Anglican Letter for May
May 2012 Newsletter
I have just returned from two weeks in France, during which period I read no newspapers, saw no TV and heard no radio. I don’t feel as though I have missed anything, except vestigial pleasures like the TV programmes I try faithfully to watch every week. But, actually, I don’t feel as though I have missed anything at all. The pleasures of what we did experience during those two weeks far outweighed what we missed at home. If we had been in purdah for a long time, we would obviously have missed the deeper more important things – like family! But for two weeks their absence was in many ways a good thing.
It made me realise, yet again, how much emphasis we place nowadays on the trivial things that fill our ears and our minds and deprive us of the facility to think slowly and carefully about who and what we are and what we are about. I would not want to go back to earlier times when these distractions did not exist, because of the other distractions that I would have had to face, such as untreated illness, hunger, short life, really hard work and so on. But it is a really big price that we pay for our civilisation. We are in a sense rather like the robots of the films ‘Blade Runner’ and ‘I, Robot’, who wanted to be human – to have heart as well as brain.
Deep in the French countryside, with only close family for company and no other demands upon me, I was able to rediscover some of the real me and of the other members of my family who were with us. We sat about and walked and talked a lot about very little, without direction and in no hurry, because we had days and days ahead of us. There is, of course, an awful lot written and said by so many of us and by our heroes and celebrities – about getting out of the hassle and taking time out to be quiet. But it is actually very important that we do do so. Taking weeks off every now and again to get lost is great but is not sufficient.
The monastic life offers many opportunities every day for individual, quiet contemplation, but we do not need to go that far. We should all, for the benefit of our spiritual health, take time out every day (away from the phone, away from the text, email, facebook, twitter or ....) to be with ourself. Whether you call this private prayer or meditation or simply being quiet is not necessarily important – it is probably really only a difference of words and of explanations rather than of substance. The strange thing about this is, of course, that, in order to take this undisciplined time when we allow our minds to rest or to wander, we have to be very disciplined. Some people do this by going for a pre-breakfast jog or walk. For others it may be more difficult to hide from all the distractions in their own homes, but it is still well worth making a rule and sticking to it or it will not get the priority it demands.
There are things which are important and there are things which are urgent. Sometimes they are both, but as often as not they are not. Taking time out IS both important and urgent – it needs to be done, but it also needs to be done on time. Deferring it because something else is making demands is not on. If the other demands are truly too urgent to be deferred then the timing of your planned quiet times is wrong. A mother who has to prepare children for school every morning would be well advised not to plan her quiet 10 minutes a day for 8.15 am.
My post holiday resolution is to plan more carefully for a daily retreat from the busyness and business of my life. Writing this letter has, of course, been more urgent than doing that – or was it really? I still don’t have a good plan! So, I am now going to get onto my spiritual knees and pray quietly – not asking for anything – but listening to that still small voice – that background murmur in all our minds that can’t be heard unless we firstly get very quiet and then gently listen.