Mountain lessons

Jan 13th, 2010 | By | Category: Ministry

“You must bend your knees more, and you must get your shoulders further forward – they must be over your toes”.

“Yeah. Yeah”. Sotto voce: “I’m on holiday and none of this stuff matters in the slightest”.

At lunchtime, the words of a piano teacher seem appropriate. “No matter how many lessons one has, if there is not some ability, then progress is very difficult”. When one is virtually tone deaf, spending every waking hour practising scales and arpeggios will not make one into the next Mozart.

Presumably, most teachers in differing disciplines would agree. If someone has spent their life struggling to attain basic literacy, even with the full range of supports and interventions, lesson upon lesson upon lesson is not going to turn them into a Shakespearean scholar. Someone who has always struggled with multiplication and division is not likely to become a Nobel laureate in physics no matter how many tutorials they attend. Occasionally, there will be people who buck the trend – Winston Churchill received poor school reports and Albert Einstein was a post office clerk – but they are exceptions that prove rules. It is hard to agree with a woman from Budapest who insists there is always room from improvement and that lessons are always beneficial. Perhaps marginal improvements are always possible, but the costs of achieving improvement may be far outweigh any potential benefit.

Laughing in the restaurant, someone asks if I take the ski lessons seriously. “Of course not, they are good for fun, they are good for enabling enjoyment, but on the big scale of things, do they really matter?” Does it matter in the slightest if I can ski down a particular piece of snow? It doesn’t. There are hugely important things in the world, how one spends one’s holidays does not count among them.

Perhaps the lesson of the day was being prepared to acknowledge one’s limitations. Not ski-ing in places where a fall could be serious detrimental to the health was the most immediate, but drifting down a gentle run as the sun disappeared behind a mountain to the west, there was a realisation that limitations applied in many situations and places.

There is a law that suggests people rise to their level of incompetence, it certainly applies in the church where leadership from those in high places rarely provides confidence, let alone inspiration. Being in the twenty-fourth year as a parish cleric, there is an awareness that remaining at first floor level is as wise a choice as not trying to go down mountainsides where a fall is liable to cause severe pain.

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