Sunday 28th February 2021

Day 12 Holy Idleness

Paying attention requires that we slow down, allow ourselves to be still, and let go of busyness and rushing. Nature can bring us to this state of stillness if we allow it to, by giving it time, and paying it attention.
“What is life if, full of care
We have no time to stand and stare”
So wrote the Welsh poet W.H. Davies in his famous poem: “Leisure”. Nature calls us to stand and stare, become absorbed in beauty, to discover the gift of idleness. Idleness has never been seen as one of the great virtues – as we know, “the devil makes work for idle hands”. Idleness has long been frowned upon. “Do something, so the devil may always find you busy” said the 4th century theologian, St Jerome. Such teaching very easily became part of Christian thinking, the assumption that those with time on their hands will inevitably get up to no good!
Thank goodness for poets like W.H. Davies who knew a thing or two about idleness. William Henry Davies became a drop out, or beatnik, in the late 19th century, long before the term became known or used. He dropped out of society and became a tramp, or hobo, and travelled around this country, and around the world. But in his idleness, he learned how to pay attention, to stop and stare, and find himself in the beauty of the natural world. Also to write some very fine poetry.
The American poet, Mary Oliver, never took up the hobo life but she knew about the importance of being idle, of slowing down and paying attention to nature. In one of my favourite poems: The Summer Day, Mary Oliver writes:

“I don’t know exactly what prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me what else I should have done?”

Oh, how the world needs to hear the message of the poets. Far from the devil making work for idle hands, idleness is a prerequisite to Blessing. Listen to nature, not St Jerome!

…………………………….
From Psalm 46

God is in the midst of us;
the Lord of hosts is with us.
Come, behold the works of the Lord.

“Be still and know that I am God.”
…………………….

Sermon for Lent 2

Today’s theme in our Lenten booklet is Holy Idleness.
Idleness gets a bad press in much of our Christian tradition, while being busy has often been seen as a virtue. A friend once bought me a tee-shirt which had printed on it: Jesus is coming – Look busy! How sad that busyness has been so applauded, while doing nothing is much maligned.
Busyness is often the mode we go in when we are trying to look virtuous, or are avoiding the real issues of life. How often have we gone into “busy mode” because it takes our mind off our troubles. And, of course, there is much to be said for that – sitting down moping seldom gets us anywhere.

However, busyness can become a means of avoidance, of merely filling in time;
we can be very busy achieving very little.
There are times when stopping, and doing absolutely nothing is the right thing to do;
and those times should be regular occurrences.
Something that I have learned during our times of lockdown
is that you don’t have to be busy hurrying around in order to get things done.
I have discovered that you often get things done much quicker, and far more efficiently,
by doing less and having space for holy idleness.

The 19th century naturalist and philosopher, Henry David Thoreau, once wrote:
I have so much to do today that if I do not spend the morning walking, I’ll never get it done! I have discovered that there is a great deal of truth in this.
We can be very busy achieving very little sometimes,
but can achieve much in a short space of time if we are in a good frame of mind.
Someone once said that 90% of every task is preparation.
The best preparation, I am beginning to learn is holy idleness.
Not rushing around, not panicking, not working round the clock –
but having a more relaxed and open attitude to life.
Holy idleness is making time to put our mind, body and spirit in a more relaxed mode.
Or, perhaps more accurately, to make enough space in our day
for our mind, body, and spirit to find its own balance and centeredness.

What is life, if full of care, we have no time to stand and stare.
Wrote the poet W.H. Davies.

Mary Oliver in her beautiful poem The Summers Day writes: “I “I don’t know exactly what prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me what else I should have done?”

Nature teaches us how to be idle in a good way.
Whether it is walking like Henry Thoreau; stopping and standing to stare like W.H. Davies; or strolling through the fields, kneeling or sitting on the grass, like Mary Oliver.
It can be idly watching the birds, or trees through our window, or wandering in the park,
sitting or pootling in the garden, or making space to watch the sun rise or the sun set.
As today’s Lenten reflection says, far from “the devil making work for idle hands”,
it is more likely God that finds space in idle hands to make Gods-self known,
and inspire us in the tasks we do.
Take time this week for a little holy idleness. It is the best part of every day.
And if we get into the habit, we will discover the days run much more smoothly.
As W.H Davies tells us:
A poor life this, if full of care, we have no time to stand and stare.

The Summer Day by Mary Oliver

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean–
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down–
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
With your one wild and precious life?