Archives for category: Community

What exactly is simples? I am in conversation with many individuals all of whom see that the answer to their stressful life lies in ‘simples’! By which they mean moving through a process to simplify life. I have a lot of empathy, yet everyone is starting from a different perspective as well as point upon the journey. I remember one time talking with a friend who was stressed in managing is portfolio of stocks and shares. My suggestion was sell the lot, remove the source of the stress. He looked as me as if I was mad. Perhaps the stress was in fact an essential component reminding him he was alive. I know not. Suffice to say over the next few postings I want to reflect upon the ‘simplicity’ agenda, as much for my own benefit as anyone else’s.

In mathematical terms I understand that to simplify something is to present it in its simplest terms. This can prove a struggle for a mathematician. Whilst life may not lend itself to mathematical simplicitysolutions.

What I hear as I converse with others is a desire to reduce the amount of pressure each of us feels in navigating our course through life. There are different seasons when distinct pressures apply uniquely, as when children first arrive and then at each stage of their development. Those first years struggling to meet mortgage payments relating to a house purchase, or to meet rents that seem to rise sharply every year. I am left wondering if it is in rearranging the externals that a simpler lifestyle is achieved or is it through a re-framing of how I engage with life, perceive myself and determine my aspirations? For me it is far more the latter than the former, then again I am somewhat mature in years.

Certainly from scripture my understanding is that it’s the lens through which we choose to peer at life that most forcibly impacts our reaction and resistance to circumstance. So I remain at the very heart of the challenge for a simpler life. My assumption is that much of the writings and musings  actually address actions we must take, itself often a further stressor as to do lists usually are, rather than a pathway to a more peaceable and therefore enriched and enjoyable life.

I want to explore the normal recommendations, including the large volume of literature that in some way simple means we contribute a vital service to our planet and humanity; no surprises that I feel a measure conflicted as to such a reality. The performance may in  fact be no more than an extra patch in my comfort quilt within which I wrap myself  in throughout my perennial search to find (or extract) some meaning and purpose for my life.

So simples it is and comments welcome as we engage with what has been a leading subject of discussion throughout my lifetime.

Royal Foundation St Katherine's. Founded by Qieen Matilda 1147

Royal Foundation St Katherine’s. Founded by Queen Matilda 1147

Yesterday I led through our London Retreat at the beautiful and peaceful Royal Foundation of St Katherine’s (RFSK). A mixed and diverse group saddled up their camels and journeyed with the Magi to Bethlehem in search of a revelation of Christ.

Having taken time to still and centre ourselves through a prayer exercise, our journey was divided into three parts. Initially we wrestled with the Magi as they considered their inner sense of call to pursue a star. Not any star but an unknown star that they interpreted as a portent of God’s presence and invitation. The wrestling was over the issues of attachment that so often thwart our inner desire to pursue Jesus. A price to pay when choosing to step away and letting go in the hope that just maybe their, and our, deepest hopes of a King above all Kings might exist and now be manifest in the earth.

We took time alone to consider what the nature of such attachments might be for the Magi and then risked all by inviting God to reveal to us those things we are attached to that only root us in a space that God is moving on from and inviting us to follow him. To take hold of more of God, we always have to let go of more of ourself, our preferences, all those aspects that give the greatest apparent security to our life.

Saddled and on the move we entered the desert. If the Magi journeyed from Babylon, with the average daily distance a camel map_magimakes of 25 miles, it would have taken them 20 days. However, an apocryphal Syriac text suggests that the Magi might have come from the Land of Shir in what is today N.E. Iran, a far greater distance. Desert (the word literally means abandonment) was a place of terror as well as a place of blessing. It was into the accursed wilderness the Scapegoat was despatched, yet it was within the desert that Israel discovered the provision of God in their wanderings. Desert is a place of discomfort and privation; a place where we are face up to who we really are; a space that is empty and expansive, where we are fully exposed, nowhere to hide, and where we need to find God. In that desert our resolve for God is fully tested. The desert always lies between the intention to discover God and the reality of a fresh revelation. We took a long time as individuals to sit within the desert and explore our greatest fear whilst considering how far we were willing to journey into the desert

Finally we emerged from that desert and with what reservations? This was a singularly challenging hour where we each sought deeper encounter with the Lord. We noted the desert is truly the Way of God.

In conclusion to our day, and recognising we did not journey alone but as a community, we sat together in small groups and explored the worship of the new born Christ by the Magi through Lectio Divina. We were reminded that scripture tells us that the Magi returned by a different path, and we left to explore the new path God had opened for us.

Slides and notes (PDF) are available from this retreat if you email the Oratory. The next retreat is on February 24 in Woking at St. Columba’s House, a short walk from the railway station and parking is available. On that retreat during Lent, we shall walk with Jesus in the wilderness and confront those things that tempt us most exploring God’s way of enabling us to deal with temptation and our darkest fears.

angelico_Magi

It’s the celebration of the Baptism of Jesus today in the Church Liturgy. It’s also the day when all the Christmas decorations are taken down within the Oratory. Later than some I know, where twelfth night is the traditional time for removing the Christmas Tree. Yet, today it seems people get fed up with the aftermath of Christmas sooner than ever and decorations disappear almost as quickly as the season’s goodwill.

Removing the meaning from Christmas and reducing it to a festival of self indulgence, forced good cheer and the largest spending spree in the year, whilst honouring its pre Christian roots, robs the event of its true magic and mystery. The idea that One larger than the totality of Creation, more complex than any thought attainable by the human mind, the very essence of the love we all yearn for and seek after, might squeeze into the form of a human child whilst retaining Divine identity is for all unbelievable; for some therefore unreal, for others of us, extraordinary.

As we return the decorations to their boxes and pack away the tree the Oratory is stripped back to its naked form. It immediately strikes me as being much larger now all the Christmas glitz and glitter’s gone. It’s also so barren, its basic functionality – a roof over our heads – re-established. It was into such a barren context, a life that offered little more than a battle for personal survival, a search for meaning and identity, a battle with nature and neighbour to progress through life’s innumerable challenges Jesus came. The world’s population wasn’t looking for a miracle, yet out of grace God provided one anyway, manifest as the babe who shepherds and wise men worshipped in turn – those on the margin of society to those who ran society. We stand with shepherd and Magi today and must answer the question, ‘Is this a mere fantasy designed to distract us from the harsh realities of life on earth, or is it a marvel to be considered and approached through the eye of faith?‘ Regardless each of us needs to accept responsibility and take our decision.

This babe Jesus grew with the purpose of God woven within him. At the appropriate time he approached the Jordan, responded to his cousin’s call to repentance and was baptised in the river. John recognised Jesus’ divinity, God affirmed it as he rose from the water, yet in reality Jesus now chose himself to realise his divine destiny. As he sunk beneath the water he was stripped of everything save his identity in God. This was the identity God proclaimed and the dove gave witness to. As he emerged from the river with the astonishment of the crowd, with the affirmation of  The Baptist and the comforting confirmation of his Father, Jesus stepped into the wilderness. All the glitz and glamour of the baptismal moment evaporated, and he was left stripped bare to face the harsh reality of a world in which temptation surrounded him and each moment he was invited to choose for himself or for God.

As I ponder a Oratory stripped bare, I am invited to meditate upon wilderness, the harsh realities of life, which Christmas in all its forms can usefully disguise for a brief moment, and consider again who will I decide for in this moment and the countless moments that await me throughout this new year? Jesus stepped from the joy of his family life in Nazareth, into establishing his true family, the family of God in the earth.

Present  future

Present future

 

Community living sounds appealing. Today I find many pursuing the idea, if not the practice. Individuals are out looking to rent or purchase property to practice community, and I trust it’s always forchristian_Community the reason of a purpose more important than Community itself. The reason is that some years back a phrase was adopted that causes me real concern. This phrase is ‘Intentional Community’. My problem lies with the fact that Community here provides the noun and so the intention is to create community, as though community is a good idea, even a God idea, in and of itself.

My preference is to speak of ‘Communities with Intention’ where that intention is carefully thought through and articulated. Hence the Sisters of Mercy established by Mother Theresa are a Community (expressed in a variety of sizes and distinct geographical locations) with the intention of caring for the dying. They know why they are together and the challenges of living in proximity can be addressed through the lens of how might we address such tensions in the light of our primary calling and agreement to care for the dying?

Living cheek by jowl with others, either in a Community House or a Laura of several separate households, raises challenges. We do not naturally get on with one another and each one of us is selfish, fractured through the Fall. It takes a strong commitment to manage self if I am to engage creatively, practically and positively with other community members. The irritations that arise within me are in fact a source of discipleship and part of God’s plan to enable me to grow into maturity in Christ. This is my prayer – even though achieving that reality causes real pain.

I have lived in Community in a variety of forms for over twenty years. My learning was that I am in fact the greatest obstruction to effective community, not my fellow communitarians. Whilst all the problems I faced I might initially lay at their door, when brave enough to be honest, I realised it was about my internal reaction and desire to be master of my own environment. This latter is perhaps a very effective description of sin. God knows how best to unhinge me so that I might not only recognise my own frailty but also discover my need both to depend upon God’s grace and learn how to access such grace. This is not a natural process but a disciplined one.

 

Today we live in a small family community with the intention of providing a secure environment for my ninety year old mum. What might possibly go wrong with that? Well we all go wrong with

Mum's First Selfie. New Year's Day 2016

Mum’s First Selfie. New Year’s Day 2016

that for as in every community the romantic notions attached to the intention are tested to the limit whilst my own selfish sinfulness is revealed. My own heart for the ageing within our wider community is tested to the full in the microcosm of living alongside one older person. The good intention and romanticism fast disappear and the harsh reality of what it means to love neighbour as self placed fair and square before me. I face the question is this truly what I want, or is it really just one more attempt to promote self and secure warm applause for sacrificial goodness that is neither sacrificial nor good?

We don’t live in a world searching for Community. We live in a world in which we are searching for purpose whilst challenged within by our own selfish sinful demands and desires. In agreeing a Community intention and exploring that in honesty together we can make a start in dealing with our individual selfishness and discover the depth of the rottenness within each one of us whilst finding the fullness and acceptance of God for us in the grace we’re invited to share together.

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