Distraction in morning prayer today went something like this:
- it’s sunny
- I’m stressed
- what if it rains tomorrow?
- I will be wet and miserable and more stressed
- day off today??
After much soul searching and diary consulting, I decided that today would indeed be my day off. Objective: to go to Tesco’s to buy fruit, vegetables, tofu and cat treats.
But I couldn’t bear the thought of another day wasted on the ferry, back and forth to Glasgow. So Tesco’s in Oban then. Via Glencoe. Of course.
I stopped at Ben Lomond for the requisite cup of tea under tapestry and a boar’s head. Met two lovely Americans looking slightly the worse for wear for having to drive ‘on the wrong side of the road.’ (‘Oh, sorry!’ she quickly added, ‘It’s just that, the other side, I mean…’ ‘It’s OK,’ said I. ‘I’m from Connecticut. I know.’)
Sitting in the cafe, I could see these women were nice and kind, and good. No such adjectives came to mind for the tourists whom I then followed all the way up Loch Lomondside at 30 miles an hour, no 20, no 30, O help, there’s a truck, a bend, a bit of a puddle — Oh dear… And it didn’t help a bit that I could remember driving it the first time myself, and could hear the family litany of ‘Mind the car! Mind the curb! Mind the car!’ that accompanied my father’s first drive in Scotland.
Once I was on the road to Glencoe, though, it was all worth it. The sky opened up, my soul opened up, and the swirling thoughts started to coalesce on the theme of freedom.
One of the R. S. Thomas poems that haunts me is Within the Sound of the Sea. It begins:
I have a desire to walk on the shore.
To visit the caged beast whose murmurings
kept me awake. What does it mean
That I have the power to do this
All day long, if I wish it so?
Every prospective ordinand should have to read it, pray it, and comment on it in selection.
Priests walk a fine tighrope (not uniquely so).
There are many days when work begins before the first cup of tea is drunk, and ends only in time to feed the cat and crawl into bed. But there are other days — like this — when freedom asserts itself, and I can simply go.
And I am never sure if it is right. Even knowing, now, that there is a pattern, that I need to do this every two to three months or so, does not help in the evaluation.
I believe it can be right. Priests are no use to anyone when they are tired or stressed and unable to be present to the people and tasks before them. And in this, the priest is called to live out the human calling. None of us are any use when we are tired and stressed, with nothing left to give. The only responsible thing, the only Christian thing to do is to stop, regroup. Give God a chance to get a look in.
Beauty can be healing and redemptive.
But it is also true that we are sometimes not as tired as we think, sometimes could do more than we know. And God may be in that too.
Who’s to know?
The decision has to be made not-knowing. We pray, we assess, and then we choose.
Good choice, or bad, we will need to find God in it. We’ll need to take responsibly for the choosing. And that in itself is the strengthening of our Christian life.
Last night’s bed time reading was Timothy Radcliffe’s What’s the Point in Being a Christian. He offers this story, of a meeting of Dominicans in the Czech Republic; of a gathering where all were free to ask questions and to talk.
…the first question was from a young woman who asked how she could transmit the Church’s moral teaching to her children… I did not know how to answer the question and so I passed it to my companion…
He went to the blackboard and drew a small square in a corner. ‘In that square are the commandments. Is that what morality is about?’ And everyone cried ‘Of course.’ ‘No,’ he said, ‘God is not much interested in commandments.’ Then he drew a square which covered all the rest of the board and he said, ‘That is freedom. That is what interests God. Your task is to teach your children to be free. That is the teaching of the Gospels…’