“How are you?”
Busy-ness: the condition, arguably the idol of our culture here in the DC area. What does that mean, “busy, busy!” as a response to “How are you?” I’ve been reflecting on this after a week of conversations that seemed to focus in many ways on the burdens of “busy-ness.”
“How are you? “Busy.” And usually the response is “Me, too. Just so busy.” And there the conversation ends. Like the “busy-signal” of our landline phone technologies, “Busy” means, “Not available.” So the main thing it may mean is “We’re both too involved in other things to stop for extended conversation.”
The poet Mary Oliver “nails” this tendency when she opens her poem, “Invitation,” with these words:
Oh, do you have time
to linger, for just a little while
out of your busy
and very important day. . .
I have been trying to take on a spiritual practice of paying closer attention to my own response to the question, “How are you?” and trying to avoid “busy, busy.” It’s not easy to think of other ways of responding – “busy” has become such a habit. But I’ve been remembering a former colleague who used to answer my greeting “How are you?” with “I am trusting in the Lord.” It always brought me up short. Other friends are in the habit of saying, “I am blessed.” And we are blessed, are we not, whether or not we feel comfortable naming it that way. Or “I am well,” and (really meaning it for a moment). That would require a very brief pause, but a pause, nonetheless, in my own “busy/and very important day.” A moment of awareness and availability, which is the point of a spiritual practice.
Even when the response is still “busy, busy” because that’s the truth, we have paused for a moment. And in such moments we may find connection, breathing-space and a new openness to God’s blessings.
Kathy Staudt is a member of Our Saviour, Hillandale and an adjunct faculty member at Virginia Theological Seminary and Wesley Theological Seminary.
The Mary Oliver poem "Invitation" is from Red Bird, Beacon Press 2008. Read the whole poem here.