If “overthinking” were an Olympic event, I would have a gold medal in it! I’ve been thinking about overthinking (!) since a very pleasant conversation about it this week, with another person who self-describes as an “overthinker.” It’s made me think… (!!) In fact, it led me back to a word I’d encountered a while ago – a wonderful big conversation-stopping word.
This has been a period of much thinking, in congregations, Presbyteries and the General Assembly. Some of it has been – here’s the word – “metacognition”. It’s a concept that goes back to Aristotle – and that’s something the Wikipedia article “Metacognition” will tell you. In fact, Wikipedia gets quite uncharacteristically poetic! It describes metacognition as “”thinking about thinking”, “knowing about knowing”, becoming “aware of one’s awareness”. It’s an idea that leads us into a deep exploration of how we think, why we think as we do, how we plan and strategize – and how we might do these things differently and better.
We will need that, as a Presbytery. We are going to have to do a lot of thinking; in fact, we already are. And we will need to think about how we think. But reflection and introspection in the Christian spiritual tradition cover a vastly larger territory than mere thought.
I’ve loved the Book of Revelation since I read it in one go, from JB Phillips’ translation when I was a teenager. John, as he sat imprisoned on Patmos, was engaged in something other than just thinking, or even “metacognition.” He surveyed the Seven Churches from his isolation, and no doubt he did a lot of thinking. But his thinking was immersed in the mind of Christ. Without that, he would have had nothing to say.
The Greek Orthodox tradition teaches us, startlingly and straightforwardly, that “theology is prayer. Before it’s thought, and creeds, and weighty books, theology is prayer. The whole thinking of the Church is a prayerful seeking of the Mind of Christ. We must think. We must “think about our thinking.” But if we are truly to be the Church, and a Presbytery of the Church, our thinking must seek to be grounded in the mind of Christ. We know that.
But pausing to stock-take at this point in our strange journey across this pandemic landscape, I feel that our awareness of these things has been deepened by our experience.. That’s my own starting-point this week, and I hope it’s helpful.
Anyway, I won’t overthink my greeting this week!
Yours in Christ,
So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any incentive of love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfishness or conceit, but in humility count others better than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus… Philippians 2:1-5
I John, your brother, who share with you in Jesus the tribulation and the kingdom and the patient endurance, was on the island called Patmos on account of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet saying, “Write what you see in a book and send it to the seven churches, to Ephesus and to Smyrna and to Per’gamum and to Thyati’ra and to Sardis and to Philadelphia and to La-odice’a.” Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking to me… Revelation 1:9-12a
We start our prayers here, Lord.
We remember John, on Patmos,
staring at the walls of his cell –
physical, palpable, confinement and restriction –
yet in the Spirit, gazing out over the Seven Churches,
their life, their challenges, their troubles and joys.
Shut away, he was sundered from them.
Yet immersed in Christ, he was immersed in their life,
their situation, their reality –
given to see, in Christ,
even the things about themselves that they could not see.
That is not us, Lord, and we would never claim it!
We are not that sequestered saint on his rock in the sea.
But we have been shut away, cut off from each other,
and yet we have known the life of our congregations – of your church – in Argyll,
in new ways in these strange times.
For all that you have granted us to learn,
we give you thanks.
We have been led by the Spirit to imagine, with loving concern.
- how others are coping,
- how other congregations are doing things,
- what it must be like for them, in their settings, in their communities, among their folk.
We have seen each other anew, too.
We thank you for the still-percolating insights that we have
of seeing each other simultaneously
in meetings and at home!
Our eyes have been drawn from faces,
from the diverse room in which each of us made choice
to set up the laptop or the tablet,
and we have glimpsed windows,
and wondered what the view from each one is.
We have realized that each home is set
in a particular, different community,
served by a different, particular congregation
of different, particular, unique individuals.
That is our Presbytery!
Lord, never let us un-see these things.
We have sensed, Lord, that you have been inviting us
to new insights into our work,
and who we are, and what we are, as a Presbytery.
We sense that in ways we cannot imagine
you are equipping us for work we are barely beginning to imagine,
in a future we can for now only grasp under this rubric –
“Everything will be different…”
We pray that our knowledge
and our thinking
and our thinking-about-thinking
have become deeper set in love, and compassion, and prayer.
Consolidate this work in us, that we may better serve your Kingdom.
We ask to be led, loving God,
beyond thinking, and thinking-about-thinking,
ever nearer to the fusion
of thought and deed and work and prayer,
that our service to Christ, as his Presbytery,
may arise ever more out of our life in him.
Loving God, over these pandemic months,
you have sensitized us to each others’ lives.
you have given us insight and awareness, will we but accept it,
to inform our prayers for others.
“The nights,” we say, and smile as we say it, “are fair drawin’ in.”
We imagine you smile at us too:
wherever we were born, we say it like that,
with respect for the land and its people, the communities you have formed,
in which some of us were raised, and some ingrafted,
and in which we all seek to live out the Gospel.
“The nights are fair drawin’in.”
We say it, and smile wryly, for we know
That this is not a straightforward time,
And many wrestle with the encroaching darkness.
Many of us do.
You know it too, Lord.
We bring before you
Not merely the truncated wintry days,
The isolating cold, the seasonal challenge to affect and mood.
We know that this winter will be a prism
Through which the sombre rays of this pandemic will be refracted for many.
You call us to minister to unsettled people, in unsettled communities,
in an unsettled society in unsettled times.
Hear now the prayers your Spirit stirs up in us
For those whose needs we know, and for those we only know to be in need.
Lord you have set us in a darkening world
as people of the light,
as witnesses to your promise,
as signs of hope, as we turn to face the dawn.
Teach us the lessons of these changing times,
that we may be full of the Love of Christ,
and live faithfully our calling to live the life of the Kingdom,
for we ask it in Jesus’ name, who taught us, when we pray, to say: Our Father…