Archives for category: Retreat

I have concluded after numerous conversations that there are the three essentials of prayer.

Too often prayer is a seemingly endless monotone of requests, concerns, hopes and fears directed broadly at some entity we trust is God, or in reality someone or something that might come to our aid. The ‘God’ persona is regarded as some form of life belt, required as we struggle to stay afloat in stormy seas, a means of escape from an inevitable drowning.

This, of course, may well reflect our point of entry into God. For God is often ill considered when the yacht’s intact and the cruise in full swing. Crisis creates quasi believers of us all. And why not? Better to grasp for a life belt in despair, than quietly slip beneath the waters of obliteration.

What is Prayer?

In fact prayer is a practical and precise response in search of a God who I desire to encounter. There are no guarantees! I may simply be ‘whistling Dixie’. For God is sought and found in faith, and faith is literally without substance, built solely upon the insubstantial foundation of inner resolve. In other words it can only ever be established a priori. For faith is to knowledge, what skill is to sport, intuition + practice = Performance.

So there are the three essential of prayer for anyone who desires to explore the unknowable God proclaimed by the Christian church for two millennia, and Judaism for quite some time before that. Today let’s look at the first of these three essentials; Stillness.

Prayer Essential #1: Stillness

Stillness is the absence of motion. Of course this might recall the game you may have played as a child called statues. Yet, it’s not stillness in the sense of being perfectly motionless physically. It is the stillness of mind and heart, the management of the distractions that flood in once we choose to be still.

Of course the mind is never still. It is processing millions of bytes of data that our senses send for interpretation. The brain is the control centre for our life, and must itself learn the art of stillness. The discipline of stillness trains us to manage distraction. For many people the thought of stillness proves highly problematic. Years of activity including work, family, maintenance, hobbies, all take their toll. The brain demands stimulation which each of these activities offered in spades. This is something stillness apparently fails to offer. We are restless within ourselves when forced to do nothing through periods of illness or when retirement creates a breach in our life time routine of work and the longed for rest proves a challenge to occupy effectively and satisfactorily.

Stillness is a process through which we grow to know ourselves. In stillness we grow content within ourselves and with our own company. Stillness reduces our constant need for distractions to sustain us. Into that stillness we can find the space and the time to wait upon God. For God is apparently elusive, and never seeks to compete with our preferred distractions. As in every relationship, for that is what we can enjoy with God, the party to that relationship demands my attention and is wounded at every distraction. Even those distractions I foolishly convince myself are for their primary benefit. Most often they are for my own satisfaction.

The Practice of Stillness

Oratory Garden

This practice requires three steps.

  1. A heart’s desire to move away from dependency upon distraction. What I call our inner spiritual Intuition.
  2. The concentrated discipline of taking time each day for short periods of Stillness. What I call Practice.
  3. Living below the constant rumble of traffic noise as the brain processes all that incoming data, whilst you disengage from interacting with it and find a sacred space into which you invite God. What I call Performance.

There are tools to accompany our search of this stillness such as breathing prayer, a long practiced form of centring self on God. Details of breath prayer are available from the Oratory.

It’s also worth ditching portable electronic devices for each period of stillness. Oh, how mobile devices have increased our fascination with distraction whilst crowding out yet another space for stillness.

Conclusion

What I can say is this first step takes time and demands my full attention. It can prove painful, for stillness is nowhere practiced in a society that is forever speeding up and driving each one of us to feel a loss of self worth if we are not ourselves busy, where busy has become a false synonym for productive.

Essentials #2 & #3 to follow.

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.

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?

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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.

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Holy Trinity Church, Glendalough, founded by St Kevin (d. 618). A prayer I crafted sitting by this wonderful 12th Century Christian Celtic Church in Ireland. Take time to pause and pray this prayer in the open air today.

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O my God!
In the freshness of the morning breeze, visit me.
In the warmth of the sun’s rays, bathe me.
In the sharpness of the chilling air, challenge me.
In the beauty of birdsong Litany, serenade me.
In the chattering waters of the brook, refresh me.
In the great silence of your vast landscape, envision me.
As my eye rises from the glittering streams below to the snowcapped Wicklow tops above,
Lord, re-found me in your service and forever keep me close within your safe presence.
Amen

All change has been our experience here in the Oratory since the New Year. In January mum, just turned 90 years young, asked to move in with us. Now whilst we had a large Victorian house in Oratory_Back_gardenPortsmouth, it was on a blind bend, on a busy road. Also, with Portsmouth one of the most densely populated cities in Europe, there was no green space for mum to sit out and enjoy life as it meandered by, since we had a yard and no garden. Portsmouth provides a plethora of wonderful public spaces, but not necessarily gardens.

Mum’s request coincided with our own reflection that despite offering retreats at the Oratory, this opportunity hadn’t been taken up. Plenty of individuals seeking Spiritual Direction, but no retreatants. It was perhaps more of my own creative thinking and drive rather than God’s preference for my life.

The final aspect was the growing call I felt and wanted to respond to in exploring life as a hermit. But more of that in a future post!!

So we marketed the house, sold within five days. Mum found a bungalow she liked on-line – we enquired – it was available and we bought it. A chain of three couples only and we moved end of May. It’s been a whirlwind, one of God’s own making. Exhausted, yet happy, we have downsized and now are preparing the new St Cuthbert’s for mum’s arrival, hopefully at the start of July. We shall become a small community of three and offer prayer, Spiritual Direction, coaching and retreats. I hope to utilise nearby Romsey Abbey as a suitable ‘thin place’.

Oratory_Front_Garden

 

So fresh beginnings. The Oratory has reduced its footprint, yet retained its commitment to contemplation and prayer. No longer in an urban setting, we have to learn to live a more rural life, and I will encounter God as I learn how to manage a garden.

Whilst our location has changed at speed, I know that the inner change of the heart that is a critical part of this relocation will take some time to present itself and then for me to wrestle with becoming who God is calling me to be in this new season.

Pray with us – Peace and Goodness be yours and ours!

108 square.inddSaturday January 4th, St. Cuthbert’s held an Epiphany Retreat looking at the Journey of the Magi. The theme was based upon how the Magi left the comfort of the familiar, pursued a star and found a king. Their journey was possible only because they reached beyond all they knew in pursuit of something they hungered for. Using the narrative of the coming of the Magi we explored living beyond life’s boundaries.

All our Retreats are small in number and so five of us spend the day initially reflecting on what we brought into the day and used a breathing prayer to set such distractions to one side in order to gaze upon Christ.

Lectio Divina on the story of the Magi recorded by St Matthew enabled each of us to connect that historic faith quest with our own journey in the footsteps of Jesus. There followed the opportunity personally to explore this in silence and solitude. So often our lives are surrounded with words – the words of others spoken or the internal narrative part influenced from our history and part impacted by the pressure of our tomorrow. Either way, we lose sight of the God we worship, the star disappears from view, because our attention is constantly diverted from our ultimate purpose of being still and knowing God. This day afforded an intentional opportunity to simply waste time in the presence of the Divine.

Lunch provided a wonderful opportunity to share stories over a fine feast, for as we feasted upon God’s revelation, so we mirrored Jesus’ own love of communicating around the meal table.

And then in the afternoon there was time to reflect upon the journey of prayer, the way of purgation, illumination and union. We focussed upon purgation – listening individually to what God had to say about those obstacles that constantly stood in the way of our setting out and leaving the seekingknown in accepting God’s invitation to explore the unknown of Divine love. The day concluded with stories around the hearth of the insights God had given and we were enriched.

All left rested and I am grateful for one comment that captures both the heartbeat of the day and the intention of the life of the Oratory here, ‘Thanks so much for our day of reflection. A great way to start the year for me. It made me realise that our spiritual life needs the help of a structure or framework to enrich our relationship with God. It poses a challenge about what I do about church now. No hurry!

Our next Retreat here in the Oratory is March 1st, 2014 – St David’s Day. We only accept six retreatants for the day. No charge although contributions to the work of the Oratory are invited on the day. The day runs from 9:15-4:30. To find out more email stcuthbertsoratory@gmail.com.

Our real journey in life is interior: it is a matter of growth, deepening and an ever greater surrender to the creative action of love and grace in our hearts‘ Thomas Merton.

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