This week I’ve been noticing certain extremes in my life. Not bad extremes, but how much certain things in my life are at opposite ends of the spectrum, from each other and in some cases, from other people. For example; I can’t get enough of mountain scenery. To be amongst the mountains and valleys of almost anywhere (I’m not fussy), is to feel almost physically connected to God. Bizarrely, I got the same feeling last night, walking across the Millennium Bridge in central London and seeing the skyline of the city lit up all around me. That to me was as beautiful as it was seeing the Aguille du Midi in France. It feels odd that I should feel as awed by a cityscape as I do by a landscape and perhaps ‘wrong’ to some, but I can’t explain it, I just do, it’s one of the peculiar quirks of me. Given a choice between seeing Everest and Hong Kong lit up at night I would genuinely not know which to choose.
There are other extremes, such as, in common with all women on the planet, I’m able to mentally multi-task and think for three people and two cats at once 😉 but yet I can’t read a book, or write a blog post or work on my novel unless there is an absence of talking. Not noise, I can tune out road or rail noise, but noise of people talking cuts entirely through the bit of my brain that deals with reading and writing, blocking whatever synaptic pathway that is. This means that they both have to be very solitary pursuits for me and why you will often find me writing in the early hours of the morning when nobody else is up. I can’t sit and read in the same room as other people are watching TV and I can’t read or write with the radio on. My daughter can apparently study while watching You Tube and listening to an audiobook. Perhaps this is evidence of a more highly evolved brain (all of 27 years younger than mine), or not entirely grasping the concept of the word study…
Those are small things, but it’s there on a large scale too. As western culture appears to move at a faster and faster pace, I’m finding that I want to go slower. This isn’t a desire to up sticks, move to mid-Wales and raise chickens, but almost a deep inner burden to live a much simpler, slower life. Over the last year or so I have been greatly challenged by Penelope Wilcock’s book In Celebration of Simplicity and also Richard Foster’s book Celebration of Discipline. While western culture is becoming more and more tied up with frivolity and triviality, my soul wants to root itself in the deep things of life. This isn’t about decluttering a few rooms in my house, this is a wholesale root and branch re-alignment.
Richard Foster’s book in particular is one that you could quite easily spend an entire year working your way through and never really scratch the surface of. He lists twelve spiritual disciplines that are deeply challenging to a Christian like me who is largely ignorant of anything pre-Nicky Gumbel, John Ortberg and Rick Warren. They’re nice guys, don’t get me wrong and they write some good stuff, but I’m beyond that now and needing more. Simplicity, living lightly, living a disciplined life calls me, almost pulls me, while all around the culture that I live in runs off even faster in the other direction.
As I was exploring these thoughts this morning, I was reminded of the Star Trek film Insurrection, where the crew of the Enterprise discover a plot to oust a colony of people, the Ba’ku, from a planet where they’ve made a home, in order to harvest the material in the planetary rings that appears to prolong life. What I was particularly struck by was a scene, where one character appeared to slow down time and showed Jean Luc Picard how to live in the moment. I love that image. It’s only the slowing down of film footage to show the flap of hummingbird wings, but oh that we could do that!
But it’s pertinent. Living in the moment is something we’re increasingly forgetting to do as the pace of life urges us onwards at a faster rate. The Psychiatrist Carl Jung said ” Hurry is not of the devil; it is the Devil.” How much are we missing? Who is being left behind?
I might very well spend a year digesting each of the twelve disciplines outlined in Richard Foster’s book; a month each on meditation, prayer, fasting, study, simplicity, solitude, submission, service, confession, worship, guidance and celebration. I won’t have bottomed any of them out in that time, but the call to go deeper and go slower is possibly a call that none of us should ignore. Who knows what good would happen if we gently applied the brakes on our lives and came to a dignified stop.