“Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” Many have attributed this quote to Albert Einstein, however there is little evidence that he actually ever said it. One of the unforeseen gifts of the long quarantine that we have shared in my own life was to discover how much I had become a creature of habit, and how much I simply had taken for granted during the first 50 years of my life; especially in terms of the life of faith, prayer, and worship. I did not know, until it had been taken away from me, that I had come to take the life of the Church, and my conversation with God within the midst of the Church, as something that would always be a foregone conclusion. A portion of life within the parish church, and my place within it, was not unlike the old couch at home where I always knew I could crash for a nap; it would simply be there if and when I needed it – so too “ye olde church around the corner.”
In gradual stages the quarantine took away that couch and the security it provided. Suddenly the weekly suppers, classes, and offices of prayer that I “might or might not” attend were furloughed; and I discovered that there were psychic gaps left behind in the places where I was used to having the option of exercising the ministry of absence. It’s interesting how exercising the “right” of non-attendance and inattention sometimes gives a strange sense of empowerment. Living that life of the better offer; that attitude and posture that we sometimes take in relation to church, or other duties, when we find ourselves saying, “Oh Yeah, I will be there unless I get a better offer.” Once the ease of egress and regress with church life was taken away from me, I found that I was missing the very thing that I so easily had taken for granted.
And so I was cast adrift for a few months. Although I tried to recreate the life of the parish I had begun to take for granted, I found that my own attempts were mostly half-hearted, mostly self-serving, and generally anemic. I began to see clearly that we are always “more” as Christians when we are gathered together. For me the evidence is written in the Gospel. All those times and places that Jesus is either walking around with his friends, or joining others for lunch or supper. That is when the teaching often occurs; that is when the “divine appointments” are made with the Holy Spirit. During the quarantine I realized that without fellow Christians, it is very easy to inhabit an empty cathedral that is mostly filled with my own imagination – reminiscent of Mary’s song, The Magnificat, “he hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.”
In the photo above my son, Robert, was beginning to learn to play the violin. The school he attended gave him an instrument of foam, so that he could learn to hold the instrument, stroke the bow, and pantomime with some recorded music before being handed a real instrument. He was excellent in his pantomimes, and sometimes would hum the tunes while he worked away on his foam violin. When the real thing entered his hands – it was a different story.
During stretches of our time apart, I too was often excellent at playing my own version of a foam instrument; albeit mine was a spiritual exercise. And once I had the “real thing” back in my grasp, I too found that it was a different story. There is a kind of music that our fellowship and being together can make for God that is simply irreplaceable when we are trying to conduct the orchestra of Christian fellowship simply on our own terms. Whether Einstein said it or not, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results,” I take to heart my own need for the variety and richness that the interruptions and duty of worship and fellowship often bring into a life that I am fully capable of organizing into a predictability and dullness that I eventually find as exciting as folding laundry.
That is why during the week-days of Lent you will probably find me sitting most mornings on the back row of the St. Mark’s Chapel joining in our daily 7am Eucharist. I trust that God has a better life in store for me than I would give to myself. The 7am Eucharists during Lent at St. Mark’s were begun by our old friend and retired dean, ML Agnew, and they have become spiritual food through the decades for many of our members. I hope that you will join me in asking God to interrupt the routine that we might give ourselves, with the Life and the Joy that only He can give. We were created to play the “real thing,” not instruments made of foam.
Blessings and Godspeed,