Archives for category: The meaning of life

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

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?


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.


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.

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!

rainy_weather_beachIt’s the New Year and Britain has adopted its familiar winter outfit. Low, grey cloud scudding across the sky whilst weeping rain incessantly upon the earth below. I often find such weather somewhat depressing, yet as the years have rolled on I am becoming more accommodating in my attitude. Actually  I recall as a child I quite liked curling up and reading a good book buried beneath a blanket in such weather, and my current state of semi retirement affords far greater opportunity to recapture that activity I most associate with my childhood.

Still there is a great danger that climate will affect my mood and I will begin to look upon life itself as somewhat grey and uninspiring. Never a good thing because then I can so easily spiral down into a state of depression. My cup now half empty I gaze out upon the world and into my own life through negative lenses. This will unleash the worst of my fractured self, something I now fear as I recognise just how egocentric and controlling of myself and others it can be.

Fortunately the cloud is no ore than a mask of the blue sky and sun above which forever shines. It’s my responsibility to know that beyond such cloud lies the brightest and bluest of skies, and allow hope to rise within once more. Whilst cloud may sit upon me, others are looking up into a cloudless sky, and together we occupy this world concurrently. I am reminded of the anonymous, yet hugely instructive, ‘Cloud of Unknowing‘ and ponder again the reality and substance of the unseen God. I am also encouraged that Moses himself only ever saw the backside of God!

I am learning to sit patiently beneath the cloud and explore in the darkness God unseen.

Alamy Live News. D4EYH0 Isle of mull, Scotland, UK. 12th March 2013. Lenticular Clouds, Altocumulus lenticularis, over the village of Fionnphort on the Isle of Mull in the Inner Hebrides of Scotland © PictureScotland / Alamy Live News This is an Alamy Live News image and may not be part of your current Alamy deal . If you are unsure, please contact our sales team to check.

Lenticular Clouds, Altocumulus lenticularis, over the village of Fionnphort on the Isle of Mull in the Inner Hebrides of Scotland © PictureScotland / Alamy Live News.

New Year rolls into town with the first chilled air of the winter. The climate itself appears to acknowledge this much celebrated change to the calender year. Of course the Liturgical Year started over a month ago with Advent. For many as the fireworks fade the Christmas festivities conclude with the thought of a return to work. However Christmas proper can run up to the baptism of the Lord or even to the Presentation of the infant Jesus in the Temple celebrated on the second of February. It’s a reminder to me always that whilst through the holiday season the focus always turns to family visits, exchange of gifts and a strong commitment to eating and drinking, now as the first morning of this new year emerges from the haze of the passing year, there is opportunity to return my focus solely to Jesus, who is, to quote contemporary jargon, ‘the reason for the season‘.

Still losing sight of Jesus is nothing with which I’m unfamiliar. My best intentions are always shipwrecked upon the frailty of my own fractured humanity. Strange that each New Year fresh well intentioned desires arise from within my purified heart. Only today I recognise they haven’t the strength to achieve all that they intend. They are at most a distraction, at worst a deceit. They will misdirect my gaze toward my own egotistic aspirations if I pursue them. They are my own rather impoverished yearnings to be God like, rather than a means to further my desire to follow God. Much like the Magi discovered, there is more of God across the desert than within the comfort of one’s own home. The way to God’s heart demands detachment, and detachment is always disconcerting.

As some no doubt need to sober up following their alcoholic revels of last night, I need to sober up from my own vain imaginings about the strength of my passion for God and determine the degree to which I will choose to walk in obedience into this new year. Certainly I want to explore fasting and discover a heart level understanding of the place of fasting in my Christian walk. The ancients recognised its value and were devoted practitioners, without either obsessing or becoming mastered by the fast itself.

I note many newspapers in January recommend a ‘health fast‘ to cleanse the body from all the additives consumed through the Christmas celebrations. I am more interested to explore the way of fasting as a means to address the many unhealthy additives I consume so readily living within a very comfortable material economy. Of course it’s not something I can talk about too much since it comes across as sanctimonious and many feel judged or diminished by a perceived attempt at DIY holiness on my part. Fortunately we are holy the moment we respond to the call of God within. And of course fasting, or any Christian discipline, can make a slavish bore out of anyone of us, such is our innate desire to grasp at anything that might grant us some form of status others must needs recognise.

Yet I want to find something more of Christ this year and one tool I see my forbears drawing upon is this use of the fast. It is also something I shall want to understand how it can take over my raison d’etre as a follower of Jesus, much as Gollum and Bilbo wrestled with ‘My Precious‘ in their quest.

The Oratory awakes today to continue its work of prayer in silence and solitude, grateful for those who have visited on retreat or for conversation throughout 2015 and looking forward to welcoming those who find it throughout 2016.

May you have a rich and blessed 2016. Happy New Year.


Brilliant short piece below by Paula Huston for reflecting upon. I love the Aristotelian thought that a Virtue is something we practice daily until it becomes a part of our life and we an enfleshment of that Virtue. It may just resonate with me since I have been thinking awhile about how my rhythm of eating (inclusive of menus) relates to my rhythm of prayer and obedience. So another delightful springboard into reflecting more on those wonderful ways of the Divine.BMS_diagram

Food absorbs a lot of my time as a cook in the Oratory, and whilst never ‘cheffy’, I do invest effort and thought into producing meals. Now, after much reading, I am engaged in a no/very low sugar, non dairy approach to food and I am seeing the impact upon the waistline battle. Nor sure if I feel any more alive than previously as some shout about. I have still got to address my love of ‘comfort eating’ and ‘boredom eating’ when I revert to full powered sugar foods like cakes and cookies. I have also followed the advice of an Orthodox contact who advocates eating, even when alone, without TV or the distraction of reading. I now sit down at table and eat carefully, enjoying every mouthful, whilst considering my guest at the table is Jesus. Battling the sense of isolation within the silence can be unnerving, yet I can glimpse some vague benefits, which will grow as I consider making this a Virtue.

My Myers Briggs ‘N-F’ characteristic suggests establishing a routine and being diligent about it is something my temperament is not naturally suited to, yet will greatly flourish as a consequence if I can apply some perseverance and live consistently. So maybe adopting non meat days as the monks and friars have habitually done might form part of eating as a spiritual discipline for me.

Anyhow take a moment to read Paula Huston‘s great little contribution here. Here new book, ‘Simplifying the Soul: Lenten Practices to Renew Your Spirit‘ might be a useful reflective follow up.


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