This is the last reflection before we take our annual summer break. Some of the staff team will be working but we are all trying to change the rhythm of our lives for the next few weeks.
In my case, having paid a visit to my favourite bookshop (Buckfast Abbey) whilst on my holiday, I have a pile of reading material I want to wade through. I particularly enjoy delving into lives lived very differently to my own so first on my list is a memoir by Paul Quenon O.C.S.O. It was the title 'In Praise of the Useless Life' that intrigued me to take it off the shelf. My immediate response was 'How can any life be considered useless when it's lived serving God?' and then I realised this has an echo in what people say to me about themselves and how I often I have wondered if my life has been, and is, rather useless. In a culture where we all want to be important to others, to have our achievements recognised, to feel we're building a legacy that will outlast us and define us it's very counter cultural to deliberately turn your back on such attitudes and be ambitious only to hear the words from Jesus one day, 'Well done, my good and faithful servant'. (Matt 25:21). Really this is all we should be hoping for!
So how best then to serve the Master? Is it by being endlessly busy? Giving ourselves little time to think? Always striving for a church project? Endlessly reaching for a new spiritual challenge? I think not. There are times when we do need to get out of a rut, when it's good to shake ourselves up a little and not get lazy. But we need to balance ourselves with the three Rs: rest, recreation and reflection and let God enjoy our company and we can enjoy His. Even if we don't have the opportunity of a holiday away or even holiday at all, most of us can set aside a time to live a different rhythm for a few days and all of us need to ensure we do a little of this regularly - to practice what is known as Sabbath.
Has it every occurred to you that what we think is trivial, God takes seriously? This is what Quenon's novice master suggests:
'What is serious to man is often very trivial in the sight of God. What in God might appear to us as 'play' is perhaps what He Himself takes most seriously. At any rate the Lord plays and diverts Himself in the garden of His creation...No despair of ours can alter the reality of things, or stain the joy of the cosmic dance which is always there. Indeed, we are in the midst of it, and it is in the midst of us, for it beats in our very blood, whether we want it to or not.' Thomas Merton
At times the monastic life has been described as 'useless' or 'pointless' or 'a copout' to me - especially by disciples from an evangelical background - but I have gained so much myself from the teachings and wisdom of people who have devoted themselves to such a life I am assuming Quenon has a very different understanding of what 'useless' means! I'm looking forward to understanding how just being, enjoying our God given life and praying is anything but 'useless'.
Trying to remember God's reality and acquire his priorities as our own, to ground ourselves in Him rather than our little lives, isn't always easy especially when it involves play and dancing in the midst of all the pressing things our lives contain. But just as all good parents want their children to experience joy, to share their joy and live with joy in the core of their being so too does our heavenly Father. It's a healthy spiritual practice to make time for what might appear to be 'useless' and let ourselves be refreshed and renewed by the Holy Spirit.
My colleague, Ali Birkett, ended our last staff meeting with this blessing and now we pray this blessing over you as well:
God be surrounding you, his peace be yours;
Amidst this great storm you're safe in his arms.
God be above you, his lighthouse will shine,
Rays of pure kingdom light gently down.
God be behind you with waves that will cleanse,
Sweeping away hurt to a new life again.
God be beneath you, your bare feet will tread
Upon softest grace sand wherever you're led.
God be beside you, you walk hand in hand,
Filling your mind with new colours and plans.
God be within you, restoring your soul,
With breezes of healing and eternities gold. Amen
See you in September!
Director - Wales and South West England