Recently, we were offered the chance to stay in a Welsh cottage on the Pembrokeshire coast. The house was among trees, and a short walk to a secluded bay. Wonderful and refreshing. What I hadn’t anticipated was the effect on me of being out of internet and mobile phone range. I don’t have a smart phone, so I had no alternative access to my emails, and nor could I do any research on the internet.
To begin with, I felt anxious, even irresponsible. What if someone set up a Doodle and needed to know my availability? What if something happened to a friend, and we didn’t hear about it? What if I wanted to buy a book on Kindle?
Embracing the situation positively, I set out a pattern of writing, walking, cooking and visiting local sites of interest. I turned to the revision of a story I’d written a few years ago and had begun to reshape. After two hours of uninterrupted work, I realised that my imaginative concentration had improved, and also my joy in creative writing had returned.
Not only that, the process of sifting, critiquing and problem solving continued whatever else I was doing, instead of the usual mental disconnection on closing the document file.
After four days, I had no wish to go home. My husband, who is an artist, was equally content in our simplified world. Impossible to remain, sadly. But what I had rediscovered were the conditions I need to work imaginatively, and how even the possibility of an email ping or a phonecall reduces the flow of the imagination and is distracting.
I’m sure there is a spiritual lesson to be drawn here. Jesus managed to cope with the demands of an unpredictable, chaotic and volatile world with grace, wisdom and compassion. But he also took time to get well out of earshot of everything except the soaring cry of the eagles and the loving voice of his heavenly Father.
It’s always a bit daunting to be told to be like Jesus. But there are others who give us the same example. Perhaps the most obvious example is the contrast between Martha and Mary. Martha, busy, anxious, pulled this way and that by her desire to serve her guests. And her sister, sitting and listening to the voice of Jesus. I often hear conscientious Christians endorse Martha’s disgruntlement with what she saw as her sister’s idleness. But Jesus would not allow her to spoil her sister’s choice. Martha’s brisk, righteous diligence was threatening the precious joy of having Jesus in their midst. How daft of us if we keep so busy, so noisy, so distracted that we miss the inner communion of our deepest selves with God.
I’m not saying that creative writing is the same thing as prayer, but we can probably draw parallel lessons. Once again, I know what I need to do, and how rewarding it is if I do it. Mary chose the better way. I would like to choose the same.