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andrew rumsey
strangely warmed
By Andrew Rumsey
More strange warmings here
A time of quiet
December 2004

Dear friends, the season of Advent is upon us. This means that, in services across the land, tea lights are being lit in wild profusion, smooth pebbles are inexplicably passing from pew to pew and we pause to ponder the symbolism of curious hedgehog affairs made out of satsumas. In other words, it is open season once again for churches everywhere to try their hand at a spot of reflective worship.

To some of you, I suspect, this phrase may provoke the same sense of cold panic as the simple coupling of the words drama and workshop, but have no fear. I have decided, with a generosity of spirit befitting the season, to furnish you with all you need to lead your own guided meditation for Advent.

Please feel free to use the piece below in your festive programme, which may be read aloud entirely as written. Naturally it won't work if you read it out like a drill sergeant, and you will discover that appropriate tone of voice is everything. The general effect you are trying to achieve is the verbal equivalent of stroking a trout. If that agreeable state is beyond you, imagine yourself instead as a dentist addressing a recumbent three year-old, and you shouldn't encounter too many problems. I have entitled it, simply, The filling station...

Good evening. At this point in our service, can I simply invite you to pause for a moment as we reflect upon our Advent journey. This is a time for quiet, a time just to be still and know that I am God. A time when you can listen to that still small voice, without any external interruptions... no one else talking... no distractions, just... the quiet (pause).

Quiet times are so valuable, aren't they? So often in church we long for quiet, but all we hear is a constant stream of meaningless words. We may feel like crying out if only they'd stop talking and leave us some space... But they don't. Here tonight, though, there is space... no words... just quiet...

So often the stresses of the day make us tenser than we realize. And so I just want to begin with a simple breathing exercise. What you need to do is relax and just breathe in... and then out (repeat). Maybe you've never done that before... but it can be quite helpful in all sorts of ways. Breathing - in... and then out. Mmm.

And tonight I want us to meditate briefly on emptiness and fullness. What are you full of, I wonder? What am I full of? Whatever it is you're full of, can I just encourage you to now become empty. Empty heads, empty lives... that's what we seek.

The world is so ready to fill our minds with all sorts of things that can't really help – things to do, things to buy - so many worries and cares. But it's a bit like a... a bath, in, in a way... we need to turn off the taps and let the water drain away. So... if it's helpful you might like simply to turn your taps off with me... (make tap turning-off motion with hands). Thank you. And then let's just pull the plug out and, if it's helpful – out loud, or in the silence of your hearts – just make the sound of the water draining away (you may wish to encourage others here by making the requisite sluurrrpp sound).

As you take time in the quiet to become empty, you may find that all your thoughts and cares try to come rushing back in. Simply refuse them and try your hardest - now and in the week ahead - to be thoughtless, careless... And, if you're troubled by sensual thoughts and temptations, then simply resolve to be completely senseless from now on.

To help us in this process I simply invite you now to close your eyes and picture yourself in a filling station, a place where people are very much aware of their emptiness, their fullness. In the quiet you might like to say aloud the filling station you have chosen – it might be a garage, it may be a service station (you may wish to get the ball rolling here by saying, for example, Esso, Leigh Delamere...).

As you pull up to the pumps, imagine yourself stepping out of your car and, using all your senses, just take a moment to look at it, to feel it, perhaps to smell it. What is it full of? So many things that need emptying... perhaps it is your rubbish or your luggage, perhaps it is your... oil. Whatever it is, take a moment in this filling station to become empty. Open your doors and bags, undo the sump plug, let it all drain away.

What do you notice about your fellow travellers as you do this, I wonder? Are they also plagued by thoughts and cares? If so, here perhaps is an opportunity to do something truly thoughtless and careless. What they need is a sign that there is another way, just a symbol of some sort. What should you do?

Perhaps it might help if you were to light a candle. Yes... perhaps it might. And so, slowly walk round the garage and gently place a lighted candle on each petrol pump. Take a moment to notice how people are responding to your action – what are their expressions, I wonder – are they full of fear, or despair? Maybe it isn't surprising that they are hostile to your carelessness, and, as the sirens sound and you begin another journey, you reflect how hard it is for the world to understand...
strangely warmed
Strangely Warmed by Andrew Rumsey is now available as a book.
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Also by Stephen Tomkins... a regular round-up of the saints of yore who were one wafer short of a full communion
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