I’ve just had the longest break I’ve had since becoming moderator. We didn’t go anywhere, just stayed at home during the bushfire season over Christmas/New Year. It’s dreadfully dry out where we live. I feel sure that stress levels for many farmers must be exceedingly high.
Christmas was celebrated at my mum and dad’s place. My younger brother’s in-laws, who were visiting from Japan, gave me an unusual gift – a solar powered Sumo wrestler. The more light he receives, the more his head and shoulders silently move from side to side. His eyebrows seem to have a permanent frown. At dusk and early morning, when the light is dim, he becomes almost completely still and his eyes seem more meditative.
In the tradition of the movie The Castle I said, “This is going straight to the pool room”. In my case the ‘pool room’ is a very small study (a converted tool shed) with no pool table because it wouldn’t fit. Solar Sumo now sits on the windowsill alongside an old Coke bottle (of Gods Must be Crazy significance).
During my break, when it wasn’t too hot, I did the usual, beginning to saw up firewood for the winter. I’m not a farmer, but I found myself empathising with the plight of farmers as our dam is as low as I’ve seen it. There must be many for whom the hot sun has a similar effect as light on Solar Sumo, (figuratively) causing the head and shoulders to rock from side to side as thoughts of crop failure are triggered.
The 17th century (lay) Brother Lawrence who ‘practiced the presence of God’ wrote ( with amusing gender specificity) in one of his letters: “Our mind is extremely roving; but as the will is mistress of all our faculties, she must recall them, and carry them to God as their last end”
To carry something to God as its ‘last end’ is, in a sense, to toss it out of the ring like a Sumo wrestler. Only then is it possible to still the mind. Brother Lawrence wrote that we are to hold ourselves in prayer before God “like a dumb or paralytic beggar at a rich man’s gate” and if our mind sometimes wanders, we are not to be disquieted much for “trouble and disquiet serve rather to distract the mind than to recollect it”.
One way to recollect the mind easily in the time of prayer he says, is “not to let it wander too far at other times”. We are to keep it strictly in the presence of God and then it is easier to “recall it from its wanderings”.
Needless to say, my holidays involved quite a deal of mind-full wanderings, including many situations confronting the church. The Spiritual life can often be impeded by misplaced effort … where we throw the weight of our thoughts around. Perhaps not unlike Solar Sumo, God periodically darkens the mind – in order to give it a more perfect light.
Being like this doesn’t involve power and strength – it’s more like a kind of descent into our own nothingness, recognising our helplessness, which is a common theme in many of the Psalms.
When I finally become still, it seems overwhelmingly clear that all that is ‘ours’ is nothing and can completely fail us. In other words, we can no longer rely on what we ‘have’ or have ‘had’. Only then is it possible to be open to God’s mercy and, in turn, trust entirely upon God’s grace.