March 21, 2014

Idleness Waiting Grace

Three reflections on recovering placeMark C. Taylor

Mark C. Taylor recounts a poignant lover affair not with a person but with a place that, paradoxically, cannot be easily localized. For many years, Taylor has lived in the Berkshire Mountains, where he writes and creates land art and sculpture. In a world of mobile screens a virtual realities, where speed is the measure of success and place is disappearing, his work slows down thought and brings life back to earth to give readers time to ponder the importance of place before it slips away.


“To do nothing,” Oscar Wilde avers, “is the most difficult thing in the whole world, the most difficult and the most intellectual.” Doing nothing is essential for thinking to occur. Many of the most important thoughts are unintentional—they can be neither solicited nor cajoled but have a rhythm of their own, creeping up, arriving, and leaving when we least expect them. It is important to cultivate the lassitude of mind that clears a place for the arrival of what cannot be anticipated. Idleness allows time for the mind to wander to places never before imagined and to return transformed.


To remain open to the unexpected, it is necessary to wait without awaiting. Awaiting, like fear, is directed—it has a specific object or objective. Waiting, like dread, is undirected—it has no object or objective. Waiting awaits nothing by remaining resolutely open to the void of the future, which is a terrible gift.


“When now and again a stone falls into a place that is utterly inevitable,” master craftsman Dan Snow reflects, “I feel I am suddenly standing under a shower of grace. For an instant I become inevitable, too. I share the compatibility that stone finds with stone. If I’m lucky, it happens a lot. Then again, some days it doesn’t happen at all. Grace may fall in the next moment or never again. I know only that if I put myself with stone, it may happen again.”

Although seemingly inevitable après coup, grace is always gratuitous, completely a matter of chance. It cannot be anticipated or earned, nor can the moment of grace be prescribed, programmed, or planned. Arriving as a total surprise, grace turns the world upside down—eternity enters time to disrupt, without displacing, what long had seemed settled. Grace—like a rose, a stone, and even life itself—is without why and, thus, remains forever incomprehensible. If there were a proper response to grace, it would be mute astonishment.

Read more from Mark C. Taylor in the current issue of Tricycle.

From Recovering Place by Mark C. Taylor. © 2014 Columbia University Press. Used by arrangement with the Publisher. All rights reserved.

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jackelope65's picture

Grace does have the element of luck but there is more. Many years ago, my wife and I rode in a chair lift with a 94 year old skier. We asked him how he was able to ski so many years? He simply said "I just show up." For stones to fit together, you must pick one up. Thank you.

WuShin's picture

Is this Buddhism?

mobrien17's picture

I hope so.

ladyjane9's picture

Wow, every word of this concise article resonates strongly with my heart and true sense of grace.

Mindfulness of breath and gratitude help me not await worldly concerns. Cultivating the willingness to sit with my discursive thoughts, without attaching goals or instant meanings to them, is true grace.

Thank you for this powerful, important message.

conroy.r's picture

I tend to think of grace as more like a shooting star. You cannot tell when it will happen, but if you never look at the night sky, it for sure won't happen to you.

maggiecsf's picture

How incredibly lovely these writings are. Finding them here this morning has been a true moment of grace for me. Thank you.