The watch tower

A tiny room is built into the corner of the Abbey at a height that allowed the watchman to see anyone coming up the long pathway from the bay. The purpose was not so much to be prepared for enemy attack but rather so that visitors and pilgrims could be welcomed. Benedictine monks who occupied the Abbey from 1200 to 1500AD valued the gift of hospitality as highly as any. Their Welcome Team was second to none! The person on duty would no doubt have needed much patience as they watched attentively, as well as the capacity to be at peace with ‘doing nothing’. Watching and waiting are disciplines that have always been central to Christian spirituality.

The way Jesus lived was characterised by them both. He said; “I do only what I see the Father doing”. He waited until ‘hour had come’ before allowing himself to be handed over to be crucified. Although Jesus was busy and the pressure on him often relentless, we never get a picture of him in the gospels as being in a hurry. It’s worth asking why.

This question is increasingly occupying the minds of writers today. John Ortberg for example describes in his book The Life You’ve Always Wanted how some of the best advice he was ever given urged him to “ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life.” He gives a long list of symptoms of what he calls Hurry Sickness such as frantically jostling to get in the shortest queue at the check out, living amidst clutter, forgetting important things, jumping from one thing to another without ever really enjoying what you’re doing and ‘sunset fatigue’ (those we love get the leftovers of our day) etc etc. Indeed, he goes so far as to say that ‘hurry kills love and is therefore the great enemy of the spiritual life. Hurry prevents us from receiving love from the Father or giving it to His children. That’s why Jesus never hurried.’ Bishop Stephen Cottrell was so struck by his own inability to slow down that he entitled a recent, very readable (short) book Do Nothing to Change Your Life, which is full of helpful ideas for doing exactly that.

The disciplines of watching and waiting are antidote to hurry sickness. We can establish practices for patience, which of course is the first word that is used to describe what love is in 1 Corinthians 13. Here are a few.

Possible Practices

  1. Watch your life. At the end of a day give yourself 15 minutes with a cup of something and look back over what happened as if you were watching a recording of yourself and what went on. Just close your eyes and re-imagine it all for a while, without making any judgements as to what was good or bad. Then make a note of three things you are thankful for, and one thing you wish could have been different. You may want to turn these into a prayer if you haven’t dropped off already!
  1. Watch Jesus’ life. Read part of a gospel account e.g. Mark 1; 35 – 45. Then read it again SLOWLY allowing your imagination to bring the scene to life. Do exactly as you did with your own day – 3 things to be thankful for and one you wish could have been different. In the simplest terms have a conversation with Jesus about his day. Ask him how he felt then; why did he do that? What other options did he have? Then wait to see if anything like an answer comes. Note it down and reflect on what you have seen with the eyes of your heart.
  1. Deliberate acts of slowing. There are endless examples. Eat meals one mouthful at a time, and savour the tastes! Drive to the speed limit, everywhere. Leave your watch (and mobile) at home when not having to get to appointments. Grow a vegetable (it can’t be rushed!). Create more time for reading by fasting from the television and computer screen so spend less time playing video games by advancing faster in the game with the purchase OW boost online. Decide to answer one email a week by letter or well chosen card. Have a long bath with beautiful music and hot towels.

As we do this we are in effect saying to God that we are trusting Him to enable us to get what He wants done and in the way He wants it done – in His time and in His love!