Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Walsingham–coming home…

Back home after the most blessed Pilgrimage, I’m trying prayerfully to work out the implications, which are profound. A great deal happened, spiritually, in those few crowded days at Walsingham, in ways that I’ve not experienced before. The longer this life with Christ goes on, the less I think I know of God’s ways with humankind – or perhaps I simply realise that those ways are more diverse than I had ever imagined.

As things gradually become clear, or rather as they gradually accrue words with which to think about themselves, I’ll try to share some of them here…

Thank you all, so much, for your prayers!

Monday, June 20, 2011


Here we are at the Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham. I’ve found Wi-Fi access, free, thanks to the Shine people.

God is very good – this most beautiful place is so full of grace and peace, and it’s a joy to be among our fellow pilgrims. My heart is too full to write much more now, but I’ll try to post here during the Pilgrimage…

Thank you all for your prayers…

Thursday, June 16, 2011

We lost it years ago…

Let us therefore not be anxious because we are getting better, but rather worse. Let us give up the idea of spiritual progress, if that means being more holy, more devout. God meets us in the absence of things, all sorts of things. And this is good news. Because we are not getting any better, we are getting worse. We are not making any progress, we are regressing fast.

The only qualification is to have no qualifications, the only admission ticket is to admit we don’t have one, we lost it years ago. The trouble is we have been looking for it ever since. Just say, “I haven’t got anything to show you. I can’t prove a thing. I can’t really tell you who I am or provide a good reference – or any reference – or tell you whom to ring up, I’m an unqualified, unskilled, inexperienced non-entity.”

Say that, and what he will say is, “Come in my dear. You are the very person we’ve been looking for!”

John Fenton, from TSSF Contemplatives Newsletter, July 2011

Anyone who believes in coincidence should have been with me this morning. After a troubled night, I woke feeling exactly as Fenton describes here. After I’d washed and dressed, later than usual, I picked up the post, and there was the new issue of the TSSF Contemplatives Newsletter. “Oh, great!” I thought, “I’m supposed to be one of those. What a joke…” But I sat down to read it over a mug of coffee and a piece of toast, and there was this passage from Fenton looking at me, set in bold type. Somewhere, I’m profoundly grateful. God has found me, as he always does, wherever I try to hide from him.

For some odd reason, the deeper my happiness, the deeper my penitence needs to be. This is not false humility, at least I hope it isn’t, but merely the increasing sense that I don’t deserve anything really. What I am is so intrinsically flawed, so broken, that I can’t even lay claim to gradual improvement. Grace is all I can lay claim to, and that only by means of – by way of – the Cross.

Tomorrow we are setting off for Norfolk, to join the TSSF Pilgrimage for the 950th Anniversary of the Shrine at Walsingham on Sunday. I’ll take the laptop along, but I don’t know how easy it will be to get Wi-Fi. If I can, I’ll post from there.

Orate pro nobis!

Saturday, June 11, 2011

The penitence of Mr Head

Mr Head stood very still and felt the action of mercy touch him again but this time he knew that there were no words in the world that could name it. He understood that it grew out of agony, which is not denied to any man and which is given in strange ways to children. He understood it was all a man could carry into death to give his Maker and he suddenly burned with shame that he had so little of it to take with him. He stood appalled, judging himself with the thoroughness of God, while the action of mercy covered his pride like a flame and consumed it. He had never thought him self a great sinner before but he saw now that his true depravity had been hidden from him lest it cause him despair. He realized that he was forgiven for sins from the beginning of time, when he had conceived in his own heart the sin of Adam, until the present, when he had denied poor Nelson. He saw that no Sin was too monstrous for him to claim as his own, and since God loved in proportion as He forgave, he felt ready at that instant to enter Paradise.

Flannery O’Connor, The Artificial Nigger

This, the last paragraph but one in Flannery O’Connor’s strange, disorienting story, comes close to describing what Alan Jones, in Soul Making, describes as the gift of tears, and which I understand to be the root of true intercessory prayer. It is the realisation of our complete identification with our sister and brother creatures, no matter who they may be.

Quoting part of this passage from O’Connor’s story, Jones says, “Flannery O’Connor, in story form, describes the double action of the gift of tears. I am able to see in such a way that I not only judge myself with the judgement of God, but I am given the grace to love myself with the love of God. My tears, then, are the tears of joy as well as of sorrow.”

But there is more than this. As Mr Head sees, there is no sin too monstrous for us to claim as our own. All the we are grows from the same root in Adam, and his and Eve’s sin is our own, and all the sins that follow, ever. For this reason we cry, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner”; and for this reason our cry is valid for all that lives, and we are ourselves no more than one of the little watercourses by which Christ’s mercy comes to comfort a creation lost in uncountable pain (see Romans 8.19ff).

Christe, Eléison…

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

The wrecks of comprehension…

Mary’s understanding of her nothingness is also saying something about you. Your worthiness is given. It is not attained. It is God in you searching for God. It is God in you that believes and hopes and cares and loves. There is nothing that you can take credit for. It is something you just thank God for!

Eventually you will not be inclined to say, “I prayed today.” Rather, you will want to say, “Prayer happened today—and I was there!” Whatever you do in communion is prayer. When your mind, your heart and your body are all present; that kind of full presence is automatically prayer. At that moment God is able to use you and speak to you.

I believe Mary is the model for being used by God. And we, like her, are just standing here saying, “Let it be done unto me” (Luke 1.38). All we can do is let it happen.

Richard Rohr, from an unpublished talk

The longer I go on in this life that is about prayer, the less I realise I know about it. As Rohr says here, prayer happens. Sometimes, I’m not even sure I am there. Prayer is all wrapped up in dreams, these days, too. Some nights are so filled with dreaming that is prayer, or prayer that is dreaming, that I’m not always sure what is sleep and what is not. But these are not dreams of the prophetic, “God gave me a dream – better sit up and write it down!” variety. They rise out of sleep like the wrecks of crippled warships rising out of sand and silt, full of pain and the memory of pain, and sink again in the half-waking susurration of the Jesus Prayer. They are nothing I do; their content has generally nothing to do with my life or even my experience.

My day-life goes on, filled with light and truth as never before. My Susan and I are engaged now, and our parallel Third Order vocations are calling us into a “community of two” – we are so excited to see where God might take us in this path together. The more obscure and baffling these sleeping prayers become, somehow, the more blessed are these long days of early summer.

But this mystery of prayer continues darker than ever. It’s as though my mind has no reference for what is going on, rather as something illuminated by radiation outside the human visual spectrum appears dark to us, and yet may be bathed in a light we cannot see. I feel like Abram asleep after meeting Melchizedek, blanketed by “a deep and terrifying darkness” that I don’t understand. And yet I know that it is God’s darkness; that it means nothing but good, and peace, and healing for things that are not in my experience.

All I can do is be here, try to be present to what God is doing, as best I can, and leave the outcome up to him. Our Blessed Lady is my guide and mentor; she went this way before, to an extent no-one else has ever been called to go. From the Annunciation, to the Cross, and on to Pentecost, she was present in silence to God’s highest doing. From the beginning, her life was a surrender more active than we can comprehend, more passionate in its stillness than our hearts can embrace. No wonder all generations call her Blesséd…