Saturday, 31 March 2012

Time Out but not Off

March has been an unusual month. I've been away from my desk and office for a large part of it. People somehow expect you to be in constant touch these days, don't they?  i phones, wifi in every hotel, 24/7 availability to answer texts. The tyranny of the email. Where have I been?  At a conference for all the  archdeacons in the northern province of the Church of England, at a training course for church leaders about transforming conflict into opportunity, and on a retreat.

At the archdeacons' conference, lots of us were constantly on phones outside the meeting room and scrolling down e mails if the sesssions did not grip. I gave up on the technology and decided that I really wanted to be 'present in the moment' for the excellent lecture and discussion with Professor John Barclay of Durham University on the question of how grasping the concept of 'gift' as it was viewed in the ancient world helps us to understand what St Paul meant by 'grace.'  This profoundly affects the way in which we relate to others. I will blog about that separately. It seemed to me that to miss even part of such an excellent presentation which distilled someone's reasearch and thinking over several years would be a missed opportunity. I also didn't want to be interrupted at the Stone Masons' Yard at York Minister where the quality of work and the attention given to detail were astonishing. We saw inspirational figures that might take a mason 3 months to carve which were exquisite; they will shortly be installed a couple of hundred feet above eye level where presumably God will enjoy them but human eye will rarely venture - perhaps once in a hundred years?  A text that breaks into that kind of experience has no business to be there.

Then on to the Bridge Builders' (Mennonite) Conference about how to deal with conflict. The stuff of life for many archdeacons! This was a week of fairly intense learning including role play and exercises about power, decision making and process that forced us to see things from new perspectives. Insightful, tiring, demanding from us well tuned EQ at least as much as IQ; certainly not a place for the constant infiltration of normal everyday concerns via the phone and screen if we were really going to absorb and learn anything lasting.

The retreat was at Sneaton Castle, Whitby, where we were invited to think deeply about the things that cause us to hide from God, about how we give attention to God and about friendship and concepts of success and failure. Now you could go to the sessions and then not do any further thinking and praying as a result of the constant impetus to return to the ususal world of dates, times , appointments, decisions...or you could, just for two days, attend to what God might be saying to you and your own state of mind.

So what am I saying? Well, partly, I'm excusing myself for not blogging very much this month. But more importantly, I'm saying that we all need spaces, sanctuaries, where we can be attentive to what is going on in the present without distraction. Unless we find these spaces, we are diminished in our knowledge of ourselves, our honesty and our capacity to learn in ways that allow us a real depth of new understanding. In short we are less human and less open to God.

Now obviously, as one who blogs, I am committed to the fantastic opportunities the new world of digital communication offers. But it seems to me that to retain our creativity and our sanity, we must attend to what the saints called the 'sacrament of the present moment' and allow ourselves spaces in which to be silent, to be without distraction, to pray, think deeply and be free from the domination of reacting to the 'urgent' call of immediate demands.