Come aside by yourselves to a deserted place and rest awhile

Fr Alec
Sunday, July 19, 2015 - 9:15am

One of the most common, and yet peculiarly sad things that a priest tends to hear from day to day is a sentence that begins


‘Vicar, I know that you must be frightfully busy…’


And this is sad because it means that one has unwittingly created an aura of busyness around oneself. A sense that one is pressed for time and must not be disturbed except on the most urgent business. And this is a tragedy, because I want to be disturbed. Like most clergy, I felt called to ordination in part because I enjoy the company of people and because I want to care for them and share their joys and sorrows.


Yet there exists the feeling that one must be busy. In part, this springs from the assumption that one ought to be busy. That busyness implies something is being done, and that where there is no busyness there must necessarily be idleness. I remember, during my curacy in Yorkshire, taking myself off one afternoon to a quiet corner of the church to read a book – not a novel, mind you, but a book on Old Testament theology. After half an hour, I was discovered by one of the churchwardens, who felt duty bound to tell me off, because I wasn’t doing anything.


To a truly frightening extent, many of us define ourselves completely by our work. It becomes not just what we do, but who we are. The busy lives we lead become what justify us in our own eyes and we are ashamed if we are seen not to be occupied.

It occurred to me last week, as I listened on the radio to the government’s plans to remove all limits on Sunday trading that, in truth, the principle had been conceded many years ago. In my childhood it was possible to resent the dull monotony of a rainy Sunday, stuck in the house with the family, with nowhere to go and nothing to do. Yet looking back I can’t help but feel that we lost something very precious when we gave away that special time that was set apart for something other than being busy.


People may of course still choose to take time off, but it was the absence of choice that made it truly a gift. A shared time when everyone would be available for one another, and the siren-call of work was, for a day at least, silenced.


In Mark’s gospel today we discover the disciples returning from the mission on which Christ sent them, tired but also full of stories and excitement.