It is very dark. A bank of cloud came from the west just before sunset and even the full moon’s light seems not to penetrate its thickness. The neighbouring houses show little sign of activity; the factory across the road is closed and locked for the night; lights shine from a farm across the fields at the back. With the exception of the neighbour’s dog, which is happy to howl even when it can’t see the moon, there is silence.
It is a time for thinking; an infrequent activity. Taking time to think is uncommon nowadays, perhaps it is one of the problems of the culture of managerialism which is now pervasive. Everything must be structured and timetabled and purposeful. There must be SMART targets, though trying to remember the words represented in that acrostic is always a struggle – specific and measurable, and then something else.
Of course, there are activities that are designated as being about ‘thinking’. There was the Fianna Fail ‘think in’ which led to the Taoiseach’s controversial radio interview. There seems not to be much ‘thinking’ at such gatherings – talking, drinking, and singing and mockery seem further up the agenda than silent thought.
The church has drifted into confusing talking and thinking. ‘Quiet’ days have programmes with speakers and communal liturgies and meals – the ‘quietness’ gets slipped into the gaps between the onslaught of words. Sometimes, even the idea of there being a ‘director’ at a retreat is troubling; how can there be space for simple open thinking if the thoughts are being channeled in a particular direction?
Staring into the darkness, the thought arises that it is the clergy conference for our diocese next month; someone is coming from England to tell us how we might conduct worship in Holy Week next year. The thought sparks resentment; having worked hard at worship on every day Holy Week for the past quarter of a century, to be treated as needing advice from an outsider is annoying. A memory from the early 90s arises: in the country parish where I served, a third of our parish population attended a single service one Good Friday; can our visiting expert match such numbers?
The dog howls loudly. Resentment is a pointless emotion, but, thinking further, legitimate questions form. The word ‘liturgy’ comes from the Greek word for ‘work’; the liturgy, the worship, was to be the ‘work’ of the people. How can one come and talk of designing worship for people of whom one has no knowledge? People are not all the same; even within a group of parishes there are churches with different spiritual traditions, different ways of doing things. The idea of coming from a foreign country and suggesting what might happen in parishes is odd; imagine going to Rwanda and suggesting to the Anglicans there about how they might design their services.
Thinking doesn’t change things, though, mostly it seems to be pointlessly troublesome. Perhaps it is better just to stick with the talking.