New Year’s resolutions

10 01 2010

It’s amazing how often a break from work gives you the opportunity to think more clearly about work. So it was in the Christmas break for me. I took the week after Christmas off.

I was in the shower… actually it’s remarkable how often these soughts of moments (epiphanies?) occur in that small cubicle. I’m not a utility showerer. That bathroom is a bit of a retreat for me. I do often catch myself sort of on pause — you could call it daydreaming — while the water streams over me. Anyway it was one of those moments. It occurred to me that if I am to stand any chance of completing my MA dissertation by the 11th May deadline, I really can’t afford to take on any new projects.

And I did have some plans forming.

I was planning a sort of rolling guerrilla happening for Lent. I had it in mind to make a kind of portable sacred space with a shed on pram wheels — it would be part soapbox go-cart, part outbuilding and part mobile confessional. The plan forming in my mind was that that I would tow the thing around the city centre behind my bike. It would pop up each week in unexpected places, like the Guildhall Square, the train station concourse, in front of the law courts, on the footbridge by the university halls of residence and the car park of the city centre academy school.

As I write now, I’m still gripped by the romance of the idea. It would be fun. It might generate a buzz. It would be arresting. (Actually without the right permissions in place, I might be arrested!) It’s a good idea (even if I do say so myself). I would feel very satisfied if I managed to make it happen.

So too would I if I managed to create some sort of weekly drop in – dare I say sanctuary – kind of sacred space in the city centre academy school. It’s a great moment as the academy establishes itself. It could work. It’s a good idea. I would feel very satisfied if I managed to make it happen.

But any satisfaction I experienced would be inevitably spoilt by the constant nagging feeling that something else significant I had already committed myself to was being left behind. Namely, my unwritten MA dissertation.

Now my own personal satisfaction isn’t the final arbiter of what I should and shouldn’t do. But that’s not to say it doesn’t come into it at all. Of course it does. I’m a human being. I can’t honestly pray the prayer for generosity of St Ignatius of Loyola. Can you? And St Ignatius himself, describing the process of discerning God’s will talks about doing what brings you consolation and not doing what brings desolation. Again, that’s a much deeper question than what brings satisfaction or dissatisfaction. But neither is it wholly divorced from all that.

What seems clear to me is that there are moments when you have to say no to good ideas – other people’s or your own. You have to leave aside things it would be really good to do, at the moment that might seem in some ways the best moment to do them, because you simply don’t have the capacity to take anything else on without giving up on commitments you’ve already made.

That’s what I, with some degree of regret, am resolved to do in the first part of this year. It’s tough for a pioneer – a natural initiator – to move into a holding pattern. But the MA dissertation has to be my primary project if it’s not to be abandoned altogether.

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10 responses

12 01 2010
mervyn

Mark – clearly very frustrating, but I’m sure that the dissertation must come first. The weather will be more clement for the mobile sacred space (what a fun/great plan).

The drop-in centre at the Academy doesn’t sound so time-comsuming if the main resource is you for 2 hours a week with minimal preparation – or maybe I don’t understand?? Although if it achieved its aim there would of course be follow up stuff. Could you not share the manning with other Christians, or would the Academy find that a problem? Or is it something only you can do?

I suppose it is better to be stretched than flabby………

12 01 2010
pompeypioneer

Thanks for posting this comment, Mervyn. It had been a while since someone last commented on anything I’ve posted!

Of course saying ‘no’ to these things is more along the lines of saying ‘not yet’, than ‘not ever’. I think the drop-in will take a lot of preparation and planning. Even two hours is not just two hours, as you say, there will inevitably be follow-up – that’s part of the aim. It needn’t be just me. But it’s my hope that as an extra-curricular activity, it will tie in to some curricular activity I hope to do (a re-run of the spirituality project from last summer), so it needs to be at least me. And though I don’t want to start a big project like Adam’s breakfast club, I really need to work out just what it is that I will do; and when; and for whom. Just thinking that through is a piece of work in itself…

I’m not convinced flabby is the only alternative to stretched. Stretched as in taken out of one’s comfort zone or stretched as in engaging in work that demands high quality attention is not the same as stretched as in busy beyond one’s capacity. Priests often work like that. But I think it’s a disaster. That’s not what either church members or seekers after spirituality need to encounter. They need women and men with the time and energy to dig deep wells. And above all that, my wife and my children need my best attention. So this year the motto I’ll be failing to live up to (but trying nonetheless) is ‘sleep, pray, [look after your family] and then do whatever else you can fit in.’

I write this at 10:56 at night. Not going that well so far, is it!

15 01 2010
gloriousthings

Isn’t discerning what to take up and what to let go of all part of the content of your MA? Holding patterns are frustrating for mothers too! ?

16 01 2010
pompeypioneer

Indeed it is. Tell me more about a mother’s frustration…

17 01 2010
gloriousthings

….the frustration that it still tends to be the women who put their career on hold and reshape their desires for the sake of their children. Not that I consider being a priest a career choice but like you I have lots of good ideas bubbling under the surface and am scared that I will have missed the moment but am learning patience and there will be other moments. I blinked and my kids turned into teenagers. One will leave home soon and I don’t want to look back and realise that I wasn’t there for him.
Sarahx

18 01 2010
alison

What is God’s word on this ?

20 01 2010
pompeypioneer

That’s an easy question to put but an incredibly difficult one to answer. (If I knew you well, I might be as bold and challenging to say it was a facile question but as I don’t, I won’t!) Sometimes I wish it was as simple as finding out what God wants and just doing it. But we human beings are complex beings with staggering spiritual, intellectual, emotional and intuitive capacity. My early explorations in this topic of discernment (which I don’t think is actually a ‘topic’ but about the whole of our way of life) and, in fact, my own life experience, suggest to me that there’s not one narrow path that we have to walk that is God’s unalterable will for every moment of our life. God’s country it seems to me is much more of a wide, open vista that invites us to explore and actually *make choices for ourselves*. There are genuine options for us and not between the *one* right way and all the wrong ways but between a collection of different ways, many of which may be good choices and all of which (good or bad) can be travelled with God (who never leaves or forsakes us). Discernment then, it seems to me is not about an infantile desire to reduce choices to obey/disobey but about the sort of people that are making the choice…

28 01 2010
alison

I don’t remember Christ having the same level of choices. If He had, I don’t suppose He would have been crucified.

29 01 2010
pompeypioneer

There are clearly moments of huge importance where the choices are stark. But I’m still not convinced that that applies to every moment of every life. Otherwise aren’t we simply reduced to robots? I would have to be persuaded that Jesus was following a clear blueprint for every moment in his ministry. When he went to this place or that, was it really because this was the only place he could have gone to if he was to make the right choice? Surely the force of his presence and personality meant that things kicked off wherever he went. I think in his Galilean ministry he just sort of made it up as he went along. He ambled around and saw what would happen. I know that’s theologically shocking for people who want to believe it was all planned out beforehand in minute detail but I don’t buy it. Amidst that, clearly, there seem to be some things that have a sense of inevitability – going to Jerusalem seems pretty unavoidable. But when and how often? The gospel writers don’t even agree on that! (Comparing John to the synoptics)

31 01 2010
alison

How many times did He go to Jerusalem ?
Sounds a bit like Groundhog Day !

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