Last year I came across a short prayer, written and illustrated by the cartoonist, Michael Leunig. The prayer’s shortness and simplicity allowed it to reverberate through my heart often. I remembered it and mulled over it, and eventually—when I realised it was one of the most profound prayers I’d ever prayed—tried to live into it.
Although short, simple and profound, living out this particular prayer proved to be far more difficult than I could have anticipated. That’s because it is one of the most subversive prayers I’ve ever prayed, completely at odds with the ways of our society. Yet, it’s also precisely what I need in my life and, I hazard a guess, perhaps what you may need too. Which is why this is the first of 5 blog posts (one for each of the prayer’s lines). I’m hoping that as I wrestle with this prayer on paper it lodges a little deeper in my mind and heart and life, and maybe a little deeper in yours too.
God, help me to live slowly
To move simply
To look softly
To allow emptiness
And to let the heart create for us.
God, help me to live slowly
The 21st century is a fast-paced one. We move fast, work fast and think fast. Slow drivers frustrate us, slow tellers anger us, slow internet feels like a violation of basic rights. We’re challenged to write blogs in an hour, novels in a month (NaNoWriMo) and to speed-read at least 500 words per minute. Productivity is king! Fast food is the fad! The 5G race is on!
The first line of Leunig’s prayer is a plea to slow down. God, help me to live slowly. Doesn’t something in these words open up a yearning in your heart? That’s what they do for me. They feel like a long exhale. A release of a pent-up breath of tension.
I don’t want to live so fast that the beautiful moments go unnoticed. That I miss the pain in a friend’s voice. That I can’t say yes to a spontaneous invitation because every moment of my day is already accounted for. I don’t want to speed through my life—without margins—constantly late for appointments, all in the name of not wasting a single moment.
I don’t want to write a novel in a month. Rather I want to shape the words and sentences and slowly craft something lovely from them, the way the craftsmen of old might have made a stately cabinet, wood shave by wood shave by wood shave.
I don’t want to read 100 books this year. Well, I actually do, but I don’t want to do it at the expense of savouring each book. I want to marvel and live into the author’s description of a moody, storm-clad sky, not just skim over it in order to get to the next important conversation.
I want to walk in parks and laugh at my dog cavorting joyfully with one of his playmates. I want to have long conversations with a friend, instead of sending a quick cursory WhatsApp message. I want time to connect with God. And sometimes I just want to sit. Not think or plan or schedule. Just sit, preferably with a good cup of coffee.
Living slowly gives us time to observe and absorb what is important. It’s living thoughtfully and deliberately. It’s having time for people. It’s listening to God’s quiet voice in the stillness. It’s being grateful for the simple, sweet pleasures that we’re finally taking time to notice and enjoy.
I don’t think it makes us less productive, actually. Perhaps slowing down rather helps us to focus in on the important and let go of the frenzied unimportant.
It may be the most challenging, subversive prayer you’ve ever prayed, but pray it anyway. Then let your life spin slowly into a new way of being.
God, help me to live slowly.
Read Part 2: To Move Simply: Leunig Prayer (2)
Read Part 3: To Look Softly – Leunig Prayer (3)
(Prayer and cartoon from The Prayer Tree, by Michael Leunig, Harper Collins Publishers)