Summer is for us a time for working on the Oratory garden. It’s been a labour of love to create a tranquil space for Quiet Days and Retreats. Many of you have commented on the peace you encounter whilst with us. This is all by the grace of God. It stirs our hearts in prayer and adoration of God.

Oratory Day Retreats

This past year has seen our monthly retreats offer an opportunity for deepening faith and personal encounter with God. We are thrilled at the way our dream of a space for prayer and encounter has taken shape. We also want to respond to other requests made of the Oratory. This coming year we are publishing a new set of monthly retreats based upon the theme of ‘Reawakening Narnia’. We trust you will make the time to set a day aside for refreshment, renewal and envisioning and full details are available on the website. We shall be adding additional dates in 2020 very soon. And if you have a subject that you would like included then please do let us know.

 

Facilitated Conversations

We have also decided to explore running some facilitated conversations to explore critical themes that impact our faith in the world. The first of these addresses the issue of our mortality. In an age in which death has largely been surrendered to the medical profession, ignored and, more often than not, excluded from the public discourse, Dr Mich Jazz and Stuart Lindsell have created three facilitated days exploring the nature of Christian death in contemporary society.

 

Each day offers those with a genuine interest in considering the reality of death an opportunity to explore, in a non prescriptive way, the theology, practicalities and realities of ageing and dying. All are welcome, especially those with experience within the field of death and dying. Whilst the three days complete a series, each day is complete in and of itself so if you are only free for one day then do come along.

 

We are holding these days near Hampton Court, London at The House of Prayer 35 Seymour Road East Molesey Surrey KT8 0PB.

 

Cost: £50.00 per person inclusive of materials and refreshments. Please bring your own packed lunch.

 

Timings: 9:30-16:00 each day. Please email if you would like a flyer and/or to register for a place on any of the days, or the series.

Finally, I have teamed up with an old friend, Clel Thom, and we have launched an initiative for the over 55’s, called VOICE. Ageing calls Caleb to mind. At 80, he told Joshua: ‘I’m just as strong as I used to be. Give me the mountain you promised me.’ Maybe you are asking God for fresh challenge in later life. This is where Voice comes in. We aim to equip God’s Calebs to live on purpose; leave a legacy and to find God’s plans later in life.

 

Prayer

The role of the Oratory is to operate as a Home of Prayer. We pursue this life and are always ready to field your prayer requests. We also invest in praying for our nation and the world as we pass through times of transition and challenge. We very much look forward to welcoming you to The Oratory over the next few months.

Every Blessing, Micha & Jayne

stcuthbertsoratory@gmail.com

www.stcuthbertsoratory.com 

As many know, I broadcast a daily devotion, Be Still & Know, Mondaty through Friday for Premier Radio. I recognise many of us find it a challenge to find a few minutes for God everyday, and this is designed to help us navigate into that Godspace regularly. I’ve included a recent devotion below as a sampler. These devotions are available in print form direct to your front door, or on your favourite mobile device. They are also now available on the app. Podbean as well.

“Do not remember the rebellious sins of my youth. Remember me in the light of your unfailing love, for you are merciful, O Lord.”  Psalm 25:7

I vividly remember my rebellious teenage years. I tried to break every convention because I could. I know I caused my parents grief, yet I was proud of my unconventional and disrespectful behaviour. My meeting with God at 19 radically changed the direction of my life.

When I have flashbacks to specific incidents from my past, attitudes towards others, actions that make me cringe and feel deep sadness, it’s difficult to accept that such feelings reflect my current response while God has forgiven me and moved on (Hebrews 8:12). At the very heart of forgiveness is completeness; that is, my debts, my wrongs are cancelled completely.

Often the greatest impediment to my spiritual formation, and hence growth, is me.

I’ve just changed my car after 167,000 miles and 14 years of faithful service. I originally bought it on a loan deal. Once paid, I did not give that debt a second thought. When scrapped, the car bore all the signs of road weariness with many a scrape and dent, something my daughter calls “urban chic”. That’s a phrase I can live with. So it is with my life. It carries the evidence of my past and has its own form of “urban chic”. No matter how I dress things up, my life is completely dependent upon God and his unfailing love. Without it, I would implode.

Forgiving myself and letting God have my past misdemeanours, as well as those misdemeanours done to me, is a challenge for each one of us. Yet as long as we hold onto them, revisit them and seek to repent all over again for them, we fail to appreciate and enjoy God’s unfailing love.

QUESTION

Are there events and memories that you are continuing to hold on to long after they have been forgiven?

PRAYER

Lord, what grace that you look on me through the eyes of unfailing love because of Jesus.

There is a simplicity in silence. Sitting watching the rain over the last two days reminded me of the fullness of life there is in apparently ‘doing’ nothing. Yet watching the rain fall upon a garden bleached brown by the lovely summer to date, awakened again memories of sitting as a child conscious of nothing more then the present moment.

Of course as a contemplative the disciplined practice of silence is an essential element of my daily rhythm of life. I deploy the tool of Centering Prayer as my springboard into silence. For silence can be approached along a number of pathways. The place for silence is growing in importance for as a society we are increasingly turning to noise to distract us from the stresses life presents. I have been surprised over recent years the number of car radios that continue to play even as I travel as a passenger. We talk, yet the radio is a perpetual background noise, filing any silence between our conversation. For others social media affords the suitable distraction. I will turn on the TV instinctively when wanting to relax. Of course all such methods are passive rather than active; I am the object, not the subject of such activity.

I wonder just how lost I am as I wade through yet another Netflix box set. The story lines are much the same, just located in a different context. And I’m amazed at the amount of what I would call ‘soft porn’ has crept onto my screen. I cannot see what additional value or context it affords the plot. Of course all this is entering through my eye-gate and is being processed somewhere in my brain. To good or ill effect I am uncertain, but fear the latter.

Silence is a practice best served without distractions. For those familiar with Centering Prayer it is by use of a prayer word that the individual seeks to refocus upon God when the mind consistently seeks to distract with a myriad of unrelated thoughts. The mind never stops, therefore this constant traffic noise of random thoughts will never go away. Yet learning to abide in silence is of increasing importance in value as we age and have more time on our hands and less energy for activity.

Another favoured route is to use Ignatian techniques that utilise the imagination. This means our mind is employed in directed activity to serve our desire to make use of the silence. These meditative approaches, as distinct from contemplation, enable us to direct the minds creativity to serve a divine purpose.

For me I have discovered an increasing desire for more silence as I’ve applied myself to contemplation. Rather than reading I seek time to be still, silent and rested in the divine presence. The simplicity is the very fact that I need little to sustain me in such a space. I emerge sometimes frustrated for managing my forever active mind has proved draining. Yet, then I remind myself I am being hijacked by a sense, deeply embedded in the human psyche, that time somehow has to produce results. Time spent in silence is its own result. It demands no ancillary product.

So gazing at the rain falling from the sky was a valuable lesson recovered from my childhood practice. I do indeed need to become a child again to approach God in any meaningful way.

IF you are interested in discovering more about the simplicity of silence consider our day retreat in the Oratory on Friday October 19, TURN UP THE QUIET’. A Beginner’s Guide to Contemplation‘.

Statistics reveal that ageing well is fast becoming the major topic for conversation. The ‘silver hair‘ market is a prime target for those seeking to monetise age. Many in the UK are retiring with a respectable pension, often a combination of private and company pots carefully invested. The generation of which I’m a part has seen house prices rise astronomically across their working life creating a very healthy tangible asset. Yet, some critical questions remain.

When non contributory state pensions were introduced in 1948, life expectancy in the UK was sixty eight. So retirement at sixty five left the taxpaying workforce to fund a three year state pension on average. Today life expectancy is around eighty, even though recent reports show the rate of increase in life expectancy is dropping in the UK. It is still rising historically, increasing by two years every decade over the last century.

This poses a challenge for us all. My generation is the first sandwich generation caring for children and ageing parents simultaneously. The current preferred method of managing old age through a network of expensive homes is probably as unsustainable economically as it is unpalatable socially. I’ve observed my mum become institutionalised within a year. Yes, at one level her anxiety about daily living that caused her to select a care home as an option have reduced. Yet, her limitless ability to find things to worry about has not deserted her. She dislikes the food, but fails to complain due to an unrealised fear of penalties. She complains about staff who change regularly and who she struggles to understand. As a business I guess it offers the ideal scenario. Hi yield and low cost meaning healthy profits.

But my mum is of a generation who enjoys disposable income. I won’t enjoy that luxury. And my daughter struggles to conceive of owning her own house, one financial nest egg gone, and she won’t expect to inherit anything from me as it will be absorbed no doubt in dealing with my own old age requirements, albeit this will by preference be in some hermit house.

So it is perhaps time to engage in an effective debate about ageing. The church, of which I have been involved in various forms for forty five years, is also at a loss when it comes to managing the ageing issue. It still believes it’s future is in directing its primary resources towards the young, who in UK are a declining percentile of the population. Whilst society’s fixation with sixty five as the retirement age means that older people are not effectively deployed in church life. This as much the responsibility of the oldies themselves, with their misdirected love affair with the idea of ‘retirement’, as it is of church leadership.

Here in the Oratory we are opening up this discussion as we gather people for retreats, seminars and through coaching. The tripartite life (education, career, retirement) is over. We now need to expand our engagement in life to reflect increased longevity. What’s more as has been said, ‘People yearn for eternity when the struggle to know what to do with a wet Sunday afternoon’! This is the testimony of many ageing people with whom I interact. We explore building an effective, holistic retirement plan to realise dreams and recognising the inner desire to continue t love and serve God.

Planning to make sense of faith and life through the autumn years is a key element of life here in the Oratory. If you want to join in drop me an email. I am also thrilled to have been invited to facilitate a round-table discussion on mortality and morbidity this autumn and if this interests you then email me for details.

Ageing well, in the full life God offers, is central to our journey here in the Oratory. We have taken a lead and so do be in touch if you want to explore ageing and continuing to serve God in the outstanding years of your life yet to come.

I hear the question often, ‘why retreat?’ It sounds like a negative concept suggesting defeat and withdrawal. And the spiritual life is never easy, so if I acknowledge retreat it only further undermines my confidence in approaching a dimension of reality that lies beyond reason.

There is a common phrase, ‘Two steps forward, one step back‘. It speaks of the slow place of progress in any sphere of life. However, when it comes to Retreat I reverse it and suggest that in taking time with God it’s always, ‘One step back and two steps forward‘!

A retreat affords us the space to do three critical things that inspire and enable personal development.

First, a retreat affords me that rare luxury of space away from my ‘normal’. Familiar sights, sounds and responsibilities easily focus my attention on what isn’t working. I find it hard t imagine anything beyond what has emerged as the normality of my life experience. If there are elements I don’t like my natural human response is to project blame anywhere but onto myself. Yet I alone have the keys to structuring my life, regardless of the bum hand I feel life has dealt me or the people who ‘just don’t understand me‘ and now conspire to make my life miserable. In the space a retreat offers I have an opportunity to de-clutter my brain and rediscover objectivity. Remember perspective, whilst feeling like reality, is never anything more than ONE perspective, albeit my own strongly held one. I can change my perspective, though it takes a plan and time to do so.

Second, a retreat focuses my attention upon key content. Most of the time my brain is like an eight lane highway along which myriad thoughts trundle, backwards and forwards. Trying to make the time to ignore the traffic noise and narrow my focus onto one thought that might offer a key to unlocking my overarching mood is rare in the pace at which we live life, and our electronic availability. We can be ‘on air’ 24/7 if we want. It’s a discipline to maintain a work period distinct from leisure and family time. It’s a double discipline to resist reaching for phone and tablet first thing in the day to scan messages and social media content. When I dumb down the traffic flow and become attentive to one theme over a day, I am surprised how many fresh insights I gain across a wide range of personal concerns.

Finally, a well led retreat will encourage me to determine what simple, practical and manageable steps I can take to ensure what I have encountered on my retreat does not disappear as my mind resumes its journey on a highway to nowhere. Such practical steps are the stepping stones that establish a pathway leading me toward a fuller engagement with God and a deeper understanding of myself, God, neighbour and personal context.

Retreat for me has become a regular means of ensuring my overall well being. I increasingly know that I can make life work for me and not simply get up to work for life. Hence I am pleased to announce that the Retreat days here in the Oratory have been posted for the next year. There’s a wide range of subject matter and taking time out to benchmark where you are at and to audit your spiritual well being is something that can only add value to the quality and content of your daily life.

I was speaking with someone last week passing through one of life’s many transitions, and we identified the challenge of facing our fear.

Fear is an unpleasant feeling that troubles our whole physiology. It is born of something that lies beyond our control, often in the future and yet it troubles us deeply in the NOW. It impacts mood and our ability to get on with life. It dominates our thinking and can steal our sleep.

We all face fear of various degrees at different times. I well remember my mum expressing her deep fear of how to cope as the undertakers removed dad’s body from her home. There was terror in her eyes, even as she attempted to engage with the grief she felt from the loss of her husband of sixty three years.

Whilst that’s extreme, many focus upon their anxiety of what tomorrow might NOT bring due to lack of wealth, health or stealth. Problem is, as the gospel makes clear, I can only worry about today, since I’ve not yet reached tomorrow. Most fear it seems to me is a consequence of future thinking.

Money, or lack of it, is a common cause of fear. However, if I look back over my many years that have brought me to this point I have not been without all that I’ve needed. True I may have aspired to more or coveted by comparison with others, yet how can I possibly complain? A roof over my head, food to eat and the second of two perfect marriages, can a guy get any luckier?

Fear stalks us because it directs our attention to serve a situation that has not, and may never, arrive. I remember taking Katey, my first wife, with me on a working trip to Zimbabwe. We took some holiday whilst there and spent our tenth wedding anniversary up a tree house on safari. And this was a real luxury tree house let me tell you. We couldn’t afford the trip on paper, yet had we waited for when we could, Katey would never have enjoyed it, dying from MS in her early fifties. At that stage we didn’t know of her future MS diagnosis.

The future is a fickle mistress to serve. I know many people who even in their eighties are worried their savings will run out. They’ve saved faithfully for a rainy day, and failed to enjoy all the sunny ones now behind them. I know in actuarial terms I have just a 9% chance of reaching 100 years old. Making provision for my nineties is not on my ‘To Do’ list!

It is when facing our fear that we address the one limitation we place upon life’s enjoyment. We face it only once we acknowledge it, own it and choose to share it with people we trust. There may be real substance to our fear, yet we can do little about resolving our future apart from living as best we can today in both the service of God and of others.

 

Out with friends the other evening, I was reminded of the power of small things. We sat in the pub garden enjoying the summer weather and the ending of another working week. As we talked and laughed together we consumed alcohol in a moderate fashion. I was thirsty having walked to the pub up a long hill in bright sunshine.

Over the long evening I consumed a total of three Peroni lagers, the summer enticing me away from my preferred real ales. I thought little of the liquids I was consuming only later to discover that they added two pounds to my weight. Now why on earth was I measuring their weight effect? Simply because as Jayne has a chronic health condition, we have radically reworked our groceries to establish a diet that supports her. Certain foods, dairy, sugar, wheat, all processed foods and so forth have been removed. We eat well off a limited range of foods.

One delightful consequence is the loss of weight that has accompanied this. It is an unintended consequence of our pursuit of health and well-being. Consequently I have joined Jayne in a weigh in, which is a lot of fun when the fat is falling away. Alcohol, which Jayne has had to give up completely because of its high sugar content, ‘sugared water’ as our GP describes it, is no longer a part of our at home routine. Yet, I still have a beer when out as I did that Friday. But when I can actually see the impact alcohol has upon weight, it is evident that it offers little apart from a mild relaxant.

I am now in a quandary; to drink or not to drink? I haven’t finalised that decision, although I’m not sure where my inner indecisiveness arises from. However, I have discovered the power of small things to have a significant impact upon us. A principle that can so easily be applied to many other arenas of our lives to good effect. The power to change I imagine will be a lot more difficult to implement yet will offer great, tangible benefits.

It has been fun to see a young England football squad bring an often cynical nation together and offer a moment of hope. Whilst eventually their inexperience and tiredness was cruelly exposed by an effective and clinical Croatian team, their heads need only drop for a moment. After all this is the greatest football success since 1990, some twenty eight years ago.

I recently attended a gathering of individuals interested in encouraging those moving into the second half of their life to lift their heads a go again. Called ‘Half Time‘, it seeks to mobilise individuals and couples to consider how to finish life well. It offers practical support in managing a personal change of focus, a shift of gears, to devote time and energy to explore how to move from personal interest to Kingdom interest.

As many will know I have worked for a number of years as a life coach supporting people to close the gap between what might be called their everyday life and their spiritual opportunity. It is now inappropriate to think of life as a threefold drama; education, career and retirement. We have a life expectancy of eighty plus years. Our children can expect even longer, for life expectancy increases by two years every decade.

I trust it will be my privilege to offer practical encouragement and support to this initiative because if we are to run the race of our lives effectively we must make a personal and deliberate investment of time and resources to ensure we order our lives and work out God’s calling effectively.

God never finishes with us; we all too often finish with God far too early.

England will return home after one final play off and begin their preparations for a new competition. They will do so with a new found confidence that they can succeed, enjoy widespread national support and with what I imagine will be a renewed appetite to become the most significant English soccer team since 1966. Do you still have an appetite to go again in search of your Kingdom significance? If you do write and tell me about it.

England’s soccer captain Bobby Moore, carried shoulder high by his team mates holds aloft the FIFA World Cup in this July 30 1966 file photo. England defeated Germany 4-2 in the final of the 1966 tournament played at London’s Wembley Stadium. (AP Photo)

I guess we all appreciate a companion. Be it another person or perhaps a family pet. Having a companion travelling with us through life’s journey offers support and encouragement.

Meaning of Companion

The word companion actually means to break bread with. This surely offers us a true insight into the reality of friendship and fellowship. Someone who is willing to share their riches with another truly carries the mark of one who loves God. Did not Jesus offer us the riches of heaven even as we laboured under the burden of separation from God?

Benefit of Companions

It is said that a problem shared is a problem halved. It is always helpful to be able to talk things through with someone else. When I set up Bowring & Jazz Ltd. it was with a companion. We are technicians in that we are excellent trainers and coaches. We also have experience in writing curriculum with a commitment to a contextual training style. Now we are attempting to build a business, late in life yet with a great deal of enthusiasm. It is good we can share our lack of business knowledge, make and talk through our mistakes and learn to support each other.

Seeking Companions

Life invites us to seek companions to share our journey. St Cuthbert’s Oratory offers companionship, virtual and actual, as we all seek to discover what Christian wholeness and wellness mean in a fast paced and often brutal society. My learning from my bitter experiences can not only help my maturing but might be offered as a piece of the bread that provides suitable sustenance to another.

Companions Together

The direction for these comments in the days ahead will be to offer companionship, bread for the journey, as we each make our way through life, carrying unique burdens, yet focused upon finding fullness and nourishment no matter what wilderness our footsteps lead us into. Journey with us here in the Oratory. Tell us your stories and share your thoughts by emailing me.

 

The subject of the presence of God raises a host of descriptions that have been entrusted to sermon, books and blogs over the years. It is something, or Someone, who every disciple seeks. Perhaps it is in the seeking that the greatest challenges lie. It was once said of Christopher Columbus, the pioneer explorer credited with finding America, that he set out not knowing where he was going, returned not knowing where he’d been and did it all on somebody else’s money.

 

Whilst amusing, it appears his methodology didn’t die with him. So many of us have great aspirations, especially around drawing near to God. Problem is these aspirations most frequently never get beyond the sofa. Imagining a personal and intimate relationship with the Trinity is one thing; establishing it quite another.

 

James Clear helps clarify why such aspirations often remain no more than the longings of the human heart. A failure to take action will guarantee we make little or no progress toward our desire. It is down to us to give our aspirations a time and a place to live in the world. In other words, take the initiative in putting a specific date, time and duration in your daily schedule when you will create an opportunity for an encounter with the divine presence.

 

James uses a simple analogy. Imagine a cup of coffee. If I am to benefit from that coffee I first have to notice that it is there. How can I lay hold of something that I know about yet is not within my field of vision of experience?

 

Next I have to want that coffee. Jayne’s system reacts badly to caffeine. She may on smelling coffee feel drawn towards it. However, its impact upon her health is sufficient for her to say she doesn’t want it. Pursuing God’s presence, I must want to find myself in God’s presence. This desire is what will sustain me when the going gets tough. Is my desire greater than the effort of overcoming any obstacles that lie between me and my aspiration?

 

If I notice and want the coffee, then next I must do something, like pick up the coffee, or perhaps even pour it into a cup and then drink it. Doing is the basis upon which any practice is built. Many people have a terrific prayer life within their heads, yet they never actually engage in a daily practice of prayer. Without such practice there can be no substance to my aspiration.

 

Finally, I must like it. If what I do is not liked it will sadly have little chance of enduring and becoming a part of my daily practice. Drinking coffee because others do, even when I don’t enjoy the bitter taste, is not likely to grow into a personal habit. When I make coffee I engage in a little brewing ritual that I enjoy. It reminds me I’m taking a break from writing and having some down time. The ritual prepares me, my body, mind and spirit, for this down time. I grind the beans, heat the kettle (90 degrees only), just cover the freshly ground beans in the cafetiere and allow thirty seconds for the gases to be released before pouring the rest of the water and leaving to brew for a further three minutes thirty seconds and then plunge and pour immediately. Creating a ritual to take you into your daily prayer time is the best way to manage distractions that all too easily lead you away from prayer.

And as for presence, well that remains a unique personal possibility and lays well beyond any verbal constructs.

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