I have been doing quite a bit of thinking about balance lately. Partly it came from an internal discussion within the Community of Solitude, because balance, and balanced living, is a peculiarly Benedictine trait. St Benedict in some ways was the first great moderate - the first Anglican even, as we Anglicans walk the via media, the middle way between Catholicism and Protestantism, integrating the best of both and making something beautifully different. But partly this thinking about balance has come from my own life and my reflections on my own faith and lifestyle.
What Benedict was after was for us to keep work, prayer, and study/other parts of life in balance, so that no one bit of life takes over. This to me seems to be an eminently sensible idea and very very modern - strange to think that Benedict died in 547AD! We have a tendency - I have a tendency - of focusing on one part of life to the exclusion of others, which is not what Benedictine living is all about. It's about putting everything in its proper place.
Benedict says that prayer is our work, and everything else flows from that. I have been thinking about that for a while now: if prayer is my work, I do all my other living from my prayer - my life is bracketed and contained and expressed in my prayer, my openness to seeing God's loving touch in all things.
I had lunch with a friend I haven't seen since my schooldays today, and we were catching up on a rather frightening number of years since we last saw each other (but like all true friends, the intervening time didn't seem to matter all that much!). As part of me catching him up on what I'd been up to, I talked about the Community and the way it has changed me, and the simple expression of the habit (black and white) I use when I'm not actually wearing my full habit (like for work for example). He asked whether I miss wearing colours, and I can honestly say that I don't. Black and white has become part of my prayer, part of my life - and the colour is all around me anyway. Green grass, blue sky (very blue, that wonderful autumnal blue), white gulls - the world is full of colour and light and I seem to be more aware of it because I don't partake of it. I am thankful for the light of God that shines through the world, the breath of God that gives it life, the love of God we find as we serve one another.
Finding balance for me is about finding prayer. Not just praying the Office (which I do every morning and night) but finding prayer in all things - being prayer in all places. I'm not that good at this, but the hesychasts have some good ideas that I like, and it's all about trying. The Western tradition talked about the "practice of the presence of God" which seems an overly complicated way of saying that God's fingerprints are everywhere if I will only look.
Much of this reflection has come about because I have been feeling like a bit of a failure this Lent, despite what I wrote last Lent about letting me be me and God be God with me. I made a couple of decisions about Lenten practice and I haven't been disciplined about them. But what I am finding is more balance. And maybe that's closer to what God has in mind for Lent. "Deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow me" - into a balanced life of obedience, conversion of life, and stability in my life of prayer. However, there are times when I still agree with Stephen Fry: "The spirit is willing, but the flesh is a bin liner full of yoghurt"....