"Evening! how little , usually, people know about making it holy and quiet, about using it to prepare for really restorative sleep! How it is wasted, polluted, misdirected."
~~ quote from The Intellectual Life by A.G. Sertillanges, O.P.
It has taken me a year to work my way through the book entitled, The Intellectual Life. That probably shows you right away that I am not an intellectual! The word "intellectual" in this case is used by the author to simply designate the person who feels that study is a calling, not just a vocation.
It is a dense book full of living ideas and insights valuable to the disciplining of the mind. This quote about the evening hours, though, was one I kept returning to and turning over in my mind.
I am tired by 7:00 p.m. And some evenings I am very, very tired. Evening is a time when I give myself permission to be slack. At times I may "relax" by surfing the net. I may turn on a TV show that is essentially without value. Maybe I'll mindlessly flip through a magazine or look at the ads in the newspaper.
Sertillanges has challenged me to consider the fact that maybe I've been a little too slack. In his words:
"Yes, indeed relaxed, but like a violin with all its strings completely slackened. What a labor next day to tune them all up again!"
The author goes on to list a number of dissipating evening occupations (remember this was written in 1946): dining, smoking, playing cards, talking noisily, frequenting the theatres, and gaping at the cinema. (That last phrase makes me chuckle).
His challenge is to create habits of holy, simple living for the evening hours, which he calls "peaceful semi-activity". Doesn't that phrase create instant appeal? For me it conjures up images of working a sudoku puzzle by the fire, or playing pick-up-sticks with Artiste. It might include listening to my girls play the piano or reading a chapter of The Hobbit to the family.
Good conversation over a cup of Sumatran coffee is a wonderful way to wrap up the day. A "good conversation" at our house usually includes discussing the books we've been reading and often we end up sharing quotes or tidbits. And yes, it can even include watching a well-selected TV program or movie. But no gaping allowed!
It seems the key is to have some sort plan, maybe a list of pleasant options so that the evening doesn't follow a rigid routine but still has structure.
I'm working on this; resolved to NOT be the violin with slackened strings. I'm not successful every evening, but I know habits take a while to congeal. So I'm keeping a catalog in my mind of pleasant activities I have already enjoyed, and new activities I'd like to explore. For example, I want to start doing cross stitch or knitting again, something I enjoyed B.C. (before children) and have long neglected. The long winter evenings are perfect for that sort of thing.
What does a winter evening look like at your house?