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Saturday, 1 November 2008

"A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds."

That is from Emerson, and occurred to me because after being so rude about religion, I found something a month or so ago, by a bishop whose name, I shamefacedly admit I did not note.

But The Church of England comes out with so much politically correct hogwash today that it was a blessing to find something not just good, but inspiring.

Here it is. I think very appropriate for these troubled times. I was very moved.

A COUPLE of years ago I was due to lead an assembly at a Church of England comprehensive school that I visited regularly. This is a tough gig: seven or eight hundred adolescents, crowded into a hall first thing on a Monday morning and forced to endure a hymn, a prayer, a worthy talk and, usually, a ticking off.

On this occasion my anxiety levels were particularly high since I had not really prepared anything much to say. It was the beginning of Lent and I had a vague idea about encouraging them to take something up rather than give something up, but as I walked to the school I became all too aware that my situation was similar to driving in the fast lane of the motorway, with no petrol in the tank, and realising you’ve just gone past the services.

But these moments of panic can also be moments of prayer, moments when we are more open to the wiles of God. And it was almost as I got up to speak that a crazy idea was suddenly born within me. I stood up and found myself saying something like this:

‘We live in a crazy, frantic world. Our world is full of movement and noise. Even this morning, in the few hours since you woke up, you have probably filled your time with the radio, the TV, the computer, the PlayStation; you’ve probably phoned someone and texted half a dozen others. As you got dressed, washed, showered, ate your breakfast and came to school, noise and busyness have accompanied your every move.

I believe many of the world’s problems are caused by our inability to sit still and to be quiet and to reflect. I believe that, in this season of Lent, we should try to give upbeing so frantic, and we should take on some moments of stillness.’

Then I stopped, as if I had lost my thread (actually, it felt as if the thread were being handed to me inch by inch, and even I was not aware what was at the end). And I said to them, ‘Hey, you don’t know what on earth I’m talking about, so let me give you a demonstration. Let me show you what I mean. This is what I’m suggesting you do, each day in Lent, for exactly one minute. It will change your life.’

I then picked up a chair, placed it in the centre of the stage, and slowly and carefully sat down upon it, with my feet slightly apart and with my back straight and with my hands resting gently on my knees. And, for a minute, I sat still. I didn’t say anything, and I didn’t do anything. I wasn’t even consciously praying. I was just sitting there. And I breathed deeply, and I thought about my breathing. And when I reckoned the minute was over, I stood up.

But before I could say my next bit, there was a huge, spontaneous round of applause. Now, I had done lots of assemblies in that school. On many occasions I had slaved over what I would do or say to capture the imaginations of young people. But I had never had a response like this. In fact, in the days that followed, I was stopped in the street on several occasions by parents who told me that their child had come home and told them about the priest who took assembly and just sat on the stage in silence for a minute and then suggested they might do the same thing.

Because, when the applause died down, that’s what I’d said. I just suggested that sitting still, being silently attentive to things deep within ourselves and things beyond ourselves, would make a difference. You didn’t need to call it prayer. You didn’t need to call it anything, because it would be in these moments of sedulous stillness that God could be discovered.

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