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This evening is the beginning of Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement, and I find myself thinking back.
I’ve always been the sort of person who prefers the easy way of doing things. When I was living and working in London, with access to Oxford Street and all its shops every lunchtime, that meant buying things: ready-made meals for one, ready-made desserts in individual portions, even bags of prepared vegetables, peeled and sliced carrot batons, broccoli florets, shelled peas, mixtures of veg that were ready to just go in the microwave and accompany the ready-made individual-sized pie which I’d stick in the oven when I got home from work – ok, partly this was because I actually didn’t know how to cook… but partly this was the lifestyle I was living: rushing to work every day, always feeling short of time, and being surrounded by shops selling any kind of luxury, so basically I bought time, I paid money so that someone else would save me having to spend time on peeling carrots.
So… the clocks go back tonight, and these days I do tend to remember… unlike one year, when I managed to spend the whole day out of synch with the world around me…
First, you’ll need a bit of background to follow this story.
It was sometime in the early 90s. I was living in a small town in Surrey, and attending the main Anglican church there, called St Andrew’s. They had a smaller sister church called St John’s, and evening service was sometimes held there. (In those days I used to get up in the morning and go to the main service – I guess I had more energy when I was younger…)
Oh, and the other detail that is crucial to the story is that the time of evening service was 6.30 for about half the year and 6pm for the other half.
Okay, now that you’ve got all that, sit comfortably and I’ll tell you what happened…
I woke up one Sunday morning in autumn, and thought, oops, I’ve overslept, I can’t make it to church this morning. So I stayed in, I don’t remember what I did all day but it didn’t involve switching on the television or the radio at any point.
Seeing as I’d missed morning service, I decided to go to St John’s in the evening. So off I go to St John’s, but I find the church shut and dark and there’s absolutely no sign of life. Strange, I think to myself, but maybe I made a mistake and it hasn’t changed to 6pm yet? Maybe we’re still on 6.30? Okay, I’ll go for a walk and come back.
So I go for a walk around my little town. I go through the high street and see that the Chinese takeaway is closed, which is strange because I know they open at 5.30pm on Sundays. Then I get to St Andrew’s, the main church, and the church clock is saying the wrong time! I’m beginning to get a weird feeling, like something terrible must have happened locally today and I’m the only one who hasn’t heard.
I go back to St John’s for the 6.30 service but it’s still dark and shut. Now what do I do? Okay, I’ll go home then.
So I head home, and on my way I bump into the two elderly sisters who hold the keys to St John’s. They’re just on their way to open up for the 6pm service.
And so, at what I thought was nearly 6.30pm, I discovered that I’d been an hour out for the whole day.
And what I learned from this for life was how easy it is to walk around being absolutely sure that your watch is right and the church clock is wrong… to be certain that if everyone around me is saying something different, then they’re the ones who have got it wrong…
For some people, though, there’s an opposite lesson – some people, because of the hard knocks they’ve had in life, have such low self-esteem that their immediate assumption would be that they’re wrong and the other people are right. If you’re one of those people, then the lesson I learned is not for you. Because the truth, of course, is somewhere in the middle: we all get some things right and some things wrong.
At that time I was at a stage in my life when I needed to learn humility. This lesson came to my mind a few years later, when God was challenging me to review my thinking on a pretty big issue, and I realised that I had been refusing to accept that others around me may have been right about it whilst I had been wrong.
This hasn’t stopped me from swimming against the tide at times… as those who have been reading my blog know very well… (in fact, there’s one post coming soon…) but I know I’m only human and fallible, and even though I may feel 101% sure about something, I may have missed a point somewhere… I know from experience that there have been plenty of things I have felt 101% sure about but then later changed my mind pretty drastically – so somewhere in the corner of my mind, even as I stand bravely on my soapbox, I know that my watch may be… well… at least a few seconds out…