Giles Fraser: Evensong calm ends my fidget

09 September 2009

I WISH it were not so, but I have a very high fidget factor in church. As a parish priest, I found this fairly easy to disguise, as I was mostly taking services and so forever bob­bing up and down doing liturgical stuff.

But in the choir stalls at St Paul’s, where often my task is simply to be there, there is nowhere to hide. So I am now forced to face my own restless fidgety impatience.

My son Felix brought all of this home to me at evensong recently. He twisted and squirmed for half an hour. And then, somewhere about the Nunc Dimittis, he stop­ped wriggling and sat still for ten whole minutes. It was almost as if the magnificent rhythm of even­song had overwhelmed him, for­cing him to submit to its calm and gentle pace.

Evangelicals often speak of the spirituality of obedience. It is one of the three great counsels of perfec­tion. Yet obedience has never been an enormously attractive idea to me.

Not, of course, that obedience is an inherently bad thing. To obey a red traffic light is right and proper. And, obviously, in the realm of morality, “Do as you like” is no sort of a Christian philosophy.

None the less, when anybody starts insisting upon obedience, thoughts of men in black shirts are never too far away. Obedience may be a path to righteousness, but the relationship of power and moral corruption is so strong that a well-developed sense of suspicion about it is never out of place.

Yet the obedience demanded by the offices is something quite dif­ferent. For, while it seemed appro­priate to use the language of power and submission to describe how evensong subdued my fidgety son — and, I think, is doing the same to me — nothing about that subjec­tion has alerted my anxiety over misplaced obedience.

As the choir takes my imagina­tion heavenwards, and the repeti­tion of the psalms sends my mind off into spirals of prayer­ful streams of consciousness, I feel supremely and gloriously free.

Indeed, liturgical subjection is just the way in which my own clock is forced to tick in time with a very different beat, a beat that is not all about me and my next skittish must-have desire. It is amazing that, during many years in parishes, this beat did not ever really make its way into my soul. I guess I was too busy being in charge.

And that, of course, is a terrible indictment of my own ministry. Take care that it isn’t true of yours as well.

The Revd Dr Giles Fraser will be installed as Canon Chancellor of St Paul’s Cathedral later this month.

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