Thursday, 11 November 2010

Wasting Time

In a previous life, when I was Vicar of Sumner in the Diocese of Christchurch, I went to an excellent ministry school at which somebody or other spoke about time management. At the time I was having problems fitting the required amount of activities into the requisite number of hours, so I paid close attention and did what the speaker suggested. I began keeping a log of how I spent my time, making notes every 15 minutes or so during the day recording as honestly as I could where the minutes went and I was horrified. At the end of a couple of weeks the number of hours I had spent doing nothing in particular, sitting, staring vacantly into space was truly astounding. No wonder I couldn't get everything done! Astonishing amounts of precious time were just being frittered away, which was alarming, but easily rectifiable using the useful second step provided by the ministry school. I began to schedule everything, including a 20 minute slot at the start of every day where I made up the schedule and there were two immediate and dramatic consequences of all my efforts: 1) I got a lot more things done. 2) The quality of my sermons plummeted and by plummeted I mean entered a vertical power dive with all engines running and the after burners on. Which was alarming as I then regarded the 20 minutes in the pulpit every week as the most important bits of my life. After a month or so of preaching drivel, I ditched the schedule and went back to daydreaming.

What I hadn't realised up until that point was the enormous benefits to be gained by a bit of stuffing around. I remember reading about somebody or other encountering Albert  Einstein striding around Princeton barefoot and with his trousers rolled up to his knees. "Professor Einstein, what are you doing?" they asked. "Loafing," he replied, "just loafing." The mind is a wonderful thing  and most of its workings are unconscious. We are aware of the surface of it, as we are aware of the surface of the sea, but the huge and powerful and beautiful mechanics of it all happen without our knowledge and certainly without our control, no matter how much we might kid ourselves to the contrary. A learning that Einstein had grasped and which I stumbled blindly into was that the times when we relax our pretences at control are crucially important. To maintain any form of creativity it is necessary to let the mind be fallow; to let it have its own way for a while without trying to cram it into objectives and prioritised lists and schedules.

This has all come back to me with a vengeance as I look back over my first year as Bishop. I"m glad to say that I have maintained, more or less, the discipline of sitting absolutely still every morning and letting the chattering machine gradually wind itself down. I'm aware of the compelling dictates of the stuff that MUST be done, but also increasingly aware of the need to be the sort of pastor described by Eugene H Peterson in his wonderful quaternity of books on pastoral ministry (The Contemplative Pastor, Working the Angles, Under the Unpredictable Plant, Five Smooth Stones for Pastoral Work) : that is, unbusy, subversive and apocalyptic. Or, alternatively, I could succumb to the pressure to do stuff and become an executive in an ecclesiatical organisation, but I think, on reflection, I'd really rather not.


Peter Carrell said...

You're a time-waster after my own heart. I am much encouraged by your post and realise that I am not taking nearly enough time to do nothing :)

Elaine Dent said...

Oh, I absolutely relished this post, especially on the eve of my long overdo day off. I think I will let tomorrow bring what it may and try a bit of stuffing around, as you call it. It's a practice that has been neglected. Now off to a good book...and wasting time. Thanks.

Richard said...

A report published recently overseas confirms the adage that it is better to sleep on a seems that in sleep, the subconscious (or whatever) gets to work on the problem and produces a better outcome. The world is against chilling out - comments like 'got nothing better to do with your time?' when we do nothing. Or, 'what is this world, if full of care, we have no time to stand and stare'. I did a presentation recently on the Pharoah economy (slave and deadline-driven, 24/7, no rest) vs the Sabbath economy (one day in seven to rest, do nothing, exercise freedom from time management and haste etc) and the 11th commandment is 'thou shall chill out'.

Joanne said...

Stuffing around doing not very much at all is a wonderful tonic. I have been doing quite a lot of it for most of the year with out much of a shcedule apart from a daily walk and time of quiet reflection, weekly massage to heal the body and soul and time in the kitchen learning to take better care of my insides and enjoying family and friends-haven't been driving but taking the bus and cadging lifts and pottering in the garden - it has all helped cement the knowledge that we are human beings built for relationship with our creator and redeemer and with each other not just here to achieve or try to impress others by our ability to do so- the invitation to be still and come aside to a quiet place and just do nothing is the best invitation of all. Peace.

Anonymous said...

A good post. Busy-ness is not the same as prouctivity - and even "producing" isn't all it's cracked up to be if the "product" doesn't amount to much. I used to admire a certain theologian and historian of doctrine who turned out an astonishing number of books in short order, until I concluded it would have been better if he had written less and better.
As the wise craftsman says in 'Toy Story 2', 'You can't rush art.'