Hannah Stone, Poet Theologian in Virtual Residence, has been thinking about choices and asks “Does being ‘chosen’ by God make any of our human decisions easier, or more straightforward”?
This week, I’m thinking about choices. In the panic buying just before lockdown began, before voluntary work opportunities began to be marshalled, I decided to offer my time to the local Co-op, as a shelf-filler. On a steep learning curve in the cereal aisle, I was genuinely shocked by the plethora of different brands and options of something as relatively simple (or so I thought in my innocence) as granola. Each distinct package had to go in exactly the right space on the shelf. I wondered: do we really need all this choice? What would we lose if life was a bit simpler, more stripped down? As time went by, because of gaps on the shelves people became resourceful; found substitutes for particular ingredients for a recipe, or made do with a different rather than favourite brand. Some choices are much bigger than that. A few years ago I chose to give up what I called ‘a big, bad wolf of a job’ (from ‘Changing Gear’, in Missing Miles) which I was finding very stressful. I decided to rely on another part time job, and to spend more time growing my own food, to cut down outgoings. It’s been a very fruitful decision.
During the months when walking or cycling was the only mandated mode of transport for non-key workers, I walked many miles in local woods and suburban streets. Every few minutes, you would need to make micro-decisions and choices: was that runner going to diverge; did you need to step into the road to maintain 2 metre spacing? Soon, I found delightful less trodden paths running parallel to the main paths on popular circuits; it was more restful to take these, even if the going was a little less smooth underfoot. I was reminded of Robert Frost’s poem, The Road not Taken, which describes having to choose at a fork in the road:
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveller, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair …
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I –
I took the one less travelled by,
And that has made all the difference.
This sense of ‘choosing’ brings me to the Bible:
John 15. 16 You have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, that you should go and bring forth fruit.
We may chafe under the lack of freedom of choice we experience at the moment. It can feel as if we are powerless to frame our present and our future. And some choices are very hard; a neighbour of mine has to return to work, but is not yet (without breaking the rules) able to visit her new grandchild.
Your question “How can we ensure our choices bear the right fruit?” brings to my mind my favourite prayer written by Thomas Merton:
My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going.
I do not see the road ahead of me.
I cannot know for certain where it will end.
Nor do I really know myself,
and the fact that I think I am following your will
does not mean that I am actually doing so.
But I believe that the desire to please you
does in fact please you.
Great poem by Merton. Reminds me of some of Bonheoffer’s poetry and prayers, written when his choices were non existent. Thank you.
I must admit I find the lack of choice a positive thing quite often. I have come to realise that too much choice is overwhelming and maybe even paralysing. The menu at Pizza Express for example!
At the moment when so many choices are taken away from us, I try to notice and feel grateful for the choices I do have.
Miriam, I really resonate with that. In pre-covid days I could measure my stress levels by how I responded to the yogourt counter in a supermarket. Did I want low fat, non diary, with or without fruit, added bio organisms? The other day a neighbour added ‘pot of yogourt’ to her shopping list (we tend to do collective shopping in our street so we don’t all pop out for the one thing we forgot) and I was quite happy not to have had to agonise over it! A silly example maybe but I think for me it’s about living more simply and being grateful for what turns up.
“When two roads diverge, take the one that leads to the beach” Hannah McKinnon