Tiredness Stills

We all know that tiredness kills. It is a sign we have seen thousands of times as we hurtle along the motorways, and I daresay there can’t be many of us who haven’t said, ‘He/she will be the death of me,’ as we wearily tried to respond to yet another call on our time and attention. But tiredness also stills. It strips away much of the false self we create for ourselves, with its noisiness and endless activity. It leaves us as we are: naked, vulnerable, and possibly much nicer than the public self we present to the world. Tiredness shows what we are made of, and it is, as Hopkins would say, ‘immortal diamond’.

Recently, I have experienced my fair share of tiredness, and for someone who has always been full of energy and ideas (we all have illusions about ourselves. Ed.), it has been quite hard to accept. At first one struggles against it, as though one could, by sheer will-power, overcome the limitations of mind and body. But one soon realises that that is impossible. One must go with the flow; and sometimes one discovers in the very tiredness a purpose and meaning one did not know existed. It is as though tiredness, by showing us how human we are, allows scope for the divine.

I have often wondered what was in Jesus’ mind as he lay with his head on a cushion, asleep in the boat, obviously dead-tired. We all know he awoke to a storm, which must have been nightmarish —except that Jesus stilled the storm with a word. Power flowed out of him, weary as he was, because he put up no barriers to his Father. Maybe there is a lesson there for all of us who feel a bit tired and weary today.

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Time Off

By eight o’clock this morning I had made my prayer, done half an hour’s lectio divina, prayed Vigils and Lauds in community, written a column for The Universe, answered half a dozen emails, updated our Facebook page with a prayer intention, tweeted, had breakfast and said good morning to Bro Duncan PBGV. And that is the ‘non-work’ part of the day! I think you will understand why I am keen that we should relax the pace for a day or two, but how? We cannot lessen our prayer; we cannot turn visitors away; we must still shop, cook, eat, wash our clothes, do the housework, just like anybody else. We must still do the work that provides much of our income or the bills won’t get paid and our charitable outreach will fizzle out; we must still try to respond to the many enquiries, comments and appeals for help that come to us via the internet because that’s a commitment we have taken on.

I suspect many of you are smiling to yourself, ‘Welcome to my world.’ Change just a few of the obligations, or the times at which they occur, and I’m sure most of you, unless you are now retired, have exactly the same sense of pressure. It is one of the hallmarks of life in the twenty-first century. We either have no work, or too much. Too much to do, too little time: no wonder we feel tired.

I have no magic answer. The best I can do is share with you a  little trick I myself make use of constantly. Forget the idea of long, lazy hours of leisure: they will never happen, unless you are lucky enough to be able to afford a holiday. Try instead to cultivate brief moments of silence and awareness throughout the day. Stop for a moment and look out of the window. Note the light and shade, the white line of the horizon, the sound of footfalls on the pavement perhaps, or the swish of tires as cars pass by; smell the air, wet with rain or smokey with diesel; maybe touch the surface of the windowsill and feel the grain of the wood. Register all these for a moment, and then say ‘thank you, God.’ Nothing more is necessary. If you can’t get out, just look at whatever is around you now, as though seeing it for the first time, and say ‘thank you’.

If we live each day in a spirit of gratitude, with short moments of prayer woven into the fabric of our lives, I believe we can cope with most things. We may still get tired, become grumpy, make mistakes, feel down or out of sorts. Prayer isn’t a ‘solution’ to any of these. It doesn’t protect us from life. It opens us up to Life itself.

Another perspective
For another view of things, do read the Revd Stephen Cherry’s blog post (which I had missed). I think only no. 8 applies to monasteries, but there are some very helpful ideas in his list: http://bit.ly/X82r4I.

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Exhaustion Point

Yesterday we finally admitted what had been staring us in the face for the past few weeks: we had reached, not exhaustion point exactly, but somewhere on the road to exhaustion where the warning signs were plain to see. So, instead of doing all the things we thought we should (unpacking, answering correspondence, getting the monastery accounts up to date, scything down the savannah that has sprung up overnight in the garden, sorting out the 1001 things that have to be sorted), still less all the things other people thought we should do (complete as appropriate), we decided to do very little.

The monastic version of very little takes quite a lot of time: prayer and reading, Mass at Belmont, which was beautifully celebrated, with some fine singing from the boys and girls of St Richard’s School, and a community meal (the first properly cooked one for a few days), but it was not taxing in the way that working against the clock is taxing; nor was the tiredness beyond our control. We had not, in fact, reached exhaustion point.

There are many people who have reached, or even gone beyond, exhaustion point. Work, the pressure of caring for others — children, elderly parents, perhaps a husband or wife with severe disabilities — trying to struggle by on too little money or in the face of hostility and bullying: all these can bring people to the point of physical and emotional exhaustion. For us, the solution to our temporary exhaustion was easy: we just switched off for the day. For others, it is not so easy; and sadly, it is often the people who most need help who are least able to ask for it or least likely to receive help if they do.

One of the most sobering statistics I have read for a long while concerns the number of children in the U.K. who are the principal carers for their parents. At an age when most of us were probably leaving our bedrooms in a mess and flouncing out of the house ‘at all hours’, these young people are cooking, cleaning, tending to their parents in ways that properly belong to adults. There are systems in place that are supposed to pinpoint children at risk, but we all know that much goes on behind the walls of our houses that is hidden from view. And in countries not so blessed with security and material wealth as our own, children face even worse problems.

Perhaps today, if we are beginning the working week feeling a little tired and jaded, we could spare a thought and a prayer for those who are truly exhausted; for the children coping with adult challenges; for all who are weary and see no hope of an end to their weariness.

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