March 2020 - Rector’s Ramblings

I fiercely enjoy the world of competition.  I like to pit myself against others, against my own standards, or against the invisible problem-setter who has compiled a quiz or challenge.  These escapades give me ‘a buzz’.

See me gritting my teeth over a crossword puzzle, pressing onwards in the course of an invigorating walk, or hear me describe my latest frustrating debacle at the bridge table, and you will certainly have picked this up.

It is not only my own endeavours.  I relish the vicarious pleasure of looking in on other parties’ contests  -  short of war and violence, of course.  As I write, this spring’s Six Nations Rugby has enjoyed a tasty start; and – though I’m not quite as vocal about my own football team as is my fellow preacher Martin  -  be assured that the fortunes of Chelsea FC, on a Saturday afternoon, can have a huge and unjustified effect upon my vitality and morale, come the Sunday morning.

It isn’t solely a boy-thing, but no doubt many boys are actively encouraged to ‘be competitive. Childhood egging-on suggests this is an attitude to nurture, which will ultimately be to our advantage in life.

And yet, … I am not so sure.

The counter-side to such a feisty outlook on life is sometimes heard on the lips of those who surround us: ‘oh, he’s so competitive’; ..  ‘ugghh .. she simply can’t stand losing’.  And these are not words of approval.  Some of us will hear those words and know that they can ‘find us out’.  Do I really come across like that?   That’s not how I see myself!  But, if it is so, how can I in fact ‘manage’ my competitive spirit?

Three ideas:

.. becoming a good loser, for one; and praying for the humility and perspective that this might prove possible; 

.. showing respect  - even forgiveness -  is another: there is a fantastic back-history of rugby players knocking the living daylights out of each other on the field; only, to wrap an arm around an opponent’s shoulder and enjoy a convivial pint together an hour after the final whistle; 

.. and finding one’s own dignity not only in achievement, but in ‘the running of the race’ the very participation: it is not just the winning, but the taking part: think of a London Marathon, where only one wins .. but all are winners!

Competitiveness can, indeed, be a spur to great achievement, and empires have been built upon such fires of passion.   But courtesy, and true self-knowledge are better still, as the contest of life is played out.

Perhaps, in closing, this offers a gentle insight into Lent: the season now upon us?

You can go at it like a bull in a china shop, intent on battering down the very gates of hell through your own extremes of effort; or you can know these next few weeks as a period not of competition, but of completion: where the only person you should try to be better than is the person you were yesterday.

Yes, we might punish ourselves in a striving to outdo all other penitents, or to prove the furthest reaches of our will.   And, yet, it will be of more enduring virtue if we are receptive, measured, and humble before God’s goodness.  A Lent such as that is a Lent worth living.  And such a Lent may make, of us, something that is beyond mere striving.

May our prayers be well-directed, may our heart be kindly inclined.

Andrew Doye, Rector                        


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