Monday, August 28, 2006


Do not be too anxious about your advancement in the ways of prayer, because you have left the beaten track and are traveling by paths that cannot be charted and measured. Therefore leave God to take care of your degree of sanctity and of contemplation. If you yourself try to measure your own progress you will waste your time in futile introspection. Seek one thing alone: to purify your love of God more and more, to abandon yourself more and more perfectly to His will and to love Him more exclusively and more completely, but also more simply and more peacefully and with more total and uncompromising trust.

From What is Contemplation? by Thomas Merton
(Springfield, Illinois: Templegate Publishers, 1950), p
age 64-65.

This is such a liberating quote, and so completely of Christ. "There is need of only one thing..." (Luke 10:42) When I think of how many hours I've wasted in "futile introspection" I could weep...

God give me the grace to abandon myself, over and over again... not to count the iterations of that, but just to get on with it!

Sunday, August 20, 2006

The Lord is gracious and merciful...

I am beginning to think that God's mercy is one of his least understood qualities in these days. Is it because we have little understanding of, little attraction to, the concept of repentance? We are still so prone to think of it as having to do with medieval penitential excesses ("Pass the scourge, Brother, and can you just hand me that hair shirt? Thanks, old chap!") or else pale Victorian neurasthenia. Either that, or teeth-grinding, hair pulling remorse.

Real repentance, clean and wholesome, gentle and life-giving, we seem often to overlook.

St Isaac of Nineveh had this to say:

Repentance is given us as grace after grace, for repentance is a second regeneration by God. That of which we have received an earnest by baptism, we receive as a gift by means of repentance. Repentance is the door of mercy, opened to those who seek it. By this door we enter into the mercy of God, and apart from this entrance we shall not find mercy.

God's mercy is without limit.

The Lord is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
The Lord is good to all,
and his compassion is over all that he has made.

(Ps 145:8-9)

Given the Cross, given that God loved us that much, that he gave his only begotten Son to die for us - that is, for me, for you - how will he not be merciful to us, whatever the circumstances? (cf. Romans 8:32)

H'mm. Yes, it's not just rhetoric, or preaching flourishes. It's all true, every bit of it. And that's what's so astonishing about the Cross. You can't ever get to the end of being amazed, completely dumbfounded, really. It's the one refuge beyond all refuges - in the death and resurrection of our Lord is all we'll ever need. It's just that simple. "The sign of contradiction [the Cross as instrument of Christ's death and yet our source of life] has become the sign of hope, a witness of fidelity until the end of our lives." (From an article on the Tau Cross in the Secular Franciscan Archives.)

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

New page on The Mercy Site

I've added a new page, "Francis & Clare", to The Mercy Site. If you can't see it, try reloading (refreshing in IE) the home page, and it should appear just before the Statement of Faith. It's worth following the links on the page, too, if you're interested in reading more about these two.

Monday, August 14, 2006

seeing the light left burning on the porch...

The human soul is still the image of God, and no matter how far it travels away from Him into the regions of unreality, it never becomes so completely unreal that its original destiny can cease to torment it with a need to return to itself in God, and become, once again, real.

From The New Man by Thomas Merton (Farrar, Straus, Giroux Publishers, New York 1961.) Page 112

The deep secrecy of my own being is often hidden from me by my own estimate of what I am.

From No Man is an Island by Thomas Merton (San Diego: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Publishers, Inc. 1955,) page 125.

In one sense, "conversion" is nothing more than at long last hearing, and answering, God's long call home, the ache in the prodigal's father's heart; seeing the light left burning on the porch...

More from St Isaac...

"Will God, if I ask, forgive me these things by which I am pained and by whose memory I am tormented, things by which, though I abhor them, I go on backsliding? Yet after they have taken place the pain the give me is even greater than that of a scorpion’s sting. Though I abhor them, I am still in the middle of them, and when I repent of them with suffering I wretchedly return to them again."

This is how many God-fearing people think, people who foster virtue and are pricked with the suffering of compunction, who mourn over their sin; yet human prosperity compels them to bear with the backsliding which results from it. They live between sin and repentance all the time. Let us not be in doubt, O fellow humanity, concerning the hope of our salvation, seeing that the One who bore sufferings for our sakes is very concerned about our salvation; God’s mercifulness is far more extensive than we can conceive, God’s grace is greater than what we ask for.

St Isaac of Nineveh

Isn't this spirit, this experience of the enormity of God's grace, what underlies the Jesus Prayer? And it is only in opening oneself to that immeasurable grace that we are in turn filled with mercy and compassion for all of creation - as St Isaac himself says elsewhere:

What is a merciful heart? It is a heart on fire for the whole of creation, for humanity, for the birds, for the animals, for demons, and for all that exists. By the recollection of them the eyes of a merciful person pour forth tears in abundance. By the strong and vehement mercy that grips such a person’s heart, and by such great compassion, the heart is humbled and one cannot bear to hear or to see any injury or slight sorrow in any in creation. For this reason, such a person offers up tearful prayers continually even for irrational beasts, for the enemies of the truth, and for those who harm her or him, that they be protected and receive mercy. And in like manner such a person prays for the family of reptiles because of the great compassion that burns without measure in a heart that is in the likeness of God.

How can we think we know how to pray in the face of that calling, or how, should I say, can we doubt that the only real prayer of such a heart must be, "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me [and through my prayers on all of creation] a sinner"?

Tuesday, August 08, 2006


The always interesting Lutheran Chik has an excellent post where she says:

Those of us in the broad catholic tradition of Christianity have a gift, in the daily disciplines of our praxis, to offer other Christians who've become jaded by pop-Christian novelty and splash, who just need to be fed spiritually, in good square meals that have staying power. Bread is back; as Christ feeds us through Word and Sacrament and prayer, let's invite others to join us.

Oh yes, absolutely! Reminds me so strongly of just how whole and wholesome it felt to come back to the Anglican church after those years away... truly it is so necessary that we are here, that we remain here, and that we refuse, gently but very firmly, to listen to those well-intentioned voices that tell us to accommodate ourselves more closely to the Zeitgeist. I am always struck by the fact that (with honourable exceptions!) so much of the really courageous discipleship, the truly Christlike stuff, the everyday grace and presence of our risen Lord, seems to often to be found in "the broad catholic tradition of Christianity" rather than in some of the more cutting-edge expressions of church!

We need in any case to be prepared to be there as a refuge, an anchor; even if we never actually attract those hungry souls LC mentions as regular worshippers, we're there if and when they need us... and they need, if nothing else, to know that!

Monday, August 07, 2006


I have to confess I'm a bit scared - no, own up, I'm terrified - of what's been triggered by those 8 days away. There's no knowing where it might end up...

What seems to have happened is that all the established patterns, the old priorities and the unspoken values are up for reassessment, for re-examination in the light of the Christ of the Gospels. I don't know that I can be sure of hanging onto anything.

20 years ago now, in the mid-80s, I wandered off, got consumed in writing and all the stuff and the people that went with it. When God reeled me back in at the end of '88, there was a sense that I had to be prepared to let him have just whatever he wanted of all I'd been working so hard for, and clinging to so desperately. He did in fact take everything I'd been afraid he might take, and within two years I found myself back on the farm, milking cows... and yet far closer to him than I'd ever been.

Now, although by his grace the wandering-off element is absent, at least to its previous degree(!), there's something of the same feeling. If I am truly serious about following Jesus, then I can't have any control over where he might lead me, and there's nothing I can hold back, no insurance... it's the same problem the rich young man in Matthew 19 had.

Oh Jesus, give me the grace always to say "Yes!" to you, whatever the question...

Speckled Wood Butterfly

I photographed this little butterfly (scientific name Pararge aegeria) in the quiet garden at Compton Durville. There were hundreds of these lovely, gentle creatures flying under the trees, and milking aphids (yes, that's how they feed!) on the low vegetation...

These, dragonflies and hover-flies were constant companions on my daily walks in the garden. Unfortunately at sunset the biting cleg flies were pretty constant companions too, so I learned to avoid the wooded areas just then. At night, the grounds must have been full of badgers, judging by the evidence, but I was never around late or early enough to see them. Pity - I like badgers. Very pragmatic animals, serious and workmanlike, not to mention good-looking...

There were lots of birds, as well. I tried not to get too interested in them, since I wasn't there for the bird-watching. But I couldn't help noticing how many song thrushes there were. It was good to see them - there are very few around our village for some odd reason.

It's been a week since I came home, and still half of me is trying to remain in that stillness. It's going to be quite a thing, trying to be trusting enough to let God find ways for the stillness to co-exist with the rest of life. The Third Order is not an easy row to hoe, sometimes... Which is why it's vital that we try out, pioneer perhaps, ways to live as Franciscans in everyday life in the 21st century; and particularly perhaps why I seem to be being called to work out, and somehow to communicate, how to live as a contemplative, but not a solitary. So many things appear to become, not easier perhaps, but simpler, in solitude... Yet it was St Francis' own recognition that we must serve, and pray, where we are called to live that led to his founding the Order of Pentients, that later became known as the Third Order.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Compton Durville...

where I was on retreat, is the main UK House of the Community of St Francis, the 1st Order for women. Their website says, "The Community of St Francis is an Anglican Religious Order of sisters living together in community under vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. Following Christ in the way of St Francis, we seek to live a simple life inspired by the Gospel, recognising in all people the image of God who created each of us, accepting all as our brothers and sisters. We offer hospitality and welcome on this basis to groups and individuals, women and men, of any faith or none and all denominations who have respect for our way of life... For individuals we can provide a comfortable, quiet, friendly place to stay on retreat, for a few days ‘away from it all’, somewhere to relax, somewhere to work, somewhere to study, somewhere to pray or somewhere to spend time with God... Sisters are often available to spend time with individuals or groups for retreats, talks, spiritual direction, prayer guidance, or simply to offer a listening ear."

Just thought I'd share a couple of pictures I took to remember the place by... The first one shows the convent nestling in the Somerset countryside, and the second the great Tau Cross in the main chapel, that came to be such a focus for so much of the week...

Thursday, August 03, 2006

That was...

The most extraordinary time. I got home here on Sunday afternoon, but it's taken me till now to put fingers to keyboard to post anything here.

I suppose the enduring thing to come out of last week is the sure knowledge of the immensity, the illimitability, of God's love; and the infinite refuge of the Cross, where God's mercy touches the world of humankind... That, and the clarity and passion with which it is possible to live when those things stand always at the front of all we think and do and desire.

Isaac of Nineveh (also called Isaac the Syrian) the 7th century solitary and contemplative, who lasted 5 months as Bishop before withdrawing again to the wilderness, somehow came to focus the week in a way. You'll remember the extraordinary passage I quoted from him on "What is a compassionate heart?" This provided a sort of key to what God was doing between us, the retreat director and me, over the week. If we are to live in the light of the Cross, and live by its shelter and its sacrifice, then we have to find a way to allow God to make real in our own lives that utterly astonishing statement of Paul's in Colossians 1:17ff:

He [Christ] is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers — all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.

Isaac understood this. He wrote:

Let yourself be persecuted, but do not persecute others.
Be crucified, but do not crucify others.
Be slandered, but do not slander others.
Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep: such is the sign of purity.
Suffer with the sick.
Be afflicted with sinners.
Exult with those who repent.
Be the friend of all, but in your spirit remain alone.
Be a partaker of the sufferings of all, but keep your body distant from all.
Rebuke no one, revile no one, not even those who live very wickedly.
Spread your cloak over those who fall into sin, each and every one, and shield them.
And if you cannot take the fault on yourself and accept punishment in their place,
do not destroy their character.

It's extraordinary how often I find St Isaac reminding me of both Francis of Assisi and Julian of Norwich!

Certainly one result of this last week has been to deepen and confirm my Franciscan vocation more and more. I am so grateful to God and St Francis for establishing the Third Order! (For those who are curious, you can read the story here...)

One thing I must relate - after spending 8 days together in silence (apart from an hour a day with our respective retreat directors) the other two long-haul retreatants and I became strangely close, after more than a week of grinning good morning to each other, and hand-signalling "Pass the cornflakes!" On the final morning's breakfast, after the Eucharist, with the Sisters, other retreatants, and assorted guests and visitors, the three of us could hardly stop talking long enough to eat toast and drink coffee! Each one had a remarkable story, and God had forged such a bond of love between us, all without words. Beautiful and strange, the way he works...

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