Saturday, October 16, 2004

Stability

The thing I love about Lark Rise to Candleford is the same thing I love about Groundhog Day, and the Rule of St Benedict. It's something about the contemplation of time and place; staying with the reality of a place and its people long enough to grow to know and love them, instead of wishing them other than they are.

In Groundhog Day, Bill Murray's insufferably arrogant weatherman, Phil Connors, stranded in the time loop of the most boring day of his life, is forced to find another option than raging against the day and the place, hating them and everyone in it, trying to destroy them or himself. It's when he starts to use the day to get to know people, to enter into their lives and understand them, that he comes to love them. And it's as he starts to use the day to improve himself, learning to play the piano and to help other people with the little crises of their everyday, that he becomes loveable.

And St Benedict's way of putting it is:

The workshop where we are to toil faithfully at all these tasks is the enclosure of the monastery and stability in the community. (RSB 4.78)

This is what Flora Thompson does with her sympathetic observations of life in the hamlet of Lark Rise, and the village of Candleford Green, as they were in the 1880s and 90s. Because she has observed them closely enough, and described them in enough detail, she doesn't reproach or find fault with anyone. Even those who are clearly at fault, are recognised as just human, no more nor less so than any of the rest of us. And the charitableness of this point of view is such, that we come to see her as immensely loveable, too. As the gipsy who told her fortune for her said, "You're going to be loved; loved by people you've never seen and never will see." What a fortune! What an ambition!

This is a part of why I think long incumbencies were a good thing. The 'generational ministry' of clergy who stayed in the same parish for 20 or 30 years, was able to touch people's lives in a completely different way from the fly-by-night 5 or 7 year contracts now favoured in team ministries and elsewhere. There the idea is, that once you've inflicted your 'bright idea' or programme on your long-suffering flock, there's nothing else you have to give. So up sticks and on to the next place to do the same again.

I'm trying to adapt these insights to any situation of boredom. The 110 mile drive to our flat in Church Stretton could easily feel tedious - especially when you're stuck behind a slow lorry on the A44 - but I'm trying to study it, to get to know every tree and bend and house along the route, so that it becomes perpetually interesting instead.

In the same way, if a child or anyone says of a thing, "That's boring!" the proper (Benedictine) response might be: You just haven't looked at it closely enough, and long enough. I'd quite like to try this with the people who call Anglican worship - especially the BCP - dull or boring. You just haven't looked at it closely enough. Pray with the BCP for an hour a day for 30 years, and see if you still find it dull.

I suppose they might reply, "Life's too short for that!" But it's not, you know. One of the things that eternal life means, is learning to unfold each instant so that it embraces the universe, and the whole of time.

posted by Tony at 10/16/2004 08:35:33 PM

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