This is a Chapter talk by Kathy DeVico, Abbess of Trappist Redwoods Monastery

2020.

True Self-False Self

I have been reading Bonnie Thurston’s book, Shaped ‘By the End You Live For’. She quotes material from Thomas Merton that I have not read before and you will hear more of these pithy texts in a moment.

I like to return to the ‘false self – true self’ dynamic that was important to Merton’s journey and to his understanding of monastic, contemplative life. Recalling our brief discussion several weeks ago I chose not to use the word ‘dichotomy’ in terms of the false self-true self relationship, so as not to give the sense that there is a split between these two realities. (However, one nuance of the word ‘dichotomy’ is contrast). Indeed, both are part of who we are. Through the false self we are immersed in illusion, in half-truths or untruths about ourselves and others. We don’t see as God sees or feel with the same heart as Christ. The false or illusory self sees the ‘mote’ or ‘sliver’ in one’s sister or brother’s eye but is blind to its own ‘beams’. It seems so much easier to criticize our neighbor than to put the gaze first upon our own heart.

Last week I noted that Merton said ‘prayer itself is obedience’, a profound insight and one that essentially means that contemplative prayer is surrender…surrender to the silence…surrender into an empty space, where we wait and listen with the ‘ear of the heart’ for God’s word of life. This same word ‘surrender’ is important also in the process of finding our true self.

Prayer And Identity Go Together

Let me throw out another traditional image to help us get a sense of ‘false and true’: ‘purity of heart’. This is our immediate goal on the journey and this immediate goal, ‘purity of heart’, always leans into the final goal, the fullness of God’s life and truth. Can we not sense when our heart’s intention is true? Another essential saying of Jesus that elucidates the process of finding our true self is the great paradox: ‘whoever loses his life, or whoever dies to his self, will find life or will find her true self’ (Mk 8:35).

To continue on this theme, here is another potent saying of Thomas Merton, which again he said or wrote about towards the end of his life: “Prayer and identity go together” (p.113). Have you ever made this connection: that our prayer helps to form and shape our identity, our authentic self?

We have heard the saying: how you pray reveals something of who you are. Our demeanor or inner attitude in prayer is mirrored in our active life. Prayer and how we live are to be one. This is essential for monastic life. We have the story in Luke’s gospel of the two men who go up to the temple to pray: one a Pharisee and the other a Publican (Lk 18:9-14). One prays for God’s mercy upon him a sinner, the other thanks God as he recounts all his good deeds and notes that he is not like this sinner here by his side. In this story Jesus gives two attitudes: one is humble and turns to God, the other is filled with himself.

So how do I pray? What is my interior attitude when I pray? Am I able to go deeper than all those murmurings? Prayer is an encounter with the One who said: “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life” (Jn 14:6). Within the silence of contemplative prayer, if we take a distance from our many thoughts and words that emerge in the encounter, we will meet the One whom we are seeking and we, as well, will meet ourselves in the truth of the God whom we encounter.

Resolving Our Identity Crisis

This Merton saying follows or builds on the previous text: “For us religious and contemplatives there is no identity crisis because our identity is found in our response to Christ” (p.114). The key here is ‘our response to Christ’. In other words, the more Christ-like we are in our actions, our truer self will be present. Our relationship with Christ faces us with those parts of ourselves that one could say are ‘false’ or inauthentic, aspects that keep us in the center and not God. Does it not seem ‘easier’ to listen to my many words and thoughts than surrender them and wait for the Divine word or the Divine touch of love and mercy? If we give ourselves to the One who we are following, the Way, the One who reveals Truth and compassionately shows us our ‘truth’, we will find Life, God’s life and our own true life.

Merton continues on the theme of ‘prayer and identity’: “The ground of identity is the sense of having been chosen by Christ” (p.114). This statement of Merton’s does not mean only a few are chosen. Every person is ‘chosen’, every person is called by God. This sense or experience of being ‘called’ becomes the ground of our identity. It becomes the foundation of our choice making in small and large ways. It puts us in relationship with God and sets up an on-going encounter with the Divine life, that becomes the source of our growth, our becoming more Christ-like in word and deed.

Fully Myself

And one more final text from Merton: “The real meaning of our life is to develop people who really love God and who radiate love…For that they have to be fully unified and fully themselves” (p.114). To be ‘fully unified, fully ourselves’…this is the journey we are all on: to become more unified and more ourselves, within and without,…The good news is that prayer is one essential practice that will bless each of us a little more each day with the gift of ourselves, our true selves, if we are present in the same ‘Kenosis’ as Jesus was in his prayer and in his life. Surrender, self-emptying purifies the heart and mind and gifts one with the Divine life, Christ’s life and truth. While self-knowledge is an important monastic value, it seems to me that it needs to be accompanied with prayer. The grace of prayer is that grace gets each bit of self-knowledge to stick, to root in our hearts and in our consciousness. In prayer, we meet a God that has ‘loved us first’ and continues to love us, continues to love our whole selves, our imperfect selves with both their weaknesses and strengths. No wonder that Merton says: “Prayer and identity go together.”

Sr. Kathy DeVico, Abbess

Bishop Roy Campbell, Jr., president of the National Black Catholic Congress, joins Matt Malone, Society of Jesus., for a special episode of ‘Of Many Things.’ They discuss racial justice and the church. https://bit.ly/30yU87Y 

 

”Paul Quenon, O.C.S.O., a monk at Gethsemani, has been praying psalm 91 nightly for decades, but only in the last month have the words hit home: “I never thought the threat of plague would pertain to us or specifically to me.”… “Our society revolves around the notion that power and wealth give meaning to existence, that they allow us to take control of our lives. Power and wealth create an illusion of meaning and purpose while undermining our spiritual destiny.” We think they give us some measure of control, but in reality they “close the door to grace.” read more

Gregory Hillis

Gregory Hillis is an associate professor of theology at Bellarmine University in Louisville, Ky.

@gregorykhillis

So my Lockdown lesson #2 concerns Fake news. After a lifetime of being an avid news hound, Lockdown has proved the ideal cure for my ‘news habit’. I am now ‘clean’, and no longer suffer withdrawals and an irresistable demand to newswatch.

My wife has had Covid-19. Not that she knew initially. She had no symptons that have been reported as indicators of Covid-19. No temperature, no cough, no breathing difficulties. Yet, she was unwell. Eventually she was ordered to take a test, which came back negative. However, those administering the test said it was only 80% accurate. Not heard that reported on the media or by government ministers indicating testing is a an essential tool in the war against Covd-19.

But now she did have pain in her lungs, trouble with breathing and she struggled with her voice.

The GP reuested to see her. Like a secret assignation she had to divulge the colour of her car and its registration number. On entering the surgery car park she was met by the GP in full PPE. Somewhat eery and a very different world to the one we’d left a few weeks previously.

Still no satisfactory answer. She returned home and a week later the GP phoned to see how she was. Reporting things were much the same, she was now directed to A&E. Here a four hour examination, bloods, chest X-rays, heart monitors, established she’d definitely had Covid-19 and was now left with a sever infection of the lungs and heart. Viral in nature and so no treatment possible. The body must fight as best it could and she was to rest.

Interestingly, in conversation with the medics, she learned that there were no guaranteed signs that indicated Covid-19. This viral infection attacked as it wished and took life whenever it could.

So what’s this to do with the media? Well, eight weeks into Lockdown I note the media seems to be pushing for a return to normality. Of course none of us knows what the new normal will be. In reality we listen to the news and must decide which ‘experts’ we choose to believe. Some say this pandemic will only be controlled through strict Lockdown. Others that we must take the risk, even if we keep the elderly under lock and key, fearing the economic collapse will prove more catastrophic than loss of life.

Cabinet politicians stepping up to the podium to offer a daily briefing, look as though they are struggling to conceal more than they actually reveal. No-one looks assured. The health ‘experts’ flanking the esteemed minister themselves sound less than convincing as they present clourful charts that, as with all statistics, tell the story the statistician wants to peddle. As someone once said, ‘A politician uses statistics like a drunk uses a lamppost; for support rather than illumination’.

So, I’ve concluded that I cannot fathom anything useful from watching the news. A Prime Minister speaks of conquering Covid-19, whilst medical specialists explain you don’t defeat a disease, you only ever manage a disease. No-one can tell us whether PPE is available or not. The self employed patiently wait to see if there wil be any financial help come June. And major companies, such as the airlines, clamour for government bail outs to shield their shareholders from their responsibility for sustaining the business through these bad times in return for the rewards they’ve enjoyed during the good.

I however remain happy and optimisti; like a man freed from an addictive habit, for I no longer watch the news. I glance at the BBC headlines on my phone, yet again most of the information is confusing at best, deceitful at worst.

Now I am confident in one thing alone. As the Psalmist declares, ‘You watched me as I was being formed in utter seclusion, as I was woven together in the dark of the womb. You saw me before I was born. Every day of my life was recorded in your book. Every moment was laid out
before a single day had passed‘.

So I ignore the news, and accept the truth that in reality my days are already determined by God, and so there’s no point in anxiety. I could not be in safer hands; and I pray that once my allotted time runs out I embrace my departure with courage and conviction.

 

Fr. Santo, chaplain of a hospital in Bologna, witnesses a great desire for God among the sick, doctors, and nurses during the Covid emergency.

Fr. Santo Merlini

My name is Fr. Santo Merlini, I belong to the Fraternity of Saint Charles and since 2013 I’ve been the chaplain of Sant’Orsola Hospital. The situation of the pandemic has called me to a new step and a new beginning, in the span of a few days the hospital has assumed a new face and I wasn’t able to do my work in the same way I could before, in front of many people sick and alone, in front of so many that die without their loved ones. Different wards of the hospital had to equip themselves in order to confront a situation for which they weren’t prepared, so that the surgical, ENT, emergency, and other departments transformed into COVID wards, having to rethink the entire department. Then in the span of a few days they put in place exceptional intensive therapy to respond to the growing need.

Little by little, even without knowing these departments being that I worked prevalently for the pediatric and OB wards, I searched for ways to enter in, pushed by our Bishop whom I thank for sustaining and encouraging me. I speak with him almost every evening and he is very concerned for the many patients who are alone, he pushes me to not stop in front of the difficulties that I encounter.

I began to visit the COVID intensive therapy patients and I was immediately struck by the doctors’ and nurses’ desire to take a short break to say a prayer. At my invitation to pray the personnel stopped, making the sign of the cross to pray with me. Finding almost all of the patients in a sedated state I blessed them and I pronounced the formula for extreme absolution. Then little by little I am getting to know some of the head nurses in order to organize my time and activity in the department. I began to enter into some COVID wards, only some, but it’s an important start while sometimes I receive calls from other wards from people who desire to receive the comfort of the sacraments.

Entering into the COVID ward is very tiring, you need to undergo to many laborious procedures of dressing and undressing, often even more than once in the same ward to go from one room to another. When you have all of those clothes on you sweat a lot and the two masks that you have to wear make it difficult to breath. It’s a struggle that I share with the doctors, nurses and social workers that have to wear those clothes for many more hours than I do. But I was struck by the desire for God that I found in the people that I visited. Almost all of them desired to say a prayer with me, the many elderly but also the younger patients, that are much more that we would expect. It’s not true that the virus only affects the elderly.

Sometimes we think that there’s no more faith, that no one desires to pray anymore. I hear it said often even by people of the Church. In these past few weeks I’ve seen that there’s a great desire for God, a desire that emerges strongly in the fragile condition of an illness that forces you to be alone for many days and surrounded only by suits and masks that make those around you unrecognizable. I was struck by the witness of one patient’s suffering – an over-eighty-year-old that lost her husband, him as well for the coronavirus, with which she had been together since they were 16. They spent an entire life together but at the moment of their separation they found themselves alone, in two different wards. While the other day a sick woman continued to ask me “God didn’t forget me, right?” I was there to tell her and the other patients that God hadn’t forgotten them, that in fact through their suffering they are closer to Him.

To make myself recognizable I draw with a marker or tape a cross on my scrubs and in this way people recognize me as a priest. Some patients, upon seeing me, have said “Finally!” I administer the collective absolution to the eldest or most critical patients, inviting them to confess themselves as soon as possible.

This work is asking me to sacrifice from a personal standpoint as well, the first of which consists in having gone to live by myself, depriving me of the companionship of my brothers Fr. Peppino and Fr. Marco. The fact that I’m doing this work for obedience, not for a desire to be heroic, comforts me. It wasn’t my idea to enter into the hospitals, and a year ago I would’ve never thought to find myself in a real and true battlefield, in which I have to defend myself from the attack of the mortal enemy: the virus. I feel myself one who simply responds to his obligation. I find, however, a great support in the presence of some doctor and nurse friends, with whom I share different moments of my day and especially a moment of prayer together every day. We are careful to respect the distances as the rules say: a distance, though, that is eliminated by the decisiveness of our prayer. Their presence reminds me that I’m not alone and that I’m not the only one risking my skin to bring a little bit of comfort to the sick. There are the doctors, the nurses, the social workers, but also all of the cleaning and maintenance staff that heroically risk getting sick in order to put their lives in service of the sick.

Downing Street London

So the Lockdown continues and there’s a few lessons I’m learning; Lockdown Lesson #1.

The lessons are less about immediate survival, though that is one benefit. They are about refining my approach to llfe so I’m prepared once the Lockdown is eased. Lockdown is an opportunity both to take stock and take action over how I choose to live my future. I don’t need to replicate my past; I have a golden opportunity to change the way I live for the better.

Lesson #1 was triggered by an article published on the app Medium. It was a biographical reflection from someone who, as part of the university programme, opted to sign up for a season in a buddist temple. It was a momentary decision, and didn’t arise from a longing for silent contemplation. In brief they left early, driven mad to distraction through their dislocation from their life experience.

However, reflecting on Lockdown, they wrote;

‘Although I am living at home with my mom, being with my own thoughts this closely, for this many days, can be excruciatingly uncomfortable. In some moments of antsiness and boredom and low self-esteem, I would rather do anything other than sit here. I want to grab for things I am convinced can make the loneliness better ― productivity which leads to validation from others, busyness which keeps me moving just fast enough so I don’t have to acknowledge that I feel sad, scheduling back-to-back virtual hangouts so I can quell the small voice inside that tells me that people don’t like me.’

A list of distractions which alone can only create stress if forming the bedrock of daily living. They recalled the fact that on entering the buddist temple they had to surrender their mobile phone. This experience was like having a limb amputated. It struck a chord. How often do I reach for my mobile phone and idly flick throung news stories I’m not that interested in or endless Facebook newsfeeds for no apparent reason?

mayhem and madness

More troubling is that I do this whilst already distacted by some Netflix offering that fails to hold my attention.

This spoke to me. My mind is restless and demands constant stimulation. Yet, my active mind is never the space in which I shall find peace, tranquility or self realisation. It is always demanding I feed its restless energy, and in fact is driving me rather than actng as a valuable part of my persona. My brain thinks therefore I do; the tail very much wags the dog!

Silence, or wakefulness and watchfulness as I prefer to describe it, is not the ability to control the mind, but the refusal to follow where it chooses to lead. I start my day with 30 minites silence ahead of morning prayer,. I know my mind will seek to hijack and sabotage such minutes of pure watchfulness, but all I say is do your thing and I’ll remain present whilst disinterested in any thoughts you want to distract me with.

Like a spoilt child, my mind hates to be ignored. So it takes discipline and learning to leave it to its own devices, whilst I quietly contemplate the Divine, aware of the traffic noise my mind generates yet no longer engaged and thus distracted by it. This is the great learning that comes from entering the silent land.

So, Lockdown lesson #1; take your mobile phone, press the off switch and give it a rest. Whilst a useful device for certain purposes, like the brain, it soon demands my complete servitude. I live to please its every interruption and command. Yet, my will is neither fuelled by my brain nor my mobile devices. My will is the expression of my preferences. I determine the life and landscape I occupy.

Of course as a contemplative my phone seldom rings; few people feel the need for the services of a contemplative today. Besides which, poorly managed interruptions really defeat the very essence of the contemplative life. Separation is an essential part of my reality.

But I feel for all of us the rediscovery of the on/off switch for our mobile devices might be the quickest route to rediscover how best we might manage the restlessness that directs our lives. As we resume life beyond Lockdown this may give us a fighting chance to resist the temptation to subcontract our self-esteem and validation to external forces that both drive and rob us of the essential qualities that make us each unique.

The key is to move from being a victim of thoughts (the commenting, chattering mind) to being their witness (the heart’s stillness) . . . What we have observed of fear can be observed of practically any struggle with afflictive thoughts and feelings. We must move from being a victim of these thoughts to being their witness. Typically we spend many, many years being their victim. We are imprisoned by the chattering mind. Gradually we learn to distinguish the simple thought or emotion from the chatter and we discover an inner stability that grows into the silence of God.
Martin Laird, Into the Silent Land: A Guide to the Christian Practice of Contemplation

 

 

 

Captain Tom Moore is a bright ray of hope bursting upon a gloomy landscape. The exploits of this 99 year old army veteran have taken the country by storm. A great example that age is never an impediment to action. And action never needs to be imagined upon the grand scale to make a significant difference. I trust each one of us whose been inspired has also contributed to his cause. I’m personally pleased as Tom and I share the same birthday, April 30.

Of course, whilst this is a brilliant story, it also highlights the power of the media. What semed to him and his family an ambitious goal of £1000 for his walk of one hundred 25m lengths in his back garden has, at time of writing, grown to a massive £26,479,945; and still growing. Media attention has also led to the launch of his first single, a collaboration with Michael Ball, and this has charted at #1. And a public petition launched requesting the honours office to Knight Tom has received 852,000 signatures and is growing by the moment.

Good News

So a great ‘good news’ story at just the right time. Yet, it is a story fuelled by news media. Without this media hype, then perhaps Tom’s efforts would have remained at a very creditable £1000. It shows just how important the media is, and how easy it can be to seek to manipulate media for some personal advantage. In Tom’s case this has been accidental, not manipulativr, and is for the general good, both as regards our sense of well being and for the NHS, which is the most highly regarded institution in the UK, scoring higher than the monarchy in every opinion poll.

24/7 media remains infatuated with endless reporting of coronavirus, much of it not news but tedious ‘expert’ opinion. The majority of this opinion is ‘finger in the wind’ prediction, since the very nature of an unknown virus means it’s unknown, so all predictions must be subject to a high percentage of doubt.

This reveals both how negative and limited our news reporting is. We must become increasingly skilled at discerning fact from opinion; this latter is never news. Perhaps one lesson from this period is that we would be more highly motivated and the national mood lifted if an equal amount of news coverage were given to upbeat everyday stories such as Tom Moore’s.

Two Grave Errors

As those who pursue Jesus in our everyday lives, we must also learn to steer away from an abuse of media. Today it is easy to make two grave errors. The first is to conceive of something as ‘good ‘ purely in the light of how well it wil play on the media. In other words we are looking to generate the audience through the means of some good, saleable Christian end. I’d suggest that the idea, if it is of value, is worthy of practising regardless of whether anyone else notices or not. For is it not God alone whom we serve? And is it not God alone who oberves our activities?

So beware, for media has made us assume that only if an activity is scaleable and becomes established in the marketplace of ideas and activities is it of proven value. Not so. God has little interest if our activity is known anywhere beyond ourselves and the Trinity. For what larger audience can there be but the Trinity, within which the entirety of existence is contained?

Beware the deception that popular success is the equivalent of Kingdom impact. That is the lie from the enemy of truth itself.

The second great error to which our media consciousness directs us toward are the fear of ending shipwrecked upon rocks of financial ruin. Every project or programme is assessed upon its financial viability. Much of which is in meeting the costs of those people designing and managing said projects and programmes. Tom has it right, he takes not one penny for himself for the only investment he needs to make is his human effort required to walk, with the aid of a frame, 250 metres (10x 25m); the bite sized chunks that made up his epic pilgrimage. Bite sized is a better approach than financial viability.

Great Ideas are Priceless

It was Oscar Wilde who is reported as saying that, ‘People know know the price of everything and the value of nothing‘. Fortunately in this season of Easter, God demonstrates that value is of far more importance than price as the Crucifixion makes plain.

A great idea requires neither an audience nor an income stream. And great ideas are always those that benefit another rarher than myself. So inspired by Captain Tom, look to see how in this Lockdown season you might do some very simple things to support and encourage others. For this is the heart of what Tm has done. And whilst his story has enjoyed media magnification, it is so that millions of great ideas birthed throughout the British Isles, and around the world, might celebrate the fact that God is the God of the great ideas.

And for each one of us the only audience that matters, and indeed counts, is the Trinity of Father Son and Holy Spirit. Ideas expressed through action are the channels along which God’s mercy and love flow. And this is priceless as well as much needed in our world.

It is not yor business to succeed, but to do right;

when you have done so,the rest lies with God‘.

C. S. Lewis

 

Receiving mercy lies beyond my capababilities. It is always initiated by another. I am subject to their determination. Where justice is quite literally to receive my just deserts, mercy is an act of compassionate forgiveness in place of just punishment. Usually born of love, mercy has the capacity to change my perspective about myself, the world and ‘the other’, who extends mercy to me.

In a world that prefers to celebrate a ‘pull yourself up by your bootstraps’ attitude to life, mercy can appear a weak and unhelpful intervention. It is often represented as a failure to punish misbehaviour appropriately. It never seeks to look beyond the act of misbehaviour to the reasons that gave rise to it.

The essence and power of mercy is illustrated in the oft quoted parable of the Good Samaritan. Jesus’ encouragement to all of us is that the human response is to follow the example of this Samaritan. Perhaps, as the world struggles to address this global pandemic, it’s a time to remind ourselves that we are global citizens. This was something we were reminded about in the, ‘One World: Together At Home concert‘ last night.

Not to confuse matters, but as disciples of Jesus we are truly global citizens, for our citizenship, as St. Paul reminds us, is in heaven, and so the world is our stage. St. Paul also explains that material, sexual and ethnic distinctives are subsumed through are being joined to the resurrected Christ and thereby drawn into the company of heaven. This is often not our experience as our feet and fears remain rooted within our localised space; our experienced reality.

Within the Roman Catholic church, today is ‘Divine Mercy Sunday‘. A relatively recent addition to the church’s calender and one born of the revelations to a Polish nun, Saint Faustina. She had a short but impactful life, dying aged 33 in 1938. You may have natural suspicions over

Faustina Kowalska

revelations, yet I like this whole story for it is diarised conversations with Jesus and talked through with a spiritual director at the time. The whole account available on the public record.

The nub of the revelations is that Jesus is merciful and desires that we actively and practically consider those both known and unknown to us and bring them to God in prayer. This is so that they might enjoy God’s mercy; For the sake of His sorrowful Passion, have mercy on us and on the whole world. I like both the simplicity and the inclusiveness of this prayer.

It has proved really helpful to Jayne and me here in the Oratory. This is a home of prayer, whose routines are ordered around our daily rhythm of prayer. For quite some time I was struggling with how to respond to God’s request that we carry the world at the heart of our Oratory life. This discovery opened the way. Now I say the Chaplet of divine mercy every day in my attempt to ‘Go and do likewise’, as Jesus directed.

Prayer softens the heart, breaks the stranglehold of both cynicism and despondency, and consequently gives birth to a lifestyle that seeks to act out mercy in practical ways everyday. It demolishes self centredness brick by brick and generates a servant heart, where, again to quote St. Paul, we are able to put others interests above our own.

Mercy

The purpose of mercy is never to ‘let someone off lightly‘ but to open their eyes to a realm of social interaction within which the sacredness of life is revealed. Unlike material goods there is no objective price that can be placed upon a human life, something a pandemic brings home with a stark reality. Each life is priceless. It’s value set through the death and resurrection of Jesus, a costly and personal sacrificial act.

Perhaps in this season of anxiety we can take some moments to remind ourselves that we are no more nor less valuable than our neighbour. That the geatest demonstration of my humanity is when I live with others in mind, or as Ron Sider said in his 1978 classic, ‘Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger’, we are to live, ‘totally available to and with unlimited liability for one another’. Perhaps it takes a pandemic to bring the truth of this message home to us. So let’s not lose it going forward. Start with a simple, easily memorised, prayer;

For the sake of His sorrowful Passion, have mercy on us and on the whole world.

And then, as Lockdown lifts, lets act out that prayer in our interactions with, as well as in our thoughts towards, others.

Simon & Garfunkel Concert, Central Park

Slow down you move too fast‘ was one of Simon and Garfunkel’s anthems that charmed us all in the late sixties. Wow! If the sixties were fast, then how would we describe today? Everyone working frenetically, more in search of survival than their dream or self realisation. How times have changed. Well up until ‘Lockdown: Covid-19, 2020’.

Now I am, if nothing else, a throwback to the sixties that framed much of the contours of my worldview. Certain foundational understanding was also established. So today I feel I live in a permanent state of retroversion, having the appearance of somethone that existed in the past. I guess that the hippy that took hold of my persona has never left; one reason I feel something of an alien at times within contemporary life.

Does this matter? Well, not to me. I’ve grown quite content, now that I have stepped away from the realised and hidden persuaders that mount a consistent assault upon my self esteem as I entertain a vacuous need to conform to some vague notion of what we are all meant to be/become. I have lanced this illusion, for illusion it was and forever will be.

However, even as I pursue my choice of life as a contemplative, a semi hermit devoted to prayer, the Lockdown has opened my eyes to how much more I need to, or at least might, slow down.

Here in St Cuthbert’s, Jayne and I have a wonderful garden we are slowly developing. In normal times it offers welcome, peace and pleasure to those seeking quiet contemplation – simply put, a time to step back and be still. This is something that Lockdown has imposed upon us all, whether we’re ready or not.

What I’ve appreciated is that the emergence of spring blooms, blossoms and flowers slowly emerge by degrees. Bare branches overnight sprout buds, yet those buds then take time slowly to open. Every part of that opening process is in slow motion. Day by day we walk and observe each tree and plant and marvel at the beauty of this opening process. Like a child, each stage is precious and perfect in itself, yet the adult who emerges is the perfection of all the frozen time frames, mental photos captured in our hearts and heads.

The simple learning is that discovering the beauty in slowing down is itself a product of deliberate action. It takes work and effort. Lockdown is a deliberate policy, enforced upon us. I know for some it’s tough to endure; no garden, crowded living spaces, tense relationships between adults and children. Yet, I’ve also heard wonderful stories of families who’ve completely reconstructed their lives. Praying together, playing together working alongside each other.

Indeed, one family even made a movie of their version of Red Riding Hood which they sent round to their friendship group to cheer us all up. They found the time to create something memorable together, embracing the time and seizing an opportunity from the midst of our present crisis.

Naturaly Lockdown will end. Life will resume. Will we breath a sigh of relief, ‘back to normal’? Yet, a normal that is in reality no more than a persuader, sometimes realised, more often than not hidden, that drives us. We react and respond to external assumptions that are presented as the rational proposal for successful living. Maybe, we might consider the birds as Jesus suggested. In my case I’ll be considering the trees and the plants, although the birds are also busy about feeding their young, so worthy of consideration.

I wonder if this ‘selah’, although imposed due to horrendous circumstances in which so many suffer and lose their lives, is perhaps an international call to pause, draw breath and decide if the objectives and reaities that made up our lives when entering Lockdown are those we choose to carry into the future that awaits us?

You and I alone can decide. I have my re-entry refrain ready; ‘Hello lamppost, what’cha knowing, I’ve come to watch your flowers growin

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