Friday, January 29, 2010

That Glorious God...

I just stumbled across the most remarkable article by Dr Rowan Williams on the Lord's Prayer. Do go and read it for yourself - from someone in whose conversion many years ago the Lord's Prayer was central, and who has struggled with its purity and its holiness ever since, this is the real thing. Read it, please.

Dr Williams begins:

The prayer as a whole tells us we stand in a very vulnerable place. We stand in the middle of a human world where God's will is not the most automatic thing that people do. Where crisis faces us, where uncertainty is all around about tomorrow and where evil is powerfully at work.

To stand with dignity and freedom in a world like that, we need to know that God is Our Father. We need to know that whatever happens to us God is God, God's name and presence and power and word are holy and wonderful and that that glorious God has made us members of his family in a very intimate and direct way.

With that confidence, that kind of unchildish dependence, we're actually free. We know that there is a relationship that nothing can break.

And again, you could turn to Saint Paul on that to the end of chapter eight of his Letter to the Romans: "I know that nothing, nothing can separate me from the love of God and Jesus Christ". And to begin that prayer "Our Father" is really to say what Saint Paul is saying. Just as in the old hymn, here is an anchor that keeps the soul. Here is the anchorage that keeps us steady in this turbulent, difficult, nightmare world.

So the Lord's Prayer is a prayer that is utterly serious about the danger, the tragedy of the world.

Absolutely thrilling words from a theologian and pastor for whom I have, and have had since I read his The Wound of Knowledge and Resurrection back in the early 80s, the deepest love and respect.

Falling through...

Brothers and sisters, remember that your life situation will not last. It is only that which you fall through so that you can fall into your actual Life, and that Big Life ironically includes death (which is the falling). For Paul the word for that Life Force field is "Christ." Yes it is personified and summed up in Jesus, but he also says it is everywhere and always available to all who "fall through" (read "are transformed").

Everybody takes their present life's situation as if it is their one and only life. It is not! So wait for those moments when you fall through your life's situations into your real life, which is Christ, or Christ Consciousness (1 Corinthians 2:16), if you prefer. What you are doing in prayer is consciously choosing to let go of your grasping mind and its identification with passing life situations so that you can fall into your Real Life which is always much bigger and better than you, and shared by all. It is the Eternal Life of Christ.

Richard Rohr, from The Great Themes of Paul

Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience... For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.
Colossians 3:12,3

How I need to keep these words before me in these days!  The weaker I am myself, in this strange anchorless between time, the more clearly I hear, like Paul, God saying "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." (1 Corinthians 12:9)

I should apologise for the infrequency of my posts here, and my still greater infrequency in commenting on others' blogs. I am still here, still alive and online, and I do read something of what the rest of the blogosphere has to say. But it's not always so easy at the moment to avoid being a little taciturn, or, as Ronnie Barker would have said in Porridge, being a charmless nerk...

Friday, January 22, 2010

Home again, home again...

Solitude greeting solitude, that's what community is all about. Community is not the place where we are no longer alone but the place where we respect, protect, and reverently greet one another's aloneness. When we allow our aloneness to lead us into solitude, our solitude will enable us to rejoice in the solitude of others. Our solitude roots us in our own hearts. Instead of making us yearn for company that will offer us immediate satisfaction, solitude makes us claim our centre and empowers us to call others to claim theirs. Our various solitudes are like strong, straight pillars that hold up the roof of our communal house. Thus, solitude always strengthens community.

(from Henri J.M. Nouwen's Bread for the Journey )

Back from Hilfield, things are becoming clearer. It's in many ways wonderful to be back in my own church community, from the very different community that is the Friary. It's strange, but loner that in so many ways I am, I just love living in community. I was thinking this morning about how to express this seeming paradox, when I found this quote from Henri Nouwen that summed it up perfectly.

It's obvious that I need both discipline and simplicity to follow the deepening call to prayer and service that seems to have overtaken me. Discipline in the sense of living according to a framework of time, just as a religious community does, with its hours, its times of work and meals and recreation. Simplicity in the sense of trimming away what I am not called to do, and giving myself wholeheartedly that those things that I am. It sounds obvious, but I find that when I examine, mindfully, the patterns of my own life, there are far too many things that just get in the way, and I shall have to see what I would be better off without!

Over the next few weeks, I shall be making a few changes to my online life, too. I think I shall have to abandon Facebook and Twitter. They are good things in themselves, but they are a fierce waste of time unless you actually need them for the way you work. I shall also have to go on a geek diet, probably. I waste loads of time mucking around researching things I don't need to research, playing with software I've no practical need for, and many more things like that. It's got to stop. God has more use for me than that, strange as it may seem - especially to me!

This blog is good and important, though, and I shall continue to write here, perhaps in rather more depth than I often have. The old place is looking a bit tired and scruffy, too, so I'll try and smarten things up a bit...

Huge thanks, by the way, to all who prayed for me on this trip. Your prayers were answered, and then some, as I'll hope to explain here over the next few posts...

Thursday, January 14, 2010


Spirituality is about seeing. It’s not about earning or achieving. It’s about relationship rather than results or requirements.

Once you see correctly, the rest follows.  Mary Oliver, the poet, puts it so well. It is like “seeing through a veil, secretly, joyfully clearly!”

You don’t need to push the river, because you are in it. The life is lived within us, and we learn how to say yes to that life.

If we exist on a level where we can see how “everything belongs,” we can trust the flow and trust the life, The Life so large and deep and spacious that it even includes its opposite, death.

Richard Rohr, adapted from Everything Belongs, pp. 33-34

Our minds are always active. We analyze, reflect, daydream, or dream. There is not a moment during the day or night when we are not thinking. You might say our thinking is “unceasing.” Sometimes we wish that we could stop thinking for a while; that would save us from many worries, guilt feelings, and fears. Our ability to think is our greatest gift, but it is also the source of our greatest pain. Do we have to become victims of our unceasing thoughts? No, we can convert our unceasing thinking into unceasing prayer by making our inner monologue into a continuing dialogue with our God, who is the source of all love.

Let’s break out of our isolation and realize that Someone who dwells in the centre of our beings wants to listen with love to all that occupies and preoccupies our minds.

from Henri J.M. Nouwen’s Bread for the Journey.

Being at various kinds of crossroads at the moment, I’m going off to Hilfield for a few days—back next week. If you’ve a moment spare, please do pray that my eyes will be opened to the depth of the grace and mercy of Christ, and that God’s will for the next stage of my life will become clear, and strong in my heart: that I will have the courage to step in faith into all that he has prepared for me. (Ephesians 2:21)

Wednesday, January 06, 2010


You who walk [the way of the wise men] toward Christ—long and fearsome as it may be—who persevere in this difficult inner journey of prayer will come face to face with what you’re looking for. Take care though, the life of prayer is not magic—speak the right words, do the right things, and presto, enlightenment. No, you’ll never conjure up a mystical experience; the mystical is not magical.

Instead, you’ll be lead into the fullness of God (Ephesians 3.19). This fullness is the end of the journey, the goal of all life, the fruit of your spiritual practice. But the moment we say “goal,” we’re tiptoeing close to danger. The ego loves goals, and talking about the goal of prayer arouses your ego and launches you into the kind of grasping, reaching, and achieving that’s the antithesis of true prayer.

So here’s what you’re to do:

The eleventh way is the way of utter relinquishment. There is no further you can travel. You’ve come as near to the Light as you can get on your own.  You must now stop and sit still before Christ.  Ask nothing.  Demand nothing.  Accept whatever comes. Open the treasure chest of your heart and keep it open by breathing gently, letting your breath fall into a natural, uncontrolled rhythm.  Offer the three gifts that have carried you here: gold of faith, frankincense of hope, myrrh of love. They’re all you have now. And these too you must surrender to Christ. Empty and naked you wait, ready to receive what nothing can buy, earn, or comprehend.

The divine Fire, the Light you’ve sought from the beginning, will come suddenly and unexpectedly—an exquisite, unexplainable joy. When you no longer care when and how the Fire comes, or what it’s like when it does, you’re less apt to miss its warmth.

Chris Erdman

Monday, January 04, 2010


There is a great difference between successfulness and fruitfulness. Success comes from strength, control, and respectability. A successful person has the energy to create something, to keep control over its development, and to make it available in large quantities. Success brings many rewards and often fame. Fruits, however, come from weakness and vulnerability. And fruits are unique. A child is the fruit conceived in vulnerability, community is the fruit born through shared brokenness, and intimacy is the fruit that grows through touching one another's wounds. Let’s remind one another that what brings us true joy is not successfulness but fruitfulness.

From Henri J.M. Nouwen’s Bread for the Journey.

Help in helplessness…

Non-dual thinking is not the avoiding of dualistic thinking.  It’s using it as far as it can get you, but also recognizing its limits. You need dualistic thinking for clarification, for making important and necessary distinctions; because we’re not saying that everything is perfect, or everything is beautiful. In fact, non-dual thinking gives you a greater subtlety and sharper discernment to see how common evil is and how goodness is sometimes hidden, and how common goodness is and how evil is sometimes hidden.

Once I get my own agenda out of the way (through practice of silence, solitude, self-observation, and letting go), I don’t just see blatant evil or perfect good, I actually see things with greater clarity, with their own complexity, and often with my own complicity.

If we can get our narrow politics and our self-serving anger out of the way, in fact we’ll see like never before the depth of the problem, the depth of the need, and the depth of the suffering on this earth.

Richard Rohr, adapted from the webcast Exploring the Naked Now

I have all too often observed this principle at work in my own life. To the extent that I neglect the practice of silence, solitude and contemplation, I find myself prey to all that is weak and shallow in me, and blinded, at least partially, to the agony of all that has been made (Romans 8:18ff).

I think this is partly why the Jesus Prayer has called to me so strongly all my adult life. Its words, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner”, confess the helplessness I feel in the face of my own shallowness, and my complete dependence on Jesus. The other side of this, of course, is best expressed by Br. Ramon SSF, in his now sadly out-of-print pamphlet Praying the Jesus Prayer (Marshall Pickering 1988):

It is difficult to speak of the aim or goal of [contemplative] prayer, for there is a sense in which it is a process of union which is as infinite as it is intimate…

But there are some things which we can say, which are derivative of that central core of ineffable experience. We can say that such prayer contains within itself a new theology of intercession. It is not that we are continually naming names before God, and repeating stories of pain, suffering and bereavement on an individual and corporate level, but rather that we are able to carry the sorrows and pains of the world with us into such contemplative prayer as opens before us in the use of the Jesus Prayer. God knows, loves and understands more than we do, and he carries us into the dimension of contemplative prayer and love, and effects salvation, reconciliation and healing in his own way, using us as the instruments of his peace, pity and compassion.

(For more on this last point, you might like to read my earlier post, Ostrov.)

Saturday, January 02, 2010

Being Franciscan…

Thinking, as we move into this New Year, about my Franciscan vocation, and the call to prayer that has, ultimately, shaped all of my life, I have discovered two marvellous posts by the Church of Ireland priest Patrick Comerford, both addresses under the titles Saint Francis (1): Lifestyle for today? and Saint Francis (2): Community Life for today? given at the Francistide Observance of the Third Order of Saint Francis in Saint Ann’s Church, Dawson Street, Dublin, on Saturday 3 October 2009. Start with the first address here.

They are long addresses, but I would strongly urge you to read them in full. Canon Patrick speaks at length on our Rule of Life, on the Cross of San Damiano, and most importantly on the Franciscan call to rebuild the Church, and the life of the Church as community. He says:

Francis can be seen as being both Catholic and Evangelical. His conversion was the principal impetus for his mission, yet that mission included a call to the traditional church.

Francis valued the traditional expressions of Church life, yet his rule of life and his gathering of friars was then a fresh expression of church…

It is no wonder that as the tradition of religious communities was being explored once again, rediscovered, revived and rebuilt in the Anglican Communion in response to the Anglo-Catholic revival, many of those involved turned for inspiration to the Franciscan tradition.

The gentle approach to obedience in the Franciscan tradition has been described as a “middle way” in the monastic tradition, and so the Franciscan tradition has an immediate appeal to Anglicans of the Via Media.

The Daily Office, which is the office book of the Society of Saint Francis, was among the first to be fully up-dated with the Common Worship Lectionary, and so was used in the wider Anglican Communion. But it also provided the model for the offices of Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer in Common Worship

But Francis and Franciscan values also have a relevance to the wider, international and global community.

This is a world that has never been more in need of those Franciscan values of Peace, Poverty, and respect for the environment.

The Church exists to call the world into it not so much that the world may become the church, less so that the church may become the world, but that through the Church the world may enter into the Kingdom of God.

In age of a nuclear overkill, climate change and global poverty, Francis and his rule for his community, first shaped 800 years ago in 1209, continue to call us back again to the true values of Christian community and lifestyle.

But do read both addresses in full—my extracts here don’t begin to do them justice.

Friday, January 01, 2010

The rebirth of time…

When we celebrate New Year’s Day, we celebrate the rebirth of time.

  We wait for our God to do new things.

    We wait for who we are, and who we are to become.

      We wait for the coming of grace, for the unfolding of Mystery.

        We wait for the always bigger Truth.

          We wait for the vision of the Whole.

But we cannot just wait. We must pray. Our prayers then start naming and defining us.  When we hear our own prayers in our own ears and our own heart, we start choosing our deepest identity, our biggest future, and our best selves.

Richard Rohr, adapted from Beginner’s Mind

There was also a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshipped night and day, fasting and praying. Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.

Luke 2:36-38

Lord, give us—give me—grace to live in the footsteps of Anna this coming year and always. Give me such a longing for your presence, such a thirst for the love and the mercy of Christ, that I will be content to live within prayer, without looking for any thing more…


Let your gentleness draw others to peace, gentleness and concord. This is our vocation: to heal wounds, to bind what is broken, to bring home those who are lost.

Not to hurt our humble brethren [the animals] is our first duty to them, but to stop there is not enough.  We have a higher mission: to be of service to them whenever they require it.

If you have men who will exclude any of God’s creatures from the shelter of compassion and pity, you will have men who will deal likewise with their fellow men.

St. Francis of Assisi

A Prayer for the New Year

God of the seasons, Lover of the ages,
Master of every moment:
You who are beyond time yet within all time.
We return to you what you have given to us —
the moments, the minutes, the hours, the days,
the weeks, the months, and the year of 2009.

Time has been gracious to us again,
and we thank you for freely giving us these human bodies,
these events, and these relationships.
We have lived another year and we have died another year,
and now you are granting us the beginnings of another.

We now hand over to you the blessed year, 2009,
with all that it gave us and all that it took from us,
knowing that both are necessary, just like our breath.
We trust you in both the givings and the takings,
the inhalings and the exhalings.

May every breath of 2010 be a breath of the Holy Spirit,
joyfully received and joyfully returned,
beginning with this one right now.


Richard Rohr, ‘Midnight Prayer’ from the CAC Daily Meditation