Sunday 3 May 2020

A Second Reflection by Terry Rees

The Tug of the Next Moment

I had tucked my binoculars safely inside my coat and determinedly quickened my pace when I realized that darkness was rapidly approaching. I had been out on the nature reserve for over three hours and still had some way to go before reaching the car park and the welcome flask of coffee that I had sensibly prepared and stored in the car. It had been a cold and overcast November afternoon and I began to regret the decision to take the longest circular route. It  can never be a good experience to be caught out in the middle of field and marsh in complete darkness!  Concentrating on the rough, gloomy terrain, I was no longer observant of anything but the path lying immediately before me.

          As I rapidly made my way I became vaguely aware of the dark shape of a largish bird perched to one side of the path - almost certainly something very common. I hurried on, but after a distance my inner voice began to nag me into the suggestion that this gloomy sighting perhaps should not be so casually dismissed. Something did seem unusual. I paused, retrieved my binoculars, and retraced my steps some thirty yards. Surprisingly, I was able to get close to the patiently waiting bird, and was rewarded with my very first, and to date my only, sighting of a Waxwing.  It remained in a conveniently cooperative pose and I was able to delight in the strong colouring that was still able to penetrate the gloom, together with the extravagant crest that had most likely provided the subconscious hint that this might be something worth going back for. In the end I left before it did.

          Over the years, this serendipitous event has assumed the status of a real-life parable that has helped shape my perception of spiritual formation. I had every reason not to pause, certainly not to turn back, but I had unintentionally glimpsed something that teased my mind, alerted my inquisitiveness , thereby leaving me with a choice - either to press on, or pause in my earnest intent. I was so glad I listened to my inner voice, even though the reason for my haste was legitimate. Sometimes, just the slightest glimpse of something different, providing we respond with a redirection of focus and intent, can lead us into a deeply satisfying experience. The regret of not responding, or not being able to respond, has been beautifully put by the poet R. S. Thomas :

                             I have seen the sun break through
                                    to illuminate a small field
                                    for a while, and gone my way
                                    and forgotten it. But that was the pearl
                                    of great price, the one field that had
                                     the treasure in it. I realize now
                                    that I must give all that I have
                                    to possess it. Life is not hurrying
                                    on to a receding future, nor hankering after
                                    an imagined past. It is the turning
                                    aside like Moses to the miracle
                                    of the lit bush, to a brightness
                                    that seemed as transitory as your youth
                                    once, but is the eternity that awaits you.

          I owe the title of this reflection to my reading, some thirteen years ago, of a short book by Simon Small, entitled “From the Bottom of the Pond”. It is a book about experiencing God in the present moment. We are all subject to the seduction of the “tug of the next moment”. There is a well-known mantra in management circles ; ‘If you want something done urgently, give it to the person who is too busy.’ The paradox arises because some persons have the skills and energy, and the inclination, to rapidly respond to the ‘tug of the next moment’. Sadly, they can be exploited. They may not complete things fully and perfectly, but they seem to be  inwardly programmed to move hurriedly on to the next stimulus, the next thing. It is not a general model of operating that I would encourage, certainly in the spiritual realm. ( When I used to tutor management courses this particular issue led to fruitful discussion about the creative tension between a manager’s task of achieving, and the pastoral care of staff.) Of course, we cannot totally escape the demands of the next moment – organized activity demands it – but it is a question of balance. Jesus most certainly experienced the tug-of -the-next moment. Crowds flocked to him for ministry, even when it would have been inconvenient and potentially damaging for him personally, and the disciples must have been very demanding of him at times, as followers universally are. Yes, Jesus did respond to sudden new demands – he could not escape the tug-of-the-next-moment - his ministry was defined by it. But, the evidence of Scripture is that he also made time to pause, to be solitary, to reflect, to pray, to get things in a divine perspective. He also protected Mary’s choice when he cautioned Martha that her sister’s particular moment of withdrawal was important and legitimate.  Pausing, even turning back, can take us away from the seductive pull of the next task. In so doing we can be better equipped for the future.   

          When I set out on this reflection my intent was not to make any reference to the COV-19 virus crisis. But it became obvious that it did relate. We have all had our normal functioning curtailed though social distancing and isolation. To a considerable extent the tug-of-the-next-moment has been neutered.  We can actually engineer the ‘next moment’ to a greater extent than we might ever have imagined possible. In a sense we have a degree of ‘retreat’ forced upon us. Despite the deep concern for ourselves, our loved ones, our friends, those who continue to work in dangerous environments, those who nurse, those who care for the elderly, those who sell and those who deliver, many of us have an opportunity that we might not experience again. We have been gifted , as Thomas says in his poem, an opportunity of:-

                                    “turning aside like Moses, to the miracle
                                    of the lit bush, to a brightness
                                    that seemed as transitory as your youth
                                    once, but is the eternity that awaits you.          
It is perhaps a time to reflect into our present, take a glance back to treasure the spiritual path that God has graced us with, and to look forward to new insights and new experiences.
                        “ For all that has been, Thanks. For all that shall be, Yes.”
                        (Dag Hammarskjold UN General Secretary in late 1950s)
May the Holy Spirit shape us like a precious stone in these strange times. May we return to fellowship as a thankful, inspired and energized people.


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