Because eternity is contained in the soul, a man in finding himself findeth eternity; and because in finding himself he findeth eternity, in finding himself he findeth all things. For all things are contained in eternity. Since therefore in retirement alone a man findeth himself, in retirement alone he findeth all things. Nor can there be any rest, till he findeth all things his delights and treasures. – Thomas Traherne in Inducements to Retiredness
As this set of Ember Days comes to a conclusion, I am reminded how precious times of quiet introspection are in the era of e-mail, social networks, and cell-phones. In only a few short years, these baubles of modernity have become essentials, and people feel deeply deprived, alone, and vulnerable without them. For all the sense of connection and provision of information these tools provide, however, they are very intrusive. Because we can be reached, we now must be reached. Because we can have lots of brief contact, deeper contact becomes an unaffordable luxury. Because we can chatter, we find silence difficult.
In my case, the energy and focus for teaching, pastoring, preaching, and discerning come from both a lively prayer life and much quiet, unbroken time for thinking. This has always been a bit of a problem for me. While society’s pace keeps speeding up, my own pace remains stubbornly slow. No amount of faking it works. In a world of sprinters, I’m a confirmed saunterer.
The Embertides remind me that this is entirely OK. We need times of interiority just as we need times of action. Just now, with all of the anxiety around the economy, political stalemate, and the sorry state of the Anglican Communion, it is very easy to become overwhelmed by bad news. The Christian, however, absolutely must remain imbued with the hope and power of the Good News. We cannot become part of the Bad News. Christ has given us a task as his hands, eyes, feet, &c. That task is not to do the “heavy lifting,” which he alone can do. I tend to forget this easily. The Ember Days, with their prayers and emphasis on being apart for a short season, recall me to reality.
That reality is not a form of denial or escapism. It is an engagement with “all things” in the light of the Resurrection. The Resurrection light is capable of making “all things” our “delights and treasures,” as Traherne wrote--something that the world can never do. Living in that reality is an effort, a choice, for fallen humanity. Even accepting God's grace is work for us! Taking regular time out from the rush of events, in addition to living with a Rule of Life and having a daily life of prayer, brings that choice into higher relief and makes the benefits of this work clearer.