Life often seems to go by so fast. Those of us currently studying at theological colleges are not immune to this – we are all, based on recent conversations, and especially those of us who only arrived this past summer, approaching the end of term on Friday and thinking, “Where did the time go?” Busy-ness seems to speed time up and suddenly we are at the end of term and amazed at how fast it seems to have gone.
Yet in the midst of this there are moments which seem to act as prisms that slow that experience down for us, that seem to stretch time in order that we might experience them more fully. Often it is just a fleeting occasion, a single point of slowness in a fast and hectic day or week. Yesterday I had the joyful experience of a slow day. As you can tell from my previous sentences I do not mean that I did not have much to do, since term is not over and my Mondays are busy during term. Rather, I mean that it seemed like a day that had been slowed down so that I might fully appreciate my experiences and the wonder of those experiences.
It started with worship in the morning. The Wesley House chapel has an organ but for most of term it has been out of action. It has now been fixed and really showed its worth yesterday as we sang the hymn “O come, O come, Immanuel”. While we Methodists are generally never shy in our singing the presence of the organ seemed to lift us to new heights in our singing of this wonderful advent hymn, adding a wonderful contrast to the contemplative nature of the rest of the service, which followed the order set for Prayer in the Morning in the Methodist Worship Book. Then, when we reached the end of the service, our organist, a wonderfully talented fellow student, launched into an improvisation based on Veni Immanuel (the tune to the aforementioned hymn). Alongside this, as the music filled the chapel and lifted our hearts, we were able to look out the now open chapel door and see thick snowflakes falling (we had come to chapel in a cold yet still atmosphere). All together it was a wonderful reminder of the joys of the gifts of community, of music and of God’s creation.
Next, after dropping the wee one at school and having said goodbye to Mrs Nomad (who was still wrapped up in bed seeing off the last remnants of a cold), I headed off to my Christian Art class. Usually our Image & Icon classes are pretty enjoyable, yet the last two weeks of term have featured a guest lecturer and our first lecture from him last week had not left me looking forward to a further two hours with him yesterday! My fears were, it has to be said, somewhat confirmed and I found my mind wandering (the joys of the Cambridge system mean that switching off from the odd lecture is unlikely to damage your ability to pass the Paper). Without a mobile signal (the lectures are in the basement of the DivFac building) and therefore unable to peruse Facebook, Twitter and the web, I found myself wondering what to do with myself. And then, very oddly, I felt an urge to do something I have not done since I left school half my lifetime ago – draw, or rather sketch! So I spent the rest of the lecture sketching, first, the lecturer, and then a couple of my fellow students who I felt would not object to my doing so and who were sat in positions where my view gave me something more to observe than simply the backs of their heads! I cannot say that the outcomes were of any great standard but I found it enjoyable and a wonderful reminder that not only do we make a mistake when we pigeonhole others but that we make a mistake when we pigeonhole ourselves too – if I, as I usually emphatically define myself, am a person of words then why did I find myself sketching some half-decent drawings rather than writing some polemical piece?
After Hebrew and my lunch at St Edmund’s, which I deliberately ate more slowly since I have been giving myself indigestion by wolfing it down and sprinting by bike to Ridley for my next lecture, I made my way to Ethics. Those of you who have followed my blog posts, tweets and Facebook updates will know that I have, at times, taken issue with my Ethics lecturers over the content and style of the course. While the last couple of weeks had, in my opinion at least, been an improvement over what had come before I was still a little uncertain about how enjoyable it might be and I was glad it was to be the last one, not just of the term but of the year (now I just have a 3,000 word essay on Ethics and Economics to write by May). How wrong I was! Yesterday featured a brief lecture on issues in bio-medical ethics followed by discussions in small groups and in plenary on various different matters. It then finished with about 15 minutes of quiet time in which we were asked to prayerfully reflect on all that we had thought about and discussed, not just yesterday but throughout the course, and to note how we might take forward these ethical issues in our own lives – as individuals, within our churches, and within wider society – for ethics are not truly ethics if they are only considered and not acted out. It was a wonderful reminder both of how ethics can be a joy to study and also of how all this academic study we are doing is so that we may translate into a lived out faith as ministers in the Church.
Then, as Mrs Nomad was ill, I was charged with the task of taking the wee one to her trampolining club – usually Mrs Nomad goes with her and does some trampolining too! As it was so cold I took the car rather than cycle. As we were driving there Ellie Goulding’s cover version of Elton John’s “Your Song” came on the radio. The wee one suddenly said “That’s a cello!” (Before taking up the Double Bass she had been learning the Cello).
“Yes,” I said, “that’s right”, because it clearly was.
She replied, “Yes, and it’s being played on the G string, 1st finger position, I think.” (It was a long note.)
My jaw dropped. “You can tell that by just listening?”
“Yes, it’s quite obvious really!” I laughed out loud, really laughed, in pure unadulterated joy. “Why are you laughing?”
“Do you have any idea,” I replied, “how few people can do that? What a gift you have in being able to do that?”
“No,” she said, and giggled along with me.
Suffice to say we will be encouraging her musical gift – her dream is currently to play Double Bass alongside jazz musician Jamie Cullum, and who are we to say, considering her significant development in just one term, that one day she might not manage that?! She’s not good at committing to long-term things but Mrs Nomad and I are more convinced than ever that this gift is something worth nurturing. That moment was a wonderful reminder of the joy of parenthood, of the wonderful gifts each one of us holds and how unaware we can be even of our own gifts, and the need to nurture the gifts we and those we love possess.
In the midst of the manic speed of term, even as we approach the end of it, yesterday really was a wonderfully slow day, in which the joys and gifts of life were brought into a rare focus. And I thank God for it.
Whether quickly or slowly, travel well,