I have a special service to lead at 12 noon today, and therefore an unusually quiet Sunday morning to spend in thought. I could go to church, but my local congregation worships at 11am at which time I’ll be leaving for work. So writing a blog seems as good a way as any to discipline my thinking.
Having just returned from (French) Catalunya, I’d been considering an essay on the different forms of violence displayed in the last week in the dispute over the referendum in Spanish Catalunya, including Señor Puigdemont’s implicit violence in not recognising the opinions of Catalans who want to remain part of Spain. In a volatile situation any violence may be dangerous, and the state has a responsibility to use its monopoly of force to prevent violence rather than to promote it. But I don’t really have much wisdom on this topic other than to confess it has made me question what percentage of a majority vote I would consider sufficient for Scottish independence, although I would once have thought 51% to 49% perfectly adequate.
Then I had an email from my friend Kostas with some material from Varoufakis on reform of the EU, which I read, marvelling at the scope of the author’s knowledge and imagination, almost as much as his complete lack of a workable plan for getting from A to B of his programme. Maybe that will come.
Maybe indeed I don’t really have a thought worth communicating, and should abandon the blogosphere to the millions who know that their opinion will benefit humanity. Maybe….perhaps…..I should listen to the quiet voice which I have often ignored as I wrote one blog after another, the voice that says, clearly enough, “Oh, shut up and listen!”
I want to protest that there’s no better recipe for madness than trying to listen to the clamour of global media, but I know the quiet voice is not directing me to a new batch of tweets, but rather reminding me that I used to imagine I could listen to God. Yes, I did, I remember, and not as an exercise in supernatural contact, but more as envisaged by D H Lawrence who wrote of “man in his wholeness, wholly attending.” He meant a disciplined awareness of oneself in the world and a disciplined openness to what comes from beyond the self.
I recollect that my mind has nagged me since I got up today with the memory of past events in which my smart mouth led me to say things that were hurtful or ungenerous or arrogant because I was in thrall to my own cleverness. It’s just as well I didn’t then have access to social media, as I would infallibly have turned bad thinking into worse messaging. One of the most painful of these memories is of a time when a female colleague was trying to tell me about her breast cancer, while I was on my high horse about some political issue. When she could stand it no longer, she said, “When God gave us one mouth and two ears he meant us to listen twice as often as we speak.”
There is the great bible story of Elijah who after his vigorous defence of the true God of Israel, feels overcome by the opposition, and journeys to the place of divine revelation at Sinai, where he experiences all manner of B-movie effects which do not however, reveal God. Then however he hears “ a sound of silence” that asks him what he is doing. Immediately he answers with a well- worded defence of his sacrifice for God, but is given detailed instructions about how to undermine his enemies and establish his successor. The ‘still, small voice’ beloved of sentimental preachers accepts that he is at the end of his life’s work and tells him how to finish it well. He is made quiet so that he can listen to the intelligent voice of duty. He is reminded that although he is necessary to its progress, he is not in charge of God’s business.
I think that’s what I need to hear.