Our church pastor is extraordinary with a different way of thinking. He's also good at surprising us.
While some believe in sacrificing for Lent by "giving up" things we especially enjoy, he told us not to do that Lenten activity.
Instead, he told us to "go home, have a glass of wine and really relish it."
If wine wasn't your thing, you can do the same thing with chocolate. The secret, he says, is to slowly savor every bite, thanking God for every little pleasure that comes our way.
Last week, when we went away on a church retreat, instead of prayer at the end of the night, he said we were going to do a different kind of prayer. Saying he was going for walk, he invited all 40 of us to join him. But there were two rules.
Absolutely no talking. Relish the silence.
Rule number two. No thinking. Just feeling.
The walk wasn't the time to think about what you did that day or what you learned, he said.
Instead, he wanted us to spend the time using our senses. Pay attention to everything you see and everything you hear.
I thought that exercise was right up my alley because I often do it almost daily, in fact. I go for a leisurely stroll by myself and just take in the world around me.
Or I sit quietly under a tree or alongside water and just let my senses take over.
I couldn't go for the long walk with the others because I still can't walk that far over uneven ground. But I did sit in front of the lake and tried to clear my mind so I could "just feel."
It was dark by then, and the lights around the lake allowed me to see the water but not much else. So I closed my eyes and concentrated on what I could hear.
Strangely, I couldn't shut off my mind to "just think."
I found my mind drifting, wondering when I would be able to go for long walks again.
I just couldn't keep thoughts away.
You know, it's not always easy to slow our minds, slow our pace and just savor our senses.
"Not thinking" is a lot harder than it sounds.
I think that's the point the priest was trying to make. Shutting off the world isn't easy. But beauty and peace are the rewards for taking time to simply savor the world around you.
The next night, home from the retreat, I sat on my lanai at day's end just relaxing, doing nothing more than appreciating the night.
It was easy then to shut off my mind. I didn't want to think. I just wanted to relax and to "feel the night."
When you clear your mind and don't think of anything, it frees you to have a heightened sense of all that is around you. Much of the time our minds are so cluttered we don't see and feel our surroundings.
A few stars and a half moon lighted the sky and the lagoon behind my home, casting everything in a peaceful glow.
The water reflected the trees on the bank, giving me a double dose of a pretty picture. It was nice to just take in the stillness and let that stillness take over my body.
Soon I was so relaxed I was lulled to a deep contentment.
I felt an occasional breeze kiss my face, underscoring the perfect weather at this time of year.
A snowy white egret flew by to join his buddies in the tree where they bed for the night. He must have been the last one getting home for the night.
I laughed as the bird squawked when it landed, prompting others to let out their own squawks. Maybe he was being scolded for being late.
I saw a night heron standing quietly on the bank, probably casing the water for dinner.
It's nice to just sit doing nothing but inhaling the sights and sounds of the night.
How many times do we "just do nothing?"
How often do we take time to just enjoy what we see from our backyard or front porch?
Some people tell me they want to have peaceful moments like that but they are "too busy."
What I found is taking time for that kind of relaxation is like a minivacation, or at least a relaxing hour at the spa.
When you sit there "doing nothing," all the stresses of the day leave your body, filling you with peace and contentment.
Often, when I sit outdoors soaking in the peace and quiet, I don't want to leave. I often think I would like to stay like that all night. And a few times I have stayed there.
But sleep will beckon when you're that relaxed, so I say goodnight to the creator of it all and call it a night.
When you go to bed with that kind of peace, you're bound to fall into a peaceful sleep.
Now contrast that with ending your night with the blaring sound of the television and the sight and sound of changing channels as you try to click your way to "something good."
Sometimes "something good" is as simple as "doing nothing" nothing except being still and taking time to appreciate life.