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Vicar's Musings for Lent 5

17 March, 2013

I am a recovering perfectionist. Being the son of a university research physicist and a full-time 1960s house-wife, I could probably blame my parents; but no, I take full responsibility for my own actions. Undertaking doctoral studies undoubtedly compounded the malady, but I have since read Richard Carlson's Don't Sweat the Small Stuff (1996) and have learnt to accept (and even laugh at) life's "typos" that inevitably and frequently slip through my all-too fallible attempts at perfection. One of my favourite examples of a real-life typo dates back to Easter 6 last year, soon after I arrived in the parish, when I wrote in my Vicar's Musings: "Our connection with the sisters goes back to the nineteenth-century when Fr Handfield was chaplain to the order, and we are blessed to still have strong links, especially thorough Sister Avrill on our pastoral and liturgical teams." Sister Avrill is indeed most "thorough" in her pastoral and liturgical activities, but it was pointed out to me at 7.45am that Sunday morning by a sidesperson (with much mutual hilarity) that I probably meant "through". Indeed, the fact that I can recall this particular typo, and can summon up the example on my computer nearly a year later, speaks volumes. A wonderful text for recovering perfectionists is Lynn Truss's little book Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation (2003). It still has me in fits of laughter when I recall some of the stories she tells, and humour is undoubtedly an important step on the road to recovery. Extreme perfectionism is as disabling spiritually as it is in our physical and emotional lives. We had a life-giving discussion at the Wednesday Lenten Group this week on chapter three of Jane Shaw's book A Practical Christianity: Meditations for the Season of Lent (2012). As it turned out a number of us confessed to being recovering perfectionists. The chapter is entitled "Being Uncertain" and opens with a moving poem by Yehuda Amichai, a German-born Jew who moved to Israel in 1936 when he was 11 years old. He knows all too well the dangers of excessive certainty and obsessive perfectionism:

From the place where we are right
flowers will never grow
in the spring.
The place where we are right
is hard and trampled
like a yard.
But doubts and loves
dig up the world
like a mole, a plow,
And a whisper will be heard in the place
where the ruined
house once stood.

Life will never be perfectly packaged and mess free; we all know that. Even our beautiful liturgy, our carefully-crafted theology and our most deeply-held beliefs are flawed; "For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known" (1 Corinthians 13:12). So, to all my fellow recovering perfectionists: let's go easy on each other, and on our enemies, and on ourselves; and may we actively pursue ways of journeying together into the mystery of God's love.

The Rev'd Dr Hugh Kempster



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