by Father Mark Goldasich
It’s Jan. 16, and we all know what that means: Time to celebrate National Nothing Day! Woohoo!
I hope that you can squeeze this celebration in. After all, January is sort of busy as March of Dimes Birth Defects Prevention Month, National Eye Care Month, National Hobby Month, National Hot Tea Month, National Prune Breakfast Month, National Soup Month, National Oatmeal Month, Thyroid Disease Awareness Month, and Volunteer Blood Donor Month.
This month also has weeks devoted to healthy weight and international printing, as well as National Activity Professionals Week, National Glaucoma Week and National Handwriting Analysis Week.
And, of course, we can’t forget the special January times like National Clean Off Your Desk Day, Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday, the Chinese New Year, National Pharmacist Day, Prohibition Remembrance Day, and . . .
Oh, for Pete’s sake! That must have been the sentiment that eventually drove newspaperman Harold Pullman Coffin in 1973 to begin National Nothing Day. Its goal is “to provide Americans with one national day where they can just sit without celebrating, observing or honoring anything.” Coffin established this day so folks could have a chance to focus on themselves, to “notice the things around you which you never found time to.”
I know that this isn’t an officially recognized national holiday, but shouldn’t it be? Don’t we all need time to step back from our frenzied schedules and buzzing minds and simply recharge?
According to the publication Bottom Line Personal from April 2010, “Americans take in 34 gigabytes of data daily on average. That is an increase of about 350 percent over the last 28 years. That includes 100,000 words — in print, and from the Web, TV and radio. The average American watches five hours of TV a day, listens to the radio for more than two hours, uses a computer for just under two hours, plays video games for an hour and reads for 36 minutes.” And I’m sure that today, those figures are even higher. Gee, no wonder we’re always tired and distracted!
Whenever I start feeling overwhelmed, I call to mind the following story:
Once a university professor went searching for the meaning of life. After several years and many miles, he came to the hut of a particularly holy hermit and asked to be enlightened.
The holy man invited his visitor into his humble dwelling and began to serve him tea. He filled the pilgrim’s cup and then kept pouring so that tea was soon dripping onto the floor.
The professor watched the overflow until he could no longer restrain himself. “Stop!” he shouted. “It’s full. No more will go in.”
“Like this cup,” the hermit said to the pilgrim, “you are full of your own opinions, preconceptions and ideas. How can I teach you unless you first empty your cup?” (Found in Paul J. Wharton’s “Stories and Parables for Preachers and Teachers.”)
So, when was the last time you celebrated a nothing day? More often than not, even days off from work are filled with home chores or with appointments and commitments. And it doesn’t seem to matter much if you’re married or single, young or old. We’re all constantly doing something or going somewhere.
Priests struggle with this, too. Many of us, though, belong to Jesus Caritas groups. Essentially, a group of five or so priests meets once a month for prayer, a shared meal, some relaxation and the opportunity to discuss what’s going on in our lives and priesthood. Usually, the group gathers for several hours at a place away from group members’ rectories.
Additionally, each month a Caritas priest is encouraged to make a “day in the desert.” That means, in the guidelines of Jesus Caritas, spending at least six hours “completely apart by himself, alone with the Lord, ideally without materials to read or other spiritual props.”
Personally, I don’t often make time for a “desert day.” Sometimes, just the thought of six hours without any reading material or other props gives me the willies. I do, however, see its importance to my spiritual, mental and physical health and, in 2015, I intend to be more faithful to “the desert.”
While you may not have time for a “desert day,” please go ahead and celebrate National Nothing Day, at least for a few hours. Shut off the smartphone, computer and various iDevices. Unplug the TV. Farm the kids out to a friend.
And, then, when all is quiet and you’re by yourself, here’s what I’d suggest you do: absolutely nothing. Ah!