After breakfast, he runs four miles on his treadmill, little thingies sticking in his ears so he can listen to a book. No outdoors distractions, such as trees, bluejays, clouds, chipmunks, flowers, humans.
Then he goes to his study and devotes two hours to writing on his computer. When he drives, he listens to a book; cooking dinner for himself and his wife, listens to a book. No time wasted.
He has written more than twenty books, in which he brings the academic work of progressive biblical scholars and theologians down to a more readable and understandable level.
R. S. Thomas, after breakfast, went to his study, picked up a book, and began to read. When a poem darted into his mind, he put down his book, looked for pen and paper, and wrote down a first line and waited to see how the sounds and rhythms of that line would shape the rest of the poem.
In the afternoon, he walked the moors, no thingies stuffed into his ears. He enjoyed being distracted by gorse in bloom, sun glimmering on a lake, a farmer “docking mangels,” sheep looking like walking stones on a distant hillside.
After supper, Thomas visited parishioners. If he drove, he didn’t listen to a book; walked, he didn’t listen to a book. Wasted time.
But my hunch is that Thomas’s poems will be read, remembered, and loved long after the bishop’s books are a footnote in the history of religion in America.
“The inefficiency of efficiency” – words from a book I’m reading the old-fashioned way. Seated in a chair. Not multi-tasking. Just reading God’s Hotel by Victoria Sweet, a doctor-model for all doctors.
Dr. Sweet is on the medical staff of San Francisco’s Laguna Honda Hospital, “the last almshouse in the country, a descendant of the Hôtel-Dieu” – the hotels of God that cared for the sick in the Middle Ages.
Laguna Honda’s staff had been caring for women and men with skill and love for decades, when in trooped the efficiency police and declared that the love part of the formula was inefficient.
Before the efficiency police arrived, Christmas Day morning overflowed with fun. There was a big package and a small package for each women and each man. When they opened them, the fun began – the swapping of cardigans and watches. All morning there was a handing back and forth until every patient had the desired size and color of cardigan, a silver or gold watch. The staff shared in the hilarity. Yes, meds were sometimes missed. But several Christmas hours rippled with communal excitement, with a sharing of love.
Enter the efficiency police. Sometime before Christmas, each patient fills out a form with the size and color of cardigan wanted, whether a silver or gold watch. Come Christmas morning, two packages are handed to each patient. They open them and find what they asked for. End of Christmas.
R. S. Thomas was being inefficient one day in a thicket in Lleyn:
I was no tree walking.
I was still. They ignored me,
the birds, the migrants
on their way south. They re-leafed
the trees, budding them
with their notes. They filtered through
the boughs like sunlight,
looked at me from three feet
off, their eyes blackberry bright,
not seeing me, not detaching me
from the withies, where I was
caged and they free.
They would have perched
on me, had I had nourishment
in my fissures. . . .
Why will R. S. Thomas be remembered? One reason: Because he was a time-wasting man in a time that idolized multi-tasking.
Poems of R. S. Thomas quoted in this blog:
“docking mangels” – “A Peasant,” The Stones of the Field, 14.
“I was no tree walking” – “A Thicket in Lleyn,” Experimenting With An Amen, 45.