movies & multi-tasking

“Small pleasures are important. You know the story of the two trainee priests who like to smoke? … The first goes to his spiritual director and says, “Is it permitted to smoke whilst praying?” “No, No!” he director replies. The second trainee – he is a Jesuit – says to his friend, “Brother, you are just asking the wrong question.” So he goes to the spiritual director and says, “Father, is it permitted to pray whilst smoking?”

Jesuits have often been mocked for their casuistry, for applying the reasoning from one problem to solve another situation. But there is a lot to be said for this, applied wisely. Modern philosophers might call it “re-framing”.

My opening words come from the film “The Two Popes”, which I watched last week, about Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis, when he was still Cardinal Bergoglio. It is a beautiul film, exploring so many aspects of life and faith. For one man, arrogance is humbled by age and experience. For the other, it is seeing and hearing God in the person who has been one of their fiercest critics.

The film portrays a meeting between the two men not long before Pope Benedict resigns the Papacy, triggering the election that would see Cardinal Bergoglio become Pope Francis. They do not like each other. They profoundly disagree on nearly everything. But the script writers have injected such humanity, and so many little touches that spoke to my experiences of  how God works, through coincidence and surprise. I would think that many others watching it would have felt the same.

The joke which I opened with is told by Francis to Benedict, as an example of seeing things differently. Of the need to approach things from the right angle if one wishes to be able to enjoy life and to see the goodness of God at work. Francis is equally known for calling people, especially the powerful, to book for not heeding the needs and rights of others when in pursuit of power and wealth.

But for today, I wanted to focus on this ability to see things differently, to look at a problem from a different perspective in order to get to where we want or need to be. Prayer is something we agonise over. Libraries of books have been written about it. Blood has even been spilled in arguments over what is the right way to pray.

But in the end, what is prayer? Surely it is the conversation we have with our dearest Friend, with our Father/Mother in heaven, who whilst being the Creator of the Universe is also the one who dwells within our hearts. How do you talk to your best and closest friends? When you are truly being yourself? Is that with a cigarette in hand? Is it whilst having a glass of wine, or a coffee? Is it whilst cleaning and doing the endless tasks of the day? Is it in those brief moments of respite between jobs?

Sometimes we do need to enter sacred space to allow our souls to rest, to be able to be still and allow the peace of the place to envelop us and bring us into God’s presence in a particular way.

But we must always remember that, whether we are aware of him or not, God is always with us. And, like any true friend, I’d be willing to be that God would rather have a brief chat over a cigarette or coffee, or whilst doing the washing up, than no chat at all.

What’s your version of “praying whilst smoking”? And does it matter if it began as “smoking whilst praying”? Whatever it is, may it bring you God’s peace in your soul.

With love, light and blessings,
Revd. Talisker