Speech given at Christ Church Cathedral on Thursday 29th January 2015 at the FORMA Conference

The Evensong of Humpty Dumpty
By Jamie Coats

Humpty Dumpty sat on the harbor wall.
In Pigeon Cove Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.
All the king’s horses and all the king’s men
Couldn’t put Humpty back together again!

The one called Emma, the love within said:
It is time for peace on the earth
From heaven’s all gracious King
Goodwill to all Humpty Dumpty Men.

You are an egg-man,
Pregnant with a white pigeon
Ready to be a fledgling
Hoping its world will crack.

Inside you, all scrunched up
There’s a dove irritated,
Uncomfortably aware
It’s time to hatch.

But stopped by your pride,
Your work for today’s earthly king
You’re in perfect egg-shape
Unwilling to crack,

With thoughts:
“So much to achieve,
So much to do,
So many ways to work.”

Dusk has come,
It is time to stop work.
Will you make sacred and give thanks
Or will your busy-ness outrank?

Know this, when the sun fades,
When you, egg-on-the-wall, silhouette
If you have not fallen,
I will give you a shove.

All your king’s horses
And all your king’s men
Can’t stop the cycle, can’t stop nature,
They will never put you back together again.

Hello baby dove, so fluffy,
I’ll place you in a soft nest.
I will feed you, watch over you
And when your wings are spread,

Peace will fly,
No power on earth can resist
A dove from the cove,
With a message for all mankind,

Learn to break for Evensong
It is when “shoulds” must die
And it is time for gratitude
In your heart to reside.

And on Humpty Dumpty Day
Invite friends to celebrate
Their brokenness, not success.
Give each an egg,

They’ll write what they need to give up.
They’ll take the eggs to the edge.
They’ll throw them onto the rocks.
They’ll let the dove in their hearts, hatch


Let me sum up this poem in four words:
You shall Kick Humpty!

But honestly, can you KickHumpty?
Can we stop work?

I have a real problem stopping work. I have a real problem of unplugging from my electronics. When I am at home and I stop working and try to cook with my family I find that my mind goes on working. I need to do something to end my work.

I wrote the poem The Evensong of Humpty Dumpty to help me stop work. When I stop work I now read this poem out loud and I achieve a sense of peace.How was I able to take the time to do this?

My understanding of time began to change dramatically when I went to work in 2006 for a bunch of monks, the Brother of the Society of Saint John the Evangelist, the SSJE Brothers.

The SSJE Brothers describe their life this way, “The Brothers gather throughout the day to pray the Daily Office – Morning Prayer, Noonday Prayer, Evening Prayer, and Compline. Six days a week we join in the celebration of the Holy Eucharist. Our common prayer and worship sanctify the work of the day, interrupting it so that we can direct and offer it all to God in thanksgiving.”

This is a society of men who understand that the first priority of church is to interrupt work. What I have learned is that:

  • Morning prayer helps you center yourself as you begin your day.
  • Noonday Prayer, in the thick of the day, gives you opportunity to offer all you are trying to achieve, to God, so you can be in awe.
  • Evening Prayer or Evensong, stops you working, allows you to be grateful, and begin to recover a sense of peace.
  • Compline gives you hope for the following day and helps you rest in God’s peace.

As I began to understand this I realized that I needed my own practice and where I most desperately needed help was in stopping work. I needed my own Evensong.

Br. David Vryhof recently drew my attention to the Ten Commandments.

In Exodus (20:8-11) it says about stopping work, “Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work—you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it.” Like God we need to rest. Notice that that this commandment clearly lays out that if we are in any authority we should use that authority to help others rest.

Br. David then pointed out that in Deuteronomy (5:12-15) it says about stopping work, “Observe the sabbath day and keep it holy, as the Lord your God commanded you. For six days you shall labour and do all your work. But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work—you, or your son or your daughter, or your male or female slave, or your ox or your donkey, or any of your livestock, or the resident alien in your towns, so that your male and female slave may rest as well as you. Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm; therefore the Lord your God commanded you to keep the sabbath day.” If you work seven days, or are made to, you are a slave. Are we becoming slaves? If so, how do we break free?

With great difficulty it seems. In the Ten Commandments in Exodus it take four words to explain that we should not steal, it takes 94 words to remind us not to keep idols … and 93 words to remind us to rest. In Deuteronomy 92 words are used to remind us not to keep idols and a whopping 132 words are used to remind us to rest. In turns out that stopping work is the Commandment that requires the most explanation and extra no exception clauses presumably because we have been dodging the issue, forever!

May I suggest that to bring the clarity of the Commandment “You shall not steal” and its four words to the issue of stopping work that the Sabbath Commandment that we will now keep is, “You shall KickHumpty.”

Let’s get started. How do I KickHumpty? I have to give up “Have-to” and limit “Better.”

A few years ago I realized that I had to give up “Have-To.” I have to achieve, to get so much done, I have list of projects to accomplish. I realized how bad my problem was when my teenage daughter came home and I typically greeted her with “Have you done your home work or what homework have you got to do” and we would get off on the wrong foot or even have a fight. She is very tactile and loves soft things. I discovered that if I gave up “Have-to” and said something like “You have got to feel this soft yarn I found or have you seen this YouTube video of a fluffy bear cub,” we began the afternoon feeling connected. I have had to learn to give up “have-to” and take up “fluffy” in order to transition from being at work to being with my family. My striving, my “have-to” made me seem hard not loving.

Br. David told me that he gave up the word “should’ve” and said, ““Should” is a dangerous word in the spiritual life, in my opinion, yet I often find myself at the end of the day telling myself that “I should’ve done this or that.” The accompanying sense of ‘falling short’ detracts from what has been done and leaves a residue of regret rather than gratitude. Better to recall the words we sometimes pray at Compline: “What has been done has been done. What has not been done has not been done. Help us to let it be.””

Do you feel that urge to respond immediately, efficiently and professionally to all who email or call you? Do you believe that if you work harder you will be better?

How many of you have a voicemail messages that says, “Hi, this is Jamie. Please leave a message I will call you back as soon as I can.” Do we dare say we will call back when we are rested?

Part of my addiction to work is that I like to please people and I like to do better. But where is the limit? Where do we stop? Br. Geoffrey Tristram helped me one day when I remarked to him that I thought I was becoming a better person working for the Brothers. He looked at me appalled, and said, “What lousy theology, you have been loved all along.” And he added, “You’re merely becoming more Jamie.”

So I am working on giving up “Have-to” and limiting being “Better.”

How do I KickHumpty? I have to be intentional about Stopping.

Stopping work is really hard. We live in a culture that does not stop. Our devices keep us plugged in at all times.

In our household we now say things like, “When are you going to KickHumpty?” “I am Kicking Humpty at 530pm.” My daughter is great at helping to keep us accountable. On Advent Sunday when I took time, and in her opinion, too much time away from Christmas tree decorating to attend to the Brothers’ online Advent Calendar she asked me to apologize to the family.

What language do you use to stop work? How addicted are you to your email, your smart phone, to achieving?

You can make this fun. The SSJE Brothers at their rural Monastery, Emery House, have a practice at the end of the Evensong on Sunday, which is the moment their Sabbath begins, they shout “Yippee.”

Be intentional about stopping. Celebrate the moment.

Let us now get to the tough part of how we KickHumpty – authority.

A few years ago the Brothers at SSJE sent me on a compulsory retreat. I had got exhausted from work and was told that I was banned from the monastery for a week. I now go on retreat every year and it was on retreat last year that this poem came to me.

I realized that if I do not KickHumpty I become a rotten egg.

How good are the organizations that you work for at keeping the Sabbath Commandment and modeling that behavior? Remember in Deuteronomy it says “your male and female slave may rest as well as you.”

If you are in charge are you careful with other people’s time? Are you good with vacation time, sick leave, with not interrupting their day of rest? Are you good at keeping agenda’s doable? Are you good at no over working people or most importantly yourself? Are you becoming a rotten egg?

I also believe that we must not overlook money in thinking about how authority affects people’s ability to KickHumpty. Without a living wage how can you KickHumpty? Are you paid enough? Do you pay enough? Do your wages and expenses balance or stress you out. Are we trapped in rotten egg economics where rest is not possible?

It is tough. Can we be free? Can we KickHumpty?

  • Think about what you need to give up to KickHumpty?
  • Think about how you can intentionally KickHumpty?
  • Think about how authority denies or supports KickHumpty?
  • Think about how we can support one another to KickHumpty?

So I give you today a Hashtag.

Please take to the digital streets and use Hashtag KickHumpty on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook to announce how you KickHumpty so that we can support each other.

Share your KickHumpty songs:

  • that end your work,
  • that begin your evening prayer,
  • that begin your Sabbath, your day of rest,
  • that begin your retreat time,
  • that announce you are sick,
  • that announce your maternity or paternity leave,
  • that announce that you are on vacation,
  • that announce your yippee,
  • that announce you are stopping to let peace in.

Let us profit in our lives by stopping work.

You shall Kick Humpty!

Let us pray in unison together now the Evensong of Humpty Dumpty

Share your stop work song: #kickhumpty and

Jamie Coats (c) 2015

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