Archives for category: The meaning of life

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.

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

Brexit is sinking in. The UK has left the European Union, although that Referendum outcome may in fact trigger Scotland to seek permission of its citizens to leave the Union and find a way of joining the EU in its own right.

Waving United Kingdom and European Union Flag

Waving United Kingdom and European Union Flag

Sadly, the anger that followed the outcome has only revealed just how conflicted the English, in particular, are. To claim that those who voted to leave are either racist or more accurately, xenophobic, is simply to reinforce the unhelpful polarity of the ‘In or Out’ Referendum question. There is a case to make that the EU itself and the apparent high handed behaviour of its institutions has enriched the soil in which nationalism and right wing politics flourishes. Austria only just avoided electing an extreme right wing President.

Sadly, the whole Referendum was unnecessary given that it was a vanity project for the Conservative Party. Having surprisingly seized victory from the jaws of defeat in a General Election just over a year ago, Prime Minister Cameron had no need to invoke his manifesto promise of a referendum, After all when previously elected he instituted a top down reform of the NHS, something not in the manifesto. The assumption in the establishment that the Remain vote would carry the day largely relied on inherent conservatism across the electorate fanned into flame through the dire warnings of ‘Project Fear‘, the economic melt done that would follow any exit from the EU.

So what have we learnt? The Brussels Trinity of Council, Commission and Parliament never saw Brexit as a likely outcome as simple moves to have their books independently audited or showing a face of flexible negotiation as available for any member state seeking to influence the Union going forward would have been well received by the UK electorate. As a result Cameron’s mock ‘re-negotiation’ carried no authority and the UK electorate lost faith that the Union was subject to the normal rule of political engagement, which is negotiation between competing needs and preferences between member States. It appears that critical decisions lie in the hands of unelected bureaucrats who perhaps profit personally too well from their appointment. As a result all claims that it is better to influence from within than to leave proved unbelievable to a majority of the electorate and the EU must accept some responsibility for that and its failure to play anything but hard ball, a policy it appears to want to continue post the Brexit vote, is to my mind, a strategic error, or deserving of the overworked use of the word ‘arrogance’.

I would like to think that given the narrow win for Brexit, the EU and the British negotiating team might recognise now is the time to explore a constructive working relationship between the EU and the UK. Continuing with a binary approach surely has no place in a mature democratic debate. Big questions face the leaders both within the UK and across the remaining twenty seven members as well as the EU unelected officers. The initial comments from the latter are not encouraging and only further fuel anger across the UK and incite movements to leave throughout the remaining EU member nations.

As for Scotland, can the SNP really say that it is in everyone’s best interests to exploit the voting figures to push for another Independence Referendum? Now is surely the moment when a party that actually enjoys the trust of their supporters and has engaged a large electorate in the reality of politics, to act as an effective honest broker in a fractured relationship between the UK and EU. Why would any right minded political figure want to destabilise the world more completely? Time will reveal how self centred and self satisfied the Scottish nation and political establishment has become.

Obviously, little will change in real terms. Immigration will continue, and to paint Brexit as a xenophobic reaction is plain wrong. However, there is a need for a clearly understandable Immigration Policy, something successive UK governments have refused to grapple with. There are plenty of examples elsewhere in the world such as USA and Australia, but in both confusion and challenge will always surround such complex issues. Overall the issue in the UK is less about a refusal to offer hospitality to victims of war and terror, and far more about businesses exploiting migrant labour and driving wages down in the lowest paid sectors in our economy. No right minded person wants to support such exploitation, yet I guess many are guilty of purchasing from Amazon, whose employees speak clearly of the terrible employment conditions they experience. I would be thrilled if the indignation this Referendum has stirred up might act as a creative challenge to all of us so that we might invest our leisure time into campaigning and working for justice and peace, using our diverse skills and different resource levels to work on behalf of those marginalised through no fault of their own. This truly is a consequence of globalisation that requires compassionate engagement.

The Media has shown itself highly irresponsible in the way it has fuelled polarisation within the debate. The result can be laid at its feet, even though after the outcome it acts both surprised and unhappy uk_regionalisationat the outcome.

The good news is that we may now invite those who are sixteen to be enfranchised in any future UK wide election. It has woken those who’ve lost interest and trust in politicians to the power and purpose of politics, that is young people, and they must be offered critical roles throughout all our political institutions. Just looking at the Commission and much of the critical officers who manage our political life, they are grey haired and out of touch with emerging trends in culture. Time to move people out of public life earlier and create more opportunities for the young.

I am very optimistic regarding the future for the UK, Europe and the rest of the world. We are wrestling with the end of the Nation State, the battle to give up on an idea birthed in 800 and which we thought had ended in 1806. I speak of the Holy Roman Empire. Europe has been fascinated with being joined together for centuries, and maybe this is the last attempt at establishing this expression of a mega state. In fact, just as Scotland seeks independence so do the regions throughout the UK. It means the movement of power from the centre, London and Westminster, to elected, representative bodies in the regions. If the Referendum revealed anything it revealed the privileged position of London, other urban centres to a lesser degree, and then what have been allowed to become the wastelands of our historic industrial landscapes. Yet government seems to have no policy for addressing manufacture, engineering and industrial development.

So the future isn’t bleak. It may be uncertain, yet this is a great opportunity and let’s demonstrate international leadership in building a political, social and economic model that offers hope to all our children and grandchildren, gives the necessary ability to respond to fast changing global change without being saddled with a bureaucratic response. Its a time for belief not bitterness and recrimination.

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.

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.

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

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.

 

daffodilsSolomon’s wardrobe must have been made up of many a fine outfit. Famed for his wisdom, his wealth must also have been pretty staggering. My mind wandered in Solomon’s direction as I walked the dog this morning and was surprised to see daffodils in full bloom so early in the New Year. It seems the shift in weather patterns has brought spring forward by quite some weeks. I hope that if we suddenly experience a cold snap the bulbs and blossoms are not lost.

Why Solomon? Well with the glorious yellow flowers rising tall above the grass, all against a great sky and very wet landscape, they offered a welcome splash of colour, especially in this week that sees a return to work from the long Christmas break. Hope rising within a bleak landscape and I so often need to reach for hope within what can appear the repetitive and monotonous landscape of life itself. So such flowers are glorious and lift our spirits, reminding us of the versatility, originality and playfulness of our Creator.

However, St. Peter reminds us that for all its brilliance, however spectacular the flowering, all flowers quickly fade, wither and die. It’s a reminder of the shortness of our life and contribution against God’s eternal canvas. It’s an encouragement to consider our mortality realistically. We are to flower within life’s landscape and our flowering is a sign of God’s positive grace and goodness. We cannot explain it, merely live it as a contribution that we trust those passing might note, as I did this morning’s daffodils, so they may consider the source of our flowering. It’s neither the nature of our flower nor the location within which we flower, it is the willingness to flower, something that is planted deep within us at the very moment of our creation.

Finally, as I rounded the final corner for the home stretch, I pondered how these bulbs that had captured my attention, whilst they will wither and disappear back beneath the earth, they will also return to flower year upon year. I noted that there are a number of ways in which we flower throughout our life, some in a public space, some hidden deep within an uninhabited woodland. Here only God sees and enjoys the flowering, yet flower we must. With this thought there is also the sense that the church continues to fill God’s flowerbed year in, year out, century in,century out. My momentary flowering is just a small part of the life and witness of the Church over the years.

An invigorating walk and a fruitful reflection to carry me through my day.

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