Last month, my wife and I were walking around the Gosau Lake in Austria. What a beautiful place! Crystal clear water surrounded by majestic mountains. As we walked, we noticed the number of benches along the walking path. Dozens of them. This was true wherever we went in Austria—benches everywhere. Over the ensuing days, I contemplated the reasons for this. Why the emphasis on benches?
I never conferred with any government officials to find out the reason, so what follows are my own conclusions and they may include things that the Austrians never consciously considered. But I think they are healthy for a world gripped by anxiety and stress.
Benches provide the opportunity to look forward, to see what is in front of us. Of course, we don’t have to do this. We can sit on a bench and look down at our phones or a book. But if we do choose to look up and forward, our eyes, and perhaps then our minds, will be off of us and onto the creation in front of us. It may be trees, lakes, mountains, insects, or people—all with one common denominator, that they were created by God. Focusing on creation naturally takes the focus off of ourselves. Rather than thinking we are at the center of the universe, around which all of life revolves, we can instead see that we are merely a part of creation and a very small part at that. Instead of vying for attention, we can rather be at peace with our small yet significant role in God’s creation.
Benches also offer us a place to rest. On our walk, we noticed a number of older people sitting on benches, quite content to rest for a bit to allow their lungs and legs to recover. But benches don’t just offer the opportunity for physical rest, they as well provide the chance to emotionally and spiritually rest. There is such a need to keep going, to be productive in our culture. We are about doing and accomplishing. Resting? Not so much. The bench is a place to stop for awhile, to observe, and to reflect. Another word for this is meditation. The common image of meditation (Google it to see for yourself) is sitting with legs crossed, arms lifted, and eyes closed. Yet, if we read many of the Psalms, rather than trying to empty one’s mind, the goal of meditation is to fill the mind with thoughts of God—his Word, his creation, his character, and his work in the world. Benches provide a place to do this. Sitting by a lake, at the foot of a mountain, in a park, or even on a city street, a bench can be a means to finding peace and renewal.
Benches are also designed to accommodate more than one person, usually two or three. Like dining tables, benches offer an opportunity to have meaningful conversation with others. Once again, people can sit together on a bench and stare at their phones, but if they are willing to look up and around, the opportunities for meaningful and encouraging conversation are abundant.
I returned from Austria convinced that benches, both metaphorically and literally, can be a solution to the rampant anxiety that infects our culture. The mere act of stopping and sitting on a bench, looking up and around, contemplating what is in front of us and allowing the Lord to speak through what we see, can lower our anxiety levels. A disciplined practice of this can reduce anxiousness exponentially.
That’s enough for now. I’m going to find a bench and sit for awhile.
© Jim Musser 2019