Friday, December 28, 2012


The state of spacious heart openness is known in spiritual traditions as surrender. Not what you usually think about when you hear the word “surrender,” is it? We usually equate the word with capitulation and consider it a sign of weakness. But surrender, spiritually understood, has nothing to do with outer capitulation, with rolling over and playing dead. It has to do with keeping the right alignment inwardly that allows you to stay in the flow of your deeper sustaining wisdom—to “feel the force,” in those legendary words from the first Star Wars movie. In that state of openness you then decide what you’re going to do about the outer situation. whatever you do, whether you acquiesce or vigorously resist, your actions will be clear. 
Cynthia Bourgeault, The Wisdom Jesus

Surrender, like peace, is misunderstood in our time particularly, when the aggressive and the extrovert (in the true sense of the word) is valued over the sensitive and the introvert. But true surrender is true courage, and the opposite of cowardice. All too often, those who are too weak to open their hearts to God, to their sisters and brothers, to their own deepest selves, are the ones who fight. Those who are “strong in the Lord” (Ephesians 6.10), or to continue the Star Wars metaphor, with whom the force is strong, are free to surrender to the loving purpose of God in all things—as Paul says, (Romans 8.28 NIV) “we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”

Do note that none of the above is ever capable of being used as an excuse for evil, nor for submitting to it. Surrender is not in any case synonymous with submission—though submission to God may well be how it plays out in certain circumstances. It may indeed be necessary either to “acquiesce or vigorously resist.” Surrender to God in all things leaves one free to choose, and choose wisely.

Myself, I have had more than once to face situations of considerable unpleasantness, physically, emotionally and spiritually. In the event, surrender has not been all that difficult—a circumstance I can only attribute to the grace of Christ—it has been maintaining that surrender in the outworkings, even in the healing, of the disaster that has proved so hard!

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Rejoice! Rejoice! (Advent 3 & 4)

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4.4-7)

O come, O come, Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel…

Latin, traditional (tr. John Mason Neale)

What is this that comes at this time of year? Whose coming, and to whom?

Nothing is the same any longer; and yet each Christmas we pray the same prayers, celebrate the same rites, religious and secular, and the world goes on as before, corrupt, cruel and broken. The weak grow weaker; the masters thrive as they have always done.

And yet, for all we “mourn in lonely exile here”, the call is to “rejoice… [and] do not worry about anything, but [live] by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving…”

Somehow we know this. Even those most caught up in the commercial side of Christmas know, somewhere in their hearts, that there really is something going on. There is a gladness that rises even in the two sizes too small heart of the grinchiest among us…

As Mary prophesied herself (Luke 1 46-55),

[God’s] mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty…

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it (John 1.5). Steadily the light shines: love constant in pain, mercy relentless before cruelty. A tiny child brought it with him, long long ago. Defenceless, in occupied territory, the light shines still, and always will.

“Rejoice, rejoice, again, I say, rejoice!”

The Coming of the King–the ‘O’ Antiphons

O Wisdom,
O holy Word of God,
you govern all creation with your strong yet tender care:

O Sacred Lord of ancient Israel,
you showed yourself to Moses in the burning bush
and you gave the holy law on Mount Sinai:

O Flower of Jesse’s stem,
you have been raised up as a sign for all people;
kings stand silent in your presence;
the nations bow down in worship before you:

O Key of David, O royal Power of Israel,
you [not the systems of this world] control

at your will the gate of heaven:
Come break down the prison walls of death.

O Radiant Dawn,
splendour of eternal light, sun of justice:
Come shine on those who dwell in darkness

and the shadow of death.

O, King of all the nations,
the only joy of every human heart;
O Keystone of the mighty arch of humankind:
Come and save these creatures you fashioned from the dust.

O, Emmanuel,
God-With-Us, king and lawgiver,
desire of the nations, Saviour of all people:
Come and set us free.
The Spirit and the bride say, “Come.”


Richard Rohr, from Daily Meditations

Saturday, December 15, 2012


...I decided to take responsibility for what I wanted, and to trust God to take it from there.

Intuition may be one way of speaking about how God does that - takes things from here to there, I mean. Since intuition operates lower down the frontal lobe, it is not easy to talk about how it works. In general, I tend to not pay much attention to it until I have completed all my research, compiled my lists of pros and cons, and made a rational decision based on facts. then, when I cannot sleep because the rational decision seems all wrong to me, I start paying attention to to gyroscope of my intuition, which operates below the radar of my reason. I pay attention to recurring dreams and interesting coincidences. I let my feelings off the leash and follow them around. When something moves in my peripheral vision, I leave the path to investigate. It would be a pity to walk right by a burning bush. At this point, reason is all but useless to me. All that remains is trust. Will I trust my intuition or won't I? The more I do, the more intuitive I become. This is as close as I can come to describing the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

Barbara Brown Taylor, Leaving Church

In the language of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, I am an INFP, a personality type which is known to "engage the outside world primarily with intuition." (from the Wikipedia article) Barbara Brown Taylor's words here rang so powerfully true when I read them that I had to put the book down for an hour to settle the singing in my heart before I could bear to leave them to read on. For me, this quality of intuition is, as Brown Taylor describes, inextricably involved with my whole experience of the spiritual, indeed of the Holy Spirit.

It has taken me most of a lifetime to recover the sense of myself as who I am. Growing up as the only child of a painter and sculptor (my father, a musician and RAF officer, was absent for most of my childhood) in a beautiful village on the Sussex coast, I was a happy loner, a lover of life and of all that lived, until I found myself at a notably harsh boys' prep school, where I was taught to forget all that foolish trustingness, and to become as cruel and hard as any of my classmates - more so, since, to keep to the Myers Briggs typology, a personality type denied becomes its own shadow. I became defensive, and hid my real nature so deep that I all but forgot its existence. It was only the endless patience and ingenuity of God, mediated through so many people over the years, that allowed me back out into the sunlight and warmth, to the sound of the bees in the lavender, the touch of the long stamens of the Roses of Sharon.

How essential it is that we keep hold of who we are; how much more essential that we help each other to do so. Intuition, at least for those of us for whom it is a major function, is just as Barbara Brown Taylor describes, a gyroscope. More, for me at least, a gyrocompass that, set free by understanding and acceptance of what it is (and here the Myers Briggs indicator can be such a liberating thing) will, if I let it, keep me on a heading to God's purpose. I may not understand at all what that is, rationally, but "[a]t this point, reason is all but useless to me".

"All that remains is trust." And so it is. To trust, to open, to fall back into the everlasting arms of the God who made me part of all that is, is the sweet centre of what has come to be faith. "O Lord, my heart is not lifted up, my eyes are not raised too high; I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvellous for me..." (Psalm 131.1)

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Another Franciscan View of Jerusalem...

Brother Clark Berge, Minister General of the Society of St. Francis, has a most glorious post on his recent visit to Jerusalem here. I can only say "Amen" to his experiences, which he's managed to put into words far better than I could have done...

Monday, December 10, 2012

Advent 2

The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad, the desert shall rejoice and blossom; like the crocus it shall blossom abundantly, and rejoice with joy and singing. The glory of Lebanon shall be given to it, the majesty of Carmel and Sharon. They shall see the glory of the Lord, the majesty of our God. Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees. Say to those who are of a fearful heart, “Be strong, do not fear! Here is your God. He will come with vengeance, with terrible recompense. He will come and save you.” (Isaiah 35.1-4)

Our final homecoming involves not just ourselves and our fellow human beings but all of creation. The full freedom of the children of God is to be shared by the whole earth, and our complete renewal in the resurrection includes the renewal of the universe. That is the great vision of God's redeeming work through Christ.

 Paul sees the whole created order as a woman groaning in labour, waiting eagerly to give birth to a new life. He writes: "It was not for its own purposes that creation had frustration imposed on it, but for the purposes of him who imposed it - with the intention that the whole creation itself might be freed from its slavery to corruption and brought into the same glorious freedom as the children of God"  (Romans 8:20-21).  All that God has created will be lifted up into God's glory...

When we think of oceans and mountains, forests and deserts, trees, plants and animals, the sun, the moon, the stars, and all the galaxies, as God's creation, waiting eagerly to be "brought into the same glorious freedom as the children of God" (Roman 8:21), we can only stand in awe of God's majesty and God's all-embracing plan of salvation. It is not just we, human beings, who wait for salvation in the midst of our suffering; all of creation groans and moans with us longing to reach its full freedom.   

In this way we are indeed brothers and sisters not only of all other men and women in the world but also of all that surrounds us. Yes, we have to love the fields full of wheat, the snowcapped mountains, the roaring seas, the wild and tame animals, the huge redwoods, and the little daisies. Everything in creation belongs, with us, to the large family of God...

Henri Nouwen, with thanks to the Henri Nouwen Society

This is the subtext of Advent, that there is an end to the nightmares and the grieving. There will come a time when the darkness will be rolled back, and the new day will dawn, when the pain and hunger of the animals, and mankind, will be forgotten, and the light of Christ will sing in a new sky, and there will be no night, nor tears, nor any longer loss...

Even so, come, Lord Jesus.

Monday, December 03, 2012


The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will fulfil the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David; and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. And this is the name by which it will be called: “The Lord is our righteousness.”
Jeremiah 33.14-16
The word that Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem. In days to come the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be raised above the hills; all the nations shall stream to it. Many peoples shall come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.” For out of Zion shall go forth instruction, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more. O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the Lord!
Isaiah 2.1-5
Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
Genesis 12.1-3
In the hill country of the Judean Wilderness, the dust blows across the bare stone, the grey, scrubby vegetation, the land scoured with light.

Paula Gooder, in her book The Meaning is in the Waiting, writes that,
Abram is commanded to leave… all from the greatest to the smallest. All of Abram’s ties are to be cut from the universal to the specific, from the abstract to the concrete, from general living to day to day existence. Abram is to leave them all and ‘go’… With God the command is both to go and to come. The ‘go; element involves leaving behind many things; the command to ‘come’ involves knowing that God will accompany us on the journey… Abram’s call is really a call to waiting… Abram is promised great things, but he doesn’t really see the fruits of this promise in his lifetime.
Waiting. It seems to us passive, a hanging around on someone else’s time, nothing to do. Waiting on God is anything but hanging around. Paula Gooder says (ibid. (introduction)):
Advent, then, calls us into a state of active waiting: a state that recognises and embraces the glimmers of God’s presence in the world, that recalls and celebrates God’s historic yet ever-present actions and the speaks the truth about the almost-but-not-quite nature of our Christian living, which yearns for but cannot quite achieve divine perfection. Most of all, Advent summons us to the present moment, to a still yet active, a tranquil yet steadfast commitment to the life we live now…
What is holy in the land stands, more steady even than the limestone bones of the place, the karst frame that even so seems too fragile to support the weight of God’s presence over so many years.

Friday, November 30, 2012

The Holy Land—Coming Home

It’s more than a week now since I returned to Dorset from the Holy Land, and I’m still struggling to put into words how the trip has affected me.

In Christian terms, the phrase “Holy Land” is usually defined as the area between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea, occupied by present-day Israel and Palestine. It is a Holy Land, though, in very truth, the stone of it, pinned, as it were, to the centre of all that has been made… despite all the centuries of pain and loss, the brokenness, all the politics, the violence, occupation, dispossession; despite all the hope and all the longing, this place is holy in a way quite unlike anywhere else I’ve been.

None of this is to be understood on a historical, nor a cultural level. The encounters with what must be God himself in this place have been unlike anything I’ve felt anywhere else. This is an unmediated land, where the light falls inescapably between then and then, in the place of now.

I had expected a weight of history, a sense of passing cultures—Canaanite, Israelite, Roman, Islamic. I had expected to be startled by a sense of place, moved by memories in the density of stone. I had expected a new angle on the Gospels, perhaps some illumination of the Messianic prophecies they claim to fulfil. I had not expected to walk straight into God.

The Lord said to Moses, ‘I will do the very thing that you have asked; for you have found favour in my sight, and I know you by name.’ Moses said, ‘Show me your glory, I pray.’ And he said, ‘I will make all my goodness pass before you, and will proclaim before you the name, “The Lord”; and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. But’, he said, ‘you cannot see my face; for no one shall see me and live.’ And the Lord continued, ‘See, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock; and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by; then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back; but my face shall not be seen.’

Exodus 33.17-23

We read this passage as it appears in the Lectionary, and somehow we don’t (well, I don’t) expect such an encounter ourselves. And yet this describes exactly how I felt in some places in that Land.

It is easy, somehow, to see how the early Church Fathers came up with the doctrine of the Trinity. The presence of Christ is so strong in places such as Jacob’s Well, where he talked with the Samaritan woman (John 4.1-54), or the place on the shore of the Sea of Galilee where he restored Peter (John 21). The work of the Holy Spirit was plain in incident after incident, in the continual illumination of Scripture as we read our way through our journey, pausing to pray and to read at each stop on the way. But there were times, too, especially in the two afternoons we had to ourselves in Jerusalem, when I was able to be alone, where there was a crystal immediacy that would, save for its measureless mercy, have overcome the little human consciousness as the sun overcomes the brief flowers of the high Judean wilderness. Even then, though, it was difficult even to know what one had known, for lack of words.

I know that for myself I can’t be the same man I was before this trip: that the ancient tales of pilgrimage, the sense that the Holy Land is a place one must visit at least once in a lifetime, have all come true. I’m aware that all this might sound like hyperbole to those whose faith is rooted at home, in deep relationships, the steady pattern of worship. It might seem hyperbole even to some of my fellow pilgrims, or at least like speaking of what should remain hidden, and I’m not really sure myself whether I ought to be so public with these inner things. But I do know that the opposite is true. We are often far too reluctant to speak of God as real, or of what is sometimes called mystical experience as if it were a present possibility for the ordinary Christian like me…

We can have ideas of God, but God is not an idea. We can dream of God, not to mention encounter God in dreams, but God is not a dream. We can hope for, long for God, but God is not wishful thinking. God is real, far more real than we are, and somehow, and for some reason beyond our capacity entirely to understand, he has made this beautiful, tragic, dusty place somewhere he will, if we are even slightly open to him, become to us as David Jones once said, the “actually loved and known.”

Sunday, November 11, 2012

The Holy Land

Off on pilgrimage again, this time to the Holy Land. If I find the chance, I may send a post or two from there. Otherwise, see you all in a fortnight.

Pray for me…

Saturday, November 10, 2012

God is far closer than I had imagined…

Your True Self is who you are in God and who God is in you. You can never really lose your soul; you can only fail to realize it, which is indeed the greatest of losses: to have it but not have it (Matthew 16.26). Your essence, your exact “thisness,” will never appear again in another incarnation. . . .

You (and every other created thing) begin with a divine DNA, an inner destiny as it were, an absolute core that knows the truth about you, a blueprint tucked away in the cellar of your being, an imago Dei that begs to be allowed, to be fulfilled, and to show itself. As it says in Romans (5.5), “It is the Holy Spirit poured into your heart, and it has been given to you.” . . .

John Duns Scotus (1265-1308), the Franciscan philosopher . . .called each soul a unique “thisness” (haecceity), and he said it was to be found in every act of creation in its singularity. For him, God did not create universals, genus, and species, or anything that needed to come back again and again to get it right (reincarnation), but only specific and unique incarnations of the Eternal Mystery—each one chosen, loved, and preserved in existence as itself—by being itself. And this is the glory of God!

Richard Rohr, excerpted from Immortal Diamond: the Search for Our True Self (due for publication February 2013)

The Holy Spirit is the un-thought-of member of the Trinity. He is truly God, yet he is in each of us, the thread that binds us, the light in our eyes—in the eyes of every creature (Psalm 104.27-30).

We cannot touch or see the Holy Spirit, as we cannot touch or see the thisness of ourselves. There are no tests for the presence of the Spirit. Sometimes when we are least aware of it, the Spirit is working most strongly in us.

God is all, and in all. When we know this, when we have seen it for ourselves, we are changed (Galatians 5.22,23) and sometimes hardly recognise ourselves, almost as Mary Magdalene failed to recognise her risen Lord in the dawn garden, till he spoke her name (John 20.16).

I have found these recent days most strange, and the patterned light shifts across the things that are, like leaf-dapples in a summer forest. God is far closer than I had imagined.

Thursday, November 08, 2012

Today, I had an epiphany

[In] finding your True Self, you will have found an absolute reference point that is both utterly within you and utterly beyond you at the very same time. This grounds the soul in big and reliable truth. “My deepest me is God!” St. Catherine of Genoa shouted as she ran through the streets of town, just as Colossians had already shouted to both Jews and pagans, “The mystery is Christ within you—your hope of Glory!” (1:27).

The healthy inner authority of the True Self can now be balanced by a more objective outer authority of Scripture and mature Tradition. Your experience is not just your experience, in other words. That’s what tells you that you are not crazy. That God is both utterly beyond me and yet totally within me at the same time is the exquisite balance that most religion seldom achieves, in my opinion. Now the law is written on both tablets of stone (Exodus 31.18) and within your heart (Deuteronomy 29.12-14), and the old covenant has rightly morphed into the new (Jeremiah 31.31-34).

Richard Rohr, excerpted from Immortal Diamond: the Search for Our True Self (due for publication February 2013)

Today, I had an epiphany. At least, I suppose that’s a reasonable way to describe it, since I can’t think of another word…

I was looking, as it happened, at one of those red emergency call pulls, a red nylon cord with a dangling triangular, red, translucent plastic handle, when I realised that God was in everything—not just in some theoretical, theological way, but actually, tangibly present. Not, you understand, that everything is God, but that he is there, as much as there is space between the subatomic particles of all matter.

More than that, God is at the very heart of all that is, living and true, alive—oh, so gloriously alive—and that that life is love itself. More than that, it is the love of God in Christ that holds us, saves us, builds a bridge between our frail and temporary lives and that measureless permanence that gives to the interstellar chasms their being, as much as to a little red plastic emergency call pull, and to me.

Paul says there is “one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all” (Ephesians 4.6) and that Christ “himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together…” (Colossians 1.17)

That is how it was. I have read and re-read these words in the New Testament, and they have been only words. Today, in a small red plastic triangle, they were plain experience, nothing more.

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

Sunday, November 04, 2012

Unforgettable and shining…

Conservatives look for absolute truth; liberals look for something “real” and authentic. Spouses look for a marriage that will last “’till death do us part.” Believers look for a God who never fails them; scientists look for a universal theory. They are all on the same quest. We are all looking for an immortal diamond: something utterly reliable, something loyal and true, something we can always depend on, something unforgettable and shining.

There is an invitation and an offer for all of these groups from John’s very short Second Letter, when he writes: “There is a truth that lives within us that will be with us forever” (2 John 2). But most of us know very little about this, so we end up as St. Augustine admits in his Confessions: “Late have I loved you, Beauty so very ancient and so ever new. Late have I loved you! You were within, but I was without.”

Richard Rohr, excerpted from Immortal Diamond: the Search for Our True Self (due for publication February 2013)

We are all in the same boat, to begin with. I can remember this quest for “something unforgettable and shining” almost as far back as I can remember anything. Like everyone, I assumed it was outside myself, but I did see even from my early childhood that somehow it was what “made everything work” as I described it to myself.

Thinking it to be outside myself, as I grew up I looked for it in science, art, chemicals, philosophy, sex – everywhere but within. To be honest, I was afraid of what I might find, despite the increasingly reckless experiments I tried.

Gradually, though, I began to find it: not through an increasingly desperate and extreme search for something beyond myself, but truly within, gently, quietly, through prayer and contemplation—not looking for “It” but looking for mercy, for grace; then “the truth that abides in us and will be with us for ever” found me.

It seems to me that only in simultaneously realising that the hollowness, the brokenness, the pain of the world are reflected in me, and that the only response to them is love, however apparently helpless and wounded such loving renders my own heart, that the “unforgettable and shining” opens at the heart’s own core, and reaches out to all creatures, every one.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Faith and not imagination…

It is faith and not imagination that gives us supernatural life, faith that justifies us, faith that leads us to contemplation.
Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation, New Directions, p.154

Faith is not the same as imagination—in fact it is in some ways the diametrical opposite. Faith means looking at the truth the heart knows, and not blinking; standing before God in the utter silence, and listening.

Somehow I think it is faith, and not imagination, which is the work of poets and musicians, and the best of painters and sculptors. We need to look at truth without blinking if we are going to produce work that is likely to last; even if lasting is in the heart of one person who truly listens to an improvised bass fill, played live, and hears the heart of the one who played it, and is different afterwards, perhaps for the rest of their life.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Singleness of heart…

Mysticism begins when the totally transcendent image of God starts to recede; and there’s also a deepening sense of God as imminent, present, here, now, within me. Augustine’s line was “God is more intimate to me than I am to myself” or “more me than I am myself.” St. Catherine of Genoa shouted it in the streets, “My deepest me is God!” In other words, the One Beyond is also one with me…

You must overcome your primary alienation to know truthfully—and what you learn is that the Beyond One is doing the knowing through you! You are not alone. The gap has been overcome from the other side. God is no longer “out there.” At this point, it’s not like one has a new relationship with God; it’s like one has a whole new God! “God himself is my counsellor, and at night my innermost being instructs me,” says the Psalmist (Ps. 16.7).

After the beginnings of mystical experience, one finds that what makes something secular or profane is precisely to live on the surface of anything. It’s not that the sacred is over here and the profane is over there. Everything is profane if you live on the surface of it, and everything is sacred if you go into the depths of it—even your sin. Jesus lived and loved the depths of things, as all mystics do.

So the division for the mystic is not between the secular and the sacred, but between the superficial and the profound. Karl Rahner, the German Jesuit, who was an expert at Vatican II, loved to call this “the mysticism of ordinary life.”

Richard Rohr, excerpted from Immortal Diamond: the Search for Our True Self (due for publication February 2013)

We must be careful how we read this. Rohr is writing very much from inside the experience he is describing, and statements like, “everything is sacred if you go into the depths of it—even your sin” are easily misunderstood. Rohr is not saying that sin is in itself holy; merely that our own sin, if we are truly open to the grace God gives to us through the Cross, is the sacred ground from which our holiness grows, like wheat from the muck that is spread on the land. But the muck of sin must be well ploughed in for it to nourish the grain that falls into the earth and dies (John 12.24).

Jesus himself said, “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God…” Matthew 5.7-8) That purity is singleness of heart, that longing for mercy Paul wrote of in Romans 8.18-24.

Once again, it is the Jesus Prayer that pulls all this together, makes (to the heart, at least) sense of its contradictory truth:

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

Saturday, October 27, 2012

God wastes nothing…

The Perennial Tradition invariably concludes that you initially cannot see what you are looking for because what you are looking for is doing the looking. God is never an object to be found or possessed as we find other objects, but the One who shares your own deepest subjectivity—or your “self.” We normally called it our soul. Religion called it “the Divine Indwelling…”
For the True Self, there is nothing to hate, reject, deny, or judge as unworthy or unnecessary. It has “been forgiven much and so it loves much” (Luke 7.47). Compassion and mercy come easily now, once you live from inside the Big Body of love. The detours of the False Self were all just delaying tactics, bumps in the road, pressure points that created something new in the long run, as pressure does to carbon deep beneath the earth. God uses everything to construct this hard and immortal diamond, our core of love. And diamonds, they say, are the hardest substance on this earth. It is this strong diamond of love that will always be stronger than death.
Richard Rohr, excerpted from Immortal Diamond: the Search for Our True Self (due for publication February 2013)
We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. (Romans 8.28)
It’s hard to write about things like this without making oneself out to be more than one is – or I find it so, anyway. But what experience I do have does bear out what Rohr is saying here. It was Julian of Norwich who wrote, “Lord Jesus, I have heard you say: ‘Sin is behovely, but all will be well, and all will be well, and every kind of thing will be well’.”

God wastes nothing. The human heart is built to feed on pain, even as it lives in joy, much as we might like not to admit it; from that nourishment grow some of the loveliest flowers of our kind. After all, on that soil grew the great Tree of the Cross…

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

On knowing…

In the first aborted ending to Mark’s Gospel—the oldest Gospel—the text ends on a very disappointing and thus likely truthful note: “They ran away from the tomb frightened out of their wits. They said nothing to a soul, for they were afraid” (16:5-8).

Such running from resurrection has been a prophecy for Christianity, and much of religion, just as in these early Scriptures. I interpret this as the human temptation to run from and deny not just the divine presence, but our own true selves, that is, our souls, our inner destiny, our true identity. Your True Self is that part of you that knows who you are and whose you are, although largely unconsciously. Your False Self is just who you think you are—but thinking doesn’t make it so.

We are made for transcendence and endless horizons, but our small ego usually gets in the way until we become aware of its petty preoccupations and eventually seek a deeper truth. It is like mining for a diamond. We must dig deep, and yet seem reluctant, even afraid, to do so.

We are not so at home with the resurrected form of things despite a yearly springtime, healings in our bodies, the ten thousand forms of newness in every event and every life. The death side of things grabs our imagination and fascinates us as fear and negativity always do, I am sad to say. We have to be taught how to look for anything infinite, positive, or good, which for some reason is much more difficult.

We have spent centuries of philosophy trying to solve “the problem of evil,” yet I believe the much more confounding and astounding issue is “the problem of good.” How do we account for so much gratuitous and sheer goodness in this world? Tackling this problem would achieve much better results.

Somehow resurrection—which I am going to equate with the revelation of our True Selves—is actually a risk and a threat to the world as we have constructed it. After any “raising up” of our True Selves, we will no longer fit into many groups, even much of religious society, which is often obsessed with and yet indulgent of the False Self, because that is all it knows.

Richard Rohr, excerpted from Immortal Diamond: the Search for Our True Self (due for publication February 2013)

It seems to me, deeply scary though it sounds, as though we must die to the idea of God, the idea of Christ as the Jesus of countless retold stories, in order to meet him at all. As Cynthia Bourgeault points out in her book Wisdom Jesus, his early disciples did not meet the Jesus we know, the crucified and risen Saviour of the world. They met a most unusual Man, and they weren’t sure who he was, or where his life really began… and yet they knew, they knew something so profound that they would give up everything to follow him, be near him, listen to his words and witness the things he did.

“Your True Self is that part of you that knows who you are and whose you are, although largely unconsciously.” We do know, if only we will stop thinking about how we know. The encounter with Christ takes place beyond all boundaries of history and geography, and our hearts will know him, as surely as we know our own breathing, even as our minds struggle even to name the truth we have just walked into.

Thursday, October 04, 2012

On the Feast of St Francis...

On our great feast day of Francis, let me elaborate a little further on what we Franciscans believe to be “the Univocity of all Being.” Univocity, in Latin, means “one voice.” When you speak of God, when you speak of angels, when you speak of humans, when you speak of animals, when you speak of trees, when you speak of fish, when you speak of the earth, you are using the word “Being” univocally, or with one foundational and common meaning.

They all participate in the same Being to varying degrees. And being is One, as is God. It might seem like an abstract philosophical position, but I hope you can see how life-changing it is. Now we have an inclusive and consistent universe where everything is sacred, where you can’t divide the world into the sacred and profane any more. God is revealed in everything and uses everything without exception (1 Corinthians 15.28; Colossians 3.11).

Thus later biographers have brilliantly called Francis “an authentic spiritual genius” and “our one sincere democrat” (lowercase “d”). Today we bless all the creatures in his honour!

Richard Rohr, from an unpublished talk in Assisi, Italy, May 2012

Interestingly, in the verses Rohr has quoted here, it is in Christ that this unity comes about. This, as much as anything, seems to be what the Incarnation is all about: creation itself, matter, is drawn into God, is of one being with him, just as Christ himself is described in the Nicene Creed.

This always reminds me of the concept of Buddha-nature, of which Orgyen Tobgyal Rinpoche writes: "It is because this ground or sugatagarbha or potential is common to all beings that they are capable of attaining enlightenment. If they did not have such a ground then they could never become buddhas."

Of course all this is implicit in Scripture, especially in the first chapter of St John's Gospel, and in the "farewell discourses" of our Lord that John records in chapters 13-17. It took St Francis, with his clear sight and extraordinary openness, to show the Church what it might look like in the "actually loved and known", as David Jones put it.

Monday, October 01, 2012

Sinking down to the seed…

Give over thine own willing, give over thy own running, give over thine own desiring to know or be anything and sink down to the seed which God sows in the heart, and let that grow in thee and be in thee and breathe in thee and act in thee; and thou shalt find by sweet experience that the Lord knows that and loves and owns that, and will lead it to the inheritance of Life, which is its portion.

Isaac Penington,1661, from Quaker Faith & Practice

This sinking down to the seed is the heart of our prayer, who are called to this odd way of relating to God. When we pray through the darkness, holding to the way we’ve been called into, whether the Jesus Prayer, centring prayer, or any other contemplative way, then a knowledge of God grows in us, opening very slowly, till we become aware of it not by any direct perception, but by seeing it reflected in all that is loved. That way, it is shared, and with it the grace and mercy that Christ is, with creation itself, and with each separate and longing creature that has been made.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Gentle lightning…

We are told that St. Francis used to spend whole nights praying the same prayer: “Who are you, God? And who am I?” Evelyn Underhill claims it’s almost the perfect prayer. The abyss of your own soul and the abyss of the nature of God have opened up, and you are falling into both of them simultaneously. Now you are in a new realm of Mystery and grace, where everything good happens!

Notice how the prayer of Francis is not stating anything but just asking open-ended questions. It is the humble, seeking, endless horizon prayer of the mystic that is offered out of complete trust. You know that such a prayer will be answered, because there has already been a previous answering, a previous epiphany, a previous moment where the ground opened up and you knew you were in touch with infinite mystery and you knew you were yourself infinite mystery. You only ask such grace-filled questions, or any question for that matter, when they have already begun to be answered.


Somehow I find the openness of St Francis’ prayer extraordinarily moving. As I wrote the other day, we humans are very slow to trust, even in our own Creator and Redeemer. In our own prayer, we reach up to God, but only in response to his grace—to the movement of his Holy Spirit towards us. It’s a bit like a lightning stroke, perhaps—as the stepped leader reaches down from the cloud to earth, so a smaller streamer of opposite charge reaches up from earth to meet it. When they touch, the great lightning stroke itself is formed.

We are too prone to credit ourselves with the responsibility for our own spiritual lives. Thank God, we don’t have such a heavy burden to carry. Being created things, we depend entirely upon the mercy of God, Christ, of whom John wrote, “All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being.” All that we are rests in God, and his touch awakens us to reach up to him, as a sleepy cat will sometimes reach up her paw to someone reaching down to touch her…

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Swimming in mercy...

…When we think of mercy, we should be thinking first and foremost of a bond, an infallible link of love that holds the created and uncreated realms together. The mercy of God does not come and go, granted to some and refused to others. Why? Because it is unconditional - always there, underlying everything. It is literally the force that holds everything in existence, the gravitational field in which we live and move and have our being. Just like [the] little fish swimnming desperately in search of water, we, too - in the words of Psalm 103 - "swim in mercy as in an endless sea." Mercy is God's innermost being turned outward to sustain the visible and created world in unbreakable love.
Cynthia Bourgeault, Mystical Hope

"God's innermost being turned outward..."?

"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being... And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth." (John 1.1,2,14)

The mercy of God, in which we swim as in an endless sea, is Christ himself, who says, "Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them." and, "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." (John 6.56; 17.20,21)

We are not beyond mercy, outside mercy, or bereft of it; nor can we be. When we cry out to Christ for his mercy, we are crying out as those who seek to realise what they already have, like the man who cried out "I believe; help my unbelief!" (Mark 9.24)

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Faithful at any cost?

Many people live with the unconscious or conscious expectation that eventually things will get better; wars, hunger, poverty, oppression, and exploitation will vanish; and all people will live in harmony.  Their lives and work are motivated by that expectation.  When this does not happen in their lifetimes, they are often disillusioned and experience themselves as failures.

But Jesus doesn't support such an optimistic outlook.  He foresees not only the destruction of his beloved city Jerusalem but also a world full of cruelty, violence, and conflict.  For Jesus there is no happy ending in this world.  The challenge of Jesus is not to solve all the world's problems before the end of time but to remain faithful at any cost.

Henri Nouwen - with thanks to the Henri Nouwen Society

Faithfulness; trust; mercy. It seems to me that these three are inextricably linked. God's mercy, Christ himself, is faithful beyond our imagining, and it is only in him that our own little faithfulness can subsist at all. We trust so little.

Irma Zaleski says, "It is our failure of trust, our turning away from God and focusing on ourselves - our self-centredness - our need to protect ourselves at all cost, which the Fathers considered the root of all sin. Because we are unable to anybody or anything, and, above all else, because we are unable to trust God, we are compelled to reply on our own resources, to attempt to find our own happiness, and to fulfil our own desires and needs. We are imprisoned, stranded on the island of our self. We are all exiles from Paradise."

The only way out is repentance: trusting God in Christ enough to give up struggling, give up our self-reliance, and to cry out unceasingly, like some 21st-century Bartimaeus, for mercy, in whatever words, or wordlessness, we are given...

Sunday, September 16, 2012

The Name of Jesus

36. The use of the Holy Name not only brings anew the knowledge of our own union with Jesus in His incarnation. The Name is also an instrument by which we may obtain a wider view of Our Lord's relation to all that God has made. The Name of Jesus helps us to transfigure the world into Christ (without any pantheistic confusion). Here is another aspect of the invocation of the Name: it is a method of transfiguration.

37. It is so in regard to nature. the natural universe may be considered the handwork of the Creator... It can be considered as the visible symbol of the invisible divine beauty... And yet all this is insufficient. Creation is not static. It moves, striving and groaning, towards Christ as its fulfilment and end. (Romans 8.21,22) What we call the inanimate world is carried along by a Christward movement. All things were converging towards the Incarnation. The natural elements and the products of the earth, rock and wood, water and oil, corn and wine, were to acquire a new meaning and to become signs and means of grace. All creation mysteriously utters the Name of Jesus: 'I tell you that, if these should hold their peace, the stones would immediately cry out.' (Luke 19.40) It is the utterance of his Name that Christians should hear in nature. By pronouncing the Name of Jesus upon natural things, upon a stone or a tree, a fruit or a flower, the sea or a landscape, or whatever it is, the believer speaks aloud to the secret of these things, he brings them to their fulfilment, he give an answer to their long and apparently dumb waiting... We shall say the Name of Jesus in union with all creation...

38. The animal world may also be transfigured by us. When Jesus remained forty days in the wilderness, he 'was with the wild beasts.' (Mark 1.13) We do no know what happened then, but we may be assured that no living creature is lift untouched by Jesus' influence. Jesus himself said of the sparrows that 'not one of them is forgotten before God.' (Luke 12.6) We are like Adam when he had to give a name to all the animals... Scientists call them as they think fit. As to us, if we invoke the Name of Jesus upon the animals, we give them back their primitive dignity which we so easily forget--the dignity of living beings being created and cared for by God in Jesus and for Jesus...

On the Invocation of the Name of Jesus, Lev Gillet (A Monk of the Orthodox Church)
Fellowship of St. Alban and St. Sergius, 1949

This is one of the most extraordinary and profound passages on prayer that I have read. (The 'Invocation of the Name of Jesus' referred to is, of course, the Jesus Prayer, as the book explains elsewhere.) All that is necessary in prayer is to bring those we hold in our hearts, in our perception even, into the presence of Christ by this prayer of the Name.

Yet Gillet's theology of the Prayer is more radical even than this. (It is small wonder this little book is not better known nor more widely available!) Earlier he writes:

27. The Name of Jesus brings us more than his presence. Jesus is present in the Name as a Saviour, for the word 'Jesus' means just this: saviour or salvation... Jesus began his earthly mission by healing and forgiving...

28. The Name of Jesus not only helps us to obtain the fulfilment of our needs... (John 16.23-24) But the Name of Jesus already supplies our needs. When we require the succour of Our Lord we should pronounce his Name in faith and hope, believing that we already receive what we ask for. Jesus Himself is the supreme satisfaction of all men's needs. And He is that now, as we pray. Let us not regard our prayer in relation to fulfilment in the future, but in relation to fulfilment in Jesus now. He is more than the giver of what we and others need. He is also the gift. He is both giver and gift, containing in Himself all good things... This is quite another thing than if he had merely given them to us. Now we may find in his Name all that he is. Therefore the Name of Jesus, in so far as it links us with Jesus Himself, is already a mystery of salvation...


When I discovered this little pamphlet (it is only 32 pages long) on the bookshelf in one of the guest houses at Hilfield Friary, it was like discovering that someone had put words to my own deepest intuitions and longings. It struck me speechless for a long time, and I am only just beginning to try and think through some of the implications, at least for my own life of prayer. I'll try to write more here shortly.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Fasting of the heart…

Fasting of the heart means hearing, but not with the ear... The hearing that is only in the ears is one thing. The hearing of the understanding is another. But the hearing of the spirit is not limited to any one faculty, to the ear, or to the mind. Hence it demands the emptiness of all the faculties. And when the faculties are empty, then the whole being listens. There is then a direct grasp of what is right there before you that can never be heard with the ear or understood with the mind. Fasting of the heart empties the faculties, frees you from limitation and from preoccupations. Fasting of the heart begets unity and freedom... If you can do this, you will be able to go among men in their world without upsetting them. You will not enter into conflict with their ideal image of themselves...

Look at this window. It is nothing but a hole in the wall, but because of it the whole room is full of light. So when the faculties are empty, the heart is full of light. Being full of light, it becomes an influence, by which others are secretly transformed.

The Way of Chuang Tzu Thomas Merton, with thanks to Diane Walker

Fasting of the heart… I have hesitated to post here, because I haven’t had the words for what has been happening within by own heart. Perhaps a kind of fasting is the best way to describe it. So much that we mistake for certainty is in fact preconception, and we cling to our preconceptions as to lifebelts in the great wash of God’s presence.

We do not realise the vastness of God – at least, I don’t – the sheer appalling otherness of this istigkeit we presume to worship.

Aslan is no tame lion, as CS Lewis reminded us. Our Lord’s incarnation is often said to dissolve the distances between God and man, but what kind of a man was it his disciples, the women and men who walked and ate and drank with him day in and day out, actually knew? He terrified them on occasion (Matthew 14:22-33), struck them witless with awe (Luke 9:23-33), baffled them (John 6.43-68), and, after his resurrection, was at times simply unrecognisable (Luke 24.15-16; John 20.14-15).

“…what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them?” as the Psalmist (8.4) says. A presence so great that he encompasses the galaxies, the vast interstellar chasms, and yet knows and cares for the fall of a sparrow… What can we know of such a presence, except what we are shown by him?

Tiny and broken, what can we cry but, Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner?

Monday, August 13, 2012

The George Smileys of the spiritual life…

Hiddenness is an essential quality of the spiritual life. Solitude, silence, ordinary tasks, being with people without great agendas, sleeping, eating, working, playing ... all of that without being different from others, that is the life that Jesus lived and the life he asks us to live.  It is in hiddenness that we, like Jesus, can increase “in wisdom, in stature, and in favour with God and with people” (Luke 2.51).  It is in hiddenness that we can find a true intimacy with God and a true love for people.

Even during his active ministry, Jesus continued to return to hidden places to be alone with God.  If we don't have a hidden life with God, our public life for God cannot bear fruit.

Henri Nouwen, from Bread for the Journey

It’s tempting to think of hiddenness as more dramatic than it is: heroic journeys to the depths of the wilderness, hermits whose very doors have been bricked up. And yet that isn’t really hiddenness—extreme eremitism brings its own fame.

Hiddenness, especially in today’s society, is much more likely to consist in being plain and unremarkable, George Smileys of the spiritual life…

I don’t find this easy. I’m as drawn as the next person to getting up to things that may show me in a favourable light, to getting involved with visible stuff to a point where I can no longer remain hidden. A lot of these things are good and useful in themselves, and yet they don’t seem to help with the life of prayer at all. I’ve explored these things before in this blog, yet I don’t seem any closer to an answer. Meanwhile, I still long to live like ivy, constant in the shadowed places…

Saturday, August 11, 2012

A blessing of St Clare of Assisi

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. May the Lord bless you and keep you. May he show his face to you and be merciful to you. May he turn his countenance to you, my sisters, and daughters, and give peace to you, and to all the others who come and remain in your company as well as to others now and in the future, who have persevered in every other monastery of the Poor Ladies.

I, Clare, a servant of Christ, a little plant of our most holy Father Francis, a sister and mother of you and the other poor sisters, although unworthy, beg our Lord Jesus Christ through his mercy and the intercession of his most holy Mother Mary and blessed Michael the Archangel and all the holy angels of God, of our blessed Father Francis, and all men and women saints, that the heavenly Father give you and confirm for you this most holy blessing in heaven and on earth. On earth, may he multiply you in his grace and his virtues among his servants and handmaids in his Church Militant. In heaven, may he exalt you and glorify you among his men and women saints in his Church Triumphant.

I bless you during my life and after my death, as I am able, out of all the blessings with which the Father of mercies has and does bless his sons and daughters in heaven and on earth and a spiritual father and mother have blessed and bless their spiritual sons and daughters. Amen.

Always be lovers of your souls and those of all your sisters. And may you always be eager to observe what you have promised the Lord.

May the Lord always be with you and may you always be with him. Amen.

The Testament of St Clare

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

The very earth of Heaven...

All great spirituality teaches about letting go of what you don’t need and who you are not. Then, when you can get little enough and naked enough and poor enough, you’ll find that the little place where you really are is ironically more than enough and is all that you need. At that place, you will have nothing to prove to anybody and nothing to protect.
That place is called freedom. It’s the freedom of the children of God. Such people can connect with everybody. They don’t feel the need to eliminate anybody because they’ve come to the place where, as I like to say, everything belongs. To live from this place cuts the roots of violence at their very foundation, for there is not even any basis for fear or anger or protection or hatred. Negativity must be nipped in the bud—that is to say, in the mind.
Richard Rohr
I often think of this strange freedom - as regular readers will remember, there have been times over the seven years I've been blogging here when things have been very much stripped away - and of how often I have found these words of Rohr's to be quite concretely true. (This post details the beginning of these things, and this one the continuation.)

CS Lewis, in The Great Divorce, puts these words into the mouth of one of the saints in Heaven, "There is no meantime... All that is over. We are not playing now..."

Indeed. This is the kind of place Fr Richard's "little place" is, and as he points out, "At that place, you will have nothing to prove to anybody and nothing to protect."

This is not "a" freedom. It is not one of several we may choose amongst. It is freedom, and eventually, it will be all we have. It is, as Lewis saw so clearly, the very earth of Heaven...

Monday, August 06, 2012

The Ground of Mercy

...True solitude is selfless. Therefore, it is rich in silence and charity and peace. It finds in itself seemingly inexhaustible resources of good to bestow on other people.
The true solitary must recognize that he is obliged to love other men and even all things created by God... Love is his solitude
Thomas Merton, No Man Is An Island pp.248, 251

What we think we are, the things we use usually to define our identities, will not outlast us. They are nothing but straw in the wind, less than the blown spray of the rising waves: for we have died, and our lives are hidden with Christ in God (Colossians 3.3).

In her book Living the Jesus Prayer, Irma Zaleski writes:
The way of the Jesus prayer has been called “white martyrdom.” It is the way of the Cross, because there is no greater pain than to stand in the total poverty of our human weakness,to see clearly our misery, our inability to be good. The temptation to judge ourselves, to hate ourselves, would be irresistible if we did not know and had not experienced the merciful, healing power of Jesus.  (pp.42-43)
It is a mistake, though, to see it as something outside ourselves, or something that could be imposed by a superior on another. Only God can call us, as Irma Zaleski points out:
How do we know that we are called to this way of prayer? In a way, we don't. If we feel drawn to try it, we should try it. It doesn't really matter what our motives are. If our motives are not pure (and whose ever are?), God will purify them. If it is not God's will for us, we shall not persevere, but if it is God's will, we shall soon know. The Jesus Prayer, like any true love, is never imposed on us. It never does violence to our deepest spiritual desires and longings, but instead fulfils them. (ibid., pp.16-18)
Lord, lead us each, lead me, into the way of true repentance. Show us the condition of being human; lead us back to the Ground of our being...

Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me, a sinner...

Friday, July 27, 2012

To shelter and embrace the distressed...

In many ways, Jesus and Buddha were talking about the same experience of human transformation.

Suffering is the teacher of transformation for both of them. It is the only thing strong enough to grab our attention and defeat the ego. Suffering, for me, is whenever we are not in control. It is our opposition to the moment, our inner resistance that says, “I don’t want it to be this way.” The ego is always trying to control reality and therefore it is invariably suffering, because reality is never fully what we want.

Jesus’ suffering on the cross was a correct diagnosis and revelation of the human dilemma. It was an invitation to enter into solidarity with the pain of the world, and our own pain. Lady Julian of Norwich understood it so well, as if to say, “There is only one suffering and we all share in it.” That is the way all mystics eventually see it. That is the way the Buddha saw it. There is only one suffering, and for Christians Jesus personified that surrender to that cosmic mystery—a “non-resistance” to reality until we learn its deepest lessons. The ultimate lesson is always resurrection.

Richard Rohr, adapted from Jesus and Buddha: Paths to Awakening

I've been thinking a lot about this, recently. The first of the Buddha's Four Noble Truths is the truth of suffering; the last, that there is a path to the end of suffering.

The Buddha said, "Compassion is that which makes the heart of the good move at the pain of others. It crushes and destroys the pain of others; thus, it is called compassion. It is called compassion because it shelters and embraces the distressed."

The compassion of God is everlasting love and mercy: "By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace." (Luke 1.78-79)

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Surb, surb

Surb, Surb by Jan Garbarek with the Hilliard Ensemble. Some of the most glorious music I know. The translation is as follows:

Holy, Holy Lord of Hosts. The heavens and earth are filled with your glory
Bless all the works of the Lord, Praise the Lord.
Hosanna in the Highest.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Are you experienced?

The heart-stirrings of a good man are good; those of a wicked person are wicked; but everyone must learn how to combat intrusive thoughts, and turn the bad into good. This is the mark of the soul that is well versed.

How does this come about, you will ask?

Here is the way of it: just as a man knows when he is cold or when he feels hot, so does the man who has experienced the Holy Spirit know when grace is in his soul, or when evil spirits approach.
The Lord gives the soul understanding to recognize His coming, and love Him and do His will. In the same way the soul recognizes thoughts which proceed from the enemy, not by their outward form but by their effect on her [the soul].
This is knowledge born of experience; and the man with no experience is easily duped by the enemy.

St Silouan - with thanks to Glory to God for all Things

To be vulnerable to one's own heart - that's the thing. Only by being prepared to listen into the hollow of one's very being (a thing some Buddhists call  vipassanā) can we begin truly to allow the Spirit to pray in us, for us...

Likewise 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. (Romans 8.26-27)

Sunday, July 22, 2012

The Feast of Mary Magdalene

...Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. They said to her, "Woman, why are you weeping?" She said to them, "They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him." When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, "Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?" Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, "Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away." Jesus said to her, "Mary!" She turned and said to him in Hebrew, "Rabbouni!" (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, "Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, 'I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'" Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, "I have seen the Lord"; and she told them that he had said these things to her.
John 20.11-18
Mary, love and faith have brought you here again to us today, remembering you as Apostle to the Apostles, she whom her Lord trusted to bear the Gospel to the disciples in hiding, and through them, to the world, to the long centuries: to us, here, today, again.

Blessed is she who believed, and herself, trusted: and went out from the garden...

Saturday, July 21, 2012


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

The past three weeks have been a bit of a roller-coaster, health wise, and it has been difficult to find my blogging voice in the ups and downs. Nouwen is right, here, though: it is in our own brokenness that we become of use to others, in that peculiar way that God has of bringing good out of even appalling circumstances, as Paul describes so well in Romans 8.28.

For a long time now I have been moved, sometimes to tears, by the thought that the risen Christ, glorified to the point where some of his closest friends often did not recognise him (Luke 24.16; John 20.14-15), able to materialise and dematerialise at will (Luke 24.31,36; John 20.19,26) still bore the marks of his crucifixion (John 20.28 among other references) plainly visible and tangible. His was not a perfected, airbrushed resurrection, but a resurrection that carried within it the wounds that made us whole (Isaiah 53.5; 1 Peter 2.24).

We cannot expect any less. Forgiven for our cruelties, our callousness, our constant selfishness, healed from the wounds that have been given us by others, we still bear the marks, plainly enough, of what we have been through. It cannot be otherwise; if we were not so scarred, how could we bring solace to anyone else’s pain?

Monday, July 02, 2012

The perch of hope within the soul...

Hope takes us entirely out of this world while we remain bodily in the midst of it. Our minds retain their clear views of what is good in creatures. Our wills remain chaste and solitary in the midst of all created beauty...
Thomas Merton, No Man Is An Island
I wonder if a mental grasping after some such understanding is not the source of a misunderstanding that has dogged Christianity, in the form of various heresies, yet never far from warping orthodox teaching itself - the misunderstanding that spirit is good, while flesh (created things) is bad. (That, and the mistranslation of the Greek sarx as if it were soma!)
Hope is not something we do. It can never be grasped, and even to reach for it is to lose it, time and time again. Emily Dickinson said it well:
Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune without the words,
And never stops at all,

And sweetest in the gale is heard;
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.

I've heard it in the chillest land
And on the strangest sea;
Yet, never, in extremity,
It asked a crumb of me.
We can only await the perching of the "thing with feathers," receive it as a gift from the pierced hand of Christ himself, Our prayer, if it is true prayer, is a searching for God himself, for his sake; that is why the wide fields of contemplative prayer open onto that chaste solitude of which Merton writes. If we come to prayer with a clear view of what is good in creatures, we shall come with a clear view of what is not good for them, too, and so we shall come "with the needs of the world on our heart." (Michael Ramsey) and our prayer will be for the healing of all that is broken, all that weeps and is afraid, and suffers and cries out with no-one to answer. As our pain became Christ's, so their pain will become ours, and we shall lift it again to him, to the endless mystery of the Cross...
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner...

Friday, June 29, 2012

Not seeing in the dark...

The path of descent is the path of transformation. Darkness, failure, relapse, death, and woundedness are our primary teachers, rather than ideas or doctrines...

Ladder-climbing Western culture, and the clinging human ego, made the Gospel into a message of spiritual advancement—ascent rather than descent. We hopefully do advance in “wisdom, age, and grace” (Luke 2.40), but not at all in the way we thought. Jesus again got it right! He brilliantly and personally taught the way of the cross and not the way of climbing.

We come to God much more by doing it wrong than by doing it right. God absolutely leveled the human playing field by using our sins and failures to bring us to divine union. This is surely the most counterintuitive message of the Gospels—so counterintuitive that it largely remains hidden in plain sight.

Richard Rohr, June 2012

This is hard for us to accept, or even understand. Even within the life of faith we expect to be able to say, "Every day, in every way, I am getting better and better..." We look for concrete progress in holiness, deepening commitment to church responsibilities, significant achievements in evangelism and what used to be called "corporal works of mercy". The Buddhist teacher and writer Chogyam Trungpa famously called this attitude "spiritual materialism", and we Christians are as good at it as any,

The paradox is that if we do follow Jesus on the way of the Cross, we will grow in holiness, and all the rest of it - but only so long as it is our Lord whom we're following for his own sake, and not for what we might receive. (This I think is perhaps what Jesus meant at when he said (John 6.26) that people were looking for him for what they could get.)

I know myself - but only in retrospect - that the times in my life when changes, transformations as Rohr calls them, have taken place have been low  times, times when I often haven't been able to see God's hand in events at all, but only darkness and shame and confusion. Perhaps this is what faith is: to hold on to God, to love him best of all, when nothing shows him to us, and the road is black with loss.

Sometimes, unteachable, I have wondered how to hang onto these depths of faith in the good times, like now, when all around seems to be going well, and happiness is a daily fact. It isn't possible. God knows when, and how much, we need these shadow times, these times of hollowness and pain. Even if we were able to administer this medicine ourselves, we would probably destroy ourselves. Like seeds, we can only really grow in darkness - and we can't see in the dark...

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Struggling again…

In the autumn, I wrote about some of the struggles I’d been having on high doses of steroids (for sarcoidosis) and of my hopes for some respite from the side-effects on a reduced dose. Having done quite well on a holding dose for six months, I began, three weeks ago I think, on my consultant’s advice, finally to taper off the dose altogether. I had not anticipated where this would lead…

Being on corticosteroids for a relatively long period causes the adrenal glands effectively to shut down; tapering off the dose puts one into a condition of adrenal insufficiency, the idea being that the adrenal glands will wake up to the fact that no-one is doing their work for them any more, and they had better get it together and start work again. This does not feel good for the unfortunate owner of the said glands, at all. The fatigue, aches and pains, hypoglycaemia and erratic blood pressure are bearable enough I suppose, but the psychological symptoms are a problem. Depression with teeth might be a good description. It certainly does not help creative work, blogging included.

Oddly enough, though, somewhere inside here the work goes on. God is good, always. Prayer is not only possible, but nourishing and healing in a way I find impossible to convey properly in words. And reading Cynthia Bourgeault, though very slow indeed (I can only read a few pages at a time, before they blur into visual noise and/or I fall asleep) is an adventure I wish I could do justice to here. I really do look forward to thinking through with you people some of what she has to say about apophatic vs. cataphatic prayer—and why I disagree with her about the Jesus Prayer. Pray for me for a gap in the fog so I can do just that.

Maybe simply having got this off my chest here will help, much as I hate being personal like this in public. If you are going through anything like this yourself, know this: God does not turn away. He’s in this with you, if only you will surrender sufficiently to hear his voice, feel his touch. Don’t stop praying, even when it feels pointless, barren. People sometimes say, “I can’t pray, though…” Of course you can. Anyone can repeat the words of the Jesus Prayer, or the Latin Rosary. It may not feel like it’s doing the slightest good, but that’s not the point. God is still there. He knows. Jesus promised that no-one and nothing can snatch us out of his hand (John 10.27-30). He knew abandonment and despair, because he emptied himself and became like us. But he rose in glory from the worst that could possibly happen to him, and his pierced hands are still open to each of us even now…

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

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Asleep in the Mercy…

Very often the word “awakening” is used to describe the ways of God in the heart of his people (e.g. Timothy Jones’ Awake my Soul or Cynthia Bourgeault’s Centring Prayer and Inner Awakening) and of course in many ways this is a good image. God does, by his grace, wake us from the half-conscious life we live in the world, caught among images and the desire for images, living in a reality that is far from real, but a kind of user interface with reality—for, as Eliot said, “human kind / Cannot bear very much reality.”

In a recent article in Church Times, Tony Horsfall (the quote is from his recent book Rhythms of Grace: Finding Intimacy with God) wrote, “We live in a God-bathed world. There is no place where God is not, although sometimes we may be asleep in his presence.” I know what he means, and of course we have all known times like this, when we realise we have spent the entire space of the Eucharistic prayer at Mass thinking about HTML5, or the need to weed the garden. But truly being asleep, sound asleep, in the presence of God, falling asleep in the conscious presence of God, consciously longing for the mercy of Christ, and letting oneself slip into sleep as into that mercy—that is something different, and I would want to be clear about the distinction…

I seem to be collecting a little cache of writings about this, and I don’t want to repeat myself here, so do start with this Lent’s post The Shores of Perception, which links back to the earlier posts—or else just click “dreams” in the tag cloud in the sidebar. There is so much more to explore here, and yet by its very essence it is hard to capture, sitting here at a keyboard. But I will try, over the next few weeks I will try as best I can…

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Grace abounding…

Grace—it’s a strange concept for those of us who’ve become used to the “no such thing as a free lunch” way of thinking. It seems literally to be too good to be true. We cannot believe the universe works this way, that, as Cynthia Bourgeault writes:

…you will suddenly find yourself set down in a very different universe from the one we have grown accustomed to inhabiting in these recent, post-Enlightenment centuries. Rather than living in a “clockwork” universe run on implacable scientific principles by an absentee landlord God—or, even more desolate, a totally random, nobody-in-charge universe where the only law is the law of the jungle—instead you wake up inside a warm-hearted and purposive intelligence, a coherence of which you yourself are part of the expression…

Everything is given—and this is not some theoretical, abstract theological concept, a kind of story religious people tell each other to take their minds of the cold and the dark. Nothing is of final value earned—we could never deserve that. As Richard Rohr once said,

If it's too idealized and pretty, if it's somewhere floating around up in the air, it's probably not the Gospel. We come back, again and again, to this marvellous touchstone of orthodoxy, the Eucharist. Eucharist, in the first physical incarnation in the body of Jesus, is now continued in space and time in ordinary food…

You don’t have to put spirit and matter together; they have been together ever since the Big Bang, 14.6 billion years ago (see Genesis 1.1-2 and John 1.1-5). You have to get on your knees and recognize this momentous truth as already and always so. The Eucharist offers microcosmic moments of belief, and love of what is cosmically true. It will surely take a lifetime of kneeling and surrendering, trusting and letting go, believing and saying, “How could this be true?”

It is all gift. What we need, at the very deepest level, is already there, in the open, pierced hand held out to us. And yet it is very concrete—in our sisters and brothers we know that sustaining love in very truth, warm and breathing. We have only to be broken enough to need it. And love is strong as death… it outlasts the grave, lifts the orbits of the spheres, nourishes the star-fields… it is God himself.

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

The Mercy...

Mercy is the length and breadth and height and depth of what we know of God—and the light by which we know it. You might even think of it as the Being of God insofar as we can possibly penetrate into it in this life, so that it is impossible to encounter God apart from the dimension of mercy.
The choice of term may seem a bit odd. Today “mercy”—along with so many other classic words in our spiritual tradition—has developed a negative connotation. It seems to suggest power and condescension, a transaction between two vastly unequal parties. A friend of mine, in fact, was told by her spiritual director that she should not pray the Jesus Prayer—“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy one me,” the mainstay of Eastern Orthodox contemplative spirituality—because “it reinforces medieval stereotypes of paternalism and powerlessness.” Modern people, this spiritual director felt, need to be told that they are worthy, “that they can stand on their own two feet before God.”
But the word “mercy” comes profoundly attested to in our Judeo-Christian spiritual heritage. Aside from the fact that the Jesus Prayer, hallowed by two millennia of Christian practice, has been consistently singled out... as the most powerful prayer a Christian can pray, we simply cannot get away from the Mercy without getting away from the Bible as well. The word confronts us at every turn, as a living reality of our faith...
Cynthia Bourgeault Mystical Hope: Trusting in the Mercy of God (Cloister Books) pp.20-22
I have to confess, without wishing to be unpleasant to Bourgeault's friend's SD, to finding the idea of standing on my own two feet before God so utterly silly as to be almost funny. This has far less to do with my own ingrained stereotypes of paternalism and powerlessness than with the odd few fleeting little glimpses of God's own Being that have been granted me over the years. The legend of King Canute on the seashore comes to mind.

Cynthia Bourgeault comes closer, in this wonderful little book, than almost anyone else I've read to describing what this way of prayer actually feels like.

Living in the Mercy, since that is what having the Jesus Prayer at the centre of one's spiritual life over al long period actually seems to be, As Bourgeault describes so well in the last few pages of Mystical Hope, we become changed, gradually, at a level which the everyday parts of our minds may come to observe, but which they can never directly access nor control. At this level, all is God's. The part of ourselves that St Paul calls σάρξ, sarx, translated variously as “flesh” (NRSV, KJV etc.) “human nature” (ISV), “sinful nature” (NIV) chunters on, doing what it does, and yet we are no longer under any obligation to take that much notice of its panics and enticements (Romans 8.12). As Bourgeault says, “Hope is not imaginary or illusory. It is that sonar by which the body of Christ holds together and finds its way. If we, as living members of the body of Christ, can surrender our hearts, re-enter the righteousness, and listen for that sonar with all we are worth it will again guide us... to the future for which we are intended. And the body of Christ will live, and thrive, and hold us tenderly in belonging.” (ibid. pp.98-99)

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Early in the morning...

This order and discipline must be sought and found in the morning prayer. It will stand the test at work. Prayer offered in early morning is decisive for the day. The wasted time we are ashamed of, the temptations we succumb to, the weakness and discouragement in our work, the disorder and lack of discipline in our thinking and in our dealings with other people: all these very frequently have their cause in our neglect of morning prayer. The ordering and scheduling of our time will become more secure when it comes from prayer.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, with thanks to BibleGateway
It's a strange thing, but I have found this to hold true in every circumstance and stage of life. It doesn't get less true as one moves into contemplative ways of praying: somehow it applies even more keenly in the wide lands of silence and stillness.

Saturday, June 02, 2012


I've been sorting out some pictures...

Walking to the ferry at Fionnphort, on the Isle of Mull


Baile Mor, Iona's village

The ruins of the old Augustinian convent

An Iona bee on the ivy-leaved toadflax that grows everywhere

St Mary's Abbey

The High Cross at the Abbey

The Cloisters

Inside the Abbey Church

Today's reading is John 15.18-21...

The High Altar

Ferns in the chancel wall!

The font - the legs are of Iona marble

Gardens in Baile Mor

Bishop's House, the Anglican retreat house

An old cat in the sun...

The post box

Baile Mor from the beach, with the Abbey behind