Yesterday morning was a busy one, and after lunch I was looking forward to relaxing in my shed with a pipe and the chance to finish a novel. But once my pipe was lit I had a change of heart: reading wasn’t right. I played some music and instead sat and mulled. It’s a favourite occupation of mine. It’s definitely not thinking, rather it’s allowing my mind to wander freely wherever it will, a sort of intuitive wandering. Sometimes nothing very much happens, often seemingly nothing at all. But yesterday to my surprise, I found myself mulling about my funeral service. I feel in good health, there’s no sense of urgency, but family members have been encouraging me for some time, to write something down as a guide for when it’s necessary. I’ve put it off, had no idea what to write, but yesterday unexpectedly, and quite out of the blue it became clear to me and a first draft was on the page in no time at all. I have no rational explanation for why it happened thus. The moment just seemed right, and the ideas flowed freely.
The significance for me here is not the subject matter but the process, and its one I’m familiar with. I may sit with a pipe and perhaps coffee, or a beer or a whiskey, and mull. To my surprise thoughts, ideas, pop into my head, either bringing clarity to something I was uncertain about, insights about something quite new, or a reminder of something I’d forgotten. It doesn’t always happen but it quite often does. It also happens at night. I wake up, either from a dream that has touched me deeply, or simply to a ‘knowing’ that I’m not about to get back to sleep again. “I’ll remember the dream and write it down in the morning” I say to myself, although I’ve learnt that I won’t. Or, “I’ll roll over and sleep will come, it’s warm and comfortable here” I murmur knowing that’s the wrong answer. I have learnt that the right answer is to get up, go downstairs, make myself a cup of tea, and open my journal and either write the dream down without censorship, or just write & see what comes. This is what happened last night, twelve hours after my shed mulling. Suddenly I saw a connection between one thing I’d been mulling about and another seemingly unrelated one, and then a second unconnected insight appeared on the page.
Over the years I’ve come value & trust the insights that come in this way. When I am relaxed, either in my shed with my pipe, or when I’m asleep and the rational side of my brain appears to be resting, my soul [the divine spark within me, the Presence of the Cosmic Christ] has an opportunity to speak and for me to heed what it says. At least that’s how I’ve come to see it. I’ve included mulling with my pipe, and getting up when my body wakes me in the night to write, as essential elements in my Rule of Life.
Its no coincidence that as I’m currently enjoying a sabbatical month, there have been a bit of a flurry of these unexpected insights. I’ve noticed the same with some other people during lockdown, who have come wonderfully alive as they’ve felt themselves free from the usual pressures, have been able to relax and take better care of themselves, and ‘hey presto’ all sorts of wisdom seems to surface from within them. Hopefully this is not just a passing whim soon forgotten as what passed for normal service begins to resume, for there is something deeply important here.
My sense of being called to priesthood, many years ago, happened in a manner very akin to what I’ve been describing. It was at the end of the Christmas Midnight Service in the church where I grew up and felt at home. I had nothing to do beyond enjoying being there. As the service ended I had a clear sense that that was what God was calling me to be. I now see that in a conducive context, where I felt safe & secure, my soul was able to articulate something that I was able to receive and act upon. [Not unlike spiritual direction, now I think about it]. I suspect that most other peoples’ sense of call, whether to ordination, or teaching, or being a mother, whatever, is discerned in a similar manner, with a sense of inner compulsion, which might or might not entail the naming of the divine. It pops into our minds & is immediately ‘known’ to be true, without any need for rational questioning. If this is how God appears to call people, then it should surely be part of our spiritual discipline to guard occasions for it to be possible. We have no control over when or if it will happen, but we have a responsibility to put ourselves in a context where it might.
Ironically much of life seems to mitigate against it. I can recall nothing in my training for priesthood that took note of how my sense of call happened, let alone that actively encouraged me to stay open to such experiences and to take them seriously, or even to see that a central part of any priest’s role was to help other people to be open to, and trust, such experiences as being ‘of God’. The culture both inside the Church & outside encourages us to be busy. In the secular world that might be understandable, but you’d hope the religious world would have the wisdom both to discern and honour things differently, and to offer that counter cultural perception to the world as part of its mission. Seemingly not. But I could try and change that, starting with myself.