Saturday, July 31, 2010

Crawling our way back…

Contemplation becomes a way of life.  I don’t like to think of it so much as something I do, but something I am; so I often use the phrase “the contemplative stance.”  It’s a way of living, moving, and being in this world.  The very word means “to see.”

I fully admit that we don’t live all of our twenty-four hours there.  The world keeps pulling us back into our false and small self.  “Put on this hat.  Attach to this identity.  Take on this hurt.  Put on this self-importance,” we say to ourselves.  It’s all right as long as we know how to take it back off again, and rather quickly, if possible.  “Who was I before I was hurt?” is your original face, your true identity in God, your own “immaculate conception.”  We must all crawl our way back to such innocence and such freedom.

Richard Rohr, adapted from Contemplative Prayer (CD)

The Jesus Prayer can be used for worship and petition; as intercession, invocation, adoration, and as thanksgiving. It is a means by which we lay all that is in our hearts, both for God and man, at the feet of Jesus. It is a means of communion with God and with all those who pray. The fact that we can train our hearts to go on praying even when we sleep, keeps us uninterruptedly within the community of prayer. This is no fanciful statement; many have experienced this life-giving fact. We cannot, of course, attain this continuity of prayer all at once, but it is achievable; for all that is worthwhile we must “…run with patience the race that is set before us…” (Hebrews 12:1) …

Prayer has always been of very real importance to me, and the habit formed in early childhood of morning and evening prayer has never left me; but in the practice of the Jesus Prayer I am but a beginner. I would, nonetheless, like to awaken interest in this prayer because, even if I have only touched the hem of a heavenly garment, I have touched it—and the joy is so great I would share it with others. It is not every man’s way of prayer; you may not find in it the same joy that I find, for your way may be quite a different one—yet equally bountiful.

In fear and joy, in loneliness and companionship, it is ever with me. Not only in the silence of daily devotions, but at all times and in all places. It transforms, for me, frowns into smiles; it beautifies, as if a film had been washed off an old picture so that the colours appear clear and bright, like nature on a warm spring day after a shower. Even despair has become attenuated and repentance has achieved its purpose.

When I arise in the morning, it starts me joyfully upon a new day. When I travel by air, land, or sea, it sings within my breast When I stand upon a platform and face my listeners, it beats encouragement. When I gather my children around me, it murmurs a blessing. And at the end of a weary day, when I lay me down to rest, I give my heart over to Jesus: “(Lord) into thy hands I commend my spirit”. I sleep—but my heart as it beats prays on: “JESUS.”

Princess Ileana of Romania, Introduction to the Jesus Prayer

[The Jesus Prayer] is a prayer in which the first step of the spiritual journey is taken: the recognition of our own sinfulness, our essential estrangement from God and the people around us. The Jesus Prayer is a prayer in which we admit our desperate need of a Saviour. For “if we say we have no sin in us, we are deceiving ourselves and refusing to admit the truth” (1 John 1:8).

Fr. Steven Peter Tsichlis, The Jesus Prayer

The pathway to all we truly want…

Unfortunately, in seeing ourselves as we truly are, not all that we see is beautiful and attractive. This is undoubtedly part of the reason we flee silence. We do not want to be confronted with our hypocrisy, our phoniness. We see how false and fragile is the false self we project. We have to go through this painful experience to come to our true self. It is a harrowing journey, a death to self—the false self—and no one wants to die. But it is the only path to life, to freedom, to peace, to true love. And it begins with silence. We cannot give ourselves in love if we do not know and possess ourselves. This is the great value of silence. It is the pathway to all we truly want.

M. Basil Pennington, with thanks to inward/outward

I think if there is one area of growth into something resembling spiritual maturity that I can recognise in myself—and it is recognising, like seeing something in someone else, not anything I have done or could lay claim to—it’s this, that I have come to thirst for silence with an almost physical urgency. It is indeed the pathway to all we truly want: it is the place where we meet with God, Bethel (see Exodus 28:10ff), holy ground, our hearts’ true home. No wonder Jesus himself went away to desolate places (Luke 5:16) to pray, away from the noise of the crowd and the questions and squabbles of his own disciples; and no wonder he advised, “…whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” (Matthew 6:6)

There is indeed something penitential about silence, as Pennington explains. Perhaps this is why, for me as for many others, especially in the Orthodox traditions, the Jesus Prayer, with its strong emphasis on Christ’s mercy and our sinfulness, is itself a doorway to silence within our own hearts.

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner…

Friday, July 30, 2010

The wind that blows through me...

Once I can recognize the divine image where I don't want to see the divine image, then I have learned how to see.  It's really that simple.  And here’s the rub:  I’m not the one that is doing the seeing.  It's like there is another pair of eyes inside of me seeing through me, seeing with me, seeing in me.  God can see God everywhere, and God in me can see God everywhere.

Notice the very final prepositions of the Eucharistic prayers - "through Him, with Him, and in Him."  They recognize that great prayer isn’t anything I can generate.  It is done to me.  "Not I, not I, but the wind that blows through me," one saint* said.  It is always being done to me, and all I can do is get out of the way.

Richard Rohr, adapted from Contemplative Prayer (CD)

This is so deeply true. Prayer isn't, shouldn't be, what we do so much as what God does in us. As Paul explains in Romans 8:26-27, "the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God."

*(Actually it was DH Lawrence)


In the spiritual life we have to make a distinction between two kinds of loneliness. In the first loneliness, we are out of touch with God and experience ourselves as anxiously looking for someone or something that can give us a sense of belonging, intimacy, and home. The second loneliness comes from an intimacy with God that is deeper and greater than our feelings and thoughts can capture.

We might think of these two kinds of loneliness as two forms of blindness. The first blindness comes from the absence of light, the second from too much light. The first loneliness we must try to outgrow with faith and hope. The second we must be willing to embrace in love.

Henri Nouwen, from Bread for the Journey

This really is my own experience. Yesterday I was writing about silence, but found I had to say, "Silence and solitude are almost the one word to me..." I went on to speak of how I had grown up to love solitude, and to be more deeply at home alone than I ever have been in company, at least until very recently.

As I have spent more and more time alone over the last year or so, people have sometimes asked if I don't get lonely. I've usually replied that I don't really know the meaning of lonely, for myself, anyway. But Nouwen here points to something that is palpable, as real as the presence of another human being, and as individual. If it's loneliness - and loneliness is a kind of sorrow, as most dictionaries define it - then it's a very sweet sorrow, wildly different from the common or garden variety. I'd admit to this kind of loneliness, if that's even the right word for it.

Perhaps this special sort of loneliness is really a sense not of the absence of human company, but of the palpable presence of God. He's not absent, of course, when we are with other people - how could he be? - but we are less able to sense his presence when our attention is taken up with someone else. To revert to the image of silence for a moment, God's voice is still, and small, and easily drowned by other voices. Interestingly, the NRSV translates the phrase in 1 Kings 19:12 as "the sound of sheer silence."

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Afraid of silence?

As a rule, most people are afraid of silence.  That’s our major barrier to prayer and to depth.  Silence and words are related.  Words that don’t come out of silence probably don’t say much.  They probably are more an unloading than a communicating.

Yet good words can also feed silence.  But even the word of God doesn’t bear a great deal of fruit—it doesn’t really break open the heart—unless it’s tasted and chewed, unless it’s felt and suffered and enjoyed at a level deeper than words.  If you look for the citations of Mary Magdalene in the Gospels, she acts, waits, listens, and asks, and hardly ever “says.”

If I had to advise one thing for spiritual growth, it would be silence.

Richard Rohr, adapted from Radical Grace: Daily Meditations

But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. (Jesus, from Matthew 6:6)

I actually (something I could have mentioned in yesterday’s post) do love silence, and being alone. Silence and solitude are almost the one word to me: I have only met one person in whose company I can be truly silent, and as still as if I were alone. But I do truly delight in periods of time spent quite alone, without speaking to another human being.

I suspect that the fear of silence is for most people far worse than the experience itself would be. Were they prepared to give it a fair trial, they might like it. The years of childhood and adolescence for many, if not most, people, hold little silence. I have to admit it wasn’t so for me. I grew up mostly living alone with my mother, a painter and sculptor, who needed time alone with her work. In the 50s people did not worry as they do today about children spending time alone, and I used to go for long, all-day walks along the shore with no companions except the crying gulls, and the God who has never left me, even when I have left him; and I was happy. Only at school, in constant human company, and with constant human demands and expectations, did I learn to be properly unhappy.

God’s word is heard in silence: as Rohr points out, there can be little true hearing without it. But crucially silence is the Holy Spirit’s own language, and only true silence, or the defeat of our own words in contemplative prayer (or in the prayer of tongues), can allow us to hear… And we so need the Holy Spirit, our counsellor and friend (John 14:15-26). Without his guiding, how can we find even the next step. We need silence like we need water, and the thirst for silence is as urgent spiritually as the other is physically. Come, Holy Spirit!

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The loving of blogs, and other things…

Dear Sue, she of Discombobula, has seen fit to bestow on me the “I Love Your Blog” award. I am really touched that she’d do that—her own blog is unfailingly beautiful, shamingly honest, full of deep and searching faith: truly one of my own favourites.

Sue says, wisely and typically, of the supposed rules that attach to accepting this decoration, “I hate rules.  The last rule of this award is to pass this on 10 bloggers .  Never forget, however, that rules are made to be broken and so if you don't want to play, feel free not to.” Right on, Sue. I won’t. I have a blogroll, and I link to blogs I love. I can’t imagine selecting 10.

Another stipulation of this blog-loving award thingy is that one should list 10 things one loves. Ah, now that’s more like it… but only 10? Well, the best amplifiers go to 11, they say

In no particular order (you are not to assume one, either, see?):

Christ’s mercy. Why do you think this blog is called what it it? More necessary than the air we breathe, more beautiful than any made thing. Can’t stop thinking about it, ever, really.

My sisters and brothers in Christ. Honestly. More and more. How could I live without you lot? Lovely, impossible, irresistible—we are family, in the deepest possible way.

The Third Order Society of St. Francis. See above, with bells on.

Music. Oh, we agree on this one, Sue! Playing music, listening to music, mucking around with the endlessly fascinating technicalities of music, learning stuff and finding out there’s just so much more to learn. Oh, what a glorious gift, what an incredible way to have fun…

Beer. Good beer, mind. I am entirely unashamed in my contempt for the brewing conglomerates. Beer should be local, idiosyncratic, individual, delicious.

Living simply. I truly do really really enjoy doing without stuff I don’t need. This isn’t a virtue, it’s a delight.

Created things, particularly animals. (Special mention for cats here…) I can’t get over the fact that God has made this creation of his so various, so endlessly marvellous (I’m seriously beginning to run out of adjectives…). See what Gerard Manley Hopkins had to say about it. Which brings me to…

Poetry. As necessary as mathematics, and as exacting. David knew what he was about when he set out to write those Psalms. And that reminds me…

The Bible. I really do love the Bible. All of it. Read Psalm 119 if you want to know why.

The sea. I am always most myself by, on, occasionally in, the sea, somehow.

Someone who knows who she is. Never would have imagined…

So there we are. Not according to the rules, but it’s the best I can do. My heart is very full, an unexpected side-effect of a silly blogospherical game. Or more than that?

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The contemplative mind…

The contemplative mind is the most absolute assault on the secular worldview that one can have, because it is a different mind from what we’ve been taught in our time.  The calculative mind, or the egocentric mind, reads everything in terms of personal advantage and personal preferences.  As long as we read reality from that small self with a narrow and calculating mind, I don’t think we’re going to see things in any new or truly helpful way…

Paul uses a wonderful and telling phrase:  “I no longer live, but Christ lives in me” (Galatians 2:20).  It is a radically different sense of self that he is trying to describe.  Until I have come to that realization myself, I have not been transformed, spiritually speaking.

Contemplative prayer draws us to our True Self, who we are “hidden with Christ in God” as Paul says in Colossians 3:3.  This is the only self that actually exists.  We came forth from God and our deepest DNA is divine.  We are not human beings trying to become spiritual; we are already spiritual beings and the profound question is always, “What does it mean to be human?”  I believe that is why Jesus came as a human being and consistently called himself a “son of man” more than the Son of God.

Richard Rohr, adapted from Contemplative Prayer (CD)

Paul said, “…for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:3, my italics) and Jesus said, “Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” (John 12:24) That is what our age finds so intolerable. As CS Lewis pointed out somewhere, death is the ultimate obscenity for our age—we are quite happy with any amount of sexual exploitation or financial cupidity, but we don’t want to talk about death. Oh, we’ll talk about dying, even about assisted dying, about the “right to die” happily enough—but death, death itself… nooo, TMI! It’s the threat of the extinction of the self, the final denial of all those desires we are told we deserve to have fulfilled, that we can’t cope with. No wonder we don’t want to know.

Jesus went on to say, “Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” (John 12:25) Only the way of the Cross leads on to life, “[f]or the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” (1 Corinthians 1:18)

Filling a vase with water…

“Whoever remains in me as I remain in them, will bear much fruit” (John 15:5).  That’s the preferred language of all the mystics—the language of union.  If it’s not some language of union and healing, don’t trust it as authentic religious language.  Unfortunately, religion has largely descended to a language of exclusion, which is almost the exact opposite.

Mother Teresa said that a person consciously filling a vase with water—out of union with and love for God—is giving more glory to God than a priest at the altar who is standing there in a state of anger, superiority, or separateness.  It’s all about the “Who,” not the “what” and we spend all of our time concentrating on the “what” that I should do or not do.  If you get the “Who” right, the “what” does not matter too much.  It will always be good…

Richard Rohr, adapted from Contemplative Prayer (CD)

Oh, how I long for those who trouble Synod with their arguments, schismatism, “anger, superiority, or separateness” to simply stop, sit still, and get this. There really is so little need for all the pain and the nonsense, and to be prepared to sin in order to be right is the worst bargain going, in the light of eternity, as Jesus kept pointing out to the scribes and Pharisees…

Monday, July 26, 2010

True faithfulness…

Our emotional lives move up and down constantly. Sometimes we experience great mood swings: from excitement to depression, from joy to sorrow, from inner harmony to inner chaos. A little event, a word from someone, a disappointment in work, many things can trigger such mood swings. Mostly we have little control over these changes. It seems that they happen to us rather than being created by us.

Thus it is important to know that our emotional life is not the same as our spiritual life. Our spiritual life is the life of the Spirit of God within us. As we feel our emotions shift we must connect our spirits with the Spirit of God and remind ourselves that what we feel is not who we are. We are and remain, whatever our moods, God’s beloved children…

Are we condemned to be passive victims of our moods? Must we simply say: “I feel great today” or “I feel awful today,” and require others to live with our moods?

Although it is very hard to control our moods, we can gradually overcome them by living a well-disciplined spiritual life. This can prevent us from acting out of our moods. We might not “feel” like getting up in the morning because we “feel” that life is not worth living, that nobody loves us, and that our work is boring. But if we get up anyhow, to spend some time reading the Gospels, praying the Psalms, and thanking God for a new day, our moods may lose their power over us…

When someone hurts us, offends us, ignores us, or rejects us, a deep inner protest emerges. It can be rage or depression, desire to take revenge or an impulse to harm ourselves. We can feel a deep urge to wound those who have wounded us or to withdraw in a suicidal mood of self-rejection. Although these extreme reactions might seem exceptional, they are never far away from our hearts. During the long nights we often find ourselves brooding about words and actions we might have used in response to what others have said or done to us.

It is precisely here that we have to dig deep into our spiritual resources and find the centre within us, the centre that lies beyond our need to hurt others or ourselves, where we are free to forgive and love…

Our emotional lives and our spiritual lives have different dynamics. The ups and downs of our emotional life depend a great deal on our past or present surroundings. We are happy, sad, angry, bored, excited, depressed, loving, caring, hateful, or vengeful because of what happened long ago or what is happening now.

The ups and downs of our spiritual lives depend on our obedience - that is, our attentive listening - to the movements of the Spirit of God within us. Without this listening our spiritual life eventually becomes subject to the windswept waves of our emotions…

Henri Nouwen, from Bread for the Journey

This is shockingly true. It’s hard for we who were young in the sixties and seventies to admit it, but so much of the practical philosophy of our time was based around, “If it feels good, do it…” that we accept our feelings as being as given as the weather, as immune to will and intention as the changing seasons. Not so. Feelings are not wrong – they can be beautiful, and true – but they are fertile ground for the father of lies to plant his seeds. The answer is not to cauterise our feelings, to become heartless, tight-lipped prudes; far from it, our calling is truly to open our hearts, to love God, and our fellow-creatures, with a steadfast and settled intent. This is true faithfulness, and only from this ground will spring the lovely fruits of the Spirit - healing, nourishing, making whole again, bringing Christ alive in our hearts as he promised,

“I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” (John 17:18-23)


In being still
    the word dissolves in birdsong,
    distant sounds
        after harvest –
    engines, half-heard voices
         across the valley.

The word dissolves –
    logos in simple bread,
        dark wine -
into the very cells of us.
We grow Christ
    within us,
become what we have eaten,
    a new and imperceptible birth.
We are not what we thought.

Above us the sky is blue
    between clouds,
Mary-dress blue.
It magnifies the Lord,
    leads what we could become
        up to the swallows’ paths,
    criss-crossed with altitude,
    the way back home.

Mike Farley
(written at Hilfield Friary)

Friday, July 23, 2010

Only you…

Inner authority (which I always describe as the power to “author” life in others) does not have to do with transmutation of forms and order and title, and the changing of power roles, but the transmutation of our very substance.  This is the needed “transubstantiation.”  For this reason, I cannot give up on Jesus.  He’s such an easy one to believe and follow and love.  He uses everything to help, heal, and change people. 

The genius of Jesus’ ministry is that he uses tragedy, suffering, betrayal, and death itself, not to wound us but in fact to bring us to God.  So there are no dead ends for Jesus.  Everything can be transmuted and everything can be used.  EVERYTHING!

Failure itself is the raw material of salvation…

Richard Rohr, from The Authority of Those Who Have Suffered

Talking with a friend recently I happened to remark that what I miss in any other faith is Jesus. I may have put it in an unhelpfully offhand way, but it is true. Jesus is the way and the truth and the life, and without him it’s hard to imagine how we could ever be set free, truly free (John 14:6; 8:32). He is the everlasting mercy of God (Jude 1:21), and the healer of all who will turn to him… nothing whatever will be able to keep us from his love (Romans 8:35ff), as the martyrs (all those who suffer and die for their faith) show us daily, still.

[Title from Andy’s Park’s song of the same name]

Thursday, July 22, 2010

A Name and a waiting...

A candle of the Lord is the soul of man, but the soul can become a holocaust, a fury, a rage. The only cure is to discover that, over and above the anonymous stillness in the world, there is a Name and a waiting. Many people suffer from a fear of the self. They do not feel at home in their own selves. The inner life is a place of dereliction, a no-man's-land, inconsolate, weird. The self has become a place from which to flee.

Abraham Joshua Heschel, with thanks to  inward/outward
Faithfulness is consecration in overalls. It is the steady acceptance and performance of the common duty and immediate task without any reference to personal preferences--because it is there to be done, and so is a manifestation of the Will of God... The fruits of the Spirit get less and less showy as we go on. Faithfulness means continuing quietly with the job we have been given, in the situation where we have been placed; not yielding to the restless desire for change. It means tending the lamp quietly for God without wondering how much longer it has got to go on. Steady, unsensational driving, taking good care of the car. A lot of the road to heaven has to be taken at 30 miles per hour.

Evelyn Underhill, The Fruits of the Spirit.
People should not worry as much about what they do but rather about what they are. If they and their ways are good, then their deeds are radiant. If you are righteous, then what you do will also be righteous. We should not think that holiness is based on what we do but rather on what we are, for it is not our works which sanctify us but we who sanctify our works.

Meister Eckhart, with thanks to  inward/outward

Sorry for the silence since Connect 2010. I've been trying to make sense of my own feelings. Nearly a week of being so close with my sisters and brothers in Christ, of worship and prayer and talking, of just being church, is not easy to put into words. It might sound trite to some to call it a glimpse of Heaven, of the Kingdom to which our Lord is betrothed, but honestly that's how it was.

Things are not going to be the same, even if there is not another Connect in next or subsequent years, even if those who were there try to forget what they saw, and heard, and felt. The Church (deliberate big 'C') in the Isle of Purbeck knows now, very practically and simply, that it is one, that our different ways of doing things, our different comfort zones in worship and in the minor application of doctrine, are pretty irrelevant beside the great love our Lord has put into our hearts one for another...

"By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another." (John 13:35)

We are in a state of waiting. The Kingdom is here,  and yet it has not yet come. (Mark 1:15; Luke 11:2; 11:20; 12:31) And yet we are not alone, far from it. Our waiting lives within the Name of Jesus; all we are is in his wounded hands. What shall we fear? (Romans 8:28-39)

Tomorrow, I'm off to Hilfield Friary, for the Caring for Creation in a World of Crisis weekend. More when I get back, I hope...

Friday, July 16, 2010

Chosen, blessed, broken, given…

Jesus is taken by God or, better, chosen by God. Jesus is the Chosen One. From all eternity God has chosen his most precious Child to become the saviour of the world. Being chosen expresses a special relationship, being known and loved in a unique way, being singled out. In our society our being chosen always implies that others are not chosen. But this is not true for God. God chooses his Son to reveal to us our chosenness.

In the Kingdom of God there is no competition or rivalry. The Son of God shares his chosenness with us. In the Kingdom of God each person is precious and unique, and each person has been given eyes to see the chosenness of others and rejoice in it…

Jesus is the Blessed One. When Jesus was baptised in the Jordan river a voice came from heaven saying: “You are my Son, the Beloved; my favour rests on you” (Mark 1:11). This was the blessing that sustained Jesus during his life. Whatever happened to him - praise or blame - he clung to his blessing; he always remembered that he was the favourite child of God.

Jesus came into the world to share that blessing with us. He came to open our ears to the voice that also says to us, “You are my beloved son, you are my beloved daughter, my favour rests on you .” When we can hear that voice, trust in it, and always remember it, especially during dark times, we can live our lives as God’s blessed children and find the strength to share that blessing with others…

Jesus was broken on the cross. He lived his suffering and death not as an evil to avoid at all costs, but as a mission to embrace. We too are broken. We live with broken bodies, broken hearts, broken minds or broken spirits. We suffer from broken relationships.

How can we live our brokenness? Jesus invites us to embrace our brokenness as he embraced the cross and live it as part of our mission. He asks us not to reject our brokenness as a curse from God that reminds us of our sinfulness but to accept it and put it under God’s blessing for our purification and sanctification. Thus our brokenness can become a gateway to new life…

Jesus is given to the world. He was chosen, blessed, and broken to be given. Jesus’ life and death were a life and death for others. The Beloved Son of God, chosen from all eternity, was broken on the cross so that this one life could multiply and become food for people of all places and all times.

As God’s beloved children we have to believe that our little lives, when lived as God’s chosen and blessed children, are broken to be given to others. We too have to become bread for the world. When we live our brokenness under the blessing, our lives will continue to bear fruit from generation to generation. That is the story of the saints - they died, but they continue to be alive in the hearts of those who live after them - and it can be our story too…

Henri Nouwen, from Bread for the Journey

All our lives are to be lived as a subset of Christ’s, it seems to me. This must be what following him really means. What surprises me is how long it has taken for me to see this at all clearly…

Community? What do we know…?

At Connect 2010 at Holton Lee—we’re having a glorious time, despite the wind and the rain, and the very hard work by the organising team keeping everything running notwithstanding—I’ve been profoundly moved by the team from the Lee Abbey Community in particular. Yesterday morning, the Warden, David Rowe, spoke well about the work and the foundation of Lee Abbey; but what touched me, as a Franciscan, more than anything were the accounts by various community members, both young and not quite so young, of how they had come to Lee Abbey, and their experience of living in community there.

As we in the three Orders (First Order Brothers and Sisters, Second Order Sisters, and the sisters and brothers of the Third Order) of the Society of St. Francis consider afresh what being a community in Christ really means, we need I believe to look very closely at the experience of communities outside the ARC Yearbook, and especially at their sometimes very different take on spiritual formation.

I am very excited about all this, I have to admit, and I’m really looking forward to more conversations with my sisters and brothers from other kinds of communities. Our God is a God of community, from his very nature as Trinity on out to all the farthest reaches of incarnation, the finest capillaries and nerve endings of the body of Christ. I’m convinced that this is an urgent—maybe our most urgent—calling, the very heart of how we as Christians can serve those who do not yet know their Saviour and their King…

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Connect 2010 begins...

Not sure how much I’ll be able to blog for the rest of this week, as I’m at Connect 2010 at Holton Lee.

Just found this wonderful quote from Richard Rohr, which pretty much sums up how I’m feeling!

God cares, for some wonderful reason, despite all of our smallness and silliness. Divine love does not depend on our doing nice or right things. Divine love is not determined by the worthiness of the object of love but by the Subject, who is always and only Love. God does not love us if we change, as we almost all think; but God loves us so that we can change.

No matter what we do, God, in great love and humility, says, “That’s what I work with. That’s all I work with!” It’s the mustard seed with which God does great things. Our life experiences, “good and bad alike,” are invited to the great wedding feast (Matthew 22:10). They are the raw material that God uses to prepare the banquet.

Richard Rohr
June 2010

Monday, July 12, 2010

Perspective distortion...

The ego wants to ensure us that the things we do are all significant and worthy of our attention, that this event will make me important. Our activities become attempts at self validation and little life merit badges. We all enjoy putting another check on our life resume, or even on our spiritual resume.

Much religion uses God to bolster one’s own self-image, I am afraid. True religion would not be attached to self-image at all, but only to God. In fact, the closer you actually get to the Light, the more of your own shadow you see. Maybe that is why a lot of people do not persevere on the journey toward the Lover.

Christian life has little to do with me doing anything right. It has everything to do with falling in love with a Lover who always does everything right. What I love is that Lover and not my own accomplishments; nor am I surprised or unduly humiliated by my own failures. We must come to know who is always the Lover and who is always the beloved.

Richard Rohr, Radical Grace: Daily Meditations, adapted from p.23, Day 22
I think Rohr is right here. It’s a strange fact that as I go on in this life of trying to follow Christ, the more obvious is the distance between us. It’s a perspective thing, possibly. The closer a camera lens is to an object it’s focused on, the greater the apparent perspective. The farther away it is, the less the distance between related objects appears to be. It’s called perspective distortion. The phrase makes me slightly uncomfortable…

The wings of my dove are sheathed with silver...

To enter into solidarity with a suffering person does not mean that we have to talk with that person about our own suffering. Speaking about our own pain is seldom helpful for someone who is in pain. A wounded healer is someone who can listen to a person in pain without having to speak about his or her own wounds. When we have lived through a painful depression, we can listen with great attentiveness and love to a depressed friend without mentioning our experience. Mostly it is better not to direct a suffering person's attention to ourselves. We have to trust that our own bandaged wounds will allow us to listen to others with our whole beings. That is healing...

It is important to know when we can give attention and when we need attention. Often we are inclined to give, give, and give without ever asking anything in return. We may think that this is a sign of generosity or even heroism. But it might be little else than a proud attitude that says: "I don't need help from others. I only want to give." When we keep giving without receiving we burn out quickly. Only when we pay careful attention to our own physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual needs can we be, and remain, joyful givers.

There is a time to give and a time to receive. We need equal time for both if we want to live healthy lives.

Henri Nouwen, from Bread for the Journey

I'm not sure how far this applies to everyone, but I find that there is a hidden cost to this kind of thing - which may be what Nouwen is talking about when he speaks of giving ourselves time to receive - which feels like a kind of weariness that I at least don't automatically associate with its source. I find myself listening eagerly at one time, and then later, maybe hours later, suddenly unaccountable very tired. We need, I think, to give God time to heal us, at least as much as we need to consciously receive from other people.

Sleep is a gift from God's Holy Spirit which we have a terrible tendency to undervalue, and undervalue at our peril. Even Jesus slept, and slept deeply, too (Mark 4:38).

"I lie down and sleep; I wake again, because the LORD sustains me." (Psalm 3:5)

"In vain you rise early and stay up late, toiling for food to eat - for he grants sleep to those he loves." (Psalm 127:2)

[Title refers to Psalm 68:13]

Friday, July 09, 2010


Let us keep this truth before us.

You say have no faith?
Love - and faith will come.

You say you are sad?
Love - and joy will come.

You say you are alone?
Love - and you will break out of your solitude.

You say you are in hell?
Love - and you will find yourself in heaven.

Heaven is love.

Carlo Caretto, In Search of the Beyond, with thanks to inward/outward

Thursday, July 08, 2010

The Society of the Walking Wounded

Nobody escapes being wounded. We all are wounded people, whether physically, emotionally, mentally, or spiritually. The main question is not "How can we hide our wounds?" so we don't have to be embarrassed, but "How can we put our woundedness in the service of others?" When our wounds cease to be a source of shame, and become a source of healing, we have become wounded healers.

Jesus is God's wounded healer: through his wounds we are healed. Jesus' suffering and death brought joy and life. His humiliation brought glory; his rejection brought a community of love. As followers of Jesus we can also allow our wounds to bring healing to others.

Henri Nouwen, from Bread for the Journey

The Society of the Walking Wounded was a progressive rock band I played in many years ago, but the name seems now to have been prescient in an odd way. As Nouwen suggests here, it's only as walking wounded that we can actually minister Jesus' healing to those who suffer.

I think this fact is often forgotten by many in the Church generally, leaders as well as laypeople. We feel we have to be happy shiny well-adjusted people all the time, our clean and ironed clothes hiding no scars, and it just isn't so. People like that, to the extent that they do truly exist outside of hypocrisy, can't help those who are hurt. Their toothpaste grins feel like a rebuke, their clear eyes and perfect skin are a judgement on the ones whose lives have come apart, who are broken by illness, crippled by debt, shaken to their centres by divorce or addiction.

Not only are our wounds a source of healing, but our very shame, the shadow that has passed across our own lives, is a door opening onto the mercy of Christ. If we accept this, open-heartedly, then we can stop worrying, stop peering in cars' wing-mirrors and the windows of other people's eyes to see if our spiritual ties are straight, and "fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God." (Hebrews 12:2)

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Connect 2010

Next week, starting on Tuesday night, I'm going to be at Connect 2010 at Holton Lee.

From the website:

What is Connect?

Connect 2010 is a five-day teaching and worship event where hundreds of people of all ages can connect and grow together in Word and Spirit. The last three days will include family camping and a change of flavour as young families invade the site.

More than 30 south Dorset churches are involved in organising the event, which is held at Holton Lee (between Poole and Wareham in Dorset), just a few minutes walk from the beautiful Poole Harbour and with its own stunning heathland walks in 350 acres.

The family weekend (July 16, 17, 18) will include a full programme of children’s activities in their own separate marquee, a chill out zone on Saturday evening for 13's to 17's plus a variety of fun family events throughout the weekend.

If you come, look me up. I'll be the one wearing a Tau Cross and a green Prayer Ministry Team name-tag!

In one of those God-incidences that is always surprising, but shouldn't ever be, this morning's email from Richard Rohr's Centre for Action and Contemplation reads as follows:

Greatness emerges when, above all else, people are confident. When we believe - together - that life is good, God is good and humanity is good, we become very safe and salutary people for others.  What we seem to suffer from today is a lack of confidence, which would become a calm self confidence.  St. Therese of Lisieux wisely said that her entire spirituality was about "confidence and gratitude"!

We can all do exciting and imaginative things when we are confident that we are a part of a story line that is going somewhere and is connected to something good.  Without this, it is very hard to be either confident or grateful.

Richard Rohr, from Hope Against Darkness

This event has grown from a glimmer of an idea into this wonderful thing in what seems like no time at all - but it's not without a pre-echo, as it were. You can read my account of the event at Wareham 11 years ago on The Mercy Site.

Our Vicar at Holy Rood, Rhona, writes in her pastoral letter in July's Parish News:

People often ask why the churches don't work together more closely. It's true the amount of time we spend worshipping together is relatively small. But churches work together to a remarkable degree, supporting one another to a variety of ways. They are often overlooked as much of this is less visible to the general public...

A major new joint venture that is gathering the churches together from across south Dorset takes place at Holton Lee, Sandford this month. More than 30 different churches are involved in organizing Connect 2010. It is a five-day teaching and worship event where people of all ages can connect and grow together in Word and Spirit. We see it as a time for recognising our shared faith and mission and to find what things we can do better together than apart. It aims to be outward looking, not so much getting over hurdles as reaching shared goals.

Come and join us in this adventure of making strengthening old connections and forging new ones.

Do click over and read the whole letter... and do consider coming and joining in if you're going to be in the area. I rather suspect this will be something not to miss!

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Singing to God...

All animals who lift their voices at dawn sing to God. The volcanoes and the clouds and the trees cry to us about God. The whole creation cries to us penetratingly with a great joy about the existence and the beauty and the love of God. The music roars it into our ears, the landscape calls it into our eyes. In all of nature we find God's initials, and all God's creatures are God's love letters to us.

All of nature burns with love created through love to light love in us. Nature is like a shadow of God, a reflection of God's beauty. The still, blue lake is a reflection of God. In every atom lives an image of the trinity, a figure of the trinitarian God. And also my own body is created to love God. Each of my cells is a hymn about the Creator and an ongoing declaration of love.

Ernesto Cardenal, To Live Is to Love - with thanks to inward/outward

What is truth?

The hope on the other side of despair is the unique gift of God to those who walk the journey called faith.  That is why faith, hope, and love overlap.  You cannot really have one without the other two.  The hope united with faith and love is not based on anything in particular working out. It is a hope that comes to those who wait and walk at the same time.

Such full hope believes that Reality can be trusted after all. It knows that Someone is good somewhere. Goodness is at the beginning and the bottom of all of this. Goodness will surely and finally win out. Such comfort allows one to trust, hope, and love all at the same time.

Richard Rohr, from Near Occasions of Grace

This morning the air is clear and fresh, and the sunlight like a golden fluid pouring over the rim of the bank behind the house, and truth is something you can taste, and hold. Jesus said, "I am the way and the truth and the life... If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." (John 14:6; 8:31b-32, NIV)

Monday, July 05, 2010

A healing quiet...

In the early evening we see the stars begin to appear as the sun disappears over the horizon. The light of day gives way to the darkness of night. A stillness, a healing quiet comes over the landscape. It's a moment when some other world makes itself known, a numinous presence beyond human understanding. We experience the vast realms of space overwhelming the limitations of our human minds. As the sky turns golden and the clouds reflect the blazing colors of evening, we participate for a moment in the forgiveness, the peace, the intimacy of things with each other.

(Thomas Berry, with thanks to inward/outward)

Blogging as an ancient literary form...

You know, it occurs to me that blogging is actually a very ancient literary form. Since printed books became affordable, we have grown used to longer and longer means of expression, longer and longer arguments: a Ph.D. thesis approach to even devotional writings, covering all the bases, supported by critical evidence and exhaustive textual references. But is wasn't always so. The Desert Fathers and Mothers often did not even write down their thoughts, but spoke them in short, rounded little sayings that could stand on their own, and whose truth was self-evident, self-contained, rather like the Biblical Proverbs, or perhaps more accurately, like the stories and parables Jesus told.

Very like blog-posts, in fact...

The axle of all that is...

Until we walk with despair, and still have hope, we will not know that our hope was not just hope in ourselves, in our successes, in our power to make a difference, in our image of what perfection and wholeness should be.   We need hope from a deeper Source.

Until we walk with despair, we will never uncover the Real Hope on the other side of despair. Until we allow the crash and crush of our images, we will never discover the Real Life beyond what only seems like death.

This very journey is probably the heart of what Jesus came to reveal.

Richard Rohr, from Near Occasions of Grace 

Goodness, I do love Richard Rohr sometimes! This is not only "the heart of what Jesus came to reveal", but it is the very heart of my own experience. It is what makes sense of what we experience, both the everyday pain of the death of friends, beloved animals, the loss of so many all-too-human dreams, and the existential despair that is often treated as a subject for psychotherapy, but in fact is a true apprehension (known to Buddhist philosophers as vipassanā) of the human condition without Christ's Cross and all that lies on the far side of that event.

This hope is literally glorious, for it is indefatigable, pure, and everlasting. It is a hope that can laugh at death, bring joy to martyrs in their last agony, and confuse and terrify the tyrants and slavemasters of this broken world. This hope is the sole reason that true Christian faith has proved quite indestructible, despite the fall of empires, civilisations and churches.

Truly the Cross is the tree of life, the very axle of all that is, the healing of the worlds; for it is only here that we can actually observe the fact that "The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it" (John 1:5) and know for ourselves that "it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me." (Galatians 2:20)

Sunday, July 04, 2010

What friends are for...

"Jesus Christ, our Lord, whose footsteps we're to follow, called his betrayer 'friend' and willingly handed himself over to his crucifiers. Our friends, then, are all those who unjustly inflict upon us tests and ordeals, shame and injury, sorrows and torments, martyrdom and death. They are the ones we should love most, for what they're really inflicting upon us is eternal life."

St. Francis of Assisi, with thanks to Friar Rex

Friday, July 02, 2010

Perfect joy?

Servant of God, if you apply yourself to acquiring and preserving, both in heart and demeanour, that joy which comes from a pure heart and is won by devotion to prayer, the devils can do you no harm. They say, 'This servant of God is as happy when things are going badly as when all is well, and so we cannot find an opening to enter him and hurt him.

St. Francis of Assisi
We as Tertiaries, rejoicing in the Lord always, show in our lives the grace and beauty of divine joy. We remember that we follow the Son of Man, who came eating and drinking, Who loved the birds and the flowers, Who blessed little children, Who was a friend to tax collectors and sinners and Who sat at the tables of both the rich and the poor. We delight in fun and laughter, rejoicing in God’s world, its beauty and its living creatures, calling nothing common or unclean. We mix freely with all people, ready to bind up the broken-hearted and to bring joy into the lives of others. We carry within us an inner peace and happiness which others may perceive, even if they do not know its source.

This joy is a divine gift, coming from union with God in Christ. It is still there even in times of darkness and difficulty, giving cheerful courage in the face of disappointment, and an inward serenity and confidence through sickness and suffering. Those who possess it can rejoice in weakness, insults, hardships, and persecutions for Christ’s sake; for when they are weak, then they are strong.

The Principles of the Third Order, Society of St. Francis, 28, 29
I think this is what I was trying to say in my earlier post. However hard, even unbearable, we may find the misfortunes that all of us encounter from time to time, we are not defeated as long as our refuge is in God, in the boundless mercy of Christ. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer once said, "To endure the cross is not tragedy; it is the suffering which is the fruit of an exclusive allegiance to Jesus Christ."