• John G. Stackhouse, Jr.

Calm, Cool, and Collected

One of the most beloved features of the Anglican Book of Common Prayer (BCP) is the “Collect,” the prayer that unites the voices of the congregation together as it (re-)collects the attention of the congregation to focus on this or that fundamental spiritual truth. Collects work in private devotional time as well to gather the dispersed and wandering fragments of one’s own mind in order to attend to God.

I need such re-collection frequently, for my common state, the common modern/hypermodern state, is to be dis-integrated, reacting to this particular challenge out of a professional mentality forged in my guild and job while reacting to that incident out of some childhood hurt, dealing with this person out of spiritual wisdom gathered over the years and then dealing with that one out of fleeting, flashing irritation.

In Jonathan Edwards’s sermons on I Corinthians 13, he speaks of the person filled with the love of God as difficult to “ruffle.” I think of the Sea of Galilee, which I’ve been privileged once to visit, and how “ruffle-able” that shallow lake is. I compare the deep northern Ontario lake I grew up beside, and how much bigger a storm it took to churn it up.

Yesterday I scored very poorly on the 3 C’s–calm, cool, and collected. I had not slept well for a couple of nights and so faced the day fractured. I’m old enough now to realize that I needed to undertake some personal disciplines, and they helped, but I yet really wasn’t under very good control. I shan’t bore or offend you with details, but I drove to work un-calmly, dealt with a minor crisis un-coolly, was off-balance in a couple of conversations, and ended the afternoon barely hanging together. I felt as I left the office like I should look around to make sure I had all the pieces of myself collected from the day before I headed home.

In such a state, who knows what element of my not-entirely-sanctified personality will pop up to confront whatever comes next? The doctrine of divine simplicity, by contrast, wonderfully tells us that God is everything God is all the time. God isn’t at war within Godself: “Hmm. I’m pretty angry about that person sinning like that. Yet I also love her very much. Still, I’m inclined to smite her. But I also want to hug her. What, what, what shall I do?”

I, you will have discerned, am not divinely simple. On bad days, I lurch from one extreme to another, even as I walk into our building: “Wow! The magnolia tree in front of Regent College is in full bloom! Praise God for his–Hey, you [uncalm colloquialism], watch where you’re going! Now, what do I have to do first while I’m here? Oh, hi, there, beloved students! Wait, there’s that person who I think is still holding a grudge. Grrr. Okay, now, back to work: Where the [uncool colloquialism] is my office key?” And so on. Not collected.

Given, then, my propensity to fly apart, particularly as I live in a culture that constantly tries to pull me apart, I must try to keep it together. And I cannot do that by myself: the culture is too strong, my untamed inclinations are defiantly untamed, and I am too weak to force it all under control. I must pray, I must adopt good habits/disciplines, I must be ready to apologize when I fail, and I must seek throughout the day moments of recollection. Muslim neighbours must pray at least five times a day. I need to pray rather more often than that, and rarely do.

If I did, however, I would keep seeing things come back together again sub specie aeternitatis. I would recall that God works all things together for good. I would remember that all of me–all of my “members,” all of the “members” of the set of activities and concerns and attitudes of my life–are “re-membered” in my central calling to make shalom together with the all-powerful, all-good God who loves me, adopted me, and handed me the particular mission that is my life here, now.

In that recollection, there is peace. “In returning and rest you shall be saved.”

In  time taken to “be still and know that I am Yhwh,” there is calm.

In that reconnecting of the resources of my life into a unit centred on Christ, imbued by the Holy Spirit, in gratitude and obedience to God the Father, there is strength–and there is beauty, the beauty of single-mindedly “willing one thing,” the “beauty of holiness.”

So this familiar collect from the BCP:

Heavenly Father, in you we live and move and have our being: We humbly pray you so to guide and govern us by your Holy Spirit, that in all the cares and occupations of our life we may not forget you, but may remember that we are ever walking in your sight, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

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