snow that refused to fall. There was no colour anywhere.”

While that literary landscape did not match my own, she still made me see the world she was describing and creating for me, the reader. I also love that this book is filled with English folklore. Sometimes, as my son was sitting next to me, he would ask me to read passages to him, as he snuggled up against me.

I listened to the quiet, punctured only by the occasional sound of a bird or passing fishing boat.

Sometimes my father would draw us out of our contentment to just sit to go up river in his boat to see the birds in the marsh or the shrimping trawlers.

The boat moved slowly along the waters. My boys sat in the front, close together, which I loved to see. I liked hearing them talking to each other, pointing things out to one another, and enjoying being together.

As we moved along the river’s water, I could hear my spirit saying: This is why you must slow down, so that you can enjoy this moment. I am especially aware of this need since my older son will be going off to college next year. It’s hard to let go of our children. My instinct is to want to hold him tighter, hold him closer but I cannot. I will have to allow him to go off into the world to become himself, to discover who that is and what that means for him. But not now. Not in this moment. In this moment, he was still my firstborn, my kid, my child who can still be under my wing and protection, my guidance and my daily attention.

Because we love being in nature so much, especially my younger son, it was fascinating to see how wide and varied the species were around this area of North Carolina. To go from seeing sea birds to wild turkeys roaming about. In some ways, this was the ideal present for my younger son, whose passion for birdwatching only grows. I loved seeing his eyes fill with wonder at spotting these creatures in the wild. To hear his breath gasp as he sees a new bird for the first time. To hear him retell excitedly these encounters as we gathered for meals. To him, this is all “awesome.” I love that he is filled with awe and wonderment at nature. That it offers meaning and solace to a past that was so often filled with pain and sorrow.

We enjoyed our slow walks along the mostly empty beach. To see the sun reflected golden on the water.

To see flocks of seagulls standing and resting at the edge of the shore.

We learn from them the wisdom of slowness, the pace of peace.

In these moments, we listen and share. We spend time with one another without a wish to be anywhere but in this place, in this moment, with each other.

We gathered memories as we gathered shells along the shore.

Or we found ourselves overwhelmed by as great flocks of pelicans flew in formation above us.

I found myself (inwardly) singing John Rutter’s “Look At The World” (his music has been the soundtrack for my Christmas season this year):

Look at the world, everything all around us,
Look at the world and marvel every day.
Look at the world: so many joys and wonders,
So many miracles along our way.

My older son, at one point, melted my fatherly heart by telling me, “I love spending time with you. I’d forgotten how much fun it is.” (At home, he often holes himself away with his technology). His words are the best present I received this Christmas.

Returning from our small, quiet adventures, we returned to my dad’s house and sat on the porch swings or rocking chairs to watch the painting-like beauty of the sunset.

This quiet, slower pace allowed us to express our love for one another, to be present and listen to each other. It created within all of us a wish to preserve and live in such moments of warm reflection and understanding. Is it any wonder that Ralph Waldo Emerson so wisely suggested, “Adopt the pace of nature: her secret is patience”?

So we are adopting the pace of nature, of winter’s slowness, and the stillness that allows for peace. We paused to find the sweetness of this season and what it has to offer us and how we need to adapt her languidness. William Blake once wrote, “In seed time learn, in harvest teach, in winter enjoy.” That is what we chose to do: to enjoy each other, to enjoy the pace of peace and to find the grace in winter. And, while we had to leave the setting, I pray that we brought that spirit back with us.



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