De-Cluttering the Mind

I am back to clearing stuff from the study. A few more books have gone and more paper has been shredded. Now I am working my way through diaries. The earliest are from the 1960s, covering my years at Essex University.They don’t contain much of interest. But here and there are one or two words and names that prompt memories. 

The diaries from the 1970s have much more detail, though it is mostly of activities related to ministry – baptisms, funerals, meetings and preaching appointments. There appears to be few references to family, though it was lovely to find the exact time, weight and length of the birth of third daughter recorded on the day she was born. 

On Sunday I read a couple of articles in the Friends Journal, a monthly magazine from American Quakers. One was about decluttering the mind and the other about how niceness is ruining Quakerism, and what was needed instead was more kindness. They resonate with where I am at the moment. It is not just about getting rid of ‘things’, objects that clutter up the house, but also about finding a clear and simple focus on what is important. 

I mentioned Ursula Le Guin recently. Her main character in the Earthsea stories, Ged, has to learn not to use his power to satisfy his own needs, but only to do “what must be done”, for the good of all. Reflecting on my busyness during the years of being a working minister, I realise that I did a lot. I worked hard, (though it was interesting to remember how many times and with whom I played squash!) I hope that I also cared for the people I met and showed kindness. My ministry in the 70s and continuing well into the 80s (in Sheffield – diaries still to be tackled), was about community building, both new churches and new residential communities. 

Those years were also marked by poverty. It was difficult for us as a family as I was serving churches that were not well endowed and in northern towns that were hard pressed. We had to rely on Family Income Supplement for several of those years. For a while we could not afford a car and I travelled round the roads of Cheshire on a little Honda 50cc motorbike. 

Decluttering the mind, is not about erasing these memories, but learning from them what is important. In fact it is not what is recorded in work diaries that matters, but the memories of the heart of my wife and daughters, my friends and good colleagues, and those companions with whom I shared grief and joy. It has been good to have those memories refreshed.

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