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.

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.

COMING HOME

GOOD CONVERSATION with a young friend today.

What do you suppose Jesus was doing when he went off alone to pray? – I think it’s where he came home to himself.

I was stunned. I’ve seen sunset over Galilee from a hillside vantage-point and remember, as though it were yesterday, saying out loud: “here I’ve come home to myself.” The mental image of Jesus doing just that is a glorious one and it was present, for me, in our Monthly Monday Meditation tonight.

Earlier in the day we’d been grappling, at our weekly Vicar & Wardens meeting, with the passionate sense we have, at Bramhall Parish Church, of a call to speak about Jesus and about the things of faith in God in an intelligent way, in ways that make “words about God” – theology – something accessible and intelligible to as many 21st century children, women and men as we could imagine.

We spoke of my being regularly stymied by the inherited language of a great deal of Christian hymnody, heavily laden with substitutionary atonement theology and patriarchy, together with some of our liturgy and prayer. We’re looking for new – modern – language resources, and towards restoring some of the best of the ancient too, wondering about writing some of our own, praying from the heart, mindful of our call to embrace any and all who seek to “come home” to themselves and God, fascinated and hugely encouraged by the fact that at least as many people gather for our silent monthly meditation sessions as for other “Fresh Expressions” we know of. We’re praying daily for Grace to care and to dare.

In order to come home to ourselves, we should realize that what we really need is a radical reeducation from head to toe – Gus Gordon, Solitude & Compassion: The Path to the Heart of the Gospel, Orbis Books, 2009

Radical reeducation from head to toe. Yes: I think that’s what Jesus of Nazareth was advocating. And his vision arose directly out of his own frequent opting for solitude and compassion. Wilderness again. Solitude. Facing up to demons. Realigning ourselves. Grappling. Envisioning. This is praying. Coming home to oneself and God – the Source of the life in us.

Maybe the future of the Church will depend, to some degree, on Christian people’s willingness to step outside churches once in a while. In much the same way as the work and worship of the local synagogue is extended outwards and beyond – via family homes and daily observance, (I love the descriptive “an observant Jew”), so the Christian community should be encouraged to observe sacramentality in their daily lives and practices – the Church’s sacramental practice was not intended to replace that of our ordinary, every day lives, but to enhance and develop it.

For most Christian people ritual translates into liturgy and sacrament, with a distinctive assignment to who can facilitate the ceremony. As people mature into a more adult sense of faith they begin to realize that ritual-making is everybody’s prerogative, and everybody’s responsibility – Diarmuid O’Murchu, Adult Faith, Orbis Books, 2010

What do you suppose Jesus was doing when he went off alone to pray? – I think it’s where he came home to himself …

Me too. So I’ll be happy, in company with my fellow pilgrims here, to continue our searching – in words and in silence – for language with which at least some of the presently disenfranchised may be able to pray, coming home to themselves, alongside our own homecomings, today.

OPEN TO THE LIGHT

I’VE MADE HUNDREDS of photos of Spring tulips over the years. Though times are still chilly – even the threat of frost still in the night air – there’s also the promise of warmer, lighter days. A generous-hearted someone has planted bulbs at the busy roadside. This flower’s gentle nodding in the breeze is an invitation, “breathe: be aware”. The tulip’s early translucent form and almost tentative opening to the light speaks to me of infinite tenderness, the gentlest and most mindful of healing touches, extraordinary “purposeless” liberality, and the intimate and eternal gift to our lives of Life’s Divine care.

SILENT LIFTING MIND …

MONTH AFTER MONTH there’s a blessed gathering in the blurred and candlelit silence of our Monthly Monday Meditation. If Messy Church is important (and we absolutely believe it is) it is also of fundamental importance that we recognise the power of silence, of meditation, and of prayer, for the proper undergirding of our many and varied activities. No apologies for non-attendance are necessary or invited. This is not a numbers game. We don’t count. There’s nothing to do when we get there, except just be, in company with the “we” that makes up what the Quakers call a “circle of trust”. But, touchingly, beautifully, people send little notes or emails if they can’t make it sometimes. “I treasure this monthly gathering more than gold” said one such tonight. “And though I can’t be there in person you’ll know that I’m there in spirit”. And I do know, actually, that they’re “there”, even as I know that most of those who gather on these occasions couldn’t describe what happens either in the silence or in themselves. They / we are only able to say that it pulls us back, again and again. We just know, somehow, male and female, old and young, that it’s something necessary. Something important. Something of God.

And, while with silent lifting mind I’ve trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand and touched the face of God.

John Gillespie Magee | High Flight

A BRIDGE

THERE’S ALWAYS a lot going on in and around the life of a large and busy parish like ours. There are comings and goings in the ordinary sense and also, of course, in the literal sense. New arrivals. New departures. St Michael’s is often involved in celebrating both, and today a couple of hundred or so people gathered to say farewell to Nancy, a much beloved member of the local community and the church family.

Many who share in our Monthly Monday Meditation (blissful tonight after a busy start to the New Year) have spoken quietly of how these times, in this space and place, are for them a bridge between earth and heaven, of having, on these occasions, “a foot in both camps”. And I am thus assured that the teachings of Jesus about prayer are still alive and well; that the oft alluded to “going (alone) up a mountain” to commune with God is still a model that we can rejoice in. Jesus himself was able to be Pontifex – a bridge between heaven and earth – precisely because he had “a foot in both camps”. And it doesn’t matter at all that our view of earth or of heaven is misty. In fact it’s probably better that way. In my experience it’s in the quiet times, in the misty times, that I’m most moved to pray – and yet more importantly, to stay.