Archives for category: Oratory Life

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.

cloud_unknowingWe had a wonderful retreat day  in pursuit of the Cloud of unknowing.

A journey of exploring those attachments that might unnecessarily tether us and leave us earthbound even as our Spirit within yearns to discover and explore more of the life of God. Attachments that are both positive, yet run  the danger of obscuring God, and also negative in that they deceive us and delay our movement deeper into God’s heart of grace and full acceptance.

We faced the questions that for so long had remained unexpressed, carried as a burden weighing us down, invisible to all but ourself and God. And then took time in silence to consider such attachments and found creative ways to respond to the degree we felt able to on the day, whilst carrying the insights away to continue our meditation in the days to come.

We each sensed a sobering sense of God’s immanence and, whilst we dared to face ourselves in the questions God presented, we equally experienced an increased sense of God’s acceptance and peace in that God accepted us questions and all.

As ever such a privilege to journey with others as we waited and watched before learning to walk with less of a limp.

Keep in touch, we are a community that offers hope and sustenance to one another in the Way.

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.

As you might expect, ‘Let’s Pray’ is a central pillar of our household together. Indeed as we enter a New Year, Jayne and I will be exploring both the involvement of imagination in prayer as well as, given her own struggles with chronic pain, the relationship between contemplative prayer and pain management. I am hoping to write about this journey as we go.

However, short and sweet, let’s pray today by joining in the following prayer.

‘Father, you established your ancient covenant by signs and wonders,

but more wondrously you confirmed the new covenant through the sacrifice of your Son.

Guide us as your church through the pathways of life,

that we may be led to the land of promise

and celebrate your name with lasting praise.

We recall, Lord, that all your ways are holy

and we desire to walk within them. Amen’

seeking

 

 

St Cuthbert’s is first and foremost a prayer house. We pray the rhythm of morning and evening prayer. We meditate with Lectio Divina. We contemplate with breath prayer and centring prayer. Indeed we also train people in the ways of prayer, meditation and contemplation. This latter through day retreats, longer journey’s of personal reflection and teaching points.

We receive many requests for prayer by email, letter and over the phone. Our pledge to hold someone in prayer for five consecutive days after which we pray as and when they come to mind. Today Premier phoned as a reader of Voice of Hope wanted to chat about a situation. I phoned back and spoke with Pauline, whose daughter, Sarah, has an MRI scan on Wednesday this week as the neurologists think she has Multiple Sclerosis. Pauline wanted to chat because of my own journey accompanying Katey through her battle with MS.

What comfort might I bring? It is a frightening consideration, and as with Katey whose mother also had MS, but of the remitting/relapsing type and lived a long life, so Pauline’s mother had also had MS. Whilst I don’t think it is officially listed as genetic, it does appear to run in families.Pray-Together

Listening to Pauline, her fears, her pain, her despair all stirred again within me. I empathised with her situation, more difficult as she suffered from fibromyalgia, constant pain throughout the body as well as severe fatigue. I sought to encourage and support her, whilst affirming as good her very human reactions. God knows us as God made us. We can never disappoint God – he knows us through and through. I also explained the journey ahead remains as yet unknown, so it is best not to imagine the future, especially ahead of any final diagnosis. We are to travel by faith, even as the very reality of our pain and despair ground us and suck all hope from our heart.

This is a journey we must make as community. Sadly too few churches it appears are capable of walking at the pace of their slowest, so keen are they to run ahead toward imagined future possibilities. God invites us to live well with what we have together, not to constantly be scanning the horizon for what lies ahead. Pauline, like so many in her situation, has a shrinking fellowship circle, unable to make church meetings that often and therefore increasingly isolated.

So in a spare moment pause and pray for Pauline and Sarah, together with Sarah’s husband Jeff. Also consider how many of the wounded are in your fellowship circle or have you, as I so often have, left them in your wake as you pursue God in the future at the expense of the Christ in your present?

candles

Norman_graceVisitors are a blessing. Today Norman & Grace Barnes are coming to lunch. They started Links International and have invested their whole lives in mission. Now in their later years they continue to live with boundless energy in pursuit of God, with Links as a wonderful testimony to their vision always to look beyond the known toward the unknown, the very essence of mission. We look forward to welcoming them into the Oratory today.

At Mass yesterday the homily was on the Magi visiting Jesus in this Epiphany week. The point was well made that having found the manger and the baby Jesus, the object of their long and perilous journey, the Magi returned ‘a different way’. Whilst self evidently we know they avoided Herod, they returned different people because of their encounter with the infant Lord of all. They had stepped from the way they had lived up until that point into the Way of Jesus. The early disciples were known as followers of the Way. Every time we encounter Christ, or experience an epiphany,  we are changed.

A wonderful reflection upon mission as we seek to introduce people to walking in the Way and to turn aside from countless attractive alternative thoroughfares that offer little hope despite the hype and bright lights suggesting glittering prizes for all. As with the Magi the decision to seek may happen some good time before the object of that search is located. Like the Magi the journey may prove uncomfortable and we might need to ask questions as we lose sight of our objective as we surely will.

This message is also true for those of us who count ourselves to be followers of the Way already. We are to keep scanning the horizon to maintain our gaze upon the star, sole indicator of the presence of the Divine. The Church is itself on mission in pursuit of God, as Israel once followed fire and cloud, across the wasteland that is so apt a metaphor for so much of contemporary life.

At the start of this New Year we commit ourselves as the Oratory, and in  the spirit of our guardian and guide St. Cuthbert, to mission, inviting the uncertain to seek a Saviour and to remind ourselves that we too are to maintain our gaze upon Christ amidst the many distractions life presents us with.

Contemporary Magi: Get it On!

Contemporary Magi: Get it On!

%d bloggers like this: