I am not good at being alone. It isn’t really part of my make-up. I like distractions. Often they actually help me think. Yet, this said, I recognise that actually, as a Minister, or even as a Minister in training, time alone is important. Or rather, time alone yet not alone is important. I love communal worship, in its many forms. Over the last 2-and-a-half days we’ve had some examples of wonderful variety in worship: Monday morning’s liturgical worship using the order for Morning Prayer in the Methodist Worship Book; a reflective service yesterday morning, in which we shared in writing words that are important to us in our relationship with God and then placing them together on an image related to Psalm 121; last night’s informal yet well-ordered, child-friendly yet not childish Community Communion using the story of the paralysed man and his friends in Mark as a starting point ; a prayerful meditation at this morning’s Worship Group Breakfast. Each was wonderful, and brought, at least to me, a sense of meeting God in and amongst my friends and family.
Sometimes, though, we need time alone with God. There may be other people around but we need space to be on our own. Since stopping a daily commute that is something I have found difficult. I used to do it on the train to work. Every day of the working week, even surrounded by people, my time on the train was my time with God. Sure, I was not unaware of the people around me, but my focus was not at all on them, they were at the periphery of my concentration. When I worked for the church, when time on my own at home became a standard part of my day, it became more difficult to find ways in which I could be alone yet not alone, in part because I actually felt alone – I missed, still miss, the office vibe. One of those areas I have found myself trying to develop in is personal devotion, time in which it is just me, alone with God.
And even though God is always with us, there is a difference between being “alone, with God”, and being deliberately “alone with God”. Over the past few months, with encouragement from my tutor, I have been trying to find ways to set aside time each day for personal devotion, for time with God, alone yet not alone. Until last week the only real success I had had was my drives northwards into the flatlands of the Fens before preaching – for me those huge skies that are present in such a place inevitably invoke in me a sense of the presence of God. Oh, and sitting and praying for a brief time over the meals I have at my Cambridge College, St Edmund’s, twice a week. This does not mean that I have not tried, that I have not set aside time to pray, to be with God. I have. I’ve put the time in the diary, I’ve paid attention (at least most of the time) to my Outlook Reminders, I’ve tried various ways of sitting, praying, listening to music. None have worked particularly well.
Then, last week, I was struggling with the sermon I needed to produce for Sunday just gone. So, I went for a bike ride, out along the Cam. It was a revelation. I felt totally at peace, totally alone yet not alone. And I wasn’t genuinely alone. The river was busy. It was the Robinson College Heads so there were plenty of boats on the water and Combined Boat Club judges, as well as the crews’ coaches, on the bank. But, like the commuters of old, they were peripheral to my vision. My concentration was on the monotonous motion of my legs working the pedals, on the bigger picture of the general view, of thinking through the lectionary passages and what God might want me to say about them. And there, as I rushed along, I found myself alone yet not alone.
I had presumed that such a sense might not come regularly, no matter how much I tried, until I was in Circuit, with a dog to walk (when I was younger that was definitely where I found that place of accompanied alone-ness). But now I am thinking differently. I am starting to think about getting another bike. A bike designed not for getting me around the place but for pounding the tarmac. A bike not to get me anywhere but nonetheless to take me to a particular place, a place where I am alone yet not alone. Over the coming weeks I hope to add more such occasions into my schedule (even though it means my bike will likely need considerably more maintenance – the new bike is unlikely in the near future given my financial position as a student!)
With which, I’ve got a couple of essays I need help with. So I’m off, on my bike, to spend some time alone yet not alone!