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 …

SILENT MUSIC

IS IT POSSIBLE to encounter “the silent music of God’s praise” in company, and / or on a regular basis? Well, the evidence seems to be that an ever increasing number of people in Bramhall are finding it to be so. Month after month people assemble for Meditation, arriving in silence, meditating in silence, and departing in silence – and the steady flow of poetry, prayer, inspired conversation and other forms of reflection that come my-very- privileged-way after each gathering are truly heartening.

This evening I recalled a wise priest I held very, very dear in the earliest years of my own priestly ministry. He’d lost his faith, once, he told me. A visit to the bishop to offer his resignation became the turning point of his life. The gently compassionate and non-judgmental stillness in the bishop, who spoke barely a word, facilitated a converting realisation:

I’ve been much too fond of the sound of my own voice!

With great excitement my friend returned to his parish, newly determined, encouraged by his own pastor, the bishop, to seek God in silence. He found God there – and went on much later to lead me and countless others to the same place. Preachers and pastors spend a lot of time talking and strategising – “it goes with the turf”, we tell each other. But the words we speak – and the faith we so rely on – are equally the better informed when we’ve become as fond of the sound of silence as we are of our own voices. And I’m looking at a mirror 😉

Thank you. Thank you to my quiet fellow pilgrims.

GRANDPA’S VIOLIN

THE VIOLIN stuns me to silence, stillness and tears sometimes – all of which amount to experience of prayer – openness and contemplation.

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 …

ASCENDING ALLELUIAS

I OFTEN SPEAK about life’s being, for me, a colour-full affair. I’ve read on several occasions that some blind people can “see” in their dreams. This doesn’t surprise me.

Anger, anxiety,
adoration and awe,
celebration, communion,
confession, consolation,
consternation, contemplation,
dying, fear, joy,
lamentation, loneliness,
longing, love,
Magnificat, meditation, mediation,
passion, poetry, prayer and prose,
sadness, sleepiness, silence, song

– any and all forms of worship – often translate for me into vivid and fluid colour. The movement is gentle and healing. And thankfully, for a minimalist like me, the colour sometimes involves shades of plain and lovely uncluttered white. Neither the movement nor the colours are loud or aggressive or overwhelming. But they are bright. And each represents someone, some emotion, or some thing. A bit of time spent with “Alleluia” above may reveal some faces and one or two particular spaces …

In common with many artists, pray-ers and writers I think of our ultimate Heaven as fullness of life expressed in colours hitherto beyond our wildest seeing and dreams, but utterly reminiscent, too, of experiences we’ve known throughout our incarnate lives, here, in “this world”. Our hymn book contains a (much too long) version of the Ascensiontide “Hail the day that sees him rise”. Printed service orders (our Sunday usage) allow for discreet pruning. Not so when we use the hymn book, as we did on Thursday. So lots and lots of alleluias! For me though the words sometimes become the means of transport to a different level of seeing and / or hearing.

This “Alleluia” developed whilst humming “Hail the day” on and off over a period of about 48 hours. Sometimes these paintings start out with canvas or paper, paint and brush, and are photographed and digitally developed later. For this one the “medium” has been entirely my miracle iPad with BoxWave stylus. Have a great Sunday-after-Ascension. And may your Alleluias be colour-full and joyful.

LETTING WORDS GO …

IT’S WELL NIGH impossible to describe the measure of “peace that passeth understanding” that is experienced here during our monthly gatherings for Monday Meditation. That, in part, must be due to the fact that meditation is really about letting go of thoughts and words and just being. I’m mindful this evening of the gospel account of the great storm that frightened Jesus’ disciples out of their wits. His words for them are words we do well to hear now:

Peace. Be still.

A core group of around 75 people are practising regularly in and around our parish church, and many tell me that the “peace” spoken of in the ancient prayers of the Church – but not always experienced – is becoming a deeper reality for them.

For all that Jesus calls us to rise up and follow him into action, (said one note this week) there’s no avoiding the message that he still speaks when we get caught in – or turn life into a storm. Always the same: ‘Peace. Be still.’

I’m grateful.

MARY’S DRESS

BANK HOLIDAY weekend affords a happy extension to “left brain time.” There are always more books I want to read, more paintings I want to paint, more photographs I want to make, more writing to be done, more poems to unfold, more prayer to be celebrated, more people to share some time and stories with, more songs to be sung, more colours to be marvelled at, more silence to be revelled in – than time ordinarily allows. And that very fact is cause for thanksgiving! Life is indeed a rich tapestry. The signs of the reign, the joy of God, are all around me. And I’m immensely thankful for the connections that blogging makes possible with people all around the world.

Today’s artwork is inspired, in Eastertide, by Mary Magdalene, beloved apostle of Jesus, first witness to new life in the Resurrection, loyal provider of intimate and loving support and sustenance, someone generous, open-hearted and giving, someone who just “knew” instinctively, what Jesus’ mission on earth was about, someone released, by God’s goodness, from the kind of prison every one of us finds ourselves in from time to time.

All human persons are “bedevilled” by “Legion” the perpetually underlying and taunting belief that somehow we’re failing to make the grade, we’re unlovable, bigger and better “failures” than anyone else, destined to be “alone”, faithless, heartbroken, misunderstood, wretched. All human persons yearn for the kind of release that Jesus’ love and acceptance brought about in Mary’s life; for the kind of release that she brought about in his.

Mary Magdalene: someone cruelly maligned and abused by religious patriarchy and misogyny across the centuries, but all the while someone I’ve admired and looked to as an icon of life’s richness and fullness, of life’s goodness and generosity, of life’s being – under the vivifying reign of God – a beautifully, colourfully, gorgeously dressed dance with our Creator.

Sydney Carter described Jesus as The Lord of the Dance. In my heart I think of Mary of Magdala as Jesus’ dance-partner and she is clothed, dressed, like the environment all around and about her, in colour and glory. And theirs is a partnership, theirs is a dance that, far from being exclusive and excluding, invites you and I to join. “Shall we dance?”, Mary asks. “And shall we sing?”, asks the Lord of the Dance. And sometimes the colours blur a little in the swirling. And sometimes they’re blended by our tears …

Have you seen the wonder of it? Have you seen Mary’s dress?