Ignoring the warning sign that speed kills, further down the motorway the carnage of a high speed crash was a shocking reminder to those caught up in the tragedy and to passing motorists. One Minute Bedtime Stories might appeal at first glance but when thought about is a tragic illustration of a time driven, relationally impoverished and reflectively devoid way for living that pervades so much of western consumer culture. Busyness characterises so much of contemporary life and sadly Christians and our church sub-cultures often reflect more the spirit of the age rather than the values of God’s kingdom. Consumerist values of speed, targets and key performance indicators contribute to driven, not led lifestyles where pace and pressure override peace and poise. In a culture where what we are seen to do or have is valued more than who we are, where noise drowns out silence we strain to hear Jesus’ words, Come unto me and rest.
Consumerist ‘diseases’ are numerous; time sickness, infobesity, obsessive compulsive disorders, stress, anxiety and increasing dysfunctional behaviours, superficiality, celebrity culture and the breakdown of relationships. Fast dominates what is slow. Food outlets to production lines, business meetings, even church services and Christian initiatives are not immune to the 24/7 culture. The pace of much contemporary life and work practices are damaging people physically, psychologically, emotionally, relationally and spiritually.
Contrary to popular belief, pace and busyness is not necessarily the best way to live. Quality requires time, thought, reflection and rest. Slow is good. It’s equated with depth, thoughtfulness and leads to better health, work, relationships, community, leisure, eating and sex. As Thomas Merton said, “There is a pervasive form of contemporary violence – activism and overwork… to allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many projects, to want to help everyone in need is to succumb to violence”.
As Paul exhorted, as believers we are called not to conform to the standards of the world but rather to reflect in their attitudes and actions, hearts and lifestyles, worship and work, the ways of the kingdom. The current economic crisis, the folly of some business practices and the stupidity and greed of the financial institutions might have been averted had there been more reflection and space for wisdom as opposed to non-stop, profit driven, frenetic money markets.
Slowing down and reflecting critiques the accepted cultural norms and practices which can subtly damage and undermine good society.
The writer of Ecclesiastes reminds us that for everything there is a season. The Creation narratives reveal the nature of a Creator and Sustaining God who from the very foundation established patterns of life and seasons of work and rest, periods of growth and activity, waiting and dormancy.
Life as God intends needs such rhythms; waking and sleeping, hearts resting after each beat, lungs resting between inhaling and exhaling, good music has rests within its score.
The graffiti on the embankment shouted for fast acting relief from stress try slowing down. More gently the words from the Psalms invite us, Be still and know that I am God.
Revd. Roy Searle is one of the founders of the Northumbria Community and a former President of the Baptist Union of Great Britain. No stranger to Northern Ireland, he has two sons living in the North and South and has spent over 20 years praying, supporting and serving individuals and churches here together with the Community. He and his wife lived in County Down for a period and were involved in the establishing of the Community of Prayer at Saul. Roy is leading the CCCI Leaders Retreat at Glenada, Newcastle, on the 9th and 10th November.