to market, to market

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…’


12 thoughts on “to market, to market”

  1. Like the story –

    What matters is the quality of what is given, not the time. Sometimes things take time. Mostly they take a bit more organisation. The ludicrous idea that priests can function on only one day a week off should be fought hard. What they ought to have is two as a general rule, and one in special circumstances.

    The first duty of a Christian is to enjoy the world we are given – beauty, family, friends. Only one person can make themselves responsible for sharing it with God.
    The second duty is to free up others to enjoy it, too – free from pain, burdens, ignorances.

    Despite visitors I too stole a rare morning off – this summer I have worked my self to the very edge of ill health – and must stop, for I can’t go on. It sometimes has to be done, but it should not become a way of life, and especially not for the young.

  2. What you did yesterday was a fine combination of the practical and the spiritually healing IMO. What’s the point of living in God’s Own Country if you don’t give yourself the freedom and time to enjoy it? Your flock need you to be in good fettle and what better way to be fettled than gazing on some beauty of creation?

    Oh and those tourists along Loch Lomand-side? Yup – met them many a time. Are your thoughts as unworthy as mine as they slow down to one-mile-a-fortnight yet again at a small bend or an approaching car?

  3. It’s a waste of a good day to be indoors. It is also a waste to go shopping. Too much imprisonment curdles the soul. You were completely right to do what you did; you would have been perhaps even more right to have abandoned your car and taken to the hills ….

  4. Glad you all approve. The real proof that it was the right thing was the sheer volume of work I got through yesterday, without exhaustion or ill will. (there’s piles and piles left, mind; and so many people to see…)

    As for shopping on a day off — you have to balance the annoyance of the task with the genuine excitement that comes of finding fresh peas, decent salad, red kabocha squash (for Provost Soup), the last of the summer nectarines, and the first of the English plums. After days of bare cupboards and tired flavourless remnants of veg, it would have been worth the drive even in the rain.

    When I lived in Glasgow, and the food shops were easily in reach, I didn’t necessarily do food shopping on a day off.

  5. Oh, and Chris — I did think it would be better to be walking, but I am not experienced enough or brave or foolish enough to walk unknown places on my own. And being on my own was part of what I needed. The car just gives a different view.

  6. I was going to have a go at you for shopping on your day off but I see you have answered that already. Are you in the Clergy Appraisal Scheme (see Norman MacCallum for details)? When I did my first one, in a similar situation to where you are now, I was told ‘no shopping, no visiting sick relatives, no duties to be done on day off.’ Day off (and yes, we only have one so have to treasure it) is for doing what you did before and after the shopping, ie taking time for YOU.

    And that wee lecture was for me too. Me, who is spending her day off this week on duty at the SEC stand at the SECC Nexus Exhibition. Oh dear.

  7. Ah well. You see I did my shopping on my day off, but I am going to the Nexus exhibition as work. Though I have to confess, my willingness to offer to help with the stall is influenced in part in the hopes of a decent shirt-maker being somewhere in the hall.

  8. Thank you for reflecting on this. It’s helpful. I find I have trouble knowing where those boundaries are and how to make such decisions since I live at work and since the personal and the communal are rather interwoven. Not to mention study time on top of it all. How do priests go about organizing and prioritizing their time?

  9. usually badly, Sarah.

    My dilemmas usually go something like this:

    1. is anyone’s life likely to be be permanently effected if I do/ do not do x?

    2. should I do the thing that effects the most people or the one person most deeply?

    3. am I doing this because it is right, necessary, or because it will make me feel better?

    4. should I (in this moment) prioritize the immediate need of the individual or the long term needs of the church?

    and so it goes. You will notice none of them have clear answers.

    The hardest is pastoral (‘lovely to see you, thanks for the cup of tea’ type) vs developmental (‘now, pastoral visiting team, when you visit, remember to say “lovely to see you, thanks for the cup of tea….” ‘)

  10. DI,

    Most interested in your comment about God’s Own Country.

    Had not realised that there was somewhere else other than YORKSHIRE that held this title.

    On the other hand could it be that YORKSHIRE is actually an attitude of mind?

    All that one actually does know is that YORKSHIRE is the pearl at the centre of the universe.

    Dear reader please do not think of YORKSHIRE as a county it is actually much bigger than that.

  11. My father claims it is Michigan (US). If so, I think it must be the northern part of the Lower Peninsula.

    Based on Kimberly’s recent photos, though, I might have to persuade him that there is competition.

    I’d volunteer to take some extended time off in order to visit these three possibilities so as to determine which should hold the title.

    On the other hand, we could just call it a Trinitarian set.

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