Archives for category: Prayer

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

A lovely piece excerpted by America Magazine by Fr. James Martin SJ. Worth the read and as we battle ‘Black Friday’ and its celebration of consumerism perhaps find some space for rest and reflection.

The following is a meditation on the place of gratitude in Ignatian spirituality.

thanksgivingThe traditional first step of the examen, the end-of-the-day prayer that St. Ignatius Loyola told Jesuits never to omit from their day, is gratitude. You recall the good things that happened to you in the past day, and give thanks.

It is an essential step. As David Fleming, S.J., an expert on spirituality, wrote me in a letter, “Ignatius saw the examen as prayer, not just focused on the person, but as directed to God. That’s why the examination begins with thanks to God, establishing the focus. It’s not simply self-examination or dreamy introspection, it is a way of prayer, a way of being with God.

And Ignatius meant giving thanks for any “benefits,” as he said, in the broadest possible sense. Obvious things would include any good news, a tender moment with a spouse, finishing an important project at work. But also less-obvious things: the surprising sight of sunlight on the pavement in the middle of a bleak midwinter’s day, the taste of a ham-and-cheese sandwich you had for lunch; satisfaction at the end of a tiring day caring for your children.

For Ignatius many things–no matter how seemingly inconsequential–are occasions for gratitude. You recall them and you “relish” or “savor” them, as Ignatius would say.

Savoring is an antidote to our increasingly rushed lives. We live in a busy world, with an emphasis on speed, efficiency and productivity, and we often find ourselves always moving on to the next task at hand. Life becomes an endless series of tasks, and our day becomes a compendium of to-do lists. We become “human doings” instead of “human beings.”

Savoring slows us down. In the examen we don’t recall an important experience simply to add it to a list of things that we’ve seen or done; rather, we savor as if we were a wonderful meal. We pause to enjoy what has happened. It’s a deepening of our gratitude to God, and reveals the hidden joys of our days. As Anthony de Mello, SJ, notes, “You sanctify whatever you are grateful for.”

The way of Ignatius celebrates gratitude. The Spiritual Exercises are crammed with references to expressing gratitude for God’s gifts. “I will consider how all good things and gifts descend from above,” he writes in the Fourth Week, “from the Supreme and Infinite Power above…just as the rays come down from the sun.” The examen, as we’ve mentioned, begins with gratitude. According to John Padberg, S.J., a church historian, for Ignatius the “most execrable and the worst” sin was ingratitude.

Gratitude is an essential element in healthy friendships, too.

When I asked my friend Steve, a Jesuit priest in New York, about friendship the first thing he mentioned was the examen. “When I think embraceabout friendship, the first thing that comes to mind is finding God in all things,” he said. “That surfaces during my examen, when frequently God directs me to things that God thinks are important–rather than what I might be focusing on. Often that turns out to be friends and interactions with other Jesuits–in even the simplest of ways: a random comment in a corridor or a homily from another Jesuit. The examen helps me to be more mindful, and more grateful for, my friends.”

Paula, a friend who works in campus ministry at a Jesuit school in the Midwest, noted wryly that while everyone will say that they are grateful for their friends, the examen makes it easier to focus on that gratitude. “The examen always helps in friendships and in family relationships,” she said, “because it helps with gratitude.” For Sister Maddy, a woman religious who works at a retreat house in Gloucester, Mass., even days when friends aren’t as present are occasions for being grateful for them. “Every night during my examen, I remember my gratitude for friends–even if I’ve not been in contact with them on that particular day. I’m grateful for them wherever they are.”

Paul, until recently the rector of a large Jesuit community in Boston, said that gratitude was the most neglected part of friendship. For many years, Paul was in charge of training young Jesuits in Boston and Chicago. He has a lifetime of experience in counseling others in their spiritual lives. “One of the most important parts of friendship is living in gratitude for the gift, and growing into that kind of gratitude,” he said.

Paul noted that one common problem in Jesuit friendships stemmed from a lack of gratitude. Without gratitude, you take friendship for granted. “You forget that it takes a little effort. And the small things matter: making time to call, staying in touch. If people can name a friendship, and can appreciate it, they are more inclined to work at it.”

True friendships are hard to come by, said Paul, and they take work. And patience. “There are a small number of people who, for whatever reason, easily make and keep friends. But the vast majority of the human race has to ask for friendship, and be patient in waiting for it to come. When we imagine friendships, we tend to imagine things happening instantly. But like anything that’s rich and wonderful you grow into it.”

But what about those readers for whom talk of friendship reminds them of their loneliness? This discussion may help you find ways to strengthen or deepen your appreciation of relationships with family and friends. But what about the lonely reader? Well, you can enjoy God’s friendship in prayer, seeing how God is active in your work, your reading, your hobbies.

Still, what can we say to those who long for a friend?

It would be wrong to downplay the pain of loneliness: I have known many lonely people whose lives are filled with sadness. Perhaps the only thing I could add is to remain open up to the possibility of meeting new friends and not to move to despair, trusting, as much as you can, that God wants you someday to find a friend. The very desire for friendship is an invitation from God to reach out to others. Trust that God desires community for you, though that goal may seem far away.

“For those who wonder why it’s not happening faster in their lives,” said Paul, “I think that it’s more important to love and take the first step. And it also may seem that most people have to spend their lives giving more than receiving,” said Paul.

“But at the end, even with all the work that is involved, even if you only find one friend in your whole life, it’s worth it.”

Excerpted from The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything,

James Martin, SJ

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

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

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