For more than 20 years now, I have been in the business of telling the truth that is public. In sermons, Sunday school lessons, prayers alongside hospital beds and ten-minute speeches to the Rotary Club, my job has involved mining some nugget of truth that will ring true for all within the sound of my voice.
"What people find out in time” writes Meg Greenfield, “is that the false self they are inhabiting isn’t much of a friend after all. Nor is it any great shakes as a refuge or consolation. They begin to live lives of pantomime, in which gesture is all.
When people ask me why I do not watch television, I usually begin with the practical answer. I live nine miles from town, at the end of a dirt road, where cable is not available. Why don’t I get a satellite dish?
There was nothing particularly unusual or newsworthy about my father-in-law’s death at age 84. Even so, it was unsettling, given that until his diagnosis of stage four cancer on March 1, he had been living alone in his home and was seemingly healthy—and that despite his doctor’s prognosis of having several months to live, he died after only three more weeks.
One night over burgers and some libation, a seminary classmate declared, “Theology and exegesis won’t matter once you’re in the parish. All that will matter is whether you work hard, and whether they like you or not.” The rest of us scoffed, but now that I’ve been doing parish work for 25 years, I sometimes suspect that he’s right.
When he’s at home, Rowan Williams, former archbishop of Canterbury, begins each day with a short meditative walk, or sometimes with some slow prostrations, followed by 30 to 40 minutes of sitting on a low stool to repeat the Jesus prayer (“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon me, a sinner”). Usually he repeats the words silently, saying them while breathing out. “Over the years increasing exposure to and engagement with the Buddhist world in particular has made me aware of practices not unlike the ‘Jesus Prayer’ and introduced me to disciplines that further enforce the stillness and physical focus that the prayer entails,” says Williams (New Statesman, July 8).