(If you noticed my bike outside you’ll probably have guessed that I do like to start the day with a bike ride.) In fact I try to get on a bike as often as possible. And I do also follow cycle sport fairly closely so despite Lance Armstrong’s fall from grace, this year has overall been a real treat with all the British success, not least of course by our Bradley. Great stuff.
But it wasn’t always thus. Bradley Wiggins first rode the Tour de France in 2006 and was evidently something of a lost soul with a team that wasn’t at all organised. When two thirds of the way through the race he deadpanned “I think I can win this thing,” it was clearly a joke - he finished 123rd.
By 2009 though he was with a good team and did quite a bit better, so much so that he came 4th and inevitably expectations rose for 2010. Which was where it all went wrong, by his standards he failed quite badly at that tour, his attitude after it was poor and not for the first time in his life he looked like going off the rails. He’d always been prone to going to ground when things go tough and when he failed to turn up for the nth time his team manager’s patience seemed to snap. Get serious or get out was the ultimatum he got from David Brailsford, the Sky team manager. He chose to get serious and the rest is history.
All Saints Day can mean quite a variety of things and like other Christian festivals, what it means to individuals can vary greatly depending on their circumstances. It can be a time to remember those who have gone before - a slightly sad but thankful time. But it can also in a more challenging way be a reminder that we all have the capacity to be saints of a sort - if we allow God to speak to us, if we let him tell us to get serious, if we’re prepared to step out of our usual routine. And it’s a reminder too that we all have our stories, that God didn’t stop taking an interest in the world the minute the scriptures were written, he’s still interested today and still speaks to and through folk like... us. Hearing a contemporary story or encouraging experience in someone’s life can often be at least as helpful as reflecting on a bible story, good though that is too.
So I take as my text, not one of our readings, but our rector’s letter in this month’s Coddington Recorder. You may be aware that Melanie went on a silent retreat and wrote about it in her dear friends letter. And in her report she made it clear that she went with some trepidation, not being a naturally silent type. But once into it she found it not at all as daunting as she feared. Indeed she said “For me, so often rushing from place to place, the silence, the stillness and time gave me an opportunity to live more mindfully. It gave me time to notice: to notice what I was seeing, what I was hearing, what I was eating, what I felt physically, emotionally and spiritually and in a strange and unexpected way to get to know the people with whom I was sharing the silence.”
I did find that interesting because a few weeks ago we’d been on an island in an Italian lake which was the site of a convent with a vow of silence. There were little signs up all over the place extolling the virtues of silence and I did wonder what it would be like to live in a community with no words...and presumably no alcohol either. We met a woman taking flowers from the mainland who explained that the nuns never left the island either.
I’m really not sure about that - living in silence indefinitely does seem a bit heavy but the point Melanie was making I think was the value of the difference, the stepping out of yourself to meet God and listen seriously to what he says before stepping back into the world he has put us in. The thing for her, as I understood it, was not to keep on rushing around trying to do everything and meet everyone’s needs and expectations without making time to reflect on where God fits in to all this.
There are plenty of quotes which get at this truth in different ways. Melanie herself quoted one from Winston Churchill - “Once in a while you will stumble upon the truth but most of us manage to pick ourselves up and stumble on as if nothing had happened.” How true that insights sometimes painfully gained can be lost in the tyranny of the old routine.
The scientists among us will have heard the endlessly repeated quote from Albert Einstein to the effect that insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. But perhaps the most apposite for some of us is from near the end of the film Breakfast at Tiffany’s. The Audrey Hepburn character, Holly Golightly has tried everything in search of some elusive “success” - some rich man to make her happy or whatever. Everything that is except love and faithfulness. She was the complete opposite of someone in a routine - she was always trying something new, never settled until her exasperated suitor, the one who could really be Mr Right tells her: “You're terrified somebody's gonna stick you in a cage. Well baby, you're already in that cage. You built it yourself. It's wherever you go. Because no matter where you run, you just end up running into yourself.”
All Saints Day reminds us that love and faithfulness between us and God, between ourselves, between us and the world we live in is the Christian model, if you like. We may be rushing around doing all the stuff we’ve got to do and hoping all will be well. We may on the other hand be rushing round trying lots of different things hoping to hit on one that brings fulfillment. We may just go to ground when things get tough. In each case we’ll be in danger of just running into ourselves at every turn. But it doesn’t have to be so if we make time to get serious with God sometimes. Each of us has the potential to be some sort of saint if we just allow God to tell us how.