A Reflection by Trevor Miller.
One of my all-time favourite children’s books when our kids were little had a great title, ‘Alexander and the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day’. We’ve all had them, when the ‘never rains but it pours’ syndrome brings back-to-back disappointments. Here is an excerpt: ‘I went to sleep with chewing gum in my mouth and now it’s in my hair and when I got up this morning I tripped on my skateboard, dropped my sweater in the sink when the water was running and I could tell it was going to be a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day’.
For many, of course, the days can be weeks or months, but for all of us ordinary life itself is a mixture of our being both victims and perpetrators! We all have to deal with a combination of our own folly and sin, the consequences of the wrong choices of those close to us and the often complex implications of the ever changing situations and circumstances that influence and impact our daily lives. How do we cope with this? Indeed, more than that, how do we go beyond just coping, so as to live! The answers will be different for us all but…
As a Community we can say that we’ve found great help in exploring the spiritual disciplines of desert monastic spirituality and the simplicity of a daily rhythm that applies equally to both the ‘Good Morning, God’ and the ‘Good God, morning’ days. For the Desert Fathers, these spiritual disciplines provided a framework for daily discernment, ‘a right judgement in all things’. Like us their path was not smooth or untroubled but they acknowledged and accepted the spiritual principle that it is only as we are willing to turn the experiences of inner confusion, turmoil and pain into teaching tools that we can be of service to others in their deepest need. All happenings, great and small, are parables whereby God speaks. The art of life is to get the message. They said Yes to Merton’s ‘The only mistake that remains a mistake is one from which you do not learn’, but in their wisdom they also knew that discernment involved the recognition of limits and the humility to see that we are not God, and that God does not seek our spiritual destruction but our spiritual direction.
So we need to know our boundaries, so that like Alexander – if we’re having ‘a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day’ – stressed, pressured, knackered, at odds with myself and everyone else, with little or no energy left, what we do is KISS = keep it simple, stupid. i.e. We live in the manageable portions of ‘day at a time’ ness, so as to keep the rhythm, maintain the discipline, keep the boundaries so that we don’t go ‘over the edge’ of our limits.
One Desert Fathers story puts it like this; ‘An old man used to say, ‘If you see a man who has fallen into the water, and you can help him, stretch out your staff to him and draw him out, lest if you stretch your hand to him and you are not able to bring him up, he drags you down and both of you perish’. Now he spoke this for the sake of those who thrust themselves forward to help other people who are being tempted and who, through wishing to help others beyond their powers themselves fall. It is right for a man to help his brother according to the power he has, for God demands not from a man beyond his strength.’
In other words a vital part of seeking God is to know your self, your limitations, for a serious danger to the spiritual life is over activity, of stretching ourselves beyond our powers and so leading to exhaustion, feeling disconnected as we find ourselves caught up in the multiple activities of hurry and worry by spreading ourselves too thin.
If you want your dream to be, build it slow and surely.
Small beginnings, greater ends. Heartfelt work grows purely.
If you want to live life free, take your time, go slowly.
Do few things, but do them well: simple joys are holy.
Day by day, stone by stone, build your secret slowly.
Day by day, you’ll grow too; you’ll know heaven’s glory!
We need to value ourselves more, who we are as persons, realise that everyone else does not come first, but God and our relationship to Him. ‘Love God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind and all your strength… then …love neighbour as self.’ Like Jesus we need to find the place apart to renew our inner strength each day of our lives so that even if it’s ‘Alexander and the wonderful, marvellous, all good, very fine day’ we still watch the boundaries, know the limits, so as to be alive and stay alive inside!
‘Let your tender mercies come unto us that we might live again’