Finding some 'head space': an alternative approach

Finding some 'head space': an alternative approach

David Birch

Professor David Birch is the Director, Corporate Citizenship Research Unit, Deakin University, Melbourne.

In the section of The Australian Financial Review headed "Men's Health" on 26 August this year, Jill Margo published a piece headlined as "Finding Some Head Space". Four Australian leaders were featured with an account of how each took out "a small piece of personal time everyday", with the explanatory pointer that "often before dawn, they use this time to clear their minds for what's ahead."

Federal Minister of Health, Tony Abbott, runs before dawn, "at a thinking pace, especially if I have to prepare a speech or I have some knotty problem to mull over."

Kevin Skelton, Head of Merrill Lynch, is in the water at Manly, surfing before 6am, arguing that "it gives me increased energy and clarity for the rest of the day."

Simon Bender, the chief clinician at the HCF Dental Centres, cycles in the dark, starting at 4.30 each morning, and CEO of Investec, Geoff Levy, goes into his study and contemplates: "It anchors me back into the real world and reminds me that not everything is business." He then follows this three times a week with a vigorous work out in the gym, and the other two he takes his children to school.

All are different ways of starting a busy day where stress levels need to be brought under control in one way or another.


Consider an alternative way proposed by Hilaire Belloc back in 1902 in his The Path to Rome: "[F]or half-an-hour just at the opening of the day you are silent and recollected, and have to put off cares, interests and passions in the repetition of a familiar action - time spent at Mass is like a short repose in a deep and well-built library, into which no sounds come and where you feel yourself secure against the outer world."

Hilaire Belloc had in mind the mostly silent Low Mass of pre-Vatican II vintage - now available again in most of our bigger cities.

A traditional early morning Latin Low Mass - gloriously silent in so many parts - is not the surf, gym or running track, but a wonderful opportunity of offering a spiritual and liturgical alternative to the more secular way many of us, living busy and stressful lives, cope with finding some head space for ourselves at the start of a day.

What better way to create this - silently, for the most part, physically present with Christ our Saviour - than by sharing the opening of our day with the miracle of the Mass? What better way of anchoring ourselves into the real world than that?

But how sad that the opportunity is now so rarely given to us to share with Belloc and the countless generations before him, who "put off cares, interests and passions in the repetition of a familiar action", in time spent at a Mass which celebrates, rather than denies to us, liturgical and spiritual silence early in a morning, reminding us "that not everything is business."

My plea, if that is what it may be called, is not for an exclusive "return" to the Liturgy of 1962, nor any criticism of the New Order Mass, but a gentle reminder of the call made in Vatican II's Sacrosanctum Concilium (1963) to understand that the Mass is "The Most Sacred Mystery of the Eucharist", with its emphasis on ensuring that the Mass is more than just a fellowship of like-minded people coming together to share something, or by interpreting the Council's use of the phrase "actuosa participatio" (active participation) as a means to fill up all the silences of the traditional Mass.

My plea, if I may, seeks to echo Pope John Paul II's challenge in 1998 "to move beyond whatever misunderstandings there have been and to reach the proper point of balance, especially by entering more deeply into the contemplative dimension of worship, which includes a sense of awe, reverence and adoration which are fundamental attitudes in our relationship with God."


I can think of no better way of actively participating in the Mass than by embracing the silences, because the priestly act of Christ in the Eucharist in no way at all depends on any words that I may utter or join in with - Latin or English.

Silence should not be interpreted, as it so often is post-Vatican II, as passivity, and therefore a denial of congregational participation in the Mass. As the Pope has made clear, "experiences of silence and stillness are in their own way, profoundly active."

Finding some head space in a morning, by running, cycling or surfing, is certainly an active way of starting the day. But so too is the contemplative.

As Pope John Paul II made clear on the anniversary of Sacrosanctum Concilium in December 2003:

"In a society that lives ever more frenetically, bewildered by rumours and distracted in the ephemeral, it is vital to rediscover the value of silence. It is no accident that beyond Christian worship, meditation practices are spreading that give importance to recollection."

For those of us who want to go beyond a secular meditation to cope with our everyday frenetic lives, the Liturgy, in all of its forms, if it is to have any meaning beyond the mundane world we are all forced to live in all of the time, must always be counter-cultural.

And that for me - while recognising not for everyone - is most perfectly expressed in a traditional Latin Mass, celebrated early in the morning.

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