Tuesday, 31 March 2020

Finding a Rhythm

Welcome to a new chapter in the Wednesday Retreat blog! I haven't posted anything here for awhile, but in these strange times of COVID-19, it seemed a resource we might make use of together. I sense that it offers a vehicle for sharing thoughts and wisdom from the contemplative tradition that can help us inhabit our new circumstances. And it offers a space (albeit more limited) where others can share their thoughts, insights, questions, links to helpful readings or podcasts. I hope you might find it helpful, and invite you to participate to the extent you feel drawn.

One of the things that's struck me in the last week is the difficulty of finding a rhythm for the days. In the first flush of communication about isolation, I received a couple of poems waxing lyrical about the opportunity for sabbath, for rest, for recalibrating and so on - and there was much in them that appealed. But, in fact, my experience is of having been as busy as ever, and distinctly less rested - and I think for many people this is so. So many teleconferences and Zooms, so much technology to learn. Many of us are figuring out how to put our work 'online' - from churches to classrooms to businesses - and it's all a bit stressful. At the same time, for others I know, work and many significant activities and social engagements, have simply ceased - there's an abrupt gap and an abrupt aloneness to come to terms with - more a lacuna than a sabbath.

And I began to wonder if, whether we feel hectic and digitally overloaded, or becalmed and suddenly isolated, perhaps the common experience is of the disruption of the rhythm of our days. Established patterns and routines, established goings outs and comings in, are no longer given. And this is experienced as a kind of dislocation - an existential discombobulation.

Rowan Williams once suggested that one of the major threats to human wellbeing 'is the sense of living without landmarks in time or space'. In relation to 'space', this points to the importance of a certain kind of built environment; in relation to 'time' it suggests the necessity of certain rhythms - of day and night, work and rest, and also a calendar that differentiates the days. If we are interested in a community's health and survival capacity, he says, we must have a sense of 'how we break up time into significant units, how we punctuate the simple duration of our days with events that locate us' against a larger horizon ('Sustainable communities' in Faith in the Public Square, p.240).

This sense of the significance of the rhythm of a day is clearly evident in monastic life - each day punctuated by the 'hours' of prayer, the days themselves organised by the calendar which connects humanity's story with God.

And I wonder what we might discover about what our own particular needs are in this regard? What kind of rhythm conduces to your flourishing? How are you beginning to recalibrate your time and the balance of your days? How is prayer or daily meditation a part of that (or not)? What are you finding helpful?

Let's share some of our experience, as we seek to make of this time an opportunity for growth and deepening, as we learn to 'be together alone'.



  1. Thank you, Sarah.
    While I am mostly still at work out and about I relate to this sense of what it is like when structure, focus, usual rhythms are disrupted.
    I agree that it is a liminal time, finding new rhythms, letting them reveal themselves, seeking them out.
    I also think that for me it is not just the rhythm and the structure in itself that is needed, but the intention. From awareness and lisetning come intention, and from intention comes purpose and focus, and from this comes shape and structure.
    When I feel lost I most need to slow down, listen for what is needed, or what I want to be aiming for. Suddenly the world can come into focus in a different way and there is an aliveness that speaks to connection. It is like being back in the boat on the sea rather than overboard and floundering, hoping someone will come and save me.
    Thank you for this blog space, I really appreciate it and your thoughts.

  2. Yes, thank you Sarah. I'm delighted you've reignited your blog. At our work we are finding it difficult to establish a rhythm. When at work we are overwhelmed with tasks - and fewer staff to deal with them - and at home it takes a day or two to recover and ground again. My routine early morning meditation, walk and journaling have become the common denominator between the crazy days and the days at home.
    This morning Christine Valters Paintner's new book Earth :Our original Monastery came out and I am devouring her wisdom on the deep connections between contemplation and nature.