30 Jan The Rhythm of the Kingdom
We are still within Christmastide, forty days from Christmas Day to Candlemas (2 February). Part of the personality of Christmas (the personality of Jesus) is that it overwhelms us. The preparation leading up to it, the extra effort we put into focusing on the love in our lives by making contact with friends and family, and then the feasting and the time off work and school, make a difference to our rhythms. A beam is cast into the New Year, and for some weeks afterwards.
Most of us, I suppose, quickly settle into our own way of doing things. We overcome that back-to-school-back-to-work feeling, and convince ourselves that we are in control. But Christmas and the New Year offer us an annual invitation to change all that. They overwhelm us because (like Jesus) they call upon us to live differently, to break with the ordinary way of doing things, to be alert to love with a different rhythm of living and thinking.
In Chapter 2 of his Rule, which is read just into the New Year, Benedict writes about the qualities needed for an Abbot or a Prioress. ‘Above all,’ he writes, ‘they must not show too great a concern for the fleeting and temporal things of this world […] Rather, they should to bear in mind they have undertaken the care of souls for whom they must give an account.’ Benedict explains that pleading a lack of resources can be no excuse because of Jesus’s words, ‘Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and God’s righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you’ and he quotes ‘Those who reverence the Holy One lack nothing’ (Psalm 34:10).
Seeking first God’s Kingdom, and realising we lack nothing are exactly the words we need as we find ourselves walking bravely into a New Year. Left to ourselves, my guess is that our natural, human tendency is for laziness and doing very little, or for doing too much and losing our self in being busy. Although Benedict was writing about the qualities required for a leader of a monastery, his words are applicable to us all. All the resources we need are available to us, if we seek them.
Keeping alive the spirit of Christmas well into the year – at least for as long as Candlemas and those first stirrings of spring – is not unlike taking upon ourselves the temporary role of a prioress or abbot. Jesus tells us to keep watch during Advent; at Christmas he calls us to keep finding God’s life in the ordinary, to keep seeking the kingdom of God above all things, and to trust that we are equipped to do so. In commenting on Chapter 2 of the Rule, Joan Chittister writes, ‘Monastic spirituality teaches us that everything we want to do will not succeed, but monastic spirituality also teaches us we are never to stop trying. We are never to give in to the lesser life. We are never to lose hope in God’s mercy.’
The change in focus, pace, and energy that Christmas asks of me can cast a long glow into the New Year. If I am attentive to that, then I realise that I am being called to live in God’s time as much as possible. For me this means being attentive to life’s rhythms but finding within them opportunities to make myself available to God.
Following Benedict’s recommendations for regular times of prayer during the ordinary working day, trying to remain open to others, and relying on the hope of God’s mercy are quite simple intentions. But they require an attentiveness to God’s rhythm, to the different pulse-beat of God’s Christmas kingdom throughout the ordinariness of the year ahead.
Paul Edmondson is Head of Research and Knowledge and Director of the Stratford-upon-Avon Poetry Festival at the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust. He was ordained as an Anglican priest in 2011 and is a long-standing friend of SSMV.