‘Study to be Quiet’ – A. Walker
August 7th 2016 Healing Service Sermon
All who know me, know that sport is not my strong point and I imagine that the excerpts from the Opening Ceremony in Rio is about as far as following the Olympics will go, but sport, or at least fishing, is my theme today.
Fishing, of course, has an ancient connection with early Christianity, from the occupation of some of the first disciples, to Jesus’ invitation to come be ‘fishers of men’, to the sign of the fish being the sign for the early church. But this is not where I am coming from today.
This week marks the traditionally observed birthday of Isaak Walton in 1593, and he happened to write the bestselling work of the Seventeenth Century, ‘The Compleat Angler’. It ran eventually into over 400 editions. But it has been claimed that this book is not only a sporting classic, but also a masterpiece of English spirituality…
Isaak Walton was living and writing in dangerous times. A Royalist in the time of Cromwell, a person of faith in an age when theology was as dangerous a subject as politics, and when church life was under threat and any expression of views was risky, especially around the areas of faith and spirituality.
Though ostensibly he was writing about fishing, his work is more than that – his theme ultimately is a contemplative one. ‘Study to be quiet’ is iterated and re-iterated. So much so that Charles Lamb commended the book’s capacity to ‘christianize every discordant angry passion’. So this treatise about fishing, as well perhaps as the sport itself, has two things to say to us today:
Firstly that we are all called to the act of contemplation. By which I mean the still centre is present in us all and accessible to us all. For there, and by contact with it, we can achieve balance and peace, right perspectives and the possibility of harmony – within and without.
Another fisherman of the twentieth century, Norman Douglas, built on this when he took the old adage ‘time is money’ and reversed it to ‘money is time’. In other words, he suggests that money can be servant or master. If master, it will be the goal and consumer of time, if servant, then the source and provider of time. For one rooted in the contemplative act money will always be the servant, and time will flow from it.
Secondly, that the life of faith, however differently that faith is experienced or expressed, lies at the heart of all things. Faith and so religion is not a compartment of life – like work, hobbies, human relating and so on – it is that which undergirds all things, lies at the heart of all things, carrying all the possibilities and adventure both of discovery and freedom, creativity and a realisation of potential.
When times are hard, when life is busy, when we feel under threat or overwhelmed we can lose sight of both of these truths and lose too, their stabilising and balancing effects. ‘Study to be quiet’. Time apart each day or a few moments put aside – casting the fly, contemplating the waters that flow past as it were, these times restore the truths that lie at the centre of our being.
And if quiet or time to be quiet seems unachievable, then taking one of the more mundane of our daily activities, the brushing of teeth, stacking the dishwasher, travelling on the bus or tube. Take one of these and commit the time of that activity to be quiet and focussed, as if by the river bank. This too can have the same effect.
So it is not always about working less or having more leisure. It is not about fighting to carve out yet more time in the day to be in prayer. It is about amidst the work, the difficulties, the busyness and all the demands of our life and role, whatever they may be, remaining steadfastly connected to the still centre, the place within from which we can contemplate the flowing waters – and God can contemplate us….