Signs of post-Easter and summer’s promise seem to be everywhere in churches now – including, we imagine, in the changing rhythms of your church board.
The planning, the work, the worry, the decisions that have consumed your board’s time and energy throughout the “program year” are about to wind down as spring turns into summer. Many pastors we know (who will go unnamed) have either a visible countdown clock to their sabbatical/study leave, or an internal clock to the first Sunday where the schedule will feel a little less full, frenetic, and fraught.
What better time to think about peace and happiness? For, as May Sarton writes in the poem we are sharing today, “happiness is woven out of the peace of hours.”
The Work of Happiness
BY MAY SARTON
I thought of happiness, how it is woven
Out of the silence in the empty house each day
And how it is not sudden and it is not given
But is creation itself like the growth of a tree.
No one has seen it happen, but inside the bark
Another circle is growing in the expanding ring.
No one has heard the root go deeper in the dark,
But the tree is lifted by this inward work
And its plumes shine, and its leaves are glittering.
So happiness is woven out of the peace of hours
And strikes its roots deep in the house alone:
The old chest in the corner, cool waxed floors,
White curtains softly and continually blown
As the free air moves quietly about the room;
A shelf of books, a table, and the white-washed wall—
These are the dear familiar gods of home,
And here the work of faith can best be done,
The growing tree is green and musical.
For what is happiness but growth in peace,
The timeless sense of time when furniture
Has stood a life’s span in a single place,
And as the air moves, so the old dreams stir
The shining leaves of present happiness?
No one has heard thought or listened to a mind,
But where people have lived in inwardness
The air is charged with blessing and does bless;
Windows look out on mountains and the walls are kind.
The Apostle Paul had his work cut out for him in trying to appeal to the church at Corinth to stop splintering. He talked about faith, hope, and love, of course, but also about peace, fulfillment, and joy.
In 1 Corinthians 2 he writes:
Yet among the mature we do speak wisdom, though it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are being destroyed. 7 But we speak God’s wisdom, a hidden mystery, which God decreed before the ages for our glory 8 and which none of the rulers of this age understood, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. 9 But, as it is written,
“What no eye has seen, nor ear heard,
nor the human heart conceived,
what God has prepared for those who love God”—
In the “peace of hours,” within the “kind walls” of a different rhythm for church and board life, perhaps we can sense the happiness and hope for the world which stands no chance amidst our management busy-ness. How can we carve out this precious time and space? We can do it in the knowledge that God is, even now, preparing gifts beyond our imagination and comprehension to feed our lives, our community, and our ministry.
What specific lines or images strike you most in the Sarton poem?
In what way is happiness “not sudden” and “not given”?
What does Sarton mean by the “timeless sense of time when furniture/Has stood a life’s span in a single place”?
Why do both Sarton and Paul emphasize timelessness? What do they want us to experience or perceive? How is that experience tied to peace and happiness, and how does it relate to your role on your church board?
When have you been alone in your church building? How did it feel to you? Is that a feeling that you want to make part of your life of faith—and the life of the congregation?