Here I am on the Wayfarer’s Walk. You can tell from that oh-so flattering back view of my younger self that I’ve no need of that road marking, can’t you? If I remember rightly, my progress then was slow, slow, quick-quick, slow; more of a cha-cha than a polka.
This week I’ve been writing an article about retreats for our local parish magazine. I’ve found it a rewarding project: it’s a topic I’m passionate about. Even so, tailoring my reflections to a largely non churchgoing audience was more challenging.
The thought of intentionally opting for a week of silence and solitude minus all your electronic gadgetry is still counter-cultural. I mean- why fork out the equivalent of your budget for redecorating the spare room or of a holiday in the sun, just to do ‘nothing?’
Yet there is a growing spiritual hunger. The popularity of reality TV programmes like ‘The Monastery,’ ‘The Convent,’ and ‘The Big Silence,’ touched a chord in many people. There was a rise in the number of enquiries about retreats and spiritual direction after these aired. In a society where one’s worth is increasingly measured by one’s productivity, the notion of just ‘being,’ must be both alien and intriguing. Slowing down and letting go is associated with illness, infirmity and old age.
Now don’t get me wrong; I’m not trying to gloss over the challenges of later life here. I’m only a couple of years off a certain landmark birthday, myself. Several friends and contemporaries have been struck down with chronic, life-threatening conditions. ‘Time’s Wing’d chariot’ if not ‘hovering near,’ has certainly been seen in the middle distance.
If there’s a message there for me, it’s to treasure my good health whilst I have it.
And yet… I’ve sat by the bed of a school friend and struggled to keep a positive front. Platitudes don’t cut it. Illness and age can be cruel taskmasters indeed. Enforced slowing down and letting go gives the recipient little or no choice. My hope is that by making the voluntary variety more of a practice now and by trying to be fully present to the moment, I might…perhaps just might…be able to negotiate life better when my time comes.