Team Letter for November

From Mother Anne-Marie

I am not a regular reader of magazines, but I do enjoy looking at “Hello” and “O.K.” when I’m at the hairdressers or when waiting in the doctor’s surgery. I had a hospital appointment last week and the selection of magazines in the waiting room was dire! It was bereft of the usual celebrity magazines I normally go for on such occasions. Hence, I ended up with Country Life, a magazine I wouldn’t normally read. I was just leafing through looking at big, unaffordable houses, when a headline caught my eye, “Familiarity breeds contentment” and the very first sentence made me read on “If I was forced to select a single aspect of modern life that gets right up my nose (and it is a wide-open field), I would choose the current obsession with stepping outside one’s comfort zone.” The author, Jonathan Self, had grabbed my attention!

I admit I have urged people in sermons to “move out of their comfort zone”, and I am sure there are situations in which we should experience something different or new; but this should not be at the expense of appreciating the familiar and staying with what we know. Jonathan Self describes in his article how he and his family go every year to the same place on holiday. This is exactly what my husband and I do, and I know some people think it is odd. Since 2002 we have gone at least once a year to the same hotel, in the same place in Crete. The owners have become friends, as have many of the guests. Like Jonathan Self I know going to the same place means you immediately relax, know the routine, and appreciate the familiar. It is wonderful that the owners of a taverna in a nearby village we visit only once a year, greet us like long, lost friends.

We have now lived in Caterham for seventeen years. Prior to this, church ministry had meant we had never spent more than six years in the same place, and sometimes it was as little as two years. The first three decades of my adult life had been all about moving out of my comfort zone, and moving on. I calculate that from being twenty to fifty years old I lived in thirteen different places.  Anyone who has been part of a military family will know about moving on and what it does to you. It can be exciting, but I think it is also destructive of community and a sense of place.

St Benedict knew the difficulties and benefits of staying put. One of the core elements of his rule for his monks was Stability. Benedictine monks committed themselves, and still do, to one community, one place and the same group of people. It gives them security and a sense of belonging, but it also means they have to work things through. You cannot run away from someone you don’t get on with, or escape the loss when someone you love dies. You have to stay put and work it through. By staying put, or just returning to the same place on holiday, we expose ourselves to the risk of hurt. People we get close to do get ill or die. We have experienced, at our place in Crete, people returning to scatter ashes in the grounds of the hotel. That would put some people off, but for me it just adds to my love of the familiar, and confirms that I am not strange to want to visit the same place and engage with the same people year after year. Other people have loved the place so much that they want their remains to be there forever.

Staying with the familiar means we notice the little things that are new. This year my joy on holiday was a new, young fig tree growing by a fountain in the garden. I was a lovely thing to contemplate – a symbol of new life and fruitfulness. Many of us live busy lives and there is a temptation, even on holiday, to keep doing and experiencing something different. As well as “moving out of our comfort zone”, the other obsession of modern life that gets right up my nose is the “bucket list”. God save us from the bucket list! We do not have to do or see a thousand things before we die, but simply appreciate what God has given us right here and now. Jonathan Self in his article provided me with the biblical verse to go with this letter “It is in returning and rest that you shall be saved” (Isaiah 30.15). When you are next sitting in the doctor’s waiting room, look for Country Life, August 2017, and read Jonathan Self’s original article. I commend it to you.

Revd Anne-Marie Garton


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