Some years ago, my wife was giving a speech during which she announced to the audience that I was not exactly a “handyman”. I was a little surprised that the audience, who knew me pretty well, laughed so very loudly, and for what seemed to me rather a long time. But I have to admit that my wife was right. I am not a person who can fix things around the house. However, I do know one thing, and that is if the TV doesn’t work it can be a good idea to unplug it and wait for a few minutes. Then, if you try it again, it just might function. I have no idea why. But I did this once and the television came back to life, to the astonishment not only of my wife but, quite frankly, myself. Well, it is the same with people. Just as an appliance may work again if you unplug it for a few minutes and wait, so it is with us. As the splendid American writer Anne Lamott put it “Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes, including you.” Unplugging from our phones and other devices, will allow our busy, over-stimulated minds to settle a bit and, if we stay away from the many horrible things on our screens, our hearts and souls will feel lighter too.
In a way, we are unplugging by coming into this very different place; the Cathedral. It’s a world away from all that technology, all those floating, disconnected images, all those uninvited messages that can undermine our confidence and take away our joy about life. In this holy and spacious place, stillness, reflection, and thoughtfulness matter. Here, we can allow our quiet side to just be. And we all have a quiet side that needs nurturing. One of the things I have noticed about chapel time back at St Hilda’s is that when it comes time to close our eyes and be still, staff and students are very receptive. There seems to be quite a need for this unplugging from the words and movement that take up so much of our day. When we stop we can be reminded that there is more to life than increasing speed.
In many of the stories of Jesus, we read about him finding a quiet, secluded place to pray. He had the same need to stop, to be still and to switch off.
At the beginning of today’s service, the Dean welcomed us to this beautiful building. It is very important that churches be welcoming and we, as an Anglican school, come to the Cathedral every year at this time knowing that we can feel at home. In a way, on St Hilda’s Day, this place, where the soul matters, becomes our soulful place. A beautiful cathedral reminds us that we are part of a rich tradition of architecture, art, music, prayer, reflection, and deep thoughtfulness. For some of us, this is a very familiar and much-loved space. For others, not so much. Within our school community, we range from regular churchgoers to those whose first experience of a religious ritual is in a Year 7 chapel service. Our school is comfortable with this diversity. Those who are new to church services often have insightful perspectives for us to consider. Each of us is at a different stage of the spiritual journey. I love the vast breadth of the Anglican Communion and its willingness to welcome people who are at these different places on their search for meaning in their lives; from those who are very confident in their faith to those who find it a challenge to believe, but who, nonetheless, want to take care of their hearts and souls and to be encouraged and supported by the faith, hope and love of others. We can learn from each other and there is room for us all.
So stillness, being unplugged and being warmly welcomed. These may be things for us to think about on St Hilda’s Day.
St Hilda knew about such things. She loved quiet reflection and she welcomed all people to her abbe; a monastery for monks and nuns in Whitby, northern England. Her approach to religion was marked by kindness, high intelligence and a love of the arts as well as a love of nature. She encouraged people to listen to the whispering in their hearts which suggested there was something in the universe bigger than all of us, and that beyond whatever darkness we may encounter there will be light and a lightness of being, so that we may feel like a feather on the breath of God as we make our way through this thing called life.