Towering Tutu’s Foundation

Friends,

In the last week more than one person has described Archbishop Desmond Tutu as a “towering” human being. Towering in integrity, courage, wisdom and mercy. Tall towers are dependent on deep foundations to keep standing. This was equally true for Tutu. His public life of prophetic action and courage was under-pinned by his private life of prayer and contemplation. His life was one of daily discipline. May his example inspire us to shape our own days with greater deliberateness to nurture our inner life so that our outer life may stretch to new heights of integrity, courage, wisdom and mercy. Here is a summary of Tutu’s daily practice:

04:00 – Personal prayers (weekdays)

05:00 – Fast 30 minute walk or slow jog

05:30 – Shower

06:00 – Devotional reading / reflection

07:30 – Recite formal Morning Prayer in chapel

08:00 – Daily Eucharist

08:30 – Breakfast (a glass of orange juice)

09:00 – Office work / appointments

11:00 – Tea break (again at 15:30)

11:00 – Office work / appointments

13:00 – Personal prayer

13:30 – Lunch and hour-long nap

15:00 – Office work / appointments

15:30 – Tea break

18:00 – Evening prayer in chapel

19:00 – A drink (usually a rum and coke) and supper at home

21:00 – In bed by 21:00 or 22:00

23:00 – Asleep (after Compline prayers)

“In addition to his daily prayers, Tutu fasted until supper on Fridays and observed a “quiet day” every month and a seven-day silent retreat once a year. During Lent he ate only in the evenings.

It soon became apparent to the staff of Bishopscourt that Tutu ebullient extrovert and Tutu the meditative priest who needed six or seven hours a day in silence were two sides of the same coin. One could not exist without the other: in particular, his extra-ordinary capacity to communicate with warmth, compassion, and humour depended on the regeneration of personal resources, which in turn depended on the iron self-discipline of his prayers.”

[Summarised from: Rabble-Rouser for Peace – The Authorised Biography of Desmond Tutu. By: John Allen. Pages 174/5]

Grace,
Alan

 

Celebrating Archbishop Emeritus Tutu

Today we celebrate the life of Archbishop Desmond Tutu who died a few hours ago.

We give thanks for his life lived in faithful partnership with God
to heal this broken world:

A life shaped by the character of Jesus.
A life of compassion and justice.
A life of truth and forgiveness.

Archbishop Tutu put flesh on the words from today’s reading from Colossians 3:12-17

We have a special Yellow Banner that was raised earlier today
in the Archbishop’s honour.

I include a line to a most beautiful and appropriate “hymn” to mark this day:
“It is a serious thing just to be alive on this fresh morning in the broken world…”
(Mary Oliver)

Deep peace, Alan

In Growing Wonder

Friends,

Anne Dufourmantelle in her book Power of Gentleness, writes in the final chapter that is entitled: A Gentle Revolution:

“It is sometimes inadvertently that a revolution takes place. An effect of extreme gentleness, barely different from other moments, and then life suddenly catches fire, is ablaze. But burning with inexplicable gentleness. As if suddenly you were taken by the hand along a precipice and needed not only to walk along the edge but to dance, and yes, you dance without fear or vertigo as if the very space took refuge in you, and then as if, upon arriving on the other side, everything had changed, but without violence. Is the intimate revolution of this kind?”

She then goes on to tell a short story of a young Italian soldier. It is a story of surprising ordinariness, “barely different from other moments”, yet I find myself reading and re-reading it with a growing sense of wonder. With each reading it “suddenly catches fire” and the “surprise holds” me.

A young Italian was drafted into the army during the First World War. For months he hid in the mountains with his comrades. They had almost no provisions left. The order was to defend the mountain pass at any cost. Feeling a sense of absurdity that he tried to hide from the others, he kept a journal. One night he noticed the movement of troops in the pass on the other side of the cliffs separating the narrow valley, and he thought that all was lost. The offensive would occur the very next day, that much was certain, and he knew he and his comrades would not have enough ammunition. That night, without his comrades knowing, he decided to venture as close as possible to the enemy camp. Halfway there he almost turned back; he heard a song rising from a gramophone. The surprise held him. He was so moved by it that he decided to come forward until he was seen in the open, a sign of surrender in his hand. He was captured immediately and brought to the officer of the German army. The record was still playing. They both knew the tune. The voice that rose from the recording had an unusual gentleness. The German officer talked with this man all night. Risking everything, the Italian explained the position of his troops, their certain death, and put their fate completely in his hands. The German officer let him leave in the morning. And he never launched the attack. He went in the direction of another valley, leaving them time to withdraw and make their escape. This is a story of gentleness.

This story involves no less wonder than sipping wine from a water-filled-cup and no less surprise than the Creator of the cosmos “contracted to a span, incomprehensibly made man” (Charles Wesley).

The epicentre of the story’s surprising wonder lies deep beneath the surface of expectation. “Their certain death” escapes certainty. The story’s surprise rests in what does not happen rather than what does happen just like a tree spared from the woodcutters axe. The tree stands today as it did yesterday. Nothing has changed and yet everything is different. The tree, though rooted in the same soil is now rooted in a new story. The story of what could have been, but wasn’t. The tree, though not dead, inherits the wonder of new life.

So it is with the soldiers. Though not dead, they too inherit new life. This new life is birthed out of a gentle revolution. A gentle revolution that involves radical risk taking, courageous vulnerability and musical invitation that travels over enemy lines and creeps beneath ideological uniforms to build a bridge between enemy hearts.

I share this story of gentle revolution with you at this time in the hope that it can help us to see the Christmas story as one of gentle revolution that catches fire precisely because of its surprising ordinariness: A peasant girl giving birth to a baby in poverty, yet held by the musical invitation of God’s loving favour.

In growing wonder,
Alan