archipelagos and icons: time cartography

This post is part confession and part sharing what I have learned this summer. The lesson is one that I think everyone learns, so I hope the reading isn’t too dull.

Until not very long ago, without really realizing it for what it was, I think I took pride in how I kept myself busy. Being busy means that I am working, learning, and pushing myself. While, in a balanced life, these are all good things, busyness can evolve into a virtue that I think we I subconsciously pursue for its own sake. At its worst, busyness becomes exhibitionist and masochistic, which in turn can lead to a a perverse sense of pride: “I’m doing all of this and I’m still standing. Aren’t I wonderful?” I realize that in writing about it I risk playing this game, but I write with the desire to respectfully return my ticket to play.

Part of busyness is, of course, scheduling. I came into this summer with a full time job through my school, an internship with a literary journal, an agreement to index the new book of a professor, and the desire to plan a campus-wide discussion for next year. All of them are, in and of themselves, good things, good experiences, with good people. All of them have taught me skills that I will need later in life.

What exhausts me is not necessarily my inability to keep track of all of these things. I don’t wander blindly through these time commitments—my Google Calendar guides me. In the same way that a map helps in navigating a foreign city or highway system, a calendar helps in navigating  time: it is an exercise in time cartography. I can open up the Google Calendar and see the archipelago of obligation I’ve constructed for myself: green rectangular islands on an expanse of white with an overlay of measured lines. The islands, separated by little inlets and rivers I use for quick navigation, tend to cluster on the weekdays, but they frequently spill over onto Saturday and Sabbath.


A common expression goes something like “To find where your heart is, look where you spend your money.” Looking at my bank statements shows me that my heart is drowning in very good coffee. A different variation of that expression is “To find where your heart is, look where you spend your time.” Looking at my Google Calendar shows me that my heart is fragmented. Every island holds a piece. The things we do, the islands we visit, can bolster our hearts and feed our souls, but when the things we do leave us without time to not do things, to be still, to be silent, our hearts suffer for lack of rest. Even when we do have time to be still and silent, the thoughtnoise prevents it. To extend a perhaps already overextended metaphor, our thoughts are still on those islands, shipwrecked.

For me, lack of silence is lack of time to process my experiences and organize my thoughts. If I don’t do those things, I become stressed, and, as a side effect, I can’t write. A line will come to me and that is it; it remains a line, no matter how hard I try to poke it, pull it, stretch it, or sweet talk it. A new thought, a beautiful thought, doesn’t stand a chance in the ocean of noise.


Sunday morning I left my apartment at 8:00 to walk up the hill. On the other side of Queen Anne, tucked in at the hill’s base, sits a little triangular church that juts out of the ground, cutting the sky. After the forty minute walk and picking up a cup of coffee at the place next door, I entered the parish and sat down. Sun passing through the green windows of St. Paul’s Episcopal gives the parish the glow of a forest clearing, reinforced by the tree-like beams reaching above the congregation on either side of the sanctuary.

It was the feast of St. Mary the Virgin, so the rector’s vestments were marked with maroon and gold instead of the green of ordinary time. Also maroon and gold was the icon of Mary, Virgin of the Sign, sitting on a pedestal in front of the pulpit. The new icon, called the Orans, awaited the 11:15 service, when it it would be blessed along with the new icon of St. Paul, both fresh from an icon writer in Russia. Mother Melissa said there would be a lot of incense involved.

incense; music; scripture; silence… the homily; silence…
Eucharist; music; coffee hour

Following coffee hour I walked back up the hill and followed an impulse to Kerry Park. I sat, shielding my eyes from the sun, and watched the city, the mountain, and the people, occasionally offering to take pictures of a couple or family that would otherwise be made a fraction by lack of photographer. A bride and groom in a wedding dress, suit, and aviators sat as three women and men with square cameras took portraits that would later be displayed on dresser, hearth, and Facebook.

People came and left after finding what they were looking for: a gorgeous Seattle day and maybe a picture or two of the city. I left a while after finding what I was looking for: a morning of peace.

2 thoughts on “archipelagos and icons: time cartography

  1. Pingback: Our Lord’s National Fire Brigade | these dated clouds

  2. Your words spoke to me Sam…you hit the nail square on the head! Thank you for sharing your thoughts….I am going to make a point to sit peacefully and reflect for some time this weekend. Sorry we didn’t get to see you on our short visit. Take care of yourself! Love, Regina (Jake’s mom) 🙂

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s