Archives for category: Liturgy

Online Church has much to offer. In a society consumed with time management what better way to worship than in front of the familiar computer terminal? 

Time pressures increase. Care for families pulls us in two directions at once. Growing children at one polarity, ageing parents at the other. Jobs demand 24/7 attention with the access and demands of smart technology, adding to the pressure to survive with a national wage freeze set against ever rising prices. It takes huge amounts of energy and concentration simply to stand still. Stillness means to survive and not to flourish.

Church now demands more of me than I have left to give. It becomes an unhelpful distraction laden with ‘oughts‘ and ‘shoulds‘ all appealing to my overdeveloped sense of guilt. If only church might once more be about encountering God through welcome, confession, the liturgy of God’s word followed by Eucharist? I’ve little time to engage with fellow congregants and the project focused program developed by salaried leadership freaks me out with the thought of more demands made upon my shrinking time resource. What’s worse that it appears attendance alone satisfies the spiritual hunger of most.

I run and enter a desert of my own creation. Yet as the noises within my head subside, as I find some moments to draw breath, I rediscover that my Christian life is about friendship with God. I’m seeking to maintain friendships on an ever expanding circle of need and demand, that I literally have not one moment to discern that still small voice.

Online church enables me to pause, in stillness and personally encounter God. I am part of something far larger than myself, yet I need not commute to attend, nor invest time in interpersonal relationships. I experience the best in worship and the best in preaching. I am nourished and refreshed, better able to love God and neighbour. I am taking good care of myself. I begin to build up the right sort of love for self and so offer my neighbour a better deal.

The desert that I imagined was a wasteland incapable of supporting life, is in fact a city teeming with people, presenting a litany of overwhelming demands and burning every last ounce of creative energy from me. I must withdraw and make my space with God, so God can make some space in me.

As for those interpersonal relationships; well a small group meeting at a time that suits its members best is an oasis for me. More of that later.

How do I “make straight the way of God”?

make_straightIt was a Native American chief who taught me the meaning of Christmas at a conference where interfaith leaders were gathered to discuss the relationship of religion to race.

Into the midst of the theological meanderings of those of us who wanted to write another paper, have another meeting, take another workshop to combat racism, the Chief brought the message of Isaiah again. He stood up slowly, folded his hands quietly in front of him, looked out over our heads and said softly, “I have spent my life teaching our children to say ‘thank you.’ Thank you for the grass. Thank you for the rain. Thank you for the stranger. Thank you for all the people of the world. I think that if we learn to say ‘thank you’ for everything, we will come to realise its value, to respect it, to see it as sacred.”

It was a simple speech but it had a kind of cataclysmic effect on my soul. It raised the spectre of Isaiah in me all over again. It made me think newly about what the scriptures are talking about when they tell us to “make straight the way of God.” I suddenly realised that Christmas is time to shout “thank you.”

Christmas is the commitment to life made incarnate. It is the call to see God everywhere and especially in those places we would not expect to find glory and grace. It is the call to exult in life.

Christmas is the obligation to see that everything leads us directly to God, to realise that there is no one, nothing on earth that is not the way to God for me. I knew instantly that the moment we begin to really celebrate Christmas, to look at everyone and everything as a revelation of God, to say “thank you” for them, that racism would be over, war would be no more, world hunger would disappear, everything would be gift, everyone would be sacred.

Indeed, it is simple but oh, so clear: All we have to do to “make straight the way of God” is to say “thank you,” to learn to live intensely, to have a zeal for life, to develop a passion for life.

Sr Joan Chittester

Don had a rare combination of strengths—common sense, administrative ability, thoughtful reflection—all wrapped in the gentlest of spirits. He was also in perfect health. Or so we thought, until he went out for a run and had a fatal heart attack.

nativityWhat I remember most about his funeral was the terror that ran through me as I thought about God in this context. Who is this deity who kills off the best people, or at least allows them to die? What else might this deity do?

Yes, such questions may be futile or, horrors, bad theology. It hardly mattered on that day. What mattered was that I felt a real fear of God—fear with an echo of awe.

“Fear of the Lord” pops up often in the Hebrew and Christian scriptures. It’s a strange phrase, especially for spiritual directors. We’ve seen how fear keeps spiritual directees from living into the freedom that we, and I daresay God, wish for them.

Some commentators interpret the word fear in that phrase as referring to awe or reverence. That would be nicer. But I think it diminishes the echoes of awe within fear, and fear within awe, that I felt at Don’s funeral.

This strange dance between fear and awe shows up more often than we might think. Looking back on my own life, I can see the extravagant love of God, masterfully weaving the strands of my story. That inspires awe. I also see where the pursuit of God’s call has torn those threads apart: loss of income, boatloads of self-doubt, few tangible results. That inspires fear.

Many people have noted how the beauty of the night sky takes their breath away. That is awe. Yet the sight of the universe can unnerve as well, pulling the rug of our own perceived significance out from under us. More fear.

The awe-fear dance can overwhelm us. It was clearly too much for Job, the biblical character who, oppressed by tragedy upon tragedy, responded by asking God to just go away.Let me alone, for my days are a breath,” he says (Job 7:16–19). “What are human beings, that you make so much of them, … test them every moment? Will you not look away from me for a while, let me alone until I swallow my spittle?”

Perhaps it’s normal, even human, to feel both awe and fear in the presence of something greater or more beautiful than ourselves. Of course, we could just let the whole thing go—and let God go. Maybe Job had the right idea.

But that would ignore our deepest desire: to draw close to the One who, we are told, is the source of something even greater than awe and fear—compassion. So we continue on, embracing all aspects of our experience of the Divine: even the fear that, far from being obsolete, is part of the journey that leads to love.

John Backman

A regular contributor to Huffington Post Religion and an associate of an Episcopal monastery, John Backman is the author of Why Can’t We Talk? Christian Wisdom on Dialogue as a Habit of the Heart (SkyLight Paths, 2012). He recently completed the spiritual direction training program at Linwood Spiritual Center.

 

Great meditative piece by Sr. Joan Chittester. A wonderful reflection at the start of Advent 2016. Take time to pause, read and reflect.

Pointing to the star
starsAdvent is the season of waiting. Its function is to remind us what we’re waiting for as we go through life too busy with things that do not matter to remember the things that do.  When year after year we hear the same scriptures and the same hymns of longing for the life to come, of which this is only its shadow, it becomes impossible to forget the refrains of the soul.

Advent relieves us of our commitment to the frenetic in a fast-paced world. It slows us down. It makes us think. It makes us look beyond today to the “great tomorrow” of life.  Without Advent, moved only by the race to nowhere that exhausts the world around us, we could be so frantic with trying to consume and control this life that we fail to develop within ourselves a taste for the spirit that does not die and will not slip through our fingers like melted snow.

It is while waiting for the coming of the reign of God, Advent after Advent, that we come to realize that its coming depends on us. What we do will either hasten or slow, sharpen or dim our own commitment to do our part to bring it.

The Liturgical Year by Joan ChittisterAdvent stands before us, within us, pointing to the star for which the wise ones from the East are only icons of ourselves.

We all want something more. Advent asks the question, what is it for which you are spending your life? What is the star you are following now? And where is that star in its present radiance in your life leading you? Is it a place that is really comprehensive enough to equal the breadth of the human soul?

 —from The Liturgical Year by Joan Chittister, Thomas Nelson

img_20161104_091418-1It’s often difficult to turn to prayer at the start of my day. The computer summons me siren like. It is perhaps a problem with my ego that seeks to discover who has emailed me. Fortunately since pursuing the anchorite life for a while now, my inbox receives very little traffic. I am learning that it is my identity in Jesus that truly reveals who I am in this life. Again I yearn for a cup of green tea (organic Sencha to be precise), but I resist such distractions.

It is a simple exercise with which I enter my conscious day. I have a small altar to help give expression to my prayerful approach to all of life. It also provides a visual reminder throughout my day that all is about Christ. When I react from deep within my fracture, it’s always useful to be reminded that I am not the key event. Maintaining my connection with the Presence is. A visual altar helps me in this process.

So here I am before my altar. I may well quietly and internally pray the Jesus prayer as I quieten my heart. Then crossing myself as a physical reminder of my true identity gifted through the Cross, I strike a match, light the candle and make my prayer for the day. This varies, yet always includes the theme of light. Jesus, the Light of the world, to reveal my path to me, to lighten the challenges I face, to be a light within always revealing God’s presence, to enable me be to be a source of light, and thereby hope, to those who cross my path. This is a spontaneous prayer, differing each morning, yet always resonating around the theme of light.

This prayer takes no more than five minutes. I then make my way to the kettle. Prepare my cuppa, start ordering the Kitchen for the day ahead, prepare Jayne’s packed lunch. Usually I can then sit awhile before Jayne and mum emerge for breakfast. In this time I cup my tea in my hands and generally take some moments in reflective silence. However more of that another day.

Try by starting your day with a candle prayer. If a formal prayer helps then try this one I found courtesy of the Northumbria Community.

May the blessing of light be on you – light without and light within.
May the blessed sunlight shine on you like a great peat fire,
so that stranger and friend may come and warm himself at it.
And may light shine out of the two eyes of you,
like a candle set in the window of a house,
bidding the wanderer come in out of the storm.

Candles in the Dark

 

Oratory Garden

Oratory Garden

Some time since I have blogged. To be honest I am settled into a lovely routine here in the Oratory. Nothing too much to say as I listen to the sounds of God in the rustling leaves and melodious birdsong. Yet, a significant change has taken place over the last two months.

For years I have begun each day with daily prayer. This has been with a daily office or set of prayers said each morning. A mixture of psalms, scripture and prayers it gave me the perfect way into my day. I considered God, myself and the world I was stepping back into.  I chanted the psalms aloud before a lighted candle, bowing, kneeling or standing as seemed most appropriate. My voice added to the prayers encircling the globe everyday.

Yet after six years of this routine I felt God reach down and remove it from my grasp. Surprised, I fought to take hold of it again. Yet, it was now yesterday’s song and not today’s refrain. Now I was invited to enter the silence. I had practised centring prayer for a while, yet I now felt a strong necessity to adopt it at the start of my day. I also brought together various prayer strands that were meaningful to me, some inviting chant, and created my own Office. Such life flowed and my heart rose in pursuit of God. Celtic_Circle

My initial confusion, and a sense of guilt, soon disappeared. I was soon lost in reverence and praise of my Saviour and Lord.

So now I light the candle to welcome the dawn. I enter into the silence of contemplation. Then, ordering the house for the day ahead, I return to my Office, mug of tea in hand. It is a change that has led me closer to God. Following the urge of the Spirit is essential in spiritual growth.

Retreat Day with Dr Micha & Jayne Jazz May 25, 2016 @ The Wisdom Centre Romsey, 9:30-16:30 refreshments and lunch provided. All inclusive price £35.

Just a few places remain for this day retreat in Romsey Hampshire. We already have a group of twenty people booked to explore deepening their understanding of contemplative activism Please do let us know if this is a day that you might value.

We shall explore the whole area of attachment and detachment with the help of the text of Cloud of UnknowingScholars date the anonymous authorship of Cloud of Unknowing to 1375, during the height of European monasticism. Written as a primer for the young monastic, the work is instructional, but does not have an austere didactic tone. Rather, the work embraces the reader with a maternal call to grow closer to God through meditation and prayer.

Our day will begin with coffee from 9:30 and we shall make a formal start at 10:00. The day will be a combination of learning together and self discovery through directed, individual activities. The objective as ever is to take a step back from the busyness of life and  deepen your personal understanding and awareness of both God and self. The core theme in our time together will be to examine the relationship between contemplation and activism.
 
You do not need to have read the text of Cloud of Unknowing and I shall have copies in a modern translation available for purchase on the day if you think you might want to explore further in this wonderful contemplative fourteenth century text. Do however bring your own notebook and pen. Slides of the day will be circulated after the retreat as a PDF via email.
To book: Email stcuthbertsoratory@gmail.com.

Well, who’d have believed it. Thomas Aquinas appears to have been a pioneer of rap! This prayer is tremendous in its depth and cool in its rhythm.

Laud, O Sion thy salvation, laud with hymns of exaltation, Christ thy king and shepherd true.

Spend thyself, his honour raising, who surpasseth all thy praising; never canst thou reach his due.

Sing to-day, the mystery showing of the living, life-bestowing Bread from heaven before thee set

Even the same of old provided, where the Twelve, divinely guided, at the holy table met.

Full and clear ring out thy chanting, joy not sweetest grace be wanting to thy heart and soul to-day.

When we gather up the measure of that supper and its treasure, keeping feast in glad array.

Lo, the new king’s table gracing, this new Passover of blessing hath fulfilled the elder rite.

Now the new the old effaceth, truth revealed the shadow chaseth, day is breaking on the night.

What he did at Supper seated, Christ ordained to be repeated, his memorial ne’er to cease.

And, his word for guidance taking, bread and wine we hallow, making thus our Sacrifice of peace.

This the truth to Christians given; bread becomes his flesh from heaven, wine becomes his holy Blood.

Doth it pass thy comprehending? Yet by faith, thy sight transcending, wondrous things are understood.

Yea, beneath these signs are hidden glorious things to sight forbidden; look not on the outward sign.

Wine is food and bread is broken; but in either sacred token Christ is here by power divine.

Whoso of this food partaketh, Christ divideth not nor breaketh; He is whole to all that taste.

Wherefore upon this day receiveth, for the thousands will believeth, one’s real food that cannot waste.

Good and evil men are sharing one repast, a death preparing varied as the heart of men;

Yet fore death shall be awarded, as their days shall be recorded which from their beginning ran.

When the sacrament is broken, doubt not in each severed token, hallowed by the word once spoken, resteth all the true content;

Nought the precious gift divideth, breaking but the sign betideth, he himself the same abideth, nothing of his fullness spent.

Lo! the Angels’ food is given to the pilgrim who hath striven; see the children’s bread from heaven, which to dogs may not be cast;

Truth the ancient types fulfilling, Isaac bound, a victim willing, paschal lamb, its life-blood spilling, manna sent in ages past.

O to Bread, good Shepherd, tend us, Jesu, of thy love befriend us, thou refresh us, thou defend us, thine eternal goodness send us in the land of life to see;

Thou who all things canst and knowest, who on earth such food bestowest, grant us with thy Saints, though lowest, where the heavenly feast thou showest, fellow-heirs and guests to be. Amen. Alleluia.

Thomas-Aquinas

Ordinary Time stretches ahead of us

Ordinary Time stretches ahead of us

So today we once again enter upon Ordinary time in the Church year. It can sound somewhat dull and boring, especially following on from the excitement of Advent culminating in the Christmas festival. However, Ordinary really means a return to the regularity of life. This is of course associated with back to school and the regular working rhythm. Its entering the daily routine and

replacing all the rich and indulgent foods of the Christmas season with a somewhat healthier, if more mundane, diet.

Some I know turn their attention to dieting or living a ‘dry January’. All excellent disciplines. Yet it’s also a reminder of the presence of God is as much at at the heart of all those regular routines that compose our lives as in the high points. Whilst special celebrations present us with opportunities to indulge in a little forgetfulness pertaining to the realities of life, Ordinary time invites us to seek after God in what may appear the most uninspiring aspects of our life.

I’ll admit I can find the daily routine monotonous and, when I do, a cloud of depression will envelop me. I am grumpy, a man of few words, and switch to survival mode. However, I am to recall that serving God is as much within the minutiae of my uninspiring life as it is on the high mountaintops of momentary celebrations. In embracing the daily Office of morning and evening prayer I once again find my inspiration to focus upon God ahead of my own aches and pains, moans and groans, of which there are many.

I guess this is something of the reality of the ‘perseverance’ St. Paul spoke about. Ordinary time perhaps best reveals the character and depth of my faith. I will seek to persevere as invited.

 

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

 

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