The Spiritual Practice of Choosing Slow

My morning routine was interrupted last month when we packed up the kids and the dogs and drove to Joshua Tree. We booked three nights in a charming desert bungalow expertly decorated in bohemian-hipster-chic style. As I walked through the house and marveled at all the decorative touches—geodes, antlers, dreamcatchers—I noticed that the tiny kitchen was lacking what I consider to be basic necessities: a microwave and a coffee maker.

So instead of waking up to pre-programmed coffee already waiting for me, I would have to use the French press. Instead of zapping my quick oats in the microwave, I would have to use the stove.

My husband uses an Aero press for his coffee every morning and I will admit that the result is delicious. But I’ve seen how long this process takes him and I’d decided long ago that ten minutes is too long to wait for that precious first sip of coffee.

The benefit of choosing slow

But in the desert house, I had no choice. The first morning there, as the rising sun cast the backyard mountains in a pink and orange glow, I set the kettle on the stove to boil water. I scooped coffee grounds into the French press and waited. Once the water boiled, I took the kettle off the stove and waited a bit more before I covered the coffee grounds with the hot water.

I sat quietly at the table with my book in hand, glancing out the window at the birds hopping from bush to tree and back again. Finally, my timer beeped and my patience was rewarded with a rich and smooth cup of coffee. 

I followed a similar process as I cooked my oatmeal on the stove. Instead of being ready in two minutes, it took closer to twelve. Although I had nowhere to be, I was in a hurry to eat. My first bite of oatmeal surprised me: these were the same oats, but cooking them slower made them taste better. I came to the same conclusion on the following mornings at the desert house. 

When we returned home, I was happy to see my coffee maker and my microwave once again. But the next day when I took a sip of freshly brewed drip-coffee, it tasted bitter and flat. There was no amount of milk or sugar I could add to it to make it better. Similarly, my microwaved quick oats had the consistency of sludge.

Could slowing down my morning routine make everything taste better? I wrestled with the answer, knowing that switching to a French press and stovetop cooking would cost me precious minutes.

Choosing slow on purpose

In our culture of rush and hustle, choosing a slower path feels like a radical decision. We don’t pick the longest checkout line at the grocery store. Our heart sinks when we see the line of cars ahead of us in the drive-thru lane. We show up right on time for our appointment but grow resentful when we are made to wait in the lobby. We always have our eyes on the next thing, focused on checking off one more task from our to-do list. We value our future moments far more than our present ones.

Adele Ahlberg Calhoun counts slowing as a spiritual discipline—a practice that can help us draw nearer to God. In her book “The Spiritual Disciplines Handbook,” she says:

“Slowing is a way we counter our culture’s mandate to tend to the bottom line, to move it or lose it, to constantly be on the go. It is a way we honor our limits and the fact that God is found in the present moment. Through slowing we intentionally develop margins in our lives that leave us open to the present moment.”

Adele Ahlberg Calhoun

If God is found in the present moment, and I am perpetually rushing to the next, what richness am I missing? If my goal is to squeeze as much productivity out of my day, what will be left out? I find myself walking the murky line between doing and being. I cannot ignore all that needs to be done in my day but I do not want to miss being in God’s presence. Could the practice of slowing recenter my focus on God in any given moment?

I ordered my own French press to find out. On the day the package arrived, I stowed my coffee maker in a cupboard and cleaned off the empty corner of the kitchen counter. Wiping away the old dust and stray coffee grounds made space for a new, slower way. The stainless steel of my new coffee contraption looked shiny in the corner, right beside our electric water kettle.

The next morning, instead of stumbling into the kitchen and finding a pot of coffee ready to greet me, I filled the kettle. I filled the French press with grounds. I poured in the hot water, stirred, and waited. I listened to my guided prayer app.

Pouring the coffee into my mug felt like a sacred experience, the first sip of a delicious reward for my patience, for my choice to go slow. Other than a slightly better tasting cup of coffee and bowl of oatmeal, there have been no tangible gains in slowing down my morning routine in these last weeks. But I have found value in the simple, radical act of slowing.

When I slow my walking pace, when I stir my oatmeal on the stovetop, when I choose to linger at the dinner table, my shoulders relax and I remember to breathe deeply. It is a holy pause in which I can tune into my senses and become aware once again of God’s presence with me.

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Sarah K. Butterfield is an author, speaker, and ministry leader who has a heart for empowering women to grow in their faith and be intentional with their time. She and her husband and two boys live in San Diego, where she writes about pursuing a deeper relationship with God in the midst of motherhood.

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