I’m over here in Ashbourne, Derbyshire this weekend.
It’s on the other side of the peak national park, and rural England, but definitely not nearly as rural as my usual location. Today for example I could easily walk into ‘town’, a town which has a market, a post-office, not one but two chemists, several supermarkets, and best of all a handful of charity shops. Secondhand shops are my secret passion and that’s where I do my equivalent of retail therapy.
Yesterday though I did something a bit different to my usual ‘respite weekend’. I arrived here earlier than usual and met with my friend (the local vicar) for lunch. It was wonderful. I mean the food was very good – we had smoked salmon bagels and a wonderful cup of coffee in a local café-gallery, but even better was our sharing life with each other again. All too often, sadly, we are more like ‘ships passing in the night’ on my visits, but this time our diaries matched. Yay.
I’ve had time since yesterday to think about some of the things we discussed. That’s always good. And that, together with an almost memorable quote from Eugene Peterson’s The Contemplative Pastor (which I am re-reading, theoretically as an aid to my PhD but actually because it’s so good for me!)
A number of years ago I was a busy pastor and had some back trouble that required therapy. I went for one hour sessions three times a week, and no one minded because I wasn’t available for those three hours. Because the three hours had the authority of an appointment calendar behind them, they were sacroscant.
On the analogy of that experience, I venture to prescribe appointments for myself to take care not only of my body, but also of my mind and emotions, my spirit and my imagination. One week in addition to daily half-hour conferences with St Paul [love it!] my calendar reserved a two-hour block of time with Fyodor Doestoevsky. My spirit needed that as much as my body ten years ago needed the physical therapist. If nobody is going to prescribe it for me, I will prescribe it for myself. (p.23)
There’s nothing new in what Peterson writes. I have good friends back in Finland, all of whom do precisely what he recommends. One books a three day retreat every quarter. She may or may not go on retreat, but she will bolt herself in somewhere with God. Another meets with CS Lewis regularly in much the same way as Peterson meets St Paul daily.
I’ve still to adopt a practice that really works for me … but I am working on it. I easily get overwhelmed by ‘doing too much’ … and then I’m unable to be the person God’s really called me to be. When I’m tired and drained I’m more likely to be angry or snappy (as a friend put it) and I don’t actually study well in the frame of mind either.
My daily encounter with the pool really helps.
While in England I haven’t been able to use it as much as a prayer closet as I used to in Finland, but swimming for 40 minutes or so in the mornings helps give me time alone with my thoughts and time with God, and without it I’d probably be a basket case.
On it’s own it’s not enough,though, so walking with my camera and trying to spot God at work in my world is good too, but in all honesty a half hour meeting with St Paul or others would go a long way to confronting the powers of busy-ness which often just aren’t from God at all. There’s a catchphrase we’d all do well to remember:
We aren’t human doings we’re human beings
… so take time today, and tomorrow, and the day after tomorrow, just to be.
I know I need to, cos as John Wimber once famously said ‘whether we’re out raising the dead or taking a nap, the pay in the Kingdom of God is the same’. That’s not a call to complacency and idleness, but it is a call to give up performance orientation and striving and learn to rest in God.