The World Is Too Much With Us

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          In 1802, the British romantic poet, William Worsdworth, wrote a sonnet which begins with these words…

“The world is too much with us; late and soon,

Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;—

Little we see in Nature that is ours;

We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!”

It was 120 years ago that he spoke about the ways in which people had become distracted from the beauty of nature and, indeed, from their own souls by the times in which he lived. He warned about the costs to people with the materialism and consumerism of that era, which would later be known as the First Industrial Revolution.  And he was deeply concerned about the toll of becoming distant from nature.  He continued,

“This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon;

The winds that will be howling at all hours,

And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers;

For this, for everything, we are out of tune;

It moves us not.”( Great God! I’d rather be

A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;

So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,

Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;

Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;

Or hear old Triton blow his wreathed horn.)

I think of his opening lines often in these times as well as our minds and hearts feel overwhelmed by the daily onslaught of the news, brought to us in living color through not only the tv but also on people’s phones and laptops every minute and every hour of the day.  “The world is indeed too much with us…and we may feel that we have given our hearts away.  We are out of tune; it moves us not.”

          Let us pray, Beloved Presence, you have blessed us with the riches of summer which come to us through all of creation.  Open our eyes and ears, our hearts and minds to the beauty that may be discovered when we pause and let ourselves be present to the daily graces you provide for us.  For this we thank you. Amen.

          I appreciate that the poet Wordsworth reminds us that those who have lived before us have also been faced with similar concerns.  As a minister, I often try to find parallels in Scripture to our present concerns.  I know each generation imagines that the time in which they are living is the most difficult and certainly, any student of history can speak to the brutal realities of earlier times, but our realities are also unique.  Even within the course of my lifetime, the pace of life, the ways in which the anxieties of the world seem to outpace our capacity to cope, have all become incredibly difficult.  The world is too much with us.

          Last Tuesday was the Summer Solstice, the day with the longest amount of daylight…light by which we can enjoy the pleasures of the day.  And I am here to encourage each of you to allow yourselves rest this summer, to provide yourself with opportunities for renewal and spiritual nourishment, to carve out the time you need to connect with nature and with your deepest hopes and joys.  Our creator has given us this beautiful season filled with the colors of flowers in the gardens…pinks and purples and orange and crimson, the beauty of early morning birdsong, the flavors of local strawberries and fresh peas, the feeling of warm sand beneath your feet before you hit the bracing cold of the ocean. We have only the present moment to enjoy.  It is a gift, so what shall we do with that precious gift? 

          There is a technique I have used when someone is feeling overwhelmed by anxiety or having a panic attack that you might find useful as well.  When anxiety overrides reason in the brain and fear and worry let loose the chemicals of…, it can be helpful to help bring the person back to the present by asking them to Name 5 things you can see, 4 things you can smell, 3 things you can taste, 2 things you can feel, 1 thing you can hear…and then start again.  We are in a wonderful season to experience our senses and allow our senses to help us be present and to discover some measure of healing, some level of peace. 

          The great Russian writer, Leo Tolstoy, wrote a story called The Three Questions, with which you may be familiar. The story was rewritten by Jon Muth and in his version, a boy named Nikolai believes that if only knew the answers to three questions, he would never stray in any matter.  The questions he believed would be most helpful to his life are these:  What is the best time to do each thing? Who are the most important people to work with?  What is the most important thing (the right thing) to do at all times?  In Tolstoy’s story, the emperor issues a decree through the kingdom announcing a reward for whoever could answer these questions.  Many traveled to the palace, each with a different answer.  Then a hermit came forward and looked at the emperor, saying, “Your questions have already been answered.”  The emperor asked, “How can that be?” The hermit explained, “there is only one important time and it is Now.  The most important person is always the person with whom you are, who is right before you.  The most important pursuit is making that person, the one standing at your side, happy, for that alone is the pursuit of life.”

          I really appreciate the sentiment of this story, but even as I share it, I can think of so many other answers to these questions, because there are so many important moments in our lives, so much work that needs to be done, and people whom we embrace as most precious to us.  However, if we can truly assimilate the essential message; it is a reminder yet again of the importance of letting our bodies and hearts catch up with our minds which are constantly grasping for new and ever emerging things to cause us distraction or distress…worries of yesterday, plans for tomorrow.  The world is too much with us.

          Do you recall that expression, stop the world I want to get off.  We don’t need a complicated plan to pause and find peace.  We need to give ourselves permission to be surrounded by all of the sacramental moments of the present.  In Kent Nerburn’s book, Small Graces, he writes…”Do we really need much more than this?  To honor the dawn, To visit a garden, To talk to a friend, To contemplate a cloud, To cherish a meal, To bow our heads before the mystery of the day.  Are these not enough?” 

          Whom do you love? What brings you peace?  What lets you rest your mind and body and spirit?  Do these things, my friends.  Joseph Campbell wrote, “Everyone needs a sacred place.”  And so I ask you today, what is yours?  Where is your sacred place?  Where are you free to just be?  Where are you enough? Where can you savor the present?  We don’t need to go there for any reason other than this, “If we don’t go, we lose a part of our soul.”  Let us take a moment of quiet now and reflect upon our sacred place. 

          My friends, I am sad to think that the words of William Wordsworth may be altogether too true for far too many of us.  Have we given our hearts away?  Have we lost our appreciation for the very things God has provided that can bring us peace and respite?  Are we out of tune?  We desperately need to take some time over these summer months and rediscover the ways in which God is present to us, calling to us, “Come to me, as Jesus said, all who labor and are heavy burdened, and I will give you rest.”  We need to take care of ourselves so we may better take care of one another.  We need to take care of ourselves so that we may better care for our world.    I will close with this blessing from the Buddhist Metta, the prayer of Loving Kindness.  May you know peace.  May you be well.  May you be happy.

This is The Life, Terry Hershey

The Three Questions, Jon J. Muth