EYE TO EYE

TOWARDS THE END OF THE DAY I watched three or four squirrels at play. We live in their garden – the one they share with five or six wood pigeons who are so liberally supplied with scraps from the table that I sometimes wonder, as I watch them waddling around the lawn, whether they could take off in a hurry if need be. But I digress.

The squirrels spend much of the day chasing each other up and down the oak tree and round and round the perimeter fence that marks out their territory. Until early evening when, apparently certain of their safe space, they’re often to be found sitting up quietly, as though at prayer. Tonight one of them met my watching eyes – and it’s happened, by the grace of God, before – and we meditated, contemplated one another. And I had a gentle sense that the little fellow was probably rather better at it than I.

And then, at 8pm, our monthly Meditation gathering assembled over in the church. The gentle sound of others’ quiet breathing soothes my soul. Shared silence and stillness. Balm. And I realise that my encounter with God here, the One silently contemplating the other, happened only a little space before with a reflective grey squirrel as we, he and me, were able to encounter each other eye to eye.

the golden evening brightens in the west …

BLOSSOMING

BLESSED BE GOD for the gift of another blue-skied blossoming day – in flowers, in trees; in people young and beautiful and reaching; in wide-open-minded educators, giving, learning, receptive and teaching; in the mid-life laughter, and poetry, and wisdom, wonderment, weeping and working; in compassion, forgiveness, healing and recollecting; in pause and in poise; in pastors faithful and praying;  in people patiently waiting, sighing, dying. All these I have encountered in just one blossoming day. And there’ll be more on the way, until Eternal Day.

Blessed be God!

THE TASK

with Paul David Deakin

MISSIONS SUNDAY in the parish today. Comings and Goings. Fifteen Mission Agencies visiting and speaking about / displaying their various excellent works. Paul Critchlow delivered a marvellous homily at 8am on behalf of Church Army. Isobel Garlick represented International Water Aid at 9am. I preached about the need for a worldwide uniting vision at 10.45am.

Rachael Elizabeth – asked us last Sunday to trust God and to “Be Opened”. Today we said farewell to her, for the time being, as Rachael will begin her studies in Theology in Lampeter at the end of next week. We bless her on her way, thanking God for Rachael's own trust and openness, and glad that she was able to be with us to hear the news we've just announced about her friend …

Paul David Deakin If all goes according to plan the Bishop of Chester will ordain Paul David Deakin to the Office of Deacon in July 2013, to “Serve his Title” (as assistant curate) in our parish. Currently studying at the College of the Resurrection in Mirfield Paul will be returning to his “sending parish” – a relatively rare occurrence. The news was received with joy and we will continue to hold Paul, Angela and their sons in our daily thoughts and prayers

with Rachael Elizabeth

It gladdens my heart that wonderful women and men of goodwill are blessed with the ability to hear the Call of God in our day, and to respond to that call joyfully, willingly and sacrificially. Janet, Graham, Marina, Tracy, John, Jill, Yvonne, Mimi, Ralph, Jenny, Tricia, Geb, Rebecca, Diane, Jill, Phil, Sue, David, Rachael, Paul, Ann, Bob, Ria, Ivon, Sheila, Michael, Val, Frank, Lynn, Jonnie, Margaret, Bryan – a glad and glorious procession – all these live and work in company with countless others … all of whom are known and loved and appreciated by name in the Heart of God.

The Mission of God – opening eyes, unstopping ears, bringing peace to troubled hearts and minds, breaking down barriers – especially those built by mistaken religious intent and politics-gone-bad – warped in favour of power-gone-mad, building, calling, feeding, giving water to the thirsty, healing, learning, praying, pleading, teaching – this is the joyful promise and claim of the reign (what some call the “Kingdom”) of God. And to get there takes no time …

Blessed be the Source of Life's Goodness!

It’s a long way off but inside it
There are quite different things going on:
Festivals at which the poor man
Is king and the consumptive is
Healed; mirrors in which the blind look
At themselves and love looks at them
Back; and industry is for mending
The bent bones and the minds fractured
By life. It’s a long way off, but to get
There takes no time and admission
Is free, if you will purge yourself
Of desire, and present yourself with
Your need only and the simple offering
Of your faith, green as a leaf.

The Kingdom
RS Thomas

 

 

HOLY, HOLY, HOLY

FR RICHARD ROHR is one of the great inspirations of my life and I’m grateful to my friend Ivon Prefontaine for reminding me recently of Richard’s Daily Meditations.

In a series of Meditations on his “lineage”, whilst planning the opening of a new Living School for Action and Contemplation Fr Richard’s meditation on Sunday read

Orthopraxy in much of Buddhism and Hinduism

Orthopraxy is usually distinguished from orthodoxy. Orthodoxy refers to doctrinal correctness, whereas orthopraxy refers to right practice. What we see in many of the Eastern religions is not an emphasis upon verbal orthodoxy, but instead upon practices and lifestyles that, if you do them (not think about them, but do them), end up changing your consciousness.

This was summed up in the Eighth Core Principle of the Center for Action and Contemplation: We don’t think ourselves into a new way of living; we live ourselves into a new way of thinking. I hope that can be a central building block of the Living School.

And – joyfully – today I’ve been chestily croaking ALLELUIA! upon reading today’s thoughts about the witness of art

Unique witness of mythology, poetry, and art

My earliest recordings often included mythological stories, poetry, or art to make the point. Many people are more right-brained learners than left-brained. When you bring in a story, or a poem, or refer to a piece of art, you can see people’s interest triple: “Wow, I’m with you!” Whereas, if you stay on the verbal level all the time, their eyes glaze over, they lose interest, they lose fascination and identification with the message.

I don’t think Western preachers and teachers have really understood the importance of art in general. Until people can “catch” the message with an inner image, it usually does not go deep. We’ve also been afraid of myths that weren’t Christian. In fact, we were afraid of the very word “myth.” We thought it meant something that wasn’t true when, in fact, it’s something that’s always true—if it’s a true myth. This will be a very important substratum of the Living School curriculum.

One of the things I most love and admire about Richard Rohr is his generosity of heart, mind, soul and body. He’s open to seeing the Divine all around us, open to contemplation and to receiving the Wisdom from traditions other – though as he shows us, not always so very “other” – from his own. I love that Fr Richard balances the importance of both orthodoxy and orthopraxy; that he both thinks deeply and feels profoundly. That, it seems to me, is what the call of Jesus Christ – and of other great spiritual masters and teachers – is really all about. As Richard has it, “living ourselves into a new way of thinking”. That’s something all of us can do, all of the time, with or without particular religious frameworks – though many, in the living, will thrive in the kind of religious environment that seeks – as the word religion intends (from Latin religare – “to reconnect, to bind together”) – to bind up the whole.

My friend Mimi is a generous contemplative – Between Night And Day; as is the marvellous Rebecca Koo – Heads or Tails; and Bill Wooten’s – The Present Moment brings a wonderful word from Thomas Merton – and a stunning photo; Francesca Zelnick is as special as her Today’s Special; David Herbert is one of my diocesan friends and I love his latest post (and we share affection for Parker Palmer); and Rachael Elizabeth’s been having a good time doing Christology and incense-sampling ( ! ) in Durham; James Fielden – always showing us “The Way Home” – meditates exquisitely upon Time; Ginny at “Chasing the Perfect Moment” writes about Re-creation; Ria Gandhi has been wondering about who and what’s Beautiful and has flagged up one answer here; Jenni has been Watching the Symphony here.

What are we looking at in all these human “works of art”. What do I see as I reflect upon the colours, upon the wide spectrum that arches over the whole of my life?

Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus

Holy, Holy, Holy

Multi-coloured and blessed sanctity – God’s art: whether we’re always aware of it – or not …

CRAFTING CONTENTMENT

DO YOU EVER GET FED UP with Church? – asked one of the lovely souls at Jean’s Funeral Tea in the Church Hall this afternoon. “You know, with having to smile all the time and be kind to everyone, knowing that you can’t please all of the people all of the time? It must feel like being the Queen sometimes. You know? Can’t win.”

I was thrilled to bits with “like being the Queen” 😉 – who, of course, can and does win, every day …

Yes, I said. Of course I get fed up – with bureaucracy, with the self-interested and the self-certain, with those who actively seek to crowd out the needs of others, with noisy, overly-opinionated and hyperactive people. I get fed up with selfishness and with the self-righteous. I get fed up with the people who claim to follow the example of Jesus of Nazareth but who’d be horrified by his inclusive generosity close up. But I also remember, many years after hearing him, the man who asked the question “Why are the clergy so damned awful, my Lord?” – to which my old bishop replied (graciously, and with his customary twinkle) – “Well, because we’ve only people like you to choose from”. Can you picture the questioner’s face?

Yes, I get fed up with Church sometimes. Quite often, if I’m really honest. But never on occasions like Jean’s funeral. Gatherings like this one remind me that the world is full of quiet, gentle, thoughtful people like Jean – who raised a family, was a universally respected Guide leader for over 40 years, and a person who loved the quiet concentration and stillness that embroidery requires. Such people craft contentment and they model the best possible vision of the reign of God. They cheer me. And Jean would have smiled at teatime … it’s fitting that the Vicar’s tea-time plate bears only a modest selection. Mine did. But the tuna sandwiches and the seriously good sausage roll required a return to the table.

Yes. Fed up sometimes, just like anyone else. But cheered on and cheered up by faithful churchgoing people like Jean Baskerville.

UP TO?

please click image to enlarge

WHAT’VE YOU been up to today? It’s an oft-asked question. “Oh, a bit of this and a bit of that” is the usual off-the-cuff answer. But I’ve been wondering towards the end of today just exactly what I have been up to. The mind-map doesn’t fill in too much detail, of course, but it’s helped me to understand why I’m usually ready for bed around 10 – whether or not I actually get there!

What’s of special interest to me, though, is that almost everything I’m doing in my daily life involves a high degree of passionate involvement – yes, even the silent prayer arises out of a passion. And hearing myself (passionately) doing some theological reflection with a would-be ordinand from a neighbouring parish tonight I realise what a blessing it has been – having passionate interest in life, love, work and play. What’s the Oxford Dictionary got to say about the origin of the word passion? –

Middle English: from Old French, from late Latin passio(n-) (chiefly a term in Christian theology), from Latin pati ‘suffer’

Ah, now there’s a question. What will I / we “suffer” in order to encounter fullness of life? And from whence comes the grace with which any of us live our lives passionately?

CONNECTION

I’D NOT SEEN this year’s Britain’s Got Talent until my friend Hilary drew my attention to Charlotte and Jonathan, after a Eucharistic celebration in which Rachael Elizabeth – herself extra-ordinarily connected with her hearers – encouraged us to pay attention to the Dominical command to “love one another”.

I don’t mind telling you that I’ve just howled my eyes out! The connection that Rachael spoke of this morning is so completely and patently present in these two young singers. The odds of pre-judging criticism weighed heavily against them – and for all their youth, they knew it, too. But there’s a mind-blowing, awe-inspiring Grace in the connection between these two, and each brings out the phenomenal charism of the other. Millions have been following the series and will have seen this film before. I’d bet my bottom dollar that no-one will mind watching this one again.

I saw connection and majesty in the Black Dyke Band on Thursday. Now I’ve watched, over and over again, the connection between these two, the power of the encouraging glance, loyalty, mutual admiration, giving and giving some more until it hurts – and then some more still, so that the hurt gives way to joy and glory. This piece of film brings me – literally – to my knees with admiration and awe, and it stretches my heart and lungs to near bursting point. Each “sees” the other – and whenever and with whomsoever that happens we see a glimpse of Heaven. And, as Rachael suggested, in the ultimate fullness of life it’ll be confirmed, irrevocably, that “we’re family”. Let this be our prayer.

The fabulous Ashleigh and Pudsey won this particular competition and I loved their act – and the “connection” between them, too. The singing duo were “runners up”. But I don’t think I’ll ever forget young Charlotte and Jonathan. I’m profoundly struck by the thought that as the Holy Spirit animates God’s Creation by her self-giving, as the loving spirit and anointing grace of Mary Magdalene animated Jesus the Anointed, so Charlotte animates and draws out the song-in-the-soul of Jonathan – though she could easily and blessedly have revelled only in her own. I salute this strong and tender young woman. I am touched to the core by the beauty that each magnifies in the other. There’s deep, deep majesty in them; a paradoxical enormity and littleness about their self-giving humility, a greatness about their gifts – of music and of character.

Deep, deep, deep grace. How does one say a fitting “thank you” for that?