We were more than half way through our sabbatical journey when we finally arrive at the perfect place – the perfect place for me: Agria, Greece. What was it about this little nothing spot in nowhere Greece that made me so captured and enchanted me?
First, it was absolutely beautiful. We arrived the night before, it was dark and late and we had had a very long day. So we didn’t even really see where were staying. Our first daylight view was out our window of the nearby foothills. Our second view was, well, it is hard to describe, but let me try to capture our first glimpse of the seaside into words.
We exit the elevator, turn right, and we are drawn though a darkened marble passage towards a light vortex at the end of the corridor. There is no one else in the passageway, just the two of us. There is nothing to stimulate or distract one along the hall, just a long walk towards the bright view at the end where the marble hall melds into the marble terrace with two over-flowing flowered urns standing as sentinels of reason between the darkness where we walk and into the infinity of the seaside that draws us towards this hidden gulf of the Aegean Sea.
So mesmerized are we by the lure of the scenery before us that we both totally pass the room with the breakfast buffet. Now, that had to be some scene. Holding hands we walk to the edge of the terrace, stand and stare. Richard sounds the voice of reason, “Let’s eat, then come back out here and just sit.”
The second thing I love about this area of the world, everything seemed smaller. I can’t fight it; I’m a small town girl at heart. I’m happy to have little to see or do in a place, to learn where to get the best home-made dessert, and then have all the time in the world to sit and think and watch and visit and let time lull along.
We went to a few of the nearby villages found in this part of the Pelion peninsula. In each place there is something to see, but not much. The fountain in the village square with a communal cup, a closed church but whose frescoed walls tell countless stories, overgrown cobbled paths and alleys that truly lead to nowhere.
A father patiently and intently teaches his young daughter how to wash her hands, preparing her for the work she is about to help with in the tavern. She kneels on a chair, giving her just enough height to reach the sink and wipes away a wisp of hair with the inside of her elbow.
The father points out the painting behind us and tells of the local artist that used that painting to pay for meals, “And now his art is in the art museum in Athens.” He says with pride of a local whose history goes beyond the village limits.
These are the sort of places that if you go there with the intent to have a prescribed experience, you will be disappointed. These are the sort of places where you must first leave all expectations behind; only as an afterthought do you even invite the spirit of wanderlust. Then, empty your mind, open your heart and take the first step.
The final quality of Agria that enamored me to it, the most important bind to my heart, was nothing less than quiet. Simple unadulterated, craved-for – quiet. My soul seeks stillness; this is supposed to be a sabbatical a time when one ceases from the ordinary. But it seems everywhere we have been there has been the persistent and numbing noises of life, busy people with too much to do and too little time to get it done. Although we’re in interesting places doing things which will create memories of a life-time, all of it hasn’t felt…well, it hasn’t felt very sabbatical. Until now, and now we have no choice but to cease from the ordinary because there is nothing else to do. There is so little here to entertain or intrigue us that for the first time in our trip all we really have is each other.
On Sunday morning, we’re sitting on the terrace watching the waves rock the fishermen’s boats with a Sunday morning ease of serenity.
“It’s Sunday” I say. We both know that this is a leading statement, really a question begging the answer to ‘where are we going to worship?’
Nothing. Waves lap on the boats making that little water kissing sound.
I continue, “OK, so I know we only saw one church and it will obviously be Orthodox and everything will be in Greek, and while that may be an interesting even beautiful experience, it may not be what you want to do…” I trail off knowing that he’s only half listening to me.
The boats bobble and silently chuckle at this ageless interaction between husband and wife.
“Don’t wanna do that.” I thought, “My usually quite particular husband has started to (gasp!) wear his starched shirt outside of his pressed-creased pants and is now lapsed into colloquial English. This isn’t a bad thing.”
“Let’s have our own service here.” I start humming the gospel hymn “Gonna Lay Down My Burdens” then sing “down by the sea-e-side,” Richard joins in and we whispering sing “down by the sea-e-side, down by the sea-e-side.” We rise in volume and conviction with “ain’t gonna worry about work no more, ain’t gonna worry about work no more…”
Next is our responsive prayer, we take turns sharing what we appreciate, our list is varied and heartfelt, filled with the obvious and tender moments that only we have shared. After each statement of blessing, we would say “Thank you, Lord.”
We sit in silence, hold hands and sing the first verse of “How Great Thou Art.” Everyone should know by heart the first verse of a few of the great hymns, one never knows when the moment will be absolutely right to sing it.
“Since this is your sabbatical, you are off the hook to do the children’s story or preach.” I tell him, “So, I’ll tell a children’s story which is also the message. I think you know how it starts…”
Once upon a time a long time ago in a far and distant land called Greece there was a very rich and powerful man who saw Aesop playing games with a group of children. The powerful man stood there and laughed, he stopped his friends and pointed to Aesop and they all agreed he was crazy. Now, Aesop was an old man who preferred to make fun of others than for others to laugh at him, so he stopped playing and took a long look at the group of powerful people and then he bent down and took an unstrung bow and placed it in the middle of the road. ‘Okay, you know-it-alls,’ he said, ‘explain the meaning of what I just did.’ All the people gathered round and racked their brains for a long time but they could not manage to answer Aesop’s question. They gave up and said ‘Crazy man, you tell us what the significance is of this unstrung bow.’ Aesop knew he had won this battle of wits, he smiled and explained, ‘If you keep your bow tightly strung at all times, it will quickly break, but if you let it rest, it will be ready to use whenever you need it.’ Then he went back to playing with the children.
“Richard, do you know what the moral to the story is?” I ask.
“I thought you said I didn’t have to do the story or preach. I’m on sabbatical.” He replied.
I ponder this and then rhetorically say, “It’s just as important to be relaxed as it is to be ready for action.”
“Hmm.” He said. “Hmm.” I replied as we sat and watched the boats, and the sea, and the sky, and time passed by.
“In closing,” I interrupted, ‘And the Lord said, ‘Let the little children come to me….’ Amen. Go in peace.”
“Amen. And peace be with you too.” He said.
Sabbatical – to cease from the ordinary. When the ordinary stops, then what? Then what, indeed.
Aesop fable: Aesop and the Bow