Blessed are you, Sovereign God of all,
to you be glory and praise for ever.
In your tender compassion
the dawn from on high is breaking upon us
to dispel the lingering shadows of night.
(CCP, Tuesday morning & Advent)
It comes strangely early this year, at the time of new beginnings of childhood memory: beginning of September, beginning of term, beginning of something new.
I have been in Durham for three weeks now, and I am just emerging from happy hiding. I am amazed at how long it can take simply to live. To unpack the boxes and settle the house and do the shopping and enjoy cooking a meal. Days have been full and spacious all at once, a glorious release of strain and tension.
And that is what I notice most. I am more relaxed than I have been in a very long time. I know: it is easy to be relaxed when there is literally nothing to do, no one making demands, every breath is free. It is unrealistic — not a pattern of life that we can often achieve. But still, the contrast is lovely, and it shows me sharply how the stress we carry can get in the way of relating.
I find myself chatting to waitresses, laughing with young mothers as they pass on the street. I find myself coping, even, with plumbers and bus drivers and strangers in the queue. I remember I used to do these things, easily, joyfully. But it had been a while.
The difference is in the freedom.
I cannot tell you how great the relief was when I waved the movers off and closed the door, knowing that for the first time since student days I was in a house that was not owned by my ’employer’ (either church or school). A house that I had chosen, which was of interest to no one else. And because I know I can come home each night to a room of my own, a space that is free, I have the energy to engage better with those I meet. I see more, and am more immediately present.
I used to believe in rectories. I thought it was hugely important that the priest be available, on sight, recognizable. And maybe it is. But I cannot live that way. I start feeling trapped and hemmed in and I find myself running away from what is supposed to be my home.
‘Time off’ meant restlessness. Driving all around, looking for a place to be. And so the house would be ignored, and the rooms would never be finished, and I had no space to rest.
I should have seen it coming. My first week of training as an ordinand, I went into Old Saint Paul’s for the Friday morning eucharist, and the reading was ‘Foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests, but the sun of man has nowhere to lay his head’. I burst into tears.
I guess I did know. A priest dwells in the eucharist, in the liturgy, in the church. But not in the rectory. We are just visitors there, weighing up the relative cost of paying for new carpets or living with swirls of brown.
I sit now in church and I miss standing at the altar. I miss preaching. And I cannot imagine that I will not somehow return to these things.
But I cannot imagine ever wanting to return to a rectory.
I have more to offer — as a priest? as a person — when I have a space in which to be free. A room of my own.
‘For freedom Christ has set us free.’ And it is glorious.
(my camera has been taking a break too, but there are a few new photos at http://lifeandlight.wordpress.com)