Focus like an Olympian…

Poppy Hughes

I take my hat off to Adam Peaty, winner of the first Team GB Olympic Gold Medal in Rio this week.  It was an astonishing victory in the 50m breaststroke and Peaty dominated the pool.

Afterwards, Peaty talked about the quest for “the perfect swim”, requiring total focus in the moment.  He just missed breaking his own World Record for the 50m, confessing to feeling “a little bit jittery”.  But perhaps that just makes his win even more impressive.

I have been reflecting on feeling jittery, since discovering that the Greek word for distracted is periespato.   Luke uses it in his Gospel, when he describes Martha rushing around making a meal for Jesus and the disciples.  I am no Greek scholar, but I think it is a wonderfully descriptive word.  Try saying it out loud.  “Peri” means around, like perimeter.  And “espato” … well, I just translate that as spattered!  So you get the sense of our attention being spattered around.

Feeling periespato will be familiar to many of us.  Our attention is pulled back, to reflect on past events with regret or nostalgia.  And we worry furiously about what is coming up, or what might happen.  So perhaps we could take time through day to focus on now:  to attend to this moment, as if nothing else mattered.

It is what our Olympic athletes are doing as they step up to the starting line.  It is what Jesus asked Martha to do.  Perhaps we could give it a go?

By the Revd Poppy Hughes, Rector of Tetbury, Beverston, Long Newnton and Shipton Moyne

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The Psychology of Mindfulness

It seems people are all-abuzz about mindfulness – especially if you’re in your 20s and 30s. After several conversations about how helpful it can be, I am now half-way through an eight-week programme introducing me to the fundamentals. And it is impressive. I am learning to unpick the tangle of my physical, emotional and mental responses to everyday life. I am aware, for example, of how a twinge in my hip leads to sad feelings about getting old – with my mind jumping within seconds to worry about how my children will cope when I die. So I now try to accept that twinge for what it is … a twinge!

But why do we find it so hard to be present in the moment? Perhaps it’s decades of a culture which privileges strategic thinking: no individual, church or organisation is complete without a five-year plan. Or perhaps it’s the hyper-connectivity of the internet that teaches our minds to leapfrog about between the past and future? Certainly, the psychology of mindfulness really works. I am already more at ease with myself and the world around me.

But, in the programme I’m following, I’m left wondering where God is. I’ve decided to complete the eight weeks before puzzling this one out. I suspect it will take me back to the age-old wisdom of Christian mystics. To “capax Dei” – making the space for God at the centre of our lives (rather than our own preoccupations). To unconditional faith in Christ. To resting in “God-fulness”.

The Revd Poppy Hughes, Rector of the Benefice of Tetbury, Beverston, Long Newnton and Shipton Moyne and the Benefice of Avening with Cherington

All part of God’s plan

Poppy Hughes 01The topic of work is never far from the headlines.  Just in the last week: the National Apprenticeship Awards, the fall in unemployment, the CBI’s call for a rise in living standards. But our church communities often have a blind spot when it comes to the world of work. People come through our doors on Sunday, but we tend to ignore what they do with their time and talents for the rest of the week – unless they are an accountant, in which case we swiftly recruit them as our treasurer. We might praise the caring professions as “worthwhile” and gloss over the rest. Or we reduce the work place to a “mission field”, simply encouraging people to share their faith with colleagues.

I think it’s time we got a lot more creative about our “theology of work” – how we understand work as part of God’s purpose for us. Like any proud parent, God is delighted when we use our talents and gifts, and flourish in our work. And God delights in the flourishing of human society: our families, our communities and our world. So let’s start to embrace our jobs as part of God’s plan, whether that’s IT or hairdressing, investment banking or painting and decorating. Our workforce creates jobs and prosperity. It connects us, feeds us, informs us, entertains us, provides hospitality and care, and so much more. And all of this uses the God-given talents we need to celebrate, supporting others to fulfil their potential in God’s world.

The Revd Poppy Hughes, Parish Priest for Tetbury, Beverston, Long Newnton and Shipton Moyne