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.

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

Well, who’d have believed it. Thomas Aquinas appears to have been a pioneer of rap! This prayer is tremendous in its depth and cool in its rhythm.

Laud, O Sion thy salvation, laud with hymns of exaltation, Christ thy king and shepherd true.

Spend thyself, his honour raising, who surpasseth all thy praising; never canst thou reach his due.

Sing to-day, the mystery showing of the living, life-bestowing Bread from heaven before thee set

Even the same of old provided, where the Twelve, divinely guided, at the holy table met.

Full and clear ring out thy chanting, joy not sweetest grace be wanting to thy heart and soul to-day.

When we gather up the measure of that supper and its treasure, keeping feast in glad array.

Lo, the new king’s table gracing, this new Passover of blessing hath fulfilled the elder rite.

Now the new the old effaceth, truth revealed the shadow chaseth, day is breaking on the night.

What he did at Supper seated, Christ ordained to be repeated, his memorial ne’er to cease.

And, his word for guidance taking, bread and wine we hallow, making thus our Sacrifice of peace.

This the truth to Christians given; bread becomes his flesh from heaven, wine becomes his holy Blood.

Doth it pass thy comprehending? Yet by faith, thy sight transcending, wondrous things are understood.

Yea, beneath these signs are hidden glorious things to sight forbidden; look not on the outward sign.

Wine is food and bread is broken; but in either sacred token Christ is here by power divine.

Whoso of this food partaketh, Christ divideth not nor breaketh; He is whole to all that taste.

Wherefore upon this day receiveth, for the thousands will believeth, one’s real food that cannot waste.

Good and evil men are sharing one repast, a death preparing varied as the heart of men;

Yet fore death shall be awarded, as their days shall be recorded which from their beginning ran.

When the sacrament is broken, doubt not in each severed token, hallowed by the word once spoken, resteth all the true content;

Nought the precious gift divideth, breaking but the sign betideth, he himself the same abideth, nothing of his fullness spent.

Lo! the Angels’ food is given to the pilgrim who hath striven; see the children’s bread from heaven, which to dogs may not be cast;

Truth the ancient types fulfilling, Isaac bound, a victim willing, paschal lamb, its life-blood spilling, manna sent in ages past.

O to Bread, good Shepherd, tend us, Jesu, of thy love befriend us, thou refresh us, thou defend us, thine eternal goodness send us in the land of life to see;

Thou who all things canst and knowest, who on earth such food bestowest, grant us with thy Saints, though lowest, where the heavenly feast thou showest, fellow-heirs and guests to be. Amen. Alleluia.

Thomas-Aquinas

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.

 

It’s the celebration of the Baptism of Jesus today in the Church Liturgy. It’s also the day when all the Christmas decorations are taken down within the Oratory. Later than some I know, where twelfth night is the traditional time for removing the Christmas Tree. Yet, today it seems people get fed up with the aftermath of Christmas sooner than ever and decorations disappear almost as quickly as the season’s goodwill.

Removing the meaning from Christmas and reducing it to a festival of self indulgence, forced good cheer and the largest spending spree in the year, whilst honouring its pre Christian roots, robs the event of its true magic and mystery. The idea that One larger than the totality of Creation, more complex than any thought attainable by the human mind, the very essence of the love we all yearn for and seek after, might squeeze into the form of a human child whilst retaining Divine identity is for all unbelievable; for some therefore unreal, for others of us, extraordinary.

As we return the decorations to their boxes and pack away the tree the Oratory is stripped back to its naked form. It immediately strikes me as being much larger now all the Christmas glitz and glitter’s gone. It’s also so barren, its basic functionality – a roof over our heads – re-established. It was into such a barren context, a life that offered little more than a battle for personal survival, a search for meaning and identity, a battle with nature and neighbour to progress through life’s innumerable challenges Jesus came. The world’s population wasn’t looking for a miracle, yet out of grace God provided one anyway, manifest as the babe who shepherds and wise men worshipped in turn – those on the margin of society to those who ran society. We stand with shepherd and Magi today and must answer the question, ‘Is this a mere fantasy designed to distract us from the harsh realities of life on earth, or is it a marvel to be considered and approached through the eye of faith?‘ Regardless each of us needs to accept responsibility and take our decision.

This babe Jesus grew with the purpose of God woven within him. At the appropriate time he approached the Jordan, responded to his cousin’s call to repentance and was baptised in the river. John recognised Jesus’ divinity, God affirmed it as he rose from the water, yet in reality Jesus now chose himself to realise his divine destiny. As he sunk beneath the water he was stripped of everything save his identity in God. This was the identity God proclaimed and the dove gave witness to. As he emerged from the river with the astonishment of the crowd, with the affirmation of  The Baptist and the comforting confirmation of his Father, Jesus stepped into the wilderness. All the glitz and glamour of the baptismal moment evaporated, and he was left stripped bare to face the harsh reality of a world in which temptation surrounded him and each moment he was invited to choose for himself or for God.

As I ponder a Oratory stripped bare, I am invited to meditate upon wilderness, the harsh realities of life, which Christmas in all its forms can usefully disguise for a brief moment, and consider again who will I decide for in this moment and the countless moments that await me throughout this new year? Jesus stepped from the joy of his family life in Nazareth, into establishing his true family, the family of God in the earth.

Present  future

Present future

 

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