19 When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22 When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” Jn 19: 19 – 23
In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Wow, Bishop Gregory.
Wow, friends and family watching at home.
Wow whoever you are.
Wow because God is doing amazing things here in the diocese of St Asaph.
Gareth, Sally, Andy, Rachel, Simon, Chris, Susan, Carol, James
It has been so good to spend these three days with you. To see the remarkable people God is calling to priesthood in his church, in this place, at this time.
Jesus died and descended to the dead.
Jesus spent three days in the tomb.
Well, I hope our three days together hasn’t felt quite like that. But I do hope you are feeling resurrection joy now.
As Christians, as priests we are called to be resurrection people.
Ministers, messengers, heralds of the resurrection.
Here we are in this most extraordinary of ordinations, in, I hope, contemplative intimacy; there is a stillness, in this place as if it was evening; there is space around each of us. For this hour you don’t have to be concerned about whether your family and friends made it on time, found somewhere to park or managed to get breakfast before they set off. It is just us, resurrection people, gathered around a table, listening to our resurrection story.
The disciples didn’t know on that evening when Jesus came into the room just what it was to be a resurrection person. It was new to them. New to the world. But we know, every one of you knows. In little ways you have told and shown over the last few days how the resurrection has touched your life; made a difference; changed things.
The doors are not quite locked this morning. But they might as well be, because we are afraid. Afraid of plague, and virus, afraid of infection.
Let’s name it as the poet Gwenallt did in that stunning poem we looked at last night: there is terror in the air.
The winter ahead is going to be hard; the economic effects of this pandemic will make the Great Depression look easy. The person holding the role – as we used to call it – of leader of the free world is in hospital. We are in local lockdown and can’t even visit each other’s houses.
There is terror in the air.
But the pandemic is not really anything new.
It is like dye thrown into water. It reveals what is always there.
It is the human condition to live with terror. We have fooled ourselves for seventy years. That we would be the generations without world war; the generations in which everyone would get just get richer and that economies would just do one thing: grow.
We had a warning in the financial crisis of 2008. And now we have the big one.
But to be human is to live with terror: to know that death is always a possibility.
To know that whenever we make a choice we might be making the wrong one; to know that the good we want to do we do not do; and those things we don’t want to do: we do.
This is the human condition.
And in these strange times look at the gospel we have just read and notice how shocking it is.
He breathed on them.
When you are ordained this morning we will have made every possible effort to make sure that Bishop Gregory doesn’t, can’t breathe on you.
Out there the police have powers to make sure that we don’t do what Jesus did and make our way into peoples homes despite their locked doors.
But, even so, we are resurrection people.
The church has been in terror for decades. Terror as our numbers decline, as we worry about what the future will hold, terror that we will have to close our buildings, that there is no future.
And yet God works. He is working in every place where people are gathering on Zoom, or phoning round, working in Hope Street as Rachel and Andy and the team do a new thing there. Working in the Mission Areas of this diocese as resurrections shatters the traditional structures of the church and makes something new.
And God works in the terror of my life; the terror of all our lives: that we won’t be good enough; that our relationships won’t work out; that we will lose our job; that our children will not be happy and successful.
We are all afraid.
And into that. Jesus does come.
Jesus comes to us, he has come to me, he has come to you and we know him.
We know that Jesus makes a difference.
Last night together at St Beuno’s we looked at those two things that only a priest can do, that soon you will be able to do: to set people free from sin and to take bread and wine and reveal the presence of the risen Jesus.
To be a priest, to be a minister of the resurrection is to be someone who makes a difference, to be someone who changes things.
We know that the world can’t just go back after this pandemic. We are changed for ever.
We know that the world will never be as it was because of the ecological damage we, the human race, have done.
Our task is to speak resurrection into that. To make a difference.
Where there is terror: to bring peace.
To say to people as Jesus did, as Jesus does: Peace be with you.
And to show them as Jesus did the wounds.
To speak to them of Jesus and the difference he has made in your life.
Friends at home. Ask these people; get them to tell you the difference that Jesus has made to them, in their lives. If you are feeling the terror right now ask them to pray with you and to help you hear Jesus say: peace be with you.
And to do that, to be a resurrection person, to be a minister of the resurrection on our retreat we’ve shared five ways, five steps of sustainable ministry; ministry that will continue for the rest of your lives:
Read your bible: keep it close to you. Never go many hours without touching base with Scripture. Especially the psalms; pray them every day as Christians have always done, learn them off by heart. The psalms are a powerful weapon against the terror, because they are full of terror, and full of resurrection which is stronger.
Most of all they are full of Jesus.
Use his powerful name over and over again in your life. When the terror seems strong in you and around you: speak his name. Say it out loud; the name above every name; the name that makes demons fly; the name that speaks peace.
Love the church: this is the body of Christ; this is where a difference is made; wounded, bloody, crucified, holes in our side. We are resurrection people. Love it deeply as we love our family and friends with all their wounds.
Know that you are never alone because you belong to this body the church and because you are ordained to the priesthood of the church. You will not own it, possess it, you simply share in it. Priesthood is something you participate in. Don’t hold on to it. Swim in it, revel in it and enjoy it.
And in the steps of our journey over the last few days we headed to one thing: the Eucharist.
In your priesthood love this banquet,
our cup overflows,
God himself has set the table for us,
there beside restful waters he leads us,
even through the dark valley of plague and terror.
This is what your hands will be anointed for:
to take bread and wine and make it different.
Do it as often as you can. Love to do it, seek out places to do it and people to do it with.
Whether it’s an old Burton’s store in Wrexham, a medieval church or your dining table with your family or friends.
Do these five things:
Read the bible;
Call on the name of Jesus
Love the Church
Celebrate your inter-being in the body of Christ in resurrection ministry
and celebrate the Eucharist
Do these five things and you will be resurrection people.
God has called you to joy. To en-joy the priesthood.
Gareth, Sally, Andy, Rachel, Simon, Chris, Susan, Carol, James
Sermon pre-recorded and broadcast at and from St Asaph Cathedral
13th September 2020
Masks are disconcerting to those who see us wearing them. They conceal. I have failed to recognise people I know quite well. They make it hard to intuit mood, to hear – how much more lip-reading I must do than I ever realised. But they are also hard to wear.
I still haven’t learnt how to wear glasses with a mask and not steam up.
the first time I had to wear a mask for several hours I felt dizzy – perhaps I wasn’t getting enough oxygen.
I have spent much of my adult life teaching people how to breathe. To have good posture, to show them the science lab lungs and explain that its the diaphragm that does the work not the lungs. I have urged people to raise their chins so as not to hamper their breathing, to open their chests out, shoulders back.
And now we do this thing of putting a mask on; deliberately hindering our breathing.
Musicians, and especially singers, know all about breathing and its importance.
For most of us we are usually unaware of our breathing until we have difficulties, a cold, asthma, or find ourselves in a room full of smoke.
But one of my earliest memories is of breathing.
My favourite hymn is Breathe on me breath of God. Since this is a music festival perhaps I will upset a good proportion of you if I tell you my preferred tune. And it is a hymn text set to a remarkable number of different tunes. But for me I will always associate the words with Charles Lockhart’s Carlisle.
I love this text because it reminds me of being a small child. I had fallen in the garden and my knee was bleeding. Running into the house my mother scooped me up and sat down with my on the sofa. As I sobbed my heart out I felt her breathing. Her warm breath on my head and her chest rising and falling. That moment has stayed with me for the whole of my life. Breathe on me breath of God. The breath that mothers me. The breath that brings me back to my true self. The breath that weathers storms external and internal.
Musicians know the importance of breathing.
But breathing is important to us all. It is important because it is literally life-giving. In the book Genesis God breathes into the dust, the earth, to give it life. In Hebrew the ruach the spirit is the wind and breath that bring life to dry bones. In the Greek of the new testament the spirit is pnuema, the breath, the air and for Christians the hagia pneuma the Holy Spirit is God. God who gives life and gifts.
Last summer my mother died and my brother and sister and I sat around her bed in the hospice where she died. Over her final hours we followed her every breath as they became shallower and shallower until finally she just stopped breathing.
Breathe on me breath of God.
learning how to breathe might sound like something we don’t need to do.
I teach breathing as part of teaching Mindfulness or meditation. Mindfulness is very much in fashion these days. But Christians have been practising mindfulness throughout Christian history. One collection of texts in the Russian and Greek Orthodox tradition, the Philokalia teaches the combination of careful breathing with the word of the Jesus Prayer; Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.
But words are not necessary. Mindfulness of breathing, just being aware of our breathing wakes us up to awareness of so much more. We live in shadow, in twilight for much of our lives not noticing the miracles that surround us; that are us.
Noticing our breathing. Breathing in and knowing that I am breathing in. Breathing out and knowing that I am breathing out.
Music too can be like that. Taking the very ordinary, sounds. And arranging it in a way that helps us notice them.
I am a great fan of the jazz musician John Coltrane and I love this icon of him that has been painted. Carrying the saxophone with the fire of the Spirit showing in it the words on the scroll are a quote from him:
“God breathes through us so completely so gently we hardly feel it. yet it is our everything.”
Breathing is not just about what we do any more than music is just about what any of us does. Breathing connects us to something larger, something greater than just me.
The poet Don Paterson captures this beautifully in his series of sonnets on Orpheus. here is one called, simply Breath.
Breath, you invisible poem –
pure exchange, sister to silence,
being and its counterbalance,
rhythm wherein I become,
ocean I accumulate
by stealth, by the same slow wave;
thriftiest of seas … Thief
of the whole cosmos! What estates,
what vast space have already poured
through my lungs? The four winds
are like daughters to me.
So do you know me, air, that once sailed
You, that were once the lead and rind
of my every word?
When we breathe we breathe in something that is not us and can recognise that we are dust that breathes. That this little breath that I breathe now is part of the air that inhabits the planet.
It is a sign that we are connected to everything that is.
This is why our pollution of the air is so frightening. We are polluting the stuff of our own lives. We are polluting ourselves.
It is a spiritual issue.
There is a wonderful book by Donald Miller the subtitle is “Non religious thoughts on Christian Spirituality” The book’s title is Blue Like Jazz and some of you may know the famous album by Miles Davis A Kind of Blue. That would probably be the album I would save if the waves took the remainder of my Desert Island choices.
In his introduction to his book Miller writes:
“I NEVER LIKED JAZZ MUSIC BECAUSE JAZZ MUSIC doesn’t resolve. But I was outside the Bagdad Theater in Portland one night when I saw a man playing the saxophone. I stood there for fifteen minutes, and he never opened his eyes. After that I liked jazz music. Sometimes you have to watch somebody love something before you can love it yourself. It is as if they are showing you the way. I used to not like God because God didn’t resolve.”
We live in an unresolved world. We live in unresolved times.
None of us can se ethe way ahead in this pandemic, or even know with certainty that we will be able to gather for this music festival in person next year or the year after.
Living with that unresolvedness is hard. It is stressful and creates anxiety.
But when we breathe we are always letting go. Our out breath matches our in breath. We might be able to hold our breath for a few seconds or even minutes but we can never hold on to our breath.
And as we let the breath go; if we wake up and recognise that God breathes through us, in us, that it it is the breath of God we will find a peace deeper and richer than we have ever guessed, we will breathe the breath of God.
Christ Church Cathedral and Church At Home, Diocese of Oxford (on-line service)
Having worked in schools for much of my adult life I’ve heard the line “That’s not fair.” on multiple occasions.
Children and young people have a heightened awareness of fairness. At its best this can lead to the wonderful idealism that the young have and heroic works for justice in the way that Greta Thunberg has been doing.
At its worst an unrealistic expectation of fairness can lead to resentment.
Fairness is not a reward for good behaviour and is in short supply in the random-ness of disease, accidents and tragedies.
The two readings we have just heard are wonderful, but quite complicated.
The key to understanding them, it seems to me, is to remember that both Jesus and St Paul were not so much in the business of converting individuals as in creating a community.
A community of the converted.
A community of disciples.
Paul’s letters to the first Christianity communities are almost all about that community-building and how those communities deal with the real, practical questions.
In today’s first reading what it’s ok or not ok for Christians to eat and what christians should do, if anything, about keeping holy days.
Jesus’ public ministry was relatively short, probably just three years. But that is still quite a long time to be travelling with a group of people.
The disciples were a very intense form of community. It’s not surprising therefore that a lot of what Jesus teaches us about is how to be community, and particularly how to deal with the intense feelings that arise when human beings live and work together.
One of the key themes of many of the sayings and stories of Jesus is resentment. Fairness and unfairness.
I think Jesus profoundly understands the corrosive nature of resentment as one of the key poisons that can destroy communities and individuals.
Over and over again there is a clear reflection on the causes of resentment:
The labourers who work an hour at the end of the day and get paid the same a those who have worked all day;
the older son who has stayed faithfully at home but then has to watch while a party is laid on for his younger brother who has just squandered half the family assets; resentment about who is the greatest, the favourite, among the disciples.
Today’s story is also about fairness and therefore about resentment.
And it refers to a pattern of resentment that I see over and over again, with colleagues, church communities and across human societies.
When someone is treated generously – like the servant in today’s gospel – they resent it and go on to treat others badly.
Now there are, no doubt, in-depth psychological reasons for this way in which we human beings sometimes react to generosity.
But I want to think very practically about an issue of our own time and how we react to it.
In the twenty first century Christians, for the most part don’t worry too much about what food we are permitted to eat, although the climate crisis might raise more questions than most of us face on this.
And most Christians are pretty settled about how we observe Sunday as the Lord’s Day and when we are most likely to worship. Although changing work and leisure patterns might suggest that we need to question that more than we do.
But we can’t get away from facing up to the crucial justice issues of our own day. I am fascinated by reactions to the Black Lives Matter movement that has swept across not only American cities but around the world and very strongly here in the UK.
It’s a matter of justice that resonates deeply in my heart. Not only because we good Anglicans, are, of course, opposed to racism. But also because of my experience as a Head teacher in south east London where my school was a majority black school, and as a priest there at a church where the congregation was also majority black. Hearing the accounts that my friends, colleagues, pupils and their families shared about everyday racism shook me to the core.
And noticing racism in action myself.
When I was a school chaplain to a black Headteacher, if she and I were stood together or alone in a room when a visitor came in the assumption that I was the Head. This happened almost every week.
Or taking a group of pupils on a school visit and people walking passed black colleagues to talk to me, the white man at the back of the line. This happened on almost every school visit I went on.
And these are minor examples. Casual racism. Every black person I know can tell much more horrifying stories, but those accounts belong to them not to me.
Of course as good Anglicans we are opposed to racism.
But are we really?
In so many of the conversations I’ve heard about Black Lives Matter someone says, usually not very far into the conversation:
‘But what we need to teach is that every life matters.’
That is a classic resentful response. Noticing someone else’s need and then switching to universalise it.
As if there is some kind of shortage of mattering. As if there is something unfair in noticing someone else’s suffering.
An answer, a solution to this can be found in the passage from Paul’s letter to the Romans that we had as our first reading. It comes towards the end of the reading after Paul has laid out the presenting issues, and then he comes in with a typical major statement:
“We do not live to ourselves,
and we do not die to ourselves.”
It’s the sort of sentence from Paul that we are so used to hearing that we hardly notice it.
And yet it’s the heart of the gospel.
It’s the revolution that is fundamental to conversion.
We are no longer the centre of our universe.
When we are resentful it is from a position of self-centredness; it is claiming I deserve that; that’s mine; don’t take it from me.
When we don’t live to ourselves; when Jesus is the centre of our universe we realise that we are connected in him with everyone; Black lives matter because there is no longer me and them; there is simply us.
So how do you feel about Black Lives Matter?
I want to suggest a practical thing that we could all do to demonstrate that Black Lives Matter in our churches. It isn’t a revolution; it may appear at first to be a very shallow thing. But doing it can have a powerful effect on us.
So in my sermon available to the whole diocese today online in the Church At Home material I am suggesting that we go into all our churches including this cathedral church
and list all the pictures of all the people that you can see.
Perhaps its the clergy team photos, or the PCC members, list them;
then go on to the pictures, in the stained glass windows, banners and other pictures. Then do the same for church websites.
Now add up the people of colour we can see.
Because of my time working with so many black people I have a large number of pictures of black saints, black heroes, and images of Jesus, Mary and others as black people. here are two of my favourites. The first is based on a famous icon of the story of Genesis where Abraham meets three angels or lords. It is often called the Trinity and seen as an image of the way Christians understand God to be. here the artist Meg Wroe has painted a version with the faces of three people from the diocese of Southwark on it. The original is in Southwark Cathedral and is, I think rather beautiful.
The other two are by Yvonne Bell an artist who worships in our diocese at Winslow in Buckinghamshire. Christ of the Flowers, and Mother of God of Clemency.
When I moved here to Christ Church a few weeks ago
among the removal team were two young black men.
As they packed my collection of pictures and icons they were beside themselves at all the black images. It sparked long conversations with them as we worked about race, Black Lives Matter, faith and their own experiences of racism and church. It was a very beautiful conversation.
For Christians, working for justice is not about fairness. It is about God revealing himself.
Right at the start of revelation in Genesis we are told that human beings are created in the image and likeness of God. Every human being is a revelation to us of God. Our reaction to every human being needs to be awe, wonder and reverence.
We can depict Jesus as black, not because he was of African origin but because God reveals himself to us in every person.
Imagine if every church in our diocese had images of black and minority ethnic people in it. If every website included images of non-white people.
this is especially important in areas (like rural Staffordshire where I’ve been living for the last few years)
where no black people live.
I have been talking often in my first week about that little carving of the listener above the Sub Dean’s stall.
Paying attention to Black Lives Matter, to the young in their yearning for justice is to show our love for them, show that we receive the image of God in them.
To make this building a home for all people is to make it a place where everyone can walk in and find themselves here, see themselves in the images, experience the divine in the holy women and holy men of the past, women and men of all races and nations.
Once we live God-centred lives we realise our true equality. As St Paul says at the very end of the first reading “We will all stand before the judgement seat of God.”
Thank fully God’s judgement is merciful and for that mercy “every tongue shall give praise to God.”
“We do not live to ourselves,
and we do not die to ourselves.”
Canvas prints, commissions and cards of icons by Yvonne Bell cans be purchased via her website here.
“As we move from late antiquity toward the Middle Ages, more complex Latin syntheses of these originally Eastern elements emerge. The simplest of these can be found in Irish monastic sources, which reached their most developed form in the traditions and texts of the Céli Dé or Culdees. While the Apophthegmata include stories of monks heroically reciting all 150 psalms, the Irish texts seem to make this the daily responsibility of every monk, to be completed in “three fifties” along with other texts, such as the Beatitudes (Matt. 5:3–12). One finds Irish liturgical offices in which the three fifties form part of an even larger course of daily psalmody, but more often the recita- tion seems more like an expiatory exercise for the individual monk, to be combined with other ascetic practices such as holding up the hands for long periods, numerous genuflections or prostrations, repeated blows with a scourge, fasting, exposure to harsh weather conditions, and so on. Similar practices are prescribed in some of the Irish penitentials.”31
Jeffery, P. (2020). Psalmody and Prayer in Early Monasticism. In A. Beach & I. Cochelin (Eds.), The Cambridge History of Medieval Monasticism in the Latin West (pp. 112-127). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
“A reform movement influential from 750 – 900 required even a secular cleric to recite all the psalms every day”
van Heusen, Nancy. The Place of the Psalms in the Intellectual Culture of the Middle Ages (p60)
Keeping a journal has never been part of my life except on retreat and I now have quite a set of these notebooks recording most of the retreats I have made in my adult life. I usually bring all or some of my previous journals with me. In 1997 I was not far from where I am now in north Wales. Also in a borrowed cottage, on the Llyn Peninsula. RS Thomas and Jim Cotter country. On one day then I wrote in my journal: “150 psalms prayed, 3 hours 55 minutes”.
The psalms are extraordinary. There is never a day when I not only pray a substantial portion of psalmody but also spend a little time reading commentaries or devotional guides or expositions of the psalms. Most importantly the expositions on the psalms of Saint Augustine of Hippo.
The Celtic saints are renowned for their ascetic practices and the recitation of the psalter is often among those quoted. A Facebook request brought fascinating material on the idea of reciting the whole psalter daily. St Benedict refers to this (Chapter 18) in his Rule:
“We read, after all, that our holy Fathers, energetic as they were, did all this in a single day. Let us hope that we, lukewarm as we are, can achieve it in a whole week.”
Beginning a new ministry at Christ Church, Oxford I am drawn to St Frideswide, patron of Oxford whose shrine is in the Cathedral and where, soon I shall be praying daily. The loan of a stunning icon of her for me to bring with me on retreat (see above) has reinforced that sense of connection. She may well be a link to those Celtic saints not just in time but possibly in her own origins.
There is something extreme about the effort to pray the whole psalter in a day that appeals to me. The effort to do something heroic even if only in a minor way. So I had been planning on doing this for a while. I had, in fact decided to divide the psalms across 15 hours starting at 4:30am and reciting a group of psalms beginning at each half hour throughout the day. However, when I read about the Céli Dé and their practice of three-fifties I changed my mind.
The length of the entire psalter is interesting. It is best measured in words rather than verses or psalms. In the Hebrew there are just 30,147 words. In English the BCP/Coverdale psalter has 48, 417 words. Common Worship comes in at 45,375 and my favourite translation of the psalms, the Grail version, at 42,621. I would love to know how many are in the defunct ICEL translation of the late 1990s which deliberately tried a sparser vocabulary to be closer to the Hebrew. But I haven’t been able to find an electronic version (do let me know if you have one). It is a beautiful translation which I use occasionally, although it lacks the lovely rhythmic patterns of the Grail.
Singing is an essential part of prayer for me. So I decided to use the Conception psalm tones which are designed to be sung with stanzas of varying lengths. I had thought about use a setting of the Grail psalter to the traditional plainsong tones but I would need to play those over on my recorder to get them anywhere near right and that would have added time. They are also rather slower to sing than the Conception tones which really draw out the sprung rhythm that the translators deliberately sought.
Beginning the three fifties at 4:30am, 1:30pm and 6:30pm I was surprised that they are remarkably similar in length (14,126; 14,480; and 14,015 words respectively). They also took a remarkably similar length of time to sing, between one hour and fifty and one hour and fifty-five minutes. A lot longer than my younger self; perhaps I hurried then, I certainly must have recited not sung the psalms to have done it in such a time. This time I didn’t hurry but I went at a good pace and there were no pauses or silences. I prayed Mass and Compline but otherwise didn’t pray any other Offices or texts.
Praying the psalms daily I know them well and so I was not expecting the powerful effect that praying them all in one go would have on me. I am particularly taken with a scholarly approach to studying the psalms that takes the canonical form of the psalter seriously. At one time genre criticism concentrated on what category each psalm belongs in (lament, royal etc). More recently reception criticism particularly in the work of Sue Gillingham has looked at their use and reception in different communities and contexts. Canonical criticism takes the work of the final editors very seriously. Why did they place the psalms in this order and in these relationships to one another. Although I knew much of that intellectually, the praying of them all in one day makes those patterns very interesting indeed. Psalm 119 in the final of the fifties both referred back to where I had begun with its wisdom and torah; and feels like an assimilation of the surge of varied experiences, emotions depths and heights described in the preceding psalms. The royal psalms, if anything, diminish by their relationship to the wisdom tradition; it is royalty firmly in its place. The psalms of ascent are truly an ascent; like the last leg of climbing mountain after a long preceding climb. I was tired, my voice was tired. And then the view at the top of the mountain. The wonderful psalms of praise the climax, the big sky moment. These psalms are normally associated with the morning so praying them in the dark increased the disorientation.
Throughout the singing I was struck by Brueggeman’s description of the process of orientation – disorientation- reorientation. Singing the psalms in this unfamiliar way, in an unfamiliar place, at unfamiliar times. At times it felt like I was losing my footing.The experience to which I can most easily compare it is the one occasion when, as a teenager on some outward bounds type week, I went white water rafting (coincidentally also here in Wales on the Wye). It was probably pretty tame really but I remember that sense of being almost out of control; the river carrying me; not being able to stop. And the exhilaration.
Extreme acts of piety do appeal to me. But I am not insane. I am not suggesting that any of us could adopt this as a regular practice. But I would like to think that I might make this an annual practice. Often people say to me that they don’t really know what to do on retreat. Spending one day doing this would be a fascinating process. I hope as exhilarating and spiritually enervating as it has been for me.
It has made me wonder about moving to more frequent recitation of the psalms in my prayer. I have always suggested that a month / four weeks (as in the BCP and in the Roman Divine Office) is the longest appropriate period for praying the psalms. I am now wondering if I could develop a weekly cycle for the whole psalter at Vigils. Many of my friends use the weekly cycle of the Anglican Breviary for their prayers and find it deeply satisfying.
Today, I went to the beach. With mountains around me and the waves crashing in a psalm is the only possible response:
My grandmother took me to the Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham when I was 3 months old and offered me to the Lord. She had always wanted a priest among her children and grandchildren. I lived with her for a period of my childhood and at 4 years old I told my Reception teacher that I wanted to be a priest. I have returned multiple times a year for almost all my life. Cycling sometimes from King’s Lynn along that glorious road.
After dear friends were ordained priest I drove with them to Walsingham and deaconed their first Masses in the Holy House. After my own ordination to the sacred priesthood I drove to Norfolk to celebrate my second Mass in the Holy House.
I have made innumerable pilgrimages. The palimpsest of my memories is so heavy. Children from Trinity School. The ghost walk. Dear, dead friends. The living. The place. The rooms. Everything. It is woven into my being.
As is the difficulty.
Priests who are women not being able to be celebrate, concelebrate. The rudeness, awkwardness and occasionally abuse they have faced there. I have seen it. It is not exaggerated. I have been embarrassed, apologised. Tried to compromise. I have taken pilgrim groups with gracious women and celebrated Masses in nearby parishes.
I have suggested compromises. A chapel to celebrate in? The Barn Chapel? Flags put up for celebrants identifying priests of the Society and those of us who are not. I don’t mind the truth. Otherwise it is just ghettoes.
Mutual Flourishing must be about flourishing in the same space. And I get that it is hard. But the Guardians reserve the space at Walsingham for one integrity.
I want the ‘tradition-alists’ to flourish, we would be diminished without them. But we can only flourish when we do so in the same spaces.
I love concelebrating the National Pilgrimage. But I would willingly give that up to be in choir with sister priests.
Perhaps it’s the lockdown.
This may be the longest in my life I have not been to Walsingham.
The Holy House. A home for everyone. But not. Our Lady weeps.
If I go again, I will celebrate Mass in nearby parishes, in my room on the floor. There is no room at this inn for me.
It need not be like this.
Please note that I have not consulted anyone about this. The Sodality has no policy about Walsingham I respect all those who remain as Priests Associate. This is a personal decision. And a necessary one.Please pray for me. I weep.
God longs to speak to us, with us, god longs for us to hear his voice.
And the first way in which he speaks to us, the fundamental place for us to go to hear him is in the words of Scripture. Which is why faithful, day by day reading of the bible is fundamental to Christian living. So perhaps this week you might want to spend time with the three beautiful Scriptures gifted to us on this feast of St Bartholomew apostle and martyr.
It is in three single verses, one from each reading that I believe the Lord spoke to me as I prepared to preach this evening.
You are my witnesses. The Lord say in Isaiah 43:10.
We are all of us, by virtue of, that is the strength given us in baptism called to be witnesses. But we are not all called to be preachers and evangelists, this is what St Paul says in Ephesians 4 (11 ff) only some are called to evangelise.
For the writers of the New Testament the word for witnesses is the Greek word, martures; from which we get our word martyr. It was this word that the Greek version of the Old Testament, the Hebrew Scriptures that the the new testament writers knew, was used here in Isaiah.
God calls all of us, you and me, each of us here; every baptised person to be his martyrs. Now in a strange way I find that quite liberating.
If witnessing simply meant talking about Jesus, telling people about our faith and encouraging people to come to church; well, it is all a bit one -dimensional. In some of the literature on mission it can all be made to seem a bit too easy. “Bring a friend Sunday and we can double our congregations.”!
“You are my martyrs”; is a whole other ball-game. We are all called to die for Christ. Well, at one level, of course, that is true. We are certainly all going to die one day. But this call is a call to be martyrs to die for a purpose and that purpose is made clear by Isaiah, it is so that “you may know and believe me.” Not so that others may know God, but so that we may know God; when we are martyrs; when we die; we know God better. This is important.
It is in today’s Gospel that we move to doing things for others. “I am among you” Jesus says, “as one who serves”. And then he immediately describes the service the disciples have given him, “you have stood by me in my trials.”
I think the teaching given in these two readings is profound and important. The martyrdom we are called to; which I have come to believe is the only, the single aim of the spiritual life is what Christian writers call abandonment; what the new testament describes as dying to self. The possible New Testament references I could give here would take most of the night, so you will be pleased to know that I am not going to suggest more than a few. “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me.” (Galatians 2:20) Jesus said “”If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself …” (Lk 9:23), “unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies” (Jn 12:24 “whoever loses his life for my sake” (Mark 8:35) and so on.
This is the very heart of the gospel, and it is gospel, it is good news because it is profoundly liberating.
When we are seeking to shore up our sense of self; when we are constantly seeking to affirm ourselves, even our identities; when we need possessions, or status, or qualifications, or power; or whatever it is that to make us feel like we exist; that we are real; the pursuit of all that is relentless; it is exhausting; and like any drug the more often we get it the weaker the effect and the more of it we need.
The alternative; letting go of whatever props us up may seem scary at first, perhaps even impossible to do but it sets us free. It releases us and allows us to see what is really important. Perhaps, in these Covid days of lockdown and strangeness you have seen how you can live without something that you once thought was vital to your life and well-being? Perhaps, you have found this in standing with someone in their trials?
I suggest one way in which we can both work on our dying to self, our martyrdom and in which we can measure our progress on this journey which is really, of course, a lifetime’s journey.
It is the extent of our capacity to pay attention to another person; to another human being. To be truly present to them.
To encounter them in a way which honours them, which recognises them as a revelation of the image and likeness of God.
There are some people who seem to have this gift naturally. Who, to meet is a pleasure and joy because they are not constantly thinking of the next thing to say, of what their response is going to be or even of somewhere else they would rather be; or someone else they would rather be talking to.
These people have the gift of being really present to us. Giving us their full attention.
My suggestion is that the scandal of the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist is not that God is present; but that we are not.
This is captured beautifully by one of my favourite poets, Denise Levertov in her poem Flickering Mind. I will read it and it is also on the cards I have handed out.
Lord, not you,
it is I who am absent.
belief was a joy I kept in secret,
into sacred places;
a quick glance, and away – and back,
I have long since uttered your name
I elude your presence.
to think about you, and my mind
like a minnow darts away,
into the shadows, into gleams that fret
the river’s purling and passing.
Not for one second
will my self hold still, but wanders
everywhere it can turn. Not you,
it is I am absent.
You are the stream, the fish, the light,
the pulsing shadow,
you the unchanging presence, in whom all
moves and changes.
How can I focus my flickering, perceive
at the fountain’s heart
the sapphire I know is there?
In our second reading tonight, from the Acts of the Apostles, we are told of the signs and wonders that were done among the people. It was this; not talking about the faith, not bring a friend Sunday that, grew the church; it was the power of faith acting in the lives of the disciples that so struck those they met that they wanted to be a part of it.
When we meet someone who pays attention to us it is compelling. The poet Rilke says that to pay attention to is the best definition of love. I would call it holiness.
And we can learn to do it by spending time with Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. By bringing even our absence; even our flickering mind, to be present with Jesus. Just sitting there without expecting a spiritual experience, a revelation, without thinking about what to say. Just our own, ordinary, simple, straightforward presence. To be with Jesus in the way that Bartholomew was who he described as being without guile. To be guilelessly present to Jesus just as he is guilelessly present to us.
When we do that, rather than something for ourselves; when we do that, rather than accumulate something that builds up our ego. Then we are entering into abandonment; then we are becoming present to the Real Presence and then we will do signs and wonders; then we will stand by others in their trials; then we shall be martyrs, witnesses, that God is real; that God is true.
10th July, 2020: This is an old post from my previous blog. I re-post it because it is one of the most popular and one that I regularly refer people to. Often in life we feel the effects of the spiritual conflict between good and evil, we feel and sometimes are, attacked, and we need a prayer for protection. Of course it is always important to recognise that the conflict is as much within us as outside. Our own selfishness and sinfulness attacks us. It is important that we never think of those who attack us as ‘evil’ and ourselves as ‘good’. With the addition of readings this prayer makes a good little liturgy, almost a ‘little Office’. I have used it with both adults and teenagers. It works really well prayed outdoors, especially early in the morning at sunrise; with hot chocolate and marshmallows around a fire at night; or on a stormy day on a mountain-top …
My great grandparents came from the west of Ireland at the end of the nineteenth century and ended up in Chesterfield in Derbyshire. The family story is that they lived, along with many other Irish immigrants, in Brown’s Yard and that great-gran was a laundry woman. Although she was born in England my grandmother considered herself Irish and it was from her I learnt the faith.
My Irish forebears were reversing the journey made by St Patrick. I have always loved the Lorica, St Patrick’s breastplate, in its full version (as found in the English Hymnal). The strong sense of the spiritual combat permeates the whole prayer but also the wonderful, dynamic relationship of the Trinity which is alive and powerful.
The Lorica makes a lovely little liturgy all by itself. The addition of readings – in the booklet below I suggest either Ephesians 6 (the breastplate of righteousness) or Deuteronomy 6 (the Sh’ma) and that lovely verse from Hosea “I will betroth me unto thee for ever” seem to work really well.
I have used this booklet of the Lorica as a morning liturgy on retreat with parishioners and have strong memories of standing in the grounds of Llangasty Retreat House with friends from St Andrew’s, Earlsfield singing it in the morning sun. My other memory of it is on a blustery, rainy day on Dartmoor with a group of pupils from Trinity, singing it with rain blowing into my face and the booklet disintegrating in my hands. It is a bracing outdoor prayer for a stormy day.
Most hymn books omit sections of the Lorica which is a shame. For those of us who live the spiritual conflict on a daily basis (isn’t that everyone?) – it’s a powerful prayer.
From Cyberhymnal: “The lyrics are a translation of a Gaelic poem called “St. Patrick’s Lorica,” or breastplate. (A “lorica” was a mystical garment that was supposed to protect the wearer from danger and illness, and guarantee entry into Heaven.) Cecil Alexander penned these words at the request of H. H. Dickinson, Dean of the Chapel Royal at Dublin Castle. I wrote to her suggesting that she should fill a gap in our Irish Church Hymnal by giving us a metrical version of St. Patrick’s “Lorica” and I sent her a carefully collated copy of the best prose translations of it. Within a week she sent me that exquisitely beautiful as well as faithful version which appears in the appendix to our Church Hymnal. This hymn can be a challenge to sing without seeing the words matched to the notes, but it is a masterpiece nevertheless.”
I bind unto myself today
The strong Name of the Trinity,
By invocation of the same
The Three in One and One in Three.
I bind this today to me forever
By power of faith,
His baptism in Jordan river,
His death on Cross for my salvation;
His bursting from the spicèd tomb,
His riding up the heavenly way,
His coming at the day of doom
I bind unto myself today.
I bind unto myself the power
Of the great love of cherubim;
The sweet ‘Well done’ in judgment hour,
The service of the seraphim,
Confessors’ faith, Apostles’ word,
The Patriarchs’ prayers, the prophets’ scrolls,
All good deeds done unto the Lord
And purity of virgin souls.
I bind unto myself today
The virtues of the star lit heaven,
The glorious sun’s life giving ray,
The whiteness of the moon at even,
The flashing of the lightning free,
The whirling wind’s tempestuous shocks,
The stable earth, the deep salt sea
Around the old eternal rocks.
I bind unto myself today
The power of God to hold and lead,
His eye to watch,
His might to stay,
His ear to hearken to my need.
The wisdom of my God to teach,
His hand to guide,
His shield to ward;
The word of God to give me speech,
His heavenly host to be my guard.
Against the demon snares of sin,
The vice that gives temptation force,
The natural lusts that war within,
The hostile men that mar my course;
Or few or many, far or nigh,
In every place and in all hours,
Against their fierce hostility
I bind to me these holy powers.
Against all Satan’s spells and wiles,
Against false words of heresy,
Against the knowledge that defiles,
Against the heart’s idolatry,
Against the wizard’s evil craft,
Against the death wound and the burning,
The choking wave, the poisoned shaft,
Protect me, Christ, till Thy returning.
Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness; And your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace; Above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God: Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints.
Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD: And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might. And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart: And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up. And thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thine hand, and they shall be as frontlets between thine eyes. And thou shalt write them upon the posts of thy house, and on thy gates. Dt. 6: 4-9
Christ be with me,Christ within me,
Christ behind me,
Christ before me,
Christ beside me,
Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me.
Christ beneath me,
Christ above me,
Christ in quiet,
Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.
I will betroth thee unto me for ever; yea, I will betroth thee unto me in righteousness, and in judgment, and in loving kindness, and in mercies. I will even betroth thee unto me in faithfulness: and thou shalt know the LORD.
I bind unto myself the Name,
The strong Name of the Trinity,
By invocation of the same,
The Three in One and One in Three.
By Whom all nature hath creation,
Eternal Father, Spirit, Word:
Praise to the Lord of my salvation,
Salvation is of Christ the Lord.
When I first began learning to sing plainsong to English words it was at Holy Trinity, Winchester with Julien Chilcott-Monk, who was Director of Music there at the time. The book he put into my hands was the green Proctor and Frere ‘Manual of Plainsong‘. Generations of Anglo-Catholics were raised on this book. It had numerous editions and it, and other versions of the Coverdale psalms set to the traditional tones were used in churches across the country from the middle of the nineteenth-century onwards.
St Stephen’s House in Oxford recently published their own Office book (which I reviewed here) which contains a version of the Manual of Plainsong in a late edition containing the Revised Psalter, it is very well pointed and a great achievement. It is good to think that those being formed for the priesthood there are doing so using this.
I am enormously grateful to Fr Daniel Trott for providing the version of a pointed text, with chants for each psalm, of the psalms in Common Worship. The CW psalms are intended to be in the tradition of the Coverdale translation. I think they work surprisingly well to the traditional tones. I have always been sceptical of setting contemporary texts to the tones because what ends up happening is that the complex music dominates the words rather than, as should be the case, the music serving the text. Brother Reginald Box’s book Make Music to Our God explains this very well.
However, although I have only had a few days using these psalms I am surprisingly comfortable doing so. See what you think.
Fr Daniel writes “it’s very much according to the principles of the revised and enlarged edition of A Manual of Plainsong (1951), which in my opinion is much superior to the first edition. What I wouldn’t stand by is replacing ‘Alleluia’ with ‘Praise the Lord’ in Lent. I copied that from John Harper’s RSCM Anglican Chant Psalter, but I think the word should just be removed. It would still involve repointing the end of quite a lot of psalms, but in a different way.”
If you use these texts and the pointing please acknowledge Fr Daniel’s work, which is excellent, and please use the normal copyright notice for CW texts:
Anyone who reads this blog will know how fervently I believe in singing the daily Office. It is a source of joy and sustenance in the spiritual life. It refreshes parts of the soul that recitation cannot reach.
I am often asked about simple music for singing Common Worship Daily Prayer, so this week I am going to publish morning prayer each day with very simple music. You can even watch and listen to me sing it on Facebook at 6:30am each day and the video will remain on my FB page.
Because I sing Vigils earlier in the morning I use the Invitatory / Opening palm at that, so at MP I will use the songs of creation which I have written about before here, and which I think are important in keeping us rooted in creation. They come from the music of Fr André Gouzes, a French Dominican based at the Abbaye de Sylvanes in France. They are used at the Jerusalem Community in Pais where the English translations were made. This is one of only two adaptations I make to CWDP in this Office. The hymns will be by Aelred Seton Shanley Obl.OSB Cam, a British born American hermit who died some years ago. The psalm antiphons are ‘common’ rather than specific to the psalm, the tone for the singing of the psalms incredibly simple ones from Conception Abbey in the US and available to buy from GIA. They need the psalter arranging into stanzas. For the CW psalter in that form see my latest version here:
The tones for the canticles are from St Meinrad Archabbey and the refrains are possibly by me or by Fr Colin CSWG, at the monastery of the Holy Trinity, Crawley Down.
To follow the Office you will need a bible and your copy of CWDP or the app.
There are not many feasts this week and I will politely ignore the saints days so that it is the ferial/ordinary Office every day.
The only other adaptation I make to CWDP is to conclude the short intercessions with the Lord’s Prayer and pray the Collect after that. CWDP suggests the other way around which is an innovation, and not a very helpful one in my view.
I am not a very good singer. I use my tenor recorder to play over the music. You don’t need to sing well. Singing in any way is the important thing.
Let me know what you think and if you have a go at singing Morning Prayer.
And as they dance they shall sing, ‘All my fresh springs are in you.’
Singing is like a fresh spring, I hope it makes you want to ‘dance as David danced’. It does me.
Several people have asked for an example of a CW Office set to simple plainchant. here it is for Evening Prayer of Trinity 3, 2020. The full text including readings is given here and I will Live-stream singing it on Facebook.
Plainchant is based on eight modes and these chants are in that sense modal and traditional. The exact form of the traditional plainchant psalm tones does not work well with English and rather than serving the text tends to dominate the words and rather butcher natural English rhythm. This doesn’t seem to matter so much with, for example, the Coverdale psalms, where it is not our natural idiom anyway. However, with texts in contemporary English is is very obvious.
After Vatican 2 Roman Catholic monastic and religious communities quickly gave up trying to squeeze English words into the exact pattern of the traditional tomes and adapted the tones into the sort of patterns in these texts given here. They work very well and have a gentle rhythm.
Despite singing the Office daily since I was in my mid-teens I don’t have a very good singing voice and can’t pitch a note without help. I use a tenor recorder to play over the tones and chants. It works for me. It may not be the most beautiful noise but it engages parts of my brain that simply reciting the texts does not. I really recommend that you try singing every Office. The liturgy is song!
For more on the use of chant with English texts see Reginald Box SSF Make Music to Our God. the New English Hymnal contains some chant settings of the psalms in this style of psalm tone, as do most Roman Catholic Hymnals (Celebration Hymnal, Laudate) and books of settings of the psalms for responsorial use.
I am currently using the Authorised Version of the Bible for Office readings. I think mixing ‘traditional’ and contemporary language works well and don’t understand why it is not done more often. Most churches already do it with hymns. The AV txts of the readings are in the booklet above.
It is interesting how the experience of Live-streaming some of the worship in my little Oratory has changed what I do. Some of it is due to helpful feedback (I am grateful for critical and encouraging friends). Some of it has needed to change pretty quickly because even to me it just doesn’t feel right.
The most obvious change has been the music I use at the Eucharist where Taizé chants just didn’t work for singing every day. One voice Taizé chants never really work, the chants need harmonies and, ideally, instruments as well. They work for the peripatetic Eucharists I was doing previously because they are well known and easy to pick up when celebrating with different people each time. More traditional chants for the Mass settings as well as Introit and Post-communion psalms are the fruit of centuries of use and developed specifically for daily use. They are not stimulating but are conducive to contemplative prayer. I adopted them pretty quickly.
I have been using the Resurrection Vigil with the music in the first version I posted (here) for nearly a decade, but after only two weeks it was clear that it didn’t work. Reading poetry doesn’t really work unless listeners have the text. Some of the music was not easy either, and on my own that didn’t matter so much. When others are listening that stands out. Some of the texts (Psalm 104 for instance) were too long to be listened to.
Well, the new version with new music is above and I will use it next Saturday for the first time. I will also set the camera at an angle more like that for Mass and have the vessel of water on the altar to bless. Giving the whole thing a more visual appearance and liturgical action. I may wear an alb and stole too.
I’ve also been asked about a ‘Prayer at the Cross’ in place of Friday evening Compline. I may well have a go at that this week …
If you tune in on Facebook, do let me know how it works.
Therese of Lisieux chose it all. I have always admired that approach. It might sum up the little Odyssey I have been on in the last couple of years in the praying of the Daily Office. As documented on here (and music compiled or written by me here) I’ve experimented with Common Worship and the Book of Common Prayer, two lectionaries for the latter, but never quite been able to give up The Divine Office, with the Grail Psalms which are so ingrained in me and whose sprung rhythm and sparser language I love.
In the Autumn I shall begin praying daily in Christ Church Cathedral. I am looking forward immensely to having a place and a community for daily prayer. There the Morning Office is Common Worship and Evensong on most days is Book of Common Prayer. Both using the selective CW choice of psalms.
On Holy Saturday this year, having used the BCP for the Office for a few months I felt a yearning for the beautiful second reading from the Office of Readings in The Divine Office, which I know so well. I was tempted, and picked up and returned to my Breviary.
With Christ Church in mind I have tried since then to establish a pattern that would be manageable for my new life as well. Combining Anglican forms for Morning and Evening Prayer with use of The Divine Office for all the other Hours. The simplest way to do this is to use the psalms of Lauds at Terce and the psalms of Vespers at None. This gives coverage of the psalter in the monthly cycle of the Divine Office and works surprisingly well. However, I like to pray Psalm 119 daily at the Little Hours in accord with Anglican and indeed western Catholic tradition (see here and here). Although not the case in lockdown, the reality is likely to be that the Little Hours are the ones I am going to have to miss on occasions, so using the same psalm daily means I don’t miss out on any psalms in the monthly cycle.
Since Holy Week (so on to the third turn or so through the psalter now in June) I have prayed a three Nocturn Vigil / Office of Readings: first Nocturn the psalmody of the Office of Readings and the mid-day hour (omitting the sections of psalm 118/9) – followed by the Scripture Reading in the two-year cycle for the Office of Readings; second Nocturn the psalmody (but not the canticle) of Vespers and the non Scriptural reading. The third Nocturn, psalms (but not the canticle) and antiphons of Lauds, the Gospel reading for the day, followed by a Gospel canticle, the Beatitudes with proper or Common antiphons normally used at the Benedictus, Litany and conclusions. This gives a good shape to to the Vigil climaxing with the day’s gospel which is itself a traditional form of Vigils. It means I get to sing the proper antiphons too. It takes, done in quite leisurely way, just under 45 minutes. The additional material is from Crawley Down and New Skete, some Orthodox patterns creating a more doxological feel.
The booklet for the music and shape at Vigils is here:
For Morning Prayer I am using Common Worship Daily Prayer and the accompanying lectionary but with just one psalm, the highlighted psalm in the lectionary and an Office hymn rather than Opening psalm. At Evening Prayer BCP Evensong with a single psalm. Using AV for the readings at Morning and Evening Prayer, traditional plainsong at EP and modern, modal chants at MP. I attach the CW Psalter arranged in stanzas for singing to modern chants here, along with refrains set by me to simple modal melodies. These, I keep saying, are not really very good at all. But I keep using them and just haven’t found time to do anything else:
On my rest day I pray Divine Office Lauds late Saturday morning after a long lie-in and cooked breakfast, a single daytime Office combining Office of Readings with the Daytime Hour after lunch usually and Vespers at the usual time. Saturday normally ends with a Resurrection Vigil.
I consider The Divine Office and readings of the Daily Eucharistic Lectionary as my ‘core Office’, this provide the monthly repetition of the psalms (the maximum length of time useful to learn texts in my view). The single long Scripture reading with the Patristic commentaries in the two year cycle (see here) provide the ecclesial/patristic way reading of Scripture. I use these three readings for study and lectio. The additional material at the other Offices is a sort of bonus. But if I need to travel (and I am hoping not to very much, having spent the last four years travelling a good deal) I can use the Breviary or Universalis without disruption to my ‘core Office’.
I often read a patristic commentary on the Gospel of the day at Vigils if the reading in the two-year cycle is only vaguely, or not at all, linked to the Scripture reading – probably twice a week. Using Journey To the Fathers, Augustine on the Gospels and Meditations on the Gospels as the source.
All the rest is a wonderful extra, giving full observance of the Canon to say Morning and Evening Prayer and use of the Prayer Book. Using three translations of the psalm texts etc day is interesting. Grail I think stands up very well, as do the Coverdale psalms, the CW psalms are the weakest. Too wordy, quite clumsy construction some times, too obviously trying to be Coverdale-esque but with none of the beauty.
The element I am missing in this pattern from my little Odyssey is the one year lectionary of 1922 and the basis of the one year traditional western Sunday Eucharistic lectionary. I remain convinced that these are preferable to the the three-year and two-year cycles but as a visiting Zoom preacher Sunday by Sunday I am not in a position to determine the lectionary; any more than I will be as Sub-Dean.
Packing my books I have filled two crates with various editions of Anglo-Catholic altar missals dating from the last quarter of the 19th century right up to the present day (the hand -made New English Missal by Fr Rod Cush and Prior Andrew from Alton). It is wonderful to see the hybrid rites of varying degrees of mixing. I think our Anglo-Catholic forebears, who I so often look to for inspiration, would understand the hybrid nature of what I am doing. Anglicanism is itself a wonderful hybrid creature. One of the things I am looking forward to in Oxford is having St Aldate’s across the road and being as happy worshipping and receiving teaching there as at Cathedral Evensong with the superb music of the choir.
“Je choisi tout.”
St Therese de Lisieux
For completeness here is the Ordinary of the Hours for The Divine Office for rest days and for the Little Hours and Compline on all days:
Apologies for not having much time for explanation, here is the current use. A number of Mass settings (all Latin) all but three from the Graduale Romanum, one from Dom Gregory Murray his 1957 People’s Mass, and two simple Latin settings (Mass XIX and Mass XX) from Dom Alan Rees which may be found in the Belmont Abbet An English Gradual, from which the Introit and Pots-Communion chants are taken each day.
CW Eucharistic Prayers A, B, C, D, E, F and G and H are included along with the Canon Romanus (for Solemnities). Extended Prefaces on separate cards. Entire musical settings of CR, B and H.
Music from Gelineau, Crawley Down (CSWG) or Tamié at the Offertory and more more CSWG at the Communion rite.
All prepared for the new Oratory (of St Joseph ready for the move to Oxford, hence OSJ).
UPDATED 22 June: Feedback from faithful viewers/prayers was that there was not enough silence and space this morning (while still wanting to keep to 30 minutes). So, I have removed some elements of the devotions and simplified the chant on the Canticle. See version 2 posted above. This should have cut around 5 minutes of singing out which I will use for silence tomorrow. I suspect of to still needs trimming I will need to reduce the repetitions in each section. Thank you so much for praying with me.
As part of the transition to post-lockdown and open churches, I am moving the daily intercessions I have been offering out of the Eucharist and praying them with the Jesus Prayer. To frame that I am adding a few devotions and some structure. The music and texts for the most part come from the Monastery of the Holy Trinity (Community of the Servants of the Will of God) at Crawley Down. They were inspired by the renewal of monastic life in France after Vatican II and particular in the Francisan hermit tradition so the use of these texts in a way like this has good pedigree.
It is also from Crawley Down and via them from the Orthodox monastery at Tolleshunt Knights, that the public use of the Jesus Prayer comes. I am going to limit myself to 30 minutes and think that with the devotions, no hurry, some silence and the intercessions I can pray three lots of 25 repetitions of the prayer. I normally use this form:
Lord, Jesus Christ, Son of God, take pity on me a sinner.
Occasionally I may use a, shorter, Greek form:
Kyrie Jesou Christe, eleison me.
Kaliistos Ware in his marvellous little booklet on the Jesus Prayer for the CTS suggests we might also use a plural form in communal and intercessory use, so I may try that at times:
Lord Jesus, Christ, Son of God: have mercy on us.
I have tried playing around with my morning schedule to have these a little later but it doesn’t really work for me, so this will be live-streamed each weekday at 5:30am and available afterwards on Face Book. I know that some people value hearing their intercessions prayed aloud (first names only) so that continues. There isn’t much to see and I am experimenting with the camera angle. Again some people like to see who is talking rather than just an icon or candle. I also hope to demonstrate the use of prostrations which I find enormously helpful.
Until churches re-open for public worship or until I move to Oxford, but almost certainly until mid-July, I shall continue to live-stream the Eucharist at 6:30am, but without the intercessions.
I shall be adding to the text above a short reading each day from Scripture which highlights the power of the divine name. This will give me the chance to build up an anthology of those texts.
It has been a wonderful and joyful ministry to bring names for prayer to the Lord each day at the altar and I shall continue to do so in this way. Please keep messaging me with them. It is a privilege, thank you. And please pray for me, a sinner.
My first experience of a Resurrection Vigil was on a Saturday night at a camp site in the Brecon Beacons. I was on a week’s walking holiday along with other young people from parishes belonging to Douai Abbey, I must have been fifteen or sixteen. We had prayed Compline together (and Mass each morning) all week and on Saturday evening sat around the camp fire and sang songs from the Charismatic song book ‘Songs of the Spirit’, read a resurrection narrative, chanted a psalm or two and were sprinkled with water which one of the priests present had blessed. I was entranced. Not least by the marshmallows and hot chocolate that we enjoyed afterwards.
I have never been able to pray Compline on a Saturday night since. It seems totally inadequate as a way of preparing for Sunday.
A year or so later I was at Taizé in France for the first time and was equally entranced by the Saturday evening prayer there, repeating alleluias, the lighting of candles by everyone present. Having stayed up much of the previous night in prayer ‘around the cross’ I was transfixed by this celebration of the Risen Jesus and felt his presence very strongly.
Since those years I have experienced Resurrection vigils with numerous communities, tried various forms of it at home – sometimes in the garden around a fire, or at the dining table – and shared simple liturgies of Resurrection in many parishes and with groups of pilgrims and young people in a variety of contexts.
I have added above a form of Resurrection Vigil that I am currently using in my little Oratory at home. It works for me, you might want to do something else.
The Resurrection is the central fact of the Christian faith, celebrating it, being familiar with the gospel accounts, reflecting on the Patristic commentaries on the Resurrection is a wonderful way to keep this central fact central to our lives. Celebrating a Resurrection Vigil also gives shape to the week, along with memorialising the Crucifixion each Friday and observing fasting and abstinence on Fridays. Doing this has been a blessing to me, I hope this will bless you.
The text is littered with Alleluias, and because it doesn’t seem appropriate in any case, I don’t celebrate this during Lent. I do celebrate it in place of Compline whatever the Solemnity or Feast of Our Lord being celebrated on the Sunday.
I celebrate with an icon of the Resurrection, a candle next to it which I light as I sing the Phos Hilaron, and a small bowl of water which I use as Holy Water for the remainder of the week.
It has been a fascinating experience live-streaming the Eucharist and other liturgies from the little Oratory at home. I am enormously grateful to the faithful who have remained constant companions in prayer, to those who have dipped in and said something warm, to those who have dipped in and have not pointed out the sad state of my singing voice. Most of all I am grateful to those of you who have entrusted to me your loved ones, relatives, friends and others known to you for prayer. To pray for people is at the heart of priestly ministry. Thank you for helping me feel so fulfilled as a priest during this lockdown.
In August we will be moving to Oxford which is going to disrupt things. From September I shall have the enormous privilege of worshipping daily in Christ Church Cathedral. Before either of those events it is possible that the Government will allow public worship in churches.
The bishops’ permission to celebrate the Eucharist with no other person present was a gracious and well received gift for this lockdown only. I will cease live-streaming the Eucharist on Saturday 11th July (the Feast of St Benedict).
Many people have asked me to continue to Livestream something, especially elements of Common Worship Daily Prayer sung to simple modal chant. I would also like to continue the ministry of intercession.
So, from 11th July I am going to Livestream about 25 minutes of Jesus Prayer, with Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and prostrations, as I have done once or twice already. In between every 25 petitions of the Jesus Prayer I will pray the names of those for whom prayer has been requested. I will begin and end with simple chants (see below). Monday to Friday this will normally be at 6:30am which seems to work for many people. I know that some of those who have asked for prayer like to hear the name prayed out loud and this will allow that.
I will also Live-stream simple services of Morning and Evening Prayer, Compline and on Saturdays a Resurrection Vigil. These may be more intermittent and (apparently random) although I hope to be able to commit to Morning Prayer at 7:00am each day at the end of the Jesus Prayer. Evening Prayer is likely to be at 5:30pm and Compline at 8:30pm, perhaps just Monday to Thursday. Each of these will take about 15 minutes. At Morning and Evening Prayer there will be one psalm or selection from a psalm and one reading from the lectionary. Occasionally I may also Livestream Mid-Day Prayer, also from CWDP.
To follow the liturgy at home Compline is straightforwardly from the booklet below, as also the Resurrection Vigil. Morning and Evening Prayer will need the booklet for the Ordinary of the Office, the booklet for Ordinary Time (Hymn and Benedictus and Magnificat Refrains). But you will be able to follow using CWDP in the book or app. On saints days it may get more complicated but hopefully not too much so.
I will continue to post a request for prayer each afternoon or evening for the next day and, as at present, keep the list going for a fortnight before starting again. Please feel free to add the same names every time.
At some point I will be packing the Oratory up and finding a corner (no doubt surrounded by boxes) to pray in. It will be good to demonstrate that a simple corner is enough for our sacred space and if that happens before 11th July to celebrate Mass more simply.
UPDATE: Many thanks to a correspondent for highlighting this link to an interview with Kallistos Ware, starts at c 7 minutes, here.
– Some resources for Spiritual Directors
Diocese of Liverpool Spiritual Directors Course, 14th May 2020
Orthodox prayer (not ‘spirituality’ which is modern western term) may be characterised as:
For a basic introduction to the Orthodox Churc, the book of that name by Timothy Ware (now Bishop Kallistos Ware) hasn’t been matched.
General Theology and Spirituality
If I had to recommend one book on Orthodox spirituality it would be this, an anthology with commentary it is profoundly ecclesial and theological, it is not outwardly abut ‘spirituality’ which is, in any case a modern, western, individualistic, way of thinking. For any directee moving them towards a fuller and deeper immersion on Christian orthodoxy (as distinct from Orthodoxy) is vital. This is a really helpful book for that. Part Three on Contemplation is an essential guide to an orthodox and Orthodox understanding of prayer and what we now call the ‘spiritual life’.:
The Roots of Christian Mysticism: Texts from the Patristic Era with Commentary
This is the best, encyclopaedic scholarly guide available. Paints the whole picture, ecclesial and theological. Not for the faint-hearted but brilliant:
St Tikhon’s Seminary Press 2003
Lossky is really excellent, this is very accessible and readable:
The Vision of God
ST Vladimir’s Seminary Press 1983
Orthodox theology is not a thing of the past, it is a vibrant living tradition, anything by Andrew Louth is worth reading, this is especially helpful. There isa very helpful chapter on the ‘English assimilation of Orthodoxy’ with material on St Silouan and Fr Sophrony. Louth’s starting point is the Philokalic tradition and so locates that at the start of the ‘modern’ period.
Modern Orthodox Thinkers – From the Philokalia to the present
This is a really excellent anthology, one for the prayer-desk, or side of the bath! Bite-sized and readable chunks of great spiritual writers within the tradition:
The Art of Prayer: An Orthodox Anthology
Tr E Kadloubovsky and EM Palmer
Matthew the Poor is. a monk and spiritual father of the Monastery of Macarius the Great in Egypt He has been the centre of a remarkable renewal of monastic life in the Coptic Church, this is a very accessible book:
Orthodox Prayer Life: The Interior Way
Matthew the Poor
St Vladimir’s Seminary Press 2003
It is impossible to understand Orthodox spirituality without recognising the importance of fasting and our neglect of it in the western church, just search for ‘prayer’ in the Bible and you will see its intimate relationship to prayer for Scripture. There are some of my thoughts on fasting my blog:
Just as it is impossible to imagine Orthodox spirituality without fasting, so it is impossible to imagine Orthodoxy without icons. the literature on icons is vast. Much of it really superb, so just two books in my hight recommended category as a starter:
***** If you only read on ebook on this ison or on icpns on general this ought to be it. It will touch your soul deeply:
The Rublev Trinity
St Vladimir’s Seminary Press 2007
A beautiful book to look at, full of deep theology and spirituality:
***** The Meaning of Icons
St Vladimir’s Seminary Press 1982
The Silouan / Athonite Tradition
The monasteries and hermitages on Mount Athos, the Holy Mountain, are hugely influential on Orthodox spirituality, we are fortunate in the UK in having a monastery in that tradition here at Tolleshunt Knights in Essex – well worth a visit. Founded by Archimandrite Sophrony it is is now led by Achimandrite Zacharias and the following books will be helpful in accessing that:
Arch Sophrony had been taught by Staretz Silouan (1866-1938) . This is a must read. Very recommendable to directees. The source books on now Saint Silouan are:
Wisdom from Mount Athos: The Writings of Staretz Silouan
St Vladimir’s Seminary Press (1974)
Monk of Mount Athos
St Vladimir’s Seminary Press (1974)
For a general view of Mount Athos this account of renewal of the monastic tradition on the Holy Mountain is very good indeed:
Mount Athos: Renewal in Paradise
Yale University Press 2002
For Sophrony himself (all very readable and accessible):
His Life is Mine
Mowbray 1977. (now St Vladimir’s Seminary Press
St Vladimir’s Seminary Press 1998
We Shall See Him As He Is
Saint Herman Press1988
Archimandrite Zacharias is, I think, a little denser and less readable but worth persevering with:
The Hidden Man of the Heart: The Cultivation of the Heart in Orthodox Spiritual Anthroplogy
Mount Thabor Publishing 2008
The Enlargement of the Heart: ‘Be ye also enlarged’ 2 Cor 6:13 in the Theology of St Silouan the Athonite and Elder Sophrony of Essex
Mount Thabor Publishing 2006
Remember Thy First Love: the three stages of the spiritual life in the theology of Elder Sophrony
Stavropegic Monastery of St John the Baptist Essex 2011
Books abut Archimandrite Sophrony’s teaching:
I Love Therefore I Am: The Theological Legacy of Archimandrite Sophrony
Nicholas V Sakarov
St Vladimir’s Seminar Press 2002
Christ, Our Way And Our Life: A Presentation of the Theology of Archimandrite Sophrony
Stavropegic Monastery of St John the Baptist Essex 2012
Other useful Texts
Surprisingly readable, this is very accessible, definitely one to recommend to Directees:
From Glory to Glory: Texts from Gregory of Nyssa’s Mystical Writings
Ed Jean Daniélou
St Valdimir’s Seminary Press 2001
One of the classic texts of the monastic tradition eastern and western, very readable, highly recommended:
The Ladder of Divine Ascent
Classics in Western Spirituality Paulist Press1982
This is useful to give a picture of the reception of Orthodoxy in the West (particularly in Paris) in the period following the Russian revolution and the Second Word War, it helps to understand the competing jurisdictions and the complications of ecclesiastical politics as well as the culture, all within a biography of one, person. Not an easy read but good:
Lev Gillett: A Monk of the Eastern Church
Fellowship of St Alban and St Sergius 1999
Rowan Williams can sometimes be a hard read, Dostoevsky can be equally difficult, so this may not encourage to look at this book, but it actually locates Dostoevsky within the Orthodox tradition and is just brilliant:
Dostoevsky: Language Faith and Fiction
Baylor University Press 2008
Likewise Sergei Bulgakov is probably (in my view) the greatest Orthodox theologian of the 20th century. he is really excellent on the place of the holy Spirit in the Christian life. A little more dense than the Dostoevsky book this is worth persevering with especially a sit shows an Orthodox engagement with political realities.
Sergei Bulgakov: Towards a Russian Political Theology
Ed with commentary by Rowan Williams
T and T Clark 1999
Orthodox worship has to be experienced. It is a rich tapestry of icons, movement, vesture, music, texts. Looking at any written text of Orthodox worship is totally inadequate. They are deeply doxological and the communion of saints is tangible. It may be worth looking at some to get that sense, or tor reflect on, but the best thing is to find an Orthodox church and go.
There is no single Orthodox ‘service book’, each language tradition ha sits own books which for any one service will be many. Some western or uniate groups have produced service type books (eg Byzantine Daily Worship or Isabel Hapgood’s Orthodox Service Book) but they are totally inadequate to appreciate Orthodox liturgy. Two publications that provide some indication of the richness may be worth flicking through but I don’t particularly urge you to get them:
The Festal Menaion
Faber and Faber 1969 now from St Tikhon’s Seminary Press
The Lenten Triodion
Faber and Faber 1978 now from St Tikhon’s Seminary Press
The Jesus Prayer has become popular and known in the West mainly via two texts, ‘The Way of A Pilgrim’ and ‘The Pilgrim Continues His Way’. The texts are Russian and probably 19th century. They are a short and easy read and really the foundation text for us, well worth recommending. The easiest and most accessible translations are by R.M. French. It’s the first version I read as teenager and I was deeply moved by then. They also give some indications to Directors in working with individuals, the balance of the Jesus Prayer with the reading of the Gospels is hugely significant. It is available on Kindle and now in one volume, slightly dated and sometimes criticised for romanticising the translation:
The best scholarly edition with really important essays on the origins of the text and its various versions is in the Classics in Western Spirituality series:
The Pilgrim’s Tale
Ed. Aleksie Pentkovsky
There are other editions which are new translations:
The Way of A Pilgrim and the Pilgrim Continues His Way
Tr Helen Bacovin
This is useful for a close reading of the text with some helpful notes, I would recommend French or Bacovin for a first unadulterated read which I think is the best way to read it to start with, the story, the narrative is compelling without any notes, this might be useful for a later read:
The Way of A Pilgrim: Annotated and Explained
Tr and annotated: Gleb Pokrovsky
The Philokalia: The Complete Text (four volumes, a fifth is promised)
***** Written by a recently deceased Anglican bishop this is one of the most accessible books on the JP, and is HIGHLY recommended, very good as a first suggestion to directees:
The Jesus Prayer: A Way to Contemplation
***** Also by SBW this one with Brother Ramon is another highly recommended. Ramon is a slightly neglected author at the moment well worth reading:
Praying the Jesus Prayer Together
Simon Barrington-Ward and Brother Ramon SSF
Adapted from previous year’s notes for this session:
The Jesus Prayer
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me, a sinner. (full version)
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me. (shorter version).
Greek: Kyrie Iesou Christe: eleison me
The Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax-collector: Luke 18:9-14
9 He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt: 10 ‘Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax-collector. 11 The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, “God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax-collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.”13 But the tax-collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” 14 I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled.
Hesychasm (ἡσυχασμός): “stillness, rest, quiet, silence”): mystical tradition of prayer the Eastern Orthodox Church and Eastern Catholic Churches of the Byzantine Rite. Based on Christ’s injunction in the Gospel of Matthew: “when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray”. Hesychasm in the tradition has been the process of retiring inward by ceasing to register the senses, in order to achieve an experiential knowledge of God (theoria).
Some quotes from the Philokalia (an ancient collection of teachings of the eastern monastic fathers which has passed from Greek to Russian to an English translation in two volumes by Kadloubovsky and Palmer, Faber and Faber 1951).
St Isaac of Syria (7th century):
Try to enter your inner treasure-house and you will see the treasure-house of heaven. For both the one and the other are the same, and the one and the same entrance reveals them both. The ladder leading to the kingdom is concealed within you, that is, in your soul. Wash yourselves from sin and you will see the rungs of the ladder by which you can ascend thither.
St Gregory of Sinai (14th century)
In the morning force you mind to descend from the head to the heart and hold it there, calling ceaselessly in mind and soul: ‘Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy upon me!’ until you are tired. Transfer you mind to the second half, and say, ‘Jesus, Son of God, have mercy upon me!’ Having many times repeated this appeal, pass once more to the first half. But you should not alternate these appeals too often through laziness; for just as plants do not take root if transplanted too frequently, neither do the movements of prayer in the heart if the words are changed frequently.
When you notice thoughts arising and accosting you, do not look at them, even if they are not bad; but keeping the mind firmly in the heart, call to Lord Jesus and you will soon sweep away the thoughts and drive out the instigators – the demons – invisibly scorching and flogging them with this Divine Name. Thus teaches John of the Ladder. saying: with the name of Jesus flog the foes, for there is no surer weapon against them, either on earth or in heaven.
The Monks Callistus and Ignatius (14th century)
Prayer practised within the heart, with attention and sobriety, with no other thought and imagining, by repeating the words ‘Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God,’ silently and immaterially leads the mind to our Lord Jesus Christ Himself. By the words ‘have mercy on me,’ it turns it back and moves it towards him who prays, since he cannot as yet not pray about himself. But when he gains the experience of perfect love, he stretches out wholly to our Lord Jesus Christ alone, having received actual proof of the second part (that is, of mercy). Therefore, as someone has said, a man calls only: ‘Lord Jesus Christ!’ his heart overflowing with love.
“Don Cupitt,” said Bishop Paul in a conversation, “asks the right questions, but comes up with the wrong answers.” It was one of the many wise things that the Bishop of Liverpool has said to me, and one of several that I have gone away and written down. It’s spot on. I love reading Cupitt. He writes beautifully and he does ask the right questions.
Cupitt is interested in what language we use for the ultimate. Which idioms describe what is meaningful. He spends much time examining idioms including the word ‘life’, but is also interested in the way in which ‘it‘ carries meaning:
“A particularly interesting family of terms is the group It, It all, Things and Everything, which enter into dozens – perhaps hundreds – of idioms . In these idioms it seems to indicate the whole of a person’s circumstances, considered from a finalising point of view … it is evident that the It-group of terms could be shown to figure in a large number of idioms that have a markedly theological flavour … For when we say: ‘This is it, the real thing!‘ we posit a kind of divine completeness, a totality, an unsurpassable finality, more clearly than we ever do with the life-idioms. In its flowing contingency, life is closer to Being; whereas it is perhaps closer to the traditional God,”
The New Religion of Life SCM 1999, pp 104-105
I’ve been re-reading these books during the lockdown and they have worn well. What drove me back to them was a ministry of funerals that I have been exercising, in the area where I live, to help out the local clergy and friends and acquaintances who are vulnerable in some way and have been self-isolating.
When I was first ordained I took plenty of funerals in my two curacies. Since then I have been working full-time in education and I have tried to do one or two funerals during the school holidays to keep my hand in. But most of the funerals I have taken have been relatives, friends or, in tragic circumstances, members of staff, and even, children.
Observing regular funeral ministry from the outside has enabled me to notice two major developments. The rise of civil celebrants. Not just radical humanists and secularists opposed to religion in general, but non-clergy and sometimes ‘inter-faith’ celebrants who will perform ceremonies which are distinctly spiritual and often include elements of Christian liturgy. Most commonly Psalm 23 and theLord’s Prayer. Many clergy are deeply scathing of these services. To those of us who are committed, believing, Christians, there clearly is something missing. But many people I meet speak very highly indeed of the service provided by Civil Celebrants. Many of the Funeral Directors I have spoken to rate them highly. Yes, it can be more convenient to Funeral Directors to have people who are not doing other work and are easily available or who can even commit to certain periods of time a crematorium. However, what is always mentioned to me is the flexibility that Civil Celebrants show in crafting the service and the care they take to provide what the bereaved want. Many of them have clearly developed very high skills in pastoral care. A good number also offer continuing pastoral care, links to counselling, work with Undertakers to invite families to an annual memorial service.
The second factor I have noticed is the number of clergy who tell me that funeral ministry is a waste of time. Using exactly that language. In particular a sense in which funerals for very elderly non-churchgoers where there are no living family and friends are dismissed.
My, negative, reaction to these comments is based, I think on four things:
a) a catholic belief in praying for the dead and the importance of that
b) a strongly Anglican commitment to the Parish, although the parish system as a comprehensive totality was probably always somewhat mythological, recent decades and the events of the Corona Virus are seeing it moving from life-support to palliative care, I think we need to hold on to a theology of parochial-community life in which we genuinely serve the whole population
c) the pastoral instinct to provide care and nurture for those who mourn. In the Beatitudes Jesus, does, after all, declare those who mourn to be blessed.
c) my own experience that funerals are a profoundly missional opportunity. Some of the individuals who it has been my privilege to accompany on a journey to faith have been though funeral ministry. Some of them still keep in touch with me many years later and one is now a priest.
For the Church of England reduction in fee income from funerals (and weddings) is a very significant issue, particularly in a diocese, like my own in Liverpool where there are virtually no historic assets. Earning income should never be the purpose of pastoral ministry but good stewardship demands that we address this issue. As good stewards if clergy are not conducting funerals we need to suggest ways to replace this income.
An innovative approach taken in Liverpool has been the creation of the Good Funeral Company and the recruitment of a remarkable and gifted, priest, Mother Juliet Stephenson to run it (if you ever need clergy training on funeral ministry she is your woman!). You can read more about the GFC here. The mission statement is wonderfully simple and jargon free:
Making good Christian-based funeral services available, personalised, accessible, and affordable for anyone in the Diocese of Liverpool who wants to mark a loved one’s death through prayer.
As soon as it became apparent that I would have some funeral ministry in this crisis I emailed Mother Juliet to ask what she would recommend. Her email reply was enormously helpful, I reproduce it almost in full:
“I attach the service that I am doing in an hour. (it is not what we did as curates…because what we did as curates is not wanted by anyone who is fringe…and on the edge) …
Some bits from Iona / celtic stuff and reworked prayers from over the years.
AND…I do not cut and paste, I have several hundred ways of saying the Godloves everyone…
He forgives us all, because of JC…
I usually get a bible reading in there…but can be amazingly creative with lyrics from Eric Clapton songs too!
You will see the poems and reading and tribute, that the family have provided…
And I welcomed it all…that’s amazing, that’s wonderful…because this is what THEY want.
I am the MC…and the one who will bless.
I was asked, to do this…because the FD’s know that I do a celebration of life with prayers, and I am good.
The woman used to go to church, but the family have no connection at all….
If I couldn’t do it, they would have had a celebrant, and NOT a vicar …
Like I say, I think the success of the GFC, is that we are being offered as celebrants that pray…celebrants that pray and bless…and are authorised todo so.
This is what the FD’s like about what we do.
I get asked to do ‘celebrations of life’…because the perception of vicars is that we can only recite pre-prepared words from the book, and say very little about the woman in the box…
This is why we lose out, over and over again.
You will see very little of the purple book…
– we still gather, we reflect, we offer tributes, a bible reading and short ‘popular religion’ reflection and prayer.
We are (at least I operate now) in a world where people want white feathers as signs, robins for comfort, shooting stars across the sky to wishupon.
– rather than words from scripture about men they have never heard of…’Lazarus’
We are amidst folk who want Whitney Houston, YNWA, Perry Como and Monty Python.
– rather than hymns, psalms and symphonies…
And if we can’t connect with this world, with the grace of God, and stop being precious about ‘Lazarus’ or ‘penitential prayers’…we lose it.
We can still talk of hope, forgiveness, resurrection.
We can still offer formal prayers, encourage the corporate saying of the Lord’s prayer
And commend and commit and bless.
If we use comforting, and familiar phrases…like the words to enter into thechapel ‘Jesus said I am…’ that’s good.
If we say with conviction ‘in sure and certain hope…’ that’s good.
If we listen to their heartache, and connect where they are, and see how they gain comfort and assurance that God is real, and heaven is worth believing in…because a white feather drifted onto the windscreen of their car…then that also is very good.
This is what the civil celebrants can’t do effectively…they have to relywholly on the ‘universe’ and ‘stars’…
We have Jesus…
And we have Easter…
This may never be the way you would ever choose to do services…it works, and people pray at them.
I also asked members of the Sodality, the community of priests I belong to to send me their compiled texts and had a number of conversations with them. This was really helpful. As was a conversation with Fr Daniel Ackerley, a deacon-aspirant to the Sodality who is an experienced Funeral Director. Among many other things he said:
Somebody once said that a funeral service should be like a cup of hot chocolate on a cold winters day. Every word should be soothing.
There is a bit of me that baulked at this. No! We are here to admit that we are sinners, in need of a Saviour and to pray that the dead may have forgiveness! But then I got real.
Famously, a principle of mission for the Jesuits is to go in and learn a language, a culture to be able to speak to it and understand it. Fr Daniel knows well that what people are wanting in a funeral is that cup of hot chocolate. If we stand on our liturgical, theological preciousness and do no translation we will not be understood.
Having been taught early on never to throw anything away in ministry I also had the funeral service I developed in my second full-time parish (St Mary, Portsea). This drew on what must have then been ASB, but I had looked at books more widely, I can’t now remember which. There may have been some Iona, and possibly the Uniting Church in Australia. I had become a correspondent of Jim Cotter and he offered some helpful advice too.
The service I have developed is posted at the top and bottom of this post. I shared the original version with members of the Sodality and also with one or two others. One or two of the local Funeral Directors have also commented positively and with helpful suggestions. Last week I took a funeral for the partner of a woman who was a published poet and is a poet herself. She worked in great detail on the text we agreed and this was really helpful in improving the English. Finally, Fr Steven Shakespeare, an aspirant to our Sodality, and a well-known, published liturgist has published a book of liturgies TheEarth Cries Glory. I have used elements from this woven into the service (and one complete set of intercessions), these are marked SS. I am trying to persuade Fr Steven to produce a book of pastoral liturgies.
I am not making any great claims for my liturgy. It is a ‘work in progress’ and offered for discussion more than anything else. I would welcome any comments. I hope that you can see that I have taken Cupitt’s questions seriously particularly in using the word ‘life’, but also and perhaps less surprisingly ‘love’. ‘It’ is more complex but I do find myself using that sort of language in my more informal words. Using the language of everyday life is, of course, exactly what Jesus did, always talking about himself in this way and avoiding institutionally religious language: way, truth life, gate, bread, shepherd …
Don Cupitt perfectly captures the language that our culture uses around what is meaningful, how to describe the ultimate, the significant. However, he comes up with the wrong answers, a non-realist interpretation of God. Civil Celebrants are doing the same thing. The question is the right one, what language (not just words, but music, images actions) speaks to people where they are? As a Christian I know that their answer is not enough. The world does need a Saviour, but it is our task to speak of Jesus in ways that our culture understands, because Jesus is, yes, so much more than a cup of hot chocolate on a cold winter’s night, but he is that too and what more important time than now to need that. Each day as I kneel before the Blessed Sacrament I pray “Sweet Sacrament Divine”:
Sweet Sacrament of rest, Ark from the ocean’s roar, Within thy shelter blest Soon may we reach the shore; Save us, for still the tempest raves, Save, lest we sink beneath the waves: Sweet Sacrament of rest.
Sweetness indeed, sweetness on a cold winter’s night, sweetness in a time of death and pandemic.
When we wrote The Manual, the way of life of the Sodality, the community of priests I belong to, we included this important paragraph:
Sodalists will be at the forefront of those seeking to understand what it means to ordain men and women to all orders of ministry; we will particularly celebrate women saints and integrate the writings of women and men into our experience and understanding of priesthood.
Slightly tongue-in-cheek, in the early days of the Sodality I described us as ‘Extreme Anglo-Catholics in favour of the ordination of women.’ Tongue-in-cheek as it was ( and far too limiting of the breadth of the vision God was calling us to) there was some truth in it. I quite liked it when the bishop of Croydon described us as the Trappists of the catholic stream of Anglicanism “of the Strict Observance.”
Rigour and high demands are important, and were what led to the flourishing of Anglo-Catholicism in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. They enabled the ministry to the poor and the work for social justice that was the essential outworking of that spirituality. Without outward facing work for justice, spirituality simply strokes the ego and enhances rather than crucifies the ego. Rigour and high demands are not rules to be kept or hoops to be jumped through. Better to think of them as a balloon flying freely into the sky, or a kite carried by the wind.
The Great Tradition (see footnote below) is ‘ever ancient, ever new’ (St Augustine). Drawing deeply from the tradition is vital, and it must bear fruit in the new. My great mantra for the Christian life is : Jesus centred – Spirit filled – bible based.
There is great flowering of creativity in the Sodality: blogs, litanies, such as the one above written by Mother Ayla, Mother Berni, Father Angela, Mother Sally and Father Steven.
The Litany is a great example of ‘ever ancient, ever new’. It is deeply rooted in the tradition and also creative and responsive to the needs of our time. I am deeply grateful for this gift.
Another example of this is the book Prayers for An Inclusive Church. by Fr Steven Shakespeare an aspirant to our Sodality. The title doesn’t quite reflect the content. It is a deeply traditional collection of Collects for the three year cycle of readings in the Revised Common Lectionary. Traditional in that each Collect is constructed with the ‘noble simplicity’ of the western Collect form, at which Cranmer was so gifted. Creative and new in the images used, which are truly Jesus-centred and Spirit filled, drawing on the Scriptures in the lectionary it is bible-based.
There is much in the tradition to help us pray this current pandemic. Christians have lived with plague in many circumstances and many times. I often find myself at the moment re-reading Julian of Norwich who experienced plague more destructive than our current afflictions and who saw in the cross a life-giving tree. Ever ancient, ever new.
“Three men, whom CSWG now accounts its joint-founders, not only shared a common experience of ministry among the disadvantaged and marginalised, they also shared the conviction that is was the specifically spiritual dimension in Christian life that was most in need of renewal. A saying attributed to Fr [William] Sirr has been seen as encapsulating their common belief:
“The mission of the church is weak because its prayer is weak.” Only though the renewal of the Church’s mystical and ascetic traditions – that is its vision of God and its tradition of conversion of life – could the life and witness of the the Church be renewed.”
We are a few weeks into the live-streaming now. I am deeply grateful to those who join me or watch later in the day and am much encouraged by your gratitude. It is nothing other than a privilege to offer intercession at the altar for the many names received.
Regular visitors will see that I have been experimenting with the chant a little, using more traditional plainsong (with English texts) as well as the material from the English Gradual. I have also added in a chanted version of Psalm 42 (43) as a transition from the Liturgy of the Word to the Liturgy of the Sacrament), almost a ‘prayers at the foot of the altar’. The experiment with seasonal insertions to Prayer H didn’t really work, getting the grammar right to lead into “on the nigh he was …’ is too complicated and needed insertions in two different places. With the new chant at the Offertory – using a Gelineau tone which I like to do – may mean that I omit a seasonal chant after the post-communion prayer and just use the Sodality Anthem to Mary, Mother of Priests.
Apart from that the rite, and especially the way in which I have tried to include those watching and unable to receive Communion seems to work. The changes and a couple of typos corrected are in this version of the booklet:
Eucharist: no change except that I trying out using seasonal inserts into Eucharistic Prayer H, based on the Short Prefaces in Common Worship and inserted before the institution narrative.
It has been really good to experiment with live-streaming worship in Holy Week and the Octave of Easter.
During the continuing lockdown I shall live stream the Eucharist at 6:30am BST each day and Compline at 7pm. After the opening verse I will read a poem. I probably won’t choose this until just before the Office but will try and Tweet it when I have done so.
I have been experimenting with the way to livestream through one fixed camera in a very small space. The layout of the Oratory has changed a little and I have tried to include those watching in a meaningful and non-trite way without intruding myself too much, I hope.
Here are the forms I shall be using for the time being:
It is pretty much as before although the introduction I have devised for those watching just didn’t work and I have removed it, as also the post-Communion prayer. I have extended the Prayer over the Gifts to include mention of ‘lockdown’ and extended the intercessions with more material on the pandemic. There is a ‘statement’ (not really a prayer) before receiving communion to include those watching and not receiving communion. I am not sure about it but will give it a go.
In communion with those who cannot receive communion,
with all who watch this Eucharist
and with all the faithful in every time and place, in heaven and on earth:
The bread of heaven in Christ Jesus. Amen.
The cup of life in Christ Jesus. Amen.
The readings are from the Daily Eucharistic Lectionary – I read them in the Jerusalem Bible version mainly because that means I can use the monthly Magnificat booklet which is easier to juggle with everything else on the legilium.
For the Introit and Concluding Chants I am using Abbot Alan Rees’s music published by Belmont Abbey in An English Gradual, it is really good. I will use one chant at each point for a whole week (except on feasts). It is only £7:50. A real ‘must-buy’. Which you can do here). Each refrain is provided with verses from the psalms (Grail psalter),
The responsorial psalmody is by Fr Anthony Ruff OSB (St John’s, Collegeville) Responsorial Psalms for Weekday Mass in the Seasons. They are very simple modal chants and work really well. All the texts are those set in the lectionary but it should be noted that they are the ICEL texts not those in British liturgical books.
I have also added the texts and music from the monastery at Crawley Down (Community of the Servants of the Will of God) to greet and give thanks for the Gospel. It just seems a bit ‘naked’ without something.
I aim to have longer silences after the gospel and after Communion. I have been a bit cautious so far when live-streaming given that many people just ‘dip in’. But now that we are out of the high seasons will go for it.
Again this is pretty straightforward. The English Anthem to the BVM is a version by Aelred Seton Shanley Obl. OSB Cam. an English hermit who lived in the Unites States for many years and died in the mid 1990s. I very much like his material, including Office hymns and these anthems to Our Lady. A few of the hymns have been published here. I am grateful to have been given a copy of the whole Office. The Antiphon on the psalms at Compline is the 8-fold alleluia that was popular when I was a teenager and will make many groan. I don’t know whether it will wear singing every night but thought I would try it.
On Saturdays and Sundays I will sing Compline in Latin.
It is such a joy to have people praying with me even though remotely, I am profoundly grateful for the prayerful support that offers and it is wonderful to be able to pray so many prayer intentions. There is a very real sense of communion and ‘inter-being’. I could not be more grateful.
“Pray constantly”, said St Paul (1 These 5:17), using two simple words to describe something that would exercise the minds of many, and thousands of volumes of books by Christians, through the centuries. Almost all modes of spirituality and Christian practice (Jesus Prayer, Divine Office, Little Hours especially, Practice of the Presence of God) aim to help us remember God and that we are in the Divine Presence always. To pray constantly.
I have been doing a bit of live-streaming of the liturgy during the lockdown as I celebrate it each day in the little Oratory at home (which is how I use an old lean to on the house). It’s been good to have a few old and new friends join me for that. Several have asked for more. I am something of an introvert and although I arrange the live-streaming in such a way so as not to focus on me (I hope) it does feel a little intrusive and less relaxed so I won’t be doing this all the time (you will be relieved to know) but as a one off on Friday 17th April I am going to live stream all the set prayers for a day.
My first experience of the Office was at Douai Abbey and of the monks singing the whole of the Office. That experience marked me indelibly and even though I am not a good singer (as you will find if you tune in at all), I love to sing and find it relaxes me in ways that simply reciting the Office does not. Somehow it engages different parts of my brain. When (in another life) I was doing a lot of driving, if I stopped and sang an Office it felt far more refreshing when I started driving again than if I had simply recited it, and reading to myself in my head never seems like praying the liturgy at all, but on trains, buses and planes is usually necessary.
Since Holy Saturday, and partly because for live-streaming the text is more accessible, I have been singing the Divine Office, the texts are in the Universalisapp which does charge but only a very small amount. The Universaliswebsite sadly uses a different translation of the psalms. The antiphons and hymns I use are in the setting of the music for the Office that I have done and is available here (a revised edition should be available in the not too distant future and will be posted on this blog very soon). The booklet below this post puts them together in order with the usual texts and music for this single day of live-streaming, you will need the booklet together with the psalms, readings and prayers from Universalis to be able to follow everything. Please note I use a different set of Collects – translated from a French Cistercian source (from Proclaiming All Your Wonders, Dominican Publications).
I wrote yesterday about the joy of coffee, tea and lunch breaks in our Zoom driven working days. I have always maintained little spaces to pray at least one daytime Office and that has kept me going through many hard times in my working life. If you haven’t discovered it yet do give it a go.
So, the timetable for the day:
5:30 am Office of Readings/Vigils (two nocturns the Mid-Day prayer psalms as in Universalis – but omitting sections of psalm 119 – providing the second group of psalms) a triple alleluia antiphon for all psalms. The psalms at Vigils are sung to traditional plainsong tones.
I will switch off live streaming between each Office/devotion – a chance for me to get a cup of tea or check the dog doesn’t need to go out …
6:15 am Rosary the Luminous Mysteries
I would normally celebrate Mass at 6:30 but am doing that later in the day, at 12:15, in the Octave.
7am Lauds (Morning Prayer)
About 7:45am Prime with Martyrology – Psalm 119 (118) shared across the Little Hours in a day – see the booklet for the text.
I should point out that this is a rather luxurious lockdown schedule. On normal working days I would tart at 5:20 combine Vigils and Lauds (or Sing Mattins/Morning Prayer when praying BCP or CWDP), go straight into Mass, then Prime. Rosary and Jesus Prayer prayed as I drive.
12 noon Sext and Eucharist
6:30 Devotions on Hebrew Heroes – Deborah –
and Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament
Again normally on a working day Vespers would be either stopping on the way home or as soon as I get home, often quite late, and Compline much later, ideally just after dinner but sometimes just before bed, ideally at 9 to 9:30.
The first Spiritual Director I had, when I was fifteen or sixteen was in many ways an impatient man. In one meeting with him I explained some injustice or bad deed I thought I had suffered. “Well, there’s no point whining,” he said, “What have you learnt from it?”.
I don’t recommend this as good practice on all occasions in spiritual direction. However, it is an ill-wind and all that. I’ve been thinking about what I am learning during the lockdown. Apart, that is, from the necessary skills of using Zoom (I can do break out rooms and everything); Go To Meeting, FaceTime, Microsoft Teams and more.
Yesterday, in a messaging conversation with my dear friend the Assistant Diocesan Secretary in the Diocese of Liverpool, I suggested we have a Zoom conversation, “How about one’o’clock?”, he returned. “Sorry, that’s lunchtime,” was my response, before we settled on a time later in the week.
It was only afterwards that I realised how extraordinary my response had been. Not because Stuart minded in the least. But because I haven’t taken lunch breaks for over twenty years, since I was appointed Acting Deputy Head at Emsworth Primary School in 1998.
I remember lunch breaks in school staffrooms before that as rather good times, friendly banter, much of it with colleagues who remain friends to this day. Birthday celebrations, cakes, those piles of books and odd objects that companies sold in staff rooms. Even my friend Becca introducing us to the Physalis in her lunch box one day. Exotic stuff indeed.
Since then, however, lunch has been always on duty, walking the corridors and playground, chatting to pupils or seeking out colleagues for whom this is a chance to have a quick ‘meeting’. School leaders are, and I am one of them, proud of this. Whenever Heads are together on a conference or residential training and have a sit down lunch somebody will soon comment on never sitting down to eat usually.
When I moved to the role of Director of Education here in Liverpool I brought these working habits with me. Like my colleagues in the team I am often driving around. So there are breaks between schools. I have learnt what food I can eat in the car as I drive without making too much mess. Sandwiches are hopeless. Thank goodness for Samosas and Baby Bel cheeses.
In the first week of the lockdown, like many other people I was introduced to Zoom. I think it is wonderful. I hope never again to ask people to drive to attend a meeting that takes a fraction of the time they were travelling. I have renewed old friendships and given real life to existing networks. It is a good thing. But that week I was frazzled. I learned how much I needed those driving times between meetings. Zoom meetings came thick and fast with barely time to pop to the toilet or make a cup of tea. Texting for a cup of tea to be brought to me during one meeting really made me realise how bad it had got. It was utterly unsustainable.
So I made some rules. Coffee at 10 every day, away from the desk, not a long break but time enough to make and drink a coffee; lunch for an hour from 1 to 2, tea at 4 – again just time to make and drink a cuppa, and not drunk at the lap-top or even on the phone. No Zoom meetings for work after 6. I still do early meetings when people want them, often early phone calls; so I don’t think I am being lazy in any way. Of course I have to be a little flexible, there awesome meetings I can’t control the times of, but then I move the break time.
This is the learning. Aren’t lunch breaks wonderful. It’s been helped, of course, by being able to sit in the garden most days. But taking time to make a proper meal (no more Samosas or sausage rolls), sitting down and eating it, conversation about something different to work, eyes off a screen.
Is this a lesson I can put into practice once this is over? I don’t know. Is it possible to do this as a Headteacher – perhaps some of my colleagues will tell me that they do? And, even as I write, I realise that in this crisis I am immensely privileged (not just in having a garden to sit in), most of our schools are open, most of our Heads are in school every day (I keep telling them not to be) and as for NHS staff and other Carers the idea of a lunch break must seem like a distant prospect.
In our Anglo-Saxon world we have always looked jealously at cultures where proper meals are part of working life – my dad used to drive five miles home and back to have lunch with mum and us during the school holidays. Even in the little village where I live the farm workers pass by as they walk home each day for lunch.
Corona Virus 19 is going to change our world. So many of those changes will be devastating and awful, but perhaps a few of them could be for good.
“Sorry, that’s my lunch break.” I’ll ask Stuart if he noticed. I am slightly proud of myself.
‘Village religion’ is how one priest-friend describes the worship in the village where I live. It’s true, it is common to many village churches I visit to preach or preside in. It doesn’t just describe the liturgy or the rite, or the way it is performed but also the relationships, the community, the sense of being together in a particular way. A church that belongs to everybody even those who don’t attend very often. A place full of collective memory and simple welcome. Our village churches are ‘inclusive’ in ways that many city churches can only dream of. There is certainly no room for ‘churchmanship’ or partisanship in any way. It is a very beautiful way of being Anglican. A Sunday when I am presiding and preaching in our 14th century church, visible from the garden is a total joy.
For the last two weeks in this village and the villages around, all part of the same benefice, have been worshipping together on Zoom. I was sceptical about how it would work, and how many people would be able to access this strange new technology. In fact on Easter Day 41 computers were logged in and most had more than one person viewing them. I put together and led the liturgy, a simple liturgy of the word (see below). Our vicar preached a short and powerful sermon, a house for duty priest in the parish led the intercessions. We will swap those roles around over the coming weeks. The liturgy was designed to be familiar. Hymns we know well (played via Spotify playlist) and familiar texts. The most daring liturgical creativity is an ee cummings poem I put at the start.
There was nothing remarkable about what was happening other than that these times are entirely remarkable. For me it had a lovely ‘village religion’ feel to it. It was wonderful to see so many familiar faces, not people I know well, but people who belong, have belonged here longer than I have. In ‘unprecedented’ times, when all seems made strange, familiarity was just what we all needed. I’ll take ‘village religion’ any time.
There is such intensity about Lenten observance and particularly about Holy Week and the Triduum that it is possible to mis the great eight days, the Easter Octave that follows. The liturgy which has seen such variety for three days suddenly becomes very repetitive. Partly that’s necessary, and the first simple celebration of the Eucharist on Easter Monday is a necessary tonic after the rich diet of the preceding week.
This year in our isolation I am going to be meditating on some of my ‘heroes and heroines’ in the Hebrew Scriptures. For the first time on Sunday morning before dawn I was able to read all nine readings at the Paschal Vigil, slowly and with plenty of time for reflection between them, I did this by a fire in the garden as pictured. I found it profoundly moving. From Common Worship: Times and Seasons I chose the ‘Women in Salvation’ series. Given that women are under-represented in our lectionaries I would value doing that every year. I used the Anselm canticle (from Common Worship Daily Prayer) with the ‘mother reading’ from Isaiah 66 and found that especially moving.
I am not going to reflect simply on women this Easter week but on a variety of figures:
Monday – Isaac
Tuesday – Sarah
Wednesday – Ruth
Thursday – Nehemiah
Friday – Deborah
I will Livestream these meditations each day 6:30 – 7pm BST and they will consist of poems and prayers with short reflections in the way of a monologue with the character by me, one sung responsorial text and silence. At 7pm I will sing Compline, in English in this version:
Here is the slightly revised liturgy for the Vigil. The two differences to the earlier version is that the whole of the text of the Exultet is used. I just couldn’t bear to omit it. I have put it in as a responsorial text with an offering of incense refrain, this is slightly odd but I know the refrains nd tone well so will be able to sing it while censing the candle and the icons. I have also added a tone and refrain for the Collects after each of the nine readings and psalms/canticles of the Vigil.
What is very obvious from live streaming liturgies in a small space and using a fixed camera is the difficulty of liturgical action. Without any action it is really just audio, but the action is difficult to capture without camera movement.
Anyway, here is my attempt at a liturgy for Good Friday in this strange year. In the absence of the action of the veneration of the cross I am using the poem After the Seven Last Words by poet Mark Strand. I think it is a rather stunning meditation. I shall intersperse the readings with Responsorial psalms and end with the Beatitudes. I will be interested to see how it works. It may be a bit rich for Good Friday – losing the starkness of the liturgy.
I shall use the Grail Psalms for all but the final Psalm (Ps 22) which will be from the BCP and sung to a traditional plainsong tone.
I would have liked to use some recorded music. I thought Hania Rani‘s Esja would work really well. But then I would be adding the action of turning on the music etc which would spoil my own engagement with the worship and also probably break Facebook’s copyright rules.
Monday in Holy Week is the day when the Diocese of Liverpool gathers at the Cathedral for the blessing of oils and the Renewal of Commitment to Ministry. In this time of pandemic the diocesan communications team prepared a video service. The Bishop of Warrington, The Rt. Rev’d. Bev Mason, offered a reflection on the powerful gospel reading John 12:1-11. It is a profound and deep meditation that moved me greatly. I am grateful to Bishop Bev for allowing me to post her words below. You can watch the service here:
In our reading, Jesus is back in Bethany. It’s after the raising of Lazarus so you can imagine his celebrity status there, and the cult following he’s attracting. It’s also just 6 days before the crucifixion, and he’s having dinner with Lazarus and his friends.
Wouldn’t you have just loved to have been there, listening and participating in the conversations. Undoubtedly, he was preparing them, as well as himself, for his formal entry into Jerusalem as the Messiah. (We’d have celebrated this, from our places of confinement, yesterday on Palm Sunday).
Well! Suddenly the conversations are interrupted by Mary – she’ the one, remember, who would sit with the disciples at Jesus’ feet as they’re being apprenticed. I don’t know that anyone would’ve noticed her getting up …. But they’d certainly have noticed what happened next! She quietly fetches some nard oil … she goes back to Jesus, she kneels down and she pours the oil over His feet.
Now Nard was an exotic oil – it comes from the Himalayas and so imagine how costly this was. And she doesn’t just take a few drops – she takes a pound of Nard. She gently massages it into his feet. And then letting down her hair, she wipes his feet with it.
It’s so intimate, that it almost feels intrusive that anyone else should be present: In this most tender and beautiful expression of love, the oil is soaked up from one body to the other … and the aroma of love, fills the room.
Usually when hear of incense and aroma in the Bible, they’re associated with priestly offerings and sacrifice. Mary would have known this – as I’m sure, she’d have known the teaching from Hosea, where God says,
“I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice,
the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings. ESV Hos 6.6
In this ritual Mary is participating in Jesus’ death.
I wonder if she knows that in doing so, she’s participating, too, in his risen life.
Mary was a disciple of Jesus. She’d listened and watched and prayed and learned from Him.
She knew that had Jesus been present when her brother was ill, he would’t have died.
She saw him raise her brother from the grave.
Through Jesus’ proximity to her and her, what we call, teachable spirit, her asking and searching …. and desire to learn, Mary grew in the knowledge of God.
Did she know she was in the presence of God?
At Jesus’ trial, just a week later, the Chief Priest will ask Jesus outright: “Are you the Messiah? Are you the Son of God’… . News that Jesus had raised Lazarus from the dead had spread and this was clearly what people were claiming on the streets of Bethany and in Jerusalem.
Is this what Mary believed?
I suspect so! And I suspect it’s the knowledge of this and the fear of how this was all going to unfold, that brought her to her knees before him.
This is a woman before the Messiah, the Son of God, giving herself to him.
Today in this (Not the Chrism Mass!), from our places of isolation, we recall and we shall renew our commitment to God’s call upon our lives … and the promises we’ve made to :
give ourselves to Him;
and to follow and to serve him ….. in the good times and in the challenging times.
We are each called in different, yet life-changing ways
and each tasked with particular vocations and responsibilities.
Friends, I believe Mary teaches us so much about the Christian vocation.
She sets before us a model of humility and service …
She dares to buck stereotyping;
In a room of men, she lets down her hair and exposes herself to rebuke – even though she’s about the service of Christ.
She pre-figures the footwashing by Jesus of his disciples, in the Upper Room. (I wonder if Jesus recalled this moment, as he washed his disciples’ feet!
Mary embraces the drama of the anointing …. without explanation or commentary … and in no small measure she pours out the costly oil, which speaks of the immeasurable love Christ pours upon us; and WE, in turn are to pour out upon others.
One of the immense challenges for each of us in these days of Coronavirus, is understanding what vocation means when things are unfamiliar. When we can’t minister in the tried and tested ways and when we mustbe distanced from people. Mary draws us back to LOVE which is the essence of our being, our thinking, our actions, our service. I think it’s this that Jesus was driving at, when he said, ‘I no longer call you servants. You are my friends.’
God calls us friends as he calls us to minister to him, and through him, to the world.
And at the heart of calling and service is love.
This is exactly what we’ve been seeing in these present trials:
Friends, Bishop Paul and I are so very deeply touched and profoundly humbled by the faithful, creative and imaginative ways colleagues have adapted to the Corona crisis and how you’ve endeavoured to support, encourage, pray, lead praise, and provide pastoral care and bereavement support. This is happening in parishes, hospitals, schools, prisons and very many other work places. Each in your way, and under very challenging circumstances, are pouring out the NARD of blessing of your calling – we want to thank you from the bottom of our hearts for your inspirational ministries!
For some Colleagues, confinement is something of a gift of time to pray and read and learn. I encourage you all to make time to attend to and build up your inner life.
And as we journey, each in our way, through Holy Week, to the Cross and the Empty Tomb,
may the life and joy of the resurrection touch and bless each of us, making us ready for the new morning – and the world beyond isolation.
God fill your heart with love. God keep you safe and bless you. Amen
For Compline in the Sacred Triduum, Thursday, Friday and Saturday I will be using Latin for all but the poem. Here’s the booklet for Holy Thursday. Compline will be live streamed at midnight on Holy Thursday, and at 7pm on Good Friday and Holy Saturday.
At one level our communion with one another is always invisible, or at least largely invisible The people we gather with in church Sunday by Sunday, however large the congregation, are just a fragment of the many millions we are in communion with in heaven and on earth in the Body of Christ. We also share a deep, consubstantial, inter-being with all human beings in every time and place, and indeed with everything that exists, through our creation from the matter of the earth.
The current crisis has made some of that invisibility visible. I am really grateful for those who have joined me at Mass in my little Oratory and sent messages of appreciation. Several have asked for more of the Office to be streamed. So I thought I would add Compline for this Holy Week.
You will find the text and music I will use in the booklet above. I will do a new booklet each day with a different poem that I will read between the opening verses and the Prayers of Penitence.
As there is no movement or action I will focus the camera on one of the icons rather than on me. Which should improve the experience! I have indicated in the text where I will pause for silences, hopefully it’s not because I have fallen asleep.
I normally sing Compline rather early in the evening if I can, I will try for a consistent 7pm. It’s nice to feel the Office is complete before having family time and early to bed.
The Divine Office as used at Worth Abbey, music by Dom Philip Gaisford OSB:
music for the Introductory verses, the hymn, Responsory and the Refrain to the Nunc Dimittis
Hymn: Text Patrick Lee (Hymns for Prayer and Praise rev. Ed 265)
Samuel Weber OSB: refrains for the psalms
Aelred Seton Shanley Obl. OSN New Camaldoli: the anthem to Our Lady
Common Worship Daily Prayer: texts of the psalms and the Nunc Dimittis
For the timetable for the week and more thoughts on these strange times seehere.
Here (above) is the booklet of how I shall celebrate the liturgies this week in the Oratory. It is not a complete script, but I have included as much as possible, including music, so that I am not juggling with too many books. It does still require Common Worship: Times and Seasons, a separate booklet of readings (above), a psalter (I shall use the Grail) and the Belmont Abbey English Gradual. Sadly, this is not available online, but the wonderful music of Abbot Alan is very singable, modal and simple. The Eucharistic liturgy is the one I have written about here and here. There is not much seasonal variation to it (no proper Prefaces etc) but the simplicity works, I think.
The Gospel of the Entrance into Jerusalem will begin Palm Sunday’s Eucharist, but without blessing of palms or procession.
For the liturgy on Good Friday I have added the insert prepared by the Vatican for the Solemn Intercessions in this time of pandemic, adapting it slightly to match the language of Times and Seasons, I think it works best in that text between the second and third intercession. In the Roman Rite it is suggested for rather later. The Proclamation of the Cross will be fairly informal with readings and poems from outside of Scripture.
At the Paschal Vigil I have followed the suggestion of Times and Seasons for Pattern B with an extended vigil of readings and psalms ending with the lighting of the Paschal candle. I think this makes much more sense than the usual pattern proclaiming the resurrection with the Easter fire and then settling down for the Vigil. As T&S suggests I shall do this by a fire (either in the garden or the fireplace, depending on the weather), but more like a camp fire for story-telling than the Easter light itself.
The only issue with the Pattern B structure is the proximity of the Exultet and the Gloria. Because I am just going to use the very short metrical Exultet that T&S gives and then a refrain to a simple chant Gloria I don’t think that will matter, but if the Exultet was sung solemnly I think it might seem odd to follow it immediately with the Gloria.
I am using the Women in Salvation readings from T&S but have replaced Psalm 113 after the Isaiah 66 reading with the Canticle in Common Worship Daily Prayer from Julian of Norwich which beautifully picks up the image of motherhood.
This is not a polished service booklet but a script for me to use in these strange times. I will, no doubt be adapting it as the week goes on and will post updates. Unless otherwise indicated the music in the booklet is my own adaptation of plainsong chants.
UPDATE Saturday 15:30 – The introductory chant on Palm Sunday is surprisingly underrepresented in my collection of liturgical music. A simple plainsong setting by Br Reginald SSF seemed to be the best I could do. There is a version in the Hymn-Tune Psalter which I have recently acquired, also the ‘Hosanna’ Jacques Berthier / Taizé chant but this is really a canon and seems very weak sung by a single voice. I then remembered the collection by Paul F Ford, By Flowing Waters, which is an English version of the Graduale Simplex. His setting of one of the palm procession chants to mode 1 works well I think. He sets the psalm verses to the traditional plainsong tone; I will use that with a text pointed in the Sarum Psalter or the Grail version with the Conception mode 1 tone as shown below. Or I may even use it twice, before and after the Palm Gospel, with verses from psalm 118 before and psalm 24 afterwards.
Here is the booklet of complete texts for all the liturgies of Holy Week except the daily Office. Authorised Version, the traditional Western lectionary (English Missal, 1958) which allows Patristic commentaries, Guéranger, Parsch etc to be consulted easily. Paschal Vigil readings in the Times and Seasons lectionary, ‘Women in Salvation’.
Common Worship: Times and Seasons includes a number of alternative, themed, patterns of readings for the Easter (Paschal) Vigil:
Women in Salvation
All of them require the use of Exodus 14 (rightly !) and there are 22 readings used over the 5 themes. One Easter night I would love to use all of them over the course of the night!
Given that I think that repetition is the key to good liturgy and that women are seriously under represented in both Scripture and lectionaries I would argue for using ‘Women in Salvation’ every year.
So here is a booklet of those readings (in the Authorised Version) in the hope that it might be helpful to some. I shall be using these on my own this pandemic year. T&S includes psalm references and Collects for each reading which are excellent. I may get round to adding those to the booklet, but, for now, the readings:
UPDATE Good Friday – I tried rehearsing Stations of the Cross live in the garden; sadly it just didn’t work, there was no way of moving the camera (iPhone on a tripod) in a way that wouldn’t have made anyone watching seasick. So no lies team of Stations but I will livestream Compline each night at 7pm Friday and Saturday.
UPDATE 6 April, 15:30 – please note there will now be no Eucharist of the Day in the Oratory, I am leading worship for the parish on Zoom at that time. In addition to the liturgies below I will livestream Compline each day at 7pm BST except for Maundy Thursday when Compline will complete the Watch at midnight.
Several people have asked what I intend to do for the liturgical services of Holy Week. I had been due to preach at St George’s, Paris and am sad not now to be with Fr Mark and the people there. I normally ‘preach’ Holy Week as a guest preacher so I rarely have to organise the liturgies of the week or the Triduum, although I have done a few vacancies over the years and when I was a parish priest always enjoyed working out what would work and what wouldn’t. here’s a picture of the booklet from the last time I had sole responsibility which was at St Faith’s, Landport in 1997:
I have been live-streaming the Eucharist each day from my little Oratory in the garden over the last few days. I am so deeply moved to be joined by people, some I know and am fond of, some strangers to me. I shall continue doing this during Holy Week at the following times:
Palm Sunday, Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday: Eucharist at 6:30am BST (GMT+1)
Maundy Thursday: Eucharist of the Lord’s Supper 8pm, I will keep a Watch until midnight and sing Compline at midnight. Eucharist and Compline but not the Watch streamed.
Good Friday – Stations of the Cross 10am
Good Friday: Liturgy of the Day at 2pm
Easter Day: Paschal Vigil and First Eucharist of Easter: 3:30am;
In terms of what I will do, those who tune in to the stream from the Oratory seem to appreciate the simplicity and silence. Others will be looking for something very different and there are many places offering sophisticated audio-visual material, and grander liturgies. Which is excellent. For this domestic Oratory as simple as possible seems to be best. For the Eucharistic liturgy the rite will be just as I have been doing and as described here.
Normally for a weekday Eucharist in the Oratory I just wear a stole over my usual clothes; to mark the solemnity of this week I will wear the usual vestments on Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday and at the Easter Eucharists and an Alb and stole on Good Friday at the Liturgy.
As you can see there is no blessing of the palms or procession, no Easter fire, no veneration of the Cross. Times and Seasons (T&S) gives different sets of readings for the Vigil with themes. I have chosen ‘Women in Salvation’. I will sort out what I am going to do at the Stations of the Cross on Good Friday morning in due course and post here when that is done. It will be very simple indeed. The Vigil will start early and be very leisurely which I have done before and works really well, with a rather informal feel. I’m hoping I can do this in the garden at a little bonfire. Vestments put on only at the move into the Oratory for the first Eucharist of Easter.
I love to sing and I love the psalms. So alongside a few simple chants from Taizé and the Iona Community there will be psalms with sung refrains, from Belmont Abbey (An English Gradual, Fr Alan Rees OSB), Br Reginald SSF (Lent, Holy Week and Easter – Services and Prayers). I won’t sing any hymns. I am not a great singer and singing hymns unaccompanied is pretty tough going. On Monday to Wednesday the Chants (sung with verses of psalmody) will be (Mon – Wed Introit Belmont 35, Psalm Belmont 44, Concluding Chant Belmont 42). Other music see below:
Introit Reginald 9
Commemoration of the Lord’s Entry Into Jerusalem (T&S 269 – 271 omitting prayer over the palms and procession
Liturgy of the Word – Psalm Belmont 35
Intercession T&S 272-273
Eucharistic liturgy continues as usual Concluding Chant Belmont 30
Introit Belmont 52
Penitential verses T&S 294
Psalm Belmont 111
Intercessions T&S 299
Preparation of the Gifts T&S 300
Eucharistic liturgy continues as usual
Concluding Chant Lamentations (traditional)
Watch until midnight before the Blessed Sacrament
Midnight Compline: traditional plainsong
Good Friday Stations of the Cross (10am) more detail later.
Good Friday – Liturgy of the Day
Gathering and Liturgy of the Word T&S 307 – 308 Psalm Belmont 181 (The Passion ends at Jn 19: 37)
Prayer around the Cross – Jesus remember me, (Taizé), Belmont 178 verses from psalm 26, poetry and silence
The Solemn Intercession at the Cross
T&S 316 -318
Holy Communion T&S 319 – 320 Gospel of the Burial of Christ (Jn 19: 38-42
The Paschal Vigil – Times & Seasons Pattern B ( 3:30 am – 5:30 am)
T&S Pattern B – outside (if not raining, or by the fireplace), at a fire
Introduction T&S 354 –
Readings T&S 373 (Theme ‘Women in Salvation’) Refrains for psalms, selected verses, from Sunday Psalms, Kevin Mayhew
1 Genesis 1 Psalm 104
2 Genesis 3 Psalm 51
3 Exodus 12 Psalm 77
4 Exodus 14 Canticle
5 Ruth 1 Psalm 61
6 1 Samuel 1 Canticle CWDP p 572
7 Proverbs 8 Canticle CWDP p 599
8 Isaiah 66 Psalm 113
9 Daniel 3 canticle Benedicite
The Paschal Candle is blessed and lit T&S 355
Move to the Oratory (5:30am)
Metrical Exultet T&S 358 Tune: Woodlands
Gloria mode viii
Liturgy of the Word Psalm Belmont 60
Blessing of Water Chant: Water of Life …
The Eucharistic Liturgy continues as usual
Concluding chant: Belmont 67
Eucharist of Easter Day
Usual Eucharistic Liturgy with Gloria and Creed, chants:
My friend and colleague in the Diocese of Liverpool, Mother Hannah Lewis has recently moved her prayer corner / Oratory from a bay window to the attic. Having prayed in the former space for some years she wanted to mark her farewelling of that space liturgically and has produced this rather lovely liturgy for doing so.
The prayer for taking leave is adapted from “A liturgy for leave-taking a house” in Human Rites compiled by Hannah Ward and Jennifer Wild
Before Coronavirus (BC) when I was travelling a good deal and staying overnight in hotels and conference centres I always said a little prayer of blessing for the corner of the room I set up for my prayer. I often thought that I needed a farewell prayer as well. I may just work on that at some point …
“A marathon not a sprint.” That’s a phrase government ministers and medical advisers are using for the the pandemic. For those on the frontline of hospital care pacing yourself must seem like a luxury. But for those of us locked down at home it is rather different. It is a fortnight since what I think of as week zero began and my diary started to empty, actual cancellation emails or just the reality that these things are not going to happen. I have Holy Week Sermons prepared on Augustine for Paris. Conference talks on renewal of the church planned for Australia and New Zealand, parish days on Julian of Norwich, an ordination retreat on the poet Gwenallt. When that material will see the light of day I don’t know.
It was in the middle of week zero that the platforms allowing face to face meetings online began to impact. Added to Skype and FaceTime, GoToMeeting, Microsoft Teams and the now ubiquitous, among clergy, Zoom.
My short term diary filled again quickly. National and diocesan meetings. Conversations with Headteachers, MAT CEOs, Local Authority Officers. I have ‘seen’ my diocesan education team colleagues more in a week than I normally see them in a month. There is spiritual direction to be done on Zoom as well as ‘meetings’ with family and friends. In the village I live in caring for the elderly and housebound is being done on a What’s App group and together with that communication have been additional shopping trips for them. The community of priests I belong to (the Sodality) is also meeting three times a week on Zoom.
At the end of Week One of Zoom working I was shattered. So I decided to take 24 hours off all digital communication. It gave me chance to think about why the digital life has been so tiring when I normally have a significant online presence (Twitter, Facebook and my blog) which does not tire me.
Before thinking about the difference between my normal online activity and the new circumstances we are all in it’s important to acknowledge the exhaustion caused by trauma and anxiety. Almost the whole human population is experiencing a significant trauma. My observation of people and my own experience, is that there is a combination of shock, and from some, still, denial. There is a permanent sense of anxiety that never goes away. Several people have spoken to me about dystopian dreams. I may be wrong but this particularly seems to be so for those living in cities who are seeing places they know well, and which are normally busy, bustling places, suddenly bereft of people. Couples, families, households are spending enforced time together, our normal routines are broken, Many people are being furloughed or can’t get the work done that they normally do. This sense of being out of control causes stress.
Add to that our worries and concerns for those we love. My elderly dad in a nursing home. My nephew in China. A friend’s son with pneumonia.
Given all of this it is not surprising that we feel more tired than usual, or express our anxiety in other ways. For headteachers there is the additional task of organising child-care and exposure to children who might well be bringing the virus into school from healthcare parents. This real danger and the fear of it will only increase.
For clergy there is a strong sense of wanting to do something, added to not being able to do the things we normally do. The resentment about closing church buildings and the large number of live streamed services is, I think, a relatively healthy expression of all this. There is also, it seems to me, a fear among clergy that this will hasten the end of many elements of our inherited church life. With collection-plate giving no longer possible everyone realises that the financial consequences for parishes and dioceses are going to be enormous.
So, to get to online working, why is that making us more tired? I don’t want to universalise my own experience but I am hearing this from many other colleagues too. It ought to be better, we might think, none of the driving and travelling that I normally do, I ought to be less exhausted! But in fact, for someone like me who is strongly introverted I have lost all my ‘down time’. Time in the car is time alone. I miss audible books and Radio 4 when I am thinking about something different, or times when I am processing the meeting I have just had and preparing for the meeting ahead. All of that is gone.
Another factor that is unusual in online meetings is that there are few transition points, arriving somewhere, getting settled, packing up at the end of a meeting; all this creates a sense of transition. I find that I am now often going from one meeting to another without any transition. Often there are literally no gaps. Zoom in its free version is limited to 40 minutes. I think there is a wisdom in that. My best meetings online have lasted 40 – 50 minutes. After that I am tired. Online meetings require a level of concentration and attention that is different to being in a room with people. There are less non-verbal signals to read. There is also less opportunity for humour to relive tension, or give a moment’s breather. We may get better at that as we get more used to using these media. We may also need to get better at controlling our use of some of these platforms. On Microsoft Teams my colleagues can see if I am available (it may be possible to stop this but I haven’t found that yet). There have been times when as soon as I have finished one call a colleague has seen that I am available, and called straight away.
My own personal use of Twitter and Facebook has tended to be much more of a broadcast than conversation. That has been harder to maintain in the past week and is very different from Zoom and the video meetings.
So this coming week I am looking to change some of the ways I have been working to give myself more reflective space. Times to reflect and to prepare. Times when I won’t take calls. But also building into my weeks and months some ‘desert time’.
I must have first read Catherine de Heck Doherty’s book Poustinia some time in the mid 1980s. It is well worth re-reading. Posutinia is simply the Russian word for ‘desert’, but it also refers to the spiritual desert of those, poustiniks, who live in the desert of solitude. For a few years Poustinias were popular among the spiritually minded. Huts in gardens or rooms set apart at retreat centres were named Poustinia. Traditionally a Poustinia contained nothing except simple furniture, a cross and a Bible.
Worn out by my week on Zoom (and other platforms) I set aside Sunday as a Poustinia day. Using the little Oratory which I have made out of a lean-to on the side of the house. (It was probably built for laundry, perhaps as a laundry for the village.) The many icons and quite a number of books are rather more than a Poustinia would provide, but it is a sacred space. The Eucharist has been much celebrated there, with many people; sins absolved; oil applied for healing and psalms sung.
Other than celebrating the Eucharist I decided to make it a non-liturgical day. Not singing the Office but simply chanting the psalms through in order and reading the book of Genesis. My two favourite books of the Bible. Prostrations with the Jesus Prayer (see here) and the simple prayer of the Cloud of Unknowing (see here) completed the day.
Poustinia is available on Kindle. Most of us can’t live as poustiniks in our daily life but Catherine encourages us to find “small solitudes, little deserts”.
In these crazy times we need little deserts more than ever. It may be just a corner of a bedroom or a spare room, the attic or even space in the garage or garden shed. Perhaps the only place is a time, a walk round the garden or local park.
We all know that there are dark days ahead. In these days caring for ourselves is vital. That can only begin with self-knowledge. A knowledge learned in silence and solitude.
I have always needed time alone. More important even than sleep. Which is why I have always love the last hours of the night and first hours of the day.
As we renegotiate our lives with technology and lockdown we will all need to look at the way we spend our time. For me, social isolation and lockdown that is full of e-communication means I need more solitude. I don’t have a parish, and in any case there are now many online forms of worship, so Sunday is a good day for me to have a desert day. It may be that another day or time will work for you. Jesus needed solitude (Lk 4:1-2,141-5; Mk 6:30-32; Mt 14: 1-13; Lk 6:12-13; Lk 22:39-44; Lk 5:16). It is not surprising that we do too.
“The essence of the poustinia is that it is a place within oneself, a result of Baptism, where each of us contemplates the Trinity … The is another way of saying that I live in a garden enclosed, where I walk and talk with God – though a Russian would say, “where all in me is silent and where I am immersed in the silence of God”.
Catherine de Hueck Doherty, Poustinia AMP 1975 p.212
“He showed me a little thing, the quantity of a hazel nut, lying in the palm of my hand. And it was as round as any ball. I looked upon it with the eye of my understanding, and thought, ‘What may this be?’ And it was answered thus, ‘It is all that is made.’”
Julian of Norwich
Julian scholars seem to cluster into two groups, those who believe her to have been an unlettered peasant with no theological training, and those who perceive in her a rich stream of theological thought whether accessed directly from books, or learnt from others, perhaps taught by Augustinians or Benedictines.
My reading of Julian is of someone with deeply sophisticated theological thought. Her writing on the atonement and on the Trinity show such depth and so carefully avoid heresy that it is impossible to believe that she had not received considerable theological education in some way.
I am particularly interested in the influence of Augustine of Hippo on her. A comparison of her work and that of Augustine (see, for example Soskice) reveals influence and difference. For me, a particular interest not examined by any of the scholarship I have found so far (please feel free to send me any!) is the connection between the hazel not metaphor and Augustine’s conception of time. The post below is an old one of mine examining the Cloud of Unknowing as the source of a technique of prayer, based on this Augustinian concept of time. The Cloud is often mi-read as if it suggests that any prayer phrase is fine. In fact, the Cloud author is determined that the prayer word must be one syllable.
It is almost certain that Julian knew the Cloud. Her reference to the hazel nut, or rather the hazel nut sized ball is tantalisingly brief but matches perfectly the single-pointedness that the author of the Cloud is aiming for.
I continue to teach this single syllable prayer to individuals. ‘Teach’ is probably too strong a word. There is nothing to teach really, just a suggestion of this form of prayer and some people take that up and some don’t. Those who do continue to report its helpfulness. It is the technique I use most often when driving. Starting with a hymn to the Holy Spirit, a Taizé Veni, Sancte Spiritus …, a period of the Jesus Prayer and then the single syllable ‘God’. Interestingly driving is the closest I come to the physical labour that was always a part of the contemplative life. My body and part of my mind is occupied, concentrated even, leaving me free to pray. The desert monks wove baskets. Modern contemplative communities make cheese, bread or beer. Many of the women solitaries I know practise some form of simple craftwork in a similar way.
This famous quote from Julian provides further suggestions for the single syllable:
“The Trinity is our maker,” writes Julian,
“the Trinity is our keeper,
the Trinity is our everlasting lover,
the Trinity is our endless joy and our bliss”
This post is a combination of three previous posts on The Cloud of Unknowing and some additional sections (marked as Updates) on my experience of practising and teaching the technique of prayer proposed by The Cloud.
A common reaction to my posts and talks on The Cloud’s method of prayer, is that ‘I do that already’, or ‘It’s just what I do’ and the speaker goes on to say that they use a prayer phrase or the Jesus Prayer. Those form of phrase prayers are powerful means for praying, however, the author of The Cloud is proposing something DIFFERENT. My personal experience and my experience in teaching this ‘one-syllable’ method is that it leads to a DIFFERENT kind of experience. I am not saying better or worse.
I will continue to teach the Jesus Prayer and use of a phrase of Scripture as part of lectio and other ways of prayer, but I would like to see where this one-syllable prayer leads. It may not (certainly won’t!) work for everyone. But it is not the same as other methods of prayer and I think we should take The Cloudseriously.
The one-syllable is the essential matter of this prayer.
“The moment is not properly an atom of time but an atom of eternity …”
You will be able to picture, no doubt, the orange robes of the Krishna consciousness devotees who have been a feature of life on London’s Oxford Street and in other cities since the 1960s:
Hare Krishna Hare Krishna
Krishna Krishna Hare Hare
Hare Rama Hare Rame
Rama Rama Hare Hare
The George Harrison version of the mantra captures the zeitgeist of the time perfectly.
At the same time, Christians began to look at our own spiritual traditions to discover mantras and other methods of prayer. Some people saw the Orthodox Jesus Prayer as a sort of mantra. Others developed Centering Prayer, and other techniques, suggesting adopting a sacred word or phrase.
John Main founded the World Community for Christian Meditation and proposed using the Aramaic word from the end of the book of Revelation, Maranatha, Come Lord!
John Main like many others picked on what had been a somewhat neglected English book of the fourteenth century which seemed to suggest something similar: The Cloud of Unknowing.
We don’t know who wrote The Cloud but most scholars agree it was probably a Carthusian hermit-monk, who was also a priest, and most likely – because of the English he used – lived in the East Midlands, a form of English very similar to Chaucer. Those of us who studied Chaucer at school will well remember:
Whan that Aprille with his shoures sote
The droghte of Marche hath perced to the rote,
And bathed every veyne in swich licour,
Of which vertu engendred is the flour;
The Cloud author, however, does not suggest a multi word mantra or poly-syllabic word like Maranatha. He repeatedly insists on praying with one single, mono-syllabic word. He suggests ‘God’ or ‘Love’ and using that repeatedly to batter the cloud that separates us from God. He suggests that the word be a ‘dart of longing love’, an arrow piercing the cloud. Later he says that it doesn’t really matter what word we choose – ‘sin’ or ‘out’ would do. The most important thing is that the word must be only one syllable.
That is interesting. I think some of those who have referred to The Cloud to support use of a Christian mantra have missed the author’s point about this. The word itself does not matter; that it must be of only one syllable is not optional.
The text of The Cloud also reinforces this, using simple monosyllabic words whenever possible and avoiding complex latinisms and polysyllabic words. I recommend the version by Fr John-Julian recently published by Paraclete Press. But the original Middle English is not difficult and worth persevering with.
Here is the author of The Cloud explaining his technique for the first time:
When you apply yourself to this work, and feel by grace that you are called by God, lift up your heart to God with a humble stirring of love. And mean God who created you, and redeemed you, and who has graciously called you to this work: and admit no other thought of God. And yet not all of these, but only as it pleases you; for a bare intent directed to God is sufficient, without any other object besides himself. And if it pleases you to have this intent wrapped up and folded in a word, so that you might have a better hold on it, take just a little word of one syllable; for such a word is better than one of two syllables, for the shorter it is, the more fitting it is to the work of the spirit. And such a word is this word GOD or this word LOVE. Choose whichever of these two you wish, or another as it pleases you: whichever word you like best that is of one syllable. And fasten this word to your heart, so that it is never separated from it, no matter what happens.
Jordan Kirk is clear that readers have not read The Cloud carefully enough:
“Although readers of the Cloud have regularly (and, to my mind, inexplicably) referred to the “litil worde” as “preferably” or “ideally” monosyllabic, in fact the Cloud-author admits no compromise on this point.
He has only one stipulation: you can choose whatever word you like, as long as it be monosyllabic. To use a multisyllabic word is not to perform the work of unknowing in a less than ideal manner; it is not to perform it at all.”
In another helpful passage Jordan writes:
“The purpose of the Cloud’s technique is to do away with all the thoughts in your mind in order that the intellect may encounter the very absence of thought, the so-called cloud of unknowing. This encounter will be accomplished by means of the “litil worde,” which, according to an improbable figure, you use simultaneously to bludgeon your thoughts and to pound against the cloud. The double operation of unknowing consists in this blow — to which the Cloud-author gives the name “loue put” (love-thrust) — which takes place when you turn the word into an accouterment of battle, at once a sword you bash against the cloud of unknowing and a shield to keep your thoughts at bay. In being wielded in this manner, the word produces “þis lityl blynde loue put, when it is betyng upon þis derke cloude of unknowing, alle oþer þinges put doun and forзeten” (this little blind love-thrust, when it is beating upon this dark cloud of unknowing, all other things having been put down and forgotten; 58).
If the word of one syllable lends itself to this operation, it is because it can be kept whole. The Cloud-author explains that your importunate thoughts will constantly attempt to get you to explain the word, analyze it, that is, break it up into its parts, but this is what you must not do.
зif any þouзt prees apon þee to aske þee what þou woldest haue, answere him wiþ no mo wordes bot wiþ þis o worde. And зif he profre þee of his grete clergie to expoune þee þat worde and to telle þee þe condicions of þat worde, sey him þat þou wilt haue it al hole, and not broken ne undon. (28–9)
If any thought presses upon you to ask you what you are seeking, answer him with no more words than this one word. And if he offers to explicate that word for you, using his impressive learning, and to tell you about its various aspects, tell him that you want to have it entirely whole, and not broken or undone.”
I have been using the Jesus Prayer for over 35 years, since my mid-teens. It is as much a part of me as breathing. But just before Christmas in 2017 I thought I would take the author of The Cloud at his word (so to speak) and use just one word. I didn’t feel quite ready to adopt ‘sin’. ‘Love’ seemed a bit too emotion-laden. I went for ‘God’.
Since then I have been using the word ‘God’, aloud whenever I can (driving, walking, in the bath etc) and silently dropping it into my consciousness at the end of each in and out breath when I can’t. The rhythm, the pace is slow. When I first started I happened to be somewhere where a neighbouring farmer was installing some fence posts. Hammering them deep into the ground with a sledge hammer. The pace is similar to that and it’s an image that has stuck with me, driving the word deep into my heart, the slow swing of the breath, the drawing back of the hammer and the next blow, repeating the cycle over and over again.
I‘ve been amazed at the effect it has had on me and the significance it feels to have had in my prayer life. I still use the Jesus Prayer formally for two or three periods of 15 minutes a day but the remainder of the time it is the word ‘God’ that I use.
The inner experience of this is hard to describe and I am conscious that talking about one’s own prayer life isn’t quite the done thing.
The author of The Cloud writes about ‘naked intent’ repeatedly. How can we have only one intention, closeness to God, piercing the cloud of unknowing and not the multiple, mixed motives that characterise us most of the time?
I don’t want to make any great claims, but using this one word I have experienced something closer to ‘naked intent’ than I have ever experienced before. There are three reasons I think, for this:
1 Firstly, and strangely, because it is deeply unsatisfying. The Jesus Prayer is complete in itself, it names our Saviour and makes a request of him. Job done. The single word leaves me wanting more. The constant repetition renders the word almost meaningless. Yet that emptiness, that nothingness, nonsense-ness also makes it transparent, so that when I come to pray the Office or Mass the liturgy seems to complete the word, and the word seems to continue in and through the liturgy in a way not possible with a more complex phrase. The word can repeat itself throughout the worship in a way that the Jesus Prayer can’t.
2 Secondly, one of the best ways I can think of describing the experience is physical nakedness. Unless we are naturists we so rarely find ourselves naked in another’s presence other than with a marital partner. Even the doctor normally sees only a part of us. The nakedness of the single word of prayer locking each utterance to the present moment is like the nakedness of the first sexual encounter, not the consummation, but preceding it, the exposure. The moment of utter vulnerability, of utter surprise and unknowing, mixed with delight and anticipation. We often think of sexual passion as a metaphor for our relationship with God, we all know that the Song of Songs and other biblical texts point us to that. But I wonder if, in our sex-obsessed culture we make enough of chastity? Desire examined for its own sake, enjoyed and appreciated without the need for consummation. And not just sexual desire. How about allowing ourselves the time to linger in that liminal moment of hunger without eating, or not getting or knowing what the next job will be, of not being in control.
3 Thirdly, another image for how this works is the reason, I think, the author is so insistent on the word being just one syllable. If our prayer is to enable us to experience the eternity of God’s existence/presence, if the opposite of that eternal ‘moment’ is time passing, perhaps one way of experiencing eternity is to be totally present in just one moment, the smallest possible unit of time, the present moment, so our prayer word needs to be the shortest possible duration, one syllable, one moment. If we can focus all our attentiveness, all our own presence in that spilt moment we will experience, we are experiencing eternity. Time splits and opens us to eternity.
This last idea relates particularly to an Augustinian understanding of time and eternity. Two articles have pointed me in this direction and encouraged me to use this technique in praying:
This essay by Jordan D Kirk, has resonated deeply with the effect my reading of The Cloud has had on my own prayer life in recent weeks. Jordan is working on a book length study of mysticism and has re-worked his paper into a chapter which is very good indeed and fills out the paper somewhat. I am grateful for an advance read of the chapter and look forward to the book being published.
Another essay, by Eleanor Johnson, is also important in understanding the prayer method proposed by the author of The Cloud:
The quote from Kierkegaard at the start of this post seems to suggest something similar to Johnson’s ideas on the monosyllabic word as the shortest possible unit of time and therefore as closest to eternity. There is an interesting article on time here, also see here. I am working on this concept and on Augustine’s view of this and hope to write more in the future.
It is early days yet. But this practice does seem to create a softening or expanding of the heart. I have found myself experiencing the gift of tears in prayer and accessing an outpouring of poetry in my writing. I don’t know how these relate to each other. It is not about emotion or angst, quite the opposite, almost the simplest experience I have known. I would be interested in the experience of others. Monastic authors talk of purity of heart / single heartedness – the single syllable can be a way of getting close to that. It is a technique that seems to make living in the present moment possible.
Over this last few months I have used opportunities to introduce this prayer to individuals and groups. I don’t think I have found exactly the right way of teaching the method yet but several individuals have reported extensively on the profound effect this prayer has had on them, here are two extracts quoted with permission:
“When X left me and I was on my own I didn’t think I’d ever be able to pray again. All those words seemed too much, choking and just made me angry. Just using one word has been sort of liberating. I couldn’t use ‘Love’, that word has been ruined for me. But ‘God’ works. I don’t know what it is, but that’s OK.”
“I only came to the Mindfulness course because someone said it would help me deal with stress. The breathing works really well, and it does help. But it’s the use of one word over and over that has, well, sort of changed my life. I use the word ‘Love’, it kind of means all the best moments of my life. When I do this I feel part of something much bigger than me, like I belong, that I’m not one my own. Almost like there’s ‘someone’ there. You’ll be pleased to hear this: I’ve started going to church. Well, the cathedral actually. I just sit at the back on Sunday afternoon while the choir are singing. It’s the best place I know to do this. You haven’t made me a Christian yet, but I certainly want more of this.”
The ‘cloud of unknowing’ is not a cloud that will part in this life, if it did we would be destroyed by the reality of God. The cloud protects us. When RS Thomas writes of the presence of God as the presence that has just left the room, he is describing how we can only cope with seeing God out of the corner of an eye. Like Moses who could only see the backside of God on the mountain and whose face still had to be covered afterwards it shone so brightly.
Thomas in his famous poem The Absence writes:
It is a room I enter
from which someone has just
gone, the vestibule for the arrival
of one who has not yet come.
I modernise the anachronism
of my language, but he is no more here
than before. Genes and molecules
have no more power to call
him up than the incense of the Hebrews
at their altars. My equations fail
as my words do. What resources have I
other than the emptiness without him of my whole
being, a vacuum he may not abhor?
Two other poems can help us here, I think. One The Panther by the poet Rilke, and the other The White Tiger by R S Thomas.
They are about the cloud of unknowing. For Rilke the bars of the panther’s cage only occasionally allow him to see through the bars:
“an image, [that] enters in,
rushes down through the tensed, arrested muscles,
plunges into the heart and is gone.”
For Thomas, the Tiger:
as God must be beautiful …
It was the colour of moonlight
and as quiet
as moonlight, but breathing
as you can imagine that
God breathes within the confines
of our definition of him, agonising
over immensities that will not return.”
The colour of moonlight on snow. No colour at all. But totally present, totally real.
What is clear from the communications I am receiving from people who trybthis is that there are many people who have found praying with a one syllable word helpful. Some have mentioned contact with Indian Christians through the teaching of Bede Griffiths, Shantinavam and Abhishiktananda (who I will quote from extensively later), most have come to this by their own intuition. A few mention the gift of tongues leading into this, one sound from that forming their word.
Three questions stand out:
– How does this experience relate to praying in tongues?
– How does it relate to Jesus?
– Are there any other places where praying with a monosyllabic word are suggested?
In Relation to Praying in Tongues
In the article cited below, Eleanor Johnson writes about the place of ‘nonsense’ in the technique suggested by the author of The Cloud. This fits with his suggestions that any word of one syllable will do and that the meaning is irrelevant. We all know that when you think about any word too much it becomes nonsense. As children acquire language and particularly young teenagers they find this nonsense quality of words particularly amusing. It seems to be a phase they often go through.
I have my doubts about the usefulness of the nonsense image. Just as children are now taught artificial phonics through made up, but phonetically correct, words, but the author doesn’t suggest that. In fact he chooses two powerful words God and Love to start with. I suspect that most of us need the positive connotations of words like that to sustain us in this sort of prayer. I have only been practising like this for a few months so can’t claim any great expertise but I certainly don’t feel drawn to ‘sin’ one of the author’s other suggestions. I wonder whether for a new-comer the author would always have suggested positive words? Or even how serious he was about the use of the word sin …
Among the words that some of you who have been in touch use are:
This is a good list. I suspect that most of us need a word with a positive vibe. We come to prayer in various states, sometimes tired and weary, sometimes in an even darker place than that, even after appropriate introductory prayers a positive mental state is needed.
Praying in tongues has been a part of my experience since I experienced baptism in the Spirit as a fourteen year old. However, it is not a form of prayer that is, for me, sustained for a long period of time. Using the word ‘God’ in the Cloud’s way of prayer does often lead into or from a time of praying in tongues but the mono-syllable is one way to maintain this prayer in my daily life.
In terms of the inner feeling or sensation I think there is much in common between the way of The Cloud and the gift of tongues; it is a suspension of the rational mind, a stepping out of mind-consciousness into another place and there is a liminal quality to it.
A common experience when I meet and talk to Pentecostal and charismatic Christians is conversation about how the practices of the spiritual life often associated with the Catholic stream of Christianity can enable them to sustain prayer on a daily basis. One danger of charismatic spirituality is the need for a ‘high’ every now and again to top up the spiritual feeling. Allowing these intense experiences to lead into contemplative ones can build resilience and sustainability.
The place of Jesus in the Way of the Cloud and another source for the one-syllable prayer
The Jesus Prayer is clearly a Jesus-centred prayer. The way of the monosyllable is less obviously so. I always begin prayer with an invocation of the Trinity and prayer to the Holy Spirit – normally the Orthodox prayer “Heavenly King …” and then a time of singing “Veni Sancte Spiritus.” It is important to remember that The Cloud, like Julian’s Showings assume a normal liturgical and sacramental life within a Bible-based, orthodox, Christian community.
However, the experience of the Way of the Cloud seems to – as it should – relate to Jesus at a more fundamental level. I happened to dip into the writings of Abhishiktananda as I was thinking about this and came across some remarkable passages. Abhishiktananda was a French Christian monk (Henri le Saux) who travelled to India and lived the life of a Hindu renunciate while remaining faithful to his Christian faith and monastic and priestly vocation.
Abhishiktananda stresses that the point of all we do is to enter into the inner silence which …
“Can be summed up in one Hebrew phrase of Psalm 65, which Jerome translates: silentium tibi laus. Silence is praise for you. Silence in prayer, silence in thanksgiving, prayer and adoration, silence in meditation, silence inside and outside as the most essential preparation for this stillness of the soul in which alone the Spirit can work at his pleasure.
In the old tradition of Vedic yajna (sacrifice) four priests had to sit around the Vedi (altar). One of them had the function of performing the rite and meanwhile repeating the mantras … Another was in charge of chanting the hymns … The third invoked the devas … But the fourth one, the brahmana priest par excellence, was to remain silent, whispering as it were without any interruption an almost inarticulate OM. Yet it was that silent OM which was considered as the thread uniting all the different parts of yajna and giving to the whole its definitive value.”
Further Shore, pp 117-118
Om is a meaningless syllable, but it is also the sacred sound, sometimes called the seed syllable. Two more passages stand out for me in Abhishiktananda’s writing, the first:
“God is outside all time. And eternity is present in each moment of time.
‘The smallest abyss.’
We must leap just the right distance,
or else we shall miss our aim and find ourselves further off than ever,
on a ‘further shore’ which is not the true one.
God is too close to us. That is why we constantly fail to find him.
We turn God into an object – and God escapes our grasp.
We turn him into an idea – but ideas pass him by.
So Mary Magdalene was too much taken up with her thoughts about Jesus
to be able to recognise him in the gardener …”
The Further Shore p. 121
This theology of time and eternity is utterly Augustinian and surely that held by the author of The Cloudwhich explains his reliance on the shortest possible prayer? I don’t know where the phrase ‘the smallest abyss’ comes from, it is perfect. As is the description of God being too close to us for us to see him. This is exactly R S Thomas’s presence that has just left the room, or the movement that we can never quite catch, no matter how quickly we turn our heads.
Abhishiktananda embraced the Hindu devotion to the word ‘Om’. I am not advocating that western Christians adopt this practice wholesale. I have only once experienced the use of this word in Christian circles. It was at Park Place, the Pastoral Centre of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portsmouth and must have been some time in the late 1990s. Staying there for a conference I happened to wander into the chapel when the sisters, who at that time ran the centre, were praying. They were mostly Indian (I think a Franciscan community) and used many Christian mantras in their prayers, often including the word ‘Om’. I was very interested in this and spoke at length to some of the sisters about it.
The second passage from Abhishiktananda is even more profound and describes, I believe, exactly how Jesus relates to the mono-syllable, the Way of the Cloud:
The OM which our rishis heard resounding in their souls,
when they descended to the greatest depths in themselves,
deeper than their thoughts and deeper than all their desires,
in the existential solitude of being,
the OM which sounds in the rustling leaves shaken by the wind,
the OM which howls in the storm
and murmurs in the gentle breeze,
the OM which roars in the rushing torment
and the gentle murmur of the river flowing peacefully down to the sea,
the OM of the spheres making their way across the sky,
and the OM that throbs at the core of the atom.
That which sings in the song of birds,
that which is heard in the call of beasts in the jungle,
the OM of people laughing and the OM of their sighs,
the OM that vibrates in their thoughts and in all their desires,
the OM of their words of warfare, of love, or trade,
the OM that Time and History utter on their way,
the OM uttered by Space when entering into Time.
This OM suddenly burst out, whole and entire,
in a corner of space and at a point of time,
in its indivisible fullness,
when in Mary’s womb was born as Son of man,
the Word, the Son of God.
Diary pp 189-190
The Word that God uttered in the beginning, the divine logos, the Word that is Jesus. This is the “deep calling to deep” abyssus abyssum invocat, of the soul meeting God. The Spirit groaning within us. The blade slicing into the thinnest fragment of time to open eternity.
When the new edition of the complete works of John of the Cross came out last year (review/note from me here) I began re-reading the prose works (I have read his poetry pretty much constantly over the years) and a number of commentaries and books about his writing. That reading led me back to David Knowles’ The English Mystical Tradition. The chapter in that on The Cloud of Unknowing is particularly strong and makes an excellent comparison between the teaching of The Cloud and that of John of the Cross. It is well worth reading.
This essay by Jordan D Kirk, has resonated deeply with the effect my reading of The Cloud. the prayer method proposed by the author of The Cloud:
The Cloud has been much favoured by the ‘spiritual but not religious’ and given that ‘all translation is treachery’ has not been well served by all its translators. Maggie Ross has written a splendidly frank view of the various versions of The Cloud:
Ross is an Anglican solitary and lives the life, her recent Silence: A User’s Guide (in two volumes) is fundamental reading on the contemplative/solitary life. I preached this sermon recently which picks up on some of the themes in The Cloud, notably the word ‘behold’, and was profoundly influenced by Ross and her earlier books.
The Cloud of Unknowing and the Book of Privy Counselling, Ed Hodgson, Phyllis, Early English Text Society/OUP 1944 (the 1982 edition is the most recent and the one usually used as a reference text. Eg by Gallacher – below).
This is the ‘base text’ for study of The Cloud. reproducing the best available reading of the Middle English text with extensive notes. Given Maggie Ross’s comments and my own experience of the various dodgy translations that are around I am making increased use of this, the Middle English (I studied Chaucer at A’ Level) is not as difficult as it looks at first glance. I also find that the more familiar I become with sections of the original the more dissatisfied I am with the translations available. I wish I could find a recording of the Middle English text being read, let me know if you find one.
The TEAMS Middle English Texts version ed by Patrick Gallacher, it is a version of the ME text using modern orthography which makes reading a little easier. It is also more readily available. Maggie Ross is not keen on the introduction and it certainly is not particularly incisive on the practice of prayer but it is a good overview of the Tradition. The notes are very good and update Hodgson often referring to other modern translations. More importantly it is available online and is interactive which makes looking up notes etc very easy. HERE
The Complete Cloud of Unknowing with the Letter of Privy Counsel, Fr John-Julian OJN, Paraclete Press 2015
This has become my go-to translation. I like the style used and most of all the notes, a facing page for every page of text from The Cloud, are extremely detailed. Even when the reader might disagree with a choice made there is always either an explanation or pointing out of alternatives. The introduction is also very helpful and there is some useful material in appendices.
The Cloud of Unknowing and Other Writings by an English Mystic of the Fourteenth Century with a Commentary on the Cloud by Fr Augustine Baker OSB, Ed. McCann, Justin, Abbot, Burns and Oates 1924 (1960 edition)
See Maggie Ross’s comments on this, which are right:
“Oh dear, there are a number of problems here. First, while he claims to have used an assortment of mss, his version differs from Gallacher/Underhill enough so that one suspects he is privileging the Ampleforth manuscript, which he calls the ‘second recension’, and which is very different from the Hodgson text. Next, he has paraphrased, often quite patronizingly. His filter seems to be an effort to make this radical manuscript acceptable to a highly conservative, anti- ‘modernist’ pre-Vatican II Roman Catholic church. He has kept ‘thee’ and ‘thou’ and the -eth endings but there is something deliberately antiquated, a bit kitsch olde worlde about his paraphrases for reasons I haven’t been able to put my finger on—yet. He also censors phrases such as that in chapter 12 about private parts—but we have to cut Underhill and McCann a little slack in this regard as they were working in the 1930s. McCann somehow makes the Cloud author sound precious, which he most certainly is not.”
Pocket and nicely bound versions are regularly available second-hand but I find it so difficult to read that I don’t use them.
A Book of Contemplation the which is called the Cloud of Unknowing, in the which a soul is oned with God, Underhill, Evelyn, Watkins, 1912 (1956 ed.)
Pocket versions of this turn up second-hand regularly and I have one that I carry with me so refer to quite often.
Maggie Ross: “This is the closest of the modernized versions to the Hodgson benchmark but has some curious interpolations about spiritual direction, possibly due to her contact with von Hugel. She has not changed many words and for the modern reader may have not changed enough, but her version hast the advantage of clarity without intruding too many anachronisms. She has kept thee and thou and the -eth endings but somehow these are not intrusive as with McCann. This version is published online at several sites including the Christian Classics Ethereal Library. Type ‘Cloud of Unknowing Underhill’ into your search engine. She omits the author’s hyperbolic phrases that would offend genteel sensibilities, such as the mention of cutting off of private parts in chapter 12.”
The Cloud of Unknowing and Other Works, Wolters, Clifton, Penguin, 1961 (1978)
This is disappointing given that it is the Penguin version. Not a book I refer to.
Maggie Ross: “Wolters’ is an outright translation and he has the same concerns as McCann to make this work acceptable to a very conservative Roman Catholic audience on the cusp of Vatican II. His version has the advantage that he has dropped the ‘thee’, ‘thou’, and ‘-eth’, but sometimes his paraphrases amount to Counter-Reformation glosses, and he seems to leave out or condense sections. He claims to be using Hodgson, but he also says he has consulted McCann, and, like McCann, he leans towards Ampleforth and the Latin (the original text is in English). As I create a parallel text of these versions, there are often times when I wonder if Wolters and McCann are using the same Middle English text as I and some of the others are.”
The Cloud of Unknowing, ed. Walsh, James, Paulist Press 1981 (Classics of Western Spirituality)
Maggie Ross is, in my view, unnecessarily harsh. The introductions are good and the notes helpful. I use this volume a lot as a check. It is, as Maggie suggests, clearly written with an orthodox Catholic standpoint, but that is helpful as an antidote to some less than orthodox perspectives that are common.
Maggie Ross: “Walsh tries to make the Cloud-author into a neo-scholastic, which he most certainly is not. His translation is prolix and full of the ‘experience’ problem. He is prone to making absurd and completely unsupportable claims such as: the practice the Cloud teaches cannot be undertaken by non-Christians. His scriptural and other citations are often wildly scattershot, not really seeming to relate to the text properly, as if he had a lot of references on slips of paper and threw them all up in the air and then wrote down whatever came to hand. He did the same with Julian’s texts. However, his text has the advantage that it includes Richard Methley’s comments in the footnotes. To my ear (but maybe this is due to the fact that I dislike his translation so much) he sometimes sounds fatuous.”
The Cloud of Unknowing and the Book of Privy Counselling, Ed, Johnston, William, Doubleday, 1973
Maggie Ross really doesn’t like this version. She is right in what she says. However, it is a useful reference book in terms of understanding the reception and use of The Cloud. It also reads well. I like Johnston and find his drawing on the Eastern/Buddhist tradition very illuminating and helpful, particularly at the level of experience.
Maggie Ross:“This purported translation—only in part; it is really more a platform for Johnston himself—is so strange and has so many modern interpolations that I often wonder if he is using the same text as the rest of this group as a basis for what he is writing. Johnston comes from a humanistic psychology and human potential movement background, and is anachronistically continually looking at the Cloudthrough the lens of the much later John of the Cross. Johnston feels free to move paragraphs around or omit them altogether, to interpolate material that simply isn’t there or even implicit. I’m not quite sure what this book is, but it doesn’t have a lot to do with The Cloud of Unknowing.”
The Cloud of Unknowing With the Book of Privy Counsel, Butcher, Carmen Avecedo, Shambhala, 2009.
Not mentioned by Ross. She wouldn’t like it! This is definitely one for the ‘spiritual but not religious’. It reads well. I have been listening to the Audible version which is very easy to hear. But it is more like using The Message version of the Bible, not a translation but a meditation, Jim Cotter would call it an ‘unfolding’ of the text. Good for lectio, but needing to refer to the original.
The Cloud of Unknowing for Everyone, Obbard, Elizabeth Ruth
Again, not a translation, and it doesn’t pretend to be. A useful book for lectio and prayer. Obbard’s books are deceptively simple, with charming (perhaps rather too charming) cartoon like sketches – think, Good News Bible. In fact the text is rather profound and very helpful, Obbard is always orthodox and accessible.
Commentaries and Notes
The Cloud of Unknowing: An Introduction
John P.H. Clark
Vol 1: Introduction, 1995
Vol 2 Notes on the Cloud, 1996
Vol 3: Notes on the Book of Privy Counselling, 1995
These three slim volumes, if you can get hold of them, are, again, essential reading for anyone studying The Cloud, especially for engaging with Hodgson’s Middle English text. Immensely detailed, wise and sensible I use these all the time.
This series will lead the reader to the Augustine Baker tradition of the English Benedictine Congregation which is such an important part of the reception of The Cloud.
The English Mystical Tradition, Knowles, David, Harper 1961
As already mentioned Knowles’ chapter on The Cloud is excellent. The whole book is important to read and has worn remarkably well given when it was written.
English Spirituality, Mursell, Gordon, SPCK, 2001 (2 volumes).
A brilliant overview of spirituality. Mursell has a superb writing style and makes excellent connections across spirituality, literature, theology and the different spiritualities described. The section on The Cloud is relatively short but a must read. Another for the essential reading list.
UPDATED CONCLUSION 3/10/18
Teaching Mindfulness it is clear to me that this is a pathway for faith, a way that doesn’t do violence to people and allows them, very gently, to experience the presence of God as the Other who is as close to us as our breathing. Use of the one-syllable method is a helpful next step. There is a tenderising, softening effect that cuts through negative attitudes to religion as well as the hardened crust that life creates on our hearts. The suspension of the intellect, the rational mind is especially important in inoculating the mind against the poison that so much of our anti-religion, anti-mystical training plants there.
fabfininbarEditMaggie Ross is pretty brutal! Any thoughts on the new Penguin Translation by AC Spearing? I like the Carmen Butcher translation, it reads really well. I have the TEAMS but I haven’t ventured to try yet! Just found this site yesterday looking for articles on the Cloud, thanks for this all the best.LikeReply
Father Richard PeersEditShe certainly doesn’t mince her words! Butcher is a paraphrase not a translation in my view, good read and the Audible version is easy to listen to, Penguin not at all bad … Thanks for the Feedback! Blessings.Liked by 1 personReply
Neil WorkEditThank you so much for this blog, Ive only just come across it. The Cloud writer’s insistence on one syllable has interested me for years. I once came across Fr. Augustine Baker’s commentary on the Cloud. It may have been the Underhill version,(it was in a relative’s library). I looked up what he said about the single syllable. If I remember correctly, he appeared to say this was not to be taken too literally, that, for example, a phrase was o.k. or something else short. He gives the example of one of St. Francis’ brothers, whose prayer was to simply run. (I had to think of Forest Gump running across America!) . I once put this apparent puzzle to an Augustinian monk. He said continuous prayer will start off with many words (like this, he said, praying quickly ) which over time will distill & concentrate until there are no words. I notice that in ‘Privy Counsel’ the author emphasises that everything we can think about God is contained in the word ‘ is’. I feel very cautious about the ‘Centering Prayer’ movement, not least because the CDF letter from then Cardinal Ratzinger in the 1990’s so obviously referred to some of what it was doing. The introduction to the Cloud is so clear about the need to be orthodox, not to pick bits & leave others. In this vein , I like what the writer says later about people who do not submit to church teaching – they have some vice they want to continue with.. There aint no short cuts.LikeReply
Father Richard PeersEditInteresting, lots of people say one syllable or a few it doesn’t matter, that may be true but that is not what the Cloud says. I am not do cautious about the CP stuff, they at least try and address what original sin/falleness might be instead of just ignoring it. I don’t think I was ready for The Cloud 30 years ago. CP really helped me then.LikeReply
Please let me know your experience of this prayer, I am keen to develop ways of introducing and teaching it.Advertisements
“Do not neglect prostration. It provides an image of humanity’s fall into sin and expresses the confession of our sinfulness. Getting up, on the other hand, signifies repentance and the promise to lead a life of virtue. Let each prostration be accompanied by a noetic invocation of Christ, so that by falling before the Lord in soul and body you may gain the grace of the God of souls and bodies.”
Theoliptos, Metropolitan of Philadelphia
in The Philokalia, Volume, 4 p. 185 (Palmer, Sherrard and Ware, Faber 1995)
“So: the regular ritual to begin the day when I’m in the house is a matter of an early rise and a brief walking meditation or sometimes a few slow prostrations, before squatting for 30 or 40 minutes (a low stool to support the thighs and reduce the weight on the lower legs) with the “Jesus Prayer”: repeating (usually silently) the words as I breathe out, leaving a moment between repetitions to notice the beating of the heart, which will slow down steadily over the period.”
I have been practising the Jesus Prayer (the Prayer) since I first learnt it as a teenager. I have taught it, in sermons, on retreats and quiet days and in prayer accompaniment to many others. Although I have been practising prostrations and walking meditation with the Prayer for many years I haven’t so far taught these, or talked about them much to others. The former Archbishop’s piece has encouraged me to write this little blog about how I use these physical postures and movements in the hope that it will encourage others to explore this side of the use of the Prayer.
“Glorify God in your body.” Is St Paul’s clear exhortation to the Corinthians (1 Cor. 6:19) but, probably like many other pious Christians I am very much a ‘head’ person. As a child when my siblings were playing in the garden I would much rather have my head buried in a book. I have had to work at and enable others to liberate me from this.
It was experience of Catholic charismatic renewal, ‘baptism in the Holy Spirit’ and praying in tongues when I was fourteen that freed me to be more physical in my prayer (and in life generally). Although I had read The Way of A Pilgrim in my mid-teens it was as a late teenager that I discovered the prayer more thoroughly from the Anglican monks at Crawley Down (Community of the Servants of the Will of God). My, then, Spiritual Director and Superior of the community, Fr Gregory, had a strong friendship with Archimandrite Sophrony at the orthodox community at Tolleshunt Knights in Essex. At Crawley Down the only prostrations associated with the prayer was a deep bow, touching of the floor and sign of the cross at intervals during the communal recitation of the prayer which replaces Compline.
Communal recitation was itself an innovation at Tolleshunt Knights but one that works well and I have used with many retreat and prayer groups. Single voices, reciting the prayer in turn, 50 or 100 times each, praying the short doxology after each set of recitations.
Prostrations, often over a prayer stool, had also been a form of prayer that I had learnt at Taizé which I’d first visited as a seventeen year old. At the Friday prayer around the cross there individuals also place their foreheads on the icon of the cross lying on the ground, a powerful form of prayer.
Retreats with the Buddhist monks at Chithurst Forest Monastery in the south downs and at Amaravati north of London (both in the Thai Forest tradition) also taught me the art of bowing the forehead to the ground.
Sometime in my late twenties I began to practice prostrations with the Jesus Prayer. Both types of prostration from the standing position (I have never felt comfortable praying sat in a chair and usually use a Taizé style prayer stool or a Buddhist meditation cushion.) For the basic prostration, with each repetition of the Jesus Prayer, I bow deeply at the waist, making the sign of the cross and touching the floor with my fingers, I do this for each of 50 or 100 recitations of the prayer (using a prayer rope to count) and then pray either the lesser doxology or the Lord’s Prayer dropping to my knees and placing my forehead on the ground.
I find this level of physicality in prayer very helpful especially immediately after getting up in the morning and before praying the morning Office, or in the middle of the day. Sometimes if I am tired it is a helpful way of preparing for Vespers. I rarely use this form of prostration before Compline as I find it overstimulating at a time when I want to relax. If I am sleepless because of an over busy mind it can be a good way to switch off thoughts before a cup of camomile tea and a return to bed.
On occasions, for a change, I use the short Greek form of the Jesus Prayer:
Kyrie Jesu Christe, eleison me.
Other times I seek to remind myself of the faith dimension of the words by speaking aloud an extended meditation/ prayer on the meaning of Lord/Jesus/Christ etc. I think this is important so that the Prayer is always an exercise of faith, trust in Jesus and never perceived as some sort of mantra or invocation.
There is a good piece by Saint Ignaty Brianchaninov here. He describes how:
“The bows warm up the body and somewhat exhaust it, and this condition facilitates attention and compunction.”
Of course, this sort of prayer is only for private use. On retreat or holiday I have occasionally practised prostrations for extended periods of several hours at a time; I find the sense of exercise very helpful. It is also a good practise for outside facing the rising sun in a chilly autumn dawn.
I haven’t said much here about uniting the Prayer with the breathing; I would very much encourage this and find it an essential way of using the prayer and extending the prayer into my daily activities.
There is a very good essay about uniting the Prayer with the breath here.
Walking meditation is another way of using the Prayer physically. Again this was something I learnt from the Forest monks. The best way I find is to alternate prostrations with walking meditation. Find a flat area where you can walk up and down a line for about 20 feet and just walk very slowly along the line and back again. Outside in a private area and focusing the eyes simply on the steps ahead. I find it is best not to be too artificial about the pace of walking; just as slow as is possible without being theatrical. I have never been able to combine the rhythm of walking with the breathing although I am told that some people do this; I breathe in the first part of the prayer and breathe out the second part and let the walking look after itself. I find it easier to combine the breathing with the prayer when praying silently in my head but sometimes, and usually with the prostrations, pray the prayer aloud, again only in private.
The Vietnamese Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh who met Thomas Merton, practises a much freer form of Walking Meditation that is much more just mindful walking. I sometimes use this with a mindful verse that he suggests:
With every step / a flower blooms.
There are plenty of YouTube films of Thich Naht Hanh teaching this kind of prayer:
I have used this form of group walking meditation, silent walking, with retreat groups, it has a strong bonding quality for a group and can be a good break from sitting and listening in a retreat centre!
Bowing to the ground with the forehead is normally referred to as the Great Prostration and touching the ground with the fingers while bowing at the waist a Small Prostration.
There is a very helpful page about the use of the Jesus Prayer on the St Vladimir’s seminary website here.
I thoroughly recommend using physical posture with the Jesus Prayer and exploring posture in all our prayer (bowing at the doxology at the end of the psalms in the Office, for example) but there is no ‘right’ way to pray. As St Teresa of Avila wrote,
“mental prayer is none other … than an association of friendship, frequently practised on an intimate basis, with the one we know loves us.”
The important thing with prayer, as Dom John Chapman wrote, is that we pray as we can, not as we can’t (Spiritual Letters 109).
There is a lovely sentence in Teresa of Avila’s Interior Castle (1.28):
“It is very important for any soul that prays, whether little or much, that it doesn’t tighten up or squeeze itself into a corner” (tr Peter Tyler).
Posture helps me to pray because it loosens me up; it frees me from my head space and allows me to descend to the heart. It works for me because I am a naturally fidgety person. Other things will work for other people.
Prayer is friendship with God, just as we each find our own ways of friendship we all need to experiment and try things out to find our way of being friends with God. Posture is a form of touch, a making physical our prayer, our friendship. Just as touch is important in friendship, so it can be important in prayer.
So I did it. After many requests. And after seeing the wonderful efforts so many others have made to provide Christian worship in this time of pandemic. I live streamed the Eucharist in the little Oratory which I’ve turned a lean-to on the side of the house into.
Some rooky errors: apparently FaceBook live stream won’t film in landscape on my iPhone so the whole thing was at right angles; despite Kate Bottley’s very helpful advice I didn’t place the phone high enough up which gives the whole thing a rather odd look. I shall improve on both of those tomorrow
It was my friend and brother Sodalist Fr John-Francis Friendship who made the point to me (on the phone) and publicly on Facebook that perhaps we need to make some greater acknowledgement of the viewer in these online broadcasts. I think he is right.
At the beginning of the liturgy I will say:
Wherever we are we meet in the name of Christ who is present in every time and place as our friend and brother:
The Lord be with you: And also with you.
At the offertory I will pray this prayer adapted from Common Worship:
Be present, be present, Lord Jesus Christ, our risen high priest, make yourself known to us; though we are separated unite us in faith; though we are apart grant us the communion of the Holy Spirit. Amen
At the intercessions I will add:
Remember us, separated by pandemic, but united by faith in the body of Christ; may all who see this celebration of the Eucharist know the presence of Christ in their hearts and in their lives. Strengthen our communion that we may be strengthened in the service of others.
At the moment of Communion I will turn towards the camera holding the consecrated hosts nd chalice and say:
Christ is in or midst. He is and always will be.
I will make the sign of the cross with the host before turning back to receive communion.
I am working on a suitable post communion prayer. I would appreciate any help on this:
Almighty God, we thank you for feeding us by your holy Word and by our fellowship in the body of Christ. United with him and with all the baptised in every time and place we offer you our souls and bodies to be a living sacrifice. Sustain us in our isolation by the power of your Spirit, that we may live in peace, and free from all anxiety, to your praise and glory.
Finally, I love singing. Praying by singing has a whole different effect on me. It used parts of my brain I don’t use when reciting prayers. Sadly I am not the great singer I would love to be. I thought about not singing in the live streamed liturgies but I am going to carry on. Sorry!
The form of the Eucharistic liturgy I use is adapted slightly from Common Worship and I use Eucharistic Prayer H with intercession inserted. Here it is with the prayers above added for live streaming.
Please do continue to send me names of people you would like to be prayed for. I will pray aloud for everyone by first name only. I don’t mind if it takes me half an hour or more!
NOTE: I have come in recent years through my educational/pedagogical work to believe that repetition is more important in learning than novelty and total coverage. Applying that to the liturgy I suspect that one year lectionaries are better than the multi-year cycles that have been developed in the last 60 years or so. Thus, I am using the BCP Sunday lectionary, repeating those readings on weekdays unless there is a saint’s day. On saints’ days and in seasons – such as Lent – where there is daily provision the readings from the old western rite are used as found in the 1958 edition of the English Missal. These are taken from the Authorised Version.
As we come nearer Easter, anxiety is growing across the world in the face of the spread of the coronavirus. At Taizé, it seems that for the first time we will probably spending Holy Week and the Easter celebration without visitors. We have had to ask the people who had registered for the meetings to put off their stay, and the Church of Reconciliation is closed. We continue with our life of prayer and work “separated from all but united to all.” We are very conscious that intercession keeps us united with so many other people throughout the world.
By phone or internet, we receive a lot of news from people facing similar challenges in different parts of the world. Some of our brothers are living or travelling in Korea, Italy and elsewhere. Our Chinese brothers, in contact with their families there, have been following with attention and deep concern the developments of the epidemic since its beginnings.
Quite apart from the question of the precautions and changes to our way of life that are necessary, this quite unexpected and exceptional health crisis touches us in a deeper way. First of all, we are led to feel for the suffering and anguish of the victims, the sick, their families and all those who are severely affected by its economic consequences. We bear them in prayer.
We would also like to give thanks and express our admiration for those who are committed with all their strength to helping the victims and, more generally, in reorganizing public services. There are so many testimonies of creative generosity, of solidarity, and of people resisting passivity and discouragement.
In this difficult period, how can we not ask ourselves: What does Christ expect of us? What does the Risen One, who came to be with his discouraged disciples in spite of the closed doors, offer us? And to what is he calling us today? In the difficulties of the present, in Brother Roger’s words, “Not simply to endure events but, in God, to build with them.”
Following Christ leads us to an experience of conversion, of turning away from darkness and towards the light of the Risen One. Day by day, let us not be diverted by fears, anger, regrets, confusion, and the darkness that often claims to cover the whole world and to monopolise our attention… But let us remain united, deep within our hearts, to the source of peace that remains always beyond everything.
As containment measures and health precautions are increased to prevent contagion, let us take great care of the treasure of human relations. Let us keep in touch – through telephone calls and messages of friendship – with those who are isolated, and first and foremost the oldest, the most fragile and those already affected by another illness or hardship.
Over the coming days, we would like to take and transmit some concrete initiatives to express our solidarity spiritually. Every evening, a prayer with a small group of brothers will be broadcast from our house on social networks(at 8.30 pm, Western European time). And those who wish to do so can also send us prayer intentions.
As Saint Paul said to the Romans: “Who can separate us from the love of Christ? Can trouble, or anguish, or persecution, or hunger, or deprivation, or danger, or death? (…) I am certain that nothing will be able to separate us from the love that God has shown us in Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 8:35, 38-39)
Christians and other religious groups are not gathering together for prayer during the current pandemic. This is a really good time to remember that every Christian home is a ‘domestic church’ and can be a place of prayer. Whether you live alone or with others, whether you have children at home or not, having a prayer space at home is a good way of blessing our homes and lives.
One of the things I love when I visit schools is to see the prayer spaces that many schools have in each classroom or in an area of the corridors or shared spaces. Huge imagination goes into making these spaces interesting, calming and places of beauty. Children also love them. In every school I visit it is clear that children use these spaces for prayer and mindfulness.
When I was growing up my gran had a prayer corner. In the back room a statue of Our Lady, her bible, prayer books and Rosary. It was a special place that fills me with peace and joy just thinking about it. Prayer Spaces can work for all families and households as places that trigger positive emotions when we go to them, especially if we light a candle, an incense stick and make it a place of peace and calm.
Whenever I teach Mindfulness I talk about how to build a habit of Mindfulness. Just five minutes every day is better than a splurge one day and nothing then for weeks. A Prayer Space is a great place to go and practice mindfulness and silence. It is amazing how quickly the space will become associated with positive feelings and trigger them even when bad things are happening in our lives.
At first you may feel self-conscious or embarrassed praying aloud with others. It’s Ok to laugh about that. Remember when you are praying you are talking to God just as you would talk to anyone. You don’t have to put on a special voice!
I have written a little prayer and made a card about prayer spaces. It is pictured above and the PDF is available below. Let me know if this works for you. Why not send me a picture? Whether your Prayer Space is Christian, Buddhist, Hindu or completely secular I will be glad to see it.
Update 1: Thank you to Mary Hawes for this set of resources for worship at home: here.
17 March 2020 Thank you to Facebook friends for providing links to some of these. This is not a polished response but a quick list, please send me any other links to add or resources you have made. I will keep updating at the top of this post. Our Archbishops urge us to maintain the disciple of daily prayer and Eucharist. This is more important than ever. Reducing stress and anxiety will come when we have solid patterns of praying in our lives and model that for others. For all of us this is an opportunity to deepen our prayer and pray in new and old ways. As the Bishop of Liverpool writes to the diocese:
You will see that [the Archbishops] encourage us all to find new ways of being the Church in these days. As they say: “Public worship will have to stop for a season. Our usual pattern of Sunday services and other mid week gatherings must be put on hold. But this does not mean that the Church of England has shut up shop. Far from it.” Church is changing, and we all need to be part of that change.
I particularly urge us to explore the serious Christian tradition of praying 7 times a day; even if only briefly. The use of Psalm 119 divided over the day is very powerful with its gentle rhythm and constancy. Nothing dramatic just the simple love of the Lord who is the Way, the Truth and the Life.
I am profoundly grateful to my friend and fellow priest in the diocese of Liverpool. Mother Hannah Lewis, for this first blog on spirituality as a single mum. I would be deeply grateful to anyone else who would like to contribute to this series from the perspective of their own family life:
Called to a life of prayer (while following vocations as a religious, single mum and priest)
Benedict instructs his communities, during the day, to recite brief, simple, scriptural prayers at regular intervals, easy enough to be recited and prayed even in the workplace, to wrench their minds from the mundane to the mystical, away from concentration on life’s petty particulars to attention on its transcendent meaning. (Joan Chittister: commentary on the Rule of Benedict, chapter 16 18th February http://www.eriebenedictines.org/daily-rule)
What is prayer for me?
I first remember trying to pray when I was a young child, although all I can remember is a vague desire without any detail. Almost 50 years later, I’m still aware of a desire to pray, an itch that has nagged at me for most of the intervening period of time, and which sometimes I feel like I’ve almost succeeded in scratching. As I’m currently going through one of those phases when I feel like I am praying more or less as I’d like to be, Richard suggested it might be good to share some of my experience of what helps (and what hinders) my prayer life with others. I also thought I’d write about some of the development and the ups and downs of my prayer life as its all part of me learning what helps and hinders. If some of this reads as self-indulgence, forgive me; likewise if some of it makes no sense. Prayer is possibly the most intimate thing to talk about; a communion with my nearest and dearest (Jesus) with its share of mysteries beyond words (and silly moments you had to be there for, and magical unspoken moments of connection as well as a lot of banal, trivial, everyday encounters hugely meaningful to me but perhaps not to anyone else).
Perhaps a first step for me was the discovery of the concept of a Daily Office – set written order of service for different times of day, based around the reciting of the psalms. In particular, it was my first encounter with compline or night prayer (in the candlelit crypt of a retreat house) that really gripped me – the office putting into words what I felt and wanted to say but didn’t know how to. Or it might have been a few years earlier, during choral evensong in my college chapel when I discovered the words of evensong could carry me somewhere beyond myself even when I was exhausted (coping as a Deaf person with undiagnosed underactive thyroid in a busy hearing world), stressed out of my mind with essay writing or revision and/or too busy partying to stop and pray for myself. With hindsight – and a lesson that has needed to be reinforced on a regular basis as I tend to forget – these experiences enabled me to learn that prayer isn’t all about me, what I do and don’t do, and do and don’t feel, and in fact it does not start with me. It’s no accident that the first words of the first morning office are ‘O Lord, open our lips’ – until the Lord opens our mouths and hearts and minds we can’t begin to pray.
Twice, in particular this lesson has been reinforced. The first time while training for ministry was by a spiritual director when I was bewailing the lack of time to pray – when she suggested I could pray for the time to pray as a first step. A prayer that was answered as I found myself not so much with time magically increasing so that I could pray, but the desire stirring in me to make prayer a higher priority and therefore pushing aside other things so that I could find time to pray. The second was much more recently – last year in fact – well established in my current pattern of prayer, I began to wonder (and worry) if it was all ‘just words’ because I was too tired, stressed, mind racing on a million other things to ‘mean it’ and think about what I was doing. But I was drawn to read Ruth Burrows “The essence of prayer” and she gently, but firmly, repeats in different ways that prayer is about what the Spirit is doing in us, we don’t need to ‘feel’ anything for it to ‘work’ and all we need to do is ‘turn up’, be present in all our distracted busyness. And so I became aware that while, all too often, it was a poor offering on my part, every now and then the clouds would clear and I would suddenly realise that this regular ‘turning up’ kept me plugged into the deep running stream of God’s love and that when I needed it, it was there.
The other part of the ‘prayer starts with the Spirit and not with us’ is the reminder I need that it’s a two way thing. I want to talk to Jesus and Jesus wants to talk to me. One little step on my part is so often met by a great, open armed stride on his part. If I give a little bit of time and attention – yet as much as I am able to give at that moment – like the widow’s mite – it will be accepted and welcomed and celebrated.
Journey to where I am now
Morning has always been my best time for prayer. Obviously it’s also the best time for sleep and the two desires are often in conflict. Before Child (and before iPhone) it was slightly easier, it was a matter of a morning routine of alarm, snooze, snooze, tea, shower, breakfast and prayer (from Celebrating Common Prayer which I first prayed regularly and learned to love when I was a youth worker with a large Anglo Catholic ministry team). Having a ‘prayer space’ (an armchair and a coffee table with candles/icons/bits of natural objects/ nice coloured cloths for the season as well as somewhere to keep the necessary pile of books) has always helped me. Sometimes it’s been in the corner of my study, sometimes in a corner of the bedroom – it’s a space that becomes a visual prompt and a necessary part of the day. Days that don’t start there somehow feel wrong. Night prayer back then was last thing before sleep, compline from memory (with only the short psalm 134) – one of the bonuses for me from praying evensong and compline regularly in my early 20s was that so many of the words stuck in my memory and only needed a prompt to recall. It’s much harder to memorise things now I’m in my late 40s.
Pregnancy was a major shock to my prayer life – severe pregnancy sickness made morning prayer impossible and exhaustion meant I usually fell asleep while reflecting on the day during the first part of compline. During these months, a single verse stuck on repeat was the sum of my articulated prayer: Isaiah 40.31 “Those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.” It didn’t feel like things got any better either as I disappeared into the thick fog of motherhood with a baby and then a toddler. But again with the benefit of hindsight there is one thing I’ve realised about my prayer life during those years, and one thing I wish I’d thought of then.
The thing I’ve realised is that the maternal habit of ‘pondering’ and ‘treasuring’ and ‘brooding’ over our children (otherwise known as ‘baby brain’ ) can be understood as prayer if we accept that prayer starts with the Spirit and not with us. I look back and in amongst the struggles I remember quiet moments breastfeeding at all hours of day or night and other moments when I sat dozing with a sleeping child on my shoulder because they had a cold and couldn’t sleep lying down and the odd times when playing the repetitive toddler games wasn’t boring but a fun moment of connection and I am deeply, deeply thankful that smartphones weren’t a thing in the early 2000s so I wasn’t distracted at these moments but fully, if sleepily, present. Reflecting on these moments now, I am reminded of the number of times we are told in Luke’s gospel account of the birth and childhood of Jesus that ‘Mary pondered these things in her heart’.
In the absence of being able to keep the office, I might not have felt like I was praying but looking back I realise that the Spirit was praying within me.
The thing I wish I’d thought of then was expanding my use of relevant scripture verses beyond that one I could remember by sticking bits up around the house. Psalm 63 for example – “O God, you are my God, eagerly I seek you, my soul thirsts for you, my flesh faints for you as in a barren and dry land where there is no water” would sit nicely near the kettle and teabags and cups as a prompt to pray when I made a cuppa. Not the full office, or even formal morning prayer, but a means of staying connected while those years of alternating full on child care and sleep passed.
The next step for me, still with a pre-school child in tow, but with brain fog/ baby brain receding a little and in response to a desire to re-find my prayer life was in reading Angela Ashwin (Heaven in Ordinary) and Norvene Vest (Friend of the Soul). Ashwin reminded me about making decisions how we use time (and decide our priorities), which for me meant (and has continued to mean) that time for prayer is up there along with cooking a meal and making sure clothes are clean, above other things like tidying or hoovering. This decision has also meant learning not to care what other people might think of the state of my house, which has been a spiritual journey in itself.
Vest was my introduction to Benedictine spirituality, and the aim of a balanced life where prayer, work and study are integrated in pragmatic ways. At the time it was chapter 31 (on the work of the cellarer) that really caught my attention. Handling everything as if it were ‘sacred vessels of the altar’ meant that folding clothes, and washing up, could become prayer prompts – sometimes consciously interceding for others, sometimes doing them with love and attention as a way of offering prayer.
Life then took an unexpected turn with the agony of my marriage break up – and many sleepless nights when I started praying vigils (from the Benedictine Daily Prayer: A shorter breviary – the first, 2005 edition) out of a desperate need to find a way to cope. I also memorised the Venite (Psalm 95) to pray in the shower as that was the only place I could find space for prayer and I needed to use someone else’s words because I had none of my own.
It has been a slow rebuilding of both my emotional life and my prayer life from the ruins of that time – it has taken years not months. Along the way, I did an Ignatian retreat in daily life (otherwise known as the 19th annotation version of the 30 days retreat). This meant 9 months (more than 30 weeks) of sitting with God and scripture for 45 mins a day and meeting with my spiritual director once a week. This enabled me to reconnect with Jesus in a new way, and realise for the first time at heart level that I was truly and unconditionally loved by God. But it also re-established the habit of a more formal daily prayer time first thing in the morning (alarm set an hour early, which often meant earlier bedtime for me – part of my call to prioritise prayer). If my daughter (then aged 7-8) came in during that time I gave her my phone to watch YouTube and asked her to respect my prayer time (which she usually did, occasionally she came to join me in the corner and sat on my lap and said she was praying too)
My current pattern of prayer
Following on from this morning prayer time became a necessity and after trying a number of options I’ve settled back on Celebrating Common Prayer and its echoes of the time I spent praying it regularly with others. I continued the habit of setting an alarm earlier than I need to, making a cup of tea and getting stuck in. As I was drawn to pray more and more I started exploring the idea of praying throughout the day, first through memorising the Angelus as midday prayer and then came across Richards’s blog as an eye opener that you could work full time and pray Terce, Sext and None. I pray a shortened version of the classic little hours: 8 verses of psalm 119 (apart from Sunday when I pray the first 32 verses in a single midday office), opening and closing responses, hymn, short verse, response and collect.
I made my own small portable prayer book by sticking pages into an old pocket diary, with bookmarks to provide seasonal variations (I do love seasons). This helped to make the prayer work within what I could do – it’s easy to carry everywhere so I’m praying on the train, praying in the car (while parked!), at my desk, everywhere I am – I have tried to get into the habit of always carrying my midday prayer book so I always have the means to say the office when I can. The days when I miss one of the hours, I add the portions of psalm 119 to the hours I do keep.
Evening prayer has always been difficult for me to pray alone and for years I only said it when I was able to attend the office in church somewhere. It’s such a challenging time of day – both low energy and busy – with offspring home from school, cooking dinner, juggling all sorts of things. But again I felt a desire to fill that gap, particularly as things at home changed with a growing child and getting to evensong/ evening prayer even once a week became almost impossible. Reflecting on what was working for me, prayer wise, made me realise that what I needed was a daily thing I could link in with evening prayer so it became a habit. And the one thing I do on a daily basis in the evening is cooking tea. So I now use BCP evening prayer as my basis as I can remember everything except for the psalm and the single reading I use (the gospel for the day). I keep a prayer book on the dining room table (no kitchen table), start tea, pop next door to say the psalm and gospel and continue with the magnificat and preces while cooking (omitting the creed), pop back for collect if possible, but if not use the other two collects, and finish. It works for me, and following Burrows, its still prayer – making myself present and available and pondering even though it’s a multi-tasking kind of prayer.
The day finishes with compline, usually in bed from memory supplemented with a (self-printed from CW online) booklet for psalms 4 and 91, which, despite saying almost every day for several years in a row now I have still failed to memorise. If I am very tired I might use the Dominican Compline app and listen to them chanting compline (listening for me involves reading as well as hearing, so I can’t do it with eyes shut, sadly). If I am very, very tired, I will start saying it from memory and fall asleep while ‘reflecting on the day’. Either way the day ends, as it began, consciously being present to God.
My prayer is always evolving; I build in regular reflection on practice as part of my rule of life. If I notice that I am missing one or more office on a regular basis I look at why. Sometimes it’s a question of carry on trying, and whatever was blocking it (health, energy levels, extra busy, extra teenage demands) passes naturally. Sometimes there’s something I need to change for a season, either in my expectations or in the details of what I do.
The most recent development, in Lent 2019, was the reintroduction of a daily period of silence as it was something I felt the need of. I use Thomas Keating’s lovely gentle method of what he calls Centering prayer (as described in Open mind, open heart which, again, is about being present and trusting the Spirit to do her thing (whether you feel it or not). With the constant ‘mental load’ of a mum (sit quiet and every little thing you are trying to remember about shopping and cooking and appointment booking comes up in your head) it has been a challenge, but what this method taught me was to drop everything into the river of God’s love, trusting that it will come back up in due course.
Summary of key things I’ve learned:
Prayer starts with God and the Holy Spirit and not with me. If I begin by trying to listen and be open to God in my daily life, then I find myself drawn to develop a pattern of prayer that is right for me at this stage of life. If I start with a pattern of prayer I think I ‘ought’ to follow, it doesn’t work.
I need to make the pattern of prayer into a habit so it (mostly) happens whether I feel like it or not. This means tying it to things that happen anyway (getting out of bed, break and meal times, bed time) and doing whatever is needed to ensure I can keep that pattern. In my case means prayer books and bibles and booklets all over the place so I can pray where I find myself without having to gather materials (I dislike praying from an app as I am too easily distracted into responding to messages or ‘just checking twitter one more time’).
I adapt, adapt, adapt as needed to make the office work for me (and the lectionary – there is a limit to how much scripture my brain can cope with in any one day). It was liberating and affirming to discover that there is no single ‘Benedictine prayer book’ because all Benedictine communities adapt the office and the pattern of psalms to their own circumstances.
I need to accept that some of the times in my life formal prayer is harder than others. I found it helped to know that I was being prayed (by God) in that time, and making the most of the moments of ‘pondering’ to try and be present in some way.
I need to be prepared to push other things aside to make room for prayer. At the moment I am aware that my iPhone doesn’t help me focus on prayer so I am trying to put it down away from me when I pray. With varying success.
Visual prompts and set aside prayer spaces help me a lot, so however we change rooms around, and if/ when we move to another house I know I need to create that space when thinking about using the rooms.
I have found patience and persistence as well as flexibility helps – my pattern of prayer has taken years, not weeks or months to develop into something sustainable in the busy-ness and it is still evolving as job and teenager change and evolve.
Despite the challenges, I have loved the journey of being called to a life of prayer in this way and look forward to where it takes me next.
Monasticism is in. It is fashionable. Or at least the spirituality of it is. Not the reality of the commitment of lifelong vows. ‘New monastic communities’ are a great blessing to the church. But we need to see the difference to the sacrificial lives of those vowed monastics who have been at the heart of the renewal of the church through the centuries.
Sometimes ‘monastic’ is used as a way of distancing ourselves from the disciplines of the spiritual life. Ordinary, everyday, diocesan priests, for most of Christian history have prayed an eight-fold Office, fasted, meditated, celebrated Eucharist daily. Yet when we do this in our time it is described as ‘monastic’. I don’t believe it is. This is one reason why in the Sodality I have always resisted the definition of us as a ‘new monastic community’. The serious Christianity we aspire to is normal for diocesan priests, it is not ‘monastic’.
Most of the people I direct, accompany, in the spiritual life are married, most have children. What is an appropriate non-monastic spiritual life for them?
I don’t have children. But I don’t believe that my own practice is monastic. I am a diocesan priest, a householder. I want to hear from my married, parent friends how they create a space for serious Christianity in their lives. I certainly don’t want to impose anything on them.
This new series (I hope) will give some of my friends the opportunity to reflect on that.
One of my brothers in the Sodality has recently become the father of a second set of twins. Four children under five. I am privileged to have been asked to be godfather to one of the new-born. What is an appropriate, serious, spirituality for that family, for him as a priest? I hope that we can begin to explore that.
In the form of Mindfulness of Breathing that I was taught thirty or more years ago, and still teach myself, there is a shift in stages between noticing the in-breath and noticing the out-breath. It’s a subtle shift but most people sense a change of energy and perception. I feel the same way about changing my practice of praying the Daily Office. Having used the Divine Office for many years and then Common Worship Daily Prayer I have now moved to the Book of Common Prayer. (Originally described here). The shift is subtle. It is still, after all, just an arrangement for daily praying of Scripture but there is a different energy, the shape is different. I like it. Now I have started singing the Office hymns at the traditional place (before the gospel canticles) the front-loading of lengthy psalmody gives the whole thing a still, contemplative feel. The lack of variety adds to this. Novelty is stimulating, the very opposite of contemplative.
Several readers and friends have asked how I am getting on with my use of the BCP Office (and 1928 lectionary) this liturgical year. The changes since my first version of the booklet will show some of the ways in which I am adjusting to this.
I began using antiphons for the psalms but actually the Office is rich enough without those so I just sing them to plainsong tones without antiphons.
The 1928 lectionary is a joy. Just one OT book across Morning and Evening Prayer makes use of commentaries much more feasible alongside the gospel and other NT reading. The monthly BCP cycle of psalms makes following commentaries through with the psalter so much easier.
This is the second time in my life I have made long term use of the BCP (the other when Mother Victoria and I prayed the Office at St Andrew, Earlsfield). So nothing is unfamiliar. And, of course, a lifetime of cathedral Evensongs.
I am using the Mirfield 1949 Office Book (as rare as hen’s teeth on Abebooks etc) which provides all the Office hymns, responses and Mag and Ben antiphons as well as the lectionary readings set out. This is very helpful. It also includes Compline and the Little Hours. Since I travel so much having all this in one book is very useful.
I am just beginning trying the Office hymns (melodies in the English Hymnal) in the place traditionally assigned them before the gospel canticles which seems less strange than I thought it would. At Compline the hymn after the psalms. The CR book suggests Psalm 51 daily in Lent as the first Canticle at Matins and this works well. I use that with modern four part tones as I often do for the Gospel and other canticles, so traditional plainsong tones always for the psalms, including Venite. This gives the psalmody a different flavour too. Not sure I can describe it but I am not missing the slightly over rhythmic quality of modern psalm tones on all the psalms and canticles.
Four substantial readings is enough in a day so I am using the traditional one-year cycle of readings at Mass daily, repeated on ferias unless there is daily provision (Series 1 lectionary) and alternating the additional OT readings with the Epistle. The repetition is really sustaining and the range of patristic and later commentaries enormously enriching.
People occasionally join me for Morning or Evening Prayer or for Mass, especially at weekends, and this has worked well. I use an NEB lectionary at Mass with a CW Order of Mass (described here), and an RSV Bible for the readings when praying with others. There is a familiarity with the shape and texts that seems to make this very accessible for visitors.
This form of Office is very manageable, accessible and, also, very Anglican. A good place to feel at home in.
Underneath the large church at Taizé is the crypt. A door from there leads to a corridor and the Orthodox chapel. Every day, before Morning Prayer, Brother Pierre-Yves Emery of the community celebrates the Eucharist with the one or two people who turn up.
It is the simplest possible form of Eucharist but one of the richest experiences in my life of celebrating Mass. When I am at Taizé I am privileged to concelebrate this Eucharist. When I first did so I was terrified. Pierre-Yves, a Reformed pastor, does not use any books but extemporises the Collect and the Eucharistic Prayer (using the typical Hyppolitan structure of contemporary liturgies). He speaks no English and we communicate in liturgical latin and my weak French. Pierre Yves divides the Eucharistic Prayer up and I pray my bits in English, always dividing the consecration of the bread or wine between us, one of us getting the anamnesis, the intercessions, the epiclesis and so on. Praying, as an international ecumenical community not for a local bishop but for the Archbishop of Canterbury, the ecumenical Patriarch, the bishop of Rome, the Secretary General of the World Council of Churches, and the leaders and pastors of all the churches.
Beginning in silence, in the dark, after greeting the assembly we sing a three fold Kyrie before Pierre-Yves extemporises a Collect, often on some theme from the gospel of the day. The Liturgy of the Word is read, with a psalm chanted simply and three Alleluias before and after the gospel. After a long period of silence we all go and stand around the altar in the small sanctuary area beyond the iconsostasis. The chalice and paten already have the bread and wine in them. After the Eucharistic Prayer we pray the Lord’s Prayer, sing a simple Agnus and are invited to receive. The paten and then the chalice are passed around the small circle. An extemporised prayer follows communion before a dismissal. It is very beautiful indeed.
In the Lord’s Prayer we pray that God will give us ‘our daily bread’. For many Christians this has been read as an invitation to celebrate the Eucharist daily. For Anglo-Catholics the daily celebration of Mass was an essential part of the tradition for many. The spiritual writer Henri Nouwen made a point of celebrating Mass each day wherever he was, always carrying a supply of hosts with him.
I think the diminution of the daily Mass in many Anglo-Catholic parishes is one of the signs and causes of our diminishment as a movement, and I do everything I can to encourage my sister and brother priests to restore daily celebration.
It is my great joy to celebrate every day. I carry a travelling kit with me and when staying with friends and colleagues will often celebrate simply at a coffee or dining table. I love to celebrate with family and friends at the dinner table using a little of the wine and bread that will be eaten as part of the meal afterwards. I also, at home, have the joy of a little Oratory in an old tool shed attached to the house, the altar consecrated by the diocesan bishop.
The following two attachments are my current practice for celebrating the Eucharist daily. The longer document printed and in an A5 folder on the altar and the other a people’s card for those who join me.
If I am joined by someone who sings I like to use the very simple musical setting of EP H. On days when there is a Proper Preface I tend to use one of the other Eucharistic Prayers. The collection of Eucharistic Prefaces translated by Fr Alan Griffiths for the Ambrosian rite is a rich resource (We Give you Thanks And Praise). The prayers are enriched with intercession as suggested here. I normally begin and end with a Taizé chant. In this Kingdom season “The Kingdom of God is justice and peace…” is especially suitable.
For a while now I have been saying that the essential elements of Christian prayer are Psalmody and Eucharist. Not claiming any particular arrangement, frequency or style of doing either of those two things (well, psalmody almost certainly needs to be daily at least) but the universality of them among those of deep prayer and spirituality in Christian history.
Alongside them, the practice of silence, sitting still, simple awareness of the presence of God seems almost as universally important.
So why not put all three together?
I am not suggesting that the form of celebration of the Eucharist suggested here would be appropriate as the normal Sunday diet for a worshipping community. I have used this form on a number of retreats, Quiet Days and parish weekends, where it has always seemed to go down well. I also tried it at a staff meeting where it didn’t work so well. It probably needs to be in the context of teaching about all three elements, particularly mindfulness, and in a situation where people are able to let go of their discursive-critical mind. Perhaps, too, my ‘persona/role’ in the meeting context did not fit quite so well as when I am ‘retreat leader’.
Three forms are proposed here each with a different psalm. They are linked above in PDF format, I create them in Pages and am happy to send Pages or Word exports from Pages (which may lose formatting) if you email me but WordPress will not link to these files.
The versions for Psalm 23 and 119 are for sung/metrical settings. The Lord’s My Shepherd is the popular setting usually sung to Crimond but I have only ever used it at these mindful Eucharists with the tune usually used for Amazing Grace – New Britain -which has, I think, a bit more energy. The same tune is used for the metrical version of Psalm 119 which is from Adam Carlill’s brilliant metrical version Psalms for the Common Era, where he provides this extraordinary alphabetic translation of the psalm. In both cases the text is sung in full at the beginning and end, and various verses are then interpolated into the Eucharistic liturgy.
I have always used this format sitting in a circle around an altar; I just place a stole over my clothes. I extemporise the Collect and post-Communion prayer; the readings are read without announcement or conclusion. Standing for everything except the homily and first reading.
During the Eucharistic Prayer I use manual acts, raising the host (I prefer a single host big enough for everyone, usually a ‘concelebration host’ and cup at appropriate points and holding them aloft throughout the bell that follows the words of Jesus. I genuflect after these elevations, and hold my hands over the gifts at the epiclesis. The Eucharistic Prayer is a slightly adapted form of Prayer H in Common Worship. Another voice for the intercessions (within the EP) works best.
Communion is passed around the circle, concluding with the celebrant. On some occasions the host is passed around the circle and everyone holds it in their hand and consume together with the celebrant. I rather like this, that moment of holding the host is deeply intimate with the Lord and one of my favourite moments when concelebrating.
I would guess that 30 or so people would be the maximum this form of celebration could work with. As the last communicant I consume anything that is left and place the vessels at the side of the altar to be cleansed later. At the start of the celebration the hosts are ready and the chalice pre-charged.
I originally included a sign of peace but find that is disruptive so have removed it. The tropes at the kyries are either from the psalm chosen or a suitably linked text.
The bell/gong ringer needs a practice before hand and the gong should be allowed to ring its full length before any further action or words.
Repetition is key to learning and a key element of this form of Eucharist; at a recent retreat I gave people white cards now which to write a phrase which stood out for them at the end of the celebration and to use that phrase as prayer throughout the day, several participants commented on how useful this was.
I quite often celebrate the Eucharist in informal situations, Headteachers’ offices, school staff rooms, friends dining rooms, and so forth. That form of celebration is described here. I will usually use a small gong before and after that but not during the celebration.
I am not making any great claims for this form of the Eucharist. It has proved fruitful partly because it is both unfamiliar to people and repetitive so they feel safe, I normally do some explanation in advance, ideally not immediately before hand. Let me know if you try this at all and how it goes.
Sermon at St John’s, Fulham for the meeting of the Sodality of Mary, Mother of Priests on 13 February 2020
My dearest friends, Mothers and Fathers. One of the the many things I love about our very own Church Of England is the variety of streams of tradition within it. While I think it best to drink deeply from a single stream. To be formed in one tradition. To know who we are so that we can be fully ourselves with others who are different to us is vitally important.
It is no less vitally important that we drink at other wells and learn from others. To realise that our differences never negate our common humanity, let alone our common baptism.
One of the elements of the evangelical tradition that I have come to love is the preaching of a series of sermons. If you look at well known evangelical parish websites you will find many sermons to listen to and even, sometimes watch.
On many occasions these will be based on individuals in the Old Testament. Nehemiah often comes up – and indeed I have led a number of study sessions on Nehemiah myself, including last October, for the Conference of Leaders of Anglican Religious Communities, our traditional, vowed monastic communities. Nehemiah is a great role model for Christian leadership, especially in a time when institutions seem to be in decline and some rebuilding of the walls is needed.
I imagine, perhaps I am guilty of stereotyping us! But I imagine that we are perhaps not as familiar with the liturgical book New Patterns for Worship, as we might be of certain other official liturgical publications.
Perhaps I am wrong, I hope so, because NPW includes some really excellent material. Not least among these are a series of modules of readings that can be used outside the seasons of the church’s year in place of the official lectionary. I recommend you get to know them and make use of them. Many feature significant individuals from the Old Testament such as Noah.
If you read my blog you will know that for pedagogical, educational reasons, I have become something of a fan of the traditional one year lectionary. I can imagine Sunday worship in which the ante-communion, the liturgy of the Word makes use of one of these series of readings for a first reading, followed by a sermon and then continues with the two short readings of the historic lectionary and on into the Eucharistic rite. In one church where I served we even broke for coffee after the liturgy of the Word so that some people could leave at that point and those who wanted to remained for the rest. It was very effective and worked well.
That is a somewhat long, and homiletically poor, introduction to looking at today’s first reading.
There is no series of readings in NPW on Solomon, which is a shame.
Solomon is best known, of course for being wise. But if that is all we know about him we have a rather weak and uninteresting character. Today’s reading fills that out a bit. We have to be a little careful that there is not some gender bias going on, the wise man led astray by his wives. But the important thing is not who leads who astray, but that Solomon exhibits some considerable foolishness.
Personally I find that quite helpful. We all, yes we do, all of us, do foolish things. We are all, yes all of us, unwise at times, perhaps very often. Tragedy appeals to us because deep down we know that at any point our foolishness might undo our lives.
I am glad to say that I do not have a number of pagan wives leading me astray. But I do know that I do not love the Lord wholeheartedly. I love God very much. Jesus is the centre of my life. But I know that I also am very attached to my nice middle class lifestyle. When I pray “do with me what you will”, when I say multiple times a day in the Lord’s Prayer: “Thy will be done.” I really don’t mean it wholeheartedly …
We Anglo Catholics like to remind ourselves of our glorious past. The slum priests who gave up everything to serve the poor. But when I was a priest in Grangetown in Middlesbrough or Portsea where Fr Dolling had been a priest, or Lewisham. All areas of considerable deprivation (and how proud we can all be of our very own deprivation index!) I lived the same middle class life I could have lived anywhere. Yet in my work as Spiritual Director/Adviser to emerging new communities I meet young evangelicals, Anglicans and others, who give up everything to take their families and children into places of dire poverty, who open up their homes to live with recovering alcoholics, gang members and the generally socially inept. For whom dinner is a simple shared meal with strangers not a dinner party with too much gin and four crystal glasses.
Changing the way we live. The choices we have made and make is tough. But what is conversion if it is not that? In the story we have just heard in the gospel I imagine Jesus smiling when the Syro-Phoenician woman tells him that even the dogs deserve crumbs. He knows she is right. He changes his mind. And that is wisdom indeed.
Solomon, like the rest of us was both wise and foolish.
I am not especially keen n formal dinner parties so it’s easy for me to critique them. I know what my idols are. Thy will be done? I suspect in a month’s time there will be just as many Amazon parcels arriving as there have ever been …
In our diocese of Liverpool we have a Rule of Life. It is quite wonderfully simple. Designed to be understood by a four year old:
Pray – Read – Learn – Tell – Serve – Give
In my preaching around the churches of the diocese and in my work in schools I quite often talk about these simple words. On many occasions I hand out cards with the six words on and ask people to write one thing that they are doing for each word, or, on some occasions, one thing they could do.
Every single time that I have done this there is one word that people get stuck on:
There are, no doubt, cultural reasons for this. We are British. We don’t like to talk about religion. Even worse, we are Anglicans!
However, I think there is a more fundamental reason for our nervousness around telling people about Jesus and our Christian faith. Many of us are just unsure about what we believe. I wrote recently about the Growing the Churchmaterial I use in parishes and how, beginning with first principles, I ask participants to think about who Jesus is, what Jesus means to them, what Jesus has done for them. I use a variety of phrases. The result is always pretty much the same. There are some comments about Jesus as a friend, someone to talk to, but mostly it is Jesus as an example of how to live that is given. Not once, on what must now be dozens of occasions, has anybody ever written about salvation, redemption or even the incarnation.
In his book The Table, Paul Bayes, Bishop of Liverpool, wrote about the experience of praying the Creed daily at the Office while in the United State with Episcopalian friends. The Creed is generally prayed morning and evening there as it always has been in the Prayer Book Office. I wrote about the neglect of the Creed when we pray the Office in the Church of England here. Having preached about the Creed at a Growing the Church event recently one priest commented that she ‘did not think of the Creed as a prayer’. Indeed, it is not addressed to God. However, I wonder if we re-introduced the Apostles’ Creed to our daily prayers, multiple times a day perhaps, it might remind us if the essentials, the essence of our faith. In 1 Corinthians 2:1 St Paul reminds the church in Corinth that he did not come using ‘lofty words’. One of the lovely things about the Apostles’ Creed is its simplicity. I must have been seven or eight when I learnt it off by heart (for my First Communion). I wonder how many church families now teach their children the Creed by heart?
The Creed works because it is a concise summary of the history of salvation. In just 108 words. It would be a great Confirmation class task to ask candidates to summarise the Christian father in the same number of words. Or perhaps even for candidates for ordination.
There are other ways of summarising the Christian faith. I have used one of these in the last two Growing the Churchsessions I’ve lead. It is the picture, the ‘frieze’. produced for the Understanding Christianity course produced for Religious Education in schools and shown at the top of this post. It illustrates the biblical narrative from Creation in Genesis at the left to the new heaven and the new earth in Revelation at the right, with the crucifixion at its centre. It is a powerful tool to use when teaching children but also with adults many of whom will not have thought of the biblical narrative in this holistic way before. It is a subtle and complex piece of art work and worth taking time and effort to reflect on. It would be wonderful if children becoming familiar with it in schools could also see it in church entrance halls or other areas.
One of the problems I often highlight in our provision of Christian learning for children in church is the pitch. It is all too often patronising to children. There is no excuse for colouring in and sticking other than as ways of passing time. Children studying Shakespeare when they are 10 in school need to be approaching Christian teaching with the same level of expectation and complexity. The only material I know that can help Sunday school teachers, those leading First Communion and Confirmation preparation, to do this is the Understanding Christianity resources. The material has been prepared for schools so can’t be taken off the shelf for use in church situations, although there is much in it that could be.
A good deal of the material available for children in church situations is based on the lectionary or on bible stories. Of course, this is good, but children are used to sophisticated approaches to literature of all kinds. Ten year olds are certainly capable of understanding the rudiments of source criticism around the gospels, examining the authors purpose and identifying a variety of genres in Scripture. I have never seen even these simple things being done in church. But more significantly than that if children only gain a memory of a few stories and narratives they will have no intellectual framework into which to set these stories. That is where the whole span of the biblical narrative and a basic summary of christian doctrine is needed.
Finally, children can gain a high distorted view of Jesus if all they learn are the parables. The parables themselves are not, of course, children’s literature, although the simplicity of the structure of some of them can make us treat them that way. If children are to form a mature relationship with Jesus they need to know a lot more about him than the stories he told. I once designed and taught for a number of years a unit of work to Year 9 pupils (13-14 year olds) called, simply ‘Jesus‘. At the beginning of the unit I asked pupils to write a letter to a friend telling them everything they knew about Jesus. Usually there would be an account of the nativity, very often a few stories, only occasionally the crucifixion and resurrection, and the naughtier pupils would say that Jesus was ‘boring’. During the term I would teach gospel passages that illustrated what sort of person Jesus is; how he reacted to people, the link passages that shows him not answering questions directly, coming at things at a tangent and so forth. At the end of the unit I would ask them to write a letter again to a friend telling them about Jesus. Then I would hand back their first letters for them to compare. I knew the unit had worked when pupils wrote or said that Jesus was ‘interesting’. As indeed he is.
Understanding Christianity is a great leap forward for Religious Education. I hope that we can make a similar leap in our Christian formation of children and young people in church so that they can relate to Jesus who is so utterly fascinating, and understand who he is and what he has done for us. If we could all explain that in 108 words it would powerfully enable our mission to bring people to Jesus, and our ability to grow the church in depth. That would give us something to tell.
This is, famously, an age of anxiety. That anxiety is certainly shared by the church. For the last four or five years as well as retreats and pilgrimages and other teaching and preaching. I have been delivering sessions to parishes which I have been calling “Growing the Church”. Some of these have been weekends, others days or part days, yet others multiple sessions of 90 minutes or so. At the start I generally ask people to write up what they hope to get out of the sessions. It’s a good reality check for me, particularly when I review them at the end. Anxiety is very strong in those hopes expressed at the start for: more children, more people …
These Growing the Church sessions are not intended to replace any of the well developed schemes for church growth and renewal. In many ways I would see the work I do as preparing the way for them. I will almost always mention the New Wine network, Leading Your Church Into Growth, Alpha and more recently tried to plant seeds about starting new worshipping communities outside the church building at times other than a Sunday morning. A way of working that is proving highly successful in the diocese of Liverpool, especially when using our school buildings.
One of the things that strikes me is that in parishes people are very eager to get to the vision writing/mission action planning stage very quickly. In schools a new Head might take two or three terms to work on, and that is seeing each other five days a week for the whole of the working day. I try on these days to establish some basics – Why do I go to church? Who is Jesus to me? etc before moving any further. I have also begun using Psalm 44 to do some real lamenting about the difference between our ‘memory’ of church as a sort of ideal period we would like to return to, but which in reality can never exist again. I think if we don’t do that we are just frozen in grief or yearning for a mythical past in which there were dozens of children in the Sunday school and crowds at the daily Mass. Other elements I include are my thoughts on Education and how they relate to our work with children and young people: the need to raise the standard of our education material and make it knowledge-based not simply experiential; and give young people real, substantive leadership. I always include some Mindfulness material. Bookshops, attendance at Mindfulness events etc are evidence that there is a real hunger for stillness, silence and meditation in our wider society. A hunger that we are failing to address in our Sunday worship. This is an open door for Christian mission which we are almost totally neglecting. There is very little opportunity for silence in most Sunday worship. Generally, when anyone leading worship says that ‘now we will keep a few moments of silence’ I barely have time for one breath, I have never, anywhere, had time for more than three. At Taizé they manage 10 – 15 minutes of silence in their worship three times a day. And this is always the thing that children and young people find most intriguing and good. Finally, I always include an informal celebration of the Eucharist as part of the day. Ideally about half way through. This can bring together elements of Mindfulness, as well as a good chance to re-iterate the overriding importance of memory both as learning and in establishing shared memory as who we are, in Jesus’ words to ‘do this in memory of him’. Preaching on the second day is a good chance to pick up on themes that strike me from the initial session. Almost always this is the same: the need to root our mission, our desire to grow the church, in substantive Christian faith. I come more and more to see the Apostles’ Creed as useful here. The reasons people give for Jesus being important to them, or what they like about Jesus, are generally either emotional (although there’s often not much of that) or Jesus as an example of living a good life. A living relationship with Jesus is, of course, essential to Christian faith and I often use the icon of friendship (Jesus with his arm affectionately around his friends’s shoulder). However, no one ever mentions the acts of salvation history. So what we have to tell people becomes very weak indeed. I also stress the cross as an image of us needing grow the church horizontally – to draw more people to Jesus – and vertically – our relationship as individuals and as a community, with God. Interestingly this is the work that people seem to neglect most, or perhaps take for granted. Unless it is a whole weekend we don’t spend any time writing a Mission Action Plan. That can be done by a small group separately. That is not because I don’t think it is important. On the contrary, being ‘intentional’ about mission is only going to happen if we have a plan and hold ourselves to account for it.
These events are really helpful for me and I learn a great deal from them. I change the material I use every time because I am always learning as well as because contexts are different. The work we have done in Liverpool on new worshipping communities in schools (mainly in the Wigan area) has really helped me to see that developing new congregations can be useful in relieving the anxiety of existing, ‘inherited church’ congregations. So often much of the anxiety comes from expecting that a new priest will suggest yet another set of changes to the worship, or moving of furniture. Sometimes it can be best to leave all that as it is and put our energy into new manifestations of the church. It also helps us to face up to the fact that those of us who love church can find it hard to understand the resistance of people who have no church experience to traditional church.
More children, more people is the constant hope of parishes and congregations. That horizontal growth will only come, in my view, when there is more faith, more experience of Jesus, more faithful living, more deep conversion to the gospel. That is the challenge to every Christian. Why is my life not sufficiently converted that my living alone brings people to Jesus?
The constant mantra in my teaching is a quite simple:
– Jesus centred
– Spirit filled
– Bible based
The anxiety is real. But we should not be controlled by it. In particular we need to be faithful to the New Testament vision of prayer as releasing the gifts of the Spirit. God expects every Christian to experience and share in these gifts. To believe that prayer is somehow difficult or fruitless is to collude with the anxiety.
An age of anxiety, yes. But also an age of liminality, provisionality and that provisionality can contain much energy and the seemed of renewal. Growing the Church never leaves me feeling depressed or anxious for the church. I find these events stimulating and energising. I hope some of those who participate in them do too.
It is impossible for me to hear or sing the stunningly simple Peregrine Tone of Gregorian chant without thinking of Holy Trinity church in Winchester. There, as an undergraduate in the mid 1980’s, Julian Chilcott-Monk taught me to sing plainsong from Procter and Frere’s A Manual of Plainsong. The Peregrine, the ‘wandering’ tone is the simplest of all the tones and hauntingly beautiful.
The recovery of Plainsong in Anglican liturgy in the nineteenth century was an essential part of the the Catholic-Revival. Wherever I have introduced some sort of chant liturgy it has brought young adults to church. A ‘Compline Choir’ I ran once sang only the music of Compline week after week ending with drinks in a local pub. Everyone that came was between 20 and 30 years old.
There is a profoundly contemplative quality to chant. It demands our attention to text and music and draws us away from our own mental roundabouts.
Many, like me have spent years collecting books of chant from second-hand bookshops and clergy clearing their libraries at retirement. This is interesting. Often there are so many variations in editions that it is impossible to use multiple copies with a group.
I am, therefore, deeply grateful to St Stephen’s House, the Anglo-Catholic theological college in Oxford for publishing their Office book. It is a great contribution to the much needed new revival of catholic Anglicanism and I hope that it will be well used and much bought. There are still, I am told, plenty of copies left but it was a limited print and there will be no re-print. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org to order.
The Office book was compiled by Fr Kyle McNeil and is a superb piece of work. He deserves much congratulation and thanks. There is a fine foreword by the Bishop of Chichester, Martin Warner, who draws attention to the obligation on the clergy to pray the Office, the value of a physical book which “locates us in the material world of specific things, such as time and place, that are themselves part of the scandalous immediacy of encounter with God.” Bishop Martin continues:
“The book’s location in a stall or similar place of prayer in church calls us daily onto the threshold of sacred space, not only does the journey there witness to a habit of prayer, it also opens up the possibility that we might invite and inspire others to join us in the routine of prayer.”
There is also a fine introduction which places the praying of the Office in the context of the priestly life and gives practical information for the praying of this book. This is fundamentally a ‘Prayer Book Office’ but makes use of the 1963 Revised Psalter which lightly adapts the Prayer Book psalms to accord with better scholarship on the Hebrew text, and intelligibility to the modern reader. It loses none of the beauty. It is assumed that the contemporary liturgical year and calendar of Common Worship is being followed but enriched with some additional material for saints and a few other celebrations.
All psalms and canticles are pointed to be sung to the traditional plainsong/Gregorian tones. A complete collection of Office hymns for Morning and Evening Prayer is also provided each with the traditional Sarum (rather than Roman) form of the plainsong music. For many of us some of these hymn melodies will be too complex to sing either alone or with a small group but it is good to see these ‘authentic’ melodies present and other, simpler melodies in the book could generally, be used in their place.
The texts of antiphons for the Benedictus and Magnificat for the entire liturgical year are also provided and these are pointed for simple tones. The canticles are given in Solemn and Simple tones and the Venite and Gospel Canticles are given in four sets of tones to be used a week at a time over a four-week cycle.
No other reference is made to lectionary provision other than to state:
“The Church of England’s lectionary is highly complex … It should be consulted separately, or an alternative lectionary employed.”
A sentiment with which I wholeheartedly agree. As I have written on this blog recently.
For those wanting to pray a ‘traditional language’ office the provision of Collects in one place is extremely helpful and very usefully enriched by some collects not provided for in any form in Common Worship. Today’s Memoria of Saint John Bosco being a very good example. These are translated into traditional language liturgical English. These are generally well done although a smile of amusement might be needed on occasion. For St John Bosco “young men and maidens” certainly caused me to smile.
Innovations in the book are the provision of a set of Old Testament Canticles for use at Matins in place of the Benedicte which is reserved for Feasts and Solemnities. I am a great fan of the Benedicite with its creation emphasis and the repetition of it and the Te Deum don’t worry me, but I know that this is an issue for many people. However, it does mean that only one setting of Benedicite is given which seems very light. For Evensong a set of New Testament Canticles (as used in the Roman Office) is given in traditional language so that those who pray Compline every day can reserve the NuncDimittis for that. Both of these provisions are very helpful.
The Te Deum is reserved for its traditional Roman / western place, at the end of the Morning Office on Feasts and Solemnities, rather than the Anglican practice between the readings. It is provided in just one setting.
The traditional anthems to the Blessed Virgin Mary are provided in Latin with their Versicles and Responses and collects.
For those using the book outside of Oxford notes are given to adapt the rank of various Oxford specific celebrations.
I have very few criticisms of this book, it is an outstanding piece of work, handsomely produced. I would have liked to see provision for the Circumcision of Christ on January 1st in accord with Anglican and long-standing western custom, rather than an additional feast of Our Lady. It would have been useful to have the Prayer Book Collects in their traditional order and form as an appendix. But these are minor quibbles.
I am especially happy to see provision made for the Interior Life of Our Lord (on January 19th) and The Interior Life of Our Lady (on October 22nd). These are often seen as precursor devotions to the Sacred and Immaculate Hearts but in fact they reflect something rather more about the imitation of Christ and his mother.
These commemorations of the interior lives are important because they emphasise the inner conversion that is at the heart of the Christian life. They also relate to the Sulpician tradition of training priests that has its origins in the French school of spirituality of Bérulle and Fr Olier. His beautiful prayer is an important part of the Manual of the Sodality and is worth praying by any ordained person. I know that it is a prayer much loved by Fr Robin, Principal at St Stephen’s House and many of the fine priests trained there in his time as Principal.
I hope that the SSH Office Book will be much prayed and form a significant part of the seriousness needed for a revival of the catholic stream in the Church of England:
In the early 1990s I wrote my dissertation, while at Chichester Theological College, on the renewal of a ‘People’s Office’. I was particularly interested in what some monastic communities (Jerusalem in Paris and elsewhere), CSWG at Crawley Down and Hove, and New Skete in the United States. Along with many other people I assumed that a really popular form of daily prayer would be about action: incense, lighting of the lamps, processions, movement – short and dramatic. Like many other people I implemented this in both my first two parishes and in other situations since. While people did come neither form has endured beyond my leaving.
I have always been struck by this important quotation from the great liturgist Robert Taft:
In his The Liturgy of the Hours in East and West:
“To its great merit the Anglican communion alone of all Western Christian Churches has preserved, to some extent at least, the daily services of morning prayer and evensong as a living part of parish worship.”
In recent years I have been challenged by colleagues, particularly younger colleagues, making use of the Office in the Book of Common Prayer. The phenomenon of our cathedrals attracting growing numbers to the Office is also an important factor.
It is well over a year now since I last wrote about my own manner of praying the Daily Office which has been in transition for the last couple of years. That most recent post (November 2018) is available here.
Many friends have asked me to produce simple material to sing the Prayer Book Office and I did so here. Thank you to everyone who has responded to that.
Since I was working on that material and it is impossible to spot errors without using it I began doing so on the Monday after the Baptism of the Lord. Together with the 1922 lectionary for the Office which I write about here. So, for the sake of those interested, this is my current pattern. I add the times in only because time is often given as a reason for not being able to say the Office and it is important to see how it fits into a working day. I realise this new pattern is just that and will keep readers informed!:
Prayer Book Matins with the 1922 lectionary, as in the booklet here. Prayer Book cycle of psalms. Office Hymns from English Hymnal. Intercessions following the third Collect, but more intercessions at the Eucharist and Evensong than here for time reasons.
Eucharist as described here. With the one year cycle readings as in the BCP, using Proper and Common readings for saints fairly often, and from a variety of translations over a week.
Prime with martyrology.
I can do all this by 6:30 on a working day. On other days I allow a more leisurely approach and will normally celebrate the Eucharist either after Sext or before Evensong, or when there are guests, on Saturday morning rather later, before breakfast.
At convenient moments at 9-ish, noon-ish and 3-ish and omitted if these don’t happen:
Terce, Sext and None: as in the booklet with reading from Prime and Hours and only the simple V and R in the booklet.
Prayer Book Evensong with the 1922 lectionary.
After dinner: Compline
I prefer to sing Compline as a sort of after dinner prayer rather than later just before bed. My ideal bed time is 9, but work and being sociable take over very often. With a bit of book reading (no phone or iPad) that means I get about 7 to 7.5 hours sleep a night. If I have had a day of heavy driving or a late night I sleep later.
One of the things that was part of my previous thinking about liturgy was the structure and purpose of the Office. Anglican forms of the Office are often criticised for being too didactic, not enough about praise. I wonder if that is too tight a division? Reading Scripture as part of our worship is not just about us learning, it is also about us praising God for his works. It is in itself a form of praise, of relationship. In families we all feel valued and loved when family members tell those endless stories about how we were as children and I love teasing my nephews with accounts and photographs of their childhoods.
In terms of structure I suspect that the only person who ever appreciated the subtlety of the structures of the ‘people’s offices’ that I have designed in the past was me. I don’t think many people really were thinking ‘oh the Magnificat, the climax of the Office!’ The Anglican structures work really well, they have endured, they have a simplicity that anyone can get hold of and understand, feel at home in, and familiar with. All of this contributes to a contemplative spirit to the Office which might actually be more what people need than a strong experience.
The place of intercession after the formal part of the office (the third Collect) in Anglican Offices is also interesting and works really well. People feel very comfortable with it and it is a good way to end the formal, public prayer.
I would be interested to hear from anyone who uses the Prayer Book structure but with modern language texts. I wonder how much the success of the structure is based on the solidity and beauty of the Prayer Book texts?
I travel a good deal and often find myself praying the Office in Cathedrals, churches, vicarages, curates-houses around the country. Common Worship Daily Prayer is excellent in so many ways but it is complicated. Wherever I go and the Prayer Book Office is being prayed there is a familiarity, a lack of announcements that allow people even very unfamiliar with the Office to feel at home.
The language of the Prayer Book is also interesting, I am particularly fascinated by its adoption by the young and those who were not brought up with it. It has a depth and a continuity that strangely make it more accessible than modern language for many people. It also allows people to share in it without yet believing it. Just as at Taizé young people can approach the intense life of the community to the extent that they choose to, so the intensity of the Prayer Book is actually more inclusive not less, than more contemporary language.
For anyone wanting an app with the BCP Office and 1922 lectionary readings see the very good iPray. It would be good if Aimer and Church House Publishing would add the 1922 readings to the otherwise excellent Daily Prayer app
Working as a Spiritual Director is one of the greatest joys of my life. Mainly because I learn and gain so much from it. If I am ever tempted to worry about the future of the church a session with one of the ordinands or newer clergy (some young and some not so young) I see is the antidote. I am constantly challenged, impressed and humbled by the seriousness of faith and commitment my sisters and brothers show.
I am particularly challenged by the lives of evangelical friends inside and beyond the Church of England. Their commitment to mission. The ability to see what is essential – and what is not. The commitment to the poorest. The sacrificial living. The commitment of couples and families. The openness to me with my very different background and tradition. The yearning for contemplative stillness.
I could go on.
One area that I have written about before is the desire to read the bible carefully and frequently. Particularly to read the whole bible each year. there are many such schemes for doing this, some available as apps or in other electronic/virtual ways.
This interests me because it matches my changing thinking on education. Like many teachers educated in the 1980s and earlier and later. Progressive methods, discovery learning, novelty and grabbing the interest of pupils were at the forefront of our methods. Like many others I have more recently come to the view that memory is the basic building block of learning, and indeed of human culture and existence. Therefore repetition, memorisation, learning things by heart, is essential to the educational process and to mission and evangelism.
I am now firmly of the view that the post-Vatican 2 lectionaries for daily prayer and Sunday services adopted both by the Church of England and other churches are part of the problem not the solution.
The lectionaries we are now using demand a three year cycle for Sundays and a two year cycle for weekdays. This is too long period to enable them to become familiar. With many people attending church fortnightly or less on Sundays this is even more a problem now than it was in the rather recent past.
The new lectionaries also cut us off from our spiritual ancestors, from the commentaries and preaching of the centuries and from a sense of belonging.
It is not a surprise to me that among the young committed to liturgical worship there is a ‘return to tradition’ in the use of the Prayer Book lectionary for readings at the Eucharist, and in the one year 1922 lectionary for the daily Office. This matches exactly the desire of non-liturgical younger clergy and others for simplicity in patterns of reading Scripture and frequent use of well know readings for congregational preaching and teaching.
Last year I used the 1662 one year lectionary for the daily Office. I had a couple of periods when I fell back on other patterns while I was travelling, and when praying with others didn’t impose this on anyone, but for most of the year I managed this. Using Common Worship Daily Prayer as the form of the Office and various modern versions of Scripture for the readings.
It was a fascinating experience. Some days it did seem that there was a lot of Scripture and if I missed sections because I was praying with others it was impossible to catch up by adding readings on at the Office – but I could easily read them to myself. When people were staying with me they occasionally commented on the length of readings. Sometime where passages were omitted there seemed to be big gaps. Not having a word-processor Cranmer and his editors generally went for whole chapters.
I liked having much more lectio continua, less interruption from saints’ days. Using the secular calendar rather than the church’s year at times felt odd and this is the main reason I am now recommending the 1922 lectionary.
To use officially approved lectionaries members of the Church of England have three choices at the Office. The CW provision and the 1922, and 1871 provisions.(thank you to Fr Liam Beadle for reminding me that 1871 is still authorised). The CW lectionary is actually a four year cycle. It is relatively complicated, involves many omissions and shortenings and a lot of jumping around Scripture. Where there is lectio continua it is over a 24 hour period, so at Matins, but not across Matins to Evensong.
The 1922 lectionary was adapted slightly to form a 1961 version but this is no longer authorised for use, although it does still appear as an alternative in the ‘Church Union’ Ordo produced by Fr Hunwicke. It re-arranges what had been an attempt at harmonisation of the gospel accounts for parts of the year in 1922 and opts for lectio continua at those times. It is probably an improvement but the harmonisation is interesting.
The original 1922 lectionary is available on the Church of England website here.
For ease of use I have also produced a PDF booklet here:
A big advantage for me is that the first readings from the Old Testament flow from Morning to Evening. This means that for any day commentaries and study is only needed of one OT book, the gospel and the non-gospel reading from the New Testament. I think that is a much more approachable task.
For those who wish there are often copies of lectionaries with the readings in full available second hand. They are sometimes called “Daily Service Book” or “Services of the Church” or simply BCP and lectionary. The Canterbury Press produced a re-print relatively recently.
The 1922 lectionary also preserves many traditional elements of the Christian reading of Scripture. Fr Hunwicke on his blog observes of the 1922 lectionary:
Its ‘Common Worship’ replacement is unbelievably complex and convoluted and, following the Bugnini abandonment of the ‘gesimas’, can make no attempt to start Genesis with Septuagesima. But the 1922/1928/1961 Lectionary … bases itself patristically on what Pope Gregory the Great devised and explained about the meaning of his ‘Gesima’ season. It then uses the ‘lectio continua’ instinct and provides a systematic reading-through of most of the Bible each year (the New Testament, twice a year). This embodies, of course, an aim which the Anglican Patrimony owes to the Reformation period (together with the entire structure of the Anglican Divine Office): the principle that clergy and laity together should “read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest” the Scriptures.
Alongside the use of this lectionary I would firmly recommend the use of the Prayer Book distribution of the psalms over one month (given in very slightly adapted form as an option in Common Worship. Any longer than a month makes it much harder if not impossible to learn the psalms. Reading the psalms in the order in which the final biblical author placed them takes that canonical structure seriously, just as scholarship has moved on from genre criticism to canonical criticism of the Psalter. A longer provision of psalmody also creates a more contemplative approach to the Office, giving time to sink into the psalms and let go of our own thoughts and obsessions. Psalmody needs to be long enough to get us through our own ‘squirming point’. Incidentally using the biblical order on a practical level it makes it far easier to work through commentaries on the book of psalms at the prayer desk where the Office is prayed. I particularly recommend the Reflections on the Psalms produced by Church House Publishing and as an app by Aimer. They are sufficiently short that they can be used for meditation in silences between the psalms at the Office. John Eaton’s commentary on the Psalms is also essential reading.
For Sundays I have written before (in the Church Times in August 2019) on the younger clergy re-introducing the Prayer Book one-year series of readings at the Sunday Eucharist. The Church of England website provide an important document suggesting Old Testament lessons and psalms to accompany the traditional lectionary. I am very concerned about the lack of use of psalmody in most parishes, if it is felt that three readings and a psalm is too much then I would recommend the psalm over the OT reading.
There are many wonderful commentaries and sermons from across the Christian centuries to help the preacher prepare and the pastor to pray. I particularly value Bishop Wand’s three-volumes on the Prayer Book Epistles and Gospels (and indeed Collects), Austin Farrer’s sermons and most beautiful of all the four volume “The Sunday Sermons of the Great Fathers – Patristic Homilies on the Gospels” which take me at least a week to read on each gospel and provide a lifetime’s meditation.
Finally, for many Catholic Anglicans there is a really important (and I would say essential to the health of the catholic stream) desire to celebrate the Eucharist daily. I would recommend returning to the pattern prior to the late 1960s of repeating the Sunday readings on ordinary days but using the readings for the Propers and Common of Saints whenever a saint’s day occurs. This gives ample opportunity for repeating the readings and getting to know both the Sunday and common and proper provision well. Far from finding this boring (I have been doing this for a year now) it is much more deeply enriching than constant variety. To be faithful to the Anglican tradition of four Office readings a day to have two novel readings at Mass in addition, six readings a day is just too much I believe, for anyone to take in. I use a variety of translations over a week, BCP, RSV, NEB and Phillips, all of which are available second hand.
This post really re-hashes material that I have been saying, perhaps somewhat more tentatively, for a while now. I would be interested in hearing from parishes where the one-year cycle is used, either as a recent change or for many years. I would be particularly interested in places where modern language and children’s resources are used to accompany the cycle of readings. I would be very happy to publish here resources for use of these lectionaries. Using these cycles need not be a wholesale archaeological approach to tradition and liturgy but part of a simple, straightforward approach to the reading of Scripture accessible to anyone without a degree in liturgy and based on the best current understanding of how we learn, and how the human brain works.
Writing and talking about liturgy can sometimes seem like re-arranging the deckchairs on the Titanic. Irrelevant to the missional crisis the church faces in the the UK and elsewhere. On the contrary, I have been brought to change my mind about these issues because of my own fundamental drive to mission and evangelism, my lifetime’s work with children and young people and my conversations with those in and beyond Anglicanism who are totally committed to mission in our time and for whom many of the approaches of my own younger days seem rightly obsolete.
Thank you so much to everyone who has contacted me on this post. I am attaching just below this update notice a somewhat updated version of the booklet, as requested I have added the Litany and the Athanasian Creed, as well as giving guidance on the use of the Te Deum and Benedicite and adding a further range of antiphons and tones for the Benedicite. I have removed the longer Prayer Book version of the Benedicite with its repetition of the praise line after every verse and left in the form from 1928 based on the Latin Office. I have been asked to write a further update on my own praying of the Office and will do so as soon as possible.
Thank you to everyone who has downloaded the booklets below and responded to this post. The response has been enormous. Which is, as I say in the post, very encouraging. I have now added a version 2 of the booklet below incorporating a number of changes that readers have suggested:
the Te Deum is provided pointed for the traditional plainsong tones
I have added a set of plainsong tones, one in each mode, so that the booklet can be used without a tone chart (the simplest possible ending for each mode)
I have re-arranged the material so that the Matins and Evensong material is still conflated into one; the Little Hours follow, and Compline last of all
there are some corrections of typos and a few layout changes
Several people have asked how this booklet fits with the SSH Office Book. What is provided here is much more simple, deliberately, and also much less comprehensive. This booklet could be used with SSHOB to provide a similar form of the Ordinary.
A surprisingly (to some perhaps) large number of my younger clergy friends and colleagues pray the Daily Office using the Book of Common Prayer. Usually with the Common Worship or 1922 lectionaries. I think this is very encouraging. The Prayer Book Office is the most successful ‘people’s office’ in Christian history. It is still attracting thousands in our cathedrals and has an elegance and simplicity that is easily accessible.
From an educational point of view a month is about the longest that I believe should be given to the recitation of the whole psalter if it is to be embedded in the memory. It is good to know that so many young priests are finding this a satisfying structure for prayer. I am certain that it will be the foundation for the well-being and the resilience needed for a lifetime of ministry.
This post is a response to the many requests for resources or information on material to sing the Prayer Book Office. This is also terrifically encouraging. When we sing we use a different part of our brains to a simple recitation, it refreshes and relaxes, reaching parts that reading aloud does not! There are many resources available, often to be found second hand for singing the Office to the traditional plainsong. The Manual of Plainsong points all the psalms and canticles and gives the opening and concluding sections set to simple music. The traditional plainsong psalm tones are easy to fix in the mind and whether alone or in a small group work well. The St Stephen’s House Office Book is a recent addition which adds antiphons to the Gospel Canticles and Office Hymns, all with music. The psalm text used in that is the Revised Psalter, a light revision of Coverdale’s psalms in the Prayer Book. The music is accurate to the tradition but that means that some of the hymn melodies and antiphon settings are quite complex.
To use those antiphons a pointed psalter (The Sarum Psalter is occasionally available second-hand) or simpler, modern modal tones will be needed. Relatively simple antiphons for the Benedictus and Magnificat for the whole year are available as a PDF below. And the Magnificat set to the eight modes is also provided.
The final booklet is my attempt to provide some very simple music to sing the Office to based on the material I have assembled for Common Worship Daily Prayer. Much of that material could be used to provide seasonal and proper material for the Office and although purists may object I have provided a modern text Te Deum alongside the Prayer Book version. A seven-fold Office is provided for. Readings for the Little Hours could be taken from books such as Prime and Hours or simply a sentence or two from the day’s lectionary readings used as a reminder or ‘memory sentence’. Hymns for Prayer and Praise is the best modern collection of Office Hymns available and the English Hymnal (not the New English Hymnal) provides the best traditional Office hymnal. I recommend the modern position of the hymns after the Venite at Matins and immediately after the opening verses at Evensong. A simple set of tones to sing the psalms to in the eight modes is also given.
Modern chants are given for the canticles, which are not pointed but are set out to sing to these. The Gospel canticles are also pointed for the traditional plainsong tones. This is in the manner used by CSMV at Wantage placing small numbers for each tone above the syllable where the reciting note is left. A chart with the traditional tones will be needed. (Here).
If these resources are helpful to you in your praying please spare a prayer for me.
How to Sit With God – A Practical Guide to Silent Prayer
Tr Kieran J. O’ Mahony
Jack is twenty-nine, he has been married for seven years and has two children under five. He and his wife both graduated with very good degrees from one of the UK’s best universities. They married that same year and moved to the northern town where they now live and work in full-time ministry for a ‘non-denominational church’.
Jack and his wife are fictionalised versions of many individuals and couples I have come to know in recent years. Their friends have high powered jobs in the City, Civil service or industry. But they became involved in large evangelical churches while at university, took part in summer activities and placements in various parts of the country. They have heard and responded to God calling them to ministry in places they would never have been to otherwise.
I am almost overwhelmed with awe when I see the sacrifice that couples and individuals like this have made. This is taking the option for the poor seriously.
It is not easy in so many ways. The energy and enthusiasm of a large church full of committed young people makes it easy to sustain faith, to feel confident and buoyed up. But the realities of life in places where there are no or few young people at church; where the levels of neediness, mental health issues and all the associated factors of poverty are the dominant reality can eat away at that.
Conferences, visits to and from friends, inspiring podcasts can all help. However, moments of spiritual renewal and refreshment can sometimes make the thirst seem greater at other times.
That’s the question Jack came to me with having followed me on Twitter. How can I sustain my prayer, my relationship with Jesus in the daily grind, the relentless cycle of family, children, pastoral work, ministry?
Like many others, Jack’s family are experimenting with forms of daily prayer. They bought Northumbria Community Office books, and tried other online materials – but found them unsatisfying.
Jack feels a need for silence – not just as an escape from family life! – but in his prayer.
I made two suggestions. For daily prayer just reading Scripture as it is. Beginning with psalmody, as much or as little as wanted at each sitting, and then readings from a ‘bible in a year’ plan.
My other suggestion was around finding some time every day for contemplative practice. Sitting still with God.
I wish I had found Jean-Marie Gueullette’s book How To Sit With God, when I first met Jack. Gueullette is a French Dominican priest teaching at the University of Lyon. I know nothing more about him. His book is an excellent introduction to Christian contemplative prayer. It is wise, unpretentious and practical. I have already bought multiple copies to share.
As I read How To Sit With God, I marked with a pencil important passages and quotations. My copy is very heavily underlined throughout. This is a rich source of teaching. Gueullette begins by showing how the prayer he is suggesting is the simplest possible form of prayer. This simplicity will have a strong appeal to those who are looking for an un-churchy, un-adorned gospel. Jesus in the raw.
Perhaps even more attractive to those formed by conservative evangelicalism will be Gueullette’s emphasis on faith as the fundamental requirement for contemplative prayer. In this short (176 page) book he goes on to describe how to do this prayer and places it within the context of struggle and discipline There is no pretence that this will be easy. He shows how it is one way of praying among others and finally gives an overview of the place of this prayer in Christian history.
It is this final section of the book that is weakest for the purposes for which I want to use it. here, Gueullette is writing very much from his tradition and nation. After the early centuries of Christian history is exclusively Roman Catholic and heavily weighted to France, with sections on Francis de Sales and the seventeenth century French spiritual tradition. That said the English mystics get surprisingly strong treatment in the main text of the book. In particular the Cloud of Unknowing; the source of English Benedictine spirituality (in the English Benedictine Congregation), Augustine Baker, and in its twentieth century flowering in the spiritual letters of Dom John Chapman of Downside. Although as Gueullette points out Baker lived in northern France for significant parts of his adult life and so might well be said to represent, partially at least, French spirituality.
My only other criticism of this book is Gueullette’s reference point in those Christians who have sought, and discovered, a practice of silence and stillness in the traditions of the Far East. I agree with everything he says about the need to be aware of the religious beliefs that underpin some of the practices, making them unsuitable for Christians. However, he never refers to the secular practices of mindfulness that are not rooted in an alien metaphysic. It may be simply a refection of his context in French Catholicism. Again, for my purposes this material is not useful. Most of the people I work with have not investigated Far Eastern traditions but come from evangelical Protestant traditions.
Gueullette presents the method of prayer he is describing simply and beautifully. Quite simply:
It consists of saying a word inwardly while sitting calmly.
Gueullette suggests words such as: Father, Abba, Jesus, Lord, God, Kyrie Eleison, Adonai. Fundamental to his teaching is that the word
… must be a name for God, not an idea about God or a description of God such as ‘love’ or ‘goodness’.
Throughout the book Gueullette stresses that this is a practice for a lifetime, and will bear fruit over many years. He distinguishes the practice from that of repeating a phrase or verse of the psalms or other parts of Scripture through the course of the day (as suggested by John Cassian).
Twenty five minutes a day is the time suggested for silence. Interestingly Gueullette suggests staying faithful to that amount of prayer even when the desire to sit for longer comes. For him it is important to be free of ‘feelings’ as the driver of prayer.
To those who think rules like this rob us of spontaneity he is clear that this practice is principally about faithfulness and discipline:
Faithfulness calls for a certain discipline, which today can appear contrary to authenticity or spontaneity. yet we are ready to accept it when it comes to dieting or keeping fit! In the case of physical exercise, as in the spiritual life, one can only progress at the cost of daily effort. It is not the extraordinary experience that make the life of prayer, but the humble fidelity to it every day, lived over many years.
Very few books on prayer are helpful on posture. This is extremely unfortunate because it is so important. When I began my first degree, in World Religions, I remember arriving at Buddhist monasteries, Mosques, Hindu Mandirs, Sikh temples and almost the first thing were told was how to sit, what posture to adopt. More than that, detailed instruction would be given on prayer and meditation at the very outset.
Gueullette knows what he is talking about when it comes to posture. He is clear on the role of the spine and pelvis and in using the abdomen (the diaphragm) for breathing.
It is mainly the spine that helps us stay awake: without being tense or stiff it stands, resting on the pelvis, supported by our breathing.
There are good descriptions of using prayer stools and meditation cushions with the lotus, half-lotus or sitting positions. Whatever posture is adopted the author is clear that it is sitting that is essential, and he quotes another English mystic, Richard Rolle:
It is the quiet sitting that makes the soul wise.
At the heart of sitting still is an activity we are engaged in as long as we are alive. Breathing. In this fascinating lecture at St Vladimir’s Seminary Bishop Alexander of the Orthodox Church in America shows how the roots of using the breath in prayer have textual evidence as early as the 5th to the 6th centuries. Again How To Sit With God gets this exactly right. Breath is not something for the author, that requires too much attention, but is significant. The ‘letting go’ that is the end of the out breath is particularly significant. If we think at all about breathing we tend to think of it as something that requires equal effort on the out and in breath but in fact once the contraction of the ribs that is the out-breath has reached its limit the air naturally fills the lungs again:
We do not need to look for air, we just have to empty the air inside us. … You just have to let go, to stop exhaling so that breathing in takes place spontaneously.
Theology of Sitting Still
Gueullette carefully addresses the apparent contradiction between faith and works in his explanation of this method of prayer. For him God’s action is paramount. His key conversation partner is, not surprisingly Augustine. Fundamental to his view is that:
The methods under discussion here act upon us and not upon God.
The one who prays does not seek to feel the presence of God, but rather is called upon to believe it.
One of the key issues facing anybody who tries to sit still and be with God, or even follow the breath in Mindfulness practice is thoughts. What are often called ‘distractions’. Gueullette helpfully quotes Abbot Chapman at length:
We want to use our will to ‘want God’, and not to keep our thoughts in order. We want to be ‘wanting God’, and detached from everything else. hence we want to let our thoughts run about by themselves … and not to control them; in order that our will may turn wholly to God. the result is naturally that, while our will is making its intense (but also imperceptible) act of love, our imagination is running about by itself, just a sir does in a dream; so that we seem to be full of distractions, and not praying at all. But this is contrary of the fact. The distractions, which are so vivid to us, are not voluntary actions, and have no importance; whereas the voluntary action we are performing is the wanting God …
(quoted on page 60)
For busy people
If you lead a very active lifestyle and feel there are never enough hours in the day, you are the ideal candidate for silent prayer.
Gueullette is clear that like breathing, thinking is what we do when we are alive, it is:
the signs of cerebral activity and it is not really helpful to dream of a time when the brain would no longer function.
Gueullette suggests ways in which this form of prayer will change our lives. Getting up earlier. Watching less television. Creating a place for prayer at home. Silent prayer will have ethical consequences in our lives.
Silent prayer is then a fight at every moment, where, each time the name is repeated, it is necessary to take oneself again in hand and to bring oneself back in the presence of God.
I understand the author’s (or translator’s) use of ‘struggle’ to describe this prayer, however, I am not entirely sure it is the most helpful image. “while the struggle is real, it is at the same time delightful” he says. Which seems to capture the balance better. I prefer to think of this as a serious business, a work. And like all hard work it is deeply satisfying; often most when most difficult.
It is always different after silence
Some time in 2013 a large group of headteachers came to visit Trinity, the school where I was Head in Lewisham. We had been practising Mindfulness as a school for three years. One of the places we used silence most effectively was in the Restorative Meetings that replaced sanctions on poor behaviour. One Year 11 (15-16 year old) pupils was describing this to the group and how when things became stuck in those meetings often someone suggests a time of Mindfulness using a five minute sand timer: “It is always,” she said, “different after the silence.”
Silence changes things. More importantly silence changes us. It make us more loving, more able to be attentive to others, to children, partners, those we minister to and with. As Gueullette so clearly shows silence isn’t the only way of prayer. It need not replace other forms of prayer and worship but take place alongside them in our lives.
Jack has been practising silent prayer in this way for almost 18 months now, “It has changed my life,” he says. It is always different after silence.
In the last fifteen years or so I’ve enjoyed working with Christians from Pentecostal churches and introducing them to elements of my own tradition that are new to them, just as they have challenged and encouraged me in my understanding and experience of the faith. Among the greatest gifts I have received from them is the gift of fasting as a serious discipline of prayer. I wrote about this on my previous blog and will move that post to this blog in due course: for now, it is here.
One of the elements in my own practice that I am often asked about is retreats. Where should I go? What do you do?
Below is a a long piece in three parts. In the first I make some observations about retreats. It is not a “How To” guide to retreats, jut some random thoughts I have had while being on retreat this week (the week of Advent 3, 2019). The second part is a rambling, stream of consciousness note-book of this retreat. I have been making retreats since I was fifteen. For many of the retreats I’ve made I have kept a notebook. I have twenty-seven of them, some more complete than others. They are not really journals, often consisting of not much more than a series of quotes on whatever I have been reading or reflecting on. I’m not sure they show much ‘progress’ as such but they do show change. They are very useful sources of quotes, thoughts and research over the years.
I am not expecting anyone to read every word of the notebook below. Scan it and it will give you the pattern of what I do and the way I keep a notebook. I have edited for publication, omitting some of the self-reflection on my life at the moment and my experiences in prayer as well as mentions of the living. Occasionally I have added rather more explanation than I would for myself.
I decided that the best way to answer “What do you do on retreat?” is the format here, a sort of timetable with notes. I realise that I probably learned this style from the journals of Thomas Merton, of which this is a pale imitation.
I have removed references to intercessory prayer although that is a big part of what I do on retreat. The formal prayer elements of the retreat (Office, Mass, Meditation, Rosary, lectio) should be understood within the opportunity this intense Christian living gives for spontaneous praise and, especially important for me, expressing this in tongues. This is an important part of retreat for me. The opportunity retreat provides to pay attention more closely is always a spark for praise.
I read a lot in an ordinary week so a retreat is a chance to read intensely too. Often I have picked a book (part of the Philokalia, Camus’ The Rebel, Julian of Norwich, The Imitation Of Christ, Wesley’s Hymns, The Rule of the Jerusalem Community, Herbert’s poetry, have all been topics in the past). Sometimes I choose a biblical book, Romans, Revelation, the Gospel of John, the Psalms have all been retreat topics.
This year has been Isaiah – all 66 chapters. But the length hasn’t seemed to matter using Robert Alter’s beautiful translation, Hebrew Scriptures (an essential translation). On retreat I have read multiple chapters in place of the lectionary readings at each Office and used in-between time for study.
I also generally have a fiction book on the go for reading just before sleep. Oh, and the ever present in my life: poetry.
“It is quite cogent how psalms in choir, how prophecy and gospel, how all great poetry, nurtures prayer; equally cogent are prayer and poetry. They can do without one another, and often do, but not as well. Like kissing cousins, you have to keep them apart sometimes or they will get to scrapping, get in each other’s way, get to too much kissing.”
Paul Quenon (In Praise of the Useless Life)
That is, I realise, quite a lot of words. I try and make sure that my retreat reading is not new, first-time, reading, but going deeper with stuff I have read previously. I didn’t quite manage that this year with some of the commentary on Isaiah but, of course, Isaiah is not new to me!
Please don’t read anything here (apart from one or two comments, notably on alcohol) as my saying this is how you should do your retreat. It’s how I do it, some of the ideas might work for you some not.
Finally, I end with a section of photographs of the books I have used on Isaiah for those who are interested.
There are various ‘retreat houses’, generally these are best for led retreats where there will be talks each day and a set fee. I have enjoyed leading this style of retreat very much but I prefer a bit more solitude when I am on retreat.
Most of my retreats have been made at monasteries of one sort or another. Most have guest houses. It is good to have worship going on to join in with. Some guest houses are pretty sociable places so that they may not suit everyone.
I have made my retreat at the Shrine of Walsingham four times. Always off season in November. It actually works quite well. Meals will involve talking in the refectory and some other chatting around the place, the Bull has to be resisted but the accommodation is good, there are plenty of walks nearby and a pattern of worship to join in with.
Borrowing, or if you have the money, renting a cottage somewhere is another option. I quite like self-catering, a balance to the reading, and being in the middle of nowhere. I’ve done this a few times as well and it has worked.
– Monastery of the Holy Trinity at Crawley Down
This is where I have made most retreats although with a. gap of a few years at one stage. There is a guest wing with shared bathrooms that works well although the walls are paper thin so chanting or praying out loud wouldn’t go down well. The community’s worship has Orthodox influences and is very prayerful, there are very many walks in the neighbourhood. They also have hermitages in the woods which are perfect in every way. As described below.
As I write I am staying in one of the three hermitages at the Monastery of the Holy Trinity, Crawley Down in West Sussex. I have been visiting the monastery since I was eighteen. Usually staying in the guest wing but occasionally in one of these hermitages in the woods. They are self-contained with a little kitchen, shower room and one room with a bed for everything else. They overlook the largest of the ponds in these woods, created for the iron smelting works that was here in the sixteenth century. Now the only disturbances in the woods are the dog walkers from the nearby housing estates.
Food is provided for residents of the hermitages in Red Riding Hood style baskets just before lunch each day. A hot lunch and enough food for an evening meal and breakfast.
I am self-catering, mainly because I am trying to sort out some food allergies that have been bothering me for the last few weeks. But it has the advantage of allowing fasting without fuss.
The monastic community, the Community of the Servants of the Will of God, pray Vigils, Lauds, Eucharist, Sext, Vespers each day and shared Jesus Prayer several evenings a week. Sometimes I join them for some or all of that. This time I am doing my own thing liturgically.
Some people make retreats at home. Sometimes there is no choice. I don’t think it is as ideal as being away from home but there could be ways of turning off the phone and internet and making space.
When / how long?
The pressure to cut away a retreat time is enormous. I really think six or more days are needed. But just before I came away I was persuaded to do Sunday cover on what had been due to be the last day of my retreat. It is hard. Even more so for those with families and children. Obviously any time, even a few hours or one day is better than nothing, but generally I think the longer the better. There is a rhythm to a week or more that doesn’t seem to work for shorter periods. That rhythm includes a squirming point when I wonder why I am wasting my time and just want to go home.
Some writers on retreats suggest that only the Bible, or a single devotional book should be allowed. Catherine de Hueck Doherty, author of the brilliant Poustinia, is a great advocate of this approach. But I am a disciple of Thomas Merton. Reading his journals it is hard to imagine him without a pile of books. Perhaps this love of books stems from the Benedictine influence on my teenage years.
A little like my changing ideas about education I think the more content-rich retreats have borne more fruit than the more ‘sit and do nothing’ retreats. Anyway, even with a lot of reading there is still plenty of time for sitting and being still (see notes on times below).
I am, however, increasingly cautious about all the reading so many of us do in the great mystics as if we are going to achieve such heights or depths. Better that we spend as much time digesting the words of Scripture and leave spiritual experiences for God to decide. Pursuing such experiences is certainly very much against the tradition. Even contemplative prayer is a gift from God, a grace, for Christians. Not a technique to be developed. The New Testament is full of the wonderful gifts of the Spirit that we can expect to receive in prayer and as a normal part of our Christian lives. The ‘dark night of the soul’, is not something we should seek and is very different to the ordinary sadnesses, depressions and low moods of everybody’s life.
It won’t always be possible to fast on retreat, probably only if you are self-catering. I have written about the importance of fasting before. For the Bible fasting and prayer are almost inseparable. If you can fast for part of the time on retreat it really is worth trying. This year (see below) I did two one day total fasts. I think it really changes and intensifies the experience of prayer and creates a certain spaciousness, as well as time. It adds to the sense of seriousness and that this is not a holiday.
“August 14, 1967. Vigil of the Assumption Said Mass quietly at the hermitage and fasted in the morning. (In the evening made too much rice and creole and am weighted down with it.”
“Fasting clears the head and lessens the angustia, also brings order into one’s life.”
Sleep deprivation is never a good idea. I need seven hours sleep a night, with, ideally one lie-in (9-10 hours) a week. I normally get this on a Saturday, so leave Morning Prayer, often even til after breakfast. On Saturdays I only pray one day-time Hour.
I usually get up at 5am so need to be in bed by 9:30 for sleep at 10 to get my full quota. On retreat this week I am getting up at 3:30 and aiming to get to bed at 8.
The reason I am doing that is the quality of time in the early hours and my energy in it. If I stayed up later in the evening instead it would be an extended preparation for sleep, my energy would be low. In the morning my energy is higher, there is a feeling of a whole day beginning, of movement into light that makes the prayer and quiet powerful. I was so excited for that on the first morning this week like a child on Christmas Day I was awake by 2:20.
While I am here I am also getting a nap in the afternoon, just 30 minutes or so gives me extra sleep.
“February 7, 1966. F[east] of St. Romuald I don’t know what happens to time in the hermitage. Three and four hours in the pre-dawn go by like half an hour. Reading, meditation, a few notes, some coffee and toast–there is not much to show for it, but it is probably the most fruitful part of the day.”
There is a scene in the TV series Rev where the hero goes on retreat. I don’t remember the details, but there is a priest-friend with him and I think they both open their cases to reveal the bottle of gin or whiskey they have with them. For many of us what makes this funny is its truth. In the guest wing of the very monastery I am writing in I have drunk the pre-mixed gin and tonics another priest guest had brought with him.
I find that even two glasses of alcohol interfere with my prayer – I can tell the difference and, as Herbert says and I have so often ignored, “take not the third glass.”
If we can’t do without alcohol on retreat we have to ask ourselves some serious questions.
I take a break from Twitter and Facebook on retreat. But I do phone home daily and check texts and FB Messenger. This week I have heard two pieces of bad news which have been a cause for intercession, I am glad I heard them when I did. The internet has aided my study of Isaiah. It’s a tool. The test for me is to the extent that something enhances my prayer, or lessens the peace of my prayer.
Retreats are not …
Read Chaucer. I don’t think I have always got this right myself. I was looking at the pack for a pilgrimage I led from StAndrew, Earlsfield a few years ago. It is pretty full on liturgically. I wouldn’t put so much into a pilgrimage now. A pilgrimage is a social occasion and there should be plenty of time and space for that.
When we started our Sodality we called our annual three-day get together a retreat. We are now calling it our Annual Residential. If there is an intention to socialise, build community, talk, it is probably not really a retreat but a Spiritual Conference.
– Holidays / Time off
I often hear people say they need a retreat because they need rest. Only you can decide how much rest you need. But I would offer a challenge. That rest should be built into our weekly, monthly and yearly patterns separate to retreat time. The weekly sabbath rest is an important biblical principle. Holidays should not be missed. If you are so exhausted that you are desperate for rest probably time off is needed not a retreat. I would draw a subtle difference where there is spiritual exhaustion and renewal of the spirit is needed not total rest. Of course, if you need rest and genuinely the only way you are going to get it is to call it a retreat, then do so.
In the Notebook section below I refer to ‘Meditation’. I don’t especially like this word, or even ‘Mindfulness’ (despite spending much of my life teaching it). They both sound too much like a method, a technique.
In this time, I just sit. I sit in the lotus or half-lotus position on a zafu (meditation cushion) because it is the most stable posture I know. I can easily sit like this for 45 minutes and on retreat with massaging of my legs for an hour or more. The posture gives it a sort of intentionality, energy; it is not just sitting doing nothing. I like the Japanese term shikantaza “just sitting”, to describe this “methodless method”. As I sit, the breathing naturally deepens but the breath is not the object. Neither is God, as if he is to be sought. He is present. What he chooses to do or not do is his business, not mine. I offer him this time as free gift.
“I am inclined to think that the more a thing is a “practice,” the less it is a prayer. You cannot do without practice, of course, but the better you get at it the more you forget practice and go beyond.”
I also sit on the zafu for the Office, but use a prayer stool for the Eucharist and Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, this enables me to prostrate more easily. When using the Jesus Prayer I sometimes stand and bow deeply to touch the floor at each invocation and prostrate with my forehead on the ground every 25 invocations. That helps my energy levels and keeps my body loose when I have been sitting for a long time. I often pray the Rosary while walking.
So all of this is quite a physical business!
Well, I have probably put you off completely if you are new to this. If this all seems too much like hard work, I suppose yes, I am saying this is hard work. Paul Quenon, monk of Gethsemane in his brilliant book, In Praise of the Useless Life (quoted often here, as also his collections of poetry) comments on his following of the Rule of Saint Benedict:
“I follow—or stumble along—the “Benedictine way,” which approaches life mostly in terms of prayer, work, and reading. To follow all three of these essential principles to the fullest is real work, and indeed at times a hard battle! Key phrases found in the Rule of St. Benedict are “the labor of obedience,” “the strong, bright weapons of obedience,” “the instruments of good works.” It is only when the work of obedience is advanced and matured that we “run the way of God’s commandments in the unspeakable sweetness of God’s love.”
But he also goes on to talk about the ‘Holy Game’ and the element of play. I often say that liturgy, worship, is a rehearsal for the way God wants the world to be. A retreat is a bit like that too. It is liturgical time. God’s playground for us. Hard work can, of course, be relaxing and rewarding. I have ended this week’s retreat invigorated and energised. Making a good retreat, like doing anything ‘well’ can be deeply satisfying and very far from exhausting
Not Just for Clergy
While working with the leaders of the Anglican Religious Communities earlier this year I had an interesting conversation with the Abbot of Mucknell about the many guests they welcome there. 95%, he said, are clergy. And this is a complete reversal to the situation twenty years ago. I checked with other community leaders where there are significant guest facilitates. They all confirmed that the vast majority of guests are now clergy. There may, of course, be many explanations for this. The pressures of work. People being too busy to visit for weekends. But I wonder if those of us who preach and teach do so about retreats often enough?
ADVENT RETREAT 2019
“In the hermitage, one must pray or go to seed. The pretense of prayer will not suffice. Just sitting will not suffice. It has to be real–yet what can one do? Solitude puts you with your back to the wall (or your face to it!) and this is good. One prays to pray. And the reality of death.”
PART TWO – RETREAT JOURNAL
It’s a long drive from the north-west to West Sussex, but the lane to the monastery takes the retreatant through a half mile or so of woodland before arriving. That last stretch is always a powerful letting go. Once I’d arrived and received the warm welcome I got on with unpacking and setting up the hermitage.
4:15 Eucharist –
Mass said, the Eucharistic presence. It is you, Jesus, it is you present as gently as you can be, like the hand on the shoulder, not imposing. You are the guest as so often you were, invited here by words and signs.
Next to you. I place mum’s picture. She is not here, but she is present. In my breathing that she gave me. As you are, Jesus. breathing in: Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God. Breathing out: have mercy on me a sinner.
5:15 Evening Prayer Isaiah 1 -2
Followed by reading of the commentaries on the reading
Learn to do good,
Make the oppressed happy,
Defend the orphan,
argue the widow’s case.
1:29ff is the opposite of Psalm 1: a garden without water, a tree whose leaves wither.
6:30 Supper – soup and cheese
7:00 Reading (on Isaiah)
7:45 Compline – Isaiah 3-4
Followed by reading the commentaries
Chapter 4 unlike most translators Alter has this as poetry
5And the LORD shall create over all the sanctuary of Mount Zion
and over its solemn assemblies
a cloud by day
and an effulgence of flaming fire by night,
for over all the glory there shall be a canopy.
6And a shelter it shall be
as a shade by day from heat
and a covert and refuge from pelting rain.
8:30 lectio divina on tomorrow’s Gospel Reading and first draft of my ‘todaysgospel’ tweet.
3:30 Rise, two cups of tea
Jesus Prayer with prostrations 20 minutes or so
“On me a sinner”: words that don’t make me feel shame, but human. Knowing the stupid things I have done. Love never diminished by any of them. There is a stage in friendship when you do or say something stupid, when your friend knows you for a fool, a sinner: and it matters but makes no difference. Or rather it does. It deepens. Then we can be undefended.
4:00. Vigils Isaiah 5 – 6
Opening parts of CWDP Morning Prayer
With the history psalms (104/105) forming two nocturns
“Here I am, send me.”
Not a happy message:
“Go and say to this people:
‘Indeed you must hear but you will not understand,
indeed you must see but you will not know.’
10 Make the heart of this people obtuse
and block its ears and seal its eyes.
Lest it see with its eyes
and with its ears hear
and its heart understand
and it turn back and be healed.”
Reading the commentaries.
A walk in the woods (20 minutes or so)
I put my cloak on. Envying Jewish friends their prayer shawls. “He shall cover you with his wings.” (Ps 91:4) I am immersed in dark. Wrapped in light.
Suddenly I remember. thirty six years ago. My friend Danny (long since dead). Staying over, in the morning he passed me his talit to put on. Hugging me as the wool embraced me with its black bands and titzit. I pulled the crown together and kissed it as I had seen him do. Then we prayed. He in his tefillin, me in his talit. Shacharit and Matins simultaneously. Psalms we shared, melodies different. A cacophony for sure. When he died we had lost touch. I didn’t hear about it for months. Yet now I feel as close to him as when he put the talit around me and breathed on my face, his breath rich from the cheap wine we’d stayed up drinking. I wrap my cloak around me and weep. Strange how our little griefs can stand in for all our griefs.
Meditation – 45 minutes
Jesus Prayer with Prostrations
Blessed Sacrament Exposed – Adoration 30 minutes or so
7:45 Lauds / Morning Prayer Isaiah Chapters 7-8
Reading the commentaries
10:00 Terce Isaiah Chapters 9-10
12:00 Sext Isaiah Chapters 11-12
Reading the commentaries
Rosary – walking up and down outside in my cloak.
“The presence of Our Lady is important to me. Elusive but I think a reality in this hermitage. Here, though I do not agree with the medieval idea of Mediatrix apud Mediatorem [the Mediatrix with the Mediator] (without prejudice to her motherhood which is a much better statement and truth). Her influence is a demand of love, and no amount of talking will explain it. I need her and she is there. I should perhaps think of it more explicitly more often.”
Meditation – 30 minutes
Lunch – main meal of the day
Snooze – walk
2:30 None Isaiah 13-14
5:00 Evening Prayer Isaiah Chapters 15-17
Supper – soup and cheese
7:00 Compline Isaiah Chapters 18-21
lectio on the following day’s gospel
Part way through Vigils, about 4:30, a cock starts crowing on the farm next door. It continues for about 15 minutes.
The rain is falling hard. Rain in the woods always seem louder, deeper than anywhere else.
Merton’s festival of rain:
“What a thing it is to sit absolutely alone, in the forest, at night, cherished by this wonderful, unintelligible, perfectly innocent speech, the most comforting speech in the world, the talk that rain makes by itself all over the ridges, and the talk of the watercourses everywhere in the hollows! Nobody started it, nobody is going to stop it. It will talk as long as it wants, this rain. As long as it talks I am going to listen.”
The hermitage is cosy and very warm from the night storage heaters.
I open the large glass doors. It’s not that cold but it feels a shock.
I put my cassock and cloak on, the warmest clothes I have. Take the umbrella provided and walk in the woods. Enjoying the rain.
It is pitch black but I walk slowly on paths I know pretty well, barely needing to use the torch. I get to the little weir at the end of the pond. Although it is not a large fall of water it makes a suitably crashing noise in the dark and quiet – the thunder of waters.
Two pieces of advice are really helping me read Isaiah. The first is in Leslie Hoppe’s New Collegeville Bible Commentary volume on Isaiah. Like scholarship on the Psalms, the academic world has moved on from the granular source-critical stance. It is easy to get hung up on which sections are first, second or third Isaiah. Hoppe takes the canonical, final form seriously and identifies five sections of relatively similar length. She doesn’t mention it but, of course the psalms are also in five books, Matthew’s Gospel is sometimes seen as being in a pattern of five. Do all these reflect the final form of the Five Books of Moses, the Torah?
Each of Hoppe’s five sections relate to Jerusalem, making that the dominant motif.
Chapters 1 -12 Jerusalem’s Future
Chapters 13 – 27 Jerusalem and the Nations
Chapters 28 – 39
Judgement and Salvation for Jerusalem
Chapters 40 – 55 Jerusalem’s Liberation
Chapters 56 – 66 The New Jerusalem
Each section begins with an oracle of judgement and ends with a word of salvation.
Although the salvific endings are balanced by the final verse of the book which is dark indeed. Alter points out that when this section is read as the Haggadah (the second reading following the Torah) in the synagogue, verse 23 with it message of hope is repeated after verse 24 to end on a positive note.
Hoppe also identifies the two main motifs of the book as firstly, the typically Isaianic phrase for God “the Holy One of Israel”, what is so very clear is that this holiness consists not just or only in the being of God but in the justice he requires of his people. It is all too easy to think of social justice as something we read into Scripture. In fact justice is woven deeply into it.
The second motif is that of Jerusalem/Zion.
Hoppe recommends reading the text straight through without commentary.
This is a recommendation also made by Nicholas King in his Bible (which is a translation of the Septuagint). King makes ten recommendations which I won’t repeat in full here. However some key phrases:
Concentrate on the beauty of the prophet’s language
The entire scroll belongs together and should be read as a whole
In the text consolation only comes in the Exile, when Israel is recalling in a mess
Don’t sit on the fence or remain uninvolved
Allow your unhealthy images of God to be systematically demolished
Motyer in his The Prophecy of Isaiah, also divides the book other than by source critical means. His reading of Isaiah is profoundly Christological, he sees three themes:
1 The Book of the King Chapters 1-37
2 The Book of the Servant Chapters 38-55
3 The Book of the Anointed Conqueror Chapters 56 – 66
Although this christological reading is helpful it does feel imposed on the book contrasting with the way in which Hoppe’s analysis emerges from the actual text.
Hoppe on Chapters 3 and 4: the wealthy are to blame for Israel’s fate. Strong portrait of the bejewelled rich.
SERAPHIM: are serpents, angelic tradition is post-biblical
At Vigils chapters 5 and 6. Six is the first real revelation to the prophet and includes the burning al image. I am so used to that image, and to thinking of it metaphorically that I think of it as painless.
Alter does this brilliantly, I like his “Woe to me, for I am undone” so much stronger than NRSV “I am lost”. Alter also refers to Alexander Pushkin’s poem “The Prophet” based on this chapter. It is stunning, here it is.
7am I return from my walk. My cloak is soaking wet. I am breathless. Partly the fear: is there a mad axe-man in the woods? Standing on the bridge over the weir is breath-taking too. There are lights on in the next door hermitage and in the monastery in the distance. I am grateful for these companions in prayer. The monks too have prayed Vigils and are now back in their cells before Lauds.
I am grateful that I found this place when I was eighteen, for the times I have spent here. For the lives lived here. Later I will go to the monastery cemetery and pray for the dead. Gruff but loving Brother Mark, provider of tea and digestives. Charles the friend of the community who spent many years living and praying here. Fr Brian, the sweetest and warmest of smiles but brightly intelligent. My memories of him are mainly from his days at the monastery at Hove. And Fr Gregory, so long Superior. About him complicated memories and feelings. On all the things that divide our church he and I disagreed. But he in many ways created the life here and all the gospel that it holds. As Isaiah knew it is a messy world. As today’s gospel (Matthew’s genealogy) makes clear:
Wife of Uriah
Jeconiah and his brothers
After the walk I still need exercise, that helps with the sugar-hunger too. So 20 minutes of prostrations with Jesus Prayer works up a sweat.
Light comes late on this dull December day. The dawn chorus just penetrates the sound of the rain. But as the trees emerge I am singing the Canticle from Baruch at Morning Prayer:
“The woods and every fragrant tree
Have shaded them at God’s command.”
Interesting essay by Torsten Uhlig in Interpreting Isaiah ed David G Firth et al
On the motif of ‘hardening’ of the heart in Is 6 (and elsewhere).
Brueggemann on Isaiah Chapters 7 and 8:
Two possible readings: historical or christological (virgin birth etc) but he offers a third;
The offer of faith
“Faith is to resist circumstances and to continue ‘a more excellent way’ a way with no guarantees beyond promises and the One who makes those promises.”
“The non-negotiable verdict of the prophet still lingers: No faith … no future.”
‘If you do not make yourself firm [in the Lord]
You will not be affirmed.’
Same Hebrew root as ‘mn from which we derive Amen
Isaiah 65:6 literally translated is that the Lord is “the God of Amen” [Alter makes the same point, notes]
Revelation 3:14: Jesus is “the Amen”
7:14, 8:8 and 10
Even here in the hermitage news comes in. One of my dearest friends is taken into hospital with a suspected stroke. The new Archbishop of York is announced; Stephen Cottrell. The very best of news.
Perhaps I should turn my phone off completely but somehow it seems better to have the world in here too.
Lunch: avocado, tuna fish, mayonnaise – beef Bologna’s and peas – cheese – Brazil nuts, coconut and chocolate
RSV: his delight shall be in the fear of the Lord
Alter: his very BREATH is in the fear of the Lord
Chapter 12 a short hymn of praise which is Canticle 27 on CWDP. Although with the first verse omitted:
“I acclaim, You, O Lord, though you raged against me,
“Your wrath has withdrawn and You comforted me.”
How we sanitise it all!
None: Isaiah 13 – 14
Ch 13: 6 Shaddai
14:4b ceases Heb. = Shabbat / rest
The oppressor is overturned
Brueggemann “The reception committee of impotence is already gathering to greet the next oppressor. And so Jews maintain by such poetry the capacity to wait, to resist, and not to give in.”
Reflection on all the wrath in Isaiah: what might God be angry with me about?
The sort of anger we feel for those we love.
Vespers: Isaiah 15-18
Supper Chicken soup
Containing, appropriately for the time of day:
Watchman, what of the night.
Beautiful Hebrew (Alter)
Shomer mah milaylah
Shomer mah mileyl
“One must concede that this entire short prophecy is far too fragmentary to allow us to guess what it is about.” !
3:30 an owl outside, somewhere very close
I open the curtains, important to be surrounded by the dark as I pray
But aware as I do so that my light is polluting it
Vigils Isaiah 22–27
(speeding up my reading so that there is more time to reflect on the whole thing at the end of the week)
Reading aloud from Alter’s translation which works very well,
I also brought AV with me and thought I might read that at the liturgy, but that doesn’t seem to be needed
Fasting today, just water, first food Thursday lunchtime, my fasts have been inconsistent since Lent, I need to get back on this. It intensifies the prayer, creates a space for it and an energy.
With my life-breath I desired you by night,
With my spirit within me I sought you.
There is nothing quite like praying in the night. Tonight is still and dark. Not even the sound of rain. Just animals moving, the occasional bird.
These chapters from Isaiah this morning and yesterday afternoon have been especially challenging to understand.
Briggs is very comforting on this:
“First, you cannot study everything. Much of chapters 13–33 is obscure. I rather like Walter Brueggemann’s comment regarding chapter 21, that it is ‘extraordinarily enigmatic and elusive and, given our present understandings, almost completely beyond comprehension. I take comfort in the surmise that likely the only people who attend to this poem are those, like myself, who attempt to write a commentary that does not permit skipping over the material.’ So we take comfort in that too, and skip over large sections.”
Key chapters demanding study:
6, 7 (especially 7.14), 9, 40, 53, 61,
And would require inclusion in a bible study, sermon series
“The Lord commissions Isaiah in v 3, and gives him an oracle to take to King Ahaz in vv 7–9. This includes the striking word-play, which translates rather nicely into English: ‘If you do not stand firm in faith, you shall not stand at all’ (v9:‘imlo’ta’aminu/kilo’te’amenu) or, as NT Wright has suggested rather more idiomatically, ‘Trust or bust.’ In fact, when this Hebrew text was translated into Greek (in the Septuagint version as used by the early church), this line became, ‘If you do not believe, neither shall you understand.’ As such, it was often cited by Augustine in his famous description of Christian faith as the pursuit of the mysteries of God, captured in the Latin phrase, fides quaerens intellectum (faith seeking understanding).”
Read 2 Kings 16.5–20, on Ahaz’s reaction to Isaiah (he tries to make a deal with the Assyrians)
See Is 36-37 for where the historical events come to a head
See also 2 Chronicles 32 and 2 Kings 19
Briggs: chapter 6 does not function (whatever some commentaries suggest) as the opening call, chapters 1-4 prepare the way for it:
First, 5.7b carries a careful word-play, literally: He expected justice (mishpat) but behold: bloodshed (mispach) Righteousness (tsedaqah) but behold: a cry! (tse’aqah)
In ch 5 the NRSV ‘ah’ is inadequate ‘woe’ is better
6:11 ‘Till, when, O Master?’ How long, O Lord.
Is highly significant.
[isn’t this what we all say in the midst of uncertainty / suffering]
And the answer is “until …:
And the gloom only rises in chapter 40
Briggs thinks of the putative three authors as three movements in a symphony
40 marks a shift to the servant, answering who will answer God’s call (ch 6) but mostly this is plural (except see 53)
55 – 66 ‘Unspectacular postscript’
61 a return to the anointed servant
Briggs: “It has always struck me as a relatively neglected aspect of the book of Isaiah that it wants to offer us such a broad range of visions of the life of faith among the people of God. The difficult bit today is holding on to the whole range and, even more, it is rightly discerning where in this vast narrative we find our own situations illuminated”
“It is, I suspect, easier to be visionary when you are heading somewhere or about to engage in some dramatic new project than it is when you are back home, working with the long-term issues of faithful living in the same old place. But it is dangerous to lift the Second Isaiah emphasis on vision and newness and transpose it to today without recognizing that a lot of our Christian living is about faithfulness in the place where God has put us, and that this kind of long-term and comparatively unspectacular faithfulness is just as important for many people much of the time.“
Corporate nature of the text:
“When preaching on ‘the armour of the Lord’ from Isaiah 59.15b–20, for example, I was struck by the way in which God’s armour is appropriated for the church as a whole community in Ephesians 6 rather than each individual wearing the full armour of God: it is as a whole church that we are corporately engaged in the mission of God as it is pictured in the book of Isaiah.”
In Firth et al Lyndsay Wilson on Wisdom in Isaiah: Proverbs 25:1 locates the collection of wisdom sayings in the time of Isaiah, some scholars even think Isaiah may have been among the wisdom school before entering the prophetic school; Isaiah certainly seems to inc some wisdom language, and a wisdom approach to Torah.
Vigils reading: 24-27 the apocalyptic
Strong movement 24 25
24 full of desolation yet even in the middle of the destruction some praise:
“It is they who shall raise their voice, sing gladly,
In God’s grandeur they shall shout from the sea”
And then trust emerges in ch 25:
God’s steadfast faithfulness
The Lord shall prepare a banquet
He swallows up the mantle (shroud)
He wipes away tears
Look! This is our God!
In whom we hoped and he has rescued us
More Trust in ch 26:
“a steadfast nature You guard in peace”
Jenni Williams (‘The Kingdom of our God’)
“Essentially, this is what trust looks like: it is not so much a state of mind as a choice about how to act.”
Brueggemann has it as:
(26:12) Those of steadfast mind you keep in peace:
In peace because they trust in you.
Jenni Williams draws attention to 26:12
“O Lord, grant peace to us,
For our every act you have wrought for us.”
How does God do our acts?
Is it all working out as God intended? Despite our need for repentance?
Keep coming back to this idea of God’s wrath (so strong in much of Isaiah) what might God be angry with me for/about?
Anger is what we feel for those we love and care about; it is easiest to show those we are close to. God being angry does not diminish his love for us!
Lauds Isaiah 28 – 30
The first antiphon for today:
My soul has yearned for you in the night,
And as the morning breaks, I watch for your coming.
As the night vigil moves to daylight.
The first psalm 88 with all its darkness
“in a palace of darkness in the mighty deeps
Will your wonders be known in the darkness
But as for me, Lord, I cry to you;
Even in the dawn my prayer comes early before you.
My best companion is now the darkness.”
I love that last line. “My best companion is darkness”. Grail has it as “my only companion”. Sadly CWDP has an alternate reading: “hid my companions out of my sight.” Which seems to be from Coverdale.
S29:11-12 “Pray, read this.”
Ambrose recommended Augustine read Isaiah first when he was close to coming to faith; is this the origin/inspiration for tolle, lege must look up the Vulgate.
[Just done so, lege, but not tolle]
In quietness and stillness you shall be rescued,
In calm and trust shall your valour be,
But you did not want it.
The final phrase is often omitted when quoting this!
A brighter day. Jesus P and prostrations outside as the sun breaks through the trees.
Early yet but hunger not too bad. The sugar high of the weekend was over after two days normal diet.
The perfect thing about praying outside is the sound of the water from the air. Pretty small scale really but definitely a torrent in sound.
On Is 28 Williams points out the wisdom language: pay attention, hear, instructed, teachers, counsel, wisdom: final words His Wisdom is great.
10am Terce Isaiah 31-32
Long walk in the sunshine.
Over the bridge across the weir the first house is interesting. Now a significant mansion with extensive grounds (it sold recently for £3m), it was once two labourers cottages.
The woodland is called Furnace Wood and the house just Furnace. In the mid sixteenth century for about 75 years the area was the site of an iron foundry and blast furnace; latter in the eighteenth century bronze smelting was added for a short time. The woodland provided the fuel and there is evidence of coppiced chestnut still in some of the gardens of the houses that now occupy part of the site. The pond is man-made for the furnace and at some later date there may have been a water mill. The dam decayed and the pond drained towards the end of the nineteenth century. In the early twentieth century the dam was re-built after the land had been sold with the invitation to create a trout pond, and indeed it is now used by a local fishing club.
On the side of the house a small plaque has appeared since I last walked this way. It commemorates Alfred Towes who died in the First World War and had previously lived in the house.
With very little googling it is easy to discover a little more about him. Born in about 1880 he was one of probably 10 children. His family lived in the house for just a few years before moving on. At some point he and his wife, Alice, moved to New South Wales, where address is available, when he signed up in 1917 he was listed as a gardener. Travelling back to Europe he lasted only a week at the front before being killed. At some point, by 1921 his wife (and children?) moved back to England to a house that still stands, the Laurels at Copthorne, just a couple of miles from the house where Alfred had lived.
I check the phone directories and there are still Towes’s listed, perhaps his direct descendants or those of his brothers.
Of such dreams and tragedies are our human lives made.
The town of Mosman where Alive and Alfred lives is close to Sydney harbour. The plot they lived at looks very beautiful, even if it didn’t then have the swimming pool it has now. Was it a dream come true to them? In contrast to the nightmare of war he returned to Europe for? When Alice moves back to England did it seem like she had left her dream?
Reading Isaiah this week and getting my head around the shifts of Empires 2700 years ago I note that not much has changed. Those armies sweeping the Middle East in Isaiah’s time were made up of Alfreds with their dreams and tragedies too.
It doesn’t make me sad. Just glad to have located a human story. And as I walk in the woods, despite the aircraft flying over from Gatwick, they are idyllic, I image the sounds and smells of a blast furnace here half a millennium ago.
Prose passage beginning Isaiah 36 see 2 K 18:13 to 2 K 20:19
Slept for 40 minutes: I wondered whether I would be able to make on an empty stomach; but no problem!
None Isaiah 37 – 40
38:10ff is one of the Canticles in the Roman Office (Tuesday II) and is rather fine “I said in the noon time of my days …” but it doesn’t appear in CWDP
ch 40 Comfort, comfort marks the beginning of what many call second or Deutero Isaiah
Hoppe makes an important point that Isaiah is using two images for Jerusalem’s future, one male and one female. The servant is male; Jerusalem is female. From here to 66 the “reader hears the story of a woman’s life from her abandonment by her husband and consequent childlessness to their recon isolation and the birth of many children.”
Going through the Canticles in CWDP and marking up a Bible with the verses used; they are quite chopped about; obviously any imprecation stuff omitted, but also anything particularly related to judgement. It gives a slightly swayed view of Isaiah, and indeed, of God.
There are 15 Canticles from Isaiah in CWDP, 16 in the Roman Office, 9 of them are similar texts but most not identical. CWDP chops the verses around much more and is much freer in creating Canticles by doing this. Both remove or don’t include texts about God’s wrath or judgement. It is a rather sanitised version of the prophet.
I hadn’t realised that in the Extended Vigil Office in the Roman rite several of the Isaiah canticles are repeats of those found at Morning Prayer.
Vespers Isaiah 41 – 42
11 Look, they shall be shamed and disgraced,
all who are incensed against you,
they shall be as naught and shall perish,
those who contend with you.
12You shall seek them and shall not find them,
those who battle with you.
They shall be as naught and as nothing,
those who war against you.
13For I am the LORD your God,
holding your right hand,
saying to you,
Do not fear, I am helping you.
Hoppe makes an important point about 42:14
God in feminine role:
Now, I cry out like a woman in labour,
Gasping and panting.
Compline Isaiah 43 – 44
Do not fear, for I have redeemed you.
I have called you by name, you are Mine.
2Should you pass through water, I am with you,
and through rivers—they shall not overwhelm you.
Should you walk through fire, you shall not be singed,
and flames shall not burn you.
3For I am the LORD, your God,
Very tired after not eating at all. It will be hard to get through to tomorrow lunchtime. But it does create a kind of spaciousness/lightness about the prayer.
3:30 Rise. A deep sleep but my head is pounding. It is always difficult to drink enough water when fasting.
Finish lectio and tweet todaysgospel. Read Rachel Mann’s Rossetti book for today and tweet sentence from that.
Hunger strikes and sudden feeling of despair. Why am I wasting my life like this? Six days away from home, fasting, getting up in the middle of the night, when I get back I have four services on Sunday. On Monday I shall spend the day seeing sorcerers for Spiritual Direction. I could be with the people I love. Relaxing, enjoying the build up to Christmas.
I start Vigils heavily, unwillingly. But immediately the words strike.
In the darkness (very dark and rain outside) I pray “Reveal among us the light of your presence.”
And the psalms (104, 105) the story of creation and salvation speak.
Then the magnificent power of Isaiah, especially in the translation by Alter which reads aloud so well. In fact it makes RSV/NRSV/CWDP seem very flat indeed.
Vigils Isaiah 45-49
So many powerful lines and sections. This second movement of the book (‘second Isaiah’) really does contain the greatest poetry.
I will set before you treasures of darkness
And hidden store,
So that you may know I am the Lord.
Treasures of darkness is such a beautiful phrase. It will stay with me. Darkness will be the strong memory of this retreat. The long December nights. And they have produced treasures. Just as the darkness of our lives can.
Indeed, You are a God who hides
God of Israel, Rescuer.
Sit mute and come into darkness.
Another powerful line. Sit in silence.
15Does a woman forget her babe,
have no mercy on the child of her womb?
Though she forget, I will not forget you.
16Why, on My palms I have inscribed you,
Hoppe on 49:15: “It is difficult to find a more touching image of God’s love anywhere else in the Bible.”
Wow. So by the end of Vigils I feel the exact opposite of the emptiness I felt an hour ago. There is fullness. Perhaps I should give up everything and live as a hermit!
Such are the whims of our feelings. So taking that advice and after all those words I will take the prophets advice. Silence. Lights out. The Blessed Sacrament with a single candle. Adoration.
Sit mute and come into darkness. Invites the Holy One who sets before me the treasures of darkness from his hidden store, the God who hide.
Walk. In the dark and rain in the woods. To the weir. The thunder of mighty waters.
While I am out the day arrives. Sheep and geese emerge in the middle of the field next to my hermitage. On the wooden bridge I wallow in the all-consuming sound of water.
Walking in the woods I am also wallowing in the deep mud. Even though it is quite short the bottom 12” of my cloak are mud spattered. Memories of funerals. Once dry it will brush clean.
Back at the hermitage I had thought when I woke up hungry that I would break my fast at breakfast time. But now, praying and walking, I am enjoying the lightness. I will eat at lunchtime. I’ll fast again tomorrow, Friday, but will break my fast first thing on Saturday. Food will make me sleepy and I don’t need that for the drive north on Saturday afternoon.
Home stretch now on Isaiah. I will finish the read aloud at the Offices today, making tomorrow lighter liturgically. And also finish the verse by verse commentaries (Brueggemann, Williams, Hoppe) and begin to think about the bigger picture. The idea of Isaiah as a symphony with movements has really helped me, as has the five-fold division, rather than the somewhat artificial constructions of Deutero – Trito – Isaiah and as one writer put it the obvious need for Quarto- and Quinto- !
Strong themes from Isaiah so far:
Sin/judgement – God’s anger
Morning Prayer (later than planned, my walk it turns out was 45 minutes, glad I didn’t have a clock/phone with me).
Reading: Isaiah 50 – 52
Strongest verse: 51:17
Rise up, Jerusalem,
You who have drunk from the hand of the LORD
The cup of his wrath
We are so phobic to the idea of God’s wrath, this must be something we have to reckon with. Isaiah is full of it!
The Suffering Servant in 51 -53
Terce Isaiah 53–55
53: the first of the songs of the suffering servant, powerful reminder of how these passages fit into the wider prophecy and record of rescue/salvation. These would make good canticles, a shame they are not used as such anywhere.
3Despised and shunned by people,
a man of sorrows and visited by illness.
And like one from whom the gaze is averted,
despised, and we reckoned him naught.
4Indeed, he has borne our illness,
and our sorrows he has carried.
But we had reckoned him plagued,
God-stricken and tormented.
5Yet he was wounded for our crimes,
crushed for our transgressions.
The chastisement that restored our well-being he bore,
and through his bruising we were healed.
Hoppe: about 40 allusions or citations of this text in the NT
Sitting in these woods that would have been alive with the sound of a blast furnace a few centuries ago 54:16 is pertinent:
It is I who created the smith,
Who fans the charcoal fire ….
Up to All Saints’ Church in Crawley Down, sadly locked but in the churchyard there is a Towes grave. Frederick. Local history sites suggest this is / could be Alfred’s cousin. He died in 1921 but it is a military grave, so perhaps he died of injuries sustained in the war. No sign of a grave for Alfred’s wife. I may look in the church yard at St. John’s Copthorne on the way home. A find a grave search finds nothing for here other, so perhaps she remarried?
Sext Isaiah 56 – 58
56:3 following the foreigner and eunuch accepted into Israel, no opposition between Jesus and the Hebrew Scriptures here
Fasting: is not this the fast I choose
Good corrective balance on a day I am indeed fasting:
Do I give my bread to the hungry?
Clothe the makes?
Lunch: Avocado, tuna, cream cheese, boiled egg; chilli con carne and peas – cheese and fig jam – Brazil nuts, coconut and dark chocolate
and the immediate effect of lunch after 42 hours total fast: Sleep.
3pm None Isaiah 59 – 61
Partly CW Canticle 34
Alter: “Rise, O Shine for your light has come. Often thought of with the next two chapters, as the core of Truro Isaiah, this poem picks up the motif of transcendent light from Second Isaiah and transforms it into an enthralling poetic vision of Zion magnificently restored. This vision is dramatically developed in the next two verses, in which the whole earth is imagined engulfed in darkness, and Zion’s brilliant dawn offers light for humankind.”
1Rise, O shine, for your light has come,
and the glory of the LORD
has dawned over you.
2For, look, darkness covers the earth,
and thick mist, the peoples,
3but nations shall walk by your light,
and kings by your dawning radiance.
19No more shall the sun be your light by day,
nor the moon’s radiance shine for you,
but the LORD shall be your everlasting light
and your God become your splendour.
20No more shall your sun set,
your moon shall not go down.
But the LORD shall be your everlasting light,
and your mourning days shall be done.
See Rev 22:4-5
And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever. Revelation 22:5
A day of vengeance for our God
The start of 61 forms CW Canticle 35
But This half verse is omitted:
Which is such a shame:
Lord, avenging God
Avenging God appear.
Psalm 93 (Grail)
The end of ch 61, verse 11, is, unusually used in two CW Canticles nos 35 and 36
Hoppe calls this ‘the priesthood of the poor’
Then listening to Bach. Really listening, not doing anything else. As Chrysogonus Waddell advised me in 1992. He took me to see Merton’s hermitage when I was at Gethsemane and so somehow Bach is always associated with hermit times in my mind. I listen to settings of Isaiah, one I don’t remember listening to before of the Do not be afraid text. Fürchte dich nicht. Very beautiful.
And then Goldberg.
4:30 To revive me and getting the energy flowing Jesus Prayer and prostrations, then Adoration
Raining hard outside.
“January 2, 1966. Feast of Holy Name of Jesus It has been raining steadily for almost 36 hours. This morning toward the end of my meditation the rain was pouring down on the roof of the hermitage with great force and the woods resounded with tons of water falling out of the sky.”
6pm Vespers Is 62 – 64
62: 4b ff
Part of CW Canticle 36, some very unCW language in Alter:
And your land shall be bedded
As a young man beds a virgin,
Your sons shall bed you …
Alter’s note says:
“The One Bedded. Again, the transliteration, Beulah, became an English name. Most translations render it as “espoused,” but that is too formal and too decorous. This passive form of the verb baʿal does indicate a woman who has a husband (the noun baʿal), but it has a sexual connotation: Zion, the woman who has been forsaken, will now enjoy consummation again. The sexual implication of the term is clearly suggested in verse 5: “and a bridegroom’s rejoicing over the bride / shall your God rejoice over you.” 5. your sons shall bed you. This sounds inadvertently like incest (in the next line of poetry, it is rather God’s relationship with Israel that is analogous to the bridegroom’s relationship with the bride), but the intended idea is that the desolate land, personified as a woman, will be plowed and cultivated by its sons, as a young man is intimate with a virgin and makes her fruitful.”
In ensanguined garments (Alter): nice play on words
Alter: “the association between wine and blood is not only because of the colour red but also because a kenning for wine in biblical poetry, inherited from the Ugaritic is ‘blood of the grape’ (see Gen 49:1)”
And of course Eucharistic for Christians
Supper: Soup, cheese and Piccalilli, Brazil nuts, coconut and dark chocolate.
Short walk in the dark, wind and rain. Which at least ensures there are no dog walkers about. Pretty much had the woods to myself in this weather.
9pm Compline Isaiah 65-66
And so Isaiah finished, at least the read aloud through is. And just wonderful it has been, never wearisome. Alter’s poetic sense is perfect, there is a lovely sharpness to his English and a sense of rhythm and metre. The language is spare.
And here to end with a koan from 65:1-2
I yielded oracles
when they did not inquire,
I was found
when they did not seek Me.
I said, “Here I am, here I am”
to a nation not called by My name.
I spread out My hands
all day long
Alter’s note: “2. I spread out My hands. This phrase continues the paradox of the previous verse because spreading out the hands is a gesture of prayer, and it is as though God, not the people, were praying.”
I didn’t expect this theme of darkness and hiddenness in Isaiah. He is a mystic – more than a visionary.
I shall chew on this.
Look, My servants shall eat
and you shall hunger.
Look, My servants shall drink
and you shall thirst. Look,
My servants shall rejoice
and you shall be shamed.
14Look, My servants shall sing gladly
with a cheerful heart,
and you shall cry out for heart’s pain
and from a broken spirit howl.
This is a piece of great poetry, brilliantly tr by Alter. But also harsh.
A lot of Isaiah seems to be about consequences. And we don’t like that, we don’t want to be rejoicing while others mourn. Yet the end of the book precisely describes that contrast.
Chapter 66 v10ff provides CW Canticle 38 (and Divine Office Vigil canticle for Christmas and the Presentation), entirely suitable for this with its mention of babies and mothers.
And it is still raining. People often comment on the ubiquity of rain in Merton’s journals. One reason must surely be quite simple: when you live in a one storey building the sound of the rain on the roof is significant, magnified by trees and making a difference to the possibility of a walk getting out of a small building.
Strangely, despite the restrictions it imposes the rain feels like a friend. Comforting, consoling, protecting. A barrier to others coming into the woods.
in monotone Ordinary
poured down massive chant.
soon slacked off
in soft diminuendo,
soaking into mute,
Two cups of tea.
Fasting day today. Which I will break after Morning Prayer tomorrow.
Jesus Prayer with Prostrations
Then I can’t resist it. I go straight out before Vigils to walk in the dark “fired by love’s urgent longing”. Walking straight to the weir without torch.
Dark and thundering sound. God gives treasures of darkness.
I am wearing my cloak for the walk.
solemn as chant,
one sweep of fabric
from head to foot.
on a row of pegs–
tall disembodied spirits
deep in the folds
waiting for light,
for light to shift
waiting for a bell
for the reach
of my hand
to spread out
the slow wings,
release the shadows
my prayer-hungry body
Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High
and abides under the shadow of the Almighty,
Shall say to the Lord, ‘My refuge and my strong-hold,
my God, in whom I put my trust.’
When I get back to the hermitage it is nearly 6am. No Vigils. The water has prayed all the words I need. Rain and weir. Darkness absorbing them.
In the morning I come before you
watching and waiting
tired of watching
When I waited
When watch and wait
are not enough
I disregard enough
for You are
When You are
when I am
that You are
watching and waiting
watching and waiting
watching and waiting.
7:15 Morning Prayer
“fasting is more of a celebration for me. There is an interior silence, a clear-headedness you do not get except by fasting. We are a society of gluttons.”
“fasting is excellent and clarifies the mind.”
Today feels lighter, clearer. The Office shorter without long chunks of Isaiah.
Final day before leaving tomorrow gives it a poignancy. Could I live like this for a month, a year ? Who knows. I don’t see any way of that happening.
“To come into solitude to discard both illusions, public and private, and to seek God, and to have no (exterior) self and no aims or claims, or pretensions, this is “right” (if the word means anything here)–it is what solitude means. But the problem is precisely that I still tend to come into solitude with an impure love, that is to say with “aims.” And with the “I” that can have aims. Time and quiet do much to dispel all this nonsense.”
Jesus Prayer with prostrations
More tea. I must be careful how much I drink.
“July 13, 1967 Fasting again but this time drank some tea, which makes all the difference in so far as keeping one’s mind alive goes.”
In the afternoons Turmeric tea is best, or Mint. They feel like food!
The fasting is so helpful. But the question is how to do it on a Friday when Ftiday evening is normally a sociable time? Doing it on another day would break the link with the crucifixion. I could eat just lunch on a Thursday but with a Wednesday fast that doesn’t give time to recover and often lunch is hard at work. Fasting is kind of nakedness. It leaves everything bare. It also reveals the shallowness and unreality of ‘moods’.
12 noon Sext and Eucharist
The total fast before receiving Communion makes a very beautiful offering. Eating nothing until receiving.
In today’s Gospel Mary says here I am.
That’s what Isaiah says (6:8), that is abandonment.
With those two key prayers:
My Lord God,
I have no idea where I am going.
I do not see the road ahead of me.
I cannot know for certain where it will end.
nor do I really know myself,
and the fact that I think I am following your will
does not mean that I am actually doing so.
But I believe that the desire to please you
does in fact please you.
And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing.
I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.
And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road,
though I may know nothing about it.
Therefore will I trust you always though
I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death.
I will not fear, for you are ever with me,
and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.
Father, I abandon myself into your hands; do with me what you will. Whatever you may do, I thank you: I am ready for all, I accept all.
Let only your will be done in me, and in all your creatures – I wish no more than this, O Lord.
Into your hands I commend my soul: I offer it to you with all the love of my heart, for I love you, Lord, and so need to give myself, to surrender myself into your hands without reserve, and with boundless confidence, for you are my Father.
Je m’abandonne à toi,
fais de moi ce qu’il te plaira.
Quoi que tu fasses moi, je te remercie.
Je suis prêt à tout, j’accepte tout.
Pourvu que ta volonté se fasse en moi,
en toutes tes créatures,
je ne désire rien d’autre, mon Dieu.
Je remets mon âme entre tes mains.
Je te la donne, mon Dieu, avec tout l’amour de mon coeur,
parce que je t’aime, et que ce m’est un besoin d’amour de me donner,
de me remettre entre tes mains sans mesure,
avec infinie confiance
car tu es mon Père.
Charles de Foucauld
Ending with Jesus Prayer with prostrations
Walk: past Furnace into the two private roads that grew up there in the pre WW2 period. Many grand houses but still some wooden framed bungalows that used to be weekend homes. The simple bungalow that is the heart of the monastery buildings would have fitted in well. That makeshift quality is always something that has attracted me to the monastic community here. Nothing is picturesque. Even in my little hermitage the crockery is the sort of stuff that would be thrown out after the jumble sale. No earthenware monastic look!
Charles de Foucauld wrote:
“I no longer want a monastery which is too secure, I want a small monastery, like the house of a poor workman who is not sure if tomorrow he will find work and bread, who with all his being shares the suffering of the world.”
Final few hours now. Reading Isaiah unadorned. Reflecting on the dark. So strong a theme as the solstice arrives just as my retreat ends. It is so appropriate after a dark year to look forward to days growing longer, light to strengthen.
THE NIGHT OF DESTINY
In my ending
is my meaning
Says the season.
Only the heart’s blood
Only the word.
Weak friend In the knowing night!
O tongue of flame
Under the heart
For love is black
Says the season.
The red and sable letters
On the solemn page
Fill the small circle of seeing.
And the weak life
Who holds the homeless light secure
In the deep heart’s room?
Kissed with flame!
My love is darkness!
Only in the Void
Are all ways one:
Only in the night
Are all the lost Found.
In my ending is my meaning.
Rosary and Adoration
As a Friday evening entertainment I watched Seeking God: the Way of the Monk a 1995 film about Christ in the Desert Monastery. It is wonderful but very dated. The community is much more traditional now with normal habits and Latin chant. But shows a certain phase in their life Abbot Philip as wise then as he is now. Distrustful of mystical experiences. Yes indeed!
No alarm set
Woke at 3:30 exactly. Rain still thundering down.
Today’s gospel is Mary hastening to Elizabeth.
Finishing my retreat what do I need to do immediately?
5:30 Morning Prayer
It was Paul Bayes’ book that made me start saying the creed daily at Matins and Evensong. Saying these words in the dark is very powerful. Against the face of dark we say the words. Against all evidence. We trust. Just as Jerusalem’s citizens seeing the destruction of everything they held dear must have felt. God’s judgement is clear.
I can’t stay. The days will get longer. The night will retreat.
There is no war that will not obey this cup of Blood.
Yet in the middle of this murderous season
Great Christ, my fingers touch Thy wheat
And hold Thee hidden in the compass of Thy paper sun.
There is no war will not obey this cup of Blood,
This wine in which I sink Thy words, in the anonymous dawn!
I hear a Sovereign talking in my arteries
Reversing, with His Promises, all things
That now go on with fire and thunder.
His Truth is greater than disaster.
His Peace imposes silence on the evidence against us.
from SENESCENTE MUNDO
I prayed the whole of the poem as the invitation to communion and the line:
“Here in my hands I hold that secret Easter.”
After each of the words of consecration.
The whole poem is in the collection In the Dark Before Dawn.
Breakfast : breaking the fast: avocado with Piccalilli. Cheese omelette, cheese with fig pickle, Brazil nuts, coconut and dark chocolate
Preparing to leave
Sheets and linens swapped
Monastic life is always detail and routine. These packages of sheets, linens, towels and cloths carefully labelled:
10:30 prayer in the community chapel
11am Monastery Mass
Surprise: How much Merton / Gethsemane there has been this week. Hermitage, rain and dark are pretty much central to his stuff I suppose.
Immersing myself in Isaiah has been total joy. I shall do some more of this between now and Epiphany. But it is so central to the gospel that having a clearer picture of it is already making a difference to my praying of the liturgy.
What I fantasise about taking away with me from this retreat:
getting up in the night, wallowing in darkness, aloneness
The rhythm of the double Wednesday-Friday fast
Total immersion in Scripture
The sound of the weir
What I can take away with me:
Isaiah, I think of him, whatever some scholars say, as one man, speaking with different voices. Passionate. Poet. But matter of fact about God’s wrath. It is the consequence of human actions. God bears no grudge. Is not malicious.
Isaiah as mystic. Lover of the night and darkness. Chewer on koans.
Something about how Jesus as suffering servant / rescuer (Saviour) is so intimately related to Jerusalem, even in this ancient prophecy. Church/Jerusalem are Jesus.
God’s wrath so important. This is a koan for me.
Fasting: going to try Mondays and Wednesdays and fast til the evening on Fridays.
We say a lot about what we consider to be important by our worship. In schools worship can be a rehearsal for how the whole day can be. Liturgy as mimesis, a model that can be followed at other times. As Christians we claim to put much store by families. But there are surprisingly few opportunities in the worship of the church to celebrate families. So many of the saints are celibate monks or nuns, or died as or protecting their virginity – all worthy things but not easy role models for the vast majority of people.
Many of us value the feast of the Holy Family. Instituted in 1893 originally within the Octave of Epiphany, with the liturgical reforms of the 1960s it found its home on the Sunday within the Octave of Christmas. The Church of England’s 1990 publication the Promise of His Glory, made good provision for the celebration of the Holy Family but sadly this emphasis didn’t quite make its way into the Common Worship liturgies.
For those of us who will be celebrating the Holy Family on the Sunday after Christmas I have compiled a lectionary for the Office with elements from Promise of His Glory and the usual Common Worship Calendar. This little lectionary also creates a neat division between Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer on the weekdays of the Octave. These days also celebrate the comites Christi, the companions of Christ, St Stephen, St John, the Holy Innocents. To avoid these celebrations taking over the proper celebration of Christmas, the Roman Rite suggests making Morning Prayer, Daytime Prayer and Mass of the saints and Evening Prayer of Christmas. This works very well and this lectionary also does that. I first published this a few years ago and many people expressed appreciation so I put it here again for anyone that wants to use it and hope that it helps you celebrate a holy Octave.
The Proclamation of Christmas is the martyrology for December 25th. It may be used at First Vespers/Evensong before the opening verses; during a Vigil or carols before the Midnight Mass (it works well before the Te Deum at the end) or after the Penitential Rite of the Midnight Mass (immediately preceding the Gloria).
Here is a slightly alternative version by the late Brother Aelred Seton Shanley OblOSB Cam, which includes mention the Buddha and Socrates. These liturgical moments are good ones for remembering that we live in a must-faith world without being syncretic in our worship. The Monastic Community at Bose remember all the main feasts of the major religions in their martyrology as they occur.
The Martyrology is the book of the saints, the ‘martyrs’ of the church, arranged in calendar order on the day they died (their ‘birthday into heaven’) and/or the day they are remembered liturgically. In monastic communities the martyrology of the following day was traditionally read at Prime, the Little Hour at the start of the working day. The monastery of Christ in the Desert provide their martyrology here. The Bose martyrology is here. I have produced an Anglican Martyrology for the British Isles which is very much a work in progress and is available here. It works well read just before Compline or at the end of Evensong.
The alternative Proclamation of Christmas provided here comes from the Hermitage of the Dayspring where Br Aelred Seton Shanley lived for many years. He died in the mid 1990s. He had tried his monastic vocation in a number of communities before settling to the hermit life as an Oblate of the Benedictine Camaldolese Community at Big Sur. He wrote a whole sung Office which I have used to provide some of the hymns for the Office in my musical setting.
In 2002 Jim Cotter published his set of antiphons/refrains based on the well known Great ‘O’ refrains that are traditional from the 17th (or in the Sarum rite the 16th December) at Evensong as Expectant: Verses for Advent (Cairns Publications). It is a delightful collection of images of longing and waiting. The O refrains are best known in the form of the hymn “O come, O come, Emmanuel …” and Jim wrote his refrains in the same metre so that they can be sung to the well-known tune.
In the Advent-Christmas volume of his series Celebrating the Christian Year (Canterbury press 2005) Alan Griffiths provides a tone to sing the verses of the Magnificat to with verses using the hymn tune. He provides his version of the ‘O’ antiphons for each day, to be sung before and after the canticle and the chorus sung between the stanzas.
Adapting these two ideas I have created a booklet of Jim Cotter’s verses (one for each day of Advent) with the Benedictus and Magnificat canticles in the Common Worship translation. I have used this setting for several years and think it works and wears quite well.
As I write, in Easter Week; Lent and Holy Week are only just done. Few clergy will have turned yet to which Lent course to use in 2020. In the continuing storm of the abuse scandals in the church innumerable apologies have been made by Archbishops and bishops. Services have been held. Liturgies celebrated. Laments prayed. But the abuse scandal is not going away. We all know that there is more to be brought to the light. That the wounds are still open and that defendedness is the predominant response. It would be a powerful statement of our intention to deal with this scandal thoughtfully if the Church of England’s two Archbishops proposed that every parish use this book in Lent next year to do theology and to think practically about how we respond to abuse, and how we become a safer church. Near the end of their book Wilson and Harper pose two questions: What sort of God do we actually believe in?What kind of community does the church have to be? This is theology at its most fundamental, raw and vital.
Twentieth century theology could be characterised as Holocaust theology. How do we deal with this deep evil at the heart not just of humanity but of Christian culture? Twenty-First century theology will have to be a theology of abuse, a response to this profound evil which is at the heart of every church. Yet To Heal and Not To Hurt is a hopeful book. “We hope”, the authors write, “it will not harm, but heal the Church, helping it to rediscover its primary pastoral identity and task.” “Insofar as the Church can bring itself to walk in the light about the evils of abuse within it, it may be able to recover some sense of what it actually means to be the body of Christ, and to live that out in the real world, not the fantasy places of the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves. A church that manages to be half of what it claims to be would, indeed, be good news in a broken world.”“The Church of England needs to regain a humble confidence in its own calling, and to become what Leonard Sweet has hauntingly called:a Church with a big heart, dirty hands, and a beautiful mind.(Tweet of 11.08.2018 at 0816)” Calmly written, easy to read, although never an easy read, this is the book on safeguarding that I have been looking for. Theological, Scriptural, human, honest. It begins as it must with the survivors of abuse and listening to their stories. Amalgamated and combined into 15 representative stories of abuse (‘Tales from the Crypt’) involving all parts of the Anglican spectrum and different types of abuse, the stories are not at the extremes. They are, disturbingly ‘main stream’, none of them is a story that I have not heard in my life as a priest and for which I could not give similar accounts. These accounts are used throughout the book to exemplify the call for doing things differently. A summary table in one of the helpful appendices is a good reference point to recall what the accounts are about and a list of the characters involved further aids the memory. One of the accounts, that of Mark, is re-written towards the end of the book as if everything had been done well, it shows how getting things right changes lives for the better. I still hear in the church attitudes about safeguarding as a bother, something that gets in the way, makes life too complicated and even of victims as if they exaggerate the effect of abuse on their lives. Wilson and Harper clarify what needs to take place when working with survivors of abuse including taking into account:
Psychological harm and the ongoing support needed
Life chances changed by the abuse, and possibilities for retraining, coaching and career support
Financial hardship, including loss of income and lack of pension provision
Spiritual deficit. If the survivor so wishes a spiritual friend could help detoxify faith as a resource for living.
To Heal and Not to Hurt is, as would be expected of the authors, good theology. It is clearly Scriptural, an important appendix charts some of the abuses of Scriptural texts and the account of the Good Samaritan is used throughout as a leitmotif of how the Church could behave: “whenever the Church actually behaves like the Good Samaritan, rather than the priest or the Levite, it earns trust and respect. Only by doing this can it recover authenticity, confidence and credibility.” “Picking up the phone and saying, ‘How can I help?’ is what a Good Samaritan would do. Picking up the phone to the legal team, then hiding behind the guidelines sounds more like what a Levite would do. Prioritising theology and the Church’s reputation feels like what a priest would do, passing by on the other side.”
My own professional life has mainly been in education. I would not dare hold schools and education up as the answer to all our problems but the authors do make comparisons with education that show just how far the Church still has to move. The authors’ critique of the Clergy Discipline Measure is excoriating and surely ought to move the reform of this to the top of Synod’s agenda: “It could well be that when the clergy disciplinary system was devised it was not imagined there would ever be a significant number taken out against bishops. In practice, legal professionals say privately that pro rata ten times as many CDMs are taken out against bishops as against other clergy. It may be that there are bishops who have indeed experienced disciplinary consequences from having breached safeguarding policy. Nobody knows. Nothing goes to a tribunal. Everything is kept, incestuously, within the purple circle.”“As complaints against bishops escalate, absurdity abounds, way beyond anything those who framed the CDM can have envisaged. One archbishop could have to hear a complaint about how his fellow archbishop had handled a particular case. At the same time the other archbishop could be presented with a complaint from the same complainant about how the first one had handled another aspect of the same case. Both respondents would simultaneously be advised by members of the same tiny circle of ecclesiastical lawyers. It’s cosy, but inquiring minds will wonder, how can it be justice? For any disciplinary system to work properly, justice must be seen to be done.To be credible, the whole system requires independence at every level.”
Reform of the CDM, mandatory reporting together with a national safeguarding system independently run and independently accountable are the four stand out actions that this book highlights. I cannot see any argument that stands up against these calls. Reform, as the authors point out will be expensive. At a time when the Strategic Development Fund is spending millions of pounds on mission the abuse scandals are among the most profound obstacles to mission. It would be money well spent to spend it on new independent systems which allow bishops to be bishops. The authors add recognition of Spiritual abuse, spiritual accompaniment of survivors, restoration and redress, and a healthy culture of whistle-blowing to their suggested actions. More controversial, certainly for Catholic Anglicans among whom I find my home, is the reference to sacramental confession. The seal of the confessional is now held up by some as if it were an article of the Creed. It cannot be so. Although the call is gently put, it is clear that Wilson and Harper believe that mandatory reporting should extend into the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Dostoevsky’s point remains powerful that, “if the suffering of children goes to swell the sum of sufferings which was necessary to pay for truth, then I protest that the truth is not worth such a price.” “The seal cannot be absolute in all circumstances or the Sacrament becomes what the Bible calls ‘a cloak of maliciousness.’ Disclosure of a serious crime likely to put others in danger, past or future, needs to be responsibly handled.There has been much debate around the seal of the confessional and its potential to cover up abuse. There have to be circumstances under which the rights of the abusee are placed before those of the abuser, and disclosure of crime is reported.”
In eight powerful chapters Alan Wilson, Bishop of Buckingham, and Rosie Harper his chaplain, have done what no other writing on abuse in the church that I have read has done. It is all too easy to describe any book as ‘essential reading’, but this must be it, not just for clergy but for all who care about the gospel. To do theology is to try and make sense of things, to see the meaning in them, to learn from them; not to claim that God wanted them to happen but that through them we learn more about ourselves and God. The fifteen ‘ailments of the Curia’ borrowed in the book from Pope Francis would make an excellent annual examination for any priest or bishop. The chapter on “How do they get away with it?’ must be part of the toolkit of everyone working to create a safer church.
Part of the twentieth century church’s reaction to the Holocaust was to develop the concept of the crucified God, the wounded healer, and to find it hard to talk about power. All abuse includes power, because all relationships involve power, even when equally balanced. Reading To Heal and Not to Hurt will help us talk about power and to recognise that when we do so it is healthier than ignoring it or pretending that it is not there. It will help us see that systems and processes far from restricting us set us free. As a priest it is my joy to celebrate the Eucharist every day. To repeat and fulfil Jesus’ command to do this ‘in remembrance’ of him. The spiritual life is a journey to the Eucharistic heart of God, the Eucharistic heart that is God’s desire for each of us. As the author’s write: “The Christian faith is rooted in Remembering. Knowing that he was about to be killed Jesus said, ‘remember me’ and gave his friends a way to do that which is repeated constantly in churches around the world. The Eucharist, at its best, can turn re-living into remembrance, a form of love and thankfulness.
A Church with a Eucharistic heart should be a good, safe, and healing place to do all kinds of remembering.”
Christianity and Social Order is probably the most important Anglican political work of the twentieth century, with it William Temple, (Archbishop of Canterbury 1942-1944) showed how Christianity expressed its best moral impulses in democratic socialism. Previously a member of the Labour party he wrote of the need to meet the demands of workers and create a more just society in which children flourished. It is well worth reading, a fine piece of theology which takes economics and politics seriously. It is, above all a piece of Christian realism. There is, I think a problem about the way Christians speak about economics. It is too superficial, calling for a kinder, gentler capitalism but without change to the neo-liberal hegemony. The problem seems to be the paradigm of the universe that we have. Is Economics or theology the queen of science (knowledge)? Tooze in his book Crashed, quotes economist Abba Lerner (p.615) as having said that economics has made itself “queen of the social sciences”.
Having read Tooze’s brilliant book carefully (twice) what stood out for me as a Christian is the way that it tells the story, provides the meta-narrative, the grand tale of the decade that we have just lived through, that has brought us to Trump and Brexit. I have not read or heard any sermon or work of theology that even comes close to doing so (this may be a lack in my own reading and I am happy to be corrected). My own world view, as a left leaning, politically progressive Europeanist – firmly in the Remain camp – has been challenged by Tooze, it is one of the most exhilarating books I have read for a long time. The greatest challenge for me is in understanding how a moral and cultural commitment to a more integrated Europe has adversely affected the lives of millions of people because of the failures of our systems. Tooze shows clearly the catastrophic consequences of the over simplification of economics found in the “householder fallacy” (p.359) that we cannot spend more than we earn. Austerity has destroyed Greece which is a lesson to the rest of Europe and the world. (See my review of Yannis Varoufakis’ excellent book on a meta narrative of economics and politics on Ian Paul’s blog here).
A few key points in the narrative stand out: – the end of the Bretton Woods agreement, the “gold standard” which linked currency to something real could be seen as the beginning of the bubble that broke in 2008 – has the West’s treatment of Russia since the 1997 economic collapse, like Versailles, created Putin? – China is not an emerging power, economically it is already the key power – the failure of the Republican party to deal with the 2008 crisis has led directly to Trump – the idea of the ‘fake’ matches precisely the unreality of all financial value, ‘bubble’ rightly describes it – perhaps most important of all is that the financial crisis of 2008 has not been solved, we have papered over the cracks but the systemic faults remain.
I am sorry not to write a more coherent, continuous narrative of these factors, you need to read Tooze for that, and I highly recommend that you do. Perhaps read Varoufakis first – it is a much easier read and extends the meta-narrative to ancient history. I will make some comments though about reading this from a Christian perspective, they are nothing more than a ‘Work in Progress’, I don’t have the time, or the skills to do much more, writing them down will help me work on them and perhaps readers will be able to point me in further helpful directions. Two further recommendations for reading, Justin Welby’s Reimagining Britain is well worth looking at. It is a gentle proposal for a better nation. I don’t think it goes nearly far enough in addressing the structural problems. It does not allow for an alternative paradigm. The other reading I would recommend is Christianity and the New Social Order by John Atherton et al. As its title suggests it is an attempt to update Temple’s work. Although written in 2009 the authors can already see the problems that had emerged in 2008. In 1980, when I was fifteen, I started collecting newspaper cuttings. I have the pile of scrap books, covered in brown paper, still. The cuttings are all from the Guardian and reflect my political interests of the time. The miners strike, nuclear disarmament, later on stop the clause, the early days of AIDS. I like to flick through them every now and again as a reminder and a challenge to myself to be faithful to my youthful intuitions and experiences: Cycling over to Greenham Common with food to the (deeply unfriendly to me) women at the gates, raising money for the miners, organising coaches to protests at Clause 28, the NUS. My reading at the time reflected these political interests: Boff, Guttierez, Cardenal. The Liberation Theologians took Marx’s critique of capitalism seriously and sought ways to reflect theologically on them. Marx, of course, was interested in structures and systems and the way in which they oppressed. Marxism was over simplistic in its reading of society, wherever any version of it has been applied practically it has been with devastating effect. Marx never conceived of the kind of globalisation and financial structures (or lack of them) that we now have. However, if we allow Economics to be the queen of science we sell ourselves into slavery. It is theology that will give us a narrative that is richer, deeper and ethical. In its review of crashed The Guardian’s Oliver Bullough wrote:
“With luck, a new generation of politicians will emerge that is able to grasp the urgent need for both a fair settlement at home and a new structure internationally. They will have to reject the erroneous economics of the previous generation, and create theories as bold as those that underpinned Bretton Woods. This book provides the raw material for those theories; it is indispensable reading for anyone who wants to understand the past, in order to build a better future.”
Many of the posts on this blog reflect on the spiritual and liturgical life of Christians. Our self reflection should always lead us to reflection on the wider world. That is the Anglo-Catholic tradition at its best. What I learn about human nature by reflecting on my self teaches me what human beings are capable or incapable of. A renewal of the Anglo Catholic tradition will be political and economic because, not despite of or in addition to, it is prayerful, eucharistic and liturgical. As a Head I used to say that our daily worship was a rehearsal, a practice for how every lesson should be. Bigger than that, for all Christians, our liturgy is a rehearsal of how God wants the world to be. We need a new generation, not just of politicians but of theologians, to tell the story, to create the theology, of how the fakery of money needs a concrete, real, value if it is not to suck us all into its own inauthenticity. May the living, true God lead us from the “unreal to the real”.
It is not surprising that economists now claim that their discipline is ‘queen of the sciences’. Yet despite the hegemony of economics the reality of the choices involved in economics are now rarely discussed. Politicians argue about the minutiae of taxes and benefits, or the geopolitical landscape of jurisdiction and boundaries. Brexit, immigration, border controls. While ignoring the fundamental building blocks of our societies. All the books on economics that I have reviewed on this blog address the bigger picture.The Economics of Arrivalis no exception. Trebeck and Williams have a powerful vision for an economic alternative. Their concept of Arrival is one in which sustainability, happiness and being at home, play a significant part. But this is not wishful thinking. Nor is it a call for massive government led redistribution of wealth, which would, they rightly point out, deal with the symptoms of inequality, not the cause. For them:
“The idea of Arrival does not imply that all problems are solved. It does not suggest that everything is resolved and everyone has what they need. Rather it is the idea that a society collectively has the means for this.”
They write of an economy that has ‘grown-up’. That recognises that growth (particularly as measured by GDP, a metric that was invented only in the middle of the twentieth century, is pursuing the wrong goal. They also paint a picture of how pursuit of GDP growth may in fact be causing the very hollowing out of economies that reduces middle income employment and increases wealth inequality. Unlike other progressive economists they recognise that a benefits economy may contribute to GDP growth while worsening the life situation of those it aims to help. Fundamental to the authors’ critique of our current economic reality is the concept of growth. They demonstrate that permanent growth is unsustainable not simply from an ecological point of view but also because it diminishes human happiness and well-being and, perhaps most importantly of all because of the separation of capital and production. They show that it is a cancerous growth that must be stopped. The authors describe how share-holder power and legislation designed to give shareholders primacy over employees or production has led to many of our problems. Executives whose performance management is based not on productivity, or the core-service provided but on the price of the companies shares, further exacerbate this problem. Frighteningly, they demonstrate how real wealth inequality is worse in the UK than elsewhere in GDP rich countries (including the US). Most importantly they show how this has not happened by accident but is the result of political choices. This is especially the case when returns from wealth are taxed more favourably than earned income.
Chapter three is very good on demonstrating how inequality creates status anxiety which can lead precisely to the sort of political instability that is happening across the western nations. Marketisation of the good things of life, such as cooking and child-care, are just two symptoms of a growth driven economy, “Not everything that can be bought and sold should be bought and sold.” (p47). Their description of the commercialisation or privatisation of child care is particularly frightening. When I began teaching 30 or so years ago I taught a Reception class and could guarantee to see a close relative (parent or grandparent) of a child every day, usually twice a day. That is no longer the case. Perhaps the saddest form of marketisation they highlight is the growth of ‘soft play areas’ for children,
“parents don’t let their children play in the woods any more, so now they need to build the indoor, commercialised playgrounds.”
The authors are equally unsparing on the damage done by constantly rising house prices. I have long been critical of the double-income mortgage which far from bringing greater liberation to families has further trapped them in cycles of purchase and consumption. Despite their admission that uncoupling growth and carbon-emissions is almost impossible the writers are fundamentally optimistic. In Chapter Two they describe the many benefits that growth has brought and show how poverty, disease and wealth inequality have decreased worldwide in the last century. Their proposals include a radical cultural shift to show people that there can be economic growth with a destination. There can be a point at which we have ‘Arrived’. Practical suggestions are made for making the massive change called for happen. They recognise the strength of the forces that will be opposed to systemic change on the scale they suggest. They are clear that “Making ourselves at home is not a government-led vision.” (p 206) and they propose a series of practical steps for international institutions, governments, businesses, cities and local communities, and individuals.
Our politics is stuck. The inability to move ahead on Brexit is simply symptomatic of the inability to suggest new ways forward. Pure capitalism will destroy us all, and the planet we live on, but few people are suggesting real alternatives as they are here. This book tries to show how alternatives might be developed and implemented. It is not big government socialism, but it would require governmental action. Strangely, although I am generally an optimist, I found myself doubting whether the change in thinking suggested by Trebeck and Williams is possible. Perhaps that is why I am a Christian and believe that theology is queen of the sciences? I recognise the fullness of our nature. But I also think it is worth trying. There are no political parties that describe our economic situation in the way that it needs to be, none painting a significantly large picture of the way things are and the way they could be. These voices need to be heard and this book is well worth reading to hear them.
There is competition for the title ‘Queen of The Sciences’. Traditionally applied to theology as the summit of knowledge and the science which explained the meaning of things and held together the other areas of knowledge, the title was also claimed, in the nineteenth century, for mathematics. Perhaps, in our own time the title could be claimed for economics? Economic models are applied to our schools, our hospitals, our public services. Economics, we might be led to believe, can explain the narrative of human history. When I taught GCSE Economics I struggled with recommended reading for my pupils. There were text books to choose from, needed to ensure curriculum coverage, but they were, it felt to me, full of isolated pieces of knowledge that it was difficult to locate into context or a larger framework or narrative.
For the first half of Yanis Varoufakis’s book Talking to My Daughter About the Economy I thought that it was the book I had been searching for. A sweeping narrative of economic history, explaining markets, capital and labour in a historical context and with simple non technical language. It is, indeed, the book I needed for my pupils, but it is so much more than the one I had imagined. The former Greek Finance Minister and erstwhile politician shows how, far from being a science in our current understanding of the word, economics is a philosophy, a language for talking about the world but not identical with it. As he writes near the end of the book:
We face a choice: we can keep pretending we are scientists, like astrologists do, or admit that we are more like philosophers, who will never know the meaning of life for sure, no matter how wisely and rationally they argue.
Varoufakis wrote the book for his teenage daughter in just nine days in 2013 before his brief tenure in government, but all the key themes of that period are present. He begins with a sweeping history of the creation of currency (which he places earlier than is usually accepted), debt, and what he calls the ‘market society’ rather than capitalism. His starting point, refreshingly, is the origin of the inequalities of the world. I had not come across the idea that Eurasia was the seat of the industrial revolution mainly because of geography and the east-west axis of the continent, ensuring easy trade and transfer of goods in similar weather conditions.
Varoufakis must be a great teacher. He uses easily understandable examples and colourful cultural references. The book includes Star Trek and The Matrix as major examples of markets grabbing the future. He references Greek myths and Second World War prisoner of war camps. Mary Shelley and her Frankenstein gets a star role. Marvellously he ends by quoting our own Anglican, T.S.Eliot. There is an element of romp to the book that might be explained by the nine days of writing or just Varoufakis’ motorbike-riding character. Either way it is deeply attractive. As he himself says, “those who write well about the economy borrow their best ideas from artists, novelists, scientists.” From a Christian perspective the book is particularly interesting. Varoufakis is no fan of the church, and the clergy in particular, who he interprets as simply giving the necessary status to the forces of the market “Debt, money, faith and state all go hand in hand.”
It would be hard to suggest that Christian, and other religious leaders, have not at times, and sometimes for long periods of time behaved in this way “cultivating an ideology which caused the majority to believe deep in their hearts that only their rulers had the right to rule”. But there is much in the book that is much more interesting from a religious, theological point of view than this. Varoufakis is concerned with the commodification of life and of human persons, with the re-creation of experiential value. He is clear that commodities will be ultimately unsatisfactory and that some greater measure of happiness is needed. At times he reads like a Rousseau-esque romantic in his view of human nature. Stating his fundamental belief “that humans have an inexhaustible ability to resist the erosion of their spirit and the cheapening of their labour.” He is certainly full of hope, although it is hard not to speculate, following his departure from government and the refusal of the EU to write off Greek debt; if he still believes that “Every crisis is pregnant with a recovery.”
For me the sterility of our politics which is the hegemony of the market and the lack of any alternatives is at the heart of what I want from economics. Varoufakis fails to deliver on that, which would make him close to messianic. But he does suggest alternatives to the mere binary arguments between big-government and small-government. He is clear about the necessity of public debt, and perhaps there is mileage in acknowledging that, and having a sensible discussion about what a manageable level of debt is and owning the fact that taxes, whether from the rich or the rest of the population are not going to be able to pay for everything we want government to provide.
When you hear politicians, economists, and commentators talk about public debt as if it is a curse, you remind yourself that it is a lot more than that. It is the ghost in the machinery of markets societies that makes them function …
Varoufakis’ hope for the future includes his beliefs in the development of robotic automatisation. This, for me, is the least convincing part of the book. What will and will not be possible for machines is still not known. Too many of his examples of what might be possible derive from science-fiction not reality. The suggestion that there be public ownership of some proportion of machine-robots as they develop feels just plucked from thin air.
For Varoufakis “the economy is too important to leave to the economists.” To defer to ‘experts’ is to capitulate political freedom. This is an important read and Varoufakis has much to contribute to the debate. It is a much better book than his self-justifying and self-aggrandising Adults in the Room. He is clear that economics and politics can never be separated. We need to hear alternative voices in this debate and Varoufakis is a rare voice. Over and over again, I was struck by the existential nature of the questions he raises: What is it to be human? What is satisfaction? How do we achieve happiness? For me, of course, these are all theological questions. It is not surprising that he ends with Eliot: the end of all our exploring will certainly be to arrive where we started.
UPDATE 24 08 19Many thanks for comments on the pointing etc. Here are updated forms of Compline, a setting of the Lord’s Prayer to Rimsky-Korsakov (based on that in Emynau Catholig) and the Conclusion to the Office. All in PDF format.Cwmplin
Spending my teenage years just outside of Reading my first experience of the Daily Office was sung Evensong at St Nicholas, Sulham and the sung Office of the monks at Douai Abbey. I was surprised to discover that the Office could be said. These days next to my prayer desk as well as the usual books I keep the music and texts for singing the Office in French and German (Chanter l’Office and Antiphonale zum Stundengebet). I have enough of both languages (and knowledge of the liturgy) to be able to use them now and again and there is something about praying in another language that keeps the attention at 100%.
Last week I was in the Bangor diocese and glad to share in worship partly in Welsh. I am a failed Welsh-learner having made three or four attempts over the last twenty years or so, mainly in order to be able to read Welsh poetry, but latterly as more priests in Wales have joined the Sodality. (A personal hero, A.M. Allchin, is reputed to have learnt Welsh in a year …). I particularly enjoyed singing Tell Out My Soul in Welsh (O f’enaid, cân, mawrha yr Arglwydd Dduw) and last year I was at a beautiful dawn Vigil on Easter day and enjoyed singing Taizé chants in Welsh. Some of those chants are in the Welsh Methodist Hymnal Caneuon Ffyddwhich I have and is excellent.
I’ve been searching for resources to sing the Office in Welsh so I can get it by heart and it seems that there are very few (I am happy to be corrected!). My friend and Associate of the Sodality, Fr Dylan Parry Jones, and I have exchanged messages about this and he tells me that Welsh is difficult to use with chant because of the nature of the stress patterns – mainly on the penultimate syllable of words. English too has complicated patterns for stress and many musical or chant purists object to the setting of English to Latin plainchant melodies. I agree that when this is done just by squeezing English words to fit the traditional melodies this can create some very peculiar effects. But in the last half century many musicians have worked to create authentically modal chants for use with English. So, Fr Dylan’s message came as something of a challenge. I thought I would start with Compline.
The opening and concluding verses are set to a simple but memorable psalm tone:
The hymn to the traditional ferial tone for Te lucis:
I am pleased with the antiphon to the psalm (used for all three traditional Compline psalms). The tone and antiphon are in the 8th mode (traditional at Compline). The tone is very simple (from Stanbrook Abbey – apologies, I first claimed to have written it myself!) with just a change of note at the final stressed syllable (so it doesn’t matter whether that is the final or penultimate syllable). The Eastertime triple alleluia is given here as well:
The Responsory is set to the Latin melody and I think works.
The antiphon to the Nunc Dimittis has been much more difficult. The Welsh version in the Church in Wales’ liturgy has 32 words; the English has 25 words and fewer syllables, and the Latin only 15. I tried hard to fit the Welsh text to a repeated pattern of the Latin melody but it really felt very strained. So I have used an English setting by Dom Philip Gaisford at Worth Abbey, repeating sections of the melody and providing another very simple tone:
Liturgy of Creation
Anyone who has been in a pub with me when a pub quiz begins knows that I don’t hang around for long. What they may not know are the bad experiences that have given me a lifelong aversion to quizzes.
The first when I was 12 was a competitive inter school quiz. As the year rep on our team I did well on politics, history, religion and even music. But then came sport. ‘What sport takes place at Brands Hatch’. In a moment of ignorant panic I called out ‘rock climbing’. The whole school fell about laughing and even now people who remember me from then are known to whisper those two words teasingly.
The second was just after I’d been ordained priest. I was in a pub with my brother-in-law. We joined a team and did well at History, General Knowledge and so on. Then came the Religion round. In my clerical collar I could hardly avoid appearing to be the expert. ‘What did God make on the fifth day of creation?’ My stab in the dark was not successful. My brother-in-law never lets me forget.
I have however done much, since then, to improve my knowledge of the first account of creation.
Of the making of liturgical seasons it can sometimes feel there is no end. Fortunately the ‘kingdom season’ has not really caught on and most of us have been able to enjoy the eschatological themes of the end of the liturgical year without changing liturgical colours and managing quite well in green vestments from the Baptism to the Presentation.
Green vestments seem especially appropriate in what some describe as the ‘Creation season’ from 1st September to the 4th October. Actually I think this is one of the most sensible ideas for a new ‘season’ and draws out themes which are often underplayed in the liturgy. In light of the threat to the environment and planet it is more important than ever that we not only celebrate creation but repent of our abuse of it.
There are many resources available for this season which has been encouraged by the Pope and the Ecumenical Patriarch. Common Worship: Times and Seasons is excellent and a simple Google search reveals many more resources. These are all very useful for adding a ‘creation’ flavour to these Sunday’s in Ordinary Time or for compiling a special liturgy. For those who use the Roman Missal appropriate Masses for the ferial days of this season include the two formulas for the Sanctification of Human Labour (pp.1353-1355) At Seed Time (p. 1355 and 1356) After the Harvest (p.1357), For Those Suffering Hunger (p.1365-1366) For Rain, (p.1367).
Some of the elements in the traditional liturgy provide rich resources for use at this time and could give the Daily Office a creation theme throughout the period. It is these I will highlight here.
The most obvious is the canticle Benedicite which for Anglicans was one of the invariable canticles of Matins (with the Te Deum as an alternative) throughout the year. It is repeated on all Sunday’s and Solemnities in the Roman Office and is given as an Opening Psalm for Sundays in Ordinary Time in Common Worship.
Benedicite is a text worth memorising, so might well be usable daily from 1st September to October 4th. There are many simple musical settings.
Here is a simple tone (I think from Douai Abbey) set to the Common Worship text:
This antiphon and tone are from Conception Abbey and is a reminder of the origins of this Canticle:
There are many Anglican Chant settings and recordings of Benedicite. Not least the simple ones in The Manual of Plainsong, here to the lovely Peregrine tone:
But the memory of my ignorance at a pub quiz directs me to the seven days of creation. It is surprising in some ways that these haven’t figured more highly in Christian or Jewish liturgy. The most recent Liberal Jewish prayer book (siddur) in the UK Siddur Lev Chadash (1995) does include the appropriate section of Genesis 1 in the daily morning service:
The notes state “The idea of reading on each day of the week the relevant section of the Creation Story is a revival of an ancient practice (of the Ma’amadot, lay prayer-groups, of Temple times; cf. M.Ta’anit 4:2f.” (page 665).
I once tried to use the seven days as a set of invitatory antiphons:
The texts are a bit long really, and lose the sense of a call to worship.
The most obvious place where the western liturgical tradition commemorates the seven days of creation is in the hymns at vespers from Epiphany to Lent. They are in the English Hymnal as hymn numbers 58 to 62. Modern versions are in the Stanbrook Abbey Hymnal and by Aelred-Seton Shanley Obl.OSB Cam. The latter are to be found in the music for the Office book posted earlier on this blog and as a series of pictures below which also includes the English Hymnal texts and a modern use of the days of creation in the office of the Jerusalem Community in Paris. These are the work of the Dominican Andre Gouzes for his complete setting of a French language office as the Liturgie Chorale du People de Dieu. These chants work well as an alternative to the Opening Psalm / Invitatory at Morning Prayer / Lauds or could be used as a hymn at Prayer During the Day during the Creation Season.
At the very least the Genesis text could replace the short reading at Prayer During the Day or Lauds/Vespers, or Psalm 104 with its magnificent creation themes could be used as an additional psalm at the beginning of Evening Prayer throughout the season.
(Apologies for the spell check marks here, up date in due course…)
Psalm 104 is used daily in the Orthodox liturgy and could be added to the beginning of the psalmody at Evening Prayer. Here are a few refrains/antiphons and a pointed text from Common Worship which could be used in the long or short forms. Another good text for learning by heart:
Some time in 1989/90 I was due to meet the then Bishop of Winchester at Wolvesey, his home next to the Cathedral, having been recommended for training for ordination. As I walked across the Cathedral green coming towards me were monks and nuns from the Theravadan Buddhist community at Chithurst. I knew them well having made several retreats there, and it seemed like a good sign to see them as they began a lengthy walking pilgrimage.
I can’t remember when I first became interested in meditation, or indeed started meditating. It may have been reading Thomas Merton as a fourteen year old, or perhaps it was talking to Fr Peter Bowe at nearby Douai Abbey? Either way I am glad that right at the beginning of my preparation for ministry as a priest that important thread was present. I would never have guessed then how significant the teaching of what is now almost universally called “Mindfulness” would be in my life.
It is easy to sneer or at least feel an inner rolling of the eyes in church or other circles when Mindfulness is mentioned. “Religion-lite” or “just another fad” are phrases I’ve heard. But I am always impressed with the seriousness which participants bring to the training. Formal meditation of this sort is a fundamental part of my life. I have taught it in all the schools I’ve worked in with four to eighteen year olds and with colleagues. It was an essential part of school improvement as a Head teacher and I have taught Mindfulness in parishes, on pilgrimages and on retreats. I can’t possibly meet the demand from across the country for this teaching. I am interested in this and in how this relates to mission. Does mindfulness lead to people meeting Jesus? The simple answer is yes, I have seen it happen. It does this in a number of ways.
In the last few years I have developed a two stage process in mindfulness training. In the first stage of four sessions I teach practices which could be used by anyone, regardless of faith or belief, I use no specifically Christian language or imagery and I make clear that the results will be a reduction in stress, relaxation and greater clarity, although meditating to get these results is unhelpful. I then offer additional sessions on specifically Christian forms of meditation, lectio, the Jesus Prayer and recently I’ve added the technique of the Cloud of Unknowing. Interestingly, the expectation is always made clear when these sessions stretch over a number of weeks that some people will not want to attend the explicitly Christian sessions. Usually a few people will tell me at the first session that they are not going to. But what actually happens is that on every occasion, so far, everybody does attend all the sessions. Happily, as a result of doing so, some individuals over the years have begun attending church and have come to faith.
I have come to believe – and it really is only from my conversations with participants – that there is something about the experience of meditation that prepares people for faith. Over the next year I hope to use feedback forms to get a clearer picture of this, but my working hypothesis is that mindfulness leads to these four experiences all of which are good foundations for faith:
1 – compassion
2 – connectedness
3 – watchfulness
4 – abandonment
COMPASSION When people sit still, observe their breathing, notice their thoughts coming and going they always experience something close to a feeling of love. They feel more loving and more loved. Although, very occasionally distressing thoughts and memories do arise this is really quite rare and even then it is within a larger experience of love.
CONNECTEDNESS Although mindfulness may appear to be a very solitary, individualistic exercise, focussed on the self, in fact the internal experience is of being less separated and more connected, not just to people but to the physical world. Sitting still and observing the breath is a strongly physical experience. It is not “all in the mind”.
WATCHFULNESS I have been undecided on what to call this experience and wondered about ‘awakeness’. In the end I’ve decided on watchfulness because it has Christian history in the Philokalic tradition where the writings of the Philokalia are the writings of the neptic ones, the awake, the watchful. Participants typically describe this as being more alert, or even more alive. Occasionally, in the early stages and often with teenagers, there is a feeling of sleepiness, sleep deprivation is a significant problem, but this usually passes.
ABANDONMENT Again, I haven’t been very certain what to call this. Because mindfulness is about noticing things, and particularly noticing thoughts as they arise and as they pass, it increases the ability to let go, to not need to be in control. This is very helpful preparation for abandonment to God.
Over the last year I have been reading and re-reading Augustine’s Confessions, although he is frequently held up as an example of “conversion experience”, notably his experience in the garden when he hears a voice tell him to “tolle, lege“, take up and read the Bible, in fact his experience is really of a long process of conversion through reflection on his own life. Indeed, that is exactly what the Confessions is, an extended meditation on his own life that Augustine hopes will show not himself but his method of coming to faith. It is not surprising therefore that for Augustine, using the human mind as an analogy for the god-head, our threefold experience of memory, understanding and will is one way of perceiving the existence of the Trinity. We are hard-wired for faith, it is in the structure of our minds not just in our thoughts. One homiletic reflection on mission is that people have a need for God that cannot be met in any way other than by knowing God, this is sometimes referred to as a “God-shaped hole” . This blog post has a good discussion on the origins of this phrase. I am not convinced that the phrase is particularly helpful either missionally or in our understanding of how and why people come to faith, I think (contra some of the comments on that blog) that it does not describe Augustine’s experience. It may be that I am simply trying to say kataphatically what “God-shaped hole” is saying apophatically, but I think the effect of saying it in that different way is quite significant. Frankly, if there is a God-shaped hole most people in our societies don’t feel it, or the need to fill it. Rather, it seems to me that people find not a lack of something in mindfulness but a waking up of a very real, positive part of themselves that has been underused, this is a good biblical image too since Jesus reminds us to “stay awake”.
When people experience compassion, connectedness, watchfulness and abandonment, they are experiencing God. In fact I am not convinced of the helpfulness of the distinction made in some spiritual writing between apophatic and kataphatic. John of the Cross’s powerful poem on the Dark Night is notably passionate, and positive in what it says about God. There are two other areas of interest for me which I hope to investigate further. One is the practice of the Cloud’s method of prayer. The slow repetition of a single word. I only began this practice myself a relatively short time ago and have only taught it to groups twice. I need to work further on the teaching of it but I am encouraged that some people reported finding it helpful. The other area is in the teaching of the Jesus Prayer. The form I use myself is “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon me a sinner.” Sometimes I omit the latter two words. If I don’t one or of the participants will say that they find thinking of themselves as a sinner difficult. This too must relate in some way to our difficulties in communicating Christian faith, I would like to think more about that.
Now, I am not claiming that Mindfulness will lead seamlessly to conversion to Trinitarian faith. Clearly it doesn’t. Buddhists have been practising Mindfulness for centuries without embracing Christianity! Mindfulness is not the whole of conversion and solid teaching of Scripture and doctrine is also needed (part 2 of this series on Mission) but it can be a very helpful preparation. Any bookshop will have rows and rows of books on Mindfulness but very little on Christianity. If we avoid Mindfulness we are losing an important tool for mission. When I teach mindfulness practices from the Christian tradition, lectio, Jesus Prayer, the Cloud’s method, a reaction I regularly hear is that participants had no idea that Christianity has such practices. A final difficulty for us is that people who have had profound experiences in Mindfulness practice are often disappointed by the lack of silence and stillness and the sheer busy-ness they find when they go to church.
There is a substantial literature on mission. People study degrees in it and publish learned theses about it. That is not my area of expertise. Although, I have been involved in mission all my life. In parishes and schools, in every context I find myself I have sought to bring people to know Jesus. I do not think we should be running schools unless they are genuinely at the heart of our mission to the nation.
So, this post is an exercise in applying what is the nearest thing to an expertise I’ve got, education, to the subject of mission. In particular a recent publication, Understanding How We Learn, provides an excellent overview on current thinking on learning. I believe there is much that the church, leaders, clergy, Sunday school teachers and others can gain from reading this and applying it in our churches. Finally I will say a little about how I am applying this thinking in my own preaching and teaching in church contexts.
Who is Jesus?
Seems like a good place to start. In the Gospels there are 90 occasions when Jesus is addressed directly with a title. On 60 of those occasions he is addressed as ‘Teacher’. Jesus himself used the term when he said, “You call me Teacher and Lord, and rightly so, for that is what I am” (John 13:13). When Nicodemus came to Jesus by night, he said, “We know that you are a teacher who has come from God” (John 3:2). We know, from Matthew’s gospel that “he taught as one having authority, not as the teachers of the law” (Matthew 7:29). At the end of his gospel Matthew tells us that Jesus commands his disciples “Go into all the world and teach all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19). Jesus’ followers are ‘disciples’, learners. Teaching is a fundamental part of Christian leadership. The traditional explanation of the functions of Jesus in ministry are as ‘prophet, priest and king’, this was probably firstly explicated by Eusebius and then taken up in Reformed churches by Calvin, and, later Wesley. It has found its way into the current Catechism of the Catholic Church at no. 436 “Jesus fulfilled the messianic hope of Israel in his threefold office of priest, prophet and king.”.
It is a shame that the tradition has not enshrined the role of Jesus as teacher as firmly as the roles of prophet, priest and king, but the biblical evidence is enough. Teaching is what Christian leaders do. Discipling people is teaching them, enabling them to learn what it is to be a Christian. When Jesus wanted to do the most profound thing he could to sustain his disciples (learners) through the darkest times, and at all times and in all places, what did he ask them to do? “Do this TO REMEMBER me.” It shouldn’t, therefore come as any surprise to Christians that the best research education shows us that memory is not only the fundamental unit of learning but also of who we are. “Think about how you define yourself,” write Weinstein and Sumeracki in their book Understanding How We Learn, “your very identity is most likely full of things you remember yourself doing.” p. 64 “Everything you do requires memory in some form or another.” p 64 “For brain scientists, there are no other forms of knowledge: everything that is learned is memory.” p.75
We are what we remember. This is not radical. My 86 year old mother has dementia. I don’t know exactly when but at some level we lost her a few years ago. We love her dearly, we do everything we can for her but she is not herself any more because she has lost her memory. Memory is the fundamental existential unit. It is who we are. When we disciple people, we teach them to remember Jesus, not just in some abstract sense but by actually remembering, memorising the words he spoke, the psalms he prayed, the things people said about him. Almost every traditional practice of the spiritual life in the Christian tradition is about getting over our basic forgetfulness. Is about helping us to remember, praying regularly through the day, praying in every moment, helping us not to forget.
Understanding How We Learn, is written by two cognitive scientists. They provide really helpful models for teaching based on this pattern: 1Spacing2 Elaboration3 Concrete Examples4 Visuals5 Retrieval You will, I’m afraid have to read the book – and I recommend it, without reservation, to clergy and other church leaders, to see what exactly is meant by this. I would however draw attention to the fact that the book addresses firstly the tendency we all have to assume that we know what learning is and how to achieve it. After all we have all been in education for many years, in fact though, intuition is the enemy of learning. All of us who teach and preach in church need to re-examine what we do, and work out whether we are delivering, achieving what we think we are. All the evidence suggests that we are not. We need to do something differently.
In my own life I now cringe when I think about some of my earlier classroom practice. I also cringe when I think about my teaching as a priest on Lent courses, bible studies, and in my preaching. What I have been trying to do as the research evidence on effective teaching becomes clearer is to teach knowledge based sermons. Content is all. People should leave knowing more than they did before they arrived. My experience is that evangelicals are much better at this than Catholic Anglicans, but that there is also a danger for evangelicals in becoming all about experience and not about knowledge. At New Wine this summer Ian Paul was, by a long way, the best teacher present, but probably the lowest attended sessions I went to. We live in an experience driven culture. I want to distinguish between preaching and teaching sessions. I have, as anybody who knows me is aware, a deep love of the rhythm and structure of the liturgy. A sermon or homily has a character that is distinctive from a teaching session. But … as those of us who pray the Breviary know the extracts we hear and read daily from the great fathers and teachers of the church in their homilies do not bear much relation to the 3 minute ‘Thought for the Day’ that characterise many of our homilies.
I have come to believe that I need to think of my preaching much more in the way that I thing about learning in schools, Understanding How We Learn, can help inform our preaching and teaching. I suppose, when I was ordained a quarter of a century ago I imagined preaching like a tiny diamond, the smaller, the more perfect, the better. Three minutes, perfectly crafted. I just do not believe any longer that that is sufficient for Christian growth. For most people in church on a Sunday that will be their only Christian teaching of the week. To deliver an effective teaching session on a Sunday morning I now believe that 15 – 20 minutes are needed. This takes me 4-6 hours to prepare. The longer I spend on the preparation the better it is. In that time, didactic as it, intentionally, is, I try and make sure that it is not just me speaking. I often ask questions, I use paired activities, I use white cards that people write on, I ask the whole congregation to repeat prayers and texts after me. If it is a series, which I prefer, I revise material from previous sessions, I describe the map of learning. If I am presiding as well as preaching I will use every opportunity to re-cap the learning, pointing out at the beginning of Mass what I am going to preach on, preaching on it, referring to it again in the intercessions, at the peace or offertory, at the beginning of the Lord’s Prayer, at the silent prayer after communion and even just before the blessing, especially if I have set homework. The content too of my preaching has changed. Doctrine and Scripture provide us more than enough material. Most people in our churches have received minimal if any substantial teaching. The field is open to us. My only question to myself: What have they learnt? My ‘new’ (to me) style of preaching often elicits the comment “Oh, we can tell you are a teacher”. I used to worry about that. Now, I just think that I am grateful to be a follower of Jesus, The Teacher, and if I am described as a teacher that is flattery indeed.
Please read Understanding How We Learn. It is very helpful indeed.
InUnderstanding How We Learn, the authors spend some time showing how our intuitions about learning are often, perhaps usually, wrong. They explain that one of the reasons for this is that almost everyone has many years experience of education before they become teachers and that misunderstandings become habits that it is hard to break. They list a number of common misunderstandings, all of which have been shown to be untrue, and the percentage of teachers and educators who continue to believe them:
There are many cross-overs between the two worlds in which I work, church and education. Partly because so much of what church leaders do is teaching, partly because through our church schools many clergy and others in the church are involved in the life of schools and also because so many clergy are former teachers. I often hear ‘learning styles’ mentioned in church contexts and sometimes manage to bite my tongue and don’t point out the substantial research base proving this misunderstanding to be just that.
The sweep of educational change in the west to ‘child-centred’, progressive, discovery based methods and now the emergence of knowledge-based learning and more didactic styles of teaching are referred to in links and references in the previous posts on mission in this series of posts. I don’t think, that I am yet seeing the move away to knowledge-based, didactic methods much influencing the church so far.
In all of the contexts where I have worked as a priest and teacher I have been struck by the apparent mismatch of Anglican church culture and the needs of children for something that they could take more seriously. The attraction of some young people to Islam and the popularity of the writer Jordan Peterson among white working class men are phenomena that are making me wonder about the need for greater seriousness in our teaching, and living, of the faith. Whenever I take young people to Taizé I can be certain that the biggest impact on them is the seriousness of the brothers, committing themselves for life to this way of living. Many people are deeply critical of the emerging knowledge based, didactive methods of education and often claim that children will be unhappy or less creative as a result. Our intuition is that making things easier, more entertaining is what will make children more successful. In fact, the evidence, and my experience is quite the opposite. In schools like Michaela Community School, or St Martin’s Academy I see children challenged to levels of work that would have been inconceivable 15 years ago. And they love it. There is a seriousness about these schools, but it is a happy, healthy seriousness that is deeply inspiring.
One of the most damaging phrases in schools has been “child-centred education”, first used, I think, in the Plowden Report of 1967 and deriving I suspect, from the “person-centred” counselling of Carl Rogers. I could not disagree more with this model of education. We human beings only make sense when we are God-centred. That’s what worship reminds us of and what we rehearse in worship. The following six areas are ones which I have been developing thoughts around on seriousness if our Mission is to be successful in bringing more people to know Jesus.
Our expectations of what children should learn and know about their faith intellectually should be the same as those now being in schools in equivalent areas of the curriculum. Colouring in, glueing and sticking are not educational activities, they are time-fillers. Our teaching and activities with children need to demand the highest they can give and leave them exhausted with exhilaration at their learning. It needs to be content heavy and involve much repetition and memorisation. At the back of Understanding How We Learn, are sections for Teachers, Parents and Students. These sections would be a great starting place for training sessions with youth leaders and Sunday school teachers. The whole of this methodology applies equally to adults. As should our expectation that they will be as challenged intellectually by what we teach as by anything else in their lives.
Children are natural pray-ers, just as they naturally do all sorts of things. But it often feels like prayer is the only area where we leave them to work things out for themselves. And most don’t. Teaching technologies of prayer, techniques that Christians have developed and used often over centuries is essential. Much memorisation will be involved. There are methods in both the Catholic and Evangelical streams of the church that we could use. Memorisation of the Bible and psalms will be part of this too. Mindfulness is a really good way into this and can begin in the Nursery. I have taught lectiodivina to children from 4-18 years old, not to mention the Jesus Prayer, the Rosary and the Office. This applies equally to adults. People want to be taught how to pray, what the experience of prayer will be like and what they should expect to experience in prayer.
Many children and young people like to belong to things, to join, to wear a badge or a uniform. As a Secondary Head teacher I used badges all the time, to communicate key messages and to reward achievement. Adults mocked when I told them that we were introducing coloured, ranked academic gowns of pupil leaders. But the children loved them, longed to wear them and were mortified if they were “de-gowned” for a period for any reason. Sometimes exclusiveness is as important as inclusion. It is hugely encouraging to see Rules of Life, new expressions of community and other ways of belonging springing up in the church.
Far too much direction is actually non-directive person-centred counselling. The Director who will not name sin, or point out the danger of the opportunities for sin is dangerous to souls. But so is the one who won’t push the directee further, to demand more, to question motives and point out patterns of behaviour. Much of the current literature on direction is lamentable, weak on theology, and low in its expectations for spiritual growth and change. There is an unhealthy mystique about Spiritual Direction, mystical experiences are not necessary. Anyone seriously living a Christian life is capable of helping others to do so.
Mixing with Pentecostal Christians and Muslims made me ashamed of my weak efforts at fasting. This is such a biblical spiritual discipline, tied so closely to prayer throughout the Bible that our failure to fast must surely be a substantial part of our failure in mission.
Everydayness of prayer and Eucharist
One of the reasons sometimes given for our failures in mission is that children, young people and families are so busy with other hobbies and interests. I am not entirely sure this is true. But if we ourselves act as if our faith is one more leisure choice among many then it will appear that way. From a Catholic-Anglican perspective the importance of the daily Mass, seven days a week, was fundamental to slum ministry. Few of our churches now maintain this. Even where they do the Mass is at times that only the retired or unemployed could attend. When I was at St Andrew’s, Earlsfield, I started a 6:30am Mass on weekdays before I went to school. I was told by some that no one would come. I never celebrated alone. Again, for Catholic Anglicans the Daily Office, seven days a week, for many seven times a day, was at the heart of their ministry. If we think we are too ‘busy’, it is simply because we have lost control of our diaries.
“Young people want more commitment not less.” Wrote the Bishop of Chelmsford (my former pastoral tutor at Theological College). It feels counter intuitive, it is. In education intuition has not served us well. Perhaps we need to be less intuitive in our church life too. The easier we make it, the less important, the less significant it looks. If that is the case why bother?
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.
This is an update of a form of martyrology I posted some time ago. It is traditional to read the martyrology liturgically each day. This text is ecumenical but designed particularly for use in the four Anglican Churches of the British Isles.
Additional entries from the online martyrology of the Bose community have been used. I would have liked to include (as does the Bose Martyrology) the celebrations of other faith communities, however as these are movable (based often on lunar calendars) that is not easy to do. An online inter-faith calendar could be consulted to add to this martyrology. I would like to add more Celtic and Saxon saints and am working on that. Often it is hard to distinguish between saints with the same name or the same saint with alternative dates for commemoration. Other Sources:For All The Saints – A Calendar of Commemorations for United Methodists, ed. Clifton F. Guthrie, Order of St Luke Publications, Akron, Ohio, 1995. A Calendar of British Saints – Orthodox Synaxarion, Fr Benedict Haigh, Bluestone Books, 2004 Ordo of the Community of the Servants of the Will of God Saints of the Roman Missal, J Michael Thompson, Ligouri, 2012 People’s Companion to the Breviary, The Carmelites of Indianapolis, 1997, Volumes 1 and 2 Troparia and Kondakia, New Skete, 1984 Holy Women, Holy Men, Church Publishing, 2010, in the online edition available in May 2018. Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals, ed Shane Claiburne et al, Zondervan, 2010 Blessed Among Us, ed. Robert Ellsberg, Liturgical Press, 2016 New Book of Festivals and Commemorations [Lutheran], Philip F. Pfatteicher, Fortress Press, 2008 Carmelite Propers for the Liturgy of the Hours, http://carmelcanada.org/liturgy/office.pdf Dominican Propers for the Liturgy of the Hours, http://opcentral.org/resources/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/Supplement.pdf Propers for Congregations Dedicated to the Precious Blood of Christ Finally, some dates of significance have been added to the entries.
Because non- Christians (eg Gandhi) have been included the phrase “people of good will” has been added to the usual conclusion of the reading of the martyrology. Events which are entered and are not people should be read at the beginning of the reading of the martryology when announcing the liturgical day. In adding to the base text used consideration has been given to the length of the reading for the whole day, so some of the many saints mentioned in that have been removed; and to ensuring the presence of more Anglican, women, married, and non-European entries. The original text included many nineteenth century saints and founders of religious communities these have largely been removed. This martyrology naturally reflects my own interests and prejudices. To reduce the length of the reading of the martyrology readings may be alternated in a two year cycle, first and third etc entry in Year 1 and so on. Obviously any entry that is going to be observed liturgically ought to be used.
The reading of the martyrology traditionally occurred at the end of Prime, with the reading for the following day being read. In reading the martyrology in Latin the day in the lunar cycle was also announced. I don’t know any communities who do this in English. The martyrology may be read at the end of a daytime hour, before Compline or separately. For those praying only Morning and Evening Prayer it might helpfully occur after Evening Prayer for the following day.
Reading The Martyrology in the Daily Office
The Martyrology for the nth day of X the year of Our Lord 20XX.
The liturgical day is then given, eg. Monday in the eighth week after Trinity, or the first entry in the martyrology if that supersedes it.]Other events at the top of the day’s entry are also read. Any entry that is to be observed liturgically is mentioned first.
After the Reading from the martyrology:
And elsewhere, many other holy women and holy men, saints of the Most High God and people of good will.
V. Precious in the eyes of the Lord. (Alleluia.)
R. Is the death of the faithful. (Alleluia.)
Let us pray. May holy Mary and all the saints pray for us to the Lord, that we may obtain from Him, help and salvation, who lives and reigns for ever and ever. Amen.
For those who pray Terce, Sext and None daily (as suggested on page 20 of Common Worship Daily Prayer) there is a need to supplement the provision of readings for these additional Little Hours. I suggest in Ordinary Time that the four week cycle at Prayer During the Day is divided to become a two week cycle providing readings for two Hours and that the very short reading is used at the third Hour. In the seasons the weekly cycle and the very short reading provide for two Hours, a sentence from the Gospel for the day could be used at the third Hour.
On saints days the Little Hours are of the feria on memorias/Lesser festivals; on Festivals and Principal Feasts readings are needed which the table provided here gives references to in the rather rich provision available in CWDP. Three of the longer readings are suggested for each Common and one of the short readings. The first number, in bold, is a page reference to CWDP. Readings for the LH CWDP
I met her at the New Wine Leaders’ Conference in Harrogate in 2017. We got on straight away, after she told me there was no doubting that the friend and colleague I was with was my son, “You have the same smile!” (sorry Dave, although technically possible, I suppose … ). We have kept in touch ever since although we were at different weeks of New Wine United in the summer. We communicate about prayer (and books, sometimes, books on prayer). She has changed her routine to get up earlier and have time with the Lord in the early morning. It has taken about three months to change sleeping habits to feel really comfortable with this. But it still feels like something is missing she tells me. “I have a great prayer time in the morning, I listen, and sing along to worship songs, I pray in tongues I read my Bible on a Bible in a Year plan. But then when I get to work I am just as crotchety and irritable as ever.”
St Paul tells us to “pray constantly”(1 Thess. 5: 17), continually, without ceasing. Easier said than done. There are three techniques that I think can really help this. I have written much about them here on this blog, I won’t put links here, you can search the blog below. Briefly on two of them:
Mindfulness: two elements turn mindfulness practice into prayer. One is recognising that the breath, our breathing is God’s Holy Breath, pneuma, breathing in us. The second is awareness of God’s presence when we achieve stillness, “Be still and know that I am God.” (Ps 46:10). Amazingly, it is possible to have this sense of the presence of God whatever you are doing and however busy you are.
Jesus Prayer: when this prayer becomes part of us, when it prays itself in us we can pray constantly, at all times. Again, it doesn’t matter how busy or preoccupied we are, if we allow it the prayer will rise. It is however, another technique that the Tradition gives us that I want to draw attention to here. The practice of extending the Daily Office across the day by praying short little Offices or Hours, during the course of the day. Punctuating the day with prayer.
Since I first wrote about praying the Little Hours my own practice has moved on a little as has that of some of those I accompany. I have also been struck by how this tradition of praying a sevenfold Office has emerged in two recently published books. The historian Eamon Duffy has published a collection of essays Royal Books and Holy Bones – Essays in Medieval Christianity (Bloomsbury 2018) which includes an excellent essay on The Psalms and Lay Piety. Like all of Duffy’s writing it is accessible and readable. There has been much research on the medieval Primers, collections of prayers for the laity. They are usually very liturgically based books and and always contain a good deal of psalmody. Often psalmody for use at the Little Hours – Terce, Sext and None – used to punctuate the day with prayer. Despite churches of the Reformation removing Little Hours from their official liturgies, and the Roman Catholic Church only mandating clergy to pray one Daytime Hour since the early seventies, there is a remarkable hunger for these Hours. They just won’t go away because they meet a need.
As an example the unofficial Lutheran Office Book, The Daily Prayer of the Church, edited by Pastor Philip Pfatteicher (Lutheran University Press, 2005) includes forms for Terce, Sext and None, as well as an alternative single Daytime Hour. For each section of the Daily Office lectionary of the BCP 1979 it includes a short extract which could be used as the reading at these little Hours to extend the prayer into the day, an ingenious idea. It is an excellent book containing a rich resource of hymnody for the Office from the Lutheran tradition. The two recent books I recommend are:
The first is from The Episcopal Church in the United States but has been published in England with a preface by the former bishop of Oxford, John Pritchard. Daily Prayer for All Seasons – A contemporary Benedictine prayer companion (Canterbury Press, 2016). (DPFAS). Fr Christopher Woods reviewed this for the Church Times, here. Derek Olsen of St Bede’s Publications writes a somewhat harsh review here from a liturgical purists point of view. He is right on almost every substantive point but wrong about the helpfulness of the book. DPFAS is not a liturgical book, it is a devotional prayer book which uses liturgical structures, seasonal, weekly and daily, to provide a framework for prayer. For each day eight sets of prayers are provided, one for each of the canonical Hours (Prime, Lauds, Terce, Sext, None, Vespers, Compline, Vigils), each provided with a an overarching theme used in every season:
Prime – Praise
Lauds – Discernment
Terce – Wisdom
Sext – Perseverance and Renewal
None – Love
Vespers – Forgiveness
Compline – Trust
Vigils – Watch
A set of prayers is provided for each Season of the church’s year and two sets for Ordinary Time. The prayers are designed for private use at Prime and Vigils but corporate use at the other Hours. Here are two examples of provision, the first in Advent and the second in Eastertime. I think this would make an excellent resource for punctuating the day with prayer, for drawing from the liturgical tradition but doing so in a somewhat more devotional way. I have recommended it to several people and so far have had very positive feedback.
The second recommendation is a book edited by Sister Stan, a Sister of Charity in Ireland who is something of a star. It is a beautifully crafted book, published by Columba Press. Awakening Inner Peace provides a four week cycle of little offices for each of the eight canonical hours for every day. There is no seasonal material. The short but helpful introduction also provides suggestions for using particular hours at various points in life or in need.
For each ‘Hour’ there is a verse or two of psalmody, a very short meditation in poetic form and a final verse of intention. The shortness of these Hours would provide a momentary pause in the working day or on retreat, the meditations are simple but profound. Here are two example pages.
Even the traditional forms of the Little Hours take only a few minutes. These devotional forms even less. Breaking the day for these prayer pauses asserts the fact that there is something more significant than what we have to do, or the demands of the diary. It asserts our control over our diaries and over our busy-ness and the sovereignty of God in our lives. We cannot say “Jesus is Lord” and then ignore him from morning til evening. Busyness is just a state of mind. It is about choices we make. We could all of us fill our days many times over. Praying the Hours can help us reduce stress and anxiety by reminding us of what is important and also by giving us an ‘Office’ that is completed at the end of the day. Many of us do jobs that are never really finished. Finishing, completing the Office can be immensely satisfying.
The Daily Office is often said to be about sanctifying time. The interesting thing for me in my present job is that it is also about sanctifying place. I have prayed the Little Hours in car parks, shopping centres, garden centres, empty offices in schools, town halls, the diocesan office, across the diocese of Liverpool and on trains and in my car. If these books don’t appeal, and the structure of the traditional offices seems too much, just pray your way through Psalm 119 a section at a time. This is what Christians have done for much of Christian history. My New Wine friend has only just begun this practice but already she has messaged me several times to say that her day feels so much better, so much more fully offered to the Lord.
At Plum Village, the Buddhist monastery founded by Vietnamese teacher Thich Nhat Hahn, when a clock strikes or a gong sounds, everyone stops, breathes deeply and remembers a brief gatha or mindfulness verse:
“Listen, listen,this wonderful bell
brings me back to my true self.”
We human beings are forgetful, half-asleep creatures. Mindfulness is nothing more than waking up, becoming attentive and aware. You can download a mindfulness bell to sound on your computer. I used to have it ringing in my office when I was a Headteacher, an old fashioned chiming clock can serve the same purpose. Stop and breathe deeply three times. The Christian tradition, too, has many ways to remind us to stay awake. One of these is the Liturgy of the Hours. For some people, two longish liturgies a day, in the morning and evening, are sufficient, as in the Book of Common Prayer.
For some of us, however, little and often is best. One way many Anglicans have found to pray, in this little-and-often sort of way, is through the ‘Little Hours’ of the Daily Office: Terce, Sext and None, at the third, sixth and ninth hours of the day. One of the Anglican books used for this, for many decades was the Monastic Diurnal, a translation of the Latin Benedictine Office, produced in 1933, and edited by Canon Winfred Douglas. Writing in the Preface to The Monastic Diurnal he said:
“The Monastic Office was planned from the first for busy men [sic] … for our frequently overburdened parochial Clergy, it is an ideal Office because it combines great variety with comparative brevity.”
(Monastic Diurnal, OUP, 1933 v-vi).
From the very beginning of the separation of the church in England from Rome, many people have supplemented the Offices of the Prayer Book with liturgical devotions at other times of the day. In 1627 John Cosin (later Bishop of Durham), then just thirty years of old, published his Collection of Private Devotions for The Hours of Prayer. It is a beautiful combination of Prayer Book liturgy and language, providing forms of prayer for Prime, Terce, Sext, None and Compline, translated from traditional sources, as well as many other prayers and devotions.
We know too that the community at Little Gidding prayed the psalms throughout the course of the day. There were, no doubt, many other examples of the punctuation of the day with psalmody (see Anglican Devotion, C.J. Stranks, SCM 1961, for the period from the Reformation to the Oxford Movement). The Catholic Revival of the nineteenth century continued this tradition. Many clergy prayed the Western Office in Latin, but soon books of Hours appeared to enable the traditional canonical hours to be prayed in English, using the texts and Calendar of the Prayer Book, and usually providing for the Little Hours to be prayed alongside the Prayer Book Offices of Matins and Evensong. Versions of these books are so numerous that it would be a long list if it was reproduced here. Two traditions predominated among Anglo-Catholics: the monastic version of the Office, as in Canon Douglas’s book, and more popularly, translations of the traditional western Office (before the 1911 reform) which made provision for the recitation of Psalm 119 over the course of each day at the Little Hours. These Offices found their way into the Cuddesdon Office Book and the very popular Prime and Hours and The Priest‘s Book of Private Devotion and are recommended in Fr Whatton’s magnificent The Priest’s Companion. For the laity they appeared, in simplified form, in A Manual of Catholic Devotion.
It was the reforms of the Second Vatican Council that reduced the normal Office to a fivefold form, with a single daytime Hour, and Prime removed. However, The Divine Office, the current western (Roman) rite does make provision for Terce and None. Even now, some people use the old books, including The Anglican Breviary (a translation into Prayer Book English of the post-1911 Breviary) to pray a sevenfold, or even eightfold, Office.
I often hear the claim that a Catholic renewal in our Church is not a management issue but a spiritual one. I believe that all renewal needs good management. St. Paul was highly efficient.
Next week, when I am at the New Wine Leaders’ Conference I have no doubt that I shall be part of something that is superbly managed. When Anglican Catholicism was at its strength it was a serious enterprise. Fasting, as Newman and Pusey recognised, was an essential part of the spiritual life. The praying at regular intervals during the day was the foundation of the energy and mission of countless heroic priests and laypeople. It seems unlikely to me that spiritual renewal will come unless we too embrace these disciplines, as our predecessors did, joyfully.
Like many Catholic Anglicans I have been praying the five-fold Divine Office for almost all of my adult life. Using it as a supplement to Common Worship. In 2014 I added Terce, using Psalm 119 over a week, to end the quiet desk time after my morning prayers and before the workday begins. In Eastertide 2016 I added None to the daily round and in September 2016 a brief Office of Prime. I do so using Psalm 119 to link myself to Catholic and Anglican tradition. I recently put together a little card to tuck into my Breviary with some simple music and the distribution of the psalms. Common Worship: Daily Prayer also refers to the Little Hours and they could easily be prayed using it. Here are the cards:
(Music for the opening verses is from Abbot Alan Rees OSB)Word version here. (You will need to install the St Meinrad fonts to read the music, available here)PDF here.
Psalm 119 arranged for praying over a week at Terce (or any other Hour) here, in the Grail translation.
The obligation to pray Morning and Evening Prayer is a serious one for Anglican clergy, and they should not be omitted except for a substantial reason. I find it deeply moving on my travels as Superior of the Sodality, and in the diocese of Liverpool as Director of Education, to pray with my sister and brother priests and to know they are praying day by day. Some people choose to add to the basic obligation the praying of the Office of Readings, Daytime and Night Prayer. This is a personal choice, so not of obligation. Just as with fasting, there is always a danger of scrupulosity or adding these devotions as ego-centred ‘works’, this is why a Spiritual Director is so important. We must never forget that we are freely saved and can never merit the salvation Jesus brings – we don’t have to, and can’t, earn it. However, if done lovingly and freely, like a lover who wishes to phone his beloved during the day, not once but many times, or when in the beloved’s presence can hardly resist their touch, this can be a beautiful way of enjoying the divine Presence throughout the day. It is not just a cure for forgetfulness, but a satisfying of the desire and need to be with God intensely.
Just as with fasting there is the suggestion that somehow modern people are not quite up to praying so often. That we are too busy, our lifestyles too full. I am not at all sure about this. I particularly object to the use of the word busy. I think we need to think more carefully about how we use, and control the use of our time. Surfing the web, watching TV, even listening to the news can suck up time. We could all fill our days many times over, but we can, mostly, choose the things that we want to do. Why not choose to spend a few extra minutes with God? If prayed quickly each Office can be said in three or four minutes, it would be hard to make them last longer than ten. Today, for example, I prayed Terce sat in my car on a street in St Helens, Sext on the same street, after the meeting I was attending and None, outside the school I was due to visit in Garston in Liverpool, a little later. These are, for me, refreshing pauses, Psalm 119 a gentle brook, gently gurgling its way through my day and renewing me.
“Happy indeed is the man … whose delight is in the law of the Lord and who ponders his law day and night. He is like a tree that is planted beside the flowing waters.” (Ps 1)
The Little Hours are little mindfulness bells, reminding us of the great story of salvation told in Scripture, but they are also a loving touch in the working day with the One who made us and loves us. As Fr Jonathan Graham CR wrote,
“Psalm 119 is a love song.Not a passionate love song; certainly not.It is not the song of love at first sight,nor of the bitter sweet of emotion and desire.It is the song of happy married life.That is not to say that it is, literally, the song of a poet happily wedded; but it breathes all the way through the charmed monotony of a life vowed to another;it repeats with endless variety and sweet restraintthe simple inexpressible truth that can never grow weary or stale– I love thee. Thou, thee, thine;every verse of the poem, except the three which introduce it,contains thou, thee or thine.And a very large number of them echo: I, me, mine.Well might its author find the sum total of his song in the high priestly prayer of Jesus:All mine are thine and thine are mine.”
Serious? Well, yes, but joyful, light and energising, if prayed freely and as a free gift to Him.
Every day I publish a daily gospel tweet #todaysgospel, on the gospel of the daily Mass / Daily Eucharistic Lectionary, a tweet length distillation of my daily lectio.
Several people have asked me how I do this form of prayer. Lectio is simply the Latin word for reading, in this context it is short for lectio divina, the sacred reading that is the traditional way of chewing on, and digesting, Scripture. Here is a very good paper from a Carmelite author on lectio. The Wikipedia article is also good.
As part of my lectio I use the prayers on this card.
The table indicates the four traditional phases, each column is one writer’s interpretation of the traditional stages. (Unfortunately I haven’t kept a record of whose they are – apologies to the originators.) The Collect is usually attributed to St Jerome.
I reckon forty minutes is about ideal for working with one piece of Scripture. About ten minutes for each stage. I find it difficult to find 40 minutes in one go and so have developed a way of dividing up the phases into just before going to bed and when I get up. At weekends I am more likely to be able to find the time to work with a reading in one sitting. I can’t say I prefer one way to the other, they are just different.
Before I say Compline, the final prayers of the day, just before bed, I read the Gospel for the following day, I then do the lectio stage. I may consult a commentary or two, probably look at the Greek text. I often see if one phrase stands out and, if it does, write that on a card that I will put on my bedside table and then carry with me the following day. At the end of Compline after the anthem to Our Lady I read the Gospel out loud, often from the Nick King translation of the NT. I then do the meditatio phase, almost Ignatian in my approach, imagining the scene (‘composition’ as Ignatius would say). I imagine or hear Jesus speaking to me. I try and picture the scene in all its detail, temperature, smells, sounds, light. And then go to bed. It is wonderful to have heard the Lord in this way just before sleeping.
In the morning the card will be the first thing I see, with two cups of tea I will do the oratio stage of the lectio, the praying. I talk to Jesus about the passage. At this stage I may write a draft version of the tweet, which is often addressed to Jesus. It is Jesus that I feel very much with me as I do this. Perhaps if I used texts other than the gospels it would feel differently. Next I read the Gospel again, out loud, usually in the original Greek, which means I need to read it slowly. I pray the Office out loud whenever I can which seems much better to me. I then have the contemplatio phase, the just dwelling with the Scripture. Not so much thinking about it as dwelling in it, or it dwelling in me. I don’t expect any particular outcome. I often read the gospel in another language, Latin (which I know best), French or German. This reading really slows me down. I will carry the card around with me during the day, if I am driving putting it where I can see it.
At Mid-day prayer I, again, use the same text as the reading. After the Office at Mid-day I pray the Ignatian Examen and find the gospel passage often informs that. One of the re-discoveries we are making in education is the absolute importance of repetition and memorisation. Repeating the same reading five times (including Mass) in one day, out loud, as well as silent praying of it really helps the reading sink deep in me and fixes it in my mind. Chewing on the passage at length like this is really rewarding, whether it produces good milk is for others to judge and to be seen, or not, in my life. But as a way of praying I recommend it.
I am really grateful for the positive comments on the tweets and will continue them. It helps me to have to reduce the thoughts to something succinct. Scripture is an endless mine, I hope even these little fragments are worthy of it. It is a great joy to think of those same readings (in the Daily Eucharistic / Mass Lectionary) being chewed on around the world.
“it is the missional problem of our time that needs most thought and reflection and most occupies my mind. Our failure to evangelise, to communicate the gospel, particularly to the young, and the decline of the church. I have a series of posts planned that will address this problem in four key areas for further investigation:
1 Mindfulness for Mission: there is no God-shaped hole
2 Learning for Mission: it’s all about memory
3 Seriousness for Mission: the easier we make it the less attractive it is
4 Morality for Mission: why people think the church is immoral”
Some time in 1989/90 I was due to meet the then Bishop of Winchester at Wolvesey, his home next to the Cathedral, having been recommended for training for ordination. As I walked across the Cathedral green coming towards me were monks and nuns from the Theravadan Buddhist community at Chithurst. I knew them well having made several retreats there, and it seemed like a good sign to see them as they began a lengthy walking pilgrimage.
I can’t remember when I first became interested in meditation, or indeed started meditating. It may have been reading Thomas Merton as a fourteen year old, or perhaps it was talking to Fr Peter Bowe at nearby Douai Abbey? Either way I am glad that right at the beginning of my preparation for ministry as a priest that important thread was present. I would never have guessed then how significant the teaching of what is now almost universally called “Mindfulness” would be in my life.
It is easy to sneer or at least feel an inner rolling of the eyes in church or other circles when Mindfulness is mentioned. “Religion-lite” or “just another fad” are phrases I’ve heard. But I am always impressed with the seriousness which participants bring to the training. Formal meditation of this sort is a fundamental part of my life. I have taught it in all the schools I’ve worked in with four to eighteen year olds and with colleagues. It was an essential part of school improvement as a Head teacher and I have taught Mindfulness in parishes, on pilgrimages and on retreats. I can’t possibly meet the demand from across the country for this teaching. I am interested in this and in how this relates to mission. Does mindfulness lead to people meeting Jesus?
The simple answer is yes, I have seen it happen. It does this in a number of ways.
In the last few years I have developed a two stage process in mindfulness training. In the first stage of four sessions I teach practices which could be used by anyone, regardless of faith or belief, I use no specifically Christian language or imagery and I make clear that the results will be a reduction in stress, relaxation and greater clarity, although meditating to get these results is unhelpful. I then offer additional sessions on specifically Christian forms of meditation, lectio, the Jesus Prayer and recently I’ve added the technique of the Cloud of Unknowing.
Interestingly, the expectation is always made clear when these sessions stretch over a number of weeks that some people will not want to attend the explicitly Christian sessions. Usually a few people will tell me at the first session that they are not going to. But what actually happens is that on every occasion, so far, everybody does attend all the sessions. Happily, as a result of doing so, some individuals over the years have begun attending church and have come to faith.
I have come to believe – and it really is only from my conversations with participants – that there is something about the experience of meditation that prepares people for faith. Over the next year I hope to use feedback forms to get a clearer picture of this, but my working hypothesis is that mindfulness leads to these four experiences all of which are good foundations for faith:
1 – compassion
2 – connectedness
3 – watchfulness
4 – abandonment
When people sit still, observe their breathing, notice their thoughts coming and going they always experience something close to a feeling of love. They feel more loving and more loved. Although, very occasionally distressing thoughts and memories do arise this is really quite rare and even then it is within a larger experience of love.
Although mindfulness may appear to be a very solitary, individualistic exercise, focussed on the self, in fact the internal experience is of being less separated and more connected, not just to people but to the physical world. Sitting still and observing the breath is a strongly physical experience. It is not “all in the mind”.
I have been undecided on what to call this experience and wondered about ‘awakeness’. In the end I’ve decided on watchfulness because it has Christian history in the Philokalic tradition where the writings of the Philokalia are the writings of the neptic ones, the awake, the watchful. Participants typically describe this as being more alert, or even more alive. Occasionally, in the early stages and often with teenagers, there is a feeling of sleepiness, sleep deprivation is a significant problem, but this usually passes.
Again, I haven’t been very certain what to call this. Because mindfulness is about noticing things, and particularly noticing thoughts as they arise and as they pass, it increases the ability to let go, to not need to be in control. This is very helpful preparation for abandonment to God.
Over the last year I have been reading and re-reading Augustine’s Confessions, although he is frequently held up as an example of “conversion experience”, notably his experience in the garden when he hears a voice tell him to “tolle, lege“, take up and read the Bible, in fact his experience is really of a long process of conversion through reflection on his own life. Indeed, that is exactly what the Confessions is, an extended meditation on his own life that Augustine hopes will show not himself but his method of coming to faith. It is not surprising therefore that for Augustine, using the human mind as an analogy for the god-head, our threefold experience of memory, understanding and will is one way of perceiving the existence of the Trinity. We are hard-wired for faith, it is in the structure of our minds not just in our thoughts.
One homiletic reflection on mission is that people have a need for God that cannot be met in any way other than by knowing God, this is sometimes referred to as a “God-shaped hole” . This blog post has a good discussion on the origins of this phrase. I am not convinced that the phrase is particularly helpful either missionally or in our understanding of how and why people come to faith, I think (contra some of the comments on that blog) that it does not describe Augustine’s experience. It may be that I am simply trying to say kataphatically what “God-shaped hole” is saying apophatically, but I think the effect of saying it in that different way is quite significant.
Frankly, if there is a God-shaped hole most people in our societies don’t feel it, or the need to fill it. Rather, it seems to me that people find not a lack of something in mindfulness but a waking up of a very real, positive part of themselves that has been underused, this is a good biblical image too since Jesus reminds us to “stay awake”. When people experience compassion, connectedness, watchfulness and abandonment, they are experiencing God.
In fact I am not convinced of the helpfulness of the distinction made in some spiritual writing between apophatic and kataphatic. John of the Cross’s powerful poem on the Dark Night is notably passionate, and positive in what it says about God.
There are two other areas of interest for me which I hope to investigate further. One is the practice of the Cloud’s method of prayer. The slow repetition of a single word. I only began this practice myself a relatively short time ago and have only taught it to groups twice. I need to work further on the teaching of it but I am encouraged that some people reported finding it helpful.
The other area is in the teaching of the Jesus Prayer. The form I use myself is “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon me a sinner.” Sometimes I omit the latter two words. If I don’t one or of the participants will say that they find thinking of themselves as a sinner difficult. This too must relate in some way to our difficulties in communicating Christian faith, I would like to think more about that.
Now, I am not claiming that Mindfulness will lead seamlessly to conversion to Trinitarian faith. Clearly it doesn’t. Buddhists have been practising Mindfulness for centuries without embracing Christianity!
Mindfulness is not the whole of conversion and solid teaching of Scripture and doctrine is also needed (part 2 of this series on Mission) but it can be a very helpful preparation. Any bookshop will have rows and rows of books on Mindfulness but very little on Christianity. If we avoid Mindfulness we are losing an important tool for mission. When I teach mindfulness practices from the Christian tradition, lectio, Jesus Prayer, the Cloud’s method, a reaction I regularly hear is that participants had no idea that Christianity has such practices.
A final difficulty for us is that people who have had profound experiences in Mindfulness practice are often disappointed by the lack of silence and stillness and the sheer busy-ness they find when they go to church.