New liturgical year: shall I try the SSH Office Book and the 1961 lectionary?

New Years are a good time for new starts. I’ve been at Christ Church for fifteen interesting months. I am really grateful for those who support us in prayer. Thank you. It is prayer, of course, that makes all things possible. I love praying in the Cathedral. Our morning pattern is just perfect. This morning there were just two of us canons in the Latin Chapel for the Office and then at the Lady Chapel for Mass. Committing everything and all our difficulttes and joys to the Lord as the community founded by St Frideswide, the Augustinian Canons after that and the cathedral Chapter for five hundred years have been doing. Pressing in to this stream of prayer is not difficult, it carries me and us, it is pure gift.

The public worship is a mixed package, Common Worship in the morning, Prayer Book with pillar lectionary in the evening. Around this it’s important to have a consistent pattern of prayer and Scripture reading. I’ve been using CW texts for a Vigil Office (with the two year lectionary for the Office of Readings) and the Little Hours. As the new liturgical year beckons I am wondering about moving to Prayer Book texts, using Prime and Hours for the Little Hours and at Vigils the psalms of the day in the Prayer Book for two nocturns. I think I might use the St Stephen’s House Office Book for this with its hymns, Collects and antiphons. Could I use the 1961 lectionary (the best Anglican Office lectionary in my view)? Perhaps the MP readings fat Vigils and the non-Gospel NT reading at Sext, the Gospel reading at the end of Compline and for daily lectio? I have 24 hours to decide. I’ll let you know.

Sermon: Launching the Movement for the Abolition of the Feast of Christ the King

Sermon

Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford

Fr Richard Peers SMMS – Christ the King 2021

Hopefully,  the Precentor and my fellow canons will forgive me for being a little controversial this morning.

Controversy entirely driven, I should say, by the gospel we have just heard.

I am thinking of establishing a new campaign group in the Church of England:

The Movement for the Abolition of the Feast of Christ the King.

Actually, the Church of England really doesn’t need any more campaign groups, and this one might be a rather niche, one member group, also MAFCK isn’t an altogether memorable acronym.

However, to say I have reservations about today’s feast would be something of an understatement. It is, in my view, a mistake. It is problematic and should be abolished.

Even the Roman Catholic Church only invented this feast of Christ the King in1925. It was added to the Church of England’s calendar in the 1990s.

I can see how it happened. Today is the last Sunday of the liturgical year. Making this a grand festival has a theatrical neatness about it; this is the finale, the show stopper! Better a bang than a whimper. 

But actually I think a whimper is exactly how we should end the liturgical year to be ready for the great longing of Advent that is to begin next Sunday.

The Church of England has also tried to tie together the whole of November,  All Saints, the dead, and Remembrance. Kingdom is a convenient tie for that. 

Although I think there is a good deal of difference between the kingdom of justice love and peace and this glorification of Christ as king.

The Book of Common Prayer has the beautiful ‘stir up’ Collect for the Sunday before Advent, in place of an epistle Jeremiah reminding his hearers that ‘the days come’ and John’s account of the feeding of the five thousand – all of which segues much more neatly into Advent than our current grandeur.

The fundamental problem as I see it is really that the Bible is actually just so much more ambiguous about kingship than today’s feast would suggest.

As is Jesus.

Just look at today’s gospel. Jesus certainly doesn’t call himself a ‘king’. The furthest he will go is “You say that I am a king”. When we make such a deal out of Jesus as King we are much more like Pontius Pilate than we really might like to be.

St John in his gospel has carefully woven together a complex picture of who Jesus is. So it seems a shame to mis-use his gospel to claim a title for Jesus that neither St John nor Jesus himself actually claims.

Seven times in his gospel Jesus uses the powerful phrase I am. Ego eimi. Claiming for himself that revelation of God at the burning bush in Exodus: I Am Who I Am

These are seven mighty statements in which Jesus edges right up to claiming his own divinity. And being a king is not among them.

These are the sayings, and we would do well to know them off by heart.

I Am, Jesus says:

the bread of life

the light of the world

the door

the Good Shepherd

the resurrection

the way the truth and the life

the true vine.

This is how Jesus wants us to understand him and know him.

Jesus does of course talk about the kingdom of God (in Luke) and the kingdom of heaven (in Matthew).  I wonder if there is some Trinitarian confusion here, if Jesus is the king of this kingdom who or what is God the Father?

When this feast was invented liturgical texts had to be found. The feast of the Ascension was heavily mined as you can see in the Collect chosen for today by the compilers of our own Common Worship.

But, it seems to me, this entirely undermines the meaning of the Ascension.

The Ascension is an historical fact for Christians, in which Jesus does not get levitated to some heavenly throne room and crowned king of heaven. Rather it fundamentally illustrates that our human flesh, our very bodies are incorporated into the divine nature. Essential if we are also to believe and understand the resurrection of the dead, not as disembodied souls dwelling in eternity but a real resurrection of real bodies.

Perhaps this is what is wrong with today’s feast: it is an abstract concept, not a moment or person in history. It is the only abstract concept celebrated in our Anglican Calendars. As such it is clearly an alien intrusion.

Let me be clear that I do not object to the feast on the basis of some Guardian reading dislike of monarchy. Far from it. I am devoted to our Queen and can’t see any system of leadership for a nation that would improve on what we have.

Nor do I think that we are called to any less than obedience and submission to God and to recognise Jesus as the ultimate authority in our lives. But this is Jesus who is glorified on the cross, who calls us his friends not servants (John 15:15). We are called not to be subjects in the Kingdom of God but fellow citizens with the saints (Ephesians 2:19).

Let’s look at the biblical evidence. Jesus is not called the king or a king directly in any places other than in front of Pilate by him, and, ironically, on the sign Pilate directs to be placed on the cross.

In the remainder of the New Testament there are a mere three other possible direct references at 1 Timothy 6:15 where Jesus is called the king of those who are kings and in Revelation 17:14 and 19:16 . So a mere three examples. Compare that to the number of occasions when Jesus is called ‘Teacher’ in the gospels, 45 times.

let’s have a feast of Christ the Teacher … no, I’m not serious.

We have to admit that the Bible is very ambiguous about monarchs.

Most of Hebrew Scripture was written or compiled when there were no kings in Israel. And it certainly appears to be the case that allowing Israel to have kings rather than judges was a grudging concession of a kind God. God had rejected Moses’ call for a monarch and it is only Samuel who anoints Saul and then David as king.

Even the ideal king, David, is a somewhat ambiguous figure, to say the least. Just ask Bathsheba or even more her husband (cf 2 Sam 11).

As so often I think the psalms can help us understand the problem with today’s feast and set it into a larger context.

The compilers of the book of psalms took great care when they put together the texts they had in front of them. Many of them are what contemporary scholars call Royal Psalms, some of them seem to be ancient Hymns for the Enthronement of a King. But the editors choose to always balance the royal psalms with wisdom and Torah psalms and they begin the psalter not with a great clang of monarchy but with a quiet, reflective psalm on the Torah. Like the editors of any book they set their stall out right at the start.

While I am more than happy to accept, as an article of faith, that the messianic psalms refer to Jesus, it is clear that the Enthronment, many of the royal and the great creation psalms which refer to a king are talking about God the Creator and Sovereign of the universe. God the Father, or God the holy Trinity, not Jesus alone.

And when Jesus describes himself as ‘the way the truth and the life’ he is directly referring to the longest psalm in the psalter, Psalm 119 where these are recurring images for Torah, the law, or better the way of life that God wants for us.

Jesus is in fact saying not that he is a crowned king, but a personification of the Torah, a living Torah. Far more revolutionary.

Outside of the gospels the New Testament does link Jesus to the royal psalms, notably Psalms 2 and 110. And we are, famously, made by baptism into a royal priesthood, a holy nation (1 Peter). But it seems to me that this is much more about each of us being made ‘little christs’ by baptism and therefore being of great, royal dignity by virtue of that. 

The most carefully worked out spirituality of royal imagery is in Francis of Assisi. However, there it is really chivalry rather than royalty that captures his imagination, Francis is indeed the ‘herald of the great king’, but that king is God the Father. Jesus is more like the leader of the chivalric knights.

Jesus’ kingship is profoundly a shared kingship. His kingship is never unqualified. Preachers around the world will be making that exact point today and talking about the servant king, the cross as a throne and so on. But I would rather we avoided that necessity.

In my (slightly teasing) antipathy to this particular day in the liturgical calendar I suggest it should empower us to do two things:

Firstly, to read our bibles. It is part of our Reformation heritage as Anglicans that we all of us do that for ourselves. Read them and work out what God is actually saying about his kingdom; read them and see what Jesus himself says about who he is.

Secondly, when we have worked out who Jesus is let’s spend time with him, with the images that he uses to describe himself. 

For the Prayer Book this is Stir Up Sunday. When we stir up the rich fruit and ingredients that will make our Christmas puddings. How about this week we spend some time in our prayer stirring up the rich multitude of images that Jesus uses to describe himself.

I may be over extending my metaphors somewhat but images of royalty, the royal priesthood we all belong to, should be like the brandy in the cake not the main ingredient.

What does it mean to you and to me to stir up in prayer Jesus who is

the bread of life

the light of the world

the door

the Good Shepherd

the resurrection

the way the truth and the life

the true vine?

Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people; that they, plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works, may of thee be plenteously rewarded; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen

Sermon – God of Peace and Strength: our new Collect for St Frideswide

Sermon St Frideswide, Patronal Eucharist 21st October 2021

Fr Richard Peers SMMS

God of peace and strength,

whose abbess Frideswide

built a community of love and learning

with the gifts of the Spirit

and in the strong peace that comes from you:

renew us with healing waters of salvation,

increase in us courage and resolve

and inspire us, like Frideswide, to teach your truth

and bring hope to your world;

through Jesus Christ our Lord.

If you have a small black Book of Common Prayer in reach, you may want to turn to page 87. You will see there that this is where the ‘Collects, Epistles and Gospels’ begin. They continue to page 292, making this the biggest section of our Prayer Book alongside the psalter. There is much that could be said about the arrangement of Scripture, the Epistles and Gospels, in this section, but this evening I want to reflect on the Collects.

The Collects are the short prayers that we use at Morning and Evening Prayer and at the Eucharist. No one is entirely certain why they are called ‘collects’, but the most convincing explanation I have read is that they are called this because they are the prayer that is prayed once the people have gathered, collected together.

Collects of this short style and form are unique to Latin Christianity, the church and churches of the West. Eastern churches have much longer prayers of a completely different style.

In Latin the Collects have a sparseness of language, a spareness of phrase and a density of meaning that is really quite extraordinary, this is very much the ‘genius’ of the Latin rite.  A ‘noble simplicity’. Many of these prayers are very old indeed almost certainly dating to the seventh century.

The Church of England has long treasured the Collect form of prayer, Thomas Cranmer’s translations and his new Collects in the Prayer Book rightly seen as a unique treasure handed on to us. In times past Anglicans would learn these prayers by heart to win prizes at Sunday school but also we hope to deepen their prayer.

The Collect has a particular form, although with considerable flexibility.  A good example is the one for the current week in the Prayer Book, on page 241:

First of all God is addressed “O Almighty God”, quite a lot of the traditional Collects begin with this phrase for this week, Trinity 20, additional information is given about God, he is described as “most merciful”

A request is then made “keep us we beseech thee, from all things that may hurt us” and then the consequence, the benefit of that petition being granted is explained “that we, being ready, both in body and soul, may cheerfully accomplish those things that thou wouldest have done.”

It is a delightfully simple formula. I have often taught it in schools and even Primary age children can enjoy writing their own Collects.

I should point out that liturgical scholars would wince at my simplified version of the Collect form. Daniel McCarthy, for example, suggests that the simple fourfold shape I have described should really be seen as 8 elements:

Invocation

Amplification

Petition

Purpose

Cause or motive

and Premise.

Well liturgical scholars have to justify their existence somehow!

In modern times many new Collects have been written. very often this is to expand the language to be both more inclusive and also richer and more poetic.

There is no ancient Collect for St Frideswide, a ‘common’ collect, for abbesses was used. Several modern Collects have been written for her. The latest appears in today’s booklet for this Eucharist, it was written by our Precentor, Philippa, and is rather lovely I think.  A few of us stuck an oar or two in at various draft stages. There are many dangers to writing liturgy by committee but I hope you will take your booklet home and pray this prayer. We need much prayer here at Christ Church and it would be good to think of you praying for us using these words.

So to turn to our Collect. 

God of peace and strength,

The first line addresses God very simply and offers a description of his attributes, peace and strength. This is of course the meaning of Frideswide’s name. For the bible peace is an important attribute of a life lived in harmony with God. God’s shalom, in the Hebrew Scriptures is fundamental to his intention for the world. Shalom is not simply the absence of conflict but a sign of God’s wholeness, of completion.

For Muslims and Jews shalom is a common greeting, shalom aleichem / aleichem shalom. Last week after the Court Service here the High Sheriff Imam Monawar Hussain took many of us out for a curry.  After dinner he invited various people of different faiths to speak. A Jewish man present sang one of my favourite pieces from Jewish worship: Oseh shalom … “may he who makes peace in high places, make peace for us “

Few of us would argue that peace was not a key concept for the Bible and for Christians. Strength is more complex though. We can be nervous about strength, we even talk about ‘brute strength’.  The key is, I think, where the strength comes from. If it comes simply from muscle power, or position, it means little.

But the psalmist says: “the Lord is my strength and my shield” (Ps. 28:7 ) when the strength we rely on is God’s it is utterly reliable. Be strong and courageous says Deuteronomy (31:6)

and “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” writes St Paul (Phil. 4:13)

We yearn for peace but we need strength to endure the lack of peace which is part of the reality of our lives. So,

God of peace and strength,

our prayer begins.

whose abbess Frideswide

built a community of love and learning

Community too is fundamental to Christian living. Right at the beginning of the church we are told in the Acts of the Apostles (4:32) that the early Christians shared all their goods in common and were ‘of one heart and mind’. Christians have always gathered, collected, together to practice our faith; we gather for worship; church, from ecclesia means those called out to be together.

Love hardly needs any comment at all. God so loved the world. (Jn 3:16). Love is the motivation for the incarnation, for Jesus who saves us and died for us. Love in all its facets is the test of the Christian life. The famous passage in 1 Corinthians 13 is a challenging read at the end of any day if we ask ourselves:

Have I been patient?

Have I been kind?

Am I envious?

Do I boast?

Am I proud?

Do I dishonour others?

Am I self -seeking, easily angered?

Do I let go of wrongs, delight in evil, rejoice in the truth?

Do I always protect, trust, hope and persevere?

A community of love is demanding indeed.

But Frideswide’s community was also a community of learning. Of scholarly activity.

This is hugely significant. Love is wonderful. But we can all too easily – perhaps in our times more than any other – regard love as a feeling, an emotion. This is not how Christians have classically understood it. For Augustine love is an act of the will.

It is only by learning, by studying theology. By knowing the Bible that we can experience the fullness of faith and challenge the misconceptions of the world.

The next two lines of the Collect make it clear where that fullness comes from;

with the gifts of the Spirit

The ‘gifts of the Spirit’ can, of course, relate to a sort of generalised sense of the presence of God imparting grace to us, but in Christian history it has been used to identify seven gifts, referred to first of all in Isaiah 11. This is a passage about God’s kingdom of peace, shalom and the longed for Messiah who will come with 

wisdom

understanding

counsel

strength

knowledge

delight or piety

and

fear of the Lord

Augustine linked these to the Beatitudes and they are traditionally said to be the gifts received in Baptism and Confirmation.

Next in our Collect we have the line:

and in the strong peace that comes from you:

Clearly, this is an echo of the opening line reflecting on the meaning of Frideswide’s name. It makes clear that this peace and strength is the fruit of faith, and that it comes from God not from our own power. This is the gift of salvation we receive in baptism, our participation in the death and resurrection of Jesus. That death when water and blood flowed from his side. Which we enter into in baptism and renew our selves in in the Eucharist, water and blood. These are the healing waters of salvation that the Collect refers to next:

renew us with healing waters of salvation,

increase in us courage and resolve

But it is also the water associated with Frideswide, the well at Binsey that so many of us value visiting, to which students in our chaplaincy will be walking on Sunday afternoon.

I like the mention of ‘courage and resolve’. Frideswide had courage, she refused the way of life that was to be imposed on her and was determined, resolved to live a life in Christian community.  A resolve which is a reminder once again that Christian living is not just feelings, however fine, not some spirituality but a decision,  resolve, a determination, an act of the will.  As we say to the candidates in baptism who are old enough to respond, after we’ve recited the Creed. Is this your faith? And they answer, we hope with courage and resolve: “This is my faith.”

And so we come to the end of the prayer:

and inspire us, like Frideswide, to teach your truth

and bring hope to your world;

The gift of faith is never for ourselves alone. We are all, every baptised person called to teach the faith. It is not possible to watch the news, it is not possible to listen to the needs of those who come to us, it is not possible to look at our own lives and not realise that we need a Saviour, we need Jesus. And that is why this prayer, every Collect ends with five simple words. 

through Jesus Christ our Lord …

We pray only through Jesus, we know him as the Christ, the anointed One, the one chosen by God to do this for us and we name him, we acknowledge him as Lord.

In the end it is all, St Frideswide, the well at Binsey, this cathedral church, the Augustinian canons, the life of Chapter for five centuries, even our beautiful music. It is all pointless, if it does not bring us to him, to Jesus.

God of peace and strength,

whose abbess Frideswide

built a community of love and learning

with the gifts of the Spirit

and in the strong peace that comes from you:

renew us with healing waters of salvation,

increase in us courage and resolve

and inspire us, like Frideswide, to teach your truth

and bring hope to your world;

through Jesus Christ our Lord.

At home: Freshers’ Week Sermon 2021

Sermon

Christ Church Cathedral

10 October 2021

Proper 23 B  (28B) Eucharist

Fresher’s Week

Fr Richard Peers SMMS

Who founded the Church of England?

A recurring irritation for Anglicans is the accusation that our church was founded by Henry VIII.  Most of us would prefer to think of our founder as Jesus Christ. And if one were to choose a monarch Elizabeth the first probably has as much claim on foundation as her father; not to say Charles the second making a not insubstantial claim after the interruptions of the Commonwealth.

If the question turns to Who founded Christ Church? at least frees us from looking back to our Lord and Saviour. Henry’s claim here is stronger, but of course Thomas Wolsey is a very close second. Dean Fell after the Protectorate can surely place a stake for re-foundation. And we must not forget Prior Sutton Augustinian builder of this church whose tomb lies at the edge of the Latin chapel, and probably none of us would be here, of course, without Frideswide before even him.

Like the Church of England it is easy to characterise Christ Church as an anomaly, a random historical accident, an English eccentricity. All of that may well be true, but the gospel we have just heard includes two words that make that historical accident, that random eccentricity important for those of us here who are Christians.

Fourteen months ago when I arrived at Christ Church I could have had no idea of the year ahead. What a year it has been. That long year ago I had no experience of Oxford, the university or even of working full-time in a cathedral. But I am now convinced in a way I could not have been then of the blessing that our joint foundation can be to the church and the importance for the academy of this meeting of higher education and a faith community.

Good teacher, Jesus is called in today’s gospel. It is good to have some of our academic staff here with us this morning. I am not in any position to judge whether they are, like Jesus, ‘good teachers’, but the fact that they are teachers is important to us.

Jesus is addressed directly as teacher 45 times in the gospels, 12 times each in Matthew and Mark, fifteen in Luke and six times in John.

As someone who has spent most of my life as a teacher it puzzles me that this designation of Jesus as teacher has been so neglected.

Puzzling too because it ignores Jesus own command to bring the children to him, or the Deuteronomic imperative, prayed three times daily by Jews in the Sh’ma to teach the Torah to children and write it on our hearts.

I have been observing teaching for over twenty years. Judging the quality of lessons and the progress that children make. I am fascinated by pedagogy, the art of teaching, how we learn. And I am fascinated by pedagogy in this university, by the tutorial system, lectures and the work expected of graduates and undergraduates. The requirements to teach and supervise others that comes so early in academic careers. Fascinated too by the limited interest shown in pedagogy and relative lack of reflection on the very systems of teaching being used.

On holiday last month one of the books I read was Amartya Sen’s memoir Home In The World.  An economist and mathematician, but really a polymath he reflects on his childhood in what is now Bangladesh and the interaction there of religious communities Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Christian and Buddhist. Sen takes the title of his book from Rabindranath Tagore’s Home and the World. The fundamental question for Sen, for Tagore and, surely for all of us is how we can be at home in this world.  We can try and force ourselves to be at home by creating what is comfortable for us or we can be at home by valuing the diversity and difference of the world.

This week has been my first real Freshers’ Week. It has been good to see – because of Covid spacing reasons – all our freshers here in the Cathedral for many of their induction talks. Becoming ‘at home’ here in the House.

It will be good this coming week to welcome Oxford’s High Sheriff and his team, a first, of chaplains from many faiths. And after Evensong is finished to hear each of them read a short text from their own tradition.

On this Safeguarding Sunday we all know that religions can be forces for bad as well as for good. Fundamentalisms exist when there is a failure to bring academic scrutiny to claims to truth. The church, all religions need to be examined by the academy. We need the rigour of departments of theology, academic scrutiny from the inside; and the challenge of knowledge in all academic fields.

The academy too needs its practitioners to include people of many faiths, to bring the experience and practice of faith into its life, which is, of course, anyway unavoidable.

Jesus the Good Teacher. He is a good teacher because his method, his pedagogy is rarely to tell. His method is so much more like a good tutorial, he asks questions, he causes his hearers to think and to reflect.

Amartya Sen describes a world in which religious traditions mingled with mutual interest and mutual enrichment. 

Our joint foundation means nothing if it is simply a sharing of a building, a parallel existence for this building as college chapel one minute and cathedral the next. 

It has been a very beautiful thing to see the Freshers in this building this last week not just at the induction events but also in the evenings when the chaplaincy team opened it up with candles and lights and music. To see our undergraduates coming to be at home here in their chapel, their cathedral.

Over the next few weeks I hope that all of you who are regulars here will visit the restored Chapter House. It too is a beautiful building.  A Chapter House is, of course, a place for discussion, conversation.  A space for encountering others.

One of my hopes is that it will allow us to be even more a place where people of many faiths and of no religious faith encounter one another and can feel at home together.

The encounter of the world’s religions is still in its infancy. I can think of only one living systematic theologian who takes this encounter seriously in every area of his theology.  

Christopher Lewis, the last Dean of Christ Church edited a book on Inter Faith Worship and Prayer with the subtitle “We Must Pray Together”, one of its contributors is the Muslim Imam who is now the High Sheriff of Oxford.

The joint foundation is an opportunity not just for the academy or for us as a Chapter, a congregation; but an opportunity to encounter good teachers and to demonstrate that we can be good learners.

In the Preface to his memoir Amartya Sen writes:

“From the Crusades in the Middle Ages to the Nazi invasions in the last century, from communal clashes to battles between religious politics, there have been tussles between varying convictions, and yet there have also been forces for unity working against the clashes. We can see, if we look, how understanding can spread from one group to another and from one country to the next.  As we move around we cannot escape clues to broader and more integrative stories. Our ability to learn from each other must not be underestimated.”

Dear Christ Church freshers here we are at one of the world’s leading universities. You will be taught by great people, you will have many good teachers, but you will learn much from your friends too. We hope that you will be at home here in Christ Church, at home in this your cathedral your chapel and most of all that you will never underestimate the ability we human beings have to learn from each other.

Review: Divine Worship: Daily Office – An Ecumenical Gift

NOTE: I have had only a few days to look at DWDO if there are any factual errors in this review I would be delighted to correct them.

“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.”

Jesuit scholar Robert Taft writes this ecumenical compliment in his seminal work The Liturgy of the Hours East and West. The idea that there was a ‘people’s office’ (properly a ‘cathedral’ as distinct from ‘monastic’ office) was a persuasive part of liturgical renewal in the second half of the twentieth century. I wrote my dissertation at theological college (Chichester) on this in the early 90s and visited communities in France, Germany and the States to see what was being done. Often the use of liturgical action, candles, holy water, incense was encouraged. Elements of this are described, for example in Celebrating Common Prayer.  Later in the parishes and schools in which I served I always promoted a Daily Office like this. Simple sung texts with liturgical action.

Like many ideas I have had in my life I now think I was wrong. Taft is right, alone among liturgies it is the absolute simplicity of the Prayer Book Office that has proved an enduring ‘people’s Office’. A simplicity that continues to draw people day by day to our Cathedrals and other churches. 

Yet since very early on there have been those who seek a richer provision for the Office, notably Hours at other times of day. Perhaps the first was John Cosins’, A Collection of Private Devotions for the Hours of Prayer of 1627. The nineteenth century Catholic revival saw a multiplication of collections of prayer to enhance the Prayer Book Office orreplace it with translations of the traditional Western liturgy using the language and texts of the Book of Common Prayer. In the mid twentieth century two books represent the zenith of this tradition. The English Office and the Office Book of the Community of the Resurrection (produced for use of the community only).

Divine Worship: Daily Office draws heavily on The English Office. Like that book it adds much seasonal material, updated here for the current Roman Calendar. Hymn number references to the English Hymnal appear in both books. The English Office came in two editions with or without readings which (in the Authorised Version) were from the 1922 lectionary. In my view this is the best of the Anglican lectionaries and I am delighted to see it given new life in this book. I922 arranged Gospel readings in Ordinary Time in a sort of harmonised version. This was revised in 1961 to remove the harmonisation and replace it with lectio continua of the gospels, and it’s that form that appears in DWDO. Strangely the RSV second Catholic Edition is used rather than the English Standard Version which has been selected for future Roman Catholic liturgical books in English.

An addition to The English Office is the inclusion of the Little hours, Prime, Terce, Sext, None and Compline. I was delighted to hear this. The daily recitation of Psalm 119 – the norm in Latin Christianity until the 1910 reform of the Breviary – is dear to my heart and very much preserved by Anglican Religious communities. Disappointingly, rather than the very popular Prime and Hours being used as the source of these, which includes full seasonal Propers, the 1928 deposited book which included just Prime was used as the model. This has no seasonal material for these Hours. Much has been made of DWDO being an ‘all in one’ book but for me this lack makes it a book I would not want to use. I can’t imagine praying Terce on Christmas Day without Proper material.

There are two further disappointments for me, and one reservation. I am sad that no ferial antiphons are included for the psalter, a minor point. My other disappointment is in the arrangement of material, separating Collects from other Propres (put into a Supplement) it is easy to see why this has been done but it does make the book even more complicated to use. My reservation is that the lectionary, excellent as it is, was designed for use with the one-year Prayer Book Eucharistic lectionary (the use of which I much favour, but that’s another story). I haven’t had the chance to check but I wonder how much overlap there will be between this Office lectionary and the current two year Daily Eucharistic Lectionary and indeed, the three year Sunday cycle. Finally, I just don’t think I could cope with four substantial office readings in addition to the daily Mass cycle: six readings a day. A much better provision is the DEL with the Office of Readings’ two year cycle.

Not only is the lectionary designed to be used with the one-year lectionary for Mass, so are the proper antiphons. Thus on Epiphany 4 (Gospel of the day Matthew 8:23) the Gospel canticle antiphons all come from Matthew 8. The antiphons on the Magnificat at First Vespers of Sundays were traditionally drawn from the Vigils reading of the following day and The English Office does this from the 1922 lectionary, as does this book.

DWDO is designed to look like a liturgical book of a past era. The sense lines and spacious pages of post-Vatican 2 books have gone and the double columns, and small print of earlier books return. It will be a matter of taste if this appeals to you. For a certain generation (younger than me) the ‘return to tradition’ will make this attractive, but it remains to be seen if that is a niche audience based on a nostalgia for an era that has disappeared, or that perhaps never really existed.

From The English Office, 1956
From Divine Worship Daily Office, 2021
Music from Benedictus Antiphons, CSMV Wantage

DWDO includes a weekly cycle of Old Testament Canticles (from the old Roman Rite Lauds) to replace Te Deum/Benedicite at Mattins. This is helpful. The CR Office Book used these over Mattins and Evensong to replace Psalm 119 in the monthly course since that was prayed daily at the Little Hours.

DWDO is a thing of beauty. CTS, the publisher, have done a wonderful job. For those who want a traditional language Office for Matins and Evensong this is a superb book. I hope that Prime might, like Compline, become a popular household Office. That would be a very good thing indeed. However, it didn’t happen after 1928. I don’t think this complex book will make that happen, I hope the Ordinariate will publish equally beautiful but small books of just these Offices.

DWDO is an ecumenical gift and compliment to the Anglican Communion. The Prayer Book Office has been the principle means of grace for Anglican Christians since the break with Rome. That Rome now not only acknowledges this but encourages this prayer is a celebration of the Anglican gift to the church catholic. Anglicanism is a means to holiness, a gift of grace. The Ordinariate, eccentric as it is, as is, surely, all of Anglicanism, is welcomed within an authentically Vatican 2 ecclesiology. The ecumenical spring may seem like a distant memory, but we are still a long way from winter.

SINGING DWDO

A Manual of Plainsong provides the basics. For the Gospel Canticle antiphons the Wantage, CSMV books provide the texts set to traditional Plainsong. The St Dunstan Plainsong Psalter is also a useful reource including the OT Canticles set to plainsong tones.

See my blog post here with links to plainsong for the BCP Office:

LEATHER COVER

I thoroughly recommend https://www.leathermissalcovers.co.uk for all round zip or flap covers. Send the exact measurements (be generous in my view).

The Return to Allegory: Sermon for the Blessed Virgin Mary 2021

Sermon

The Blessed Virgin Mary

15th August 2021

Christ Church Cathedral

Sources:

Discerning the Mystery, Andrew Louth, Clarendon Press 1983

Praise Seeking Understanding, Jason Byassee, Eerdmans, 2007

I will make your name to be remembered

through all generations :

therefore shall the peoples praise you for ever and ever.

Psalm 45

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

In just over two weeks time I will, God willing, be staying in Burgundy just a few miles from the Taizé Community in France. Taizé is a community of brothers, monks, founded in the second world war, drawn from both Roman Catholic and Protestant churches. There are now dozens of brothers in the community and every year, Covid notwithstanding, thousands of young people gather to pray, live and work with the brothers.

It is an extraordinary, life-changing place.

I have visited almost every year of my adult life.  As a Headteacher in Lewisham we always took a group of Year 10 pupils, fourteen and fifteen year olds, for a week’s pilgrimage to Taizé.

In the community church there are many large icons. In 2012 the pupils I had taken asked me if we could commission an artist to paint an icon for our school. When the new school year began we consulted with the School Council and Governing Body and a small group of pupils was selected to oversee the project.

We found a well known iconographer, Helen McIldowie-Jenkins, and invited her to come and visit us. The pupils liked her at once and she set about showing them many icons and talking about what they wanted. The school was a majority black school and Helen showed the pupils pictures of some of the world’s famous black Madonna statues and images, they immediately noticed something about these figures. Most of them may have dark skin but the features were European not African. Occasionally a Madonna with dark skin would be accompanied by a distinctly Caucasian looking Jesus.

The pupils were determined that both Mary and Jesus should be properly African, in shape of face, skin colour and hair.

This is a reproduction of the original icon which is about twice as big and covered in much gold leaf. I think it is very beautiful.

Jesus’ afro hair is clear, as are Mary’s braids emerging from her head covering. The cloth of Mary’s clothing reproduces west African Kente fabric but using the school logo. The four medallions at the top represent the four archangels the school’s Houses were named after. Mary is seated on the throne of wisdom, the teacher’s seat, and points to Jesus. At the foot of the icon are two rivers representing the two rivers running through Lewisham, the Quaggy and the Ravensbourne.  At the centre of the foot is a well, illustrating the holy well that had been a feature of medieval devotion to Mary, Our Lady, in Lewisham and giving its name to the area known as Ladywell to this day.

In today’s gospel Mary in her great hymn of praise sings of overthrowing powers, of the lowly being lifted up.

I don’t want to reflect this morning on the significance of the Magnificat in issues relating to race. 

Rather I want to apply this overthrowing of the powerful to the academic world of biblical studies which has so dominated the way Christians read our Scriptures.

I suggest, quite strongly, that we need to overthrow the model of biblical studies that has been dominant for over a century and a half and raise up the church’s traditional way of reading Scripture that has been treated as the lowly cousin of true academic study for too long. 

Historical-critical methods of reading Scripture have dominated not only the academic community but clergy training and seminaries, bible studies and popular reading on Scripture. Our life, the life of the church has been diminished by this dominance, we have been starved of our connection to the christians of the early centuries, our imaginations have been blighted, our connection to Jesus in the Old Testament severed and our understanding of the way that the biblical writers themselves read Scripture left rudderless.

Look at the icon of Our Lady of Lewisham. Of course Mary, the woman of Nazareth, Miriam married to Joseph, was not a black African, she didn’t have braided hair or wear Kente cloth, Jesus did not have Afro hair. 

But that is to miss the point entirely.

When you look at the icon of our Lady of Lewisham you are looking at an allegory in picture form. Mary, the first believer shows us all the way of faith in Jesus. Her ‘yes’ is the ‘yes’ that every human being, black women, black men, white women, whoever we are we can say ‘yes’ to Jesus.

We all have human biology, it is not that which makes Mary the one, who as Psalm 45 put it, will be “remembered through all generations”.

And of course, whoever wrote Psalm 45, however many centuries ago could not possibly have any idea that these verses would be sung, in a twenty first century cathedral in Oxford about a first century woman in Nazareth. Thank you to Amici Coro for singing this psalm so beautifully this morning.

To put it bluntly and, no doubt simplistically, the historical critical method of reading Scripture asks only one question: “What was the original author’s intended meaning?”

This is not an unimportant question, and the answer for the various genres of Scripture is certainly not in itself uninteresting or unhelpful, but it is not enough. Not nearly enough to sustain our Christian lives, to enable us to meet Jesus in all of Scripture, not enough to deepen our prayer, to convert us ever more to the holy living that is God’s intention for each of us.

It would not be enough if we were talking about literature of any place or time. Yes, it is great to see productions of Shakespeare that seek to reproduce how a play might have been originally performed. But how much more wonderful to see as I did in the Cathedral Garden two weeks ago a production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream in 70’s disco gear and woven in with ABBA hits.

Now just in case you are worried that the Sub Dean has taken leave of his senses, which, after all might be perfectly understandable, what I am calling for is nothing original to me. I think that the theologian Andrew Louth is responsible for the phrase, back in 1983. It is nothing less than a “return to allegory”.

Louth describes allegory  “as a way of entering the ‘margin of silence’ that surrounds the articulate message of the scriptures”.

A recent writer, Jason Byasee, goes so far as to say that “Christianity is an inherently allegorical faith”.

It is when we abandon allegory that we end up with fundamentalisms of all kinds. It is simply a myth that there is any such thing as “the plain meaning of Scripture”, or that it would desirable that there were.

Life is complex. The world is complex. Simplistic explanations are the fake narratives that lead to Donald Trump being elected President of the United States.

For the complexity of Scripture let’s think for a moment about the psalms. the psalms are the essential element of Christian prayer. Psalm 45 which we have just heard is a good example. Historical criticism tells us that it is a “royal psalm” possibly used as a wedding song for the marriage of a king of Judah.  Some think that it may date to the time of Solomon.

All of that is good to know. But for us as Christians, this psalm is chosen for this feast of Mary, we read it in relation to her, think of her a syou hear these words:

Psalm 45:10–end

10 Hear, O daughter; consider and incline your ear :

forget your own people and your father’s house.

11 So shall the king have pleasure in your beauty :

he is your lord, so do him honour.

12 The people of Tyre shall bring you gifts :

the richest of the people shall seek your favour.

13 The king’s daughter is all glorious within :

her clothing is embroidered cloth of gold.

14 She shall be brought to the king in raiment of needlework :

after her the virgins that are her companions.

15 With joy and gladness shall they be brought :

and enter into the palace of the king.

16 ‘Instead of your fathers you shall have sons :

whom you shall make princes over all the land.

17 ‘I will make your name to be remembered

through all generations :

therefore shall the peoples praise you for ever and ever.’

To return to Jason Byasee, he places Scripture and Creed at the heart of our Christian faith, indeed we shall recite the Nicene Creed in just a moment, that Creed is from the heart of the Patristic faith, faith of our fathers and mothers, the faith hammered out in the early centuries of the church.

Byassee states “You cannot have patristic dogma without patristic exegesis; you cannot have creed without allegory … the theological heritage treasured in common by Protestants and Catholics alike rests upon a “foundation” of allegory.”.

So my plea on this feast of Mary, is that we embrace complexity and reject simple falsehoods. That we use our imaginations to read Scripture multi-vocally, to hear many voices. To allow the Word of God to speak to our own complex selves. To meet Jesus in the psalms, to recognise him as the living Word at the very beginning of creation. 

As I think of Mary, I have never, even as a child, been able to imagine her as a demure and obedient maiden. That didn’t match any actual girl or woman I knew.

Now, in later life I imagine her rather like those older women you see in Malta, or Greece or southern Italy. Women dried out by the sun and by life, but with eyes as sharp as ravens. Women about whom it could so easily be said ‘takes no prisoners’. I love those women. I love Mary and I love having her in my life.

When we commissioned the icon of Our Lady of Lewisham the school chaplain, Mother Juliet wrote a prayer for her.

Generous God,

source and fountain of life,

in Mary, Mother of us all,

we see courage, boldness and strength

risking all to welcome your Son Jesus.

As we celebrate our diversity

grant that her ferocious love may well up with us

to bring justice and establish your peace.

May Our Lady of Lewisham, pray for us, may we know her in all her complexity, may we experience her ferocious love.

Singing the Daily Office – August 2021

UPDATE 13 08 21 here is the booklet I use for the Ordinary Time Office to provide Common refrains, musical setting of the Magnificat and Benedictus refrains in Comon Worship and Hymns:

On working days I arrive in the Cathedral just before 6:30am, turn the lights on, pay a short visit to the Blessed Sacrament in the memorial Chapel and then pray at the shrine of St Frideswide. It is a beautiful time and a beautiful way to start the day. At 6:45 the duty verger arrives. I can tell which of our verging team it is by the sounds they make. At 7 I move to my stall in choir. I know the order my sister and brother canons and clergy will arrive in and recognise the sounds of them entering the building. I love this sense of our community gathering for prayer. The sadness of the Dean’s empty stall a reminder of the difficulties of our community but also of the steadfastness of the prayer in this place, faithfully fulfilled for over 1300 years despite the turbulence of each age.

Like many Anglo-Catholics I have a well developed inner monastic and thought, as a teenager, that I would join a monastic community. That romanticism has never left me and my romantic spirit is well fed as we gather for prayer in Christ Church day by day. Even on my days off I think of the gathering in my absence and often sneak into the building to say hello to St Frideswide at some point in the day.

We say a fairly straightforward Common Worship Daily Prayer Morning Office. In the evening we pray Prayer Book Evensong, usually sung by one of our choirs and in normal times by visiting choirs in the vacations. Despite not having a great voice I love to sing. My first experience of the Office was at Douai Abbey in my early teens and the sung Office always seems normative to me. I have written often on my blogs about singing the Office, the joy of punctuating the day with the traditional Little Hours, of praying Psalm 119 daily and rising early on working days to vigil the Lord. I love the Grail translation of the psalms but using three different translations (CW, Grail and BCP) proved tiresome, so a few months ago I began using CW texts at all Hours. This post is simply a place to provide the Ordinary booklet for those who might want it for their own personal use. So here it is in PDF format. If you would like it in Pages format please email me and I will send it. I use Pages rather than Word. The Vigils booklet is also provided for those who want it, the cover is provided first.

White Rabbits and Early Mornings: Sermon at St Mary Magdalen, Oxford

Sermon

St Mary Magdalen, Oxford

Sunday 25th July, 2021

Song of Songs 3.1-4, 2 Corinthians 5.14-17, John 20, 1-2, 11-18

Fr Richard Peers SMMS

As you probably know services at Christ Church begin five minutes later than official UK time would suggest. This is to take account of our position west of Greenwich and the meridian there. Scholars of Lewis Carrol, otherwise known as Charles Dodgson believe the White Rabbit’s lack of punctuality is a nod to this eccentricity at Christ Church. Whether you regard it as a pleasant eccentricity or an irritating sense of entitlement will depend on your wider view of things.

For me it is a good reminder of the crucial religious significance of time and its relationship to physical existence, to the reality of living on this planet with its rotation and its turning around the sun. Realities which we ignore at great peril, as the climate crisis shows only too clearly.

Time is at the heart of the incarnation. It was only “when the fullness of time had come” as St Paul puts it in Galatians 4, that Jesus could be born. The times of the passion of Our Lord are carefully recorded by the evangelists – and disputed in academic papers – starting with the dawn cock crow when Peter denies his friendship with Jesus, and contrasting beautifully with Mary Magdalen’s faithful arrival at the tomb “Very early on a Sunday morning” as we have just heard in today’s Gospel.

The Holy Spirit comes to the disciples at the third hour; nine o’clock in the morning. In the Acts of the apostles Peter goes up to the housetop to pray at noon, the sixth hour; at the ninth hour, the time of Jesus’ death when the world was plunged into darkness and the veil of the temple torn into two, Cornelius sees a vision of an angel of God. 

Scripture is full of references to time. It is an account, a sacred, theological account of redemption which takes place in the actual history of the world.

From those very first days of the church Christians have gathered daily at certain times to pray, what we now call the Daily Office, the Liturgy of the Hours.

Time is essential to all three of today’s readings. For St Paul it is significant because old and new can only exist because of time.

For St John that early morning in which the women come to the tomb is not an accident, and for the author of the Song of Songs the whole passage depends on the timing, in the dark, at night. Easy in the heat of last week to imagine sleepless nights, nights of yearning and longing; seeking.

In the Old Testament he psalmist implores the people of Israel to listen to God’s voice ‘Today”.

In the New Testament two words are famously used for ‘time’, chronos, linear, measurable time, and kairos, the right moment for decisions, for choice, for faith.

On the great days of the christian year the church sings Hodie! Today. Today he is born, today he is risen. Now is the moment.

St Augustine in his Confessions spends a whole book of his work discussing the nature of time. And the the whole of the Confessions is a personal salvation history, an account of God working, in time, in the life of an individual.

The author of the fourteenth century Cloud of Unknowing is determined that our prayer should penetrate time, cutting into it like Lyra’s knife in His Dark Materials, by using the smallest word possible, repeating again and again a single syllable, so that our minds might be attached to a single moment in all its butterfly slitheriness and impossibility to grasp. The Cloud’s teaching is often misinterpreted as suggesting a Christian use of a multi word or multi syllable mantra. It does not. Deeply Augustinian its purpose is to separate us from all that distracts us to past or future, it is the precursor of the sacrament of the present moment.

And yet in our culture we hide from the reality of time, of the turning of the planet; of the reality of sun and moon and stars of the changing length of the day. With clocks and lights, with television and internet, we treat each moment as if it was the same; a commodity to be used and filled.

I wonder how many of us here today know what time the sun rises at the moment? When dawn, the fore-lightening of the sky is noticeable?

Sunrise in Oxford this morning was at 5:14 am.

It was glorious in Christ Church Meadow as the light hit the mown hay.

Dawn, comes an hour or so sooner than sunrise at this time of year. A foretaste of the full light of the day that is to come.

Sunrise will be an hour and 7 minutes later on the last day of July than it was on the first. It makes a huge difference, the days are getting shorter and the nights longer already.

In April in Jerusalem the sun rises around 6:30 am, dawn will have been earlier than that so Mary Magdalen and the other women must have got to the tomb about 5 or 5:30am, St John tells us it was still dark.

Mary Magdalen used her time well, like the wise virgins of Jesus’ parable she was there, ready and awake.

Time is a sacred gift; only in time will we meet the risen Jesus, only if we are ready, awake, waiting will we find the one who comes to us unexpectedly, who we mistake for the gardener but who knows us by name. Only if we use the time that is given to us wisely will we hear him speak our name so that we can hold him and never let him go.

So our use of time; the way in which we inhabit time is at the heart of our spiritual lives. 

It is a good exercise to write down how we think we spend our time. How much time we think we spend eating; travelling; watching television; listening to the radio; relaxing.

And then do it, for one, fairly typical week record how you actually use your time.

I have never done this exercise with an individual and not seen a huge difference between how they think they use time and how they actually do.

Time is too precious for that!

Don’t let it slip through your fingers.

How we use the whole of any day is of enormous importance. But I want to offer a challenge, about one small element of time, but one that is deeply sensitive to people.

It’s a challenge about the time that you get up.

It is one that I have offered in other situations and I am not yet convinced that I am wrong, although some people quite strongly want me to be.

Simply put I believe that those words we have just heard are so important: On the first day of the week Mary the Magdalene comes early while yet it was dark.

If we are serious about our spiritual lives, if we are serious about developing a life of prayer there is as far as I can see no alternative to getting up very early in the morning; for most of the year, while it is still dark.

It is graced time. It is a liminal time when the day moves from darkness to light. There is an energy in waking at this beautiful turning point of the day, sitting in the darkness, expectant and hopeful. And always, always, always being gifted with light, a new day, a new series of moments, a new time in which to meet the risen Lord.

I know that some people will say that they are night-owls not early birds. I just don’t believe that the human race is divided in some genetic way like that. Our sleep patterns are deeply habitual but habits can be broken and new ones created. I am told that it can take about 90 days to create new habits, so don’t try this for a week and then tell me that it doesn’t work for you. Try it for three months and then tell me.

I am not for a moment suggesting that you reduce the amount of sleep you have, simply go to bed earlier, turn the television or the emails off. Drink less so you get quality sleep, at least 7 hours for most people, and set the alarm. 

Then wallow in the joyfulness of vigiling the Lord.

This may seem a small matter that I am making too much of, but years of talking to people about their prayer and their lives convinces me that it is very significant. Obviously, it will be affected by having small children, particular jobs and the patterns of partners and family but I do not know anyone that has a serious life of prayer who does not find the time for that in the early hours. I have not yet met or know anyone who stays up late in the evening and spends that time in prayer, lectio or meditation. At the end of the day the energy is all wrong for that.

The great Paschal vigil is the model on which we can base our daily lives. Not the lazy celebrations on Holy Saturday evening ending with everyone going to bed, but getting up in the night and vigiling the light. Greeting tea dawn from on high that breaks upon us each day and welcoming which fills us with energy, enthusiasm and passion

What we actually do with our time, just as what we eat and drink, how we spend our money is the real subject matter of our spirituality; not what experiences we have or how we feel.

Upon my bed by night
I sought him whom my soul loves;
I sought him, but found him not;
I called him, but he gave no answer.
“I will rise now and go about the city,
in the streets and in the squares;
I will seek him whom my soul loves.”
I sought him, but found him not.
The watchmen found me,
as they went about in the city.
“Have you seen him whom my soul loves?”

Scarcely had I passed them,
when I found him whom my soul loves.
I held him, and would not let him go …

The writer of the Song of Songs finds the beloved by doing one simple thing. Getting up.

The love of Christ controls us, says St Paul. A better translation is compelled. We are never controlled by God but the love of Christ, our love, compels us. The disciplines of the Christian life are never obligations imposed on us; we feel freely a compulsion to fast, to keep vigil, to pray, to get up early. Compulsions that replace the compulsions, the addictions of the world.

Our Christian freedom is shown when we are not controlled  by staying up late, but when we behave differently to those around us. When the patterns of our life, the habits of our use of time are set by the gospel.

“Suddenly a White Rabbit with pink eyes ran close by [Alice].

There was nothing so very remarkable in that; nor did Alice think it so very much out of the way to hear the Rabbit say to itself, “Oh dear! Oh dear! I shall be too late!” (when she thought about it afterwards, it occurred to her that she ought to have wondered at this, but at the time it all seemed quite natural); but, when the Rabbit actually took a watch out of its waistcoat-pocket, and looked at it, and then hurried on, Alice started to her feet, for it flashed across her mind that she had never before seen a rabbit with either a waistcoat-pocket, or a watch to take out of it, and, burning with curiosity, she ran across the field after it …”

Are you curious to know the risen Jesus, to hear him speak your name?

Don’t be like the White Rabbit, always late, wake up, and very early in the morning, while it is still dark you will meet him.

All you need is love: sermon for the ordination of priests, Liverpool Cathedral 2021

Liverpool Cathedral 

12 June 2021

Ordinations to the Priesthood

Sermon: Father Richard Peers

Genesis 22:2-14

John 15:9-17

***

Jesus said:  love each other.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Please sit down.

Wow, bishop Paul/Bev.

Wow, diocese of Liverpool,

Wow, everyone watching on livestream.

22 amazing people to be ordained priest here today. 22 amazing priests.

22 people who are sincere, serious, prayerful, big-hearted.

X …

It was a deep joy for me to spend even just a few hours with you this week. A privilege to be at this service with you today, to pray for you and to to talk to you, your colleagues, your families and friends, about our friend Jesus.

1967, the summer of love.

The Beatles had released their album Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band at the end of May that year. Brian Epstein signed them up for a TV Deal for one song, to be broadcast live on June 25th.

The instruction was clear: the song was to be broadcast simultaneously around the world, the lyrics had to be simple enough to be understood anywhere, in any language.

John Lennon set about it and in the broadcast 400 million people heard for the first time: All You Need Is Love.

That television broadcast was a programme called One World. In 1967 One World experiencing the same music, One World aspiring to love.

In 2021 One World is frighteningly real. One World in which a virus can spread to every corner of the globe in just a few months, in which variants come to dominate within weeks of emerging. 

All you need is love?

All of us here in the cathedral, all of you watching at home, what do you need, what do we need, this morning/afternoon?

Possibly you need the preacher not to go on too long. 

If you are X …. you need to be ordained priest.

To get to this day the women and men to be ordained priest needed to discern a call to priesthood with the Church and their bishops. They needed to absorb and regurgitate in essays knowledge of Scripture and theology. They needed to confirm that call to priesthood with their Training Incumbents and title parishes in this deacons’ year.

All You Need Is Love.

To love is to be people of heart. St Benedict in his Rule writes about enlarging the heart, expanding the heart.

X … this is the thing you need most for this ministry, 

to be big-hearted people.

In my conversations with you over the last two days, short as that has been, that is what has encouraged me most – to see the bigness of your hearts.

To be a big-hearted person is not to absorb all the pain that you will meet in your ministry; it is not to take into yourself and hold there the brokenness of the world. 

It is not to solve all the problems the loveless; the lonely; the desperate by your own actions, your own love.

If you try and do all that you will quickly burn out. 

If you try and do all that your heart will soon whither.

To be big hearted is to be spacious. 

To have enough room in your heart not for your love, but for God’s love.

To be empty enough of yourself and your own preoccupations for the love of God to dwell in you.

The opposite of a big heart is a hardened heart. 

A heart that holds on tightly, a heart that is too full of its own hurts and injuries and in which there is no breathing space.

As I spoke with you this week some of you shared the pains, the sorrows, the brokenness of your own lives. 

And this is the best news yet.

This is how God tenderises our hearts. How God softens us. 

How we are opened up to recognise in our own suffering the suffering of others. 

To see that life can be tough and painful and sad, and that’s OK.

All you need is love.

There are various stories about how and when Lennon wrote the song. Perhaps it was quickly in just the few weeks leading up to the One World broadcast.

He wrote a song in simple words to say profound things.

That is the task ahead of you dear friends being ordained today. 

There’s no hurry, you can spend the rest of your life doing it.

From the spaciousness of your hearts, from your tenderised hearts, can you speak in simple words, as simple as the words Jesus uses: 

love each other?

From the spaciousness of your hearts from your tenderised hearts, can you demonstrate in simple actions that glorious freedom that being loved by God gives us? 

The freedom from our own histories and narratives.  

Freedom from our own internalised images of ministry; freedom from the projections of our society on us of ministry.

Only one thing can give us that freedom, only one thing can fuel our ministry.

All you need is love. 

One of my favourite spiritual writers talks of the need we have for ‘beginner’s mind’.

In the beginner’s mind there are endless possibilities. 

A beginner doesn’t mind failing, is happy to laugh at themselves,

is serious about the task but doesn’t take themselves too seriously.

A priest is never an expert.  

A priest is always a beginner. 

Always open to new possibilities, always a learner. 

For a priest there are always endless opportunities.

Bread and wine that can become the Body and Blood of Christ. Sins that can be forgiven. Lives that can be healed and blessed.

One of the things I loved over the last two days as I spent time with our wonderful priest candidates was that there was no sense of entitlement.

None of you thought you had it sussed, that you had arrived.

You talked of being completely surprised by this call; of wanting to go deeper.

The church of God, the Diocese of Liverpool, the communities you serve are blessed by your beginner’s minds.

Christian writers in the east speak of the mind descending into the heart, so that all your knowledge and experience dwells in the centre of your being in a spacious heart. A heart where love is not simply an emotion but a decision, a choice, as you are making a choice for your lives today. 

A choice for love and freedom.

Only one thing can give us that freedom, only one thing can fuel our ministry.

All you need is love.

And that love is what we find in the gospel we have just heard. 

It is friendship with Jesus.

X … never forget that above all else, above all the things that you will do and will fill your diaries and lives with, you are called to friendship with Jesus. 

You will have to guard time to sustain that friendship by reading and studying Scripture, by praying, by having a friendship with Jesus that you can talk to other people about in the same simple language that Jesus uses. 

You may not be John Lennon, but you do need to talk about Jesus from your own knowledge and experience.

And that’s the question posed to all of us who are Christians in this building today or watching on livestream: 

how is our friendship with Jesus doing, 

how is my friendship with Jesus, how is yours?

And to those of you who don’t know Jesus who are here perhaps to support a relative or friend, what does Jesus mean to you?

Perhaps you didn’t come to the cathedral this morning/afternoon expecting to discover love but that is what Jesus is offering you. 

If you want to know more about this amazing friendship that he offers speak to one of these newly ordained priests, or give them a break and speak to one of the rest of us after the service. 

Ask us about Jesus, test us out and see if we speak truthfully, authentically about this friend we have.

X … be big-hearted priests.

All you need is love. 

All I need is love. 

All we need is love. 

For this One World.

Glorious complexity: Sermon for Trinity Sunday, Christ Church Cathedral 2021

Sermon

Christ Church Cathedral

30 May 2021 Trinity Sunday

Fr Richard Peers SMMS

In the name of the Father …

I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,

One of my favourite poems is W.B. Yeats’ ‘The Lake Isle of Innesfree’. 

It is just twelve lines in three verses, here’s the first:

I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,

And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made;

Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honey-bee,

And live alone in the bee-loud glade.

What a lovely thought. 

A life of simplicity.

From the romanticism of  Thoreau’s ‘Walden’, to the island idyll of Robinson Crusoe the simple life appeals.

Jesus is sometimes portrayed as living the simple life.  An itinerant preacher wandering around Palestine from place to place with a band of friends.

But I don’t think there is anything simple about Jesus at all. He is one of the most complex, interesting, fascinating people I know. I never tire of talking to Jesus when I pray; I never get bored of reading the things he said, the stories he told..

I don’t imagine that Nicodemus thought Jesus was simple either. Quite the opposite.

If you want to see Jesus’ complexity read the gospel we have just heard, the encounter between Nicodemus and Jesus. It is wonderfully complex.

Light, darkness, world, flesh, spirit, born again, testimony, earthly and heavenly things; Moses and serpents.

Almost any sentence of this gospel could fuel a lifetime of research.

Poor Nicodemus comes off none too well. He is the foil to Jesus;  to those who do understand, the believers. 

His ignorance, his not-knowing and not understanding is typical of what is often called John’s irony.

But we should not be too pleased with ourselves if we place ourselves among those who do understand .

For those who compiled the lectionary, the series of readings from Scripture that we use week by week and day by day, Trinity Sunday must have posed a bit of a challenge. The Trinity is present implicitly in Scripture, of course, but nowhere explicitly. 

I don’t know if the compilers chose today’s Gospel ironically, but there is definitely a sardonic quality in reading this passage about not understanding on a day when we celebrate a doctrine that is, to put it mildly, difficult to understand.

Well, I hope you won’t be disappointed in me if I tell you that I won’t be explaining the Trinity to you this morning.  You are not going to leave Christ Church cathedral with a two sentence definition of the nature of God. I will leave that sort of thing to my canon professorial colleagues.

Quite the opposite. I don’t want to give you any explanations or definitions. I want you, us, to live with not knowing, not understanding.

It may be somewhat radical to say this from the heart of an Oxford college but it seems to me that living with not knowing, living with the questions is as important as getting the answers right.

This is at the heart of the spiritual life. To acknowledge that we are not in control, that we cannot know everything.

Simplicity can be attractive just as all fundamentalisms are attractive. They remove complication, ambiguity and complexity. They reduce the complex to standard answers and easy formulas.

We see this over and over again in politics and history. The simple lies that some politicians tell attract votes and supporters. 

We see it too in our labelling of people. People are either saints or sinners, good or bad, heroes or villains. yet in my 56 years I have never met anyone who was only one of those things. I have never met anyone who is not a sinner, is not capable of doing bad things, of appalling indifference or failings of judgement. I know I am.

Yet we are deeply understanding of our own complexity and deeply unforgiving of anyone else’s.

I think it is better sometimes to stop trying to explain the Trinity but to examine what we can learn from the complexity of God.

There is (inevitably) a theory of complexity. One definition of this complexity that I found describes it in six ways.

Complex things:

  • are dynamic, they are continuously changing
  • are far from equilibrium, have the potential to change and take alternative paths
  • are open systems, that interchange energy and information
  • involve feedback. What happens next depends on what happened previously
  • are systems where the whole is more than the sum of the parts
  • are causal and yet indeterminate

I like these as ways of thinking about how we as Christians can be, if we allow our lives to mirror the life of the Trinity. If we live with complexity. If we become more God-like, more divine.

Having the right answer all the time is deadening.  Asking the questions is dynamic.

The Christian life is a life of constant conversion, of changing, of admitting that we got it wrong and need to do something differently.

The church needs to be the least closed system, it must interpret the world to itself and to the world.

The church needs to be receptive to feedback; self reflective.

The church is always more than any one of us.

The church needs to create change, not simply reacting to the world but proactively creating God’s kingdom of justice, love and peace.

And each of these can be applied to us as individuals too.

Are we dynamic, continually being converted? Are we able to change? Are we open to new information, new energy? Do we receive feedback from others, and reflect on our lives?

Are we able to collaborate effectively with others to bring more justice in the world?

My reading of the gospels makes me think that Jesus was like that. Despite our images of him as somehow simple and straightforward, he is very far from that. Like every other human being he is complex, complicated and fascinating. Over and over again in the gospels he refuses the simple answers. Rather he comes at things at a tangent, unexpectedly. 

He refuses Nicodemus simplistic answers and presents him with a range of ambiguous words:

Light, darkness, world, flesh, spirit, born again, testimony, earthly and heavenly things; Moses and serpents.

So as followers of Jesus, as friends of Jesus, let’s live with complexity. Let’s embrace complex truth and reject the simplistic lie.

And the church gives us a way to rehearse complex living; to practise living with ambiguity, in our life of prayer.

It is infinitely practical, infinitely doable. And it is my challenge to you today to take up this practice if you are serious about Christianity, serious about praying, if you seriously want to embrace complexity.

It is the daily, day by day, praying of the psalms.

Rowan Williams in his book ‘On Augustine’ says this:

“The church’s worship … is not accidental or marginal to the church’s very being. … the singing of the Psalms becomes the most immediate routine means of identifying with the voice of Christ.”

This is so important. If you want an immediate, routine way of becoming more Christlike it is to take your bible, or your prayer book and open it at the psalms and pray them. If you have a Book of Common Prayer it gives you a way of doing that over a month. Praying them over and over again until they become part of the fabric of who you are. This is not one pious practice among others, one among a range of ‘spiritualities’, it is the normative way for Christians to pray. The routine way of Christian prayer.

The psalms are wonderfully, deliciously complex and ambiguous. They are never tiring, never dull, you will never be bored by them. Praying them day after day they become good friends, companions on our journey through life with all its ambiguities and complexity.

I love the image from our first reading in Isaiah of the hot coal touched to the prophet’s lips.  Nothing could be more complex than coal, formed in the planet’s depths over millenia, the residue of living organisms.

If you pray the psalms daily, get to know and love them, you will see that they are hot coals, burning with divine energy, the result of centuries of formation and reformation. They will touch your lips and you will be burnt.

It is no surprise to me that our complex and ambiguous God, the Holy and Undivided Trinity should give us such complex and ambiguous texts to pray with.

The psalms contain everything. Anger. love, friendship, repentance, light, darkness, war, enemies, violence, depression, despair, delight, ecstasy.

When Frideswide and her community prayed here on this site in the seventh century, they prayed the psalms, when the Augustinian canons prayed, they prayed the psalms, the canons of Christ Church have prayed the psalms for nearly five hundred years as we do day by day now.

For Christians, the psalms, because of their complexity, because they are difficult, contain, as Augustine puts it the whole Christ, the totus Christus. And therefore they contain the whole Trinity.  The Creator of the universe in all his majesty, the Messiah-Son who is anointed king and the Spirit, the voice that thunders on the waters and which is the abyss, speaking to abyss.

This is why each time we as Christians, pray the psalms, as we do here at Christ Church, day by day, we end each psalm with the doxology. We embrace and immerse ourselves in the complex, life of God who is Trinity. God who defies all simplistic explanations and all fundamentalisms. God who is so gloriously impossible to explain.

And if you only read one psalm when you get home today or some time this week. Here is a psalm for the Trinity, Psalm 29, God’s threefold voice echoing the Holy, Holy, Holy of Isaiah.

In Hebrew the Lord’s voice is Kol Adonai, I will never forget singing this in synagogue with Jewish friends, the Lord’;s voice Kol Adonai, repeated as we sang”

3 The Lord’s voice resounding on the waters,

the Lord on the immensity of waters;

4 the voice of the Lord, full of power,

the voice of the Lord, full of splendour.

5 The Lord’s voice shattering the cedars,

the Lord shatters the cedars of Lebanon;

6 he makes Lebanon leap like a calf

and Sirion like a young wild ox.

7 (The Lord’s voice flashes flames of fire.)

8 The Lord’s voice shaking the wilderness,

the Lord shakes the wilderness of Kadesh;

9 the Lord’s voice rending the oak tree

and stripping the forest bare.

3b The God of glory thunders.

10 In his temple they all cry: “Glory!” [Grail Psalms]

Glory be to the Father,

and to the Son,

and to the Holy Spirit.

As it was in the beginning,

is now,

and ever shall be,

world without end.

Amen.

Good grief: go and open the door

As tender as father to child,

so gentle is God to believers.

Psalm 103 (ICEL version, 1994)

My dad died. I don’t know quite what to do with that.

When I was thirteen we moved from Brixworth, a village in Northamptonshire where we had been living, to just outside of Reading. For years my very sporty family had tried to discover the sport at which I would excel. Tennis. Table tennis. Snooker. Cricket lessons. Sailing. Finally, they got the message. Poetry, drama. Inevitably, as sports obsessives, they got it wrong and it had to become competitive. Poetry, plays, acting. Eisteddfods, certificates, competitions. I didn’t need the competition but I loved the people, the words, the reading.

When we moved to Reading dad realised how much those Friday nights meant to me. Rather than end them he drove me, at the end of his working week, every other Friday for four years. He sat in a car park somewhere while I attended my drama classes. And he drove me home. I loved those classes. But I wonder if he ever knew that the journey was much more important to me? Four hours alone with my dad. Four hours in the car. Talking, listening. I always read him the poems and the plays from my class. All the classics of the ‘western canon’.

It was an unlikely scene. Father and son reciting poetry and plays and listening to music. Dad’s favourite operas. The symphonies that he loved. The horn in the second movement of Tchaikovsky’s fifth.

Dad only ever gave me two books. The Music Lovers, Catherine Bowen’s account of Tchaikovsky’s life and Desmond Morris’s The Naked Ape. We never talked about either of them but they were inspired gifts. He knew me through and through.

I didn’t see much of dad in his last year. Covid would not allow that. But I did see him a week before he died. In St James’ Hospital in Leeds. I played him his favourite scene from La Bohème. Che Gelida manina. I told him I loved him. He couldn’t speak. I fed him liquid food. Just as he must have fed me. In our beginning is our end.

The narrative in our family is that dad couldn’t express his emotions. He left the room when soppy stuff was on the television. He left the room when anyone mentioned David, my brother, who died when he was five.

Those years of driving, Reading to Northampton and back, that time was the most important imaginable for a father and son. My adolescence was formed by them, shaped by them, they are the rich seam, the deep mine that sustains me. A father’s love. I never doubted that love. Unconditional.

Dad loved romantic poets. The obvious, and the not so obvious. The Lake Isle of Innisfree. Then for one competition I had to recite Miroslav Holub’s The Door.

My dad was in touch with sadness. My brother dying. His own dad leaving the family when dad was a small child. Sadness, but freedom in that sadness. No shade of resentment.

My dad died. 

Go and open the door, even if there’s nothing there.

Go and open the door.

Even if there’s only

the darkness ticking,

even if there’s only

the hollow wind,

even if

nothing

is there,

go and open the door.

Tymawr Convent – Holy Week Addresses 2021

Much of this material formed my talk to the Prayer Book Society this Lent and the material on Psalm 119 has appeared in several places on blogs previously.

From the convent website

Society of the Sacred Cross, Tymawr

Fr Richard Peers SMMS

Towards the mercy-seat: the psalms in Christian life

Two years ago my mother died.

It was wonderful to be able to be around her bed as she breathed her last breath.

I am even more conscious of that privilege now that most people are not able to have their loved with them as they die. This is very real for you and also for my family, news of my dad dying coming on Palm Sunday afternoon.

As my mother died my brother and sister and I prayed the Rosary together and it was very beautiful to see her lips move with the prayers, so familiar to her, even though she  could not make any sound.

Last words are rightly important. Jesus’s final words, the famous ‘seven last words’ are rightly treasured and meditated on by Christians. the fact that he chose words from the psalms My God, my God why have you forsaken me. is not insignificant.

Jesus in his dying breath gifts us the book of psalms as the very foundation of Christian prayer. 

The apostolic church when it met together prayed with ‘hymns and psalms’. 

Christians at all times and in all places have prayed the psalms, sanctifying time with the daily round of psalmody.

Psalms are, of course, the bread and butter of all Christian prayer but especially of the monastic life which is, after all. just an intensification, a living out of the Christian, the baptised life.

In my three talks this week I am going to reflect on the psalms. Today on praying Jesus in the psalms, tomorrow on the place of mercy in the psalms and on Wednesday a close reading of one psalm, psalm 28, from which, in the Coverdale, Book of Common Prayer version we get this lovely phrase: “towards the mercy seat” which is the overall title for my talks.

I love the psalms. I hope that i communicate something to you of how rich, delightful and lasting the psalms are for prayer; how much they delight me every single day with their complexity and density. I have been praying the psalms seriously for over 40 years and I never tire of them; I endlessly find new things in them; they constantly speak in me and for me in new ways. Most of all, I find Jesus in them. Over and over again I hear him speaking; over and over again they speak of Jesus.

Of course, that might seem odd. The psalms were written some many centuries before Jesus.  

Finding Jesus in the psalms , praying Jesus in the psalms is essential to our Christian praying of the psalms. these are not simply ancient texts hallowed by use over the centuries. they are living prayers which give us the words to pray; which pray in Jesus, of Jesus and to Jesus.

The psalms are not simple. If they were they would become dull very quickly. We need to work at them. they are serious stuff. I always have a commentary by my  prayer stall. John Eaton on the psalms is excellent. But if I could recommend one thing to read on the psalms it is Rowan Williams book ‘On Augustine’ and only one Chapter in that book, the second chapter on Augustin’;e reading of the psalms. I have sent M. Katherine a series of extracts from that chapter which pick up the key themes.

Here are two of the most significant things that Rowan has to say about Augustine’s reading of the psalms:

“Singing the Psalms … becomes a means of learning what it is to inhabit the Body of Christ and to be caught up in Christ’s prayer. Just as Christ makes his own our lament, our penitence and our fear by adopting the human condition in all its tragic fullness as the material of his Body, so we are inevitably identified with what he says to his Father as God (e.g. en.Ps. 30 (ii) 3–4; 74.4; 142.3). Our relation to Christ is manifested as multi-layered: ‘He prays for us as our priest, he prays in us as our Head, he is prayed to by us as our God’ (en.Ps. 85.1). The meaning of our salvation is that we are included in his life, given the right to speak with his divine voice, reassured that what our human voices say out of darkness and suffering has been owned by him as his voice, so that it may in some way be opened to the life of God for healing or forgiveness.”

Listen to that key sentence again:

‘He prays for us as our priest, he prays in us as our Head, he is prayed to by us as our God.’

When we pray as Christians we pray as Christ. We are the body of Christ, every baptised person prays in persona Christi.

And Rowan goes on: 

“The church’s worship … is not accidental or marginal to the church’s very being. Obviously Augustine has much to say about the Eucharist as the prime locus for discovering ourselves as the Body; nevertheless, the singing of the Psalms becomes the most immediate routine means of identifying with the voice of Christ.”

Listen to that final sentence again:

“the singing of the Psalms becomes the most immediate routine means of identifying with the voice of Christ.”

Our praying of the psalms is the most immediate routine means. Our daily bread.

So, let’s look at one psalm together now. If you have your Office book or a Bible in front of you turn to the book of psalms and find Psalm 119.

Until a reform of the liturgy in 1910 Psalm 119 was prayed in its entirety every day at the Little Hours of the Office: prime, terce, Sext and None. by all who used the Roman Breviary. Many Anglican religious communities did this and continued to do so in to the 1960s and beyond. In the Rule of St Benedict this was the pattern on Sundays but on other days the psalms of Ascent were used.

Psalm 119 is the longest psalm with 176 verses. It is an alphabet acrostic with every verse of each section beginning with the same letter of the Hebrew alphabet. 

Evert verse except one (122) also contains a synonym for the Torah, the law.

But we should not think of the ;aw as a set of regulations. Torah is a much richer word than that. If you have ever seen Jews dancing with the Torah scrolls in the synagogue or reaching out to touch and kiss the scrolls you will know the passionate devotion and love felt for Torah.

And this is key to a Christian praying of the psalms.

Jesus said I am the way the truth and the life John 14:16.

In Psalm 119 Torah is described as the Way: nine times; the truth 7 times and as life 12 times.

When Jesus says this he is saying that he is the living Torah; Torah made flesh if you like.

And this is how we can pray this psalm. Richard Meux Benson reviver of the religious life in the Church of England and former student of Christ Church where I am writing from now suggests that a form of devotion we could use is pray this psalm replacing the synonyms for Torah with the holy Name of Jesus.

Here is an example secion:

153 Under affliction see me and rescue me,

for I have not forgotten Jesus. 

154 Uphold my cause, and deliver me; 

true to Jesus, grant me life. 

155 Unknown your mercy to the sinner 

who do not study Jesus. 

156 Unnumbered, Lord, are your blessings; 

according to Jesus grant me life.

157 Under all the assaults of my oppressors, 

I keep true to Jesus. 

158 Unhappy I looked at the faithless 

because they did not keep Jesus.

159 Up, Lord, and witness the love I bear Jesus; 

in your kindness preserve my life.

160 Unchanging truth is your Word’s fountain-head, 

Jesus is just.

One of my favourite short commentaries on Psalm 119 is by Jonathan Graham who was a monk at Mirfield.

In this quotation he captures something profoundly special for me about the praying of this psalm.

“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 restraint

the 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.”

May the praying of the psalms teach us this charmed monotony of a life vowed to Jesus in the vows of baptism, in the vows of religious life.

Talk 2

hesed

As we know well, the psalms contain the whole of human experience: lament and praise; passion and longing; victory and defeat; depression and ecstasy. An even, as we say in yesterday’s talk, in Psalm 119 the gentle and charmed monotony of daily life.

The psalms are compendium of human experience; an encyclopedia of our human-ness. By praying the psalms day by day we are giving prayerful voice to the sentiment that “nothing human is alien to me”. 

In the proclamation of the Christian faith in our time we face an enormous hurdle in what I like to think of as the existentialist fallacy; the myth that we are merely accidental organisms existing in isolation from one another. Christianity relies on our having a shared, common humanity; that the stuff, the material of which we are made is something that we have in common with every human being that has ever and will ver exist. This is important because without it the incarnation is unnecessary and the redemption wrought by the cross and resurrection can have no possible effect on us.

We are saved only because our common human-ness is saved. 

That human-ness has its roots in the biblical account of creation where God creates us in our own image and likeness. Again, this is really important because it both means that God’s first revelation of God-ness is in our own being but also that when God became man in Jesus the gulf is at the same time immense and yet not impossible. God could become human because it was always going to be a good fit, to use clumsy language. When mystical theology speaks of our becoming divine, our divinisation, the gulf is not impossible to bridge because we are already God shaped.

So when we recite the psalms they both help us to realise our human-ness and remind us that there is something in that which correlates closely to divine nature.

For many years i have taught mindfulness meditation to children and adults. Simple mindfulness of breathing and occasional loving-kindness visualisations. Adults are always rather self-conscious about describing their experience but children speak very powerfully about it. Over and over again i have heard children say two things: It is like there is someone there.” and “Its’s like coming home, like I belong.”.

This is exactly right, our busy-ness the many things which we pass the time and fill our days all too easily alienate us from ourselves. So that we experience the nausea that the existentialists identify.

Yet when we sit in stillness we can ‘come home’ to our basic humanity. And we can find that there is someone there.

The psalms function like that too. By repeating them over and over again we come home to being human and we find in their narration that Someone who is the constant in the story: God.

That recitation of the psalms either in order, as in the Prayer Book Office, or in some other arrangement has an objectivity to it that is important. Our common human-ness is not based on any individual’s ability to empathise with others. Nor is based on feeling that feelings that are expressed. The psalms simply reflect a human experience that is real, that exists, that is. 

So I have described how the events that we are celebrating in this Holy Week rely on our common humanity to be efficacious, to have any effect. They also rely on another aspect of our human nature that is essential to make redemption not only possible, that is, of course, sin.

Sin is why we need saving. It is what makes salvation necessary.

In our world sin is not very fashionable. We prefer a more therapeutic understanding human nature. I believe therapies of many kinds are important and helpful, but if we don’t recognise sin in ourselves we will find it impossible to understand the Christian faith let alone participate in salvation. 

The psalms of course are full of sins. The psalms of repentance; the penitential psalms; psalms that express anger and hatred and wish destruction on our enemies. I very much recommend that you pray those psalms too and don’t omit them as many modern arrangements of psalms for worship do. If we whitewash over human nature we are missing out on a crucial part of the picture.

When we think of sin we have a tendency to think of it in a legalistic kind of ways; as lists of rule-breaking; particular individual things that we wrong. This is, of course, true. We all commit sins; we all do break the rules.

But sin is more like the fundamental orientation of our lives. A picture that I find helpful is of a bicycle on which the front wheel is not properly aligned with the handle-bar. If you have ever tried to ride a bike in that state you will know how difficult it is. It is impossible to cycle in a straight line no matter how hard we try.

We are sinners.

That is who we are and who we will remain as long as we live.

The psalms show us how God reacts to the fact our sinfulness. It is in a simple Hebrew word, hesed (pronounced with a soft ‘ch’ at the start like Scottish loch).

It occurs an amazing 127 times in the book of Psalms in contrast to the next books where it occurs most often 1 Samuel and Genesis where it occurs a mere 11 times each.

hesed is translated a variety of ways. Most often in the Prayer Book-Coverdale psalms, as loving-kindness, but sometimes just as kindness, or mercy or goodness.

The problem with mercy is that it can all too easily sound like God’s reaction to that list of sins, a ticking off in the sense not of telling off but of forgiving each sin individually.

In fact God’s loving-kindness is much deeper and more significant than that. It embraces the whole of us, it embraces us as sinners.

Because of our culture people often come to the Confessional with deep seated self hatred. shame and loathing. I occasionally as a penance propose using a praise psalm for the sin. Praising God for the fact of sin which has brought us to the means of grace; brought us to repentance and which reveals our need for God, our need for Jesus.

I love the Jesus prayer:

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.

It contains that hesed, that mercy which is God’s reaction to us.

It acknowledges that I am a sinner, and I find that tremendously liberating.

I am a sinner, I always will be a sinner, I will always need Jesus.

I don’t know if you have been able to make your confession this Lent, this Holy Week.

Allow me to set you a penance.

Read Psalm 135.

It is a great litany of hesed.

The refrain Great is his love, love without end.

His mercy endures for ever.

His hesed will never end.

Talk 3

Towards the mercy-seat

Read psalm 28 in the Coverdale/BCP version:

[28]. PSALM XXVIII. Ad te, Domine.

1 Unto thee will I cry, O Lord my strength :

think no scorn of me; lest, if thou make as though thou hearest not, 

I become like them that go down into the pit.

2 Hear the voice of my humble petitions, when I cry unto thee :

when I hold up my hands towards the mercy-seat of thy holy temple.

3. O pluck me not away, neither destroy me with the ungodly and wicked doers :

which speak friendly to their neighbours, but imagine mischief in their hearts.

4. Reward them according to their deeds :

and according to the wickedness of their own inventions.

5. Recompense them after the work of their hands :

pay them that they have deserved.

6. For they regard not in their mind the works of the Lord, nor the operation of his hands :

therefore shall he break them down, and not build them up.

7. Praised be the Lord :

for he hath heard the voice of my humble petitions.

8. The Lord is my strength, and my shield; my heart hath trusted in him, and I am helped :

therefore my heart danceth for joy, and in my song will I praise him.

9. The Lord is my strength :

and he is the wholesome defence of his Anointed.

10. O save thy people, and give thy blessing unto thine inheritance :

feed them, and set them up for ever.

Biblical scholars on the psalms have spent much energy identifying different types or genres of psalm. Psalm 28 is agreed by all scholars to be a lament of an individual. There may also be a royal element to this with the voice of the speaker being identified with that of the king; we know that the psalms are traditionally ascribed to David and this one even includes the word Anointed in verse 9. As Christians we know that Jesus is the descendant of David and the anointed messiah, so we should always sit up when we notice the word in Scripture.

It is in fact a rather nicely constructed psalm and typical of psalms of lament that move from woe to praise. This is, of course true of Psalm 22 which Jesus prayed from the cross and moves from the desolation in the opening to praise at the end, a movement frequently commented on in devotional writing about the crucifixion.

I am going to comment on two features of the psalm.

The first is the passage that forms verses 4 – 6 (read them again). In the current form of the Roman Catholic Daily Office these verses are omitted as being unsuitable for public worship. I imagine this entire psalm does not appear in Common Worship provision either.

As I said earlier in the week I think it is a shame to omit this important part of human life.

One of my favourite psalms is psalm 93. It is a psalm I have often used in school assemblies.

When I was Headteacher of a rage comprehensive school in south London almost all of the children were black. The older boys would quite often be stopped by the police and sometimes searched, the controversial stop and search policy; if the young men reacted badly they might find themselves taken done to the local police station. On one occasion our Head Boy thus found himself under arrest and his mother rang me to meet her there to take him home. I had often spoken to the school about the importance of good manners and how we are more likely to get what we want by speaking politely. By the time his mum and I got there he had calmed down and was being extremely polite. He was soon released and we were on our way out.

As we walked out of the station this young man bent down (he is very tall) and whispered to me the opening lines of Psalm 93. Do you know them?

Here is the Grail version:

O Lord, avengingGod, avenging God draw near.

I was thrilled. He understood that his anger was appropriate, but he also understood that there was an appropriate time and place and means of expressing it.

These psalms, these verses are important. We might like to think ourselves incapable of wanting revenge, or even victory, or even of having enemies. But that is probably unlikely. What is certain is that these are common human feelings. Acknowledging the reality of them is essential if we are to be fully human and if we are to allow that full humanity to be redeemed.

The second element in this psalm that I want to draw your attention to is in the second half verse 2 when the psalmist talks of the mercy-seat.

Mercy-seat has now become an established part of the English language. Even some modern translations use it. 

When Miles Coverdale was translating the psalms in the early sixteenth century he consulted the German translation of the Bible that Martin Luther had produced. In that text this word gnadenstuhl appears. Mercy-seat, is a translation of the Hebrew word kaporet. It doesn’t really mean seat at all. It refers to the lid on the box or container in which the tablets of the law were stored. The lid, the kaporet had a statue of an angel, a cherubim at each side. If you google this you will find some images. On the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur – kippur having the same root as kaporet) the High Priest would sprinkle the blood of the sacrificed ram on the kaporet.

I like the translation mercy-seat because it captures the sense of something concrete, is not an abstract concept or even a place it is a thing. I haven’t found any modern translation that does better; most do worse by turning it into something abstract.

In my first two talks I have reflected on the Christian use of the psalms, this word kaporet is a good example of that. 

In the century before Jesus the Hebrew bible was translated, allegedly by 70 scholars, into Greek. These seventy led to the translation being called the Septuagint, often in books indicated by the Roman numerals for 70, LXX. It is this version of the Hebrew Bible that St Paul quotes from.

The Septuagint translates our word kaporet by the Greek word Hilasterion. This word occurs just twice in the New Testament, both in St Paul’s writing at Romans 3:25 and Hebrews 9:5.

In Romans this verse is key to understanding what Jesus does.

[Christ] whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. [ESV]

I have already spoken about the importance of sin in Christian life and the necessity of our common humanity for Jesus’ saving work to be possible, to be effective.

the hilasterion, the kaporet, the mercy seat is the propitation, the offering of Jesus himself.

Reading the psalms, reciting them day by day as Christians takes us to the heart of our biblical, Christian faith. The Old and New Testaments as we call them are not in any way separate. They are a continuum; the new is foreshadowed in the old because they are simply the single story of salvation history; of God’s plan for humanity. Just as our very humanity, our own beings reveals God to us because we are created in his image and likeness.

This Holy Week, we are on pilgrimage to the mercy-seat. Not to the container of the tablets of the Law but to the living Torah, Jesus himself who is the way, the truth and the life.

Finding God in gardens: one couple’s experience

Sacred, Christ Church Cathedra, Oxford 21st March, 2021

Sub Dean, Fr Richard Peers and his partner Jim Cable, horticultural writer

Trinity After Rublev, Meg Wroe

RICHARD 

When I learnt my catechism as a child I learnt the first question by heart:

Why did God make me? He made me to know him, to love him and serve him.

God wants us to know him. One way I have come to know God better is in gardens.

I’ve been examining the Church of England’s calendar of saints recently. Those people we remember as we celebrate the Eucharist and Morning and Evening Prayer each day.

Someone not me has done the maths and worked out that 80% of those commemorated are men. Just 20%, a fifth are women. And just as strange is that only 5% were married. Part of the vocation of LGBT+ people in the church is not to have the conversation about homo-sexuality but to embrace the conversation about sexuality. 

This is particularly strange to me because after my baptism as a Christian, my 35 year relationship – so far- with Jim is the principal means of grace in my life. It is this relationship that most converts me, most turns me from self-centredness and sin, and most engages me in the universe. It is my relationship with Jim that is my principal call to holiness, even though I constantly fail.

When I marry couples, I always give them a present, and the present I always give is a crucifix, that sign of Jesus dying to self, dying for us.

Christian marriage is a way God gives us of growing in holiness. Of dying to self. Jim constantly makes me, has to work making me less self-centred. 

I am often amused at the etymology of the word homosexual. It means same, of course in the Greek. In what Jim and I are going to say tonight I hope that you will see that apart from gender, we are incredibly different. I feel more hetero than homo to him. It is that difference, his love of gardening; his physical work; his finding Jesus in the garden, through gardening that enriches my life and draws me a little closer to holiness.

JIM  

When I was a child my parents were restless and their marriage not altogether happy. We moved house several times and my way of coping with the upheaval was to create my own little gardening space each time. It helped root me in the new place.

Gardening is a skilled practical task. It cannot be rushed. Many jobs require a high level of concentration. So when I am pruning, for instance, I am looking closely at where the buds are that will produce new branches and imagining the shape of the pruned tree or shrub that will result from my actions. There is a rhythm to it. At the same time, it is not that difficult – once you know what you are doing – so the mind, lightly tethered, can drift to some extent. …And that is where God creeps in. 

Psychologists refer to a state of flow. We might say we are in the zone. In any case we are deeply absorbed but also receptive. It is one reason why time flies in the garden.

I guess you could call this informal prayer and it comes naturally to me but Richard taught me by example early on in our relationship how to take what is on my mind to God in more ritualised ways. I was baptised and confirmed as an adult during the time Richard was at theological college. 

RICHARD 

Part of the difference between us is that I am a very religious person. I love going to church, worshipping, being with other Christians. I enjoy almost every kind of worship I have ever attended. From Pentecostal to Greek Orthodox. 

Jim came to faith while I was at theological college in the 1990s but his experience of prayer is very different to mine.

JIM

As well as the mindful craft work I described a garden can be a place for more defined prayerful practice.

I have been involved in two projects where a labyrinth has been central to the design – one outside a church in London and one in a historic walled garden open to the public. Lose yourself in a maze, find yourself in a labyrinth goes the phrase. And while trite it does hold some truth.

At Minsteracres retreat centre, near Consett, in County Durham there is a grass labyrinth near the main housedesigned by Michael Grogan. It is used spontaneously by visitors but also as a teaching aid for groups on retreat. Gardener and lay member of the community Lya Vollering explained to me that for people who find formal ‘religion’ difficult the labyrinth helps them get in touch with themselves, nature and a ‘higher power’. The journey to the centre of a labyrinth reflects the inner journey we all face, that of letting go of all that blocks our way to God. The Minsteracres labyrinth has a shiny stainless steel gateway at its centre. You see see yourself in the mirrored surface but in the context of the utterly beautiful County Durham landscape. God’s creation – the trees, the sky, sheep and wildlife. The centre offers a moment to give thanks before you begin your outward journey back into the world. Lya has used it many times with family and friends of substance misusers. Weather permitting, she encourages them to walk barefoot… “to feel the earth, the grass, to be grounded”.

RICHARD 

One of my favourite Christian writers is St Augustine. Augustine describes God as beauty. When we experience beauty we experience God. When I was a Head teacher we chose a new motto for the school and we came up with Deus pulchritudinis. God is beauty. 

I love many human made works of art, poetry, music, art. But there is something about the beauty of nature that involves no effort. We human beings can end up trying too hard. It is all about succeeding and even competing. But But nature is unselfconscious. Natural things are at ease with themselves.

JIM

When we garden it is almost impossible not to marvel at God’s creation. 

Perhaps the obvious thing we look for in a garden is flowers. We enjoy their colour, scent and intricate arrangements.

Flowers have evolved to aid pollination and perpetuate a species. They are not for us human beings so why do we respond so positively towards them – that miniscule leap deep inside when we stumble upon a perfectly formed bloom. We don’t often eat flowers; they serve no practical function and yet they speak to us.

As the poet, Louis Hemmings, puts it:

How do flowers bring hope?

How do their silent lips speak?

What dreams their sweet scents evoke?

Flowers give strength to the weak.  

It is a bit of mystery. Colour may be significant. The ability to spot ripe fruit amongst vegetation would have been a useful and rewarding skill to our ancestors. I feel symmetry has something to do with it. As Professor Jonathan Edwards, of University College, London puts it “The beauty of the delicate flower is in the sexy invisibility of an unbelievably intricate act of creation and our attraction to it is likely to be an exaptation – of no usefulness in itself but a sign of a useful attraction to things that show ordered complexity.” 

RICHARD 

I do a lot of work with individuals as they reflect on their spiritual lives. I have worked on my own spiritual life with directors since I was a teenager. I have hundreds, thousands of books about prayer and spirituality. But if I had to sum up spirituality in a single phrase it would be remarkably simple. 

The whole of the spiritual life, consists, I believe in doing one thing: letting go.

When Jesus died he was letting go.

Letting go of control, letting go of life itself, letting go of holding on.

JIM

Gardening is a creative interaction with Nature. It is a form of control made most manifest in the grand formal gardens of the 17th century but, try as we might, the results are never perfect. While formal gardens are impressive, I prefer a lighter touch. I love the wilder areas of my garden but in a sense, they work in contrast to the imposed neatness of the more ‘gardened’ areas. Letting go is an important counterbalance to discipline and that juxtaposition makes a garden. Thankfully we are learning that since it is futile to attempt to control what is a living eco system there is no place for chemicals in our gardens. 

W creating a new garden I like to recycle what is on site rather than filling a skip and buying new. 

RICHARD 

If you come and visit us at the Sub Deanery here at Christ Church you will see lots of versions of this famous icon of the Trinity by Andrei Rublev. The Trinity is what we as Christians think God is like.

For me one of the most powerful lessons of the doctrine is existence of difference at the heart of God’s own being, God’s own life.

LGBT+ have an important vocation in the human family because we will always be different; always be the minority and that’s good.

I believe profoundly that when we are most ourselves we allow other people to be themselves.

JIM

Over my career working with volunteers in a garden setting has been a great joy. The two places where I have encountered the most diversity in the people I engage with have been within the Church and in the sphere of Horticulture. Gardening seems to be a great leveller. And of course, as a physical space a garden can be a great place to meet others. We are blessed here at Christ Church with a garden in the centre of a city. Now the grip of the pandemic seems to be loosening we are looking forward to entertaining in the garden and hearing people share their unique stories. There is something about being in the safe living embrace of a garden that helps us relax and be honest with one another just as walking in the countryside or even going on a long drive together can help us speak the truth. Perhaps one day we can hold an open-air Sacred in the Sub-Deanery garden?

RICHARD 

One of the things I am enjoying most about being here at Christ Church is the opportunity to meet and form friendships with our academic colleagues in the college and university. This Lent I have been interviewing some of those colleagues as part of what we are calling Open House which is a conversation we live stream on Monday evenings.

In my preparation for one of those I had a great discussion with Mishtooni Bose, a professor of literature about suffering. How we cope with suffering she said is the fundamental question of human life.

In this pandemic the whole human race has been confronted with the reality of suffering.

It is no accident that the principal sign of Christianity is a cross or crucifix. 

Suffering, and how we deal with it is who we are.

JIM

The Church year has a definite structure and overlays the natural cycle of the seasons. A true gardener loves winter as much as high summer. It is a time for work as well as waiting. The death of winter is merely a transition time with life slowed to an almost silent tick within the dormant plants, bulbs and seeds.

At this time of year, during Lent, gardeners are acutely aware of the lengthening days of spring.  Easter is a time to sow and nurture and marvel at the reburgeoning of the garden that will lead to an abundance of food and flowers for the summer feast days.

RICHARD 

Jim and I met 35 years ago. We knew pretty early on that we wanted the same thing. 

We wanted a shared life, a life together.

As the Song of Songs in the bible says love is a strong as death, fierce

But I am also with St Augustine once again. Love is an act of the will, it is a decision.

To commit is to make an irrevocable decision. It’s a bit counter cultural. We like to think that we have a choice, choices all the time.

Although I had been brought up in a Christian family it was as a teenager that I committed my life to Jesus. I had an experience of God, of the Holy Spirit that was so powerful that I knew there could be no going back. 

My commitment to Jesus, my commitment to Jim are both part of the same thing.

They are choices I have made as I craft my life.

Gardening is a craft. 

I have spent most of my life as a teacher in schools as well as a priest.

The thing I most want children and young people to know is that we are the craftspeople of our lives.

JIM

I think it is safe to say Richard is better at prayer and me at gardening but maintaining a prayer life or a garden each demand discipline and commitment. I know that gardening can be a solace in the hard times.

I am reminded of Kipling’s famous poem The Glory of The Garden – 

Oh, Adam was a gardener, and God who made him seesThat half a proper gardener’s work is done upon his knees,So when your work is finished, you can wash your hands and pray For the Glory of the Garden that it may not pass away!And the Glory of the Garden it shall never pass away! 

I abandon myself: Abraham in St Paul’s letter to the Romans

Christ Church Cathedral

Lent 2 

28th February 2021

Fr Richard Peers SMMS

Sources:

Schoeps, Hans Joachim. “The Sacrifice of Isaac in Paul’s Theology.” Journal of Biblical Literature, vol. 65, no. 4, 1946, pp. 385–392. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/3262158. Accessed 27 Feb. 2021.

Paul and the Patriarch: The Role of Abraham in Romans 4

N.T. Wright

Journal for the Study of the New Testament 35(3) 207–241

Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament, Beale, G.K. and Carson, D.A; Baker Academic 2007

Well, we now know the road map. there is light at the end of the tunnel. If all goes well by June 21st we will be out of lockdowns.

I expect there are things you are yearning to do.

I am yearning to see my dad in his care home. 

To go for a long walk that ends up with a pub lunch.

To invite people for dinner and sit at a table with friends.

I’ve never really thought of myself as particularly a travel addict but I am also yearning to go abroad, to hear people chatting in other languages, to see places I’ve never been before.

And I am yearning to worship in other languages. I love to go to church in France and pray in French.

One of the places I am missing most is the little Burgundy village of Taizé perched on a hill a few miles east of Cluny. I first went there when I was 17 and I have been most of not quite every year since. It’s the home of an ecumenical monastic community where thousands of young people gather over the summer months. I am excited that Clare, our college Chaplain, and Dirk an academic in chemistry and next year’s senior academic (Senior Censor) at Christ Church have agreed to come with me and a group of of students on a chaplaincy pilgrimage in June 2022.

When I am Taizé I maintain my discipline of celebrating Mass, the Eucharist every day by concelebrating with one of the monks in the little crypt chapel under the main community church. the chapel is full of icons and very beautiful. In the corridor outside there is a stunning stained glass window. It is tall and narrow and this canvas is a photo of just the lower half of it. It’s an image of a boy, perhaps seven or eight years old and you can just see adult hands , one on each shoulder. In the whole window you can see that the hands belong to the man stood behind him, a man with a long beard.

The window, made by one of the brothers of the community at Taizé portrays a story from Genesis 22. It’s a searing and heart breaking story. And even though I have this canvas on the wall in my cellar chapel here at Christ Church I can hardly bear to look at it. The boy is Isaac and the man is his father Abraham.  The story in Genesis 22 is the account of God asking Abraham to take his son, his first and most beloved son up a mountain and slaughter him, to kill him as a sacrifice.

Looking at this picture, this stained glass, the trust on Isaac’s face for his father is total.  His faith in him is total. His eyes look up secure in the knowledge that his father will care for him.

Genesis 22 is one of the most powerful passages, among many, in the Hebrew Scriptures. Jews today read this account on the High Holy Day, the Days of Awe, the Day of Atonement and the Jewish New Year each Autumn. 

In our first reading today St Paul reflects on the Abraham cycle of stories. The letter to the Romans where our first reading comes from is notoriously complex and Paul’s argument is difficult to understand. It is particularly hard for us to follow when we get snippets to read like today’s passage which really make no sense without the larger context, the whole argument. It is even harder to understand because our minds are full of the arguments of history. Our reading of St Paul is overlaid with thoughts about faith and works that owe more to the sixteenth century Reformation than to first century Judaism. Finally, it is hard for us to lay aside centuries of Christian anti-semitism that makes us think of the ‘superior’; Christian grace taking over from the supposed ‘inferior’ Jewish law.

Romans 4 is a key passage in Paul’s letter. Almost all of the commentaries will point you to Genesis 15 as the key text on which Paul is commenting. They do so because Paul is clearly reflecting on the promise made to Avram – who has not yet been renamed Abraham – that his seed would many. That Abraham would be the father of many nations.

However, I want you to think of this picture of Isaac as vital to understanding Paul’s viewpoint. Paul was clearly familiar with the Hebrew Scriptures, almost certainly in the popular Greek translation made at Alexandria. he would certainly have been familiar with what we know as chapter 15 of Genesis. The covenant God makes with Abram. But chapter 15 is hardly the most memorable , the most colourful, the most dramatic of the stories of Abraham.

The covenant is in some ways an important turning point in the story but it is not the heart of who Abraham is. It tells us very little about Abraham’s character or history.

The whole of that character, all of that history would have been in Paul’s mind as he wrote his letter and as he reflects on Abraham here.

Abraham is fascinating because (in Genesis 12) he leaves his homeland, his family and community behind. He leaves everything. In his travels he meets  Melchisdech, an otherwise unknown king and priest; a priest without lineage. God makes this covenant with Avram that his descendants will be as many as the stars of heaven and then he is asked to sacrifice his son, presumably necessary to make that happen on the mountain of Moriah. And Abraham obeys. he takes a knife, would to burn the body of his on on and goes up the mountain.

Only at the last minute does God intervene and halt the sacrifice.

Puzzlingly St Paul doesn’t make much of the obvious parallels between Isaac and Jesus, later Christians have often done this. I think that’s because Paul is much more concerned with Abraham as the image of the true believer whose faith is absolute trust in God.

Paul must surely have known what we call the Lord’s Prayer. The remarkably simple, seven clause prayer that Jesus taught his disciples when they asked him to teach them how to pray. Again it is so familiar to us that it is hard for us to read it as if for the first time. It is the fourth clause that stands out for me every time I pray it. “Thy will be done”.

Just think about how extraordinary this is. We spend our whole lives making plans, making sure we are in control of things, and then we pray Thy will be done.

We pray it but we don’t mean it. We get ourselves worked up for job interviews, we pray Thy will be done: but mean: God, make sure I get this job.

Abraham really meant it. If God’s will meant leaving home and everything he knew he would do it. If it meant killing his beloved son, he would do it.

As I’ve already said I miss worshipping in French. So I ahve been using some French in my prayers lately. One of my favourite French prayers is by Blessed Charles de Foulcauld, a hermit priest who died early in teh twentieth century and will soon be formally named as a saint:

The paryer begins Mon Père, Je m’abandonne à toi. My Father, I abandon myself to you.

It’s an impossibly hard paryer to really mean.

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.

An impossibly hard prayer to mean. But really all it does is extend that clause of the Lord’s Prayer: Thy will be done.

That is Paul’s faith, that is Abraham’s faith. Total abandonment to the divine will. 

This picture of Issac reminds us of nothing ore, but nothing less than all the crosses and crucifixes in this building. It is the sign of abandonment. The sign of giving ourselves totally and utterly to God.

This is the heart of the Christian faith. This is what Paul understands: It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.

Forget sterile arguments about faith versus works. Pauls’ understanding of Abraham is utterly simple. As simple as the faith of a child. Into your hands I commend my spirit, my life my all. Je m’abandonne à toi.

Sources: the Beginning of the Sodality

This talk used to be available elsewhere and several people have asked me for it recently. In the Sodality we are in a review period as we prepare for a new Superior and for the first cohort of life commitments (which will new in 2022). It seems appropriate therefore to post this here for reference. I put this talk on my then blog, there was. amigo response which led to organising the first gathering at St Saviour’s, Pimlico and after that the creation of. aFormation Group who wrote the Manual together. And thus began the Sodality …

A talk to the Southwark Chapter at Trinity All Through School, Lewisham on Wednesday 14th January, 2015
Fr Richard Peers SCP
UIOGD

Father David (our co-Rector) has suggested that we reflect on our Rule and life as a Society. I hope you will forgive me for doing so in my usual forthright, headmasterly manner; even though I do feel a little trepidation in the presence of some of our founders. I suggested a ten minute talk which he thought wasn’t quite long enough; so blame him when you look at your watches.

It is not good, the accepted wisdom has it, to label people. Clergy don’t like to be labelled. Or they claim so many labels that they become meaningless, everyone seems to be a ‘liberal catholic with charismatic tendencies and an evangelical love of the bible’ or a ‘liturgy loving evangelical with a celtic hinterland’.

So let me be clear: I like labels, I am happy to claim a few for myself and when it come to ‘churchpersonship’ mine is pretty clear, I am an Anglo-Catholic. That is to say I am an Anglican who looks to the great heroes of our faith in the Oxford movement and the ritualist pioneers of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. I delighted in being a parish priest and then school chaplain in the same patch of Portsmouth where Father Dolling had ministered. Where he built the magnificent mini-basilica that was St Agatha’s (now a church of the Ordinariate) and from which he fled when his bishop opposed the erection of a requiem altar. I delighted in serving my title in the biretta belt along the south bank of the Tees, where the Catholic faith was strong and a minibus collected the clergy for all the deanery patronal festivals and delivered us home gin-soaked, following the after-party.

Back in those heady days of the early 90s I fully expected to become a member of the Society of the Holy Cross following in the footsteps of my hero priests. We used the Roman Rite, we prayed the Divine Office from the Breviary and we considered ourselves priests of the latin rite hoping one day to be re-united with the successor of Peter. In addition to daily Office and Mass; daily Rosary and meditation were part of the priestly life we were signed up for. Deep devotion to Our Lady and to the saints were the backbone of who we were.

The ordination of women has forced many of us to take positions. But the positioning of the catholic organisations since then has followed a division in the catholic movement that dates to an earlier period and perhaps has always been present. The division between the Sarum and Roman forms; the division between the Percy Dearmers and the Father Tooths.

For those of us who feel most comfortable with, for want of a better word, the ‘Romanisers’, but who believe profoundly in the ordination of women and equal marriage, there is a key question: Where is home?

SCP has clearly inherited the Dearmer style of Catholicism. All organisations are coalitions; span spectrums of belief and practice; but is this Society wide enough to include people like me? Many of my friends, many members of the Society have said to me in one form or another over the years ‘it’s not catholic enough for me’. I have had a few conversations about forming another grouping of Catholic clergy, a more devotionally minded sodality. Perhaps there is room within the Society for some such sodality? Or perhaps the Society itself can change and grow to provide enough for the needs of those like me who look to a more Anglo-Catholic, even Anglo-Papalist position.

It is well known that in education there has been, certainly since the 1970s, a predominant mind-set that was hugely committed to multiculturalism among other things. Superb work was done that challenged prejudice and ignorance and gave many children experiences of other cultures and faiths that they would never otherwise have had. However, the shadow side of this was a watering down, a secularist led agenda that sought to create a neutral, religionless space. To make everyone the same. I’m afraid that many church schools took a similar route, one book about church schools describing them, in its title, as “An Uncertain Trumpet”.

As many of you know we have taken the very opposite path here at Trinity. My great mentor and time of apprenticeship at this was at St Luke’s school in inner city Portsmouth at the turn of the century where I was Chaplain to an amazing Headteacher, Krysia Butwilowska.

All theology is, of course, contextual, and specific. Anglo-Catholicism is tied inexorably, I believe, to the margins; it is an option for the poor and has always been practised, at its best, among and by those on the edge. St Luke’s was very much on the edge, serving the same area as Fr Dolling had served a century earlier. In the same way I am aware that what we do here at Trinity works because we are a black majority school in Lewisham. It works because of the overwhelming influence of Pentecostal christianity on our families and children.

So I would characterise the form of Anglo-Catholicism practised here in a number of ways:

it is pious and sentimental

unapologetic

maximalist

The Mass is at its heart and priestly ministry and vocation are unashamedly a key ingredient – as they must be if we are to be properly ecclesial – the church being an ordered, hierarchical society.

Brother Alois the current Prior of Taizé says that “God wants nothing but that we live intensely.” It is a strong catholicism, an intense catholicism that we seek to live out in the school.

Inclusion has taken, I believe, a wrong turn when it becomes a watering down; a lowest common denominator. Inclusion works best when everyone can most be themselves. The more we are ourselves the more we give others the permission to be themselves. Inclusion does not diminish difference but celebrates it.

At Trinity our Muslim and Hindu families have no problem with what we do. We have an Arabic school for Muslim families that meets here every Saturday. When our Muslim children want a prayer room we provide it. The current Head girl is a Muslim – one with a great devotion, as it happens, to Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta – and Muslim pupils have travelled with us regularly to Taizé where we provide a tent for them to use for prayer, although they are also expected to join in the community prayer as well – so a mere 8 prayer sessions a day for them.

I am second to no one in my affection and respect for our former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, but like all of us he is a man of his time and I think he has been unduly influenced by the multiculturalism of the last part of the twentieth century. In an introduction he once wrote for the Society of Catholic Priests he said:

“Anglican clergy identifying themselves as within the Catholic tradition used to have all sorts of ‘tribal’ habits, in dress, speech and style of life, to set them apart from those they thought of as less enlightened. No-one is going to regret that we have begun to grow up a bit in that respect.”

Well, perhaps I haven’t grown up, but I do regret that passing and I think it is to our detriment. The human need to belong is profound and deep. Gangs attract teenagers precisely because they give a sense of belonging. A place to belong is nothing more than a home, a family in which we can genuinely grow and flourish. It is a mark of the Incarnation that all human existence is specific, it belongs to a time and a place, it owns its culture and community.

This is really the heart of inclusion, that we accept and celebrate difference and diversity; we do belong to different groups and clubs; to some extent these are exclusive; but we are richer for that. Inclusion would mean nothing at all if it didn’t involve difference. We might even consider the possibility that the arrangements required to pass the legislation on the ordination of women is itself God’s will, an opportunity to test our inclusiveness.

Perhaps part of the problem – if there is one – is that our Society is just too establishment. One of my favourite and one of the most influential books for me as an educator is Teaching As a Subversive Activity by Neil Postman and Charles Weingartner. Anglo-Catholics were always subversive, perhaps we have become too comfortable, too used to promotion and acceptability. Perhaps we need to fight a few battles?

I think we do need to because I don’t think the key battles have been won. In fact I think we have capitulated on some of the victories that our forebears in the Catholic movement won at such a price.

So let me try to be a little more specific in thinking about what would make our Society or some sort of sodality within it a place where I felt more at home:

First and foremost a recognition that Anglicanism is a current that flows within western, catholic, Latin-rite Christianity. We’re not ‘a church’; the Archbishop is not a Patriarch. Lets look forward hopefully to the day when he or she will once again receive the pallium (displayed on the archiepiscopal coat of arms) from the Bishop of Rome.

This fundamental orientation is one shared by the ecumenical community at Taizé who look to the proper exercise of the universal ministry of Peter.

Our liturgy is a liturgy of the Latin rite. Even Cramer’s Communion service is clearly such. So let’s not be afraid of that rite. Like our forbears in the Catholic movement lets use as much of that rite in its current, ordinary form, as we can. The Divine Office is not only a much more convenient way of praying time it also unites us with the whole western catholic church and provides a lifetime of reflection on the catholic faith.

Lets acknowledge that our liturgy is deficient in some ways: all those collects for saints days that treat the saints as mere examples and not as friends in heaven interceding for us constantly. The lack of intercession in the Eucharistic Prayers; the weak sacrificial language.

Lets not be afraid of piety, sentiment and devotion.

Lets not give up our birthright: the daily Mass, sacramental confession, reservation, exposition and Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament. Lets fight for an increase in devotion to the Mother of God.

Lets be radical in our politics.

Lets explore what a healthy priestly spirituality would look like. A truly sacrificial life for ourselves and our families. Here, as in other areas we can learn much from our evangelical brothers and sisters who are not embarrassed to make their homes and families part of their Christian, public ministry.

Lets not be afraid to be teachers of the faith; again, this is another area where I think we can learn from Evangelicals. If we believe that the Catholic faith is the best possible manifestation of Christianity we need to teach people how to be Catholics. The technology of prayer and liturgy: genuflection, the sign of the cross, prayers to be learnt by heart. Catholic teaching on the sacraments and the moral life. We should not be content to leave people as they were but to change their lives and behaviour. I am a great believer in the Religious life and in the vocation to celibacy; but we need to teach that Marriage is the normative and best way to live a life. That marriage is sacrificial and hard, that love is about choices. We can’t be inclusive of every lifestyle. The mis-use of sex damages lives and with money, food and power are the areas where we are most flawed and subject to sin.

A recognition that we are called to leadership and must negotiate the difficult art of exercising power without being embarrassed or ashamed.

I suppose what I am saying is that we do the ‘liberal’ bit quite well. Although I would argue that I am not a liberal and that the ordination of women and equal marriage are highly traditional. I am by nature a conservative and it is that part of what we do as a society, our catholic life, that I am concerned about. All sorts of attempts at renewing the catholic movement have been attempted, Anglican Catholic Future being the latest but none of them have captured hearts and minds, none of them have gained traction because they are simply not devout enough. It is our life of piety that needs renewing so that our public life of radical politics can bear fruit.

In retrospect I suspect that the pontificates of Benedict and Francis will need to be seen together:

– From Benedict we need to take some elements of the reform of the reform. The Roman Canon was of utmost importance for many Anglicans in the Catholic movement, I have often celebrated Mass from Missals designed to interpolate the Prayer Book Mass and the Roman Canon. With its deep chiastic structure in which intercession, sacrifice and the communion of saints draw us into the Eucharistic mystery; we are impoverished if we forget it. The Roman Canon is the prayer of Augustine the first Archbishop of Canterbury, and – although the trendy faux liturgy books would hardly suggest it – the Prayer of the ‘Celtic’ christians.

– Eastward celebration another key aim of the Catholic movement dating back to the 17th century is also something we should not forget as it is re-discovered by many Roman Catholic Christians. A Vatican II Catholic, I didn’t discover it until I was a school chaplain in Portsmouth and had to use the parish church for Mass for a while, that Evangelical Parish only had one altar, pushed against a wall. What amazed me is that children preferred it, particularly the boys. All that eye contact and performance is not what they wanted. I now find it suits my introvert nature and is a calmer and more contemplative way of presiding at the liturgy.

– From Francis we need to be reminded of the political vision of the Catholic movement in the Church of England. We must seek an alternative to the un-restricted capitalism of our time if the planet, let alone the human race are to survive. Francis will soon make protection of the planet a key element of his papacy. We should do the same.

– But also we could learn from Francis a deep, traditional Catholicism full of Latin American piety and devotion. His devotion to Our Lady Untier of Knots is one that we Anglicans who tie ourselves in so many knots could well emulate. I have a prayer card and leaflet for each of you on this important devotion.

The founders of our Society were largely priests who had been formed in the Society of the Holy Cross. I have copied for you the Rule of that Society, many who have joined later may not be familiar with it. I wonder if we could learn a little from its emphasis on personal sanctification and the Mass? Perhaps we could even share with them further development of what it means to be a holy priest. How we seek to convert our own individual sinfulness. Perhaps we could invite one of the brethren of that Society to address us on just that subject; share in the things we can share: Rosary, Stations of the Cross, Office, perhaps even Benediction.

Looking at the Rule of SSC I am conscious of the heavenly patronage it claims for itself: St. Mary at the Cross; St. Vincent de Paul; St. John Mary Vianney, the Cure d’Ars; and Charles Lowder. Yet for us in the Society of Catholic Priests who are our heavenly patrons, who intercedes for us daily at the throne of grace?

One of the phrases I like most from Teaching As A Subversive Activity is that we should teach children to develop an inner ‘crap detector’. I have now spent most of my adult life working with teenagers. It is a total joy and delight. They have so much energy; they cut through so much crap; they have such an instinctive sense of justice and injustice. Before I began work here as Head Master I visited many Pentecostal churches, I saw at once that Anglo-Catholicism and Pentecostalism feed from the same spring. They really believe it. They really feel it. They are unapologetic. They are also intensely ordered and visual communities. I hadn’t seen a figure of 8 procession in church for years until I visited one of our local African churches.

Working with teenagers, vocation is a huge part of what we do. Abbot Christopher Jamison former Head Master and Abbot at Worth once said that enabling children to discern their vocation was the key task of schools.

I worry that the key public models for priesthood are so dire. Which aspirational teenager, let alone which black aspirational teenager, would want to be like the Vicar of Dibley or The Reverend Adam Smallbone?

I think these two dire characters are indicative of a deeper problem with our spirituality of priesthood, and perhaps of the Christian life. It is a spirituality of woundedness or brokeness. I’m afraid the writings of Henri Nouwen are saturated in this. It is ‘victim’ like obsession with the wound and very far from a fully adult acknowledgement of sin; our flaws and guilt; or an adult recognition that suffering, pain and unsatisfactoriness are part of every life, every day. Here we need to turn to Saint Paul, especially 2 Cor 12:9, he makes it clear that in our weakness God is strong, God actually says to him “My power is made perfect in weakness.” The point is not the weakness but the power, and that it is God’s, not ours. Again I think we could learn much about powerful leadership from evangelicals. At Trinity we attempt to teach our young people to be powerful men and women; but never to rely on themselves. I hope one day we will produce powerful catholic priests and Religious.

Many of these problems have their origins in person-centred, Rogerian counselling. One of the things that is at the heart of what we do here at Trinity is to reject ‘child centred’ education. We are a God centred community. This is a totally orthodox theology: human beings only make sense when we are oriented towards God and not to ourselves.

Having suggested some areas which I think we, as a Society, could reflect on, I would like to conclude with three of the things I think we do best:

the monthly prayer list of this Chapter is hugely significant; to pray for one another

concelebration: this really is one of the fruits of Vatican 2; it teaches us that our priesthood is never our own; always derived from our bishop and ultimately from Christ our High Priest

hospitality: our fellowship over lunch or supper is warm and genuine; our fellowship and friendship to one another in the Society is a strength to build on

I am in no way disheartened. In the ebb and flow of the various parts of the Anglican tradition our Catholic movement has been ebbing for some time, but God, as we know, is never unfaithful, in his good time, if we are faithful, there will be renewal.
May we as a Society be renewed in priestly holiness; may Our Lady Untier of Knots help us to deal with the complexities of life in our church and in our world with great humility, simplicity and love.

Praying the Resurrection: Resurrection Vigil throughout the year

Source

We are an Easter people and alleluia is our song. The Resurrection is at the heart of the Christian faith. Baptism is our entrance into Resurrection living. Eucharist is our renewal of Resurrection in our daily lives, our food for the Resurrection journey. Yet for many Christians the Cross has become a fixation, not a tree of life but a permanently occupied place for the victim. One of my issues with the popular phrase ‘wounded healer’ is that it emphasises the wound, which is not a scab to be picked over, but like the scars of the crucifixion on the Risen Christ a sign of victory.

Livestreaming on Facebook during the first lockdown from my little lean-to chapel I was fascinated by the numbers of people watching or at least popping in. One of the most popular liturgies was a Resurrection Vigil which I celebrate each Saturday evening in Ordinary Time and Easter in place of the Night Prayer of Compline. I had been doing this for some years. Livestreaming gave the opportunity to think about this liturgy and I write briefly about it here and here. This post is a reworking of that material with the current update of the Resurrection Vigil booklet,

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 in the same way 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 below a form of Resurrection Vigil that I am currently using in my little Oratory in the basement, the sacro speco at home in the Sub Deanery. It works for me, you might want to do something else. As usual I stopped doing this during the Advent and Christmas season but for various reasons really missed it this year. In fact I have decided to continue celebrating it during Lent this year. Perhaps all the gloom of lockdown is just too much. We certainly need Resurrection. So the new booklet includes chants for use in Lent without the Alleluia.

One of the problems with the liturgical year can be an over literalism around a sort of ‘play acting’ of the mysteries which the liturgy celebrates. As if Jesus is not born until 25th December, as if he is not Risen until the final night of Holy Week. Fr Aelred Arnesen formerly of the now closed Anglican Cistercian Ewell Monastery in West Malling writes very strongly of this. He wouldn’t even approve of my removing the Alleluia in Lent:

“The recent trend in liturgical reform is backwards. The Christian life is to be seen as a journey towards God in the course of which we devote a portion of each year to what has been called ‘liturgical realism’, emptying out the sense of the real presence of Christ with us until we reach Easter. According to the tradition one must not sing alleluia during Lent! This has stood gospel on its head.”

Source

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.

Let me end with more strong words from Fr Aelred in another of his essays (do take time to visit the Ewell website where you can read a number of Allred’s papers and also see and download the beautifully simple liturgy used by the community there:

“First of all, taking our cue from the early beginnings of the calendar when the annual Easter celebration and every Sunday were the only commemorations, it is essential to return to Easter as the single focus of our worship in the year. While the pre-reformation understanding that the ritual of the various seasons had to be performed correctly so that we may arrive eventually at the celebration of the resurrection at Easter and the gift of the Spirit at Pentecost, in our alternative understanding, every season and every commemoration is irradiated and is given meaning through the glory of Easter. Christmas and Epiphany and the commemorations dependent on those days; the later feasts of the Transfiguration and the apostles and martyrs – all have meaning only in relation to the living Lord who is always dynamically present to the whole church. With Easter as the single focus of the Calendar, Christmas finds its proper level as just one of the events of Jesus’ life, even if one of the most important.”

Source 

Not just ‘fitting it in’: Prayer and the Art of Time Management

There is a really excellent essay on time and our relationship to it from Father Hildebrand Garceau, O.Praem here.

 “Christ told us ‘about the need to pray continually and never lose heart’ (Luke 18:1).The Church has faithfully heeded this exhortation by never ceasing in her prayer and by urging us to pray:‘Through him (Jesus), let us offer God an unending sacrifice of praise’ (Hebrews 13:15).The Church not only satisfies this precept by celebrating the Eucharist, but also in other different ways, especially by the Liturgy of the Hours. Compared with other liturgi- cal actions, the particular characteristic which ancient tradition has attached to the Liturgy of the Hours is that it should consecrate the course of day and night.

General Instruction on the Liturgy of the Hours 10

It always saddens me when I hear clergy criticise ‘management culture’. There is a tone to that criticism, and often it is explicitly stated, that ‘we need more theology and less management’. I beg to disagree. I was appointed to my first deputy headship 23 years ago and have worked as a senior leader in schools ever since. My life has straddled the worlds of the church and education ever since. My current post as Sub Dean at Christ Church, Oxford, where we have a school and are, of course, a college of the university, is a wonderful and exciting natural development. However, while I believe that education, and church schools in particular, would benefit from a good deal more theology; the church would benefit from a good deal more good management. I welcome the efforts made to move in that direction.

Essential to all good management is management of time, After my post recently about my pattern of prayer quite a few people asked “how do you fit it in?”, so I thought a little post about time management might be helpful. The first thing to say is that I do not attempt to fit prayer into the day. Instead for me prayer is part of the essential scaffolding of my well-being as important as sleeping, eating, washing, exercise, social time, study and work. I have a particular devotion to St Joseph the Worker, the image of ‘crafting a life’ is important to me; fitting the elements of my life together in a wise, skilful and craftsmanlike way is part of my self-reflection and work with my spiritual director.

Maintaining an accurate and effective diary is the only way I am able to manage my time and maintain any control over it. Looking ahead a couple of years I put holidays, retreats, reading days / weeks and Quiet Days in first. I prefer one long holiday to frequent short ones. It takes me time to wind down. When I was a Head and also when I was Director of Education in Liverpool and given the importance of prayer to well-being, the next thing that went in my diary were prayer times, Vigils, Lauds, Mass, Sext, and Vespers. This was a really good discipline to stop other events taking over. It was particularly important for Sext and Vespers in ensuring that there were gaps between meetings.

I also pray Terce and None each working day. I’ve written before about the significance of the Little Hours (here and here). However, praying these is not in my Rule of Life as ‘of obligation’ so if I have to miss them I don’t beat myself up about that. This is an important point and one I often make in line management of colleagues. We can all do only what we can do in the time available. Committing time to prayer means that time is not available for other things. That is is the opportunity cost and it is a choice I have made. I think I work more effectively and to a better quality because of my prayer.

Another significant point is to remember that we are all sinners. In other words we will all fail. When we establish a Rule of Life for ourselves it is important not to set impossible targets but it is equally important to set aspirational goals. To aim for just a bit more than is easy to achieve. This is a sign of our seriousness.

Seeing our diary as a friend, as a way to plan our time can be helped by using it in our prayer. At my morning intercessions I open my diary and pray through the events of the day. This also helps me reflect on when I will pray the Little Hours and where the gaps are likely to be, just as I will plan when to eat.

The final point I want to make is about the balance of the day. This seems to be the most controversial of my views on time! In modern societies many people get up and start the day relatively late and stay up into the night. However, there is something about the late night / early morning hours that makes them especially privileged as a time of prayer. It may be that it is just to do with not being interrupted by other people, it may even be that we just pray better when we are rested. However, it seems to me that there is also something about those last hours of darkness as they move into the light – a fundamental journey for Christians. In popular speech people often claim to be either a night-owl or a morning-lark. I am not at all convinced that human beings are divided in such ways. It takes some 90 days or so to create a new habit. My own suspicion is that anyone can change their pattern of sleeping and rising. This is important because I don’t know anybody that has a substantial daily habit of prayer late in the evening. So establishing a pattern of early rising is a way of guaranteeing time for prayer. I am not suggesting sleep deprivation but that it would be good to consider shifting the day to get up early and go to bed early.

Clearly, the pattern of our days depends on negotiation with anyone we live with. I don’t have children. One of the things I am often trying to do is get clergy with young children to write about how to weave early parenthood with prayer. There is remarkably little literature on this. I am very aware that for some couples with or without children, finding time for prayer can be a significant cause of unhappiness and resentment. The negotiation around this will need to be approached in the same spirit as any other area of life. Prayer is important but it can’t be privileged against all the other demands of life but needs to be balanced with them. My own partner has seen the importance of prayer not just for me and my work but for us as a couple. He will often remind me to pray and comment on my looking better afterwards! I think unselfconsciousness about prayer helps. Jim is used to me praying aloud, in the car as he drives, in the house and on holiday. It is woven into the fabric of our lives.

I have a regular pattern to my working days and days off that it might be helpful to describe in some detail for anyone interested:

4am My alarm goes off Monday to Friday. I shower, make two cups of black tea and empty the dishwasher before heading into the cellar (the sacro speco). I will briefly check emails and Twitter and as I prepare the books for Vigils may Tweet some of the texts.

4:30am Vigils: 45 – 60 minutes

c 5:15 two more cups of black tea made to be drunk after Mass

c 5:40 Mass

c 6:00 lectio on the day’s gospel

6:30 to the Cathedral for intercession and Silence at the shrine

7:15 Morning Prayer

7:30 Mass in the Cathedral

8:00 Prime

The desk day starts with emails, reading for the day etc, I will normally have looked ahead in the day to when I will pray Terce, Sext and None, aiming for 9:45, 12 and 13:45 for these but fitting them around the meetings of the day, allowing 10 minutes for each of these.

18:00 Evensong in the Cathedral

Compline: sometimes I will pray this straight after dinner, or even, if we are going out and likely to be late back before dinner. I normally end Compline by reading the Gospel of the following day and doing the first two stages of the traditional four of lectio divina. In particular I may look up commentaries etc. I find this helps distract me and to relax from the stresses of the day! I aim to be asleep before ten and achieve that on most days.

Rest Days and Holidays: No alarm and usually sleep for 8-9 hours (rather than the 6-7 on other nights). Morning Prayer prayed whenever the morning reaches that point. Mid-Day Prayer and Mass normally celebrated before lunch and Office of Readings after lunch, Vespers and Compline when they fit with other activities.

Sundays: alarm at 6am and the remainder of the day pretty much as on other working days.

“By tradition going back to early Christian times, the divine office is devised so that the whole course of the day and night is made holy by the praises of God. Therefore, when this wonderful song of praise is rightly performed by priests and others who are deputed for this purpose by the Church’s ordinance, or by the faithful praying together with the priest in the approved form, then it is truly the voice of the bride addressed to her bridegroom; It is the very prayer which Christ Himself, together with His body, addresses to the Father.”

Vatican 2, Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy 84

Praying at a Cathedral

Wednesday was Cathedral Evensong when I was at Theological College. The day there was no Office in the college chapel in the evening and we all attended Evensong at Chichester Cathedral. With the arrogance of youth I often didn’t take the opportunity to learn about the Anglican choral tradition and bunked off Evensong to pray Evening Prayer in my room with friends. Being an audience to the choir was not worship in my naïve view.

There’s an irony, therefore, in finding myself Sub Dean at Christ Church in Oxford. Although I should point out in fairness that I was substantially converted to the joys of the Cathedral tradition by a couple of years as Chaplain at Portsmouth Cathedral and St Luke’s School. The Precentor at Portsmouth provided me with the music for all the anthems sung and gently introduced me to the repertoire.

Adjusting to praying as a member of a Cathedral Chapter has been less difficult than I expected. Far from it, it is one of the greatest joys of being here. I love being part of this praying community. We pray Morning Prayer using Common Worship Daily Prayer and the usual lectionary. Evensong is prayed with BCP texts, the ‘pillar’ lectionary, and a single psalm or part of a psalm. It is a rich experience and the music is simply stunning. However, the jumping around Scripture of the Additional Lectionary (designed to suit those for whom any Office might be completely stand alone) and the relatively small amount of psalmody is frustrating. I knew that I would need to supplement this and create a more constant track to accompany it.

I pray the Little Hours each day, using Psalm 119, Compline and a Vigil Office. Vigils is an opportunity to build a little more consistency and quantity into my praying of the psalms and reading of Scripture. I began by trying to use Common Worship Daily Prayer for Vigils so that I would at least be using only two translations of the psalms but as I have written elsewhere on this site the CW psalms are a very wordy translation. I experimented with the 1997 ICEL version (see here), but, as always, I came back to the original Grail version as found in The Divine Office. And quite quickly a form of Vigils has emerged that works for me in covering the whole psalter in no more than four weeks, providing all the richness of the Office found in the Breviary and sufficient flexibility for days off, while also giving consistency.

The booklet I’ve created (see above) indicates what I use for each of the Hours of the day and has the music of the Ordinary. The fundamental arrangement is to pray all the psalms of the day (but not the Canticles) from The Divine Office as three nocturns of a Vigil (Office of Readings, Mid-day without Ps119, and Vespers psalms together then Lauds psalms) with the Lauds psalms coming last and heralding the Gospel of the Day. A Gospel Canticle (John 1, Beatitudes or I Am sayings) with the Benedictus antiphon in seasons and on feasts precedes intercession. This means that on rest days or holidays praying The Divine Office with the Office of Readings after lunch, works really well and doesn’t disturb the completeness of the psalter. I am using the one year cycle of Scripture at Vigils as printed in the three volumes of the Breviary but with a somewhat wider range of Patristic readings (from the various collections available for the two-year cycle and matched to the same Scripture reading). There’s a certain lack of consistency in Cathedral worship and this praying of The Divine Office makes up for that, I base my bible study and lectio, as well as study of the psalms on these texts and on the Mass readings (Daily Eucharistic Lectionary) each day. It is very satisfying.

Having a place to pray has always been important to me. It is a great blessing that there are cellars under the house here, the remains of the foundations to what was going to be Cardinal Wolsey’s great chapel which was never built. In one of these rooms I have been able to make a little ‘sacro speco’ for my prayer. The other place I love to pray is the shrine of St Frideswide and I try to get 30 minutes of silent prayer and intercession there each morning. It is not for me as the popular phrase has it a ‘thin place’, quite the opposite, it is thick with the prayers of the centuries, and for me, an almost tangible sense of her presence, this woman whose name means ‘strong peace’ is very strong indeed, and very present.

Plunging into the heart: Sermon for the Presentation of the Lord, Christ Church Cathedral

Sermon

Presentation of the Lord

Christ Church Cathedral 31 01 21

It feels endless now. 

The lockdown. 

We are weary. Fed up of it.  We’ve had enough.

It is dreary. The same, few places, the same few people – no matter how much we love them. 

The endless Zoom calls and tedious Teams meetings.

In 1902 the central European poet Rainer Maria Rilke visited the small zoo in the botanic garden, Jardin des Plantes in Paris.

One of the animals pacing in the cages there was a Panther. 

It inspired one of Rilke’s most famous poems. Here is the translation by Stephen Mitchell:

The Panther

His vision, from the constantly passing bars,

has grown so weary that it cannot hold

anything else. It seems to him there are

a thousand bars; and behind the bars, no world.

As he paces in cramped circles, over and over,

the movement of his powerful soft strides

is like a ritual dance around a centre

in which a mighty will stands paralysed.

Only at times, the curtain of the pupils

lifts, quietly —.  An image enters in,

rushes down through the tensed, arrested muscles,

plunges into the heart and is gone.

We are not caged by bars. But our lives are caged. The same, few, places, the same few people – no matter how much we love them. The endless Zoom calls and tedious Teams meetings.

But there is hope. Images can enter between the bars. there can be moments of revelation.

Moments of revelation like those experienced by the prophets, like Malachi in the first reading; like the prophet Anna in the Gospel. 

By our baptism we are all called to be prophets, priests and kings. You and I are called to be prophets just as much as Malachi or Anna or Simeon.

Malachi is the last of the prophets in the Hebrew Scriptures. The final book of the Old Testament in Christian bibles. But he is firmly in Israel’s prophetic tradition. He is the successor of Isaiah and Jeremiah, of Ezekiel and Haggai.

Lots of Christians are disappointed in their prayer lives because they think there is something extraordinary about mystical experiences, about the spiritual gifts, including prophecy. As if these gifts were something strange, something reserved to the famous prophets, to times past.

But just look at what the prophets do. Like the Panther pacing in his cage they get a glimpse of what lies between the bars. They see the world, the actual world, and they read it theologically. They understand it in the context of faith and speak of it with the language of believing. 

For Jeremiah it is the boiling pot, for Hosea it is his failing marriage his unfaithful wife (who some of us have been hearing about at Morning Prayer this week). For Malachi it is the refiner purifying gold and silver.

To be the prophets of our own lives is to take the ordinary stuff of our day to day existence and to understand it theologically, to describe it in the language of faith.

So what is the stuff of your life?

How do you spend money?

Who have you fallen out with?

What do you resent?

Who annoys you?

What are the unexpected things in your life?

I heard the Archbishop of York say to a group of priests earlier this year that the most useful thing our Spiritual Directors could see was our bank statements.

Don’t ask God to appear in a blaze of light, ask God what he is telling you in your diary, your emails, how you spend your money.

Over the last few months I have been re-reading Susan Howatch’s novels about the Church of England. They are not especially fashionable at the moment but I recommend looking at them again or for the first time if you don’t know them. They are written in blockbuster novel style and are an easy read, and they are significant. 

Howatch is brilliant at showing how impossible it is to understand the reality and complexity of human life in only one way, only one dimension. We need a variety of narratives if we are to avoid self delusion and grow in maturity. 

Howatch shows how our personal narratives can be unpeeled like an onion, how our own accounts of ourselves need balancing with other people’s realities. She is superb at illustrating how psychological narratives are profoundly helpful in dissecting our self-delusions and self-centredness. But she also shows the limits of our ability to understand things only rationally and the necessity for religious language and experience. She never says this narrative is true and the other isn’t. For her spiritual realities are deeply true, and so are other narratives. And she is brilliant at exposing power and the shadow that lies behind glamour. For her there are many powers, not all of them good.

On Friday I was the speaker at the school assembly for our Cathedral school – on Zoom, inevitably – and I showed the pupils this statue which I have in the Oratory in the cellar of the Sub Deanery. The Oratory is dedicated to St Joseph and this is a statue of a Sleeping St Joseph. Clearly it is St Joseph asleep, but I prefer to call it the Dreaming St Joseph. In the first two chapters of Matthew’s gospel Joseph has four dreams, take a look, most people can’t list all four.

I encouraged our pupils to enjoy their dreams and pay attention to them. 

Anna and Simeon were dreamers. They had dreamed the dream of a Messiah. 

Like all dreamers they were ready for the unexpected. They had eyes that could see when Jesus was brought into the temple. They had beginner’s mind. They were open to possibilities.

To be a dreamer is to be open to our imaginations, to be those who trust the many layered nature of reality, the multiple narratives we need to make sense of our lives; to allow ourselves to be changed and transformed. 

To be a dreamer is also to be open to the horror of life. When Simeon looks through the bars he sees the sword that will pierce Mary’s heart.

If your prayer seems dry, if you are not glimpsing the world beyond the bars; use your imagination. Don’t worry so much about whether it is just your imagination; ‘just’ is such a poisonous word; allow God to speak to you through that imagination. Imagine God speaking to you.

Like Susan Howatch allow yourself the possibility that there are many ways of describing the reality of your life.  reflect on your life prophetically.   Abandon the lie that events are random and meaningless and imagine that all the events of your life reflect spiritual realities. 

Anna and Simeon were ready and prepared. It can’t simply be that they had not thought of the presence of God in their lives until this day in their old age when ker-pow the messiah appears. They were ready for the Messiah, ready to meet Jesus, ready to recognise him immediately because they had been looking for God in every event of their lives. Every encounter, looking for him, finding him and seeing him.

To live without this spiritual muscle, is to see only the bars of our cages. Not just the cages of lockdown but the cages that diminish and hinder our lives at all times. It is as if our mighty wills are paralysed. Our powers bound.

Dear friends, my prayer for you this week, for all of us is that we will dream dreams; that in our prayer our imaginations will run wild.  And that in the cage of this lockdown the images you see between the bars will plunge into your hearts.

The Panther

Rainer Maria Rilke

Tr Stephen Mitchell

His vision, from the constantly passing bars,

has grown so weary that it cannot hold

anything else. It seems to him there are

a thousand bars; and behind the bars, no world.

As he paces in cramped circles, over and over,

the movement of his powerful soft strides

is like a ritual dance around a centre

in which a mighty will stands paralysed.

Only at times, the curtain of the pupils

lifts, quietly —.  An image enters in,

rushes down through the tensed, arrested muscles,

plunges into the heart and is gone.

Micro-ecologies of kindness: Sermon for St John the Evangelist

Sermon 27 12 20

Christ Church Cathedral

St John the Evangelist 

1 John 1

John 21: 19b – end

St John writes: We declare to you what we have seen and heard so that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. 

In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Christmas in a time of pandemic.  Christmas when the world seems dark and the news full of shadow. Christmas when we hear as we did in this church just two days ago the great prologue to John’s Gospel, “In the beginning was the Word …” and the good news that the darkness does not overcome the light.

And the first Chapter of the first letter of John deliberately echoes that prologue, with its themes of light and dark. Its mention of the beginning.

This Christmas I’ve been re-reading Lord of the Rings where the themes of light and darkness, and the struggle between good and evil is so strong.

It is, of course, a deeply consoling book. Good does triumph, the One Ring is destroyed, Sauron is vanquished.

There is consolation in the elves, the ancient ones, even in the Ents, those slow moving trees. And homely wisdom in the Hobbits. Not least in the grounded Samwise Gamgee, Frodo’s friend. Describing the darkness of their time Samwise says:

“In the end it’s only a passing thing, this shadow; even darkness must pass.” 

But I want to think about another theme in 1 John 1 which we have just heard and which finds a strong echo in the title of the first volume of Tolkien’s story: “The Fellowship of the Ring”.

We know the word fellowship well. We use it here in this church every day at the end of Evensong when we pray the grace: the fellowship of the Holy Spirit.

It has a more technical meaning in this House  and in academic life generally. But in the New Testament this is one of those occasions when we have to go back to the Greek to really understand how crucial, how significant this word is.

It translates, of course, the Greek KOINONIA.

It’s not a word that appears much in the Gospels, just a cognate once each in Matthew, Luke and Acts. But Paul uses it extensively and intensely to describe the relationship between Christians and between Christian churches.

Here in 1 John there is something really quite extraordinary. The use of koinonia to describe the internal relationships of the Trinity. That of the Father and of the Son and the participation of the author and his readers in that koinonia.

The word can be translated in many ways. The Latin communio  is often used, and in the current translation of the Roman Catholic Mass where the Grace may be used as a greeting at the beginning of Mass it is that Latinisation which is given. koinonia means a sharing in, participation, a partnership.

Nicholas King a Jesuit across the road at Campion House uses communion in his excellent translation of the New Testament, but suggests in his notes that it can also be translated as fellowship, union, partnership, community and solidarity.

I’ve been struck by the number of people who were deeply moved by the Queen’s speech this Christmas day. One phrase has been much quoted on Twitter: you are not alone.

This is the heart of the meaning of the word koinonia. By our baptism we participate in the life of the Trinity; we have a share in the divine life. And our relationships with each other as Christians are made of the same stuff as the relationship between the Divine persons. 

Think about how radical that is. When I chat with members of the congregation here on Zoom, or talk outside the porch on Tom Quad, when I meet with my fellow Chapter members, the nature of the relationship is the same as the nature of my relationship with God, and even more startlingly the same as the relationship between the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

Now this presents us with two problems. The first is that we human beings are difficult; we fall out with each other; we irritate one another; we fall out and disagree. That’s not how we want to relate to God and not, surely, what the life of the Trinity is like.

But there is a second problem that I think is even more fundamental, more serious for us in our mission to the world, our ability to tell people the good news of Jesus Christ. It is the existentialist lie. The untruth that we are somehow individuals, that we are alone. This untruth undermines all Christian doctrine, most fundamentally the incarnation and redemption. Which simply lose all meaning if we are not all intimately connected by our common human-ness which God in Jesus has come to share in. His death and resurrection have an effect on me because we share in common humanity.

And this common stuff, this human-ness of which we are made precedes, of course, the incarnation. It exists because of creation, “In the beginning” as St John says, “without him, was nothing made that was made”.

I have been teaching the practice of Mindfulness meditation to children for over 20 years. Over and over again children report common experiences: a feeling of kindness; a feeling of connectedness, of belonging, at-homeness, and a feeling of Presence, that there ‘is somebody there’.

None of that should surprise us Christians. We are created in the image and likeness of God. We are hard-wired for God and the pattern of his being is reproduced in ours.

At the Eucharist when a little water is poured into the chalice with the wine many priests pray:

“By the mystery of this water and wine may we come to share in the divinity of Christ who humbled himself to share in our humanity.”

Just as Jesus shares in our human-ness, so do we share in his God-ness. And remember that koinonia has that meaning of sharing, participating in.

In the Queen’s speech she powerfully states a simple truth, we are not alone, we can never be alone; we are always part of something more than ourselves. 

This is just as true of Jesus as it is of each one of us. Yes, in his divinity, but also in his, in our humanity. That is why it is so important that John who we celebrate today is loved by Jesus. It is Jesus that is doing the loving.  Our ability to love is part of the God-given pattern in our very beings that draws us out of ourselves. It is why the church in these days after Christmas celebrates the saints: St Stephen yesterday, St John today, the Holy Innocents tomorrow. These are the comites Christi, the companions of Christ. When we celebrate the incarnation we are celebrating connectedness and Jesus is the ultimate connected one.

This connectedness is not just an abstract concept. I’ve been thinking about that connectedness a lot in my first four months here at Christ Church. In this building I have felt deeply connected with those whose memorials surround us. The dead who live in Christ.

Deeply connected to those living and working on this site in a time of pandemic.

And deeply connected to the hundreds of people who are part of the Cathedral’s community but who can’t be here. In some ways the grief at not being able to be here makes that connection all the more real. Absence, strangely, can be as much a presence as presence itself.

On Christmas Day Canon Graham organised Mulled Wine and members of Chapter made cakes for some of the international students who have been stranded here at Christ Church this Christmas. The gathering in the marquee in the Master’s Garden covered Egypt, New Zealand, France, Italy, Germany, Poland and probably more.  It was a reminder to me of the profound significance of this joint foundation, our being both cathedral and college; and the gratitude of the students a reminder that simple gestures can reflect profound truths. “Micro-ecologies of kindness.” As Canon Graham put it just before the service today.

We don’t know how much longer lockdowns are going to continue, what it is going to be like living with this virus as part of our world. There are certainly going to be many weeks, months in which absence continues to be a reality. But that absence is not disconnection. As our Queen said: we are not alone.

UPDATED A Rosary for the Year of Saint Joseph with Poems by Fr Steven Shakespeare SMMS

Source

UPDATE 12 noon 11 December – Please see the second version of the booklet above; this includes a very beautiful poem for each mystery by Fr Steven Shakespeare SMMS. I am very grateful to Fr Steven for writing these and to Fr Nevsky for updating the booklet with these and other material.

When I was appointed Head teacher in 2008 I immediately dedicated my work to the patronage of St Joseph the Worker. The ‘worker priest’ movement had always appealed to me. There is also something appealing about St Jospeh as the silent one, the one who dreams dreams but does not speak. Perhaps, for someone like me who uses a lot of words there is a strong element of ‘opposites attract’. The popularisation of the statues of St Joseph the Sleeper also speak powerfully to me. Although I like to think of them more as St Jospeh the Dreamer. Sleep has always been important to me, but as much because I dream vividly as because of the need for rest. Dreams are a way I process things and in which I often hear God speaking – although rarely in ways in which it is easy to understand at the time. The Sleeping Buddha statues of the Thai tradition have also been significant to me in prayer life – at Amaravati in north London behind the main shrine particularly.

Appointed as Sub Dean at Christ Church, Oxford earlier this year I consecrated my work here too to the patronage of St Joseph. This was a community, I knew, that had suffered much over recent years and the still, contemplative, dreaming presence of St Joseph, as well as the craftsman taking great care in his work seemed significant to me. This was re-inforced when a friend said he had rescued a large statue of St Jospeh from a night club in Blackburn and did I want it? Another friend, a sister in the Sodality and priest who lives near Taizé offered to buy me a beautiful icon of St Joseph to be the principle image of the saint above the altar in my domestic Oratory.

When I was offered the job I hadn’t seen the house (all the interviews were Zoomed). A few months later as my predecessor showed me around the Sub Dean’s Lodgings I felt slight apprehension that I would have to use one of the bedrooms as an Oratory – complete with carpet, fireplace and wash-basin! But then he took me down to see the (extensive) cellars and I knew at once this was meant to be. The niches, many rooms and ancient walls – possibly the foundations to the huge chapel Cardinal Wolsey intended to, but never did, build -resonated immediately. On the day we moved in I celebrated Mass for the first time below the house (itself built in about 1670). The presence of Our Lord ever since has had a profound spiritual effect on the house and my work. The chapel is full of heating pipes, electric cables, remains of the internal workings of the house in other ages. Post-industrial chic barely does justice to it. The large (and expensive to run!) boiler keeps the whole space warm and cosy even in these December nights. Th staff here have kindly added additional sockets, sorted out sticking doors and even added a wi-fi point.

Although I call the whole space the Sacro Speco – named after St Benedict’s sacred cave; the Oratory itself is dedicated to St Joseph the Worker. Each day I pray a Vigils office here in the early hours as the dark of night prepares for dawn and at the end I sing the Daily Commemoration of St Jospeh found below. Each Wednesday I offer a Votive Mass of St Joseph and pray the Joseph Mysteries of the Rosary which I conceived of a few year ago.

I am delighted that my friend and brother Sodalist Fr Nevsky, chaplain up the road at Keble College, has extended the brief work I did, and his extended text is posted above as a PDF.

In this year of St Joseph may we all be blessed in our work. May those without work be blessed with work. May those whose work makes them miserable be liberated from their unhappiness. May we all see the spiritual life, our progress towards holiness as the greatest work of our lives and may St Joseph help us to dream dreams, sleep well, and imagine the impossible. May the holy craftsman pray for us as we craft our lives.

My post of a few years ago about the Jospeh mysteries together with the daily commemoration is re-produced below and is available here as a PDF.

Meanwhile here are photos of St Joseph in the sacro speco in Oxford.

Here’s a set of Joseph mysteries that I use and find helpful. I use them with the traditional prayers of the Rosary, but others could be prayed instead. One of the reasons for my own devotion to St Joseph is that we have such a negative attitude to work in our culture and to ‘craftsmanship’; I don’t think we can really educate children if they don’t believe that work is a good thing and that happiness in life might consist of more than winning Pop Idol, the Lottery or becoming a footballer. Joseph’s ‘hiddeness’ is a good counter-cultural symbol. As is his chastity in a society where being ‘a man’ is so coarsely associated with ‘having sex’.
Joseph is also a good patron for those who, as teachers or in other roles, look after children who are not their own. Finally, just using the word husband – and I always commemorate ‘Joseph, husband of Mary’ in the Eucharistic Prayer  – is good in raising the profile of marriage.

Mysteries of Saint Joseph

1 Joseph descended from David
2 Joseph the Just Man
3 Joseph following a dream takes Mary as his wife
4 Joseph warned in a dream takes Mary and Jesus into Egypt
5 Joseph the Carpenter

Here is a daily commemoration of Saint Joseph that can be prayed after the Office each working day:

Hymn to Saint Joseph
Joseph true servant, trusted by the Father,
from whom Christ learnt a human Father’s kindness,
pray we may know and reverence God at all times
in the defenceless.
Joseph, true workman, teaching Word incarnate
patience and pride in honest labour finished,
show us who work, God’s plan for skill and service
in every calling

Joseph true saint, your Sanctity unsought for
won in you doubt and suffering and struggle,
pray we keep faith in every tribulation
till God shines clearly.

V. This is a wise and faithful servant.
R. Whom the master placed in charge of his household.

God our Father,
you willed that your Son,
under Joseph’s authority,
should experience daily life and human work.
By the prayers of Saint Joseph,
help us to sanctify the present moment,
to be concerned for our neighbour
and be faithful to the tasks of every day.
hear us, through Christ our Lord.

Saint Joseph, husband of Mary: Pray for us.
Saint Joseph, patron of workers: Pray for us.
Saint Joseph, the craftsman: Pray for us.

Alternative hymns of Saint Joseph from New Camaldoli, Lauds and Vespers:
                      – A –
O hidden saint of silent ways,
we do not know a word you spoke;
but deeds not words were all your strength
when to your calling you awoke.

Come as it might, you heard God’s word
and never stopped to count the cost
content to be his instrument,
and count your reputation lost.

Incarnate Lord, who came to save,
show us by Joseph’s prayer anew
the secrets of your darker ways;
keep us in life and dying true.

-B-
We have so little word of you;
how hidden, Joseph was your life.
yet what you chose to do speaks much,
in taking Mary as your wife.

The dreams you honoured led your soul;
you never stopped to count the cost,
content to listen and to act
than fear your reputation lost.

How often had you thought you’d failed
the flight by night, the life-long fears?
Yet quietly you stood your ground,
and, faithful, laboured through the years.

Lord Jesus, formed and fathered well
by one so faithful and so free;
may we not flee life’s darker days,
but live them fully, trustingly.

The Rosary: Jesus Centred, Spirit Filled, Bible Based

Talk to the Sodality at the Admission of new members and Aspirants, Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception 2020, Fr Richard Peers, Superior

Last summer, my brother, sister and I sat around the bed in St Gemma’s Hospice in Leeds where our mum was dying. Over the weeks she had been there we had the great gift of being able to visit her daily, and for me the great gift of praying the Rosary with her. No matter how tired or exhausted she became she would push at the beads on the hospital table and I would pray a set of mysteries. Initially praying strongly with me, as she weakened I would hardly be able to hear her say the second half of each prayer until I needed to say the whole prayer for her. Summoned by the staff early on a Friday as we gathered for her last few hours I started on the Rosary. There was no sound, her lips moved to the prayers and Brideshead-like she raised her hand slightly from the sheets as I made the sign of the cross at the start. A couple of hours later her lips stopped moving and soon we noticed that she had stopped breathing. The Rosary was deeply embedded in Mum’s consciousness and, as it became clear her sub-conscious too. When so much else in her memory had fallen away the Rosary remained.

The Rosary has always been part of my life. I remember my grandmother – who I lived with for part of my childhood – praying the Rosary each evening. Sometimes tuning in to Vatican Radio to pray it in Latin. Rosary with her before weekday Masses in her church in Bolsover. Rosary at home with mum. Rosary on camps as a teenager, Rosary at theological College in the chapel and with friends in our rooms; Rosary in the parishes I’ve served in. Rosary with the brothers of the Jerusalem Community in the car driving through the French countryside back to the centre of Paris after their retreat day.  Rosary at Lourdes, and Rosary at Walsingham, in the Holy House, and, of course, through the loud speakers at the national pilgrimage.

I’m only going to speak briefly today but I want to do so with some intensity, some considerable conviction because as I get older I find the Rosary is becoming increasingly important as part of my prayer life. Not least because like many others of us it is almost the only form of prayer (with microphone and camera switched off) that I can bear on Zoom and really feel enriched not drained by.

Like many others I probably read too much mystical literature as an adolescent and young man. I imagined that I would attain to the height of Mount Carmel, pass through the Mansions of prayer and by the time I got to my age now be a master of the contemplative life!

Well, it ain’t like that. I am content now to paddle in the shallows of the spiritual life; to enjoy the playful waves not of a crashing sea but of a quiet day on the beach. My prayer life is definitely of the bucket and spade variety with an occasional ice-cream. I am more than happy to leave the depths to others or until such a time that God calls me.

I want to do two things today. To make some simple suggestions for the way we pray the Rosary as a community and as individuals and to do so by recommending we all read a short text, an Apostolic Letter of Pope St John Paul II: Rosarium Virginis Mariae. I have put a PDF version of the whole text in the files on our Facebook group and also a shortened version with some key phrases highlighted by me.

My Twitter profile at the moment includes three two word phrases that have appealed to me for some time as I consider my Christian life and seek to be:

Jesus- centred

Spirit-filled

Bible-based

I believe the Rosary is all these things.

Near the end of his letter John Paul II writes:

“The centre of gravity in the Hail Mary, the hinge as it were which joins its two parts, is the name of Jesus.”

The Rosary is hinged on Jesus, centred on Jesus. The opening prayers and each Mystery include the prayer that Jesus taught. And to be Jesus-centred is to be profoundly a person of the church,

“The Our Father,” Pope John Paul writes, “makes meditation upon the mystery, even when carried out in solitude, an ecclesial experience.”

And, beautifully, he describes the beads themselves, as physical objects that illustrate this Jesus-centred, ecclesial spirituality. “the beads converge on the Crucifix”.

And “the beads remind us of our many relationships, of the bond of communion and fraternity which unites us all in Christ.”

This is such a beautiful thing for us in the Sodality. Our bonds are in many ways not very substantial, but we are a chain of relationships, now across the world, that I hold on to day in day out as I pray my beads.

The Rosary is Jesus Centred.

The Rosary is Spirit filled because it is contemplative prayer. In it we follow the example of Mary who “pondered these things in her heart”. As we ponder the mysteries of the Rosary it becomes a “way of assimilating the mystery”. It is an act of remembering that creates us as people who are formed in the likeness of Christ because we are what we remember. This is why we can’t pray the Rosary too often. It is a constant work of conversion as it shapes our minds and identities.  As its “quiet rhythm and lingering pace” become a “training in holiness”, that phrase alone make sit a suitable prayer for us as Sodalists with our single aim of “growing in holiness because the world needs holy priests.”

As you know charismatic renewal is an important part of my life. The gifts of the Spirit are real and necessary for me. But the Spirit’s gifts are not all fireworks, they include the gift of contemplation, of stillness, of “attentive listening”.

By its rhythms and its concreteness I find the Rosary can bring me to a place of stillness even in times of great stress and anxiety.

The Rosary is Spirit-filled.

The Rosary is bible-based because it feeds into our memories, our identities the great mysteries of the Christian faith, beginning with the creed and extending into meditation on the individual mysteries. The prayers of the Rosary are the “warp into which is woven contemplation of the mysteries.” I really like this image from the Apostolic letter because sometimes, especially when people start praying the Rosary, it can feel like there is too much to do, too much going on. But if we imagine ourselves weaving a strong, and beautiful, fabric using the warp and weft of prayer and contemplation it may help us to see what we are doing. Pope John Paul also addresses the use of the imagination, specifically mentioning the Ignation method of ‘composing the scene’, picturing in as much detail as possible the scene of the Mystery. We can become very words in our prayer and should not be afraid of using our visual memories as much as our verbal minds.

The Rosary is bible-based.

So from these reflections based on Rosarium Virginis Mariae, I want to make some practical suggestions for the way we pray the Rosary together.

In particular I want to reflect on the place of specific intercession – which is so important. Those of us who are familiar with praying the Rosary at Walsingham stood or sat around the Holy House will know what a major part intercession and the lists of those to be prayed for plays in that devotion. But as I hope I have shown intercession needs to be balanced with the biblical-contemplative dimension of the gospel. “No other words can ever match the efficacy of the inspired word.” Pope John Paul II writes of the Rosary.

I also notice that in our Zoom Rosaries we can have a good deal of intercession at each mystery and then requests for prayer at the end of the meeting which means both a good deal of intercessory material and also that we end with material without being able to process it or talk around it. So I suggest that we remove requests for intercession from the end of our meetings entirely and we end with the Hail  Mary and Sodality Prayer. At the beginning of the Rosary having made the sign of the cross and recited the creed the leader then ask for any prayer requests. 

We hold these in silence before moving to the mysteries.Individual intentions for each decade are still possible on occasion thus combining the specific intercessions of our community and the intentions offered by the leader of the Rosary. But while there may not always be intercession for each mystery there ought always to be Scripture and silence.

It may also be appropriate at the end of the Salve Regina before the versicle (Pray for us Holy Mother of God etc) that a time of silence be punctuated by anyone calling out names of those to be prayed for as they wish. I think this can work quite powerfully on Zoom. That way the time after the Rosary is for conversation and news and does not end on too undigested a heavy note.

There are other elements that John Paul II suggests which used judiciously might enhance our praying of the Rosary:

Scripture

Every praying of the Rosary should involve some reading of Scripture; there are lots of Rosary books around with shorter and longer suggestions, and these can be found online as well and can be used before each mystery.

Silence

Each of these Scripture readings could profitably be followed by a period of silence, not just a moment but a minute or two.

Prayers

Additional prayers often in Collect format can enrich our understanding of the mystery and usefully follow the Glory be …

There are also many other short meditations that can be used without adding huge amounts of time to the Rosary. Fr Steven Shakespeare and I are hoping to work on some of these, he is writing poems and I am compiling other material – I hope that now the first few months of the new job are done I can find time to work on that. I often mention Bishop David Konstant’s Mysteries of the Rosary as a great source of material.

I don’t want to suggest overwhelming the Rosary or extending our time too long but I think some light tweaking of our prayer would be helpful. Pope John Paul II talks of the ‘sobriety’ of the Rosary and the ‘noble simplicity’ of Latin Christianity should be respected. But I do want to encourage some light creativity!

Most of all I want to thank the 20 or so new members admitted today and next week (in Australia and New Zealand) and all Sodalists for committing to this community in which the Rosary has found such a natural home, or rather in which we as a community have found our natural home.

“If ever I come to the end of a day without having said the Rosary,” Blessed Columba Marmion declared, “I confess that I feel disappointed.”

I hope that each of us will find deep joy and satisfaction in being faithful pray-ers of the Rosary.

On tiptoe all the night: Sermon for Advent Sunday

Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford

Advent Sunday

29th November 2020

Fr Richard Peers SMMS

Isaiah writes: “awesome deeds we did not expect”

In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

A poem, by the British Australian poet Kevin Hart:

It’s not too late, Dark One, 

      For you to come 

      And have me close 

And stay an hour or two, 

It’s not too late at all 

      For you to slip 

      Past fossil light 

And quickly touch my hand. 

It’s deepest night, Dark One, 

      I look straight up 

      And won’t be born 

Another billion years 

If you’re so far away; 

      Come closer now 

      So that I taste 

Your breath: I have been here 

On tiptoe all the night, 

      And I shall wait 

      For you, Dark One, 

Till all those years are done.

Christmas will soon be here. 

We know that the days are still getting shorter, that the darkness appears victorious but we light the candles. The light grows stronger as we light more candles each week of Advent, as we deck our trees with lights.  Our homes with Christmas decorations and strings of light.

And yet the darkness grows stronger.

There is light at the end of the tunnel, this terrible year of plague draws to a close with vaccines within our reach; multiple ways of defeating the virus seem possible. We can almost begin to think think that life will be normal again, one day.

And yet the darkness grows stronger, we are told that it will be a hard winter, there will be many deaths. We can’t visit the elderly; we are encouraged not to see family and friends at Christmas.

We’ve just heard from the final chapters of Isaiah of the frustration the people feel. It is sixth century Jerusalem. The rebuilding of the city, the restoration of the temple and its worship are possible. But they have not happened yet. The people are still walking in darkness and even worse God appears to do nothing. “O that you would …” the prophet cries. He cries it because God doesn’t. God does not tear open the heavens, the mountains do not quake, fire is not kindled, the water does not boil.

These are the things the people expected. Wanted. Hoped for. 

And they do not happen.

*

What do you expect, want, hope for from God?

How does God disappoint frustrate you? Refuse to answer prayer?

Why doesn’t God act as you would like him to?

God is the one who acts in ways that we did not expect. He acts today, in my life, in yours, in the world, in ways that we did not expect. And do not recognise. 

Our great expectations will never be met. God of surprises he has been called. 

The unexpected God. 

The unknown God St Paul identified at Athens.

Jesus is unexpected. Christmas is unexpected. It’s not the story we would tell of God coming; of God made known. And Jesus tells us how we should live our lives ready for the unknown God, the unexpected God:

keep alert

keep awake.

Jesus is unexpected; he doesn’t give the answers people want; he is not the Messiah they were hoping for; he did “awesome deeds we did not expect”.

To be alert, to be awake is to have beginner’s mind; to be open to possibility; to refuse to be the expert; to swim in uncertainty and to delight in the provisional.

This is where the dynamism of Christian living comes, where the energy of prayer is to be found. This is why God always reveals himself to us when we are waiting; when we are in-between; when things are not turning out the way we planned them; when the paper is blank, the road ahead unknown. When we remember that we are always beginners and never experts.

Is there room for the unexpected in your life as you prepare for Christmas?

As we emerge from lockdown what will you change? What will be different?

This will be an Advent like no other. There won’t be the office parties; the family get togethers; the queuing in shops; the meals out. 

It is an Advent we did not expect.

The question is can we allow ourselves to be alert, awake, can we allow ourselves to meet the unexpected God?

Friends, I suggest something quite simple. That you change something about the way you pray. 

Perhaps you only pray when things get really bad; or only when you come to church; or even every day just before you go to bed. Whatever you do break those habits and try something different. Make a regular time every day to pray. Pray without expecting anything other than the unexpected. Put it in your diary. An hour before lunch, or in the afternoon or best of all get up an hour earlier, when the world is dark. That special darkness that is giving way to dawn.

I don’t know anyone who has a solid practice of daily prayer, who is growing in holiness who does not spend time early in the morning to pray. Whatever you tell yourself there will be interruptions, appointments, phone calls, emails at every other time of the day.

We say that God is light, but we find him in darkness. He will be born in the middle of the night.

It’s not too late, Dark One, 

      For you to come 

      And have me close 

And stay an hour or two,

Darkness is a nurturing place; it is the place to escape the overstimulation we subject ourselves to. 

It’s not too late at all 

      For you to slip 

      Past fossil light 

And quickly touch my hand.

This Advent we have a better chance than ever of feeling the touch of God’s hand. Of finding him in the unresolved situations of our life; the time we would have spent at parties; or meals; or preparing for friends and relations.

Keep alert Jesus says, 

keep awake Jesus says. 

As he did to his friends on that night in Gethsemane when they fell asleep. Keep awake, stay on tiptoe. Be ready.

On tiptoe all the night, 

      And I shall wait 

      For you, Dark One, 

Till all those years are done.

The Sodality Year of Review: Preface to the Ordo 2021

Dear Mothers, Fathers, Aspirants and friends of the Sodality,

What a year it has been for us as a community. The lockdown has seen extraordinary growth for us in numbers and particularly remarkably our growth internationally. I have always described our charisms as being about joy, friendship, seriousness and diocesan priesthood as fruits of the goal of holiness. It seems to me now that the Lord is leading us to deepen those bonds of friendship that are the Anglican Communion. The friendships that many of us are forging with sisters and brothers around the world will remain one of the many blessings of 2020 for me.

An equally significant blessing for us is Archbishop Stephen becoming our patron. As priests we are servants of the church and called to love the church. We each exercise our priesthood on behalf of our bishop; we are called to belong to a presbytery around him or her. This is a wonderful antidote to the individualism of our times. This link with the Archbishop of York is an important signal of our ecclesial identity; our joy in belonging to this part of the Catholic church. Archbishop Stephen’s personal gifts of joy in his vocation as priest and bishop and confident evangelism further indicate the Spirit’s life in our community.

2019 – 2020 was always going to be a significant year for us because it marks five years since the first members made a commitment to be a community. I am grateful to Liz Jones and Frankie Ward for conducting our review to help us discern the next steps for us.

This will also be the last Foreword to an Ordo that I write. I have always said that I would do just one term as Superior. Moving on to the next Superior will be an important step in the community’s life. I am immensely grateful to the support given me by members of Council, not least Mother Imogen as assistant Superior and Fr Simon as Clerk this year. Thank you too to Fr Sam for his work, significantly on this Ordo which is no small task. Bishop Gregory our Episcopal Visitor has been a great gift to us and to me. His gentle friendship is a source of much joy.

It is impossible for me to state how strongly I believe the Holy Spirit has been leading us in this way we are following and how much joy it brings me. My love of the Rosary and sense of the closeness of Our Lady to me in my priestly ministry have never been deeper. I feel her presence daily at the altar with me just as she stood with St John at the cross. His presence as the beloved disciple is deeply significant for us as priests. Jesus calls each of us his beloved friend and he entrusts each of us to the care of Mary, and Mary into ours. This gift brings tears to my eyes. As we celebrate Mass here in Christ Church Cathedral at the High Altar we do so under the reredos showing Our Lady with St John at the cross. I find it almost unbearable to look at and have to stop myself weeping when I do so. Each of us as priests, each of our dear aspirants in formation for priesthood is stood there gazing on Jesus.

For our year of review Fr Steven Shakespeare wrote these prayers I hope as we prepare for our general chapter next year we will all continue to use them to pray for God’s continual blessing on us.

With my love and prayers and deepest affection,

Fr Richard

Canticle of the Priest

I call for glory to come

like dewfall on the grass.

I call for the hour of truth

when love will speak its name.

I call to the One Who Is

from before the world was made.

Let us break the bread of blessing

and raise the healing cup.

Christ is the Gift and the Giver

love on the altar laid.

Through him we are made one

our joy is rendered whole.

With him we are known and kept

safe in the Fathers name.

In him we are freed from the world

made holy by the grace of God.

With Mary, Heart of the Priest,

we offer the Word made flesh.

Like her, we are known and called

and sanctified in truth.

As the grains of earth are gathered

and the vine gives up the grape,

as the water of life is poured

and the oil of anointing flows,

may all we are be offered in prayer

a living sacrament of praise.

(after John 17)

Prayer

God of demanding grace:

your desire for us 

is holiness and fullness of life;

you called Holy Mary 

to share in your work of salvation

and become the Gateway of New Life.

As we daily renew our commitment,

bind our offering to hers,

that in the welcome of her heart 

and the strength of her prayers

we may be faithful to our priestly calling:

to nurture Christ within us

to labour for his birth

to bear his life-giving body in our hands

and to sing his sacrificial love.

We ask this through Christ, 

our High Priest now and for ever.

Amen.                                             

Canticle and Prayer by Fr Steven Shakespeare

Praying the imprecatory psalms

A Facebook post to members of the Sodality of Mary, Mother of priests, 28th November 2020:

Dear Mothers, Fathers, friends,
The final day of an extraordinary liturgical year in which so many of God’s faithful have been deprived of the sacraments. Much is made of the deprivation from communion, but I think also of those who have been deprived of the comfort of the Sacrament of Reconciliation, especially at the point of death; and those who have not received viaticum, food for the journey, as they make the journey to eternal life. I think it is an appropriate time to offer Masses for the Dead more frequently and especially as we can celebrate in public once again.
The beginning of a new liturgical year is also a good time to refresh our own liturgical practice and a good point to re-read the two fundamental documents of western liturgy, the General Instruction on the Liturgy of the Hours and the General instruction on the Roman Missal.

Msgr Elliott’s book: “Ceremonies of the Modern Roman Rite” is also essential reading. If these three texts are our common liturgical literature they will help us to celebrate in a standard way when we are together again, God willing, one day.
Working on the Liturgy of the Hours it occurred to me to put together the imprecatory or cursing verses that are omitted from the psalter of the Divine Office / Breviary/ LOTH in a little booklet which is available below. It could be used to add them back in or just to reflect on. I often talk of teaching the beginning of Psalm 93/94 to children and of one young man leaving a police station having been stopped and searched and whispering its opening verse to me as we left: “O Lord, avenging God, avenging God appear.”
We need to be able to express our anger when we feel we have been treated unjustly. It is human.
May the praying of the liturgy bring you deep consolation and the the experience of your soul in communion with God:
Abyssus abyssum invocat. (Psalm 41:8)
With my love, as always, in the Two Hearts,and every possible blessing for a joyful and consoling Advent,
Richard

Nada, nihil, nothing: Sermon for Christ the King

Choral Eucharist

Christ the King

22 / 11/ 20

Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford

Father Richard Peers SMMS

During the first lockdown I took rather a lot of funerals. Many of the clergy around where we lived were elderly or had health conditions and were shielding. It is always a privilege to be the officiant at a funeral. To seek to pay attention to family and friends, and to the person who died. To weave together a liturgy that reflects that person, that is true to them, that is true to our uncertainties and doubts, our existential questions.

At every funeral that I led in those weeks I was asked to pray one particular text. What interested me was that as I visited the various crematoria where the funerals were held there were a lot of civil celebrants offering not so much humanist or secular funerals but just non-church funerals. the same text that I was using at every funeral, they were using as well. Psalm 23.

When everything else is peeled away this beautiful psalm remains part of our culture, our heritage. It speaks to people. It is a very appropriate psalm for funerals. The image of passing through the valley of the shadow of death speaks profoundly of the need for lament in the face of death and destruction but also offers hope. Death too is a passing over, a journey to something else.

It is also a very suitable psalm for today’s feast of Christ the King when it is set as the psalm for the Eucharist although for Covid reasons we are not having a psalm in our liturgy at the moment. Suitable at the end of this month of November when we have been praying and remembering as we do every year in November, those who have already passed through death’s dark valley. 

It is a psalm that I pray daily as part of my thanksgiving after I have celebrated the Eucharist. It is a deeply sacramental psalm. The Eucharist is itself foretold in the banquet that is laid and the cup that overflows; but other sacraments are also present: the still waters of baptism in which we have been incorporated into Jesus, the anointing of confirmation in which we acknowledge the gifts of the spirit, and the anointing of ordination for those of us ordained to ministerial priesthood.

It is of course, a suitable psalm for the feast of Christ the King because it shows us what sort of King Jesus is. Like his ancestor David he is a shepherd-king.  A king leading his flock.  A shepherd, as Ezekiel tells us in today’s first reading who will rescue his sheep from all the places to which they have been scattered.

And just as the sacramental journey of each Christian rehearses the ministry of Jesus so this psalm shows us Jesus baptised, anointed, gifting us himself in the Eucharist and passing through the dark valley of the shadow of death.

Psalm 23 is a profoundly Jesus psalm. In it we walk the path of redemption, the salvation he has won, the basic doctrines of the christian faith, the thing he has done for us.

As I have prayed this psalm over the years. At funerals, in the daily Office, after Mass there is one line that constantly calls to me. It’s a line that doesn’t normally attract much attention, certainly doesn’t conjure romantic images of fields and ponds and placid sheep idly grazing.

It’s the second line that speak: ‘there is nothing I shall want.’

The hebrew is two simple words: lo ech-sar.

I know how far I am from wanting nothing. My Amazon wish list currently has 62 books on it. I want the house to be warm, good food on the table. I want to be able to go to France again soon. To visit friends in New Zealand. Well, you get the picture. I am a bundle of wants. Like so many prayers I can only pray this line hoping that one day I might be able to mean it just a little bit.

I have been reading the Rule of Saint Augustine over the last few weeks, and I invited you as a cathedral community to join me in doing so. I’ve been commenting on the daily portions on our cathedral blog.

Augustine understands our wanting, our desiring. He might easily be called (dare I suggest in the presence of Canon Harrison) the theologian of desire. Augustine recognises that desire is what leads us to God. Without desire we would not be searchers. But he also understands that we are at our most vulnerable when we follow our desires. God alone can satisfy our desire, our longing. Everything else will leave us desiring more, wanting more needing more. We are like addicts seeking the next fix. 

Even if I were to buy every one of those 62 books, do you, do I, think I would be satisfied …?

Today’s gospel paints the inverse picture. The things we don’t want. We don’t want to be hungry, to thirst, to be strangers, without clothing,  sick or in prison. Being a Christian is always about facing the truth of these things we don’t want, leaning into them and not running away from them.

And this leads me to another way that helps me understand the second line of the psalm: There is nothing I shall want. How do we lean into the nothing. Not to embrace some fatalist nihilism (the Latin version of this line is, after all nihil mihi deerit) but to find the freedom that is the goal of the Christian life. 

John of the Cross the sixteenth century Spanish master of prayer drew a picture of a mountain to illustrate the spiritual life. At the top he repeats the Spanish nada, nothing, over and over again:

“Nada, nada, nada, nada, nada, nada, and even on the mountain, nada.”

The spiritual life has nothing, nada, as its goal.

John writes:

“To reach satisfaction in everything, 

desire satisfaction in nothing.

To come to possession of everything, 

desire the possession of nothing.

To arrive at being all, 

desire to be nothing.

To come to the knowledge of everything, 

desire the knowledge of nothing.”

Ascent of Mount Carmel, Book One, Chapter 13

This is what Jesus shows us on the cross. Giving up his God-ness, his divinity, was not enough, becoming human was not enough, even death was not enough, it had to be a shameful death, ‘even death on a cross’.

And in his dying he too discovered that God is nada: “My God, my God why have you forsaken me.”

All my desires, all my wants are for some-thing. But God is not a thing, he is literally no-thing.

Quite often when people speak to me about prayer they say how hard it is, how they struggle with prayer. 

As long as we continue our wanting in our prayer, our desiring this or that spiritual experience, we are wanting a thing. When we let go, when we stop struggling, when we embrace the no-thing we will have found nada. God. And that nothing is to be totally free, it is as Augustine knew total grace, total gift.

In your praying today, in your praying this week my prayer for each of us is that we find the true freedom of nada, we find no-thing, we find God.

Singing the Daily Office: Common Worship or The Divine Office

This is a repost from my old blog. I am still working on version with corrections and improvements but this is what is available so far:

NOTE: I will do a separate blog post about my current use which has more material for an Office of Vigils than in this ‘edition’.

Here is the latest set of music I’ve put together for singing the Office, either Common Worship: Daily Prayer or The Divine Office. It is now a pretty complete collection of music enabling the singing of the whole Office on every day of the liturgical year, allowing for, usually, just three antiphons/refrains for specific days to be used morning and evening and four sets of antiphons for Ordinary time weekdays and Sundays. Apart from the Invitatory, Te Deum and a generic tone for the responsories no provision is made for the Office of Readings. A simple set of antiphons is provided for Prayer During the Day, a complete setting of Compline is given (Worth Abbey except the hymns), the English Anthems to the BVM and many office hymns are by Brother Aelred Seton-Shanley Obl. OSB Cam.

The music mainly comes from:

Worth Abbey, Dom Philip Gaisford

Belmont Abbey, Abbot Alan Rees

Conception Abbey

Laurence Bevénot, in the form provided for the Canonesses Regular of the Holy Sepulchre

With smaller contributions from the Office of the Community of the Servants of the Will of God at Crawley Down, by Fr Colin, and the Society of Saint Francis, by Brother Reginald Box.

There may be other elements I have collected over the years but can’t remember where.

Mostly I have been given permission for strictly private duplication/use so if you want to do more than that please let me know which parts and I will send you contact details.

Many of the CWDP texts are set by me, and, therefore, not as good as the other material! I have set all the short refrains to the psalms from CW but to be honest I think the set in the Mayhew publication Sunday Psalms and edited by Andrew Moore is better, although the texts are not the very short ones in the final version of CWDP. Setting extremely short texts is actually quite difficult, Fr Mark Hartley OCSO of Mount Saint Bernard Abbey produced an excellent set for his community to use as responsorial psalms at Mass. One day – when I retire from full time work – I would like to do more work on this.

There are still more errors than I would like and I hope to do some more work on this in the future but it seems to work.

Some additional texts for the Office are provided for the Sodality of Mary, Mother of Priests.

Do let me know if you use this material and find it helpful and also, of course, if you spot errors/typos/areas for improvement. I am grateful to all those who have proofread this material and particularly Fr Colin CSWG for very helpful comments on earlier editions, I only wish my knowledge and skill with the plainsong modes had made more progress.

In Word format (you will need to install the St Meinrad fonts, which are available for free here): DP 300716

There are likely to be formatting issues  if you use the Word format.

As a PDF: DP 300716

The Company of Voices Resources site will continue to be updated and may be found here.

Advent: Jim Cotter’s ‘O antiphons’ for every day

The ‘O’ Antiphons from the 17th to the 23rd December for the Magnificat are rightly famous. With their haunting mode ii melody they are a distillation of the longing that is characteristic of Advent. In the Book of Common Prayer calendar they remain as the names of the day even if not in their text.

I really recommend that you make the effort to sing the texts to their original chant. Brother Reginald of the Society of Saint Francis has provided an English version available here. Once you get the melody in your head they are not difficult to sing.

Fr Alan Griffiths a Roman Catholic priest of the diocese of Portsmouth is the compiler of the superb three volume set Celebrating the Christian Year. I highly recommend them. In the Advent – Epiphany volume he provides metrical versions of the traditional texts to be sung to the well known hymn tune “O come, O come, Emmanuel”.  He also suggests a tone to sing the verses of the Magnificat to and the singing of the chorus between the verses (see below).

Anglican priest and liturgist the late Jim Cotter, produced a beautiful set of Advent verses that can be sung to the same tune, one for each day from 1st – 24th December. The book form was stunning:

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They were also printed as separate cards. Sadly I have sent all my copies as postcards.

I have created a document with all these verses in and the texts of the Benedictus and Magnificat in the Common Worship and BCP (Fr Alan’s suggestion):  Cotter O Antiphons.

They are also shown below.

I suggest singing Jim Cotter’s version at Matins with the Benedictus throughout Advent and the traditional forms or Fr Alan’s version from 17 – 23rd December at the Magnificat.

These are profound texts that warrant prayer and reflection.


Expectant: verses for Advent

Jim Cotter

Cairns Publications 2002

‘O Antiphons’ for all the days of December

*

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1

O come, O come, thou living word,

and pierce our hearts with healing sword,

from God’s own mouth proceeding far

to lance the festering wounds of war.

Rejoice! Rejoice! To mend our strife

shall come in flesh the God of Life.

2

O come, O come, thou wisdom strange

from deep within God’s womb to range

the earth at midnight’s hour of fears

to make us wise beyond our years.

Rejoice! Rejoice! Our God shall leap

with light that rouses us from sleep.

3

O come, O come, Adonai

in burning bush on Sinai,

the flame that holds us still in awe,

to etch in flesh the living law.

Rejoice! Rejoice! The marks of pain

shall show the law of love most plain.

4

O come, O come, thou Jesse’s tree,

a lifted sign for all to see,

where words of worldly force shall fail,

and earthly glory’s faces pale.

Rejoice! Rejoice! The power of love,

through death shall shine in flesh and blood.

5

O come, O come, thou David’ key,

unlock the gates and set us free.

Descendant of the king of old,

release us from oppression’s hold.

Rejoice! Rejoice! In words that sing

true liberty shall soon take wing.

6

O come, O come, thou living flame

of justice, calling out our name,

in fire our thoughts to clarify,

our wills to sear and purify.

Rejoice! Rejoice! The judge our sore

shall heal, our dignity restore.

7

O come, O come, thou lion brace,

and call the cowering from their cave,

course through our veins with thrilling roar,

inspire with courage, strength and awe.

Rejoice! Rejoice! Together we

the lion, lamb, and child shall see.

8

O come, O come, thou swallow small,

responding to your infants’ call,

fly far and wide across the earth

and end with hope our winter’s dearth.

Rejoice! Rejoice! A tiny bird,

shall show a truth that seems absurd.

9

O come, O come, come, thou cornerstone,

and hold the tensions of your own,

thou keystone of community,

the bearer of humanity.

Rejoice! Rejoice! With arms and face,

the crucified shall all embrace.

10

O come, O come, thou wounded stag,

at home on rugged ridge and crag,

guide us who cut our feet on stone,

and bring us hope, whose bodies groan.

Rejoice! Rejoice! A tender cry

shall smooth our pain and lift us high.

11

O come, O come, thou salmon swift

to leap the ladder ‘gainst our drift,

to bear our sorrows to the source

and find in Love the one true force.

Rejoice! Rejoice! From purest spring

new life the loving one bring.

12

O come, O come, come, thou hidden king

with lightest touch our peace to bring,

with gentle power to reconcile,

and melt away our hate and guile.

Rejoice! Rejoice! The mountain dew

our common clay shall shape anew.

13

O come, O come, thou eagle’s eye,

who from an eyrie does espy

a people choking far below 

from heat and fumes of lava flow.

Rejoice! Rejoice! the wings shall gyre

to scoop the desp’rate from the fire.

14

O come, O come, thou haunting sound

that makes the silenced underground,

that gives the dungeoned words hard won

to claim their place beneath the sun.

Rejoice! Rejoice! The voice enfleshed

in word and deed shall free h’oppressed.

15

O come, O come, thou healing host

around whose table none can boast,

who welcomes home the stigmatised,

their rightful place now realised.

Rejoice! Rejoice! By touching hand

together all in God shall stand.

16

O come, O come, thou morning star,

a point of light so singular,

an unexpected hope so bright

that puts our grey despair to flight.

Rejoice! Rejoice! The radiant dawn

shall soon console the hearts that mourn.

17

O come, O come, thou lover bold,

with warm embrace our flesh enfold;

to love our passion consecrate

that we with you may new create.

Rejoice! Rejoice! the chastener

shall pierce with truth yet melt our fear.

18

O come, O come, appointed one,

to be God’s love for everyone,

to speak on God’s behalf and show

as much of God as we need to know.

Rejoice! Rejoice! A fragrant oil

shall soon anoint for blessed toil.

19

O come, O come, Emmanuel,

God-with-us here and now to dwell,

at one with our humanity,

in whom we find our destiny.

Rejoice! Rejoice! The human face

of God with us shall interlace.

20

O come, O come, thou silent song,

the music of the spheres prolong,

that in our time soon disappears,

yet resonates in listening ears.

Rejoice! Rejoice! Through noises shrill

shall clearly sound a voice so still.

21

O come, O come, thou shaft of fire,

to lead us on through dark and more;

through desert bare thou moving cloud

protect and guide, fulfil what’s vowed.

Rejoice! Rejoice! Our God afresh

the covenant shall soon enflesh.

22

O come, O come, thou child of years,

with laughter to allay our fears,

sound the cosmos dancing light

to give the demons such a fright.

Rejoice! Rejoice! A girl, a boy,

shall leap into our hearts with joy.

23

O come, O come, thou calling child:

the creatures, those both tame and wild,

the weak and powerful, coax along

and change their trembling into song.

Rejoice! Rejoice! The vulnerable

shall make us all insep’rable.

23

O come, O come, thou unicorn,

appearing in our dreams, lovelorn,

expectant, quiv’ring, innocent,

wild messenger with God’s intent.

Rejoice! Rejoice! The Spirit shy

shall come this night with new-born cry.


Verses based on the traditional texts by Fr Alan Griffiths

17 December

Come, holy Wisdom, breath of God,

The Father’s all-fulfilling Word,

Creator Wisdom, strength and stay,

Teach us to walk thy royal way.

Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel

Shall come to thee, O Israel.

18 December

O come, O come, O Adonai,

Who in a blaze of majesty

To Moses came and spoke the Law

On Sinai’s height in fear and awe.

19 December

O come, thou root of Jesse’s tree,

Who stand for all the world to see;

Let nations seek thy gentle sway,

O come to us without delay!

20 December

O key of royal David, come!

Unlock the doors of heaven’s home.

What thou hast opened, none shall close,

Safeguard for us that heavenward road.

21 December

O come, bright star of morning skies,

O Sun of justice, now arise!

Make radiant with thy holy light

The prisoners hid in death’s dark night.

22 December

O come, thou King of nations, show

Thy gentle rule on earth below;

O cornerstone of unity,

Renew us who, thou form’dst from clay.

23 December

O come, O come Emmanuel

And save thy people Israel,

Our Lord and King our Law and Light,

Come save us with great power and might.

© Alan Griffiths in Celebrating the Christian Year, volume III, Canterbury Press, 2005

“How’s the new job going?” – Sermon for All Saints Day at Christ Church Cathedral 2020

Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford 1st November, 2020 Eucharist

Fr Richard Peers SMMS

Revelation 7:14: 

These are they who have come through the great ordeal.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

How is the new job going?

The question I have been asked most often in the last 8 weeks.

So how is the new job going?

Well, there are a lot of rules, I say. 

There is the Blue Book, that is the lengthy document that sets out the rules for those of who live in here at Christ Church. 

Then there are the rules for our worship in the Cathedral.

As Sub Dean I read the second lesson at Matins when the Dean is not present, unless I am Canon in Residence in which case I read the first lesson, and the second only if the Dean is not present but I can give away the first lesson to someone else, which is usual, and when I am also Officiant I give away both lessons.

Well, you can see what I mean: there are a lot of rules.

Rules can seem stifling, imprisoning, trapping. It  can fee like they asphyxiate the Spirit, the very breath in us, the very breath of God.

I haven’t even mentioned the rules that the Pandemic has caused. Rules which we have struggled to keep up with. How many people are allowed in any house? How many in a bubble? How long should I wash my hands for? Where  and when do I need to wear a mask.

We can feel trapped, stifled. We are almost literally asphyxiated, our breathing hampered by these horrible bits of material on our faces. I yearn to tear mine off in church, to speak clearly, to hear clearly.

Rules, can, of course, be oppressive, tyrannical. They can be motivated by a desire to control, to dominate.

But I like rules. We need them, we can’t live without them. We need the rules of the game, of sports and board games to be fair, to enable the game to be played. To keep us safe. We needed the rules of Rugby yesterday when England won, but needed them just as much if we had lost. We need the rules of the American election to ensure a safe transfer of power if Biden wins.

We need rules.

I suppose, it will be no surprise to you that as a former Headteacher I like rules,  I enjoy the rules of this House, of this Cathedral. 

I am glad to be part of a team of wonderful people who are teaching me the rules.

I love receiving Mother Philippa’s Rubric copies of our worship booklets with the rules in Red. 

I loved being able to text her yesterday to remind me if I was doing the intercessions at Evensong and I loved getting her one word answer: Yes.

Rules keep us safe. They keep the chaos at bay. Sitting in the comforting stillness of my stall before Matins begins as my colleagues arrive and take their places I am not panicking, wondering what’s going to come, whether I need to read this lesson or that. Like a smooth, well-oiled mechanism the prayer flows and the Spirit is present.

It is that daily unfolding of prayer that is the real answer when I am asked how the new job is going. 

It has been the greatest of joy for me. 

The most exquisite experience of rightness, the joy of tumbling into this bubbling stream that has bubbled in this place since Frideswide lived here and which bubbles still. 

These eight weeks have been among the most prayerful of my life. This is the easiest building I have ever known to pray in. Kneeling in the Latin chapel I physically feel Frideswide’s presence tangibly next to me. 

Places like this are sometimes called thin places, Places where the barrier between the natural and the more than natural is barely there. Thin places is a good phrase. But this is also a place that is thick with the prayers of the centuries, thick with the memories of goodness, thick with the known and unknown, thick with those who will come after us, the centuries ahead when the pandemics of 2020 will be carved into monuments and stones and you and I are long gone.

Rules are important. After Frideswide’s community it was Augustinian canons who lived and prayed in this place; built our oldest buildings; the buildings that are the heart, the core of this place, this cathedral, the Chapter House and the Prior’s House. Preparing to move here and since I have been here I have been praying the Rule of Saint Augustine that was the rule of life of those canons who lived here. It is a beautiful document. Very short, I’ve arranged it so a short paragraph can be read each day over a month. Barely 3000 words in English. Just a hundred or so words a day.

Today we face new rules for the month ahead and perhaps even longer. Rules that are devastating to those of us who love to gather for worship. Rules the like of which we would never have imagined when this year began. Rules designed to keep us safe, to protect us.

Whatever those rules turn out to be in the next few days as bishops and lawyers send us, no doubt, many pages of guidance. Whatever those rules, the stream of prayer in this place will continue. Whether we can gather together in this building, or whether the saints will have to murmur the prayers in here for us while we pray in our homes. Whether it is online daily or weekly. Please in your own homes know that we, you, I, all of us, are praying together. The communion of all the saints is the water we swim in, the air we breathe.

When I meet with my sister and brother Chapter colleagues (on Zoom) in the next few days I am going to suggest to them that we commit to praying two texts in the weeks ahead.

Firstly the Rule of St Augustine. It is a document of its time, it has some wonderfully quirky sections. But it is very beautiful and simple. Please watch out on our website and elsewhere for posts about our praying this or some other text (they may not agree!) 

The other text I would like us to pray together is the key section of today’s Gospel, the Beatitudes.

It is one of the most profound and complex texts in the gospels, yet deceptively simple.

Most scholars believe that there were originally just the central eight invocations of the blessed, omitting the final one. It is these eight which form a perfect poem, a canticle to blessedness.

I’ve been praying the Beatitudes at mid-prayer each day for all my adult life.  I learnt the habit from the prayer book of the Taizé community in France which I first visited as a 17 year old.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, 

for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven.

Blessed are those who mourn, 

for they shall be comforted!

Blessed are the meek, 

for they shall inherit the earth.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, 

for they shall be satisfied.

Blessed are the merciful, 

for they shall obtain mercy.

Blessed are the pure in heart, 

for they shall see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers, 

for they shall be called children of God. 

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, 

for theirs is the kingdom of heav’n.

The Beatitudes are a wonderful rule of life. As we pray them together or at home as we dwell in them, we will be formed and shaped by them. They are a complex rule, they don’t tell us who is to read the second lesson, or how often to sanitise our hands. But they are a rule nevertheless. 

A rule can be a tool for measuring. They help us to judge our lives and ourselves.

 A rule keeps us accountable to each other and to God.

To what extent am I poor in spirit and meek? Am I really hungering, yearning or justice? Am I always merciful? Am I known as a peace-maker?

Is the kingdom of heaven the start and end of my life, of my day, as it is the start and end of this poem that is the Beatitudes?

Brother Roger who founded the Taizé Community distilled the Beatitudes into a simple statement:

‘Every day let your work and rest be quickened by the Word of God; keep inner silence in all things and you will dwell in Christ; be filled with the spirit of the beatitudes: joy, simplicity and mercy.’

So, this is my suggestion, that as the Christ Church community in the lockdown ahead we think about our common life by praying these texts every day. Whether you are a long standing member of the congregation, one of our wonderful sidespeople, guides, choristers, organists, employees or a member of Chapter. Whether you have just dropped in on YouTube or Twitter, whether you have been here for thirty years or like me just arrived

Dwelling in these words and allowing them to dwell in us.

The limpid simplicity of the Beatitudes, their complex depth, will help us bear the grief of these times, we will be those who mourn the many losses of lockdown and plague. Enduring this we will be those who have come through the great ordeal for Jesus is at the centre of the throne, he is our shepherd and he “leads us to springs of the water of life.”

In this pandemic may Jesus keep us all in the spirit of the Beatitudes, joyful, simple, merciful.

‘Amen! 

Blessing and glory and wisdom 

and thanksgiving and honour
and power and might
be to our God for ever and ever! Amen.’ 

An immensity of waters: chanting the whole psalter in a day

“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:

The Lord’s voice resounding on the waters,

the Lord on the immensity of the waters;

the voice of the Lord, full of power,

the voice of the Lord, full of splendour.

Powerful Protection: St Patrick’s Lorica

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.

Lorica booklet in PDF format.

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.”

The text:

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, 
Christ’s incarnation; 
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. 

Scripture Reading: 
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. 
Eph. 6:10-18 

Or: 
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. 

Scripture Reading: 
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. 
Hosea 2:19
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.

A new ‘Manual of Plainsong’: Common Worship psalms pointed for traditional Gregorian tones

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:

Common Worship: Services and Prayers for the Church of England, material from which is included here, is copyright © The Archbishops’ Council 2000 and published by Church House Publishing.

Start singing the Office! Week Beginning 13 July 2020: CWDP Morning Prayer psalms with traditional plainsong tones

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.’

Psalm 87

Singing is like a fresh spring, I hope it makes you want to ‘dance as David danced’. It does me.

Common Worship: Daily Prayer set to simple modal plainchant – Trinity 3

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.

Resurrection Vigil mark 2 – update 28 June 2020

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.

Christ is risen. Alleluia!

“Je choisis tout.”: Praying the Office – June 2020 update

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:

Eucharist in the Oratory 22 June

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) Jesus Prayer with Devotions and Intercessions

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.

Resurrection Vigil

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.

Practical notes:

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.

Common Worship and the Jesus Prayer: Live-streaming in July and August

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.

Orthodox Spirituality and the Jesus Prayer: an introductory session

UPDATE: Many thanks to a correspondent for highlighting this link to an interview with Kallistos Ware, starts at c 7 minutes, here.

Orthodox Spirituality 

– Some resources for Spiritual Directors

Diocese of Liverpool Spiritual Directors Course, 14th May 2020

Introduction:

Orthodox prayer (not ‘spirituality’ which is modern western term) may be characterised as:

  • ecclesial
  • visual/incarnate/physical
  • liturgical
  • theological
  • disciplined
  • monastic

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

Oliver Clément

New City1993

This is the best, encyclopaedic scholarly guide available. Paints the whole picture, ecclesial and theological. Not for the faint-hearted but brilliant:

Orthodox Spirituality

Dumitroe Staniloae

St Tikhon’s Seminary Press 2003

Lossky is really excellent, this is very accessible and readable:

The Vision of God

Vladimir Lossky

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

Andrew Louth

SPCK 2015

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

Fasting

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:

https://educationpriest.wordpress.com/2018/03/04/there-is-no-lent-without-fasting-fasting-the-mother-of-prayer/

https://educationpriest.wordpress.com/2018/12/02/serious-christianity-fasting/

Icons and Iconography

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

Gabriel Buge

St Vladimir’s Seminary Press 2007

A beautiful book to look at, full of deep theology and spirituality:

***** The Meaning of Icons

Vladimir Lossky

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

Graham Speake

Yale University Press 2002

For Sophrony himself (all very readable and accessible):

His Life is Mine

Archimandrite Sophrony

Mowbray 1977. (now St Vladimir’s Seminary Press

On Prayer

Archimandrite Sophrony

St Vladimir’s Seminary Press 1998

We Shall See Him As He Is

Archimandrite Sophrony

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

Archimandrite Zacaharias

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

Archimandrite Zacharaias

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

John Climacus

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

Elizabeth Behr-Sigel

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

Rowan Williams

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

Liturgy

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 Pilgrim

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

Paulist Press1999

There are other editions which are new translations:

The Way of A Pilgrim and the Pilgrim Continues His Way

Tr Helen Bacovin

Doubelday 1978

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

DLT 2001/2003

The Philokalia

The Philokalia: The Complete Text (four volumes, a fifth is promised)

Tr GEH Palmer, Philip Sherrard, Kallistos Ware

Faber and Faber 1979 – 1995

From my blog: Reading the Philokalia: A Beginner’s Guide

https://educationpriest.wordpress.com/2019/07/15/reading-the-philokalia-a-beginners-guide/

Reading the Philokalia (2)

https://educationpriest.wordpress.com/2019/07/15/reading-the-philokalia-a-beginners-guide-update/

The Wikipedia article on the Philokalia is very good:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Philokalia

Dumitru Stãniloae and His “Philokalia”

An article on the number of Philokalia and particularly the Romanian version:

http://www.maciejbielawski.com/dumitru-staniloae-and-his-philokalia.html

On translations of the Philokalia:

The Philokalia Englished

This is probably the best academic study of the Philokalia available. Excellent. A good read, ecumenical and very useful for those offering Spiritual Direction.

Reviewed by Pieter Dykhorst here.

The Philokalia: a Classic Text of Orthodox Spirituality

Brock Bingaman and Bradley Nassif, eds., Oxford University Press, 2012, 349 pp

Anything by Andrew Louth is worth reading, here is a good essay on the Philokalia

This doctoral thesis is fascinating:

Authority and Tradition in Contemporary Understandings of Hesychasm and the Jesus Prayer

The Jesus Prayer

If you search for Jesus Prayer in Amazon there is much available, all of it is good as far as I know, these are my highly recommended:

Praying the Jesus Prayer – A Beginner’s Guide

The Body in Prayer: Prostrations and the Jesus Prayer

Rowan Williams Promoting the Jesus Prayer as Answer to Modern Angst:

On Practicing the Jesus Prayer

St. Ignaty Brianchaninov

*****  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

Simon-Barrinton Ward

*****  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

The words:

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.

Useful definitions:

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.

Funerals – Ministry for Mission in a Time of Pandemic

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.

Three of Cupitt’s books are among my favourites:

The Meaning of it All in Everyday Speech (SCM 2011)

The New Religion of Life in Everyday Speech (SCM 1999)

And, The Kingdom Come in Everyday Speech (SCM 2000)

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 God loves 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 to do 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…

And yet, 

– 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 wish upon.

– 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 the chapel ‘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 rely wholly on the ‘universe’ and ‘stars’…

We have Jesus…

And we have Easter…

Amen brother! 

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 The Earth 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.

Deep from the Great Tradition: Litany in a time of 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.

The Great Tradition

This description of the spiritual life of the church is one I first came across as a teenager at the Monastery of the Holy Trinity, Crawley Down in West Sussex, I would recommend Fr Steven Underdown’s book Living in the Eighth Day: The Christian Week and the Paschal Mystery as a further explanation of this. He writes in that book:

“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.”

(Update 4) Texts and music for live-streamed Eucharist and Compline

UPDATE 10 June 2020

UPDATE 5th June 2020

UPDATE 17 May 2020

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:

Update 27 April 2020

I got very tired of the 8-fold Alleluia so here is a revised Compline with a traditional mode viii antiphon and tone for the psalms.

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:

Eucharist

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.

Compline:

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.

“Seven times a day I praise you” (Ps. 119:64) – live-streaming a day of worship in the Oratory

“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 Universalis app which does charge but only a very small amount. The Universalis website 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)

Jesus 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.

10am Terce

12 noon Sext and Eucharist

2:00 None

4:30pm Vespers

6:30 Devotions on Hebrew Heroes – Deborah –

and Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament

7pm Compline

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.

BOOKLET:

Learning from the lockdown: re-discovering lunch breaks

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’ on Zoom: worship for Easter Day

‘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.

Praying the Easter Octave with Hebrew Heroes

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:

Liturgy of the Paschal Vigil

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.

A Liturgy for Good Friday in a time of pandemic

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.

“The aroma of love” – Guest post from the Bishop of Warrington

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

Compline in Holy Week

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.

Compline daily in the Easter Octave live streamed at 7pm BST preceded by 30 minute meditation:

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.

SOURCES

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

Script for the Liturgies of Holy Week

For the timetable for the week and more thoughts on these strange times see here.

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.

Women in Salvation: Readings for the Easter Vigil

Common Worship: Times and Seasons includes a number of alternative, themed, patterns of readings for the Easter (Paschal) Vigil:

  • Baptismal
  • Women in Salvation
  • Salvation
  • Renewal
  • Freedom

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:

Liturgy at Home: Holy Week and the Triduum in a Time of Pandemic

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.

Music

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:

Palm Sunday

  • 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

Maundy Thursday

  • 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)
  • John 17
  • 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

  • No Introit
  • 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 VigilTimes & 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
  • Collect
  • Liturgy of the Word Psalm Belmont 60
  • Blessing of Water Chant: Water of Life …
  • Apostles’ Creed
  • The Eucharistic Liturgy continues as usual
  • Concluding chant: Belmont 67

Eucharist of Easter Day

Usual Eucharistic Liturgy with Gloria and Creed, chants:

  • Introit Belmont 67
  • Psalm Belmont 64
  • Conclusion Belmont 56

Taking Farewell of An Oratory

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 …


Life with Zoom – Small solitudes, little deserts: Poustinia for a time of Pandemic

“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

The spiritual life is a marathon, not a sprint.

The Cloud of Unknowing: a guide to prayer

UPDATE 18 June, 2019

“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”

*

  • Joy
  • 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.

3/10/18

UPDATE:

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 …

Kierkegaard

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:

Feeling Time, Will, and Words: Vernacular Devotion in the Cloud of Unknowing

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.

UPDATE:

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:

beautiful

as God must be beautiful … 

It was the colour of moonlight 

on snow 

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:

  • Heart
  • Home
  • Lord
  • Come
  • Dance
  • Depth

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.

***

READING

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:

Feeling Time, Will, and Words: Vernacular Devotion in the Cloud of Unknowing 

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:

Different Versions of the Cloud of Unknowing

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.

TEXT

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

**

Translations

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.

*

Paraphrase

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

Analecta Cartusiana 119:4,5 and 6, Salzburg

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.

4 Comments

  1. 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
    1. 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
  2. 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
    1. 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

M.Ed., Institute of Education

The Philokalia and the body in prayer: Jesus Prayer and prostrations

Re-post of an old but popular piece.

“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)

In a recent online article Rowan Williams writes:

“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.

prayers-around-the-cross-taize

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.

taize-brother

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.

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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,

st-teresa-of-avila-icon-425

“mental prayer is none other … than an association of friendship, frequently practised on an intimate basis, with the one we know loves us.”

(The Book of Life 8:4, tr. Peter Tyler)

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.

Eucharist in a time of Pandemic: Adapting the Liturgy for Live Streaming

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.

Not Simply To Endure Events: wisdom from Taizé for the time of the Coronavirus

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)

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Prayer Spaces at Home

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.

Sources: the blessing prayer uses elements from the book ‘Prayers for the Domestic Church’, Ed Hays; and the ‘Puja Book’ of the Triratna Community

Resources for Prayer When Public Worship is not Possible

Welcome. PLEASE NOTE THAT UPDATES ARE BEING ADDED AT THE TOP OF THIS PAGE (further contributions are very welcome) scroll down for original post.

19 March 2020 Update 5 – Prayer Spaces At Home

18 March 2020 Update 4 Blessing of Daffodils in a Time of Pandemic for Mother’s Day

And here is the text of the above prayer:

Blessing for daffodils

– A Mother’s Day Prayer in a Time of Pandemic

Daffodils are placed in a vase in front of those praying:

Lord of the dance,

as we wander on our earthly pilgrimage

we know moments when we float like clouds

not knowing the way ahead.

You remind us by simple signs that you are beauty.

In all that is simple and beautiful

we see that you are as a mother to us, 

continuous as the stars that shine.

We praise you for these golden daffodils,

that they may be signs 

of  gratitude to all who are mothers in your world:

our mothers and those who show a mother’s love.

Fill our hearts with pleasure,

that in the breezes and winds of life we may dance with the daffodils

and bring a mother’s love to all we meet.

We make our prayer 

through Jesus, who loved moments of solitude,

and who lives and reigns with you, 

God for ever and ever.  Amen.

18 March 2020 Update 3:

A list of online prayer resources from Fr John-Francis Friendship:

ONLINE PRAYER RESOURCES

Churches TV

www.churchservices.tv/

A range of daily services and other resources from around the UK.

Coptic Church in Britain

birminghamcopts.org/

The Egyptian Orthodox offer some excellent resources via this website.

Daily Meditations – Richard Rohr

cac.org/category/daily-meditations/

Developed by this well-known Franciscan this site is well-stocked with useful information including a Daily Meditation for active contemplatives

Daily Prayer – Church of England

www.churchofengland.org/prayer-and-worship/join-us-service-daily-prayer

Available in both contemporary and traditional forms for all times of day.

Daily Prayer – Universalis (Roman Catholic)

universalis.com/

Mobile phone app. Offering Morning, Midday and Evening Prayer together with information about the day.

Diocese of London

www.london.anglican.org/articles/author/communications/

Offers resources for those unable to attend church (see 12.03.20)

Sacred Space

www.sacredspace.ie/content/about-sacred-space

A ministry of the Irish Jesuits.  The pages guide you through sessions of prayer in six stages culminating in reflection on a scripture passage for the day.

The Ordinary Office – alone together

anordinaryoffice.org.uk/

Designed to be as accessible for the disabled and able-bodied. 

World Community for Christian Meditation (WCCM)

wccm.org/

A global and inclusive contemplative family founded by Dom John Main offers resources for meditation

Fr John-Francis Friendship has produced this helpful booklet on ways of praying:

Finally, from Fr John-Francis an alternative (to the one below) Act of Spiritual Communion, using some imaginative, Ignatian type elements:

Update 2: A simple form of prayer for making a Spiritual Communion at home when the Eucharist can’t be received:

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.

Psalm 119 arranged to be prayed in a day:

Prime – before the day gets going – verses 1 – 32

Terce – about 9am – verses 33 – 80

Sext – about noon – verses 81 – 128

None – about 3pm – verses 129 – end

Here are some old posts of mine on this subject:

Serious Christianity (2): The Little Hours, a gift for the forgetful

On praying the Little Hours: New Wine and 1 Thessalonians (5:17)

Serious Christianity (4): Psalm 119

The following booklet by Fr Dominic Cawdell OGS of the Diocese of St Asaph in Wales is very good:

It contains:

  • Simple Orders for Morning and Night Prayer, which you can use at home;
  • The special readings and prayers for each Sunday
  • Some sermons for between now and Pentecost
  • A way of reflecting on Jesus’ journey to the Cross, using poems from Malcolm Guite
  • Information about further resources that may be helpful

The Methodist Church is providing a sheet each week:

https://www.methodist.org.uk/our-faith/worship/singing-the-faith-plus/seasons-and-themes/worship-during-the-coronavirus-pandemic/

This form of worship is particularly suitable for families:

Fr Alexander Crawford has produced these excellent materials:

https://aigc88.wixsite.com/beautyofholiness/post/prayer-resources-for-use-in-isolation?fbclid=IwAR1dlucFoCvOPdfxz7LXKdnk-9S-T42V1PuhevqIwfn-dQncFucviX-2C18

Some popular hymns are available on YouTube here assembled by Father Angela:

A form of Morning Prayer for Sundays here from Mother Nicol:

http://westhoathly.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/How-to-Worship-when-you-cant-get-to-church.pdf?fbclid=IwAR2isOuIsCNaP-X-YDXrFiio9rKlLaTBjJeTHZso6qPwjFK614NsJ9aoj0U

Some more varied ways of praying here from Mother Jo:

https://docs.google.com/document/d/1ZGrALL8wTwlsvJEUhFD2B35KH8pN0K4roAbCjE_rnz4/edit?fbclid=IwAR0QWA1cN4rRFtip-NiLrXYQzzKBEEh7RL6Ty-DWoWgPA5pefBfIQzLFytw

As well as the usual Church of England apps these are good resources:

Reimagining the Examen

Examen Prayer

JesuitPrayer

Pray As You Go

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Litany in a Time of Pandemic Fr Rick Morley

God the Father,

Have mercy upon us.

God the Son,

Have mercy upon us.

God the Holy Spirit,

Have mercy upon us.

Holy Trinity, One God,

Have mercy upon us.

Spare us, good Lord, spare your people, who you have redeemed with your most precious blood, and by your mercy preserve us through this crisis, and for ever.

Spare us, good Lord.

From all evil and wickedness, from disease and illness, especially this coronavirus,

Good Lord, deliver us.

From all ignorance and apathy, and from all willingness to engage in activities that could harm others,

Good Lord, deliver us.

From all refusal to understand, from pride and a sense of invincibility,

Good Lord, deliver us.

We your children beseech you to hear us, O Lord God, to look upon this world struck by pandemic, and drive from us this disease,

We beseech you to hear us, good Lord.

That it may please you to strengthen the weak, the elderly, and those with compromised immune systems,

We beseech you to hear us, good Lord.

That is may please you to give health and comfort to all who are already stricken with illness,

We beseech you to hear us, good Lord.

That it may please you to give patience and grace to all those who are in quarantine or who fear that they have already contracted the virus,

We beseech you to hear us, good Lord.

That it may please you to surround those who are scared and fearful, those who are overcome with anxiety and worry,

We beseech you to hear us, good Lord.

That it may please you to give wisdom and stamina to all scientists, biologists, doctors, and all who are working on tests, vaccines, and treatments,

We beseech you to hear us, good Lord.

That it may please you to uphold all those who are treating and ministering to the sick,

We beseech you to hear us, good Lord.

That it may please you to give to your people a heart to love their neighbour through this time, and to look after those who are most vulnerable.

We beseech you to hear us, good Lord.

That it may please you to support, help, and comfort those who are worried about getting through this time financially, and whether they will have employment when this passes,

We beseech you to hear us, good Lord.

That it may please you to help our young people grow in wisdom and knowledge even as schools and universities are closed,

We beseech you to hear us, good Lord.

That it may please you to heal the sick, lift up the stricken, and open the airways of those who have difficulty breathing,

We beseech you to hear us, good Lord.

That it may please you to receive into your bosom those who have died from this disease, and to gather into your arms those who grieve,

We beseech you to hear us, good Lord.

Son of God, we beseech you to hear us.

Son of God, we beseech you to hear us.

O Lamb of God, that takes away the sins of the world,

Have mercy upon us.

O Lamb of God, that takes away the sins of the world,

Have mercy upon us.

O Lamb of God, that takes away the sins of the world,

Grant us your peace.

Serious Christianity for families (1)

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. 

Other thoughts.

         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.

Serious Christianity for Families: introduction

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.

Praying the Prayer Book Office

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.

Here is the latest iteration of my booklet:

I have added a greater variety of music, antiphons for the Te Deum and Benedicite. I am using the Wantage Benedictus and Magnificat antiphons:

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.

Celebrating the Eucharist Daily

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.

IMG_4907

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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.

Eucharist OSH People’s Card

(Text reproduced below)

Eucharist OSH Altar Book

B2LspLLWTCOOWGW9UPLavA
sm08cgUMS%aTHTvNLg9LpA

Eucharist

in the Oratory of the Sacred Heart

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Blessed be the kingdom of the Holy and Undivided Trinity,

Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Amen.

After the greeting:

And also with you.

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Kyries

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The Gloria on Principal Feasts and Festivals

Glory to God in the Highest

and peace to his people on earth

Lord God, Heavenly King

Almighty God and Father

we worship you, we give you thanks

we praise you for your Glory!

Lord Jesus Christ , only Son of the Father,

Lord God, Lamb of God,

You take away the sins of the world

have mercy on us

You are seated at the right hand of the Father

receive our prayer.

For You alone are the Holy One

You alone are the Lord

You alone are the Most High

Jesus Christ

with the Holy Spirit

in the Glory of God the Father.

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The Collect

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The Readings the book, chapter and verses are announced but without conclusion

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Before and after the Gospel, Alleluia is said or sung

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The Creed on Principal Feasts

We believe in one God,

the Father, the Almighty,

maker of heaven and earth,

of all that is,

seen and unseen.

We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,

the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father,

God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God,

begotten, not made,

of one Being with the Father;

through him all things were made.

For us and for our salvation he came down from heaven,

was incarnate from the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary and was made man.

For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate; he suffered death and was buried.

On the third day he rose again in accordance with the Scriptures;

he ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father.

He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end.

We believe in the Holy Spirit,

the Lord, the giver of life,

who proceeds from the Father and the Son,

who with the Father and the Son is worshipped and glorified,

who has spoken through the prophets.

We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.

We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.

We look for the resurrection of the dead,

and the life of the world to come. Amen.

*

The Peace

The peace of the Lord be always with you;

All And also with you.

*

The Preparation of the Gifts

With this bread that we bring

All we shall remember Jesus. 

With this wine that we bring

All we shall remember Jesus.

Bread for his body,

wine for his blood,

gifts from God to his table we bring.

All We shall remember Jesus.

Blessed be God,

by whose grace creation is renewed,

by whose love heaven is opened,

by whose mercy we offer our sacrifice of praise.

All Blessed be God for ever.

*

Eucharistic Prayer H

The Lord is here.

All His Spirit is with us.

Lift up your hearts.

All We lift them to the Lord.

Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.

All It is right to give thanks and praise.

It is right to praise you, Father, Lord of all creation;

in your love you made us for yourself.

When we turned away you did not reject us,

but came to meet us in your Son.

All You embraced us as your children
and welcomed us to sit and eat with you.

In Christ you shared our life

that we might live in him and he in us.

All He opened his arms of love upon the cross 

and made for all the perfect sacrifice for sin.

On the night he was betrayed, at supper with his friends

he took bread, and gave you thanks; he broke it and gave it to them, saying:

Take, eat; this is my body which is given for you;

do this in remembrance of me.

All Father, we do this in remembrance of him: 

his body is the bread of life.

At the end of supper, taking the cup of wine,

he gave you thanks, and said:

Drink this, all of you;

this is my blood of the new covenant,

which is shed for you for the forgiveness of sins;

do this in remembrance of me.

All Father, we do this in remembrance of him: 

his blood is shed for all.

As we proclaim his death and celebrate his rising in glory,

send your Holy Spirit

that this bread and this wine may be to us

the body and blood of your dear Son.

All As we eat and drink these holy gifts 

make us one in Christ, our risen Lord.

May this Sacrifice of our reconciliation we pray, O Lord,

advance the peace and salvation of all the world.

Be pleased to confirm in faith and charity your pilgrim Church on earth,

with your servant N our bishop (N and N his assistants),

and the leaders and pastors of all the churches.

Remember in kindness people of all faiths and none,

that the whole human family may live together in peace and harmony.

Remember Elizabeth our Queen and the leaders of the nations,

grant peace and prosperity to all, the protection of our planet,

and an end to violence and war.

Remember [N and N and] all who have asked our prayers,

those who have no one to pray for them by name and those whose needs are hidden.

Remember [N and N] and all who have gone before us,

welcome them into the light of your face

and grant us, with them, a place of refreshment, light and peace.

With the Blessed Virgin Mary, Saint Joseph her spouse,

[Saint N and ] with angels and archangels,

with Thrones and Dominions, with all the hosts and powers of heaven

and with your whole Church throughout the world

we offer you this sacrifice of praise

and lift our voice to join the eternal song of heaven:

All Holy, holy, holy Lord, God of pow’r and might,
Heaven and earth are full of your glory. Hosanna in the highest.

*

Our Father in heaven,

hallowed be your name,

Your kingdom come,

your will be done,

on earth as in heaven.

Give us today our daily bread.

Forgive us our sins,

as we forgive those who sin against us.

Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from e-vil.

For the kingdom, the power and the glory are yours,

now and for ever. Amen.

*

Lamb of God, you take away the sin of the world,
have mercy on us.

Lamb of God, you take away the sin of the world,
have mercy on us.

Lamb of God, you take away the sin of the world,
grant us peace.

*

God’s holy gifts for God’s holy people:

Jesus Christ is Holy, Jesus Christ is Lord:

to the glory of God the Father.

*

The bread of heaven in Christ Jesus. Amen.

*

The cup of life in Christ Jesus.

*

Prayer After Communion

*

Concluding Chant

We have seen the true light,

we have received the heavenly Spirit,

we have found the true faith, worshipping the undivided Trinity, who has saved us.

*

Easter

Alleluia to God be glory in the Church

and in Christ Jesus for ever and ever. Amen.

*

Mindful Eucharist

Gong in the chapel at Shepherd’s Dene

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 GraceNew 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.

The Chapel at Shepherd’s Dene

The Wisdom of Solomon: some thoughts on New Patterns for Worship … and living.

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 …

Growing the church: teaching children to understand Christianity

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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:

Tell

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.

Growing the Church: parish weekends and events

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.

Serious Christianity: a review of the St Stephen’s House Office Book

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 officebook@ssho.ox.ac.uk 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 Nunc Dimittis 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:

O Jesus, living in Mary,

come and live in thy servants,

in the spirit of thy holiness,

in the fullness of thy might,

in the truth of thy virtues,

in the perfection of thy ways,

in the communion of thy mysteries.

Subdue every hostile power in thy Spirit,

for the glory of the Father.

Amen.

Jean Jacques Olier

Return to tradition – How I am Praying the Office: January 2020

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.

One 1970s form of a ‘people’s office’ with music and action.

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!:

5:20 Matins

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.

6pm

Evensong

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

Scripture for Mission: The Bible in A Year – recommendations for Office and Eucharistic lectionaries

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.

Common Worship: alternative lectionary for the Office in the Christmas Octave

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

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.

Page 1 of the alternative Proclamation

Page 2 of the alternative Proclamation

For the traditional version, with rubrics, go here.

More here, including a video of the chanted version. Chant score here.

Abuse in the Church: the book we have all been waiting for

To Heal and Not to Hurt – a fresh approach to safeguarding in Church Alan Wilson and Rosie Harper DLT 2019

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.”

Crashed: a theology of Trump and Brexit

Crashed: How a Decade of Financial Crises Changed the World Adam Tooze Allen Lane, 2018

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”.

Finding A Moral Way in Economics

***

The Economics of Arrival: Ideas for a grown up economy Katherine Trebeck and Paul Williams Policy Press 2019

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.

Queen of the Sciences: Economics or Theology

Originally published on Ian Paul’s blog Psephizo in November 2017

A review of Talking to My Daughter About the Economy, Yanis Varoufakis, Bodley Head 2017 (2013):

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.

About Me

Fr Richard Peers

Sub Dean of Christ Church, Oxford


Director of Education in the Diocese of Liverpool 2016 – 2020

Chief Executive Officer, Liverpool Diocesan Schools Trust


Priest of the Church of England


Formerly Head Master of Trinity All Through School Lewisham (2008 – 2016)


Previously served as Deputy Head in Primary and Secondary schools

B.Ed. in World Religions from King Alfred’s College, Winchester 1984 – 1988

B.A . in Theology, University of Southampton

M.Ed., Institute of Education

Trained for ordination at Chichester Theological College 1990-1993


Ordained deacon for St Hilda of Whitby, Grangetown, Middlesbrough in 1993 by Archbishop John Hapgood in York Minster


Ordained priest in 1994 in Grangetown by the Bishop of Whitby, The Rt. Rev’d. Gordon Bates

Also served as Assistant Priest at:


St Mary, Portsea (Portsmouth)


Portsmouth Cathedral


St Andrew, Earlsfield (Southwark)


All Saints, Blackheath (Southwark)


St Mary, Lewisham (Southwark)

Superior of the Sodality of Mary, Mother of Priests since 2016 see sodality.com

Singing Compline and the Lord’s Prayer yn Gymraeg

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

Ein Tad … RK

Conclusion yn G

*** 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 Ffydd which 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:

The text of the whole Office is available here: Cwmplin (PDF)Cwmplin MSW (The music will only appear if the Meinrad fonts are installed). I would be very grateful to have any improvements and corrections suggested or hear about other resources. I hope this will be helpful to my sisters and brothers in the Sodality in Wales (and beyond) and to others.

Liturgy for the Creation Season

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…)

Mindfulness for Mission: there is no God-shaped hole

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.

Mission: it’s all about memory

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.

Mission and Young People: the easier we make it the less attractive it is

In Understanding 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.

Teaching

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.

Piety

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.

Belonging

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.

Spiritual Direction

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.

Fasting

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?

An Anglican Martyrology

Word format:Martyrology 12 09 19 PDF: Martyrology 12 09 19

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.

The base text used was the martyrology compiled by Fr. Hugh Feiss, OSB. Copyright © 2008 by the Monastery of the Ascension, Jerome, ID 83338 and available online at the website of the Monastery of Christ in the Desert. The calendars of each of the four Anglican churches of the British isles contain varied group commemorations, I suggest these entries are read only in the province where they are observed and have indicated that by the use of italics and brackets. However, people, particularly in the Church of England, are woefully ignorant of the history of the other Anglican Churches of our islands and it would be good if all entries for the islands are used in each province. The Roman Catholic dates for saints are also indicated where these vary from Anglican ones, but not all those on the Roman Calendar have an entry. The introductions to the saints and celebrations in the Anglican calendars in England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales in Exciting Holiness, ed. Brother Tristam SSF, The Canterbury Press, 1997, have been added where a saint did not already appear in the martyrology. These have been adapted to indicate the place and date of death at the beginning, as is traditional at the reading of the martyrology. For the place of death I have generally relied on Wikipedia. For Irish, Welsh and Scottish celebrations not appearing in Exciting Holiness, (they do appear in subsequent editions, I only have the first) I have used the latest edition of Celebrating the Saints, Canterbury Press, 2004. These entries are generally longer than appear in martyrologies and probably need editing down even more than I have done if they are to be read liturgically.

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.

Common Worship Daily Prayer: readings for Terce, Sext and Nkne

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

New Wine and the Little Hours

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.

The Little Hours: a gift for the forgetful

First published in May 2018.

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.

An 1891 version of The Day Hours.

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.

How I do my daily lectio? #todaysgospel

First posted May 2018.

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.

Mission and Mindfulness

An old post lightly edited.

From my earlier post, here:

“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 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.