Slow reading: A remedy for uhtceare

I absolutely love words, and I just found an absolutely lovely one. Uhtceare, pronounced oot-key-are-a, means ‘lying awake before dawn and worrying.’* It may be Old English, but it’s a word for our times as so many of us are doing just that: tossing and turning as we fret about tomorrow, next week, next month, next year.

Our extreme connectivity makes it worse. We can roll over, grab the phone, read epidemiologists’ opinions and news reports from all over the world, and worry even more. But the thing is, no matter how much we read and learn and fret, we stay in the dark. This pandemic is the result of a new virus, behaving in strange and surprising ways; right now, nobody can predict what is going to happen. It all depends on how governments and corporations and pharmaceutical companies and political parties and lobby groups and countless individuals act, not to mention a constantly mutating and evolving virus.

Jesus spent his life ministering to worried people, and they had a lot to be worried about. First century Mediterranean peasants worried about their daily bread. They worried about rain and drought; plague and pestilence; invading armies and military patrols. They worried about having their sacred buildings desecrated and their own bodies violated. They knew hunger and death and the violence of the state in ways that most of us in the modern West never do.

It is to these people that Jesus first said: Do not worry about tomorrow. Do not be afraid. But his words are also for us. We can worry our lives away, seeking to predict the unpredictable and control the uncontrollable. Or we can put down the phone and instead live one day, one hour, one moment at a time. We can bring our hearts and minds back from infinite possible futures and into our present reality: this day in this place, and no other; and in doing so feel no longer fragmented, but whole.

And in this present moment, we can pause and reflect on God’s Word. For when we do so we might discover: Every moment can be a doorway into the vast and timeless love of God: a reality in which our worries shrivel away into joy, and we are sustained in ways even beyond words.

1. PREPARE: Make yourself comfortable. Uncross your legs; relax your body; uncomplicate your heart. Ask God to help you surrender to whatever it is that God wants to do in you or say to or through you. Breathe slowly and deeply in, then out.

2. READ: Read the following passage at least three times through, slowly, aloud if possible. Listen carefully. Notice anything which captures your attention.

  • Therefore, I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? Therefore do not worry, saying, “What will we eat?” or “What will we drink?” or “What will we wear?” For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But strive first for the kingdom of God and its justice, and all these things will be given to you as well. So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today (Matthew 6:25-34, NRSV).

3. REFLECT: Allow the passage, a phrase or a single word or image speak to you. What catches your attention? What emotions are you feeling? What questions are bubbling up? Reflect in silence.

4. RELATE: Now wonder: What are you worrying about? Make a list: get it all out on paper. Then read the passage again: does anything strike you?

5. RESPOND: Arising out of your reflection, pray. Tell God about anything which has emerged. If you feel called to action, ask God to show you the next step. If you want to talk anything through, contact me.

6. REST: Rest now in the Word, who loves you. As you leave this time of prayer, if any word, phrase or image persists, carry it with you and let it guide you. Or if nothing in particular arises, remember this:

  • Do not worry about tomorrow

And may God’s peace be with you in this present hour.

Emailed to Sanctuary 26 August 2020 © Alison Sampson, 2020. Quoting Mark Forsyth The Horologicon. (Crows Nest, NSW: Allen & Unwin, 2012). Image credit: Mattias Abulu on Unsplash.


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