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The Space between the Notes

January 18, 2004

Ian Lawton

John 2:1-11


Today's gospel passage from John records a most unlikely miracle. Unlikely, that is, because it most likely never happened. Most scholars would agree that there is not enough evidence for the event outside of John's account, which has just a small group of friends enjoying a wedding party at Cana. It reads to me more like any number of stories I have shared with friends after a not so quiet night with some good wine. Let's just say that even cask wine tastes better as the night wears on.


So we begin with the assumption that this is just a fable, a 'family joke'. However, there are some nice details which are worth pointing out. Firstly, Jesus is presented with a problem, not an earth shattering problem mind you, but one which could have put a dampener on the evening. There was no wine. Jesus is asked, by his mother no less, to solve the problem. I love his response. He says "Yes, but not now, Mum. Later." He takes some time, then acts. We are too quick in our lives to act and do, and therefore don't allow enough space for being.


The second detail is that the host of the party, when he discovers the wine, is not so much amazed at the miracle of water into wine. Rather he is astonished at the quality of the wine. Don't you love that? Its like a scene out of a comedy spoof. So we have Jesus taking his time, then acting extravagantly, neither of which fits our pious vision of Jesus as ever reliable and frugal.


This is the human Jesus, whose call to us as fellow humans is to be first then do. Be in tune with our essence, our humanity, be still and calm, then from that place of acceptance and surrender we can act powerfully and appropriately.


There is an expression, "Music is only music because of the spaces between the notes. Without those spaces there would be only noise." At this time of the year with work demands looming and plans being made, I urge you to create some space around you to simply be. For life only has meaning when there are spaces in the doing, as we discover the balance between work and rest, creating and recreating, being and doing, stressing and recovering.


Work has taken over our lives and mucked up the balance. Ever since industrialisation work has governed our lives and choices. From where we live, when we eat and the hours we work, to how much we sleep, the needs of the industry and its owners have ruled our choices.


The Church, which should above all organisations foster being, has helped to tip the balance away from being. Luther and Calvin, the two pioneers of Protestantism preached what became known as the 'protestant work ethic'. The basic notion was that God created people into their particular social position, their class and their employment. It was not a lot different to the Caste system, and it served those who were owners and producers far more than it served workers. They taught that to work hard and make the employer wealthier was the God ordained duty of the worker and would lead to divine blessing.


So clearly our Protestant forebears have done us few favours with their social determinism and their teaching which fitted neatly with the grand system of capitalism. The Church has been part of the problem, and now it is time to undo some of the damage.


I have been reading a book which addresses this very problem. It's called "The Power of Full Engagement: Managing Energy, not Time is the Key to Performance, Health and Happiness" by Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz. It suggests we need to get the right balance of energy between stress and recovery in order to rest more fully and work more effectively.


The book uses the example of tennis to show that life is made of moments of stress and recovery. I usually abhor sports illustrations in sermons. I don't think life is like a race or game of sport, just as it is not like a box of chocolates (although if it is, then I seem to pick a lot of turkish delights)


However tennis seems to offer a nice parallel. The book outlines research that what separates the best tennis players, those of equal skill and talent, is their ability to recover between points. The best players establish rituals for those moments between points to fully disengage their concentration so that when the point is underway they can fully engage in it.


Life should be lived in intervals rather than in a linear fashion. We need peaks and troughs to sustain us.


It has long been held that humans function within a circadian rhythm, that is a pattern of about a day. So we need to sleep about once a day. Within sleep research has shown that we rest in cycles of about 90 to 120 minutes in and our of deep sleep. Research in the 1970's pointed to the same rhythm in our waking life. So in other words human beings are hard wired for a pattern or work or stress or about 2 hours at a time, then a recovery period. Our work, our eating, our exercising will be most effective when undertaken in this interval style.


Our bodies need stress to function at our optimum. However this stress builds up toxins in our bodies and these have to be released or else build ups will have drastic consequences. So the recovery serves to purge our bodies of toxins.


The book is well worth reading, and fascinated me as it seemed to be picking up the Hebrew and Christian notion of Sabbath or rest. I reflected that once we let go of literal ideas of resting one day in seven, Sabbath offers the same principle of stress and recovery. It is even built into creation. So it seems that these rhythms are built into the universe and into human physiology. We lose the balance at our own peril.


Church should be fostering being, and our gatherings should include rituals of rest, recovery and being. There should be breaks in sermons every 90 to 120 minutes. (Aren't you relieved you're not an evangelical?)


Theologically, we have moved away from a God who does to us, and closer to a God who is the source or Ground of Being. We have a God now who when faced with the need for a miracle, says yes but not now and then only with the best wine. This is the God who says yes, but only with the very vessels you already have there. The miracle won't come from afar, it will grow out of our own beings, our space of surrender and acceptance.


I was reading the other day about the workings of the human heart. There is a split second between heart contraction which is the key to our health. The fitter the person, the shorter and stronger the contraction, but the longer the pause between contractions which is when blood is pumped into the heart and through the vessels. This is part of detoxification, and it takes place between beats.


Just as music is created notes, so life and health and recovery is fostered between heart beats. So it is that life's meaning is so often created between the details of the stories, between even the miracles.


So my encouragement to you is to drink good wine, if you like wine. Pause, reflect and rest every two hours. Eat well and regularly. Exercise often and in intervals. Sleep well and consistently. Discover your own rituals of recovery. Welcome stress in your life, but always in balance with recovery.


Be well before you do, then what you do will have so much more effect.

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