Thursday mornings are one of the high points of my week. Together with my partner Jim, I cycle down alongside the Taff to Cardiff University to our Welsh class. One of the things I love about it is its diversity. Twenty year olds to pensioners. A Muslim man, and the Dean of Landaff.
Welsh identity is fascinating. I have no Welsh genes, if such a thing exists. But I have been connected with Wales for over 20 years. One Welsh friend said “You’ve been Welsh for a long time.” It’s interesting, isn’t it, that Welshness is not based on genes? Which, in any case are a more messed up picture than we might like to imagine.
My former colleague and fellow Canon at Christ Church, Oxford, Nigel Biggar, has recently published a book, Colonialism. He had trouble getting a publisher. It is a good book. I don’t agree with everything he says and I don’t think he takes the actual experience of racism seriously. In my first sermon at Christ Church I preached about my time as Head of an almost all black school in Lewisham. He was puzzled by that. Racism is real.
However, Nigel has important points to make. I believe it is not a binary situation. This is the fundamental Christian position. The British Empire did terrible things. The British Empire did wonderful, liberating things. Both are true. I believe, as Nigel does, that liberal culture emerges from that Christian but imperialist world.
I don’t agree with Nigel’s phrase “Western Values”, I would prefer “Christian values”. My first degree is in world Religions. I love my fellow human beings who follow other religions, but I believe that Christianity is the truth, God is real; Jesus saves us. I would not expect them to think other of me.
Nigel says important things. He should be listened to even when I think he is wrong.
UPDATE 23 01 23. A second version with some corrections (mainly formatting) and two bits of additional Welsh text. Many thanks to those who have helped with this.
UPDATE 25 01 23 Several people have asked why I haven’t set Gweddi Ewcharistaidd 1 (GE 1) to music as I did Common Worship Eucharistic Prayer H (EP H). The simple answer is that I tried and failed. GE 1 is about 500 words while EP H is about 350. This makes the repetition of the simple four meausre tone more tiresome in a longer text. Welsh generally has more words to say the same thing than English which also makes for long sections on a reciting note, or breaking up the phrasing more which, with my very little Welsh, is hard for me to do. EP H is written in almost psalmic form with parallelisms in the lines which makes it an easy text to set. GE 1 is more complex. I will come back to it but probably no time soon.
In the cellar of the Deanery at Llandaff I have been able to create the next sacro speco, holy cave, the Capel y Galon Sanctaidd, for prayer and meditation. It is a beautiful space that immediately had an atmosphere of prayer. It is the first place I go to in the morning to sing the Office of Vigils before the day begins. It is the last place I visit before bed, to pray Compline. I call in during the day for the Little Hours. I find it a wonderful space for meditation. Guests and visitors have found it a good place to pray.
I am using as much Welsh as I can in my prayer so that it enters deep within me and, eventually, am able to use as much as possible confidently in church.
We have reintroduced (post-Covid) the daily Eucharist in the Cathedral, but it is good to have a place to celebrate with Jim on my days off and when we have guests.
Here is the rite I have put together for this, as much Welsh as I can manage, and some musical settings of Welsh texts. I am deeply grateful to God for the privilege of this space and to those who visit for the chance to pray together.
In 1969 the Roman Catholic church approved the Sunday and weekday Mass lectionaries that were the result of experimentation that had begun in the 1950s. They were the fruit of the Second Vatican Council and the Consilium that worked from 1964 – 1969 on the lectionaries. In 1979 The Church of England authorised the weekday Mass lectionary which then appeared in the Alternative Service Book of 1980. Later the three year Sunday cycle in the form of the Revised Common Lectionary was adopted as the Sunday Lectionary for Anglicans in England and at different times in much of the world.
Paul Turner has done a great service in producing this aptly named ‘biography’ of these lectionaries by examining the work of Study Group 11, the sub group of the Consilium entrusted with the work of liturgical reform after the Second Vatican Council.
“In liturgical celebrations, a more ample, more varied, and more suitable selection of readings from sacred Scripture should be restored.” (35)
Turner has examined the official record of the work of Sub Group 11 and created a history of their work; it is in that sense that it is a biography. This is not a commentary on the readings and it does not provide devotional material on them.
Several things stand out for me from Turner’s work:
Sub Group 11 was deeply ecumenical in its regard to the lectionaries of other churches; they were very aware of liturgical history and developments in the reformed and Anglican churches.
I am constantly surprised to be reminded of the deeply experimental work that was the fruit of the liturgical movement in the 1950’s. Sub Group 11 was not starting from scratch.
There was a deep regard to work with and from Tradition in the work of the members of the sub-group. The final section of Turner’s book is a Dossier documenting the work that the members of the sub group had published on liturgical lectionaries before being invited to join and form the group.
The emphasis of Vatican 2 to make the liturgy a participation in the paschal mystery is the fundamental drive of those compiling the lectionaries.
A real pastoral concern for what is suitable for parishes comes through at very turn.
Much thought was given to ways in which the lectionary of the previous Missal (largely the same as that used by Anglicans in the Book of Common Prayer) could be preserved in the new lectionary. There was for a time the idea that the older lectionary be one year of a three or four year cycle. In the end although many pericopes were preserved on their original days – notably in Lent – in general the new lectionaries were just new.
To give you a sample of the style of Turner’s work and the content it holds here is a random section from page 256 dealing with the use of the Gospel of Matthew on the weekdays of Ordinary Time (here in the 20th week):
The gospel for Monday of the twentieth week (19:16-22) appeared in none of the drafts. Tuesday’s and Wednesday’s (19: 23-30 and 20: 1-16) were in all but the first, which moved several verses (19:27-29) to the eschatalogical weeks. Thursday’s (22:1-14) was in the last two drafts. The first draft assigned some verses 22:2-3,8-14) to an eschatalogical week, but the second and third drafts puts them in semi-continuous order. The first draft called for similar verses in the last of its escahatological weeks (22:1-10). This passage skips several that the drafts proposed (21:28-31 and 21:33-43 in the first; and 20: 17-19; 20:29-34; 21:18-22; and 21:28-32 in the others).
This is only part of a single paragraph. It is, as you can see, detailed stuff.
At first I had thought that I would only recommend this book to liturgical geeks. But I think it has a wider value than that. The introductory section on the Conception of the new lectionaries and the Concluding Observations provide profound insight on the use of Scripture in liturgy. But more than that this detailed analysis of why passages of Scripture ended up being used on certain days provides new insights into the texts themselves and how they are being read christologically, as our participation in the paschal mystery, and ecclesiologically, as our sharing in the life of the church.
I have written before on lectionaries.There is, of course, no such thing as a perfect lectionary. I particularly like the two year cycle of readings for the Office of Readings which I think ideally needs to be used alongside the lectionary at Mass to provide longer passages, and in particular material from the histoical books of the Old Testament which are largely omitted from the Mass lectionaries.
Here, at Llandaff Cathedral, we have recently started using the Daily Eucharistic Lectionary at both Morning Prayer (which is combined with the Eucharist) and Evensong. So those of us who attend both hear the same readings twice. I find it really helpful to have this element of repetition which is an important pedagogical principle. The readings are of a digestible length both for the children in our choir and for those of us who gather in the mornings for whom I hope that the liturgy can be contained to thirty minutes. We also try and preach briefly on the Scripture readings. Because the gospel readings are in a one year cycle and for the seasons of the year outside of Ordinary Time so are the first readings, the principle of repetition is largely met. It also ensures that those who attend only Evensong (choristers, choir parents, clerks, many visitors) hear a portion of the gospel every day. For the clergy I would recommend using the two year cycle of the Office of Readings at a Daytime Office or an Office of Readings before Morning Prayer, more about lectionaries can be found on my blog here. I remain concerned about the three year cycle of the Sunday Mass lectionary and would consider moving to the traditional one year cycle with Old Testament readings (see the 1984 Book of Common Prayerof the Church in Wales, which Bangor Cathedral have already returned to).
I firmly recommend Turner’s book to everyone interested in lectionaries and to those fascinated by the liturgical reforms of the twentieth century. It needs to be read in conjunction with Annibale Bugnini’s The Reform of the Liturgy 1948-1975, which is essential reading.
I also recommend Turner’s work to those of us who simply use this lectionary. I will be keeping it in my stall and reading the section on the relevant weeks of the church’s year. Understanding why and how choices were made is deeply informative and enriching of our understanding of the liturgy and its effect on us as participants in the life of the church .
A further review of this book may be found on the Pray Tell Blog here.
Source: Llyfr Gweddi Bach, A Simple Prayer Book, the Catholic Truth Society
The repetition of the Rosary is great for learning Welsh prayers by heart. Here are the headings and prayers. I would like to produce a version with short Scripture texts in Welsh for each mystery and will work on that. Meanwhile please let me know any typos/mistakes, and, indeed, if you find this useful say a prayer for me.
Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford, 18 September, 2022
We are an Easter people. St Augustine wrote, and Alleluia is our song.
Much has been made in recent days of the faith of our late Queen.
She was a believer.
A faithful churchgoer and unafraid to mention Jesus Christ and her faith in him.
Because she was a believer Jesus was not for her, as some of the media suggest simply an inspiration, an example to follow, though yes those things too. But he was above all the one who came that we might have eternal life.
Jesus came and did something, he died, descended to hell and rose again. He defeated death.
We say this here in this church each day as we pray the Apostles creed at Evensong and the Nicene creed at our Sunday Eucharist. You and I will say this today in just a moment. These Creeds have been prayed in this building for eight centuries and on this site for thirteen hundred years.
They are the heart of our Christian faith, the faith that the Queen shared and believed.
It is a while since I’ve brought a visual aid to church for my sermon but I do have one today.
It is an icon, Russian, I think, that is often called an icon of the resurrection but is really an icon of the harrowing of hell.
Jesus standing on the cross descends to the place of the dead, not really hell at all, but the place where the dead, righteous and unrighteous have been awaiting him.
It is worth spending some time with an icon like this, noticing the detail, the people standing around Jesus. The cross as his vehicle, it is the means by which, his death, that redeems the world.
This week each day in this church a Requiem Eucharist has been offered. But in a way every Eucharist is a Requiem, every time we break bread and drink this cup we are participating the death and resurrection of Jesus just as all the sacraments are a participation in that death and resurrection.
It is much easier to think about the resurrection of course. We all like a happy ending.
But the cross as the symbol of our faith is a reminder that we will all die. That death is inevitable and certain.
As we mourn the death of our Queen as we reflect on her dying. We also reflect on the arc of her life. We have seen pictures of her childhood, of her growing up, her teenage years, and her driving in uniform in the war. We have seen her on her wedding day and with her children, we have watched as she has got old and as she approached death.
Those final photographs as she met the new Prime Minister just a few days ago revealed a woman close to the end of her life.
A monarch symbolises a nation, a people, a monarch represents power, government and authority but also humanity.
This public life is lived so that we can all see what it is to be human. To be a person who will die. And to accept that fact and the fact of the resurrection of the dead which Jesus has won for us.
There are over three hundred and seventy tombs and memorials in this cathedral. We walk on the dead. The dead surround us.
I have been thinking a lot about the dead this week.
I come into church each day to say my prayers before anyone else gets here and I enjoy the presence of the dead.
If you don’t know it I would especially recommend that you visit and spend time with the tomb of Lady Elizabeth Montacute. It is one of the tombs that separates the shrine of St Frideswide from the Lady Chapel. It may have originally stood under the ceiling there which seems to have been painted with the same colours.
It is a remarkably detailed tomb. The pattern on her dress is visible and the shape of her headdress is is clear. Around the sides of the tomb are small statues of eight of her children. Two were Abbesses of the Benedictine convent at Barking in Essex, one was bishop of Ely. Their clothes too are clear. Sadly at some point the heads of the statues were knocked off, probably by Oliver Cromwells thugs who were too dim to realise that these were not canonised saints but the children of this benefactress who gave so much to the building of this cathedral.
I often feel the strong presence of our foundress at the shrine, but this week I have felt strongly the presence of this other Elizabeth. Lady Elizabeth Montacute, who lived seven centuries ago.
These two strong women remind me of the strong women in my life. My grandmother and mother and so many others.
They remind me that we all die but that in Jesus death is never the end.
And so we pray for Elizabeth our Queen, that her participation in the death of Jesus which was so much a part of her life will bring her a joyful resurrection.
She was an Easter person and Alleluia was her song.
If you haven’t see it yet I thoroughly recommend the film Don’t Look Up, a metaphor for our approach to climate change, the film brilliantly and satirically portrays the response of the world to the imminent arrival of a comet which will destroy life on the planet. I was forcefully struck by the experience of the scientists in the film. Their powerlessness, anguish and anger at their inability to penetrate the false narratives spoke to me deeply.
“It must be awful”, a senior priest of the Church of England said to me recently on the phone, “to walk through Tom Quad and know that the Dons have their knives at the ready.” His language was particularly colourful but people say this sort of thing to me all the time. Sometimes they write or email, leave phone messages, or just feel free to say it when they bump into me in the street or at church events.
One of the existential questions I deal with in the face of this barrage is how to respond. I have tried a number of techniques and quite frequently end up saying “I am walking away now.” And do so. That seems to drive the individuals concerned to particular anger. But what am I to do?
Sometimes I hear people talk about theological college as a place of breaking, falling apart, destruction. That was not my experience. I loved my three years at Chichester Theological College. It wasn’t always easy, but it was, until now, the most intense experience of Christian community I have had. Made significant, not least, by the staff who were thoughtful, kind and challenging. I am glad to keep in touch with several of them.
When I was asked to consider applying to be Sub Dean at Christ Church it was with my eyes open. But also with some amusement. There are so many priests in the Church of England so much better equipped for cathedral ministry in Oxford. I have no previous Oxbridge connections. My academic career is professional rather than intellectual. I don’t even know very much about choral music. The fact that my excellent Precentor colleague gave me A History of Church Music as a Christmas present tells you a great deal.
Priests are called to be many things. It is definitely a role for generalists. Among the many things we are called to be, is, I believe to be scientists. Science with its etymology of knowledge, knowing. In education my own views have moved from progressive discovery methods to recognising the importance, the fundamental significance of knowledge. Of truth. This is just as true in priestly ministry. Jesus described himself as the way, the truth and the life. There is truth and the priest, like all Christians must preach it and above all demonstrate it in our own lives. This commitment to truth is the prophetic ministry. Reading the signs of the times and speaking the truth of them. Challenging a community and individuals to see the truth. This is the work of Spiritual Direction.
When I began my ministry at Christ Church in September 2020 I wondered what it would be like here. I had heard many of the myths about the ‘evil dons’. I had read the blogs. I was not immune to the common myths of privilege and elitism that surround Oxbridge and Christ Church more than most.
The science, the truth of what I have experienced over the last 18 months is far different. My academic colleagues are the same wonderful, bewildering, fascinating mix of good and evil as any collection of human beings with whom I have ever worked, and as I am myself. I was worried I would be patronised but am in fact treated with utmost respect for my own professional career and experience. Every meal, every encounter with academics is interesting and rewarding.
Probably because of the difficulties we are in this is the most intense experience of Christian community I have had since theological college. There is great blessing in this and great opportunities for encounters of significance.
Although my job is mainly (80%) directed to the life of the Cathedral and we have a superb College Chaplain, I do share pastoral responsibility with all the clergy of the Foundation for all members of the community. In light of the relentless attacks on my colleagues such as the phone call mentioned above, how am I to minister, to pastor to them? How do I share the good news of Jesus, of being a Christian with people who are constantly attacked by Christians? In Don’t look Up the scientists experience anger and bewilderment at the power of fake news. My own experience is of anger and shame.
Knowledge is at the heart of what I have come to believe about education. Most of the people who tell me what is happening at Christ Church have very little knowledge, or knowledge that is gained from partisan and limited sources. Or simple untruths.
The truth I experience in this community is of kind, generous, fascinating people trying their best. This is an inclusive community that has welcomed my partner and I in ways that put the church to shame. The truth I experience is of people bewildered by false narratives that seem unrelated to day to day life. The truth I experience in the Cathedral is of a community that is faithful to prayer and the search for truth.
Whatever the future holds I am grateful to have been called to this place for this time.
If you are reading this I hope that you will do so with an open mind. A mind willing to admit that what is happening at Christ Church might be other than it is often portrayed as. Most of all, I hope that you will pray for us, and assure us of your prayers without judgement.
In mid-June Jim and I will welcome three Ukrainians to the Sub Deanery, Gran, Mum and 3 year old son. We would very much appreciate any help at all in setting up the top floor to be suitable for them, we need the following items (so far):
3 smallish arm chairs
small kitchen table and chairs for 3
laptop and / or iPad
2 ring cooker
crockery and cutlery etc for 3
books and toys for a nearly 4 year old boy
We live on a clergy stipend (£29 000) plus occasional earnings from journalism for Jim, which is tight at the best of times. Any ongoing help that could be provided would be very helpful.
Well, I thought I’d start with three volunteers. Just to make sure that it’s not too much of a shock.
Henry, Beni and Pascahl are going to help me out.
[Choristers: look in the box one at a time]
Are you surprised. Don’t tell anyone until the end of the sermon.
One more test for you:
“I’m late, I’m late! For a very important date! No time to say ‘hello, goodbye,’ I’m late, I’m late, I’m late!”
Who said that?
The White Rabbit in Alice is late for his own life. he has no time.
In the gospel we have just heard Jesus uses three words for time. Today, tomorrow and the next day.
In my imagination Jesus has a rather wry sense of humour which is well demonstrated here. I can just picture a half smile on his lips. he is not going to hurry for anyone. he has all the time in the world. Which, of course, quite literally, he does.
As we know this church was for 400 years or so the home of a community of Augustinian Canons. As well as the Rule of St Augustine of Hippo who lived in Africa in the fourth and fifth centuries – which they would have read daily they would have been familiar with the other writings of Augustine. We can be sure that they would have known well his most famous book, the Confessions.
Sometimes the Confessions is described as an autobiography, even, perhaps, the world’s first autobiography. Although it does include much autobiographical detail it is very much more than just that. The second part of the book is a theological treatise. In it Augustine is concerned in particular with memory and time.
It is time I want us to think about today.
Time passes. Sometimes it passes slowly, sometimes it runs away with us.
The time from the writing of the book of Genesis to the the writing of the letter to the Philippians, mere centuries, a tint moment in the history of the universe. The time since the writing of the Gospel of Luke to our time now two millennia. the time since the Augustinian canons left here til now half a millennia.
But it’s not these great arcs of time I want to think about but the time of our own lives. the moments that make up our days and months and years and how we use them.
Centuries after Augustine at the time when there were Augustinian canons here at St Frideswide’s Priory, there was a great flourishing of spirituality here in England, particularly in the English Midlands and East Anglia. I’m thinking, of course, of Julian of Norwich, Marjory Kemp of Lynne and the unknown author of a little book The Cloud of Unknowing.
In their own way each of these fourteenth century writers was deeply influenced by Augustine of Hippo. But it is particularly the author of the Cloud and his understanding of time that I think is so fascinating.
The Cloud describe how there is a sort of cloud obscuring our view of God, stopping us seeing God. he (most people think it was a man) writes:
“Beat with a sharp dart of longing love upon this cloud of unknowing which is between you and your God.”
And he describes a technique of prayer for doing just that. Beating again and again at that cloud.
The way he suggests is choosing a word to repeat over and over again in our prayers. Most writers and commenters have misunderstood what the author of the Cloud is suggesting. This is not a phrase, it is not like an Eastern mantra, it is not like the Jesus Prayer. He is insistent that the prayer word should be a single syllable. he hives some examples God or Love, or even, and here I think he has the same wry smile on his face as Jesus in the Gospel, even the word ‘sin’.
The point is that the meaning of the word is completely irrelevant. It is the length of the word that is significant. I think that the Cloud is trying to help us reach awareness of the very shortest possible length of time, the moment in which we can wake up and experience the whole of that moment. To switch analogies it is a bit like the subtle knife in Philp Pullman’s book that can cut into time and experience something more.
I first started practising this ay of prayer just a few years ago, I use the word God and repeat it out loud over and over again. I sometimes start by doing this quite quickly but soon get into a rhythm that matches my breath.
Last week two small groups of people gathered in my dining room to meditate together. I’ve been teaching meditation for over 30 years.
Two things strike me about what happens when people meditate. Over and over again when I’ve taught meditation to children I child will say “It’s like there’s somebody there.” Yes!
And whatever state of anger of resentment people live in when they meditate they experience a sense of kindness. I was Head teacher of a tough inner city school in Lewisham and taught meditation to the whole school. even the toughest, most streetwise pupil experienced this sense of kindness in meditation.
Augustine knew what God is like. Augustine took seriously the beginning of the book Genesis just a few Chapters earlier than the reading we heard today.
God created us, Genesis tells us, in his image and likeness.
[Get the choristers out again: what is in the box? a mirror]
God’s first revelation of Himself is ourselves.
Augustine famously described elements of the human personality as reflecting the nature of god as Trinity, sometimes referring to the three elements of memory, understanding and will in this way. I don’t think we have to worry too much about labelling those elements. What Augustine knows is that when we examine ourselves, reflect on ourselves, we will find God.
This is why he is so obsessed with time, like the White rabbit we lose ourselves in our busy-ness in the endless flow of events. When we stop and experience just now fully and completely then we can see God.
Augustine would have known the Delphic aphorism ‘Know thyself’ through the writings of Plato. In his Confessions he is not interested in the details of his own life for their own sake but only in so far as God reveals himself in them.
Today, tomorrow and the next day Jesus says coolly in today’s Gospel.
There is far less biography of Jesus than we would wish in the gospels. Even less an examination of his personality. We have to glimpse this as we do here in his coolness in the face of those who will lead him to his death. In his sense of being completely at home in his own skin. Nothing is going to deter him.
The final editors of the book of psalms chose a very beautiful text to begin the psalter. Psalm, it is a reflection on the Torah God’s law which as Augustine would say is imprinted in the very fabric of the universe and of our human nature. When we meditate on that law day and night as Jesus did we will be like a tree that is planted by flowing waters, that yields its fruit in due season and whose leaves shall never fade.
Dear friend, we are exhausted by plague and war. the world is weary.
I promise you that if you practice this way of prayer you will be deeply refreshed.
Please indulge me this morning and let’s spend some moments in prayer. I am often amused in church that those of us who lead worship ask for a few moments silence and then start talking straight away. When I pray I often use a sand timer to measure the silence in my prayer.
One minute, two minutes, three, five or ten … !
Well, I will be kind this morning! Just two minutes.
Will it go slowly or quickly for you? In the silence what ill you find? The psalmist says: Be still and know that I am God.
Perhaps you think of a well known Fair Trade brand of chocolate?
Perhaps you are as old and outrageous as me and remember the 1980s drag act: Divine.
Or it might be that you think more of the verb, to divine the meaning of a thing.
The Victorian poet Christina Rossetti’s wonderful poem, Christmastide, which you should have been given on a card as you entered the cathedral today perfectly describes what we are celebrating in this Eucharist and throughout the day in our homes and families.
We know what love is. Most of us know how to love, most of us know what it feels like when we feel loved. Most of us know what it is to want to be loved.
But we also know that our love, our loving, our loves, are a mixture.
Of course, we all want to have a fantastic Christmas which is perfect from start to finish. But we know that we will irritate one another, there will be moments when things don’t go right, or to plan, or we find we have made a hopeless present choice. We will disagree about what to have on the TV or what time to go for a walk.
We know that our world is a mixture. Perhaps feeling like it is balanced too much to what is not good at the moment. Endless bad news about Covid, the economy, troop movements on the border of the Ukraine, or even our own problems here at Christ Church or in each of our on lives.
It can seem that love, loveliness and the divine are very far away.
There is a small ceremony in the Eucharist that you probably don’t even notice. After putting wine into the chalice we add a few drops of water.
This may have its origins in the Roman custom of adding water to wine, and therefore may have been done by Jesus at the last supper.
For Christians too it is a sign of the water and blood that flowed from the side of Christ in John’s account of the crucifixion.
As such it is a sign of the sacraments of Christian initiation, baptism in water and Eucharist in blood.
In the three Eucharists of Christmas Day two contain short readings from the letter to Titus in the New Testament . The one we have just heard and the one that we heard at the Midnight Eucharist that I’ve printed on the cards with Rossetti’s poem. I hope you will take the cards home and pray with these texts this week. The whole letter to Titus is very short, just two chapters, it would be a good text to read in this Christmas week to feed your prayers. In the text on your cards St Paul writes of the “cleansing water of rebirth … and the renewing … with the Holy Spirit”.
As the water is added to the wine in the chalice there is a very ancient and very beautiful prayer that many of us use:
hyn“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.”
What we are celebrating today is a great mystery.
It is God becoming human. But there is a far greater mystery that we often forget, the mystery of our sharing in his divinity.
Our becoming like God as we were created to be in God’s image and likeness.
The Latin word (particeps) that is often translated ‘share’ in the little prayer, is actually much stronger than that.
We are not called to receive a portion, a share, of divinity
but to participate in divinity.
When the water is poured into the wine it is utterly mixed the water becomes wine just as Jesus turned water into wine at the wedding at Cana. When we pour ourselves into the divine, we lose ourselves and become divine. When I pour those drops of water into the chalice I try to think about those parts of myself, that I would like to be taken up by God’s divinity and transformed into something better, something selfless and God-like. Something Divine.
Christina Rossetti tells us what this divinity is that we are called to participate in,
it is Love.
God is Love.
St Paul wrote in the letter to Titus:
“When the kindness and love of God our saviour for humanity were revealed
it was for no reason except his own compassion” (JB)
Love, lovely, divine.
Sadly we can’t share the Eucharistic cup in these Covid times but the Eucharist, and the mixing of the water and wine in the chalice show us what the shape of love is.
The shape of love is the mixing of the divine and the human in Jesus.
the shape of love is the mixing of the divine and human in me, in you.
The shape of love is the mixture of joy and sorrow that is every life.
The shape of love is the irritations and frustrations, the joys and delights of living with other human beings.
The shape of love is the gift of marriage in which we mix two lives that they become one.
The shape of love is the welcoming of migrants and refugees because the water of our lives is enriched by the wine of other cultures.
The shape of love is the living of our lives not for ourselves alone but for others.
The shape of love is God in Jesus.
By receiving the Eucharist today and any day we are giving assent to the participation in God that is our birthright by baptism.
We are saying yes.
Yes I want to Love
saying I want to live by love and shape my life by love in the way that Jesus did.
Love came down at Christmas, Love all lovely, Love divine; Love was born at Christmas, Star and angels gave the sign.
Love shall be our token, Love be yours and love be mine, Love to God and all men, Love for plea and gift and sign.
Whether you are drinking water or wine today, whether you are alone or with others
may you taste the kindness and love of God.
Dear friends, in this love is all the ahppiness of Christmas. Happy Christmas.
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:
Cause or motive
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
delight or piety
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
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 workThe 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.
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.
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:
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.”
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.”
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
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.”
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.
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:
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.
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.
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:
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:
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.
Each of these Scripture readings could profitably be followed by a period of silence, not just a moment but a minute or two.
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.
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:
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.
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
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.
“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.
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
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.
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.
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:
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
Cairns Publications 2002
‘O Antiphons’ for all the days of December
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford 1st November, 2020 Eucharist
Fr Richard Peers SMMS
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.
Blessing and glory and wisdom
and thanksgiving and honour and power and might be to our God for ever and ever! Amen.’
19 When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22 When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” Jn 19: 19 – 23
In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Wow, Bishop Gregory.
Wow, friends and family watching at home.
Wow whoever you are.
Wow because God is doing amazing things here in the diocese of St Asaph.
Gareth, Sally, Andy, Rachel, Simon, Chris, Susan, Carol, James
It has been so good to spend these three days with you. To see the remarkable people God is calling to priesthood in his church, in this place, at this time.
Jesus died and descended to the dead.
Jesus spent three days in the tomb.
Well, I hope our three days together hasn’t felt quite like that. But I do hope you are feeling resurrection joy now.
As Christians, as priests we are called to be resurrection people.
Ministers, messengers, heralds of the resurrection.
Here we are in this most extraordinary of ordinations, in, I hope, contemplative intimacy; there is a stillness, in this place as if it was evening; there is space around each of us. For this hour you don’t have to be concerned about whether your family and friends made it on time, found somewhere to park or managed to get breakfast before they set off. It is just us, resurrection people, gathered around a table, listening to our resurrection story.
The disciples didn’t know on that evening when Jesus came into the room just what it was to be a resurrection person. It was new to them. New to the world. But we know, every one of you knows. In little ways you have told and shown over the last few days how the resurrection has touched your life; made a difference; changed things.
The doors are not quite locked this morning. But they might as well be, because we are afraid. Afraid of plague, and virus, afraid of infection.
Let’s name it as the poet Gwenallt did in that stunning poem we looked at last night: there is terror in the air.
The winter ahead is going to be hard; the economic effects of this pandemic will make the Great Depression look easy. The person holding the role – as we used to call it – of leader of the free world is in hospital. We are in local lockdown and can’t even visit each other’s houses.
There is terror in the air.
But the pandemic is not really anything new.
It is like dye thrown into water. It reveals what is always there.
It is the human condition to live with terror. We have fooled ourselves for seventy years. That we would be the generations without world war; the generations in which everyone would get just get richer and that economies would just do one thing: grow.
We had a warning in the financial crisis of 2008. And now we have the big one.
But to be human is to live with terror: to know that death is always a possibility.
To know that whenever we make a choice we might be making the wrong one; to know that the good we want to do we do not do; and those things we don’t want to do: we do.
This is the human condition.
And in these strange times look at the gospel we have just read and notice how shocking it is.
He breathed on them.
When you are ordained this morning we will have made every possible effort to make sure that Bishop Gregory doesn’t, can’t breathe on you.
Out there the police have powers to make sure that we don’t do what Jesus did and make our way into peoples homes despite their locked doors.
But, even so, we are resurrection people.
The church has been in terror for decades. Terror as our numbers decline, as we worry about what the future will hold, terror that we will have to close our buildings, that there is no future.
And yet God works. He is working in every place where people are gathering on Zoom, or phoning round, working in Hope Street as Rachel and Andy and the team do a new thing there. Working in the Mission Areas of this diocese as resurrections shatters the traditional structures of the church and makes something new.
And God works in the terror of my life; the terror of all our lives: that we won’t be good enough; that our relationships won’t work out; that we will lose our job; that our children will not be happy and successful.
We are all afraid.
And into that. Jesus does come.
Jesus comes to us, he has come to me, he has come to you and we know him.
We know that Jesus makes a difference.
Last night together at St Beuno’s we looked at those two things that only a priest can do, that soon you will be able to do: to set people free from sin and to take bread and wine and reveal the presence of the risen Jesus.
To be a priest, to be a minister of the resurrection is to be someone who makes a difference, to be someone who changes things.
We know that the world can’t just go back after this pandemic. We are changed for ever.
We know that the world will never be as it was because of the ecological damage we, the human race, have done.
Our task is to speak resurrection into that. To make a difference.
Where there is terror: to bring peace.
To say to people as Jesus did, as Jesus does: Peace be with you.
And to show them as Jesus did the wounds.
To speak to them of Jesus and the difference he has made in your life.
Friends at home. Ask these people; get them to tell you the difference that Jesus has made to them, in their lives. If you are feeling the terror right now ask them to pray with you and to help you hear Jesus say: peace be with you.
And to do that, to be a resurrection person, to be a minister of the resurrection on our retreat we’ve shared five ways, five steps of sustainable ministry; ministry that will continue for the rest of your lives:
Read your bible: keep it close to you. Never go many hours without touching base with Scripture. Especially the psalms; pray them every day as Christians have always done, learn them off by heart. The psalms are a powerful weapon against the terror, because they are full of terror, and full of resurrection which is stronger.
Most of all they are full of Jesus.
Use his powerful name over and over again in your life. When the terror seems strong in you and around you: speak his name. Say it out loud; the name above every name; the name that makes demons fly; the name that speaks peace.
Love the church: this is the body of Christ; this is where a difference is made; wounded, bloody, crucified, holes in our side. We are resurrection people. Love it deeply as we love our family and friends with all their wounds.
Know that you are never alone because you belong to this body the church and because you are ordained to the priesthood of the church. You will not own it, possess it, you simply share in it. Priesthood is something you participate in. Don’t hold on to it. Swim in it, revel in it and enjoy it.
And in the steps of our journey over the last few days we headed to one thing: the Eucharist.
In your priesthood love this banquet,
our cup overflows,
God himself has set the table for us,
there beside restful waters he leads us,
even through the dark valley of plague and terror.
This is what your hands will be anointed for:
to take bread and wine and make it different.
Do it as often as you can. Love to do it, seek out places to do it and people to do it with.
Whether it’s an old Burton’s store in Wrexham, a medieval church or your dining table with your family or friends.
Do these five things:
Read the bible;
Call on the name of Jesus
Love the Church
Celebrate your inter-being in the body of Christ in resurrection ministry
and celebrate the Eucharist
Do these five things and you will be resurrection people.
God has called you to joy. To en-joy the priesthood.
Gareth, Sally, Andy, Rachel, Simon, Chris, Susan, Carol, James
Christ Church Cathedral and Church At Home, Diocese of Oxford (on-line service)
Having worked in schools for much of my adult life I’ve heard the line “That’s not fair.” on multiple occasions.
Children and young people have a heightened awareness of fairness. At its best this can lead to the wonderful idealism that the young have and heroic works for justice in the way that Greta Thunberg has been doing.
At its worst an unrealistic expectation of fairness can lead to resentment.
Fairness is not a reward for good behaviour and is in short supply in the random-ness of disease, accidents and tragedies.
The two readings we have just heard are wonderful, but quite complicated.
The key to understanding them, it seems to me, is to remember that both Jesus and St Paul were not so much in the business of converting individuals as in creating a community.
A community of the converted.
A community of disciples.
Paul’s letters to the first Christianity communities are almost all about that community-building and how those communities deal with the real, practical questions.
In today’s first reading what it’s ok or not ok for Christians to eat and what christians should do, if anything, about keeping holy days.
Jesus’ public ministry was relatively short, probably just three years. But that is still quite a long time to be travelling with a group of people.
The disciples were a very intense form of community. It’s not surprising therefore that a lot of what Jesus teaches us about is how to be community, and particularly how to deal with the intense feelings that arise when human beings live and work together.
One of the key themes of many of the sayings and stories of Jesus is resentment. Fairness and unfairness.
I think Jesus profoundly understands the corrosive nature of resentment as one of the key poisons that can destroy communities and individuals.
Over and over again there is a clear reflection on the causes of resentment:
The labourers who work an hour at the end of the day and get paid the same a those who have worked all day;
the older son who has stayed faithfully at home but then has to watch while a party is laid on for his younger brother who has just squandered half the family assets; resentment about who is the greatest, the favourite, among the disciples.
Today’s story is also about fairness and therefore about resentment.
And it refers to a pattern of resentment that I see over and over again, with colleagues, church communities and across human societies.
When someone is treated generously – like the servant in today’s gospel – they resent it and go on to treat others badly.
Now there are, no doubt, in-depth psychological reasons for this way in which we human beings sometimes react to generosity.
But I want to think very practically about an issue of our own time and how we react to it.
In the twenty first century Christians, for the most part don’t worry too much about what food we are permitted to eat, although the climate crisis might raise more questions than most of us face on this.
And most Christians are pretty settled about how we observe Sunday as the Lord’s Day and when we are most likely to worship. Although changing work and leisure patterns might suggest that we need to question that more than we do.
But we can’t get away from facing up to the crucial justice issues of our own day. I am fascinated by reactions to the Black Lives Matter movement that has swept across not only American cities but around the world and very strongly here in the UK.
It’s a matter of justice that resonates deeply in my heart. Not only because we good Anglicans, are, of course, opposed to racism. But also because of my experience as a Head teacher in south east London where my school was a majority black school, and as a priest there at a church where the congregation was also majority black. Hearing the accounts that my friends, colleagues, pupils and their families shared about everyday racism shook me to the core.
And noticing racism in action myself.
When I was a school chaplain to a black Headteacher, if she and I were stood together or alone in a room when a visitor came in the assumption that I was the Head. This happened almost every week.
Or taking a group of pupils on a school visit and people walking passed black colleagues to talk to me, the white man at the back of the line. This happened on almost every school visit I went on.
And these are minor examples. Casual racism. Every black person I know can tell much more horrifying stories, but those accounts belong to them not to me.
Of course as good Anglicans we are opposed to racism.
But are we really?
In so many of the conversations I’ve heard about Black Lives Matter someone says, usually not very far into the conversation:
‘But what we need to teach is that every life matters.’
That is a classic resentful response. Noticing someone else’s need and then switching to universalise it.
As if there is some kind of shortage of mattering. As if there is something unfair in noticing someone else’s suffering.
An answer, a solution to this can be found in the passage from Paul’s letter to the Romans that we had as our first reading. It comes towards the end of the reading after Paul has laid out the presenting issues, and then he comes in with a typical major statement:
“We do not live to ourselves,
and we do not die to ourselves.”
It’s the sort of sentence from Paul that we are so used to hearing that we hardly notice it.
And yet it’s the heart of the gospel.
It’s the revolution that is fundamental to conversion.
We are no longer the centre of our universe.
When we are resentful it is from a position of self-centredness; it is claiming I deserve that; that’s mine; don’t take it from me.
When we don’t live to ourselves; when Jesus is the centre of our universe we realise that we are connected in him with everyone; Black lives matter because there is no longer me and them; there is simply us.
So how do you feel about Black Lives Matter?
I want to suggest a practical thing that we could all do to demonstrate that Black Lives Matter in our churches. It isn’t a revolution; it may appear at first to be a very shallow thing. But doing it can have a powerful effect on us.
So in my sermon available to the whole diocese today online in the Church At Home material I am suggesting that we go into all our churches including this cathedral church
and list all the pictures of all the people that you can see.
Perhaps its the clergy team photos, or the PCC members, list them;
then go on to the pictures, in the stained glass windows, banners and other pictures. Then do the same for church websites.
Now add up the people of colour we can see.
Because of my time working with so many black people I have a large number of pictures of black saints, black heroes, and images of Jesus, Mary and others as black people. here are two of my favourites. The first is based on a famous icon of the story of Genesis where Abraham meets three angels or lords. It is often called the Trinity and seen as an image of the way Christians understand God to be. here the artist Meg Wroe has painted a version with the faces of three people from the diocese of Southwark on it. The original is in Southwark Cathedral and is, I think rather beautiful.
The other two are by Yvonne Bell an artist who worships in our diocese at Winslow in Buckinghamshire. Christ of the Flowers, and Mother of God of Clemency.
When I moved here to Christ Church a few weeks ago
among the removal team were two young black men.
As they packed my collection of pictures and icons they were beside themselves at all the black images. It sparked long conversations with them as we worked about race, Black Lives Matter, faith and their own experiences of racism and church. It was a very beautiful conversation.
For Christians, working for justice is not about fairness. It is about God revealing himself.
Right at the start of revelation in Genesis we are told that human beings are created in the image and likeness of God. Every human being is a revelation to us of God. Our reaction to every human being needs to be awe, wonder and reverence.
We can depict Jesus as black, not because he was of African origin but because God reveals himself to us in every person.
Imagine if every church in our diocese had images of black and minority ethnic people in it. If every website included images of non-white people.
this is especially important in areas (like rural Staffordshire where I’ve been living for the last few years)
where no black people live.
I have been talking often in my first week about that little carving of the listener above the Sub Dean’s stall.
Paying attention to Black Lives Matter, to the young in their yearning for justice is to show our love for them, show that we receive the image of God in them.
To make this building a home for all people is to make it a place where everyone can walk in and find themselves here, see themselves in the images, experience the divine in the holy women and holy men of the past, women and men of all races and nations.
Once we live God-centred lives we realise our true equality. As St Paul says at the very end of the first reading “We will all stand before the judgement seat of God.”
Thank fully God’s judgement is merciful and for that mercy “every tongue shall give praise to God.”
“We do not live to ourselves,
and we do not die to ourselves.”
Canvas prints, commissions and cards of icons by Yvonne Bell cans be purchased via her website here.
“As we move from late antiquity toward the Middle Ages, more complex Latin syntheses of these originally Eastern elements emerge. The simplest of these can be found in Irish monastic sources, which reached their most developed form in the traditions and texts of the Céli Dé or Culdees. While the Apophthegmata include stories of monks heroically reciting all 150 psalms, the Irish texts seem to make this the daily responsibility of every monk, to be completed in “three fifties” along with other texts, such as the Beatitudes (Matt. 5:3–12). One finds Irish liturgical offices in which the three fifties form part of an even larger course of daily psalmody, but more often the recita- tion seems more like an expiatory exercise for the individual monk, to be combined with other ascetic practices such as holding up the hands for long periods, numerous genuflections or prostrations, repeated blows with a scourge, fasting, exposure to harsh weather conditions, and so on. Similar practices are prescribed in some of the Irish penitentials.”31
Jeffery, P. (2020). Psalmody and Prayer in Early Monasticism. In A. Beach & I. Cochelin (Eds.), The Cambridge History of Medieval Monasticism in the Latin West (pp. 112-127). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
“A reform movement influential from 750 – 900 required even a secular cleric to recite all the psalms every day”
van Heusen, Nancy. The Place of the Psalms in the Intellectual Culture of the Middle Ages (p60)
Keeping a journal has never been part of my life except on retreat and I now have quite a set of these notebooks recording most of the retreats I have made in my adult life. I usually bring all or some of my previous journals with me. In 1997 I was not far from where I am now in north Wales. Also in a borrowed cottage, on the Llyn Peninsula. RS Thomas and Jim Cotter country. On one day then I wrote in my journal: “150 psalms prayed, 3 hours 55 minutes”.
The psalms are extraordinary. There is never a day when I not only pray a substantial portion of psalmody but also spend a little time reading commentaries or devotional guides or expositions of the psalms. Most importantly the expositions on the psalms of Saint Augustine of Hippo.
The Celtic saints are renowned for their ascetic practices and the recitation of the psalter is often among those quoted. A Facebook request brought fascinating material on the idea of reciting the whole psalter daily. St Benedict refers to this (Chapter 18) in his Rule:
“We read, after all, that our holy Fathers, energetic as they were, did all this in a single day. Let us hope that we, lukewarm as we are, can achieve it in a whole week.”
Beginning a new ministry at Christ Church, Oxford I am drawn to St Frideswide, patron of Oxford whose shrine is in the Cathedral and where, soon I shall be praying daily. The loan of a stunning icon of her for me to bring with me on retreat (see above) has reinforced that sense of connection. She may well be a link to those Celtic saints not just in time but possibly in her own origins.
There is something extreme about the effort to pray the whole psalter in a day that appeals to me. The effort to do something heroic even if only in a minor way. So I had been planning on doing this for a while. I had, in fact decided to divide the psalms across 15 hours starting at 4:30am and reciting a group of psalms beginning at each half hour throughout the day. However, when I read about the Céli Dé and their practice of three-fifties I changed my mind.
The length of the entire psalter is interesting. It is best measured in words rather than verses or psalms. In the Hebrew there are just 30,147 words. In English the BCP/Coverdale psalter has 48, 417 words. Common Worship comes in at 45,375 and my favourite translation of the psalms, the Grail version, at 42,621. I would love to know how many are in the defunct ICEL translation of the late 1990s which deliberately tried a sparser vocabulary to be closer to the Hebrew. But I haven’t been able to find an electronic version (do let me know if you have one). It is a beautiful translation which I use occasionally, although it lacks the lovely rhythmic patterns of the Grail.
Singing is an essential part of prayer for me. So I decided to use the Conception psalm tones which are designed to be sung with stanzas of varying lengths. I had thought about use a setting of the Grail psalter to the traditional plainsong tones but I would need to play those over on my recorder to get them anywhere near right and that would have added time. They are also rather slower to sing than the Conception tones which really draw out the sprung rhythm that the translators deliberately sought.
Beginning the three fifties at 4:30am, 1:30pm and 6:30pm I was surprised that they are remarkably similar in length (14,126; 14,480; and 14,015 words respectively). They also took a remarkably similar length of time to sing, between one hour and fifty and one hour and fifty-five minutes. A lot longer than my younger self; perhaps I hurried then, I certainly must have recited not sung the psalms to have done it in such a time. This time I didn’t hurry but I went at a good pace and there were no pauses or silences. I prayed Mass and Compline but otherwise didn’t pray any other Offices or texts.
Praying the psalms daily I know them well and so I was not expecting the powerful effect that praying them all in one go would have on me. I am particularly taken with a scholarly approach to studying the psalms that takes the canonical form of the psalter seriously. At one time genre criticism concentrated on what category each psalm belongs in (lament, royal etc). More recently reception criticism particularly in the work of Sue Gillingham has looked at their use and reception in different communities and contexts. Canonical criticism takes the work of the final editors very seriously. Why did they place the psalms in this order and in these relationships to one another. Although I knew much of that intellectually, the praying of them all in one day makes those patterns very interesting indeed. Psalm 119 in the final of the fifties both referred back to where I had begun with its wisdom and torah; and feels like an assimilation of the surge of varied experiences, emotions depths and heights described in the preceding psalms. The royal psalms, if anything, diminish by their relationship to the wisdom tradition; it is royalty firmly in its place. The psalms of ascent are truly an ascent; like the last leg of climbing mountain after a long preceding climb. I was tired, my voice was tired. And then the view at the top of the mountain. The wonderful psalms of praise the climax, the big sky moment. These psalms are normally associated with the morning so praying them in the dark increased the disorientation.
Throughout the singing I was struck by Brueggeman’s description of the process of orientation – disorientation- reorientation. Singing the psalms in this unfamiliar way, in an unfamiliar place, at unfamiliar times. At times it felt like I was losing my footing.The experience to which I can most easily compare it is the one occasion when, as a teenager on some outward bounds type week, I went white water rafting (coincidentally also here in Wales on the Wye). It was probably pretty tame really but I remember that sense of being almost out of control; the river carrying me; not being able to stop. And the exhilaration.
Extreme acts of piety do appeal to me. But I am not insane. I am not suggesting that any of us could adopt this as a regular practice. But I would like to think that I might make this an annual practice. Often people say to me that they don’t really know what to do on retreat. Spending one day doing this would be a fascinating process. I hope as exhilarating and spiritually enervating as it has been for me.
It has made me wonder about moving to more frequent recitation of the psalms in my prayer. I have always suggested that a month / four weeks (as in the BCP and in the Roman Divine Office) is the longest appropriate period for praying the psalms. I am now wondering if I could develop a weekly cycle for the whole psalter at Vigils. Many of my friends use the weekly cycle of the Anglican Breviary for their prayers and find it deeply satisfying.
Today, I went to the beach. With mountains around me and the waves crashing in a psalm is the only possible response:
God longs to speak to us, with us, god longs for us to hear his voice.
And the first way in which he speaks to us, the fundamental place for us to go to hear him is in the words of Scripture. Which is why faithful, day by day reading of the bible is fundamental to Christian living. So perhaps this week you might want to spend time with the three beautiful Scriptures gifted to us on this feast of St Bartholomew apostle and martyr.
It is in three single verses, one from each reading that I believe the Lord spoke to me as I prepared to preach this evening.
You are my witnesses. The Lord say in Isaiah 43:10.
We are all of us, by virtue of, that is the strength given us in baptism called to be witnesses. But we are not all called to be preachers and evangelists, this is what St Paul says in Ephesians 4 (11 ff) only some are called to evangelise.
For the writers of the New Testament the word for witnesses is the Greek word, martures; from which we get our word martyr. It was this word that the Greek version of the Old Testament, the Hebrew Scriptures that the the new testament writers knew, was used here in Isaiah.
God calls all of us, you and me, each of us here; every baptised person to be his martyrs. Now in a strange way I find that quite liberating.
If witnessing simply meant talking about Jesus, telling people about our faith and encouraging people to come to church; well, it is all a bit one -dimensional. In some of the literature on mission it can all be made to seem a bit too easy. “Bring a friend Sunday and we can double our congregations.”!
“You are my martyrs”; is a whole other ball-game. We are all called to die for Christ. Well, at one level, of course, that is true. We are certainly all going to die one day. But this call is a call to be martyrs to die for a purpose and that purpose is made clear by Isaiah, it is so that “you may know and believe me.” Not so that others may know God, but so that we may know God; when we are martyrs; when we die; we know God better. This is important.
It is in today’s Gospel that we move to doing things for others. “I am among you” Jesus says, “as one who serves”. And then he immediately describes the service the disciples have given him, “you have stood by me in my trials.”
I think the teaching given in these two readings is profound and important. The martyrdom we are called to; which I have come to believe is the only, the single aim of the spiritual life is what Christian writers call abandonment; what the new testament describes as dying to self. The possible New Testament references I could give here would take most of the night, so you will be pleased to know that I am not going to suggest more than a few. “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me.” (Galatians 2:20) Jesus said “”If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself …” (Lk 9:23), “unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies” (Jn 12:24 “whoever loses his life for my sake” (Mark 8:35) and so on.
This is the very heart of the gospel, and it is gospel, it is good news because it is profoundly liberating.
When we are seeking to shore up our sense of self; when we are constantly seeking to affirm ourselves, even our identities; when we need possessions, or status, or qualifications, or power; or whatever it is that to make us feel like we exist; that we are real; the pursuit of all that is relentless; it is exhausting; and like any drug the more often we get it the weaker the effect and the more of it we need.
The alternative; letting go of whatever props us up may seem scary at first, perhaps even impossible to do but it sets us free. It releases us and allows us to see what is really important. Perhaps, in these Covid days of lockdown and strangeness you have seen how you can live without something that you once thought was vital to your life and well-being? Perhaps, you have found this in standing with someone in their trials?
I suggest one way in which we can both work on our dying to self, our martyrdom and in which we can measure our progress on this journey which is really, of course, a lifetime’s journey.
It is the extent of our capacity to pay attention to another person; to another human being. To be truly present to them.
To encounter them in a way which honours them, which recognises them as a revelation of the image and likeness of God.
There are some people who seem to have this gift naturally. Who, to meet is a pleasure and joy because they are not constantly thinking of the next thing to say, of what their response is going to be or even of somewhere else they would rather be; or someone else they would rather be talking to.
These people have the gift of being really present to us. Giving us their full attention.
My suggestion is that the scandal of the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist is not that God is present; but that we are not.
This is captured beautifully by one of my favourite poets, Denise Levertov in her poem Flickering Mind. I will read it and it is also on the cards I have handed out.
Lord, not you,
it is I who am absent.
belief was a joy I kept in secret,
into sacred places;
a quick glance, and away – and back,
I have long since uttered your name
I elude your presence.
to think about you, and my mind
like a minnow darts away,
into the shadows, into gleams that fret
the river’s purling and passing.
Not for one second
will my self hold still, but wanders
everywhere it can turn. Not you,
it is I am absent.
You are the stream, the fish, the light,
the pulsing shadow,
you the unchanging presence, in whom all
moves and changes.
How can I focus my flickering, perceive
at the fountain’s heart
the sapphire I know is there?
In our second reading tonight, from the Acts of the Apostles, we are told of the signs and wonders that were done among the people. It was this; not talking about the faith, not bring a friend Sunday that, grew the church; it was the power of faith acting in the lives of the disciples that so struck those they met that they wanted to be a part of it.
When we meet someone who pays attention to us it is compelling. The poet Rilke says that to pay attention to is the best definition of love. I would call it holiness.
And we can learn to do it by spending time with Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. By bringing even our absence; even our flickering mind, to be present with Jesus. Just sitting there without expecting a spiritual experience, a revelation, without thinking about what to say. Just our own, ordinary, simple, straightforward presence. To be with Jesus in the way that Bartholomew was who he described as being without guile. To be guilelessly present to Jesus just as he is guilelessly present to us.
When we do that, rather than something for ourselves; when we do that, rather than accumulate something that builds up our ego. Then we are entering into abandonment; then we are becoming present to the Real Presence and then we will do signs and wonders; then we will stand by others in their trials; then we shall be martyrs, witnesses, that God is real; that God is true.
10th July, 2020: This is an old post from my previous blog. I re-post it because it is one of the most popular and one that I regularly refer people to. Often in life we feel the effects of the spiritual conflict between good and evil, we feel and sometimes are, attacked, and we need a prayer for protection. Of course it is always important to recognise that the conflict is as much within us as outside. Our own selfishness and sinfulness attacks us. It is important that we never think of those who attack us as ‘evil’ and ourselves as ‘good’. With the addition of readings this prayer makes a good little liturgy, almost a ‘little Office’. I have used it with both adults and teenagers. It works really well prayed outdoors, especially early in the morning at sunrise; with hot chocolate and marshmallows around a fire at night; or on a stormy day on a mountain-top …
My great grandparents came from the west of Ireland at the end of the nineteenth century and ended up in Chesterfield in Derbyshire. The family story is that they lived, along with many other Irish immigrants, in Brown’s Yard and that great-gran was a laundry woman. Although she was born in England my grandmother considered herself Irish and it was from her I learnt the faith.
My Irish forebears were reversing the journey made by St Patrick. I have always loved the Lorica, St Patrick’s breastplate, in its full version (as found in the English Hymnal). The strong sense of the spiritual combat permeates the whole prayer but also the wonderful, dynamic relationship of the Trinity which is alive and powerful.
The Lorica makes a lovely little liturgy all by itself. The addition of readings – in the booklet below I suggest either Ephesians 6 (the breastplate of righteousness) or Deuteronomy 6 (the Sh’ma) and that lovely verse from Hosea “I will betroth me unto thee for ever” seem to work really well.
I have used this booklet of the Lorica as a morning liturgy on retreat with parishioners and have strong memories of standing in the grounds of Llangasty Retreat House with friends from St Andrew’s, Earlsfield singing it in the morning sun. My other memory of it is on a blustery, rainy day on Dartmoor with a group of pupils from Trinity, singing it with rain blowing into my face and the booklet disintegrating in my hands. It is a bracing outdoor prayer for a stormy day.
Most hymn books omit sections of the Lorica which is a shame. For those of us who live the spiritual conflict on a daily basis (isn’t that everyone?) – it’s a powerful prayer.
From Cyberhymnal: “The lyrics are a translation of a Gaelic poem called “St. Patrick’s Lorica,” or breastplate. (A “lorica” was a mystical garment that was supposed to protect the wearer from danger and illness, and guarantee entry into Heaven.) Cecil Alexander penned these words at the request of H. H. Dickinson, Dean of the Chapel Royal at Dublin Castle. I wrote to her suggesting that she should fill a gap in our Irish Church Hymnal by giving us a metrical version of St. Patrick’s “Lorica” and I sent her a carefully collated copy of the best prose translations of it. Within a week she sent me that exquisitely beautiful as well as faithful version which appears in the appendix to our Church Hymnal. This hymn can be a challenge to sing without seeing the words matched to the notes, but it is a masterpiece nevertheless.”
I bind unto myself today
The strong Name of the Trinity,
By invocation of the same
The Three in One and One in Three.
I bind this today to me forever
By power of faith,
His baptism in Jordan river,
His death on Cross for my salvation;
His bursting from the spicèd tomb,
His riding up the heavenly way,
His coming at the day of doom
I bind unto myself today.
I bind unto myself the power
Of the great love of cherubim;
The sweet ‘Well done’ in judgment hour,
The service of the seraphim,
Confessors’ faith, Apostles’ word,
The Patriarchs’ prayers, the prophets’ scrolls,
All good deeds done unto the Lord
And purity of virgin souls.
I bind unto myself today
The virtues of the star lit heaven,
The glorious sun’s life giving ray,
The whiteness of the moon at even,
The flashing of the lightning free,
The whirling wind’s tempestuous shocks,
The stable earth, the deep salt sea
Around the old eternal rocks.
I bind unto myself today
The power of God to hold and lead,
His eye to watch,
His might to stay,
His ear to hearken to my need.
The wisdom of my God to teach,
His hand to guide,
His shield to ward;
The word of God to give me speech,
His heavenly host to be my guard.
Against the demon snares of sin,
The vice that gives temptation force,
The natural lusts that war within,
The hostile men that mar my course;
Or few or many, far or nigh,
In every place and in all hours,
Against their fierce hostility
I bind to me these holy powers.
Against all Satan’s spells and wiles,
Against false words of heresy,
Against the knowledge that defiles,
Against the heart’s idolatry,
Against the wizard’s evil craft,
Against the death wound and the burning,
The choking wave, the poisoned shaft,
Protect me, Christ, till Thy returning.
Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness; And your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace; Above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God: Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints.
Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD: And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might. And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart: And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up. And thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thine hand, and they shall be as frontlets between thine eyes. And thou shalt write them upon the posts of thy house, and on thy gates. Dt. 6: 4-9
Christ be with me,Christ within me,
Christ behind me,
Christ before me,
Christ beside me,
Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me.
Christ beneath me,
Christ above me,
Christ in quiet,
Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.
I will betroth thee unto me for ever; yea, I will betroth thee unto me in righteousness, and in judgment, and in loving kindness, and in mercies. I will even betroth thee unto me in faithfulness: and thou shalt know the LORD.
I bind unto myself the Name,
The strong Name of the Trinity,
By invocation of the same,
The Three in One and One in Three.
By Whom all nature hath creation,
Eternal Father, Spirit, Word:
Praise to the Lord of my salvation,
Salvation is of Christ the Lord.
When I first began learning to sing plainsong to English words it was at Holy Trinity, Winchester with Julien Chilcott-Monk, who was Churchwarden there at the time (please note this correction, I had previously written Dircetor of Music). The book he put into my hands was the green Proctor and Frere ‘Manual of Plainsong‘. Generations of Anglo-Catholics were raised on this book. It had numerous editions and it, and other versions of the Coverdale psalms set to the traditional tones were used in churches across the country from the middle of the nineteenth-century onwards.
St Stephen’s House in Oxford recently published their own Office book (which I reviewed here) which contains a version of the Manual of Plainsong in a late edition containing the Revised Psalter, it is very well pointed and a great achievement. It is good to think that those being formed for the priesthood there are doing so using this.
I am enormously grateful to Fr Daniel Trott for providing the version of a pointed text, with chants for each psalm, of the psalms in Common Worship. The CW psalms are intended to be in the tradition of the Coverdale translation. I think they work surprisingly well to the traditional tones. I have always been sceptical of setting contemporary texts to the tones because what ends up happening is that the complex music dominates the words rather than, as should be the case, the music serving the text. Brother Reginald Box’s book Make Music to Our God explains this very well.
However, although I have only had a few days using these psalms I am surprisingly comfortable doing so. See what you think.
Fr Daniel writes “it’s very much according to the principles of the revised and enlarged edition of A Manual of Plainsong (1951), which in my opinion is much superior to the first edition. What I wouldn’t stand by is replacing ‘Alleluia’ with ‘Praise the Lord’ in Lent. I copied that from John Harper’s RSCM Anglican Chant Psalter, but I think the word should just be removed. It would still involve repointing the end of quite a lot of psalms, but in a different way.”
If you use these texts and the pointing please acknowledge Fr Daniel’s work, which is excellent, and please use the normal copyright notice for CW texts:
Anyone who reads this blog will know how fervently I believe in singing the daily Office. It is a source of joy and sustenance in the spiritual life. It refreshes parts of the soul that recitation cannot reach.
I am often asked about simple music for singing Common Worship Daily Prayer, so this week I am going to publish morning prayer each day with very simple music. You can even watch and listen to me sing it on Facebook at 6:30am each day and the video will remain on my FB page.
Because I sing Vigils earlier in the morning I use the Invitatory / Opening palm at that, so at MP I will use the songs of creation which I have written about before here, and which I think are important in keeping us rooted in creation. They come from the music of Fr André Gouzes, a French Dominican based at the Abbaye de Sylvanes in France. They are used at the Jerusalem Community in Pais where the English translations were made. This is one of only two adaptations I make to CWDP in this Office. The hymns will be by Aelred Seton Shanley Obl.OSB Cam, a British born American hermit who died some years ago. The psalm antiphons are ‘common’ rather than specific to the psalm, the tone for the singing of the psalms incredibly simple ones from Conception Abbey in the US and available to buy from GIA. They need the psalter arranging into stanzas. For the CW psalter in that form see my latest version here:
The tones for the canticles are from St Meinrad Archabbey and the refrains are possibly by me or by Fr Colin CSWG, at the monastery of the Holy Trinity, Crawley Down.
To follow the Office you will need a bible and your copy of CWDP or the app.
There are not many feasts this week and I will politely ignore the saints days so that it is the ferial/ordinary Office every day.
The only other adaptation I make to CWDP is to conclude the short intercessions with the Lord’s Prayer and pray the Collect after that. CWDP suggests the other way around which is an innovation, and not a very helpful one in my view.
I am not a very good singer. I use my tenor recorder to play over the music. You don’t need to sing well. Singing in any way is the important thing.
Let me know what you think and if you have a go at singing Morning Prayer.
And as they dance they shall sing, ‘All my fresh springs are in you.’
Singing is like a fresh spring, I hope it makes you want to ‘dance as David danced’. It does me.
Several people have asked for an example of a CW Office set to simple plainchant. here it is for Evening Prayer of Trinity 3, 2020. The full text including readings is given here and I will Live-stream singing it on Facebook.
Plainchant is based on eight modes and these chants are in that sense modal and traditional. The exact form of the traditional plainchant psalm tones does not work well with English and rather than serving the text tends to dominate the words and rather butcher natural English rhythm. This doesn’t seem to matter so much with, for example, the Coverdale psalms, where it is not our natural idiom anyway. However, with texts in contemporary English is is very obvious.
After Vatican 2 Roman Catholic monastic and religious communities quickly gave up trying to squeeze English words into the exact pattern of the traditional tomes and adapted the tones into the sort of patterns in these texts given here. They work very well and have a gentle rhythm.
Despite singing the Office daily since I was in my mid-teens I don’t have a very good singing voice and can’t pitch a note without help. I use a tenor recorder to play over the tones and chants. It works for me. It may not be the most beautiful noise but it engages parts of my brain that simply reciting the texts does not. I really recommend that you try singing every Office. The liturgy is song!
For more on the use of chant with English texts see Reginald Box SSF Make Music to Our God. the New English Hymnal contains some chant settings of the psalms in this style of psalm tone, as do most Roman Catholic Hymnals (Celebration Hymnal, Laudate) and books of settings of the psalms for responsorial use.
I am currently using the Authorised Version of the Bible for Office readings. I think mixing ‘traditional’ and contemporary language works well and don’t understand why it is not done more often. Most churches already do it with hymns. The AV txts of the readings are in the booklet above.
It is interesting how the experience of Live-streaming some of the worship in my little Oratory has changed what I do. Some of it is due to helpful feedback (I am grateful for critical and encouraging friends). Some of it has needed to change pretty quickly because even to me it just doesn’t feel right.
The most obvious change has been the music I use at the Eucharist where Taizé chants just didn’t work for singing every day. One voice Taizé chants never really work, the chants need harmonies and, ideally, instruments as well. They work for the peripatetic Eucharists I was doing previously because they are well known and easy to pick up when celebrating with different people each time. More traditional chants for the Mass settings as well as Introit and Post-communion psalms are the fruit of centuries of use and developed specifically for daily use. They are not stimulating but are conducive to contemplative prayer. I adopted them pretty quickly.
I have been using the Resurrection Vigil with the music in the first version I posted (here) for nearly a decade, but after only two weeks it was clear that it didn’t work. Reading poetry doesn’t really work unless listeners have the text. Some of the music was not easy either, and on my own that didn’t matter so much. When others are listening that stands out. Some of the texts (Psalm 104 for instance) were too long to be listened to.
Well, the new version with new music is above and I will use it next Saturday for the first time. I will also set the camera at an angle more like that for Mass and have the vessel of water on the altar to bless. Giving the whole thing a more visual appearance and liturgical action. I may wear an alb and stole too.
I’ve also been asked about a ‘Prayer at the Cross’ in place of Friday evening Compline. I may well have a go at that this week …
If you tune in on Facebook, do let me know how it works.
Therese of Lisieux chose it all. I have always admired that approach. It might sum up the little Odyssey I have been on in the last couple of years in the praying of the Daily Office. As documented on here (and music compiled or written by me here) I’ve experimented with Common Worship and the Book of Common Prayer, two lectionaries for the latter, but never quite been able to give up The Divine Office, with the Grail Psalms which are so ingrained in me and whose sprung rhythm and sparser language I love.
In the Autumn I shall begin praying daily in Christ Church Cathedral. I am looking forward immensely to having a place and a community for daily prayer. There the Morning Office is Common Worship and Evensong on most days is Book of Common Prayer. Both using the selective CW choice of psalms.
On Holy Saturday this year, having used the BCP for the Office for a few months I felt a yearning for the beautiful second reading from the Office of Readings in The Divine Office, which I know so well. I was tempted, and picked up and returned to my Breviary.
With Christ Church in mind I have tried since then to establish a pattern that would be manageable for my new life as well. Combining Anglican forms for Morning and Evening Prayer with use of The Divine Office for all the other Hours. The simplest way to do this is to use the psalms of Lauds at Terce and the psalms of Vespers at None. This gives coverage of the psalter in the monthly cycle of the Divine Office and works surprisingly well. However, I like to pray Psalm 119 daily at the Little Hours in accord with Anglican and indeed western Catholic tradition (see here and here). Although not the case in lockdown, the reality is likely to be that the Little Hours are the ones I am going to have to miss on occasions, so using the same psalm daily means I don’t miss out on any psalms in the monthly cycle.
Since Holy Week (so on to the third turn or so through the psalter now in June) I have prayed a three Nocturn Vigil / Office of Readings: first Nocturn the psalmody of the Office of Readings and the mid-day hour (omitting the sections of psalm 118/9) – followed by the Scripture Reading in the two-year cycle for the Office of Readings; second Nocturn the psalmody (but not the canticle) of Vespers and the non Scriptural reading. The third Nocturn, psalms (but not the canticle) and antiphons of Lauds, the Gospel reading for the day, followed by a Gospel canticle, the Beatitudes with proper or Common antiphons normally used at the Benedictus, Litany and conclusions. This gives a good shape to to the Vigil climaxing with the day’s gospel which is itself a traditional form of Vigils. It means I get to sing the proper antiphons too. It takes, done in quite leisurely way, just under 45 minutes. The additional material is from Crawley Down and New Skete, some Orthodox patterns creating a more doxological feel.
The booklet for the music and shape at Vigils is here:
For Morning Prayer I am using Common Worship Daily Prayer and the accompanying lectionary but with just one psalm, the highlighted psalm in the lectionary and an Office hymn rather than Opening psalm. At Evening Prayer BCP Evensong with a single psalm. Using AV for the readings at Morning and Evening Prayer, traditional plainsong at EP and modern, modal chants at MP. I attach the CW Psalter arranged in stanzas for singing to modern chants here, along with refrains set by me to simple modal melodies. These, I keep saying, are not really very good at all. But I keep using them and just haven’t found time to do anything else:
On my rest day I pray Divine Office Lauds late Saturday morning after a long lie-in and cooked breakfast, a single daytime Office combining Office of Readings with the Daytime Hour after lunch usually and Vespers at the usual time. Saturday normally ends with a Resurrection Vigil.
I consider The Divine Office and readings of the Daily Eucharistic Lectionary as my ‘core Office’, this provide the monthly repetition of the psalms (the maximum length of time useful to learn texts in my view). The single long Scripture reading with the Patristic commentaries in the two year cycle (see here) provide the ecclesial/patristic way reading of Scripture. I use these three readings for study and lectio. The additional material at the other Offices is a sort of bonus. But if I need to travel (and I am hoping not to very much, having spent the last four years travelling a good deal) I can use the Breviary or Universalis without disruption to my ‘core Office’.
I often read a patristic commentary on the Gospel of the day at Vigils if the reading in the two-year cycle is only vaguely, or not at all, linked to the Scripture reading – probably twice a week. Using Journey To the Fathers, Augustine on the Gospels and Meditations on the Gospels as the source.
All the rest is a wonderful extra, giving full observance of the Canon to say Morning and Evening Prayer and use of the Prayer Book. Using three translations of the psalm texts etc day is interesting. Grail I think stands up very well, as do the Coverdale psalms, the CW psalms are the weakest. Too wordy, quite clumsy construction some times, too obviously trying to be Coverdale-esque but with none of the beauty.
The element I am missing in this pattern from my little Odyssey is the one year lectionary of 1922 and the basis of the one year traditional western Sunday Eucharistic lectionary. I remain convinced that these are preferable to the the three-year and two-year cycles but as a visiting Zoom preacher Sunday by Sunday I am not in a position to determine the lectionary; any more than I will be as Sub-Dean.
Packing my books I have filled two crates with various editions of Anglo-Catholic altar missals dating from the last quarter of the 19th century right up to the present day (the hand -made New English Missal by Fr Rod Cush and Prior Andrew from Alton). It is wonderful to see the hybrid rites of varying degrees of mixing. I think our Anglo-Catholic forebears, who I so often look to for inspiration, would understand the hybrid nature of what I am doing. Anglicanism is itself a wonderful hybrid creature. One of the things I am looking forward to in Oxford is having St Aldate’s across the road and being as happy worshipping and receiving teaching there as at Cathedral Evensong with the superb music of the choir.
“Je choisi tout.”
St Therese de Lisieux
For completeness here is the Ordinary of the Hours for The Divine Office for rest days and for the Little Hours and Compline on all days:
Apologies for not having much time for explanation, here is the current use. A number of Mass settings (all Latin) all but three from the Graduale Romanum, one from Dom Gregory Murray his 1957 People’s Mass, and two simple Latin settings (Mass XIX and Mass XX) from Dom Alan Rees which may be found in the Belmont Abbet An English Gradual, from which the Introit and Pots-Communion chants are taken each day.
CW Eucharistic Prayers A, B, C, D, E, F and G and H are included along with the Canon Romanus (for Solemnities). Extended Prefaces on separate cards. Entire musical settings of CR, B and H.
Music from Gelineau, Crawley Down (CSWG) or Tamié at the Offertory and more more CSWG at the Communion rite.
All prepared for the new Oratory (of St Joseph ready for the move to Oxford, hence OSJ).
UPDATED 22 June: Feedback from faithful viewers/prayers was that there was not enough silence and space this morning (while still wanting to keep to 30 minutes). So, I have removed some elements of the devotions and simplified the chant on the Canticle. See version 2 posted above. This should have cut around 5 minutes of singing out which I will use for silence tomorrow. I suspect of to still needs trimming I will need to reduce the repetitions in each section. Thank you so much for praying with me.
As part of the transition to post-lockdown and open churches, I am moving the daily intercessions I have been offering out of the Eucharist and praying them with the Jesus Prayer. To frame that I am adding a few devotions and some structure. The music and texts for the most part come from the Monastery of the Holy Trinity (Community of the Servants of the Will of God) at Crawley Down. They were inspired by the renewal of monastic life in France after Vatican II and particular in the Francisan hermit tradition so the use of these texts in a way like this has good pedigree.
It is also from Crawley Down and via them from the Orthodox monastery at Tolleshunt Knights, that the public use of the Jesus Prayer comes. I am going to limit myself to 30 minutes and think that with the devotions, no hurry, some silence and the intercessions I can pray three lots of 25 repetitions of the prayer. I normally use this form:
Lord, Jesus Christ, Son of God, take pity on me a sinner.
Occasionally I may use a, shorter, Greek form:
Kyrie Jesou Christe, eleison me.
Kaliistos Ware in his marvellous little booklet on the Jesus Prayer for the CTS suggests we might also use a plural form in communal and intercessory use, so I may try that at times:
Lord Jesus, Christ, Son of God: have mercy on us.
I have tried playing around with my morning schedule to have these a little later but it doesn’t really work for me, so this will be live-streamed each weekday at 5:30am and available afterwards on Face Book. I know that some people value hearing their intercessions prayed aloud (first names only) so that continues. There isn’t much to see and I am experimenting with the camera angle. Again some people like to see who is talking rather than just an icon or candle. I also hope to demonstrate the use of prostrations which I find enormously helpful.
Until churches re-open for public worship or until I move to Oxford, but almost certainly until mid-July, I shall continue to live-stream the Eucharist at 6:30am, but without the intercessions.
I shall be adding to the text above a short reading each day from Scripture which highlights the power of the divine name. This will give me the chance to build up an anthology of those texts.
It has been a wonderful and joyful ministry to bring names for prayer to the Lord each day at the altar and I shall continue to do so in this way. Please keep messaging me with them. It is a privilege, thank you. And please pray for me, a sinner.
My first experience of a Resurrection Vigil was on a Saturday night at a camp site in the Brecon Beacons. I was on a week’s walking holiday along with other young people from parishes belonging to Douai Abbey, I must have been fifteen or sixteen. We had prayed Compline together (and Mass each morning) all week and on Saturday evening sat around the camp fire and sang songs from the Charismatic song book ‘Songs of the Spirit’, read a resurrection narrative, chanted a psalm or two and were sprinkled with water which one of the priests present had blessed. I was entranced. Not least by the marshmallows and hot chocolate that we enjoyed afterwards.
I have never been able to pray Compline on a Saturday night since. It seems totally inadequate as a way of preparing for Sunday.
A year or so later I was at Taizé in France for the first time and was equally entranced by the Saturday evening prayer there, repeating alleluias, the lighting of candles by everyone present. Having stayed up much of the previous night in prayer ‘around the cross’ I was transfixed by this celebration of the Risen Jesus and felt his presence very strongly.
Since those years I have experienced Resurrection vigils with numerous communities, tried various forms of it at home – sometimes in the garden around a fire, or at the dining table – and shared simple liturgies of Resurrection in many parishes and with groups of pilgrims and young people in a variety of contexts.
I have added above a form of Resurrection Vigil that I am currently using in my little Oratory at home. It works for me, you might want to do something else.
The Resurrection is the central fact of the Christian faith, celebrating it, being familiar with the gospel accounts, reflecting on the Patristic commentaries on the Resurrection is a wonderful way to keep this central fact central to our lives. Celebrating a Resurrection Vigil also gives shape to the week, along with memorialising the Crucifixion each Friday and observing fasting and abstinence on Fridays. Doing this has been a blessing to me, I hope this will bless you.
The text is littered with Alleluias, and because it doesn’t seem appropriate in any case, I don’t celebrate this during Lent. I do celebrate it in place of Compline whatever the Solemnity or Feast of Our Lord being celebrated on the Sunday.
I celebrate with an icon of the Resurrection, a candle next to it which I light as I sing the Phos Hilaron, and a small bowl of water which I use as Holy Water for the remainder of the week.
It has been a fascinating experience live-streaming the Eucharist and other liturgies from the little Oratory at home. I am enormously grateful to the faithful who have remained constant companions in prayer, to those who have dipped in and said something warm, to those who have dipped in and have not pointed out the sad state of my singing voice. Most of all I am grateful to those of you who have entrusted to me your loved ones, relatives, friends and others known to you for prayer. To pray for people is at the heart of priestly ministry. Thank you for helping me feel so fulfilled as a priest during this lockdown.
In August we will be moving to Oxford which is going to disrupt things. From September I shall have the enormous privilege of worshipping daily in Christ Church Cathedral. Before either of those events it is possible that the Government will allow public worship in churches.
The bishops’ permission to celebrate the Eucharist with no other person present was a gracious and well received gift for this lockdown only. I will cease live-streaming the Eucharist on Saturday 11th July (the Feast of St Benedict).
Many people have asked me to continue to Livestream something, especially elements of Common Worship Daily Prayer sung to simple modal chant. I would also like to continue the ministry of intercession.
So, from 11th July I am going to Livestream about 25 minutes of Jesus Prayer, with Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and prostrations, as I have done once or twice already. In between every 25 petitions of the Jesus Prayer I will pray the names of those for whom prayer has been requested. I will begin and end with simple chants (see below). Monday to Friday this will normally be at 6:30am which seems to work for many people. I know that some of those who have asked for prayer like to hear the name prayed out loud and this will allow that.
I will also Live-stream simple services of Morning and Evening Prayer, Compline and on Saturdays a Resurrection Vigil. These may be more intermittent and (apparently random) although I hope to be able to commit to Morning Prayer at 7:00am each day at the end of the Jesus Prayer. Evening Prayer is likely to be at 5:30pm and Compline at 8:30pm, perhaps just Monday to Thursday. Each of these will take about 15 minutes. At Morning and Evening Prayer there will be one psalm or selection from a psalm and one reading from the lectionary. Occasionally I may also Livestream Mid-Day Prayer, also from CWDP.
To follow the liturgy at home Compline is straightforwardly from the booklet below, as also the Resurrection Vigil. Morning and Evening Prayer will need the booklet for the Ordinary of the Office, the booklet for Ordinary Time (Hymn and Benedictus and Magnificat Refrains). But you will be able to follow using CWDP in the book or app. On saints days it may get more complicated but hopefully not too much so.
I will continue to post a request for prayer each afternoon or evening for the next day and, as at present, keep the list going for a fortnight before starting again. Please feel free to add the same names every time.
At some point I will be packing the Oratory up and finding a corner (no doubt surrounded by boxes) to pray in. It will be good to demonstrate that a simple corner is enough for our sacred space and if that happens before 11th July to celebrate Mass more simply.
“Don Cupitt,” said Bishop Paul in a conversation, “asks the right questions, but comes up with the wrong answers.” It was one of the many wise things that the Bishop of Liverpool has said to me, and one of several that I have gone away and written down. It’s spot on. I love reading Cupitt. He writes beautifully and he does ask the right questions.
Cupitt is interested in what language we use for the ultimate. Which idioms describe what is meaningful. He spends much time examining idioms including the word ‘life’, but is also interested in the way in which ‘it‘ carries meaning:
“A particularly interesting family of terms is the group It, It all, Things and Everything, which enter into dozens – perhaps hundreds – of idioms . In these idioms it seems to indicate the whole of a person’s circumstances, considered from a finalising point of view … it is evident that the It-group of terms could be shown to figure in a large number of idioms that have a markedly theological flavour … For when we say: ‘This is it, the real thing!‘ we posit a kind of divine completeness, a totality, an unsurpassable finality, more clearly than we ever do with the life-idioms. In its flowing contingency, life is closer to Being; whereas it is perhaps closer to the traditional God,”
The New Religion of Life SCM 1999, pp 104-105
I’ve been re-reading these books during the lockdown and they have worn well. What drove me back to them was a ministry of funerals that I have been exercising, in the area where I live, to help out the local clergy and friends and acquaintances who are vulnerable in some way and have been self-isolating.
When I was first ordained I took plenty of funerals in my two curacies. Since then I have been working full-time in education and I have tried to do one or two funerals during the school holidays to keep my hand in. But most of the funerals I have taken have been relatives, friends or, in tragic circumstances, members of staff, and even, children.
Observing regular funeral ministry from the outside has enabled me to notice two major developments. The rise of civil celebrants. Not just radical humanists and secularists opposed to religion in general, but non-clergy and sometimes ‘inter-faith’ celebrants who will perform ceremonies which are distinctly spiritual and often include elements of Christian liturgy. Most commonly Psalm 23 and theLord’s Prayer. Many clergy are deeply scathing of these services. To those of us who are committed, believing, Christians, there clearly is something missing. But many people I meet speak very highly indeed of the service provided by Civil Celebrants. Many of the Funeral Directors I have spoken to rate them highly. Yes, it can be more convenient to Funeral Directors to have people who are not doing other work and are easily available or who can even commit to certain periods of time a crematorium. However, what is always mentioned to me is the flexibility that Civil Celebrants show in crafting the service and the care they take to provide what the bereaved want. Many of them have clearly developed very high skills in pastoral care. A good number also offer continuing pastoral care, links to counselling, work with Undertakers to invite families to an annual memorial service.
The second factor I have noticed is the number of clergy who tell me that funeral ministry is a waste of time. Using exactly that language. In particular a sense in which funerals for very elderly non-churchgoers where there are no living family and friends are dismissed.
My, negative, reaction to these comments is based, I think on four things:
a) a catholic belief in praying for the dead and the importance of that
b) a strongly Anglican commitment to the Parish, although the parish system as a comprehensive totality was probably always somewhat mythological, recent decades and the events of the Corona Virus are seeing it moving from life-support to palliative care, I think we need to hold on to a theology of parochial-community life in which we genuinely serve the whole population
c) the pastoral instinct to provide care and nurture for those who mourn. In the Beatitudes Jesus, does, after all, declare those who mourn to be blessed.
c) my own experience that funerals are a profoundly missional opportunity. Some of the individuals who it has been my privilege to accompany on a journey to faith have been though funeral ministry. Some of them still keep in touch with me many years later and one is now a priest.
For the Church of England reduction in fee income from funerals (and weddings) is a very significant issue, particularly in a diocese, like my own in Liverpool where there are virtually no historic assets. Earning income should never be the purpose of pastoral ministry but good stewardship demands that we address this issue. As good stewards if clergy are not conducting funerals we need to suggest ways to replace this income.
An innovative approach taken in Liverpool has been the creation of the Good Funeral Company and the recruitment of a remarkable and gifted, priest, Mother Juliet Stephenson to run it (if you ever need clergy training on funeral ministry she is your woman!). You can read more about the GFC here. The mission statement is wonderfully simple and jargon free:
Making good Christian-based funeral services available, personalised, accessible, and affordable for anyone in the Diocese of Liverpool who wants to mark a loved one’s death through prayer.
As soon as it became apparent that I would have some funeral ministry in this crisis I emailed Mother Juliet to ask what she would recommend. Her email reply was enormously helpful, I reproduce it almost in full:
“I attach the service that I am doing in an hour. (it is not what we did as curates…because what we did as curates is not wanted by anyone who is fringe…and on the edge) …
Some bits from Iona / celtic stuff and reworked prayers from over the years.
AND…I do not cut and paste, I have several hundred ways of saying the Godloves everyone…
He forgives us all, because of JC…
I usually get a bible reading in there…but can be amazingly creative with lyrics from Eric Clapton songs too!
You will see the poems and reading and tribute, that the family have provided…
And I welcomed it all…that’s amazing, that’s wonderful…because this is what THEY want.
I am the MC…and the one who will bless.
I was asked, to do this…because the FD’s know that I do a celebration of life with prayers, and I am good.
The woman used to go to church, but the family have no connection at all….
If I couldn’t do it, they would have had a celebrant, and NOT a vicar …
Like I say, I think the success of the GFC, is that we are being offered as celebrants that pray…celebrants that pray and bless…and are authorised todo so.
This is what the FD’s like about what we do.
I get asked to do ‘celebrations of life’…because the perception of vicars is that we can only recite pre-prepared words from the book, and say very little about the woman in the box…
This is why we lose out, over and over again.
You will see very little of the purple book…
– we still gather, we reflect, we offer tributes, a bible reading and short ‘popular religion’ reflection and prayer.
We are (at least I operate now) in a world where people want white feathers as signs, robins for comfort, shooting stars across the sky to wishupon.
– rather than words from scripture about men they have never heard of…’Lazarus’
We are amidst folk who want Whitney Houston, YNWA, Perry Como and Monty Python.
– rather than hymns, psalms and symphonies…
And if we can’t connect with this world, with the grace of God, and stop being precious about ‘Lazarus’ or ‘penitential prayers’…we lose it.
We can still talk of hope, forgiveness, resurrection.
We can still offer formal prayers, encourage the corporate saying of the Lord’s prayer
And commend and commit and bless.
If we use comforting, and familiar phrases…like the words to enter into thechapel ‘Jesus said I am…’ that’s good.
If we say with conviction ‘in sure and certain hope…’ that’s good.
If we listen to their heartache, and connect where they are, and see how they gain comfort and assurance that God is real, and heaven is worth believing in…because a white feather drifted onto the windscreen of their car…then that also is very good.
This is what the civil celebrants can’t do effectively…they have to relywholly on the ‘universe’ and ‘stars’…
We have Jesus…
And we have Easter…
This may never be the way you would ever choose to do services…it works, and people pray at them.
I also asked members of the Sodality, the community of priests I belong to to send me their compiled texts and had a number of conversations with them. This was really helpful. As was a conversation with Fr Daniel Ackerley, a deacon-aspirant to the Sodality who is an experienced Funeral Director. Among many other things he said:
Somebody once said that a funeral service should be like a cup of hot chocolate on a cold winters day. Every word should be soothing.
There is a bit of me that baulked at this. No! We are here to admit that we are sinners, in need of a Saviour and to pray that the dead may have forgiveness! But then I got real.
Famously, a principle of mission for the Jesuits is to go in and learn a language, a culture to be able to speak to it and understand it. Fr Daniel knows well that what people are wanting in a funeral is that cup of hot chocolate. If we stand on our liturgical, theological preciousness and do no translation we will not be understood.
Having been taught early on never to throw anything away in ministry I also had the funeral service I developed in my second full-time parish (St Mary, Portsea). This drew on what must have then been ASB, but I had looked at books more widely, I can’t now remember which. There may have been some Iona, and possibly the Uniting Church in Australia. I had become a correspondent of Jim Cotter and he offered some helpful advice too.
The service I have developed is posted at the top and bottom of this post. I shared the original version with members of the Sodality and also with one or two others. One or two of the local Funeral Directors have also commented positively and with helpful suggestions. Last week I took a funeral for the partner of a woman who was a published poet and is a poet herself. She worked in great detail on the text we agreed and this was really helpful in improving the English. Finally, Fr Steven Shakespeare, an aspirant to our Sodality, and a well-known, published liturgist has published a book of liturgies TheEarth Cries Glory. I have used elements from this woven into the service (and one complete set of intercessions), these are marked SS. I am trying to persuade Fr Steven to produce a book of pastoral liturgies.
I am not making any great claims for my liturgy. It is a ‘work in progress’ and offered for discussion more than anything else. I would welcome any comments. I hope that you can see that I have taken Cupitt’s questions seriously particularly in using the word ‘life’, but also and perhaps less surprisingly ‘love’. ‘It’ is more complex but I do find myself using that sort of language in my more informal words. Using the language of everyday life is, of course, exactly what Jesus did, always talking about himself in this way and avoiding institutionally religious language: way, truth life, gate, bread, shepherd …
Don Cupitt perfectly captures the language that our culture uses around what is meaningful, how to describe the ultimate, the significant. However, he comes up with the wrong answers, a non-realist interpretation of God. Civil Celebrants are doing the same thing. The question is the right one, what language (not just words, but music, images actions) speaks to people where they are? As a Christian I know that their answer is not enough. The world does need a Saviour, but it is our task to speak of Jesus in ways that our culture understands, because Jesus is, yes, so much more than a cup of hot chocolate on a cold winter’s night, but he is that too and what more important time than now to need that. Each day as I kneel before the Blessed Sacrament I pray “Sweet Sacrament Divine”:
Sweet Sacrament of rest, Ark from the ocean’s roar, Within thy shelter blest Soon may we reach the shore; Save us, for still the tempest raves, Save, lest we sink beneath the waves: Sweet Sacrament of rest.
Sweetness indeed, sweetness on a cold winter’s night, sweetness in a time of death and pandemic.
When we wrote The Manual, the way of life of the Sodality, the community of priests I belong to, we included this important paragraph:
Sodalists will be at the forefront of those seeking to understand what it means to ordain men and women to all orders of ministry; we will particularly celebrate women saints and integrate the writings of women and men into our experience and understanding of priesthood.
Slightly tongue-in-cheek, in the early days of the Sodality I described us as ‘Extreme Anglo-Catholics in favour of the ordination of women.’ Tongue-in-cheek as it was ( and far too limiting of the breadth of the vision God was calling us to) there was some truth in it. I quite liked it when the bishop of Croydon described us as the Trappists of the catholic stream of Anglicanism “of the Strict Observance.”
Rigour and high demands are important, and were what led to the flourishing of Anglo-Catholicism in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. They enabled the ministry to the poor and the work for social justice that was the essential outworking of that spirituality. Without outward facing work for justice, spirituality simply strokes the ego and enhances rather than crucifies the ego. Rigour and high demands are not rules to be kept or hoops to be jumped through. Better to think of them as a balloon flying freely into the sky, or a kite carried by the wind.
The Great Tradition (see footnote below) is ‘ever ancient, ever new’ (St Augustine). Drawing deeply from the tradition is vital, and it must bear fruit in the new. My great mantra for the Christian life is : Jesus centred – Spirit filled – bible based.
There is great flowering of creativity in the Sodality: blogs, litanies, such as the one above written by Mother Ayla, Mother Berni, Father Angela, Mother Sally and Father Steven.
The Litany is a great example of ‘ever ancient, ever new’. It is deeply rooted in the tradition and also creative and responsive to the needs of our time. I am deeply grateful for this gift.
Another example of this is the book Prayers for An Inclusive Church. by Fr Steven Shakespeare an aspirant to our Sodality. The title doesn’t quite reflect the content. It is a deeply traditional collection of Collects for the three year cycle of readings in the Revised Common Lectionary. Traditional in that each Collect is constructed with the ‘noble simplicity’ of the western Collect form, at which Cranmer was so gifted. Creative and new in the images used, which are truly Jesus-centred and Spirit filled, drawing on the Scriptures in the lectionary it is bible-based.
There is much in the tradition to help us pray this current pandemic. Christians have lived with plague in many circumstances and many times. I often find myself at the moment re-reading Julian of Norwich who experienced plague more destructive than our current afflictions and who saw in the cross a life-giving tree. Ever ancient, ever new.
“Three men, whom CSWG now accounts its joint-founders, not only shared a common experience of ministry among the disadvantaged and marginalised, they also shared the conviction that is was the specifically spiritual dimension in Christian life that was most in need of renewal. A saying attributed to Fr [William] Sirr has been seen as encapsulating their common belief:
“The mission of the church is weak because its prayer is weak.” Only though the renewal of the Church’s mystical and ascetic traditions – that is its vision of God and its tradition of conversion of life – could the life and witness of the the Church be renewed.”
We are a few weeks into the live-streaming now. I am deeply grateful to those who join me or watch later in the day and am much encouraged by your gratitude. It is nothing other than a privilege to offer intercession at the altar for the many names received.
Regular visitors will see that I have been experimenting with the chant a little, using more traditional plainsong (with English texts) as well as the material from the English Gradual. I have also added in a chanted version of Psalm 42 (43) as a transition from the Liturgy of the Word to the Liturgy of the Sacrament), almost a ‘prayers at the foot of the altar’. The experiment with seasonal insertions to Prayer H didn’t really work, getting the grammar right to lead into “on the nigh he was …’ is too complicated and needed insertions in two different places. With the new chant at the Offertory – using a Gelineau tone which I like to do – may mean that I omit a seasonal chant after the post-communion prayer and just use the Sodality Anthem to Mary, Mother of Priests.
Apart from that the rite, and especially the way in which I have tried to include those watching and unable to receive Communion seems to work. The changes and a couple of typos corrected are in this version of the booklet:
Eucharist: no change except that I trying out using seasonal inserts into Eucharistic Prayer H, based on the Short Prefaces in Common Worship and inserted before the institution narrative.
It has been really good to experiment with live-streaming worship in Holy Week and the Octave of Easter.
During the continuing lockdown I shall live stream the Eucharist at 6:30am BST each day and Compline at 7pm. After the opening verse I will read a poem. I probably won’t choose this until just before the Office but will try and Tweet it when I have done so.
I have been experimenting with the way to livestream through one fixed camera in a very small space. The layout of the Oratory has changed a little and I have tried to include those watching in a meaningful and non-trite way without intruding myself too much, I hope.
Here are the forms I shall be using for the time being:
It is pretty much as before although the introduction I have devised for those watching just didn’t work and I have removed it, as also the post-Communion prayer. I have extended the Prayer over the Gifts to include mention of ‘lockdown’ and extended the intercessions with more material on the pandemic. There is a ‘statement’ (not really a prayer) before receiving communion to include those watching and not receiving communion. I am not sure about it but will give it a go.
In communion with those who cannot receive communion,
with all who watch this Eucharist
and with all the faithful in every time and place, in heaven and on earth:
The bread of heaven in Christ Jesus. Amen.
The cup of life in Christ Jesus. Amen.
The readings are from the Daily Eucharistic Lectionary – I read them in the Jerusalem Bible version mainly because that means I can use the monthly Magnificat booklet which is easier to juggle with everything else on the legilium.
For the Introit and Concluding Chants I am using Abbot Alan Rees’s music published by Belmont Abbey in An English Gradual, it is really good. I will use one chant at each point for a whole week (except on feasts). It is only £7:50. A real ‘must-buy’. Which you can do here). Each refrain is provided with verses from the psalms (Grail psalter),
The responsorial psalmody is by Fr Anthony Ruff OSB (St John’s, Collegeville) Responsorial Psalms for Weekday Mass in the Seasons. They are very simple modal chants and work really well. All the texts are those set in the lectionary but it should be noted that they are the ICEL texts not those in British liturgical books.
I have also added the texts and music from the monastery at Crawley Down (Community of the Servants of the Will of God) to greet and give thanks for the Gospel. It just seems a bit ‘naked’ without something.
I aim to have longer silences after the gospel and after Communion. I have been a bit cautious so far when live-streaming given that many people just ‘dip in’. But now that we are out of the high seasons will go for it.
Again this is pretty straightforward. The English Anthem to the BVM is a version by Aelred Seton Shanley Obl. OSB Cam. an English hermit who lived in the Unites States for many years and died in the mid 1990s. I very much like his material, including Office hymns and these anthems to Our Lady. A few of the hymns have been published here. I am grateful to have been given a copy of the whole Office. The Antiphon on the psalms at Compline is the 8-fold alleluia that was popular when I was a teenager and will make many groan. I don’t know whether it will wear singing every night but thought I would try it.
On Saturdays and Sundays I will sing Compline in Latin.
It is such a joy to have people praying with me even though remotely, I am profoundly grateful for the prayerful support that offers and it is wonderful to be able to pray so many prayer intentions. There is a very real sense of communion and ‘inter-being’. I could not be more grateful.
“Pray constantly”, said St Paul (1 These 5:17), using two simple words to describe something that would exercise the minds of many, and thousands of volumes of books by Christians, through the centuries. Almost all modes of spirituality and Christian practice (Jesus Prayer, Divine Office, Little Hours especially, Practice of the Presence of God) aim to help us remember God and that we are in the Divine Presence always. To pray constantly.
I have been doing a bit of live-streaming of the liturgy during the lockdown as I celebrate it each day in the little Oratory at home (which is how I use an old lean to on the house). It’s been good to have a few old and new friends join me for that. Several have asked for more. I am something of an introvert and although I arrange the live-streaming in such a way so as not to focus on me (I hope) it does feel a little intrusive and less relaxed so I won’t be doing this all the time (you will be relieved to know) but as a one off on Friday 17th April I am going to live stream all the set prayers for a day.
My first experience of the Office was at Douai Abbey and of the monks singing the whole of the Office. That experience marked me indelibly and even though I am not a good singer (as you will find if you tune in at all), I love to sing and find it relaxes me in ways that simply reciting the Office does not. Somehow it engages different parts of my brain. When (in another life) I was doing a lot of driving, if I stopped and sang an Office it felt far more refreshing when I started driving again than if I had simply recited it, and reading to myself in my head never seems like praying the liturgy at all, but on trains, buses and planes is usually necessary.
Since Holy Saturday, and partly because for live-streaming the text is more accessible, I have been singing the Divine Office, the texts are in the Universalisapp which does charge but only a very small amount. The Universaliswebsite sadly uses a different translation of the psalms. The antiphons and hymns I use are in the setting of the music for the Office that I have done and is available here (a revised edition should be available in the not too distant future and will be posted on this blog very soon). The booklet below this post puts them together in order with the usual texts and music for this single day of live-streaming, you will need the booklet together with the psalms, readings and prayers from Universalis to be able to follow everything. Please note I use a different set of Collects – translated from a French Cistercian source (from Proclaiming All Your Wonders, Dominican Publications).
I wrote yesterday about the joy of coffee, tea and lunch breaks in our Zoom driven working days. I have always maintained little spaces to pray at least one daytime Office and that has kept me going through many hard times in my working life. If you haven’t discovered it yet do give it a go.
So, the timetable for the day:
5:30 am Office of Readings/Vigils (two nocturns the Mid-Day prayer psalms as in Universalis – but omitting sections of psalm 119 – providing the second group of psalms) a triple alleluia antiphon for all psalms. The psalms at Vigils are sung to traditional plainsong tones.
I will switch off live streaming between each Office/devotion – a chance for me to get a cup of tea or check the dog doesn’t need to go out …
6:15 am Rosary the Luminous Mysteries
I would normally celebrate Mass at 6:30 but am doing that later in the day, at 12:15, in the Octave.
7am Lauds (Morning Prayer)
About 7:45am Prime with Martyrology – Psalm 119 (118) shared across the Little Hours in a day – see the booklet for the text.
I should point out that this is a rather luxurious lockdown schedule. On normal working days I would tart at 5:20 combine Vigils and Lauds (or Sing Mattins/Morning Prayer when praying BCP or CWDP), go straight into Mass, then Prime. Rosary and Jesus Prayer prayed as I drive.
12 noon Sext and Eucharist
6:30 Devotions on Hebrew Heroes – Deborah –
and Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament
Again normally on a working day Vespers would be either stopping on the way home or as soon as I get home, often quite late, and Compline much later, ideally just after dinner but sometimes just before bed, ideally at 9 to 9:30.
The first Spiritual Director I had, when I was fifteen or sixteen was in many ways an impatient man. In one meeting with him I explained some injustice or bad deed I thought I had suffered. “Well, there’s no point whining,” he said, “What have you learnt from it?”.
I don’t recommend this as good practice on all occasions in spiritual direction. However, it is an ill-wind and all that. I’ve been thinking about what I am learning during the lockdown. Apart, that is, from the necessary skills of using Zoom (I can do break out rooms and everything); Go To Meeting, FaceTime, Microsoft Teams and more.
Yesterday, in a messaging conversation with my dear friend the Assistant Diocesan Secretary in the Diocese of Liverpool, I suggested we have a Zoom conversation, “How about one’o’clock?”, he returned. “Sorry, that’s lunchtime,” was my response, before we settled on a time later in the week.
It was only afterwards that I realised how extraordinary my response had been. Not because Stuart minded in the least. But because I haven’t taken lunch breaks for over twenty years, since I was appointed Acting Deputy Head at Emsworth Primary School in 1998.
I remember lunch breaks in school staffrooms before that as rather good times, friendly banter, much of it with colleagues who remain friends to this day. Birthday celebrations, cakes, those piles of books and odd objects that companies sold in staff rooms. Even my friend Becca introducing us to the Physalis in her lunch box one day. Exotic stuff indeed.
Since then, however, lunch has been always on duty, walking the corridors and playground, chatting to pupils or seeking out colleagues for whom this is a chance to have a quick ‘meeting’. School leaders are, and I am one of them, proud of this. Whenever Heads are together on a conference or residential training and have a sit down lunch somebody will soon comment on never sitting down to eat usually.
When I moved to the role of Director of Education here in Liverpool I brought these working habits with me. Like my colleagues in the team I am often driving around. So there are breaks between schools. I have learnt what food I can eat in the car as I drive without making too much mess. Sandwiches are hopeless. Thank goodness for Samosas and Baby Bel cheeses.
In the first week of the lockdown, like many other people I was introduced to Zoom. I think it is wonderful. I hope never again to ask people to drive to attend a meeting that takes a fraction of the time they were travelling. I have renewed old friendships and given real life to existing networks. It is a good thing. But that week I was frazzled. I learned how much I needed those driving times between meetings. Zoom meetings came thick and fast with barely time to pop to the toilet or make a cup of tea. Texting for a cup of tea to be brought to me during one meeting really made me realise how bad it had got. It was utterly unsustainable.
So I made some rules. Coffee at 10 every day, away from the desk, not a long break but time enough to make and drink a coffee; lunch for an hour from 1 to 2, tea at 4 – again just time to make and drink a cuppa, and not drunk at the lap-top or even on the phone. No Zoom meetings for work after 6. I still do early meetings when people want them, often early phone calls; so I don’t think I am being lazy in any way. Of course I have to be a little flexible, there awesome meetings I can’t control the times of, but then I move the break time.
This is the learning. Aren’t lunch breaks wonderful. It’s been helped, of course, by being able to sit in the garden most days. But taking time to make a proper meal (no more Samosas or sausage rolls), sitting down and eating it, conversation about something different to work, eyes off a screen.
Is this a lesson I can put into practice once this is over? I don’t know. Is it possible to do this as a Headteacher – perhaps some of my colleagues will tell me that they do? And, even as I write, I realise that in this crisis I am immensely privileged (not just in having a garden to sit in), most of our schools are open, most of our Heads are in school every day (I keep telling them not to be) and as for NHS staff and other Carers the idea of a lunch break must seem like a distant prospect.
In our Anglo-Saxon world we have always looked jealously at cultures where proper meals are part of working life – my dad used to drive five miles home and back to have lunch with mum and us during the school holidays. Even in the little village where I live the farm workers pass by as they walk home each day for lunch.
Corona Virus 19 is going to change our world. So many of those changes will be devastating and awful, but perhaps a few of them could be for good.
“Sorry, that’s my lunch break.” I’ll ask Stuart if he noticed. I am slightly proud of myself.
‘Village religion’ is how one priest-friend describes the worship in the village where I live. It’s true, it is common to many village churches I visit to preach or preside in. It doesn’t just describe the liturgy or the rite, or the way it is performed but also the relationships, the community, the sense of being together in a particular way. A church that belongs to everybody even those who don’t attend very often. A place full of collective memory and simple welcome. Our village churches are ‘inclusive’ in ways that many city churches can only dream of. There is certainly no room for ‘churchmanship’ or partisanship in any way. It is a very beautiful way of being Anglican. A Sunday when I am presiding and preaching in our 14th century church, visible from the garden is a total joy.
For the last two weeks in this village and the villages around, all part of the same benefice, have been worshipping together on Zoom. I was sceptical about how it would work, and how many people would be able to access this strange new technology. In fact on Easter Day 41 computers were logged in and most had more than one person viewing them. I put together and led the liturgy, a simple liturgy of the word (see below). Our vicar preached a short and powerful sermon, a house for duty priest in the parish led the intercessions. We will swap those roles around over the coming weeks. The liturgy was designed to be familiar. Hymns we know well (played via Spotify playlist) and familiar texts. The most daring liturgical creativity is an ee cummings poem I put at the start.
There was nothing remarkable about what was happening other than that these times are entirely remarkable. For me it had a lovely ‘village religion’ feel to it. It was wonderful to see so many familiar faces, not people I know well, but people who belong, have belonged here longer than I have. In ‘unprecedented’ times, when all seems made strange, familiarity was just what we all needed. I’ll take ‘village religion’ any time.
There is such intensity about Lenten observance and particularly about Holy Week and the Triduum that it is possible to mis the great eight days, the Easter Octave that follows. The liturgy which has seen such variety for three days suddenly becomes very repetitive. Partly that’s necessary, and the first simple celebration of the Eucharist on Easter Monday is a necessary tonic after the rich diet of the preceding week.
This year in our isolation I am going to be meditating on some of my ‘heroes and heroines’ in the Hebrew Scriptures. For the first time on Sunday morning before dawn I was able to read all nine readings at the Paschal Vigil, slowly and with plenty of time for reflection between them, I did this by a fire in the garden as pictured. I found it profoundly moving. From Common Worship: Times and Seasons I chose the ‘Women in Salvation’ series. Given that women are under-represented in our lectionaries I would value doing that every year. I used the Anselm canticle (from Common Worship Daily Prayer) with the ‘mother reading’ from Isaiah 66 and found that especially moving.
I am not going to reflect simply on women this Easter week but on a variety of figures:
Monday – Isaac
Tuesday – Sarah
Wednesday – Ruth
Thursday – Nehemiah
Friday – Deborah
I will Livestream these meditations each day 6:30 – 7pm BST and they will consist of poems and prayers with short reflections in the way of a monologue with the character by me, one sung responsorial text and silence. At 7pm I will sing Compline, in English in this version:
Here is the slightly revised liturgy for the Vigil. The two differences to the earlier version is that the whole of the text of the Exultet is used. I just couldn’t bear to omit it. I have put it in as a responsorial text with an offering of incense refrain, this is slightly odd but I know the refrains nd tone well so will be able to sing it while censing the candle and the icons. I have also added a tone and refrain for the Collects after each of the nine readings and psalms/canticles of the Vigil.
What is very obvious from live streaming liturgies in a small space and using a fixed camera is the difficulty of liturgical action. Without any action it is really just audio, but the action is difficult to capture without camera movement.
Anyway, here is my attempt at a liturgy for Good Friday in this strange year. In the absence of the action of the veneration of the cross I am using the poem After the Seven Last Words by poet Mark Strand. I think it is a rather stunning meditation. I shall intersperse the readings with Responsorial psalms and end with the Beatitudes. I will be interested to see how it works. It may be a bit rich for Good Friday – losing the starkness of the liturgy.
I shall use the Grail Psalms for all but the final Psalm (Ps 22) which will be from the BCP and sung to a traditional plainsong tone.
I would have liked to use some recorded music. I thought Hania Rani‘s Esja would work really well. But then I would be adding the action of turning on the music etc which would spoil my own engagement with the worship and also probably break Facebook’s copyright rules.
For Compline in the Sacred Triduum, Thursday, Friday and Saturday I will be using Latin for all but the poem. Here’s the booklet for Holy Thursday. Compline will be live streamed at midnight on Holy Thursday, and at 7pm on Good Friday and Holy Saturday.
At one level our communion with one another is always invisible, or at least largely invisible The people we gather with in church Sunday by Sunday, however large the congregation, are just a fragment of the many millions we are in communion with in heaven and on earth in the Body of Christ. We also share a deep, consubstantial, inter-being with all human beings in every time and place, and indeed with everything that exists, through our creation from the matter of the earth.
The current crisis has made some of that invisibility visible. I am really grateful for those who have joined me at Mass in my little Oratory and sent messages of appreciation. Several have asked for more of the Office to be streamed. So I thought I would add Compline for this Holy Week.
You will find the text and music I will use in the booklet above. I will do a new booklet each day with a different poem that I will read between the opening verses and the Prayers of Penitence.
As there is no movement or action I will focus the camera on one of the icons rather than on me. Which should improve the experience! I have indicated in the text where I will pause for silences, hopefully it’s not because I have fallen asleep.
I normally sing Compline rather early in the evening if I can, I will try for a consistent 7pm. It’s nice to feel the Office is complete before having family time and early to bed.
The Divine Office as used at Worth Abbey, music by Dom Philip Gaisford OSB:
music for the Introductory verses, the hymn, Responsory and the Refrain to the Nunc Dimittis
Hymn: Text Patrick Lee (Hymns for Prayer and Praise rev. Ed 265)
Samuel Weber OSB: refrains for the psalms
Aelred Seton Shanley Obl. OSN New Camaldoli: the anthem to Our Lady
Common Worship Daily Prayer: texts of the psalms and the Nunc Dimittis
For the timetable for the week and more thoughts on these strange times seehere.
Here (above) is the booklet of how I shall celebrate the liturgies this week in the Oratory. It is not a complete script, but I have included as much as possible, including music, so that I am not juggling with too many books. It does still require Common Worship: Times and Seasons, a separate booklet of readings (above), a psalter (I shall use the Grail) and the Belmont Abbey English Gradual. Sadly, this is not available online, but the wonderful music of Abbot Alan is very singable, modal and simple. The Eucharistic liturgy is the one I have written about here and here. There is not much seasonal variation to it (no proper Prefaces etc) but the simplicity works, I think.
The Gospel of the Entrance into Jerusalem will begin Palm Sunday’s Eucharist, but without blessing of palms or procession.
For the liturgy on Good Friday I have added the insert prepared by the Vatican for the Solemn Intercessions in this time of pandemic, adapting it slightly to match the language of Times and Seasons, I think it works best in that text between the second and third intercession. In the Roman Rite it is suggested for rather later. The Proclamation of the Cross will be fairly informal with readings and poems from outside of Scripture.
At the Paschal Vigil I have followed the suggestion of Times and Seasons for Pattern B with an extended vigil of readings and psalms ending with the lighting of the Paschal candle. I think this makes much more sense than the usual pattern proclaiming the resurrection with the Easter fire and then settling down for the Vigil. As T&S suggests I shall do this by a fire (either in the garden or the fireplace, depending on the weather), but more like a camp fire for story-telling than the Easter light itself.
The only issue with the Pattern B structure is the proximity of the Exultet and the Gloria. Because I am just going to use the very short metrical Exultet that T&S gives and then a refrain to a simple chant Gloria I don’t think that will matter, but if the Exultet was sung solemnly I think it might seem odd to follow it immediately with the Gloria.
I am using the Women in Salvation readings from T&S but have replaced Psalm 113 after the Isaiah 66 reading with the Canticle in Common Worship Daily Prayer from Julian of Norwich which beautifully picks up the image of motherhood.
This is not a polished service booklet but a script for me to use in these strange times. I will, no doubt be adapting it as the week goes on and will post updates. Unless otherwise indicated the music in the booklet is my own adaptation of plainsong chants.
UPDATE Saturday 15:30 – The introductory chant on Palm Sunday is surprisingly underrepresented in my collection of liturgical music. A simple plainsong setting by Br Reginald SSF seemed to be the best I could do. There is a version in the Hymn-Tune Psalter which I have recently acquired, also the ‘Hosanna’ Jacques Berthier / Taizé chant but this is really a canon and seems very weak sung by a single voice. I then remembered the collection by Paul F Ford, By Flowing Waters, which is an English version of the Graduale Simplex. His setting of one of the palm procession chants to mode 1 works well I think. He sets the psalm verses to the traditional plainsong tone; I will use that with a text pointed in the Sarum Psalter or the Grail version with the Conception mode 1 tone as shown below. Or I may even use it twice, before and after the Palm Gospel, with verses from psalm 118 before and psalm 24 afterwards.
Here is the booklet of complete texts for all the liturgies of Holy Week except the daily Office. Authorised Version, the traditional Western lectionary (English Missal, 1958) which allows Patristic commentaries, Guéranger, Parsch etc to be consulted easily. Paschal Vigil readings in the Times and Seasons lectionary, ‘Women in Salvation’.
Common Worship: Times and Seasons includes a number of alternative, themed, patterns of readings for the Easter (Paschal) Vigil:
Women in Salvation
All of them require the use of Exodus 14 (rightly !) and there are 22 readings used over the 5 themes. One Easter night I would love to use all of them over the course of the night!
Given that I think that repetition is the key to good liturgy and that women are seriously under represented in both Scripture and lectionaries I would argue for using ‘Women in Salvation’ every year.
So here is a booklet of those readings (in the Authorised Version) in the hope that it might be helpful to some. I shall be using these on my own this pandemic year. T&S includes psalm references and Collects for each reading which are excellent. I may get round to adding those to the booklet, but, for now, the readings:
UPDATE Good Friday – I tried rehearsing Stations of the Cross live in the garden; sadly it just didn’t work, there was no way of moving the camera (iPhone on a tripod) in a way that wouldn’t have made anyone watching seasick. So no lies team of Stations but I will livestream Compline each night at 7pm Friday and Saturday.
UPDATE 6 April, 15:30 – please note there will now be no Eucharist of the Day in the Oratory, I am leading worship for the parish on Zoom at that time. In addition to the liturgies below I will livestream Compline each day at 7pm BST except for Maundy Thursday when Compline will complete the Watch at midnight.
Several people have asked what I intend to do for the liturgical services of Holy Week. I had been due to preach at St George’s, Paris and am sad not now to be with Fr Mark and the people there. I normally ‘preach’ Holy Week as a guest preacher so I rarely have to organise the liturgies of the week or the Triduum, although I have done a few vacancies over the years and when I was a parish priest always enjoyed working out what would work and what wouldn’t. here’s a picture of the booklet from the last time I had sole responsibility which was at St Faith’s, Landport in 1997:
I have been live-streaming the Eucharist each day from my little Oratory in the garden over the last few days. I am so deeply moved to be joined by people, some I know and am fond of, some strangers to me. I shall continue doing this during Holy Week at the following times:
Palm Sunday, Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday: Eucharist at 6:30am BST (GMT+1)
Maundy Thursday: Eucharist of the Lord’s Supper 8pm, I will keep a Watch until midnight and sing Compline at midnight. Eucharist and Compline but not the Watch streamed.
Good Friday – Stations of the Cross 10am
Good Friday: Liturgy of the Day at 2pm
Easter Day: Paschal Vigil and First Eucharist of Easter: 3:30am;
In terms of what I will do, those who tune in to the stream from the Oratory seem to appreciate the simplicity and silence. Others will be looking for something very different and there are many places offering sophisticated audio-visual material, and grander liturgies. Which is excellent. For this domestic Oratory as simple as possible seems to be best. For the Eucharistic liturgy the rite will be just as I have been doing and as described here.
Normally for a weekday Eucharist in the Oratory I just wear a stole over my usual clothes; to mark the solemnity of this week I will wear the usual vestments on Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday and at the Easter Eucharists and an Alb and stole on Good Friday at the Liturgy.
As you can see there is no blessing of the palms or procession, no Easter fire, no veneration of the Cross. Times and Seasons (T&S) gives different sets of readings for the Vigil with themes. I have chosen ‘Women in Salvation’. I will sort out what I am going to do at the Stations of the Cross on Good Friday morning in due course and post here when that is done. It will be very simple indeed. The Vigil will start early and be very leisurely which I have done before and works really well, with a rather informal feel. I’m hoping I can do this in the garden at a little bonfire. Vestments put on only at the move into the Oratory for the first Eucharist of Easter.
I love to sing and I love the psalms. So alongside a few simple chants from Taizé and the Iona Community there will be psalms with sung refrains, from Belmont Abbey (An English Gradual, Fr Alan Rees OSB), Br Reginald SSF (Lent, Holy Week and Easter – Services and Prayers). I won’t sing any hymns. I am not a great singer and singing hymns unaccompanied is pretty tough going. On Monday to Wednesday the Chants (sung with verses of psalmody) will be (Mon – Wed Introit Belmont 35, Psalm Belmont 44, Concluding Chant Belmont 42). Other music see below:
Introit Reginald 9
Commemoration of the Lord’s Entry Into Jerusalem (T&S 269 – 271 omitting prayer over the palms and procession
Liturgy of the Word – Psalm Belmont 35
Intercession T&S 272-273
Eucharistic liturgy continues as usual Concluding Chant Belmont 30
Introit Belmont 52
Penitential verses T&S 294
Psalm Belmont 111
Intercessions T&S 299
Preparation of the Gifts T&S 300
Eucharistic liturgy continues as usual
Concluding Chant Lamentations (traditional)
Watch until midnight before the Blessed Sacrament
Midnight Compline: traditional plainsong
Good Friday Stations of the Cross (10am) more detail later.
Good Friday – Liturgy of the Day
Gathering and Liturgy of the Word T&S 307 – 308 Psalm Belmont 181 (The Passion ends at Jn 19: 37)
Prayer around the Cross – Jesus remember me, (Taizé), Belmont 178 verses from psalm 26, poetry and silence
The Solemn Intercession at the Cross
T&S 316 -318
Holy Communion T&S 319 – 320 Gospel of the Burial of Christ (Jn 19: 38-42
The Paschal Vigil – Times & Seasons Pattern B ( 3:30 am – 5:30 am)
T&S Pattern B – outside (if not raining, or by the fireplace), at a fire
Introduction T&S 354 –
Readings T&S 373 (Theme ‘Women in Salvation’) Refrains for psalms, selected verses, from Sunday Psalms, Kevin Mayhew
1 Genesis 1 Psalm 104
2 Genesis 3 Psalm 51
3 Exodus 12 Psalm 77
4 Exodus 14 Canticle
5 Ruth 1 Psalm 61
6 1 Samuel 1 Canticle CWDP p 572
7 Proverbs 8 Canticle CWDP p 599
8 Isaiah 66 Psalm 113
9 Daniel 3 canticle Benedicite
The Paschal Candle is blessed and lit T&S 355
Move to the Oratory (5:30am)
Metrical Exultet T&S 358 Tune: Woodlands
Gloria mode viii
Liturgy of the Word Psalm Belmont 60
Blessing of Water Chant: Water of Life …
The Eucharistic Liturgy continues as usual
Concluding chant: Belmont 67
Eucharist of Easter Day
Usual Eucharistic Liturgy with Gloria and Creed, chants:
My friend and colleague in the Diocese of Liverpool, Mother Hannah Lewis has recently moved her prayer corner / Oratory from a bay window to the attic. Having prayed in the former space for some years she wanted to mark her farewelling of that space liturgically and has produced this rather lovely liturgy for doing so.
The prayer for taking leave is adapted from “A liturgy for leave-taking a house” in Human Rites compiled by Hannah Ward and Jennifer Wild
Before Coronavirus (BC) when I was travelling a good deal and staying overnight in hotels and conference centres I always said a little prayer of blessing for the corner of the room I set up for my prayer. I often thought that I needed a farewell prayer as well. I may just work on that at some point …
“A marathon not a sprint.” That’s a phrase government ministers and medical advisers are using for the the pandemic. For those on the frontline of hospital care pacing yourself must seem like a luxury. But for those of us locked down at home it is rather different. It is a fortnight since what I think of as week zero began and my diary started to empty, actual cancellation emails or just the reality that these things are not going to happen. I have Holy Week Sermons prepared on Augustine for Paris. Conference talks on renewal of the church planned for Australia and New Zealand, parish days on Julian of Norwich, an ordination retreat on the poet Gwenallt. When that material will see the light of day I don’t know.
It was in the middle of week zero that the platforms allowing face to face meetings online began to impact. Added to Skype and FaceTime, GoToMeeting, Microsoft Teams and the now ubiquitous, among clergy, Zoom.
My short term diary filled again quickly. National and diocesan meetings. Conversations with Headteachers, MAT CEOs, Local Authority Officers. I have ‘seen’ my diocesan education team colleagues more in a week than I normally see them in a month. There is spiritual direction to be done on Zoom as well as ‘meetings’ with family and friends. In the village I live in caring for the elderly and housebound is being done on a What’s App group and together with that communication have been additional shopping trips for them. The community of priests I belong to (the Sodality) is also meeting three times a week on Zoom.
At the end of Week One of Zoom working I was shattered. So I decided to take 24 hours off all digital communication. It gave me chance to think about why the digital life has been so tiring when I normally have a significant online presence (Twitter, Facebook and my blog) which does not tire me.
Before thinking about the difference between my normal online activity and the new circumstances we are all in it’s important to acknowledge the exhaustion caused by trauma and anxiety. Almost the whole human population is experiencing a significant trauma. My observation of people and my own experience, is that there is a combination of shock, and from some, still, denial. There is a permanent sense of anxiety that never goes away. Several people have spoken to me about dystopian dreams. I may be wrong but this particularly seems to be so for those living in cities who are seeing places they know well, and which are normally busy, bustling places, suddenly bereft of people. Couples, families, households are spending enforced time together, our normal routines are broken, Many people are being furloughed or can’t get the work done that they normally do. This sense of being out of control causes stress.
Add to that our worries and concerns for those we love. My elderly dad in a nursing home. My nephew in China. A friend’s son with pneumonia.
Given all of this it is not surprising that we feel more tired than usual, or express our anxiety in other ways. For headteachers there is the additional task of organising child-care and exposure to children who might well be bringing the virus into school from healthcare parents. This real danger and the fear of it will only increase.
For clergy there is a strong sense of wanting to do something, added to not being able to do the things we normally do. The resentment about closing church buildings and the large number of live streamed services is, I think, a relatively healthy expression of all this. There is also, it seems to me, a fear among clergy that this will hasten the end of many elements of our inherited church life. With collection-plate giving no longer possible everyone realises that the financial consequences for parishes and dioceses are going to be enormous.
So, to get to online working, why is that making us more tired? I don’t want to universalise my own experience but I am hearing this from many other colleagues too. It ought to be better, we might think, none of the driving and travelling that I normally do, I ought to be less exhausted! But in fact, for someone like me who is strongly introverted I have lost all my ‘down time’. Time in the car is time alone. I miss audible books and Radio 4 when I am thinking about something different, or times when I am processing the meeting I have just had and preparing for the meeting ahead. All of that is gone.
Another factor that is unusual in online meetings is that there are few transition points, arriving somewhere, getting settled, packing up at the end of a meeting; all this creates a sense of transition. I find that I am now often going from one meeting to another without any transition. Often there are literally no gaps. Zoom in its free version is limited to 40 minutes. I think there is a wisdom in that. My best meetings online have lasted 40 – 50 minutes. After that I am tired. Online meetings require a level of concentration and attention that is different to being in a room with people. There are less non-verbal signals to read. There is also less opportunity for humour to relive tension, or give a moment’s breather. We may get better at that as we get more used to using these media. We may also need to get better at controlling our use of some of these platforms. On Microsoft Teams my colleagues can see if I am available (it may be possible to stop this but I haven’t found that yet). There have been times when as soon as I have finished one call a colleague has seen that I am available, and called straight away.
My own personal use of Twitter and Facebook has tended to be much more of a broadcast than conversation. That has been harder to maintain in the past week and is very different from Zoom and the video meetings.
So this coming week I am looking to change some of the ways I have been working to give myself more reflective space. Times to reflect and to prepare. Times when I won’t take calls. But also building into my weeks and months some ‘desert time’.
I must have first read Catherine de Heck Doherty’s book Poustinia some time in the mid 1980s. It is well worth re-reading. Posutinia is simply the Russian word for ‘desert’, but it also refers to the spiritual desert of those, poustiniks, who live in the desert of solitude. For a few years Poustinias were popular among the spiritually minded. Huts in gardens or rooms set apart at retreat centres were named Poustinia. Traditionally a Poustinia contained nothing except simple furniture, a cross and a Bible.
Worn out by my week on Zoom (and other platforms) I set aside Sunday as a Poustinia day. Using the little Oratory which I have made out of a lean-to on the side of the house. (It was probably built for laundry, perhaps as a laundry for the village.) The many icons and quite a number of books are rather more than a Poustinia would provide, but it is a sacred space. The Eucharist has been much celebrated there, with many people; sins absolved; oil applied for healing and psalms sung.
Other than celebrating the Eucharist I decided to make it a non-liturgical day. Not singing the Office but simply chanting the psalms through in order and reading the book of Genesis. My two favourite books of the Bible. Prostrations with the Jesus Prayer (see here) and the simple prayer of the Cloud of Unknowing (see here) completed the day.
Poustinia is available on Kindle. Most of us can’t live as poustiniks in our daily life but Catherine encourages us to find “small solitudes, little deserts”.
In these crazy times we need little deserts more than ever. It may be just a corner of a bedroom or a spare room, the attic or even space in the garage or garden shed. Perhaps the only place is a time, a walk round the garden or local park.
We all know that there are dark days ahead. In these days caring for ourselves is vital. That can only begin with self-knowledge. A knowledge learned in silence and solitude.
I have always needed time alone. More important even than sleep. Which is why I have always love the last hours of the night and first hours of the day.
As we renegotiate our lives with technology and lockdown we will all need to look at the way we spend our time. For me, social isolation and lockdown that is full of e-communication means I need more solitude. I don’t have a parish, and in any case there are now many online forms of worship, so Sunday is a good day for me to have a desert day. It may be that another day or time will work for you. Jesus needed solitude (Lk 4:1-2,141-5; Mk 6:30-32; Mt 14: 1-13; Lk 6:12-13; Lk 22:39-44; Lk 5:16). It is not surprising that we do too.
“The essence of the poustinia is that it is a place within oneself, a result of Baptism, where each of us contemplates the Trinity … The is another way of saying that I live in a garden enclosed, where I walk and talk with God – though a Russian would say, “where all in me is silent and where I am immersed in the silence of God”.
Catherine de Hueck Doherty, Poustinia AMP 1975 p.212
“Do not neglect prostration. It provides an image of humanity’s fall into sin and expresses the confession of our sinfulness. Getting up, on the other hand, signifies repentance and the promise to lead a life of virtue. Let each prostration be accompanied by a noetic invocation of Christ, so that by falling before the Lord in soul and body you may gain the grace of the God of souls and bodies.”
Theoliptos, Metropolitan of Philadelphia
in The Philokalia, Volume, 4 p. 185 (Palmer, Sherrard and Ware, Faber 1995)
“So: the regular ritual to begin the day when I’m in the house is a matter of an early rise and a brief walking meditation or sometimes a few slow prostrations, before squatting for 30 or 40 minutes (a low stool to support the thighs and reduce the weight on the lower legs) with the “Jesus Prayer”: repeating (usually silently) the words as I breathe out, leaving a moment between repetitions to notice the beating of the heart, which will slow down steadily over the period.”
I have been practising the Jesus Prayer (the Prayer) since I first learnt it as a teenager. I have taught it, in sermons, on retreats and quiet days and in prayer accompaniment to many others. Although I have been practising prostrations and walking meditation with the Prayer for many years I haven’t so far taught these, or talked about them much to others. The former Archbishop’s piece has encouraged me to write this little blog about how I use these physical postures and movements in the hope that it will encourage others to explore this side of the use of the Prayer.
“Glorify God in your body.” Is St Paul’s clear exhortation to the Corinthians (1 Cor. 6:19) but, probably like many other pious Christians I am very much a ‘head’ person. As a child when my siblings were playing in the garden I would much rather have my head buried in a book. I have had to work at and enable others to liberate me from this.
It was experience of Catholic charismatic renewal, ‘baptism in the Holy Spirit’ and praying in tongues when I was fourteen that freed me to be more physical in my prayer (and in life generally). Although I had read The Way of A Pilgrim in my mid-teens it was as a late teenager that I discovered the prayer more thoroughly from the Anglican monks at Crawley Down (Community of the Servants of the Will of God). My, then, Spiritual Director and Superior of the community, Fr Gregory, had a strong friendship with Archimandrite Sophrony at the orthodox community at Tolleshunt Knights in Essex. At Crawley Down the only prostrations associated with the prayer was a deep bow, touching of the floor and sign of the cross at intervals during the communal recitation of the prayer which replaces Compline.
Communal recitation was itself an innovation at Tolleshunt Knights but one that works well and I have used with many retreat and prayer groups. Single voices, reciting the prayer in turn, 50 or 100 times each, praying the short doxology after each set of recitations.
Prostrations, often over a prayer stool, had also been a form of prayer that I had learnt at Taizé which I’d first visited as a seventeen year old. At the Friday prayer around the cross there individuals also place their foreheads on the icon of the cross lying on the ground, a powerful form of prayer.
Retreats with the Buddhist monks at Chithurst Forest Monastery in the south downs and at Amaravati north of London (both in the Thai Forest tradition) also taught me the art of bowing the forehead to the ground.
Sometime in my late twenties I began to practice prostrations with the Jesus Prayer. Both types of prostration from the standing position (I have never felt comfortable praying sat in a chair and usually use a Taizé style prayer stool or a Buddhist meditation cushion.) For the basic prostration, with each repetition of the Jesus Prayer, I bow deeply at the waist, making the sign of the cross and touching the floor with my fingers, I do this for each of 50 or 100 recitations of the prayer (using a prayer rope to count) and then pray either the lesser doxology or the Lord’s Prayer dropping to my knees and placing my forehead on the ground.
I find this level of physicality in prayer very helpful especially immediately after getting up in the morning and before praying the morning Office, or in the middle of the day. Sometimes if I am tired it is a helpful way of preparing for Vespers. I rarely use this form of prostration before Compline as I find it overstimulating at a time when I want to relax. If I am sleepless because of an over busy mind it can be a good way to switch off thoughts before a cup of camomile tea and a return to bed.
On occasions, for a change, I use the short Greek form of the Jesus Prayer:
Kyrie Jesu Christe, eleison me.
Other times I seek to remind myself of the faith dimension of the words by speaking aloud an extended meditation/ prayer on the meaning of Lord/Jesus/Christ etc. I think this is important so that the Prayer is always an exercise of faith, trust in Jesus and never perceived as some sort of mantra or invocation.
There is a good piece by Saint Ignaty Brianchaninov here. He describes how:
“The bows warm up the body and somewhat exhaust it, and this condition facilitates attention and compunction.”
Of course, this sort of prayer is only for private use. On retreat or holiday I have occasionally practised prostrations for extended periods of several hours at a time; I find the sense of exercise very helpful. It is also a good practise for outside facing the rising sun in a chilly autumn dawn.
I haven’t said much here about uniting the Prayer with the breathing; I would very much encourage this and find it an essential way of using the prayer and extending the prayer into my daily activities.
There is a very good essay about uniting the Prayer with the breath here.
Walking meditation is another way of using the Prayer physically. Again this was something I learnt from the Forest monks. The best way I find is to alternate prostrations with walking meditation. Find a flat area where you can walk up and down a line for about 20 feet and just walk very slowly along the line and back again. Outside in a private area and focusing the eyes simply on the steps ahead. I find it is best not to be too artificial about the pace of walking; just as slow as is possible without being theatrical. I have never been able to combine the rhythm of walking with the breathing although I am told that some people do this; I breathe in the first part of the prayer and breathe out the second part and let the walking look after itself. I find it easier to combine the breathing with the prayer when praying silently in my head but sometimes, and usually with the prostrations, pray the prayer aloud, again only in private.
The Vietnamese Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh who met Thomas Merton, practises a much freer form of Walking Meditation that is much more just mindful walking. I sometimes use this with a mindful verse that he suggests:
With every step / a flower blooms.
There are plenty of YouTube films of Thich Naht Hanh teaching this kind of prayer:
I have used this form of group walking meditation, silent walking, with retreat groups, it has a strong bonding quality for a group and can be a good break from sitting and listening in a retreat centre!
Bowing to the ground with the forehead is normally referred to as the Great Prostration and touching the ground with the fingers while bowing at the waist a Small Prostration.
There is a very helpful page about the use of the Jesus Prayer on the St Vladimir’s seminary website here.
I thoroughly recommend using physical posture with the Jesus Prayer and exploring posture in all our prayer (bowing at the doxology at the end of the psalms in the Office, for example) but there is no ‘right’ way to pray. As St Teresa of Avila wrote,
“mental prayer is none other … than an association of friendship, frequently practised on an intimate basis, with the one we know loves us.”
The important thing with prayer, as Dom John Chapman wrote, is that we pray as we can, not as we can’t (Spiritual Letters 109).
There is a lovely sentence in Teresa of Avila’s Interior Castle (1.28):
“It is very important for any soul that prays, whether little or much, that it doesn’t tighten up or squeeze itself into a corner” (tr Peter Tyler).
Posture helps me to pray because it loosens me up; it frees me from my head space and allows me to descend to the heart. It works for me because I am a naturally fidgety person. Other things will work for other people.
Prayer is friendship with God, just as we each find our own ways of friendship we all need to experiment and try things out to find our way of being friends with God. Posture is a form of touch, a making physical our prayer, our friendship. Just as touch is important in friendship, so it can be important in prayer.
So I did it. After many requests. And after seeing the wonderful efforts so many others have made to provide Christian worship in this time of pandemic. I live streamed the Eucharist in the little Oratory which I’ve turned a lean-to on the side of the house into.
Some rooky errors: apparently FaceBook live stream won’t film in landscape on my iPhone so the whole thing was at right angles; despite Kate Bottley’s very helpful advice I didn’t place the phone high enough up which gives the whole thing a rather odd look. I shall improve on both of those tomorrow
It was my friend and brother Sodalist Fr John-Francis Friendship who made the point to me (on the phone) and publicly on Facebook that perhaps we need to make some greater acknowledgement of the viewer in these online broadcasts. I think he is right.
At the beginning of the liturgy I will say:
Wherever we are we meet in the name of Christ who is present in every time and place as our friend and brother:
The Lord be with you: And also with you.
At the offertory I will pray this prayer adapted from Common Worship:
Be present, be present, Lord Jesus Christ, our risen high priest, make yourself known to us; though we are separated unite us in faith; though we are apart grant us the communion of the Holy Spirit. Amen
At the intercessions I will add:
Remember us, separated by pandemic, but united by faith in the body of Christ; may all who see this celebration of the Eucharist know the presence of Christ in their hearts and in their lives. Strengthen our communion that we may be strengthened in the service of others.
At the moment of Communion I will turn towards the camera holding the consecrated hosts nd chalice and say:
Christ is in or midst. He is and always will be.
I will make the sign of the cross with the host before turning back to receive communion.
I am working on a suitable post communion prayer. I would appreciate any help on this:
Almighty God, we thank you for feeding us by your holy Word and by our fellowship in the body of Christ. United with him and with all the baptised in every time and place we offer you our souls and bodies to be a living sacrifice. Sustain us in our isolation by the power of your Spirit, that we may live in peace, and free from all anxiety, to your praise and glory.
Finally, I love singing. Praying by singing has a whole different effect on me. It used parts of my brain I don’t use when reciting prayers. Sadly I am not the great singer I would love to be. I thought about not singing in the live streamed liturgies but I am going to carry on. Sorry!
The form of the Eucharistic liturgy I use is adapted slightly from Common Worship and I use Eucharistic Prayer H with intercession inserted. Here it is with the prayers above added for live streaming.
Please do continue to send me names of people you would like to be prayed for. I will pray aloud for everyone by first name only. I don’t mind if it takes me half an hour or more!
NOTE: I have come in recent years through my educational/pedagogical work to believe that repetition is more important in learning than novelty and total coverage. Applying that to the liturgy I suspect that one year lectionaries are better than the multi-year cycles that have been developed in the last 60 years or so. Thus, I am using the BCP Sunday lectionary, repeating those readings on weekdays unless there is a saint’s day. On saints’ days and in seasons – such as Lent – where there is daily provision the readings from the old western rite are used as found in the 1958 edition of the English Missal. These are taken from the Authorised Version.
As we come nearer Easter, anxiety is growing across the world in the face of the spread of the coronavirus. At Taizé, it seems that for the first time we will probably spending Holy Week and the Easter celebration without visitors. We have had to ask the people who had registered for the meetings to put off their stay, and the Church of Reconciliation is closed. We continue with our life of prayer and work “separated from all but united to all.” We are very conscious that intercession keeps us united with so many other people throughout the world.
By phone or internet, we receive a lot of news from people facing similar challenges in different parts of the world. Some of our brothers are living or travelling in Korea, Italy and elsewhere. Our Chinese brothers, in contact with their families there, have been following with attention and deep concern the developments of the epidemic since its beginnings.
Quite apart from the question of the precautions and changes to our way of life that are necessary, this quite unexpected and exceptional health crisis touches us in a deeper way. First of all, we are led to feel for the suffering and anguish of the victims, the sick, their families and all those who are severely affected by its economic consequences. We bear them in prayer.
We would also like to give thanks and express our admiration for those who are committed with all their strength to helping the victims and, more generally, in reorganizing public services. There are so many testimonies of creative generosity, of solidarity, and of people resisting passivity and discouragement.
In this difficult period, how can we not ask ourselves: What does Christ expect of us? What does the Risen One, who came to be with his discouraged disciples in spite of the closed doors, offer us? And to what is he calling us today? In the difficulties of the present, in Brother Roger’s words, “Not simply to endure events but, in God, to build with them.”
Following Christ leads us to an experience of conversion, of turning away from darkness and towards the light of the Risen One. Day by day, let us not be diverted by fears, anger, regrets, confusion, and the darkness that often claims to cover the whole world and to monopolise our attention… But let us remain united, deep within our hearts, to the source of peace that remains always beyond everything.
As containment measures and health precautions are increased to prevent contagion, let us take great care of the treasure of human relations. Let us keep in touch – through telephone calls and messages of friendship – with those who are isolated, and first and foremost the oldest, the most fragile and those already affected by another illness or hardship.
Over the coming days, we would like to take and transmit some concrete initiatives to express our solidarity spiritually. Every evening, a prayer with a small group of brothers will be broadcast from our house on social networks(at 8.30 pm, Western European time). And those who wish to do so can also send us prayer intentions.
As Saint Paul said to the Romans: “Who can separate us from the love of Christ? Can trouble, or anguish, or persecution, or hunger, or deprivation, or danger, or death? (…) I am certain that nothing will be able to separate us from the love that God has shown us in Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 8:35, 38-39)
Christians and other religious groups are not gathering together for prayer during the current pandemic. This is a really good time to remember that every Christian home is a ‘domestic church’ and can be a place of prayer. Whether you live alone or with others, whether you have children at home or not, having a prayer space at home is a good way of blessing our homes and lives.
One of the things I love when I visit schools is to see the prayer spaces that many schools have in each classroom or in an area of the corridors or shared spaces. Huge imagination goes into making these spaces interesting, calming and places of beauty. Children also love them. In every school I visit it is clear that children use these spaces for prayer and mindfulness.
When I was growing up my gran had a prayer corner. In the back room a statue of Our Lady, her bible, prayer books and Rosary. It was a special place that fills me with peace and joy just thinking about it. Prayer Spaces can work for all families and households as places that trigger positive emotions when we go to them, especially if we light a candle, an incense stick and make it a place of peace and calm.
Whenever I teach Mindfulness I talk about how to build a habit of Mindfulness. Just five minutes every day is better than a splurge one day and nothing then for weeks. A Prayer Space is a great place to go and practice mindfulness and silence. It is amazing how quickly the space will become associated with positive feelings and trigger them even when bad things are happening in our lives.
At first you may feel self-conscious or embarrassed praying aloud with others. It’s Ok to laugh about that. Remember when you are praying you are talking to God just as you would talk to anyone. You don’t have to put on a special voice!
I have written a little prayer and made a card about prayer spaces. It is pictured above and the PDF is available below. Let me know if this works for you. Why not send me a picture? Whether your Prayer Space is Christian, Buddhist, Hindu or completely secular I will be glad to see it.
Update 1: Thank you to Mary Hawes for this set of resources for worship at home: here.
17 March 2020 Thank you to Facebook friends for providing links to some of these. This is not a polished response but a quick list, please send me any other links to add or resources you have made. I will keep updating at the top of this post. Our Archbishops urge us to maintain the disciple of daily prayer and Eucharist. This is more important than ever. Reducing stress and anxiety will come when we have solid patterns of praying in our lives and model that for others. For all of us this is an opportunity to deepen our prayer and pray in new and old ways. As the Bishop of Liverpool writes to the diocese:
You will see that [the Archbishops] encourage us all to find new ways of being the Church in these days. As they say: “Public worship will have to stop for a season. Our usual pattern of Sunday services and other mid week gatherings must be put on hold. But this does not mean that the Church of England has shut up shop. Far from it.” Church is changing, and we all need to be part of that change.
I particularly urge us to explore the serious Christian tradition of praying 7 times a day; even if only briefly. The use of Psalm 119 divided over the day is very powerful with its gentle rhythm and constancy. Nothing dramatic just the simple love of the Lord who is the Way, the Truth and the Life.
Monasticism is in. It is fashionable. Or at least the spirituality of it is. Not the reality of the commitment of lifelong vows. ‘New monastic communities’ are a great blessing to the church. But we need to see the difference to the sacrificial lives of those vowed monastics who have been at the heart of the renewal of the church through the centuries.
Sometimes ‘monastic’ is used as a way of distancing ourselves from the disciplines of the spiritual life. Ordinary, everyday, diocesan priests, for most of Christian history have prayed an eight-fold Office, fasted, meditated, celebrated Eucharist daily. Yet when we do this in our time it is described as ‘monastic’. I don’t believe it is. This is one reason why in the Sodality I have always resisted the definition of us as a ‘new monastic community’. The serious Christianity we aspire to is normal for diocesan priests, it is not ‘monastic’.
Most of the people I direct, accompany, in the spiritual life are married, most have children. What is an appropriate non-monastic spiritual life for them?
I don’t have children. But I don’t believe that my own practice is monastic. I am a diocesan priest, a householder. I want to hear from my married, parent friends how they create a space for serious Christianity in their lives. I certainly don’t want to impose anything on them.
This new series (I hope) will give some of my friends the opportunity to reflect on that.
One of my brothers in the Sodality has recently become the father of a second set of twins. Four children under five. I am privileged to have been asked to be godfather to one of the new-born. What is an appropriate, serious, spirituality for that family, for him as a priest? I hope that we can begin to explore that.
In the form of Mindfulness of Breathing that I was taught thirty or more years ago, and still teach myself, there is a shift in stages between noticing the in-breath and noticing the out-breath. It’s a subtle shift but most people sense a change of energy and perception. I feel the same way about changing my practice of praying the Daily Office. Having used the Divine Office for many years and then Common Worship Daily Prayer I have now moved to the Book of Common Prayer. (Originally described here). The shift is subtle. It is still, after all, just an arrangement for daily praying of Scripture but there is a different energy, the shape is different. I like it. Now I have started singing the Office hymns at the traditional place (before the gospel canticles) the front-loading of lengthy psalmody gives the whole thing a still, contemplative feel. The lack of variety adds to this. Novelty is stimulating, the very opposite of contemplative.
Several readers and friends have asked how I am getting on with my use of the BCP Office (and 1928 lectionary) this liturgical year. The changes since my first version of the booklet will show some of the ways in which I am adjusting to this.
I began using antiphons for the psalms but actually the Office is rich enough without those so I just sing them to plainsong tones without antiphons.
The 1928 lectionary is a joy. Just one OT book across Morning and Evening Prayer makes use of commentaries much more feasible alongside the gospel and other NT reading. The monthly BCP cycle of psalms makes following commentaries through with the psalter so much easier.
This is the second time in my life I have made long term use of the BCP (the other when Mother Victoria and I prayed the Office at St Andrew, Earlsfield). So nothing is unfamiliar. And, of course, a lifetime of cathedral Evensongs.
I am using the Mirfield 1949 Office Book (as rare as hen’s teeth on Abebooks etc) which provides all the Office hymns, responses and Mag and Ben antiphons as well as the lectionary readings set out. This is very helpful. It also includes Compline and the Little Hours. Since I travel so much having all this in one book is very useful.
I am just beginning trying the Office hymns (melodies in the English Hymnal) in the place traditionally assigned them before the gospel canticles which seems less strange than I thought it would. At Compline the hymn after the psalms. The CR book suggests Psalm 51 daily in Lent as the first Canticle at Matins and this works well. I use that with modern four part tones as I often do for the Gospel and other canticles, so traditional plainsong tones always for the psalms, including Venite. This gives the psalmody a different flavour too. Not sure I can describe it but I am not missing the slightly over rhythmic quality of modern psalm tones on all the psalms and canticles.
Four substantial readings is enough in a day so I am using the traditional one-year cycle of readings at Mass daily, repeated on ferias unless there is daily provision (Series 1 lectionary) and alternating the additional OT readings with the Epistle. The repetition is really sustaining and the range of patristic and later commentaries enormously enriching.
People occasionally join me for Morning or Evening Prayer or for Mass, especially at weekends, and this has worked well. I use an NEB lectionary at Mass with a CW Order of Mass (described here), and an RSV Bible for the readings when praying with others. There is a familiarity with the shape and texts that seems to make this very accessible for visitors.
This form of Office is very manageable, accessible and, also, very Anglican. A good place to feel at home in.
Underneath the large church at Taizé is the crypt. A door from there leads to a corridor and the Orthodox chapel. Every day, before Morning Prayer, Brother Pierre-Yves Emery of the community celebrates the Eucharist with the one or two people who turn up.
It is the simplest possible form of Eucharist but one of the richest experiences in my life of celebrating Mass. When I am at Taizé I am privileged to concelebrate this Eucharist. When I first did so I was terrified. Pierre-Yves, a Reformed pastor, does not use any books but extemporises the Collect and the Eucharistic Prayer (using the typical Hyppolitan structure of contemporary liturgies). He speaks no English and we communicate in liturgical latin and my weak French. Pierre Yves divides the Eucharistic Prayer up and I pray my bits in English, always dividing the consecration of the bread or wine between us, one of us getting the anamnesis, the intercessions, the epiclesis and so on. Praying, as an international ecumenical community not for a local bishop but for the Archbishop of Canterbury, the ecumenical Patriarch, the bishop of Rome, the Secretary General of the World Council of Churches, and the leaders and pastors of all the churches.
Beginning in silence, in the dark, after greeting the assembly we sing a three fold Kyrie before Pierre-Yves extemporises a Collect, often on some theme from the gospel of the day. The Liturgy of the Word is read, with a psalm chanted simply and three Alleluias before and after the gospel. After a long period of silence we all go and stand around the altar in the small sanctuary area beyond the iconsostasis. The chalice and paten already have the bread and wine in them. After the Eucharistic Prayer we pray the Lord’s Prayer, sing a simple Agnus and are invited to receive. The paten and then the chalice are passed around the small circle. An extemporised prayer follows communion before a dismissal. It is very beautiful indeed.
In the Lord’s Prayer we pray that God will give us ‘our daily bread’. For many Christians this has been read as an invitation to celebrate the Eucharist daily. For Anglo-Catholics the daily celebration of Mass was an essential part of the tradition for many. The spiritual writer Henri Nouwen made a point of celebrating Mass each day wherever he was, always carrying a supply of hosts with him.
I think the diminution of the daily Mass in many Anglo-Catholic parishes is one of the signs and causes of our diminishment as a movement, and I do everything I can to encourage my sister and brother priests to restore daily celebration.
It is my great joy to celebrate every day. I carry a travelling kit with me and when staying with friends and colleagues will often celebrate simply at a coffee or dining table. I love to celebrate with family and friends at the dinner table using a little of the wine and bread that will be eaten as part of the meal afterwards. I also, at home, have the joy of a little Oratory in an old tool shed attached to the house, the altar consecrated by the diocesan bishop.
The following two attachments are my current practice for celebrating the Eucharist daily. The longer document printed and in an A5 folder on the altar and the other a people’s card for those who join me.
If I am joined by someone who sings I like to use the very simple musical setting of EP H. On days when there is a Proper Preface I tend to use one of the other Eucharistic Prayers. The collection of Eucharistic Prefaces translated by Fr Alan Griffiths for the Ambrosian rite is a rich resource (We Give you Thanks And Praise). The prayers are enriched with intercession as suggested here. I normally begin and end with a Taizé chant. In this Kingdom season “The Kingdom of God is justice and peace…” is especially suitable.
For a while now I have been saying that the essential elements of Christian prayer are Psalmody and Eucharist. Not claiming any particular arrangement, frequency or style of doing either of those two things (well, psalmody almost certainly needs to be daily at least) but the universality of them among those of deep prayer and spirituality in Christian history.
Alongside them, the practice of silence, sitting still, simple awareness of the presence of God seems almost as universally important.
So why not put all three together?
I am not suggesting that the form of celebration of the Eucharist suggested here would be appropriate as the normal Sunday diet for a worshipping community. I have used this form on a number of retreats, Quiet Days and parish weekends, where it has always seemed to go down well. I also tried it at a staff meeting where it didn’t work so well. It probably needs to be in the context of teaching about all three elements, particularly mindfulness, and in a situation where people are able to let go of their discursive-critical mind. Perhaps, too, my ‘persona/role’ in the meeting context did not fit quite so well as when I am ‘retreat leader’.
Three forms are proposed here each with a different psalm. They are linked above in PDF format, I create them in Pages and am happy to send Pages or Word exports from Pages (which may lose formatting) if you email me but WordPress will not link to these files.
The versions for Psalm 23 and 119 are for sung/metrical settings. The Lord’s My Shepherd is the popular setting usually sung to Crimond but I have only ever used it at these mindful Eucharists with the tune usually used for Amazing Grace – New Britain -which has, I think, a bit more energy. The same tune is used for the metrical version of Psalm 119 which is from Adam Carlill’s brilliant metrical version Psalms for the Common Era, where he provides this extraordinary alphabetic translation of the psalm. In both cases the text is sung in full at the beginning and end, and various verses are then interpolated into the Eucharistic liturgy.
I have always used this format sitting in a circle around an altar; I just place a stole over my clothes. I extemporise the Collect and post-Communion prayer; the readings are read without announcement or conclusion. Standing for everything except the homily and first reading.
During the Eucharistic Prayer I use manual acts, raising the host (I prefer a single host big enough for everyone, usually a ‘concelebration host’ and cup at appropriate points and holding them aloft throughout the bell that follows the words of Jesus. I genuflect after these elevations, and hold my hands over the gifts at the epiclesis. The Eucharistic Prayer is a slightly adapted form of Prayer H in Common Worship. Another voice for the intercessions (within the EP) works best.
Communion is passed around the circle, concluding with the celebrant. On some occasions the host is passed around the circle and everyone holds it in their hand and consume together with the celebrant. I rather like this, that moment of holding the host is deeply intimate with the Lord and one of my favourite moments when concelebrating.
I would guess that 30 or so people would be the maximum this form of celebration could work with. As the last communicant I consume anything that is left and place the vessels at the side of the altar to be cleansed later. At the start of the celebration the hosts are ready and the chalice pre-charged.
I originally included a sign of peace but find that is disruptive so have removed it. The tropes at the kyries are either from the psalm chosen or a suitably linked text.
The bell/gong ringer needs a practice before hand and the gong should be allowed to ring its full length before any further action or words.
Repetition is key to learning and a key element of this form of Eucharist; at a recent retreat I gave people white cards now which to write a phrase which stood out for them at the end of the celebration and to use that phrase as prayer throughout the day, several participants commented on how useful this was.
I quite often celebrate the Eucharist in informal situations, Headteachers’ offices, school staff rooms, friends dining rooms, and so forth. That form of celebration is described here. I will usually use a small gong before and after that but not during the celebration.
I am not making any great claims for this form of the Eucharist. It has proved fruitful partly because it is both unfamiliar to people and repetitive so they feel safe, I normally do some explanation in advance, ideally not immediately before hand. Let me know if you try this at all and how it goes.
Sermon at St John’s, Fulham for the meeting of the Sodality of Mary, Mother of Priests on 13 February 2020
My dearest friends, Mothers and Fathers. One of the the many things I love about our very own Church Of England is the variety of streams of tradition within it. While I think it best to drink deeply from a single stream. To be formed in one tradition. To know who we are so that we can be fully ourselves with others who are different to us is vitally important.
It is no less vitally important that we drink at other wells and learn from others. To realise that our differences never negate our common humanity, let alone our common baptism.
One of the elements of the evangelical tradition that I have come to love is the preaching of a series of sermons. If you look at well known evangelical parish websites you will find many sermons to listen to and even, sometimes watch.
On many occasions these will be based on individuals in the Old Testament. Nehemiah often comes up – and indeed I have led a number of study sessions on Nehemiah myself, including last October, for the Conference of Leaders of Anglican Religious Communities, our traditional, vowed monastic communities. Nehemiah is a great role model for Christian leadership, especially in a time when institutions seem to be in decline and some rebuilding of the walls is needed.
I imagine, perhaps I am guilty of stereotyping us! But I imagine that we are perhaps not as familiar with the liturgical book New Patterns for Worship, as we might be of certain other official liturgical publications.
Perhaps I am wrong, I hope so, because NPW includes some really excellent material. Not least among these are a series of modules of readings that can be used outside the seasons of the church’s year in place of the official lectionary. I recommend you get to know them and make use of them. Many feature significant individuals from the Old Testament such as Noah.
If you read my blog you will know that for pedagogical, educational reasons, I have become something of a fan of the traditional one year lectionary. I can imagine Sunday worship in which the ante-communion, the liturgy of the Word makes use of one of these series of readings for a first reading, followed by a sermon and then continues with the two short readings of the historic lectionary and on into the Eucharistic rite. In one church where I served we even broke for coffee after the liturgy of the Word so that some people could leave at that point and those who wanted to remained for the rest. It was very effective and worked well.
That is a somewhat long, and homiletically poor, introduction to looking at today’s first reading.
There is no series of readings in NPW on Solomon, which is a shame.
Solomon is best known, of course for being wise. But if that is all we know about him we have a rather weak and uninteresting character. Today’s reading fills that out a bit. We have to be a little careful that there is not some gender bias going on, the wise man led astray by his wives. But the important thing is not who leads who astray, but that Solomon exhibits some considerable foolishness.
Personally I find that quite helpful. We all, yes we do, all of us, do foolish things. We are all, yes all of us, unwise at times, perhaps very often. Tragedy appeals to us because deep down we know that at any point our foolishness might undo our lives.
I am glad to say that I do not have a number of pagan wives leading me astray. But I do know that I do not love the Lord wholeheartedly. I love God very much. Jesus is the centre of my life. But I know that I also am very attached to my nice middle class lifestyle. When I pray “do with me what you will”, when I say multiple times a day in the Lord’s Prayer: “Thy will be done.” I really don’t mean it wholeheartedly …
We Anglo Catholics like to remind ourselves of our glorious past. The slum priests who gave up everything to serve the poor. But when I was a priest in Grangetown in Middlesbrough or Portsea where Fr Dolling had been a priest, or Lewisham. All areas of considerable deprivation (and how proud we can all be of our very own deprivation index!) I lived the same middle class life I could have lived anywhere. Yet in my work as Spiritual Director/Adviser to emerging new communities I meet young evangelicals, Anglicans and others, who give up everything to take their families and children into places of dire poverty, who open up their homes to live with recovering alcoholics, gang members and the generally socially inept. For whom dinner is a simple shared meal with strangers not a dinner party with too much gin and four crystal glasses.
Changing the way we live. The choices we have made and make is tough. But what is conversion if it is not that? In the story we have just heard in the gospel I imagine Jesus smiling when the Syro-Phoenician woman tells him that even the dogs deserve crumbs. He knows she is right. He changes his mind. And that is wisdom indeed.
Solomon, like the rest of us was both wise and foolish.
I am not especially keen n formal dinner parties so it’s easy for me to critique them. I know what my idols are. Thy will be done? I suspect in a month’s time there will be just as many Amazon parcels arriving as there have ever been …
This is, famously, an age of anxiety. That anxiety is certainly shared by the church. For the last four or five years as well as retreats and pilgrimages and other teaching and preaching. I have been delivering sessions to parishes which I have been calling “Growing the Church”. Some of these have been weekends, others days or part days, yet others multiple sessions of 90 minutes or so. At the start I generally ask people to write up what they hope to get out of the sessions. It’s a good reality check for me, particularly when I review them at the end. Anxiety is very strong in those hopes expressed at the start for: more children, more people …
These Growing the Church sessions are not intended to replace any of the well developed schemes for church growth and renewal. In many ways I would see the work I do as preparing the way for them. I will almost always mention the New Wine network, Leading Your Church Into Growth, Alpha and more recently tried to plant seeds about starting new worshipping communities outside the church building at times other than a Sunday morning. A way of working that is proving highly successful in the diocese of Liverpool, especially when using our school buildings.
One of the things that strikes me is that in parishes people are very eager to get to the vision writing/mission action planning stage very quickly. In schools a new Head might take two or three terms to work on, and that is seeing each other five days a week for the whole of the working day. I try on these days to establish some basics – Why do I go to church? Who is Jesus to me? etc before moving any further. I have also begun using Psalm 44 to do some real lamenting about the difference between our ‘memory’ of church as a sort of ideal period we would like to return to, but which in reality can never exist again. I think if we don’t do that we are just frozen in grief or yearning for a mythical past in which there were dozens of children in the Sunday school and crowds at the daily Mass. Other elements I include are my thoughts on Education and how they relate to our work with children and young people: the need to raise the standard of our education material and make it knowledge-based not simply experiential; and give young people real, substantive leadership. I always include some Mindfulness material. Bookshops, attendance at Mindfulness events etc are evidence that there is a real hunger for stillness, silence and meditation in our wider society. A hunger that we are failing to address in our Sunday worship. This is an open door for Christian mission which we are almost totally neglecting. There is very little opportunity for silence in most Sunday worship. Generally, when anyone leading worship says that ‘now we will keep a few moments of silence’ I barely have time for one breath, I have never, anywhere, had time for more than three. At Taizé they manage 10 – 15 minutes of silence in their worship three times a day. And this is always the thing that children and young people find most intriguing and good. Finally, I always include an informal celebration of the Eucharist as part of the day. Ideally about half way through. This can bring together elements of Mindfulness, as well as a good chance to re-iterate the overriding importance of memory both as learning and in establishing shared memory as who we are, in Jesus’ words to ‘do this in memory of him’. Preaching on the second day is a good chance to pick up on themes that strike me from the initial session. Almost always this is the same: the need to root our mission, our desire to grow the church, in substantive Christian faith. I come more and more to see the Apostles’ Creed as useful here. The reasons people give for Jesus being important to them, or what they like about Jesus, are generally either emotional (although there’s often not much of that) or Jesus as an example of living a good life. A living relationship with Jesus is, of course, essential to Christian faith and I often use the icon of friendship (Jesus with his arm affectionately around his friends’s shoulder). However, no one ever mentions the acts of salvation history. So what we have to tell people becomes very weak indeed. I also stress the cross as an image of us needing grow the church horizontally – to draw more people to Jesus – and vertically – our relationship as individuals and as a community, with God. Interestingly this is the work that people seem to neglect most, or perhaps take for granted. Unless it is a whole weekend we don’t spend any time writing a Mission Action Plan. That can be done by a small group separately. That is not because I don’t think it is important. On the contrary, being ‘intentional’ about mission is only going to happen if we have a plan and hold ourselves to account for it.
These events are really helpful for me and I learn a great deal from them. I change the material I use every time because I am always learning as well as because contexts are different. The work we have done in Liverpool on new worshipping communities in schools (mainly in the Wigan area) has really helped me to see that developing new congregations can be useful in relieving the anxiety of existing, ‘inherited church’ congregations. So often much of the anxiety comes from expecting that a new priest will suggest yet another set of changes to the worship, or moving of furniture. Sometimes it can be best to leave all that as it is and put our energy into new manifestations of the church. It also helps us to face up to the fact that those of us who love church can find it hard to understand the resistance of people who have no church experience to traditional church.
More children, more people is the constant hope of parishes and congregations. That horizontal growth will only come, in my view, when there is more faith, more experience of Jesus, more faithful living, more deep conversion to the gospel. That is the challenge to every Christian. Why is my life not sufficiently converted that my living alone brings people to Jesus?
The constant mantra in my teaching is a quite simple:
– Jesus centred
– Spirit filled
– Bible based
The anxiety is real. But we should not be controlled by it. In particular we need to be faithful to the New Testament vision of prayer as releasing the gifts of the Spirit. God expects every Christian to experience and share in these gifts. To believe that prayer is somehow difficult or fruitless is to collude with the anxiety.
An age of anxiety, yes. But also an age of liminality, provisionality and that provisionality can contain much energy and the seemed of renewal. Growing the Church never leaves me feeling depressed or anxious for the church. I find these events stimulating and energising. I hope some of those who participate in them do too.
It is impossible for me to hear or sing the stunningly simple Peregrine Tone of Gregorian chant without thinking of Holy Trinity church in Winchester. There, as an undergraduate in the mid 1980’s, Julian Chilcott-Monk taught me to sing plainsong from Procter and Frere’s A Manual of Plainsong. The Peregrine, the ‘wandering’ tone is the simplest of all the tones and hauntingly beautiful.
The recovery of Plainsong in Anglican liturgy in the nineteenth century was an essential part of the the Catholic-Revival. Wherever I have introduced some sort of chant liturgy it has brought young adults to church. A ‘Compline Choir’ I ran once sang only the music of Compline week after week ending with drinks in a local pub. Everyone that came was between 20 and 30 years old.
There is a profoundly contemplative quality to chant. It demands our attention to text and music and draws us away from our own mental roundabouts.
Many, like me have spent years collecting books of chant from second-hand bookshops and clergy clearing their libraries at retirement. This is interesting. Often there are so many variations in editions that it is impossible to use multiple copies with a group.
I am, therefore, deeply grateful to St Stephen’s House, the Anglo-Catholic theological college in Oxford for publishing their Office book. It is a great contribution to the much needed new revival of catholic Anglicanism and I hope that it will be well used and much bought. There are still, I am told, plenty of copies left but it was a limited print and there will be no re-print. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org to order.
The Office book was compiled by Fr Kyle McNeil and is a superb piece of work. He deserves much congratulation and thanks. There is a fine foreword by the Bishop of Chichester, Martin Warner, who draws attention to the obligation on the clergy to pray the Office, the value of a physical book which “locates us in the material world of specific things, such as time and place, that are themselves part of the scandalous immediacy of encounter with God.” Bishop Martin continues:
“The book’s location in a stall or similar place of prayer in church calls us daily onto the threshold of sacred space, not only does the journey there witness to a habit of prayer, it also opens up the possibility that we might invite and inspire others to join us in the routine of prayer.”
There is also a fine introduction which places the praying of the Office in the context of the priestly life and gives practical information for the praying of this book. This is fundamentally a ‘Prayer Book Office’ but makes use of the 1963 Revised Psalter which lightly adapts the Prayer Book psalms to accord with better scholarship on the Hebrew text, and intelligibility to the modern reader. It loses none of the beauty. It is assumed that the contemporary liturgical year and calendar of Common Worship is being followed but enriched with some additional material for saints and a few other celebrations.
All psalms and canticles are pointed to be sung to the traditional plainsong/Gregorian tones. A complete collection of Office hymns for Morning and Evening Prayer is also provided each with the traditional Sarum (rather than Roman) form of the plainsong music. For many of us some of these hymn melodies will be too complex to sing either alone or with a small group but it is good to see these ‘authentic’ melodies present and other, simpler melodies in the book could generally, be used in their place.
The texts of antiphons for the Benedictus and Magnificat for the entire liturgical year are also provided and these are pointed for simple tones. The canticles are given in Solemn and Simple tones and the Venite and Gospel Canticles are given in four sets of tones to be used a week at a time over a four-week cycle.
No other reference is made to lectionary provision other than to state:
“The Church of England’s lectionary is highly complex … It should be consulted separately, or an alternative lectionary employed.”
A sentiment with which I wholeheartedly agree. As I have written on this blog recently.
For those wanting to pray a ‘traditional language’ office the provision of Collects in one place is extremely helpful and very usefully enriched by some collects not provided for in any form in Common Worship. Today’s Memoria of Saint John Bosco being a very good example. These are translated into traditional language liturgical English. These are generally well done although a smile of amusement might be needed on occasion. For St John Bosco “young men and maidens” certainly caused me to smile.
Innovations in the book are the provision of a set of Old Testament Canticles for use at Matins in place of the Benedicte which is reserved for Feasts and Solemnities. I am a great fan of the Benedicite with its creation emphasis and the repetition of it and the Te Deum don’t worry me, but I know that this is an issue for many people. However, it does mean that only one setting of Benedicite is given which seems very light. For Evensong a set of New Testament Canticles (as used in the Roman Office) is given in traditional language so that those who pray Compline every day can reserve the NuncDimittis for that. Both of these provisions are very helpful.
The Te Deum is reserved for its traditional Roman / western place, at the end of the Morning Office on Feasts and Solemnities, rather than the Anglican practice between the readings. It is provided in just one setting.
The traditional anthems to the Blessed Virgin Mary are provided in Latin with their Versicles and Responses and collects.
For those using the book outside of Oxford notes are given to adapt the rank of various Oxford specific celebrations.
I have very few criticisms of this book, it is an outstanding piece of work, handsomely produced. I would have liked to see provision for the Circumcision of Christ on January 1st in accord with Anglican and long-standing western custom, rather than an additional feast of Our Lady. It would have been useful to have the Prayer Book Collects in their traditional order and form as an appendix. But these are minor quibbles.
I am especially happy to see provision made for the Interior Life of Our Lord (on January 19th) and The Interior Life of Our Lady (on October 22nd). These are often seen as precursor devotions to the Sacred and Immaculate Hearts but in fact they reflect something rather more about the imitation of Christ and his mother.
These commemorations of the interior lives are important because they emphasise the inner conversion that is at the heart of the Christian life. They also relate to the Sulpician tradition of training priests that has its origins in the French school of spirituality of Bérulle and Fr Olier. His beautiful prayer is an important part of the Manual of the Sodality and is worth praying by any ordained person. I know that it is a prayer much loved by Fr Robin, Principal at St Stephen’s House and many of the fine priests trained there in his time as Principal.
I hope that the SSH Office Book will be much prayed and form a significant part of the seriousness needed for a revival of the catholic stream in the Church of England:
In the early 1990s I wrote my dissertation, while at Chichester Theological College, on the renewal of a ‘People’s Office’. I was particularly interested in what some monastic communities (Jerusalem in Paris and elsewhere), CSWG at Crawley Down and Hove, and New Skete in the United States. Along with many other people I assumed that a really popular form of daily prayer would be about action: incense, lighting of the lamps, processions, movement – short and dramatic. Like many other people I implemented this in both my first two parishes and in other situations since. While people did come neither form has endured beyond my leaving.
I have always been struck by this important quotation from the great liturgist Robert Taft:
In his The Liturgy of the Hours in East and West:
“To its great merit the Anglican communion alone of all Western Christian Churches has preserved, to some extent at least, the daily services of morning prayer and evensong as a living part of parish worship.”
In recent years I have been challenged by colleagues, particularly younger colleagues, making use of the Office in the Book of Common Prayer. The phenomenon of our cathedrals attracting growing numbers to the Office is also an important factor.
It is well over a year now since I last wrote about my own manner of praying the Daily Office which has been in transition for the last couple of years. That most recent post (November 2018) is available here.
Many friends have asked me to produce simple material to sing the Prayer Book Office and I did so here. Thank you to everyone who has responded to that.
Since I was working on that material and it is impossible to spot errors without using it I began doing so on the Monday after the Baptism of the Lord. Together with the 1922 lectionary for the Office which I write about here. So, for the sake of those interested, this is my current pattern. I add the times in only because time is often given as a reason for not being able to say the Office and it is important to see how it fits into a working day. I realise this new pattern is just that and will keep readers informed!:
Prayer Book Matins with the 1922 lectionary, as in the booklet here. Prayer Book cycle of psalms. Office Hymns from English Hymnal. Intercessions following the third Collect, but more intercessions at the Eucharist and Evensong than here for time reasons.
Eucharist as described here. With the one year cycle readings as in the BCP, using Proper and Common readings for saints fairly often, and from a variety of translations over a week.
Prime with martyrology.
I can do all this by 6:30 on a working day. On other days I allow a more leisurely approach and will normally celebrate the Eucharist either after Sext or before Evensong, or when there are guests, on Saturday morning rather later, before breakfast.
At convenient moments at 9-ish, noon-ish and 3-ish and omitted if these don’t happen:
Terce, Sext and None: as in the booklet with reading from Prime and Hours and only the simple V and R in the booklet.
Prayer Book Evensong with the 1922 lectionary.
After dinner: Compline
I prefer to sing Compline as a sort of after dinner prayer rather than later just before bed. My ideal bed time is 9, but work and being sociable take over very often. With a bit of book reading (no phone or iPad) that means I get about 7 to 7.5 hours sleep a night. If I have had a day of heavy driving or a late night I sleep later.
One of the things that was part of my previous thinking about liturgy was the structure and purpose of the Office. Anglican forms of the Office are often criticised for being too didactic, not enough about praise. I wonder if that is too tight a division? Reading Scripture as part of our worship is not just about us learning, it is also about us praising God for his works. It is in itself a form of praise, of relationship. In families we all feel valued and loved when family members tell those endless stories about how we were as children and I love teasing my nephews with accounts and photographs of their childhoods.
In terms of structure I suspect that the only person who ever appreciated the subtlety of the structures of the ‘people’s offices’ that I have designed in the past was me. I don’t think many people really were thinking ‘oh the Magnificat, the climax of the Office!’ The Anglican structures work really well, they have endured, they have a simplicity that anyone can get hold of and understand, feel at home in, and familiar with. All of this contributes to a contemplative spirit to the Office which might actually be more what people need than a strong experience.
The place of intercession after the formal part of the office (the third Collect) in Anglican Offices is also interesting and works really well. People feel very comfortable with it and it is a good way to end the formal, public prayer.
I would be interested to hear from anyone who uses the Prayer Book structure but with modern language texts. I wonder how much the success of the structure is based on the solidity and beauty of the Prayer Book texts?
I travel a good deal and often find myself praying the Office in Cathedrals, churches, vicarages, curates-houses around the country. Common Worship Daily Prayer is excellent in so many ways but it is complicated. Wherever I go and the Prayer Book Office is being prayed there is a familiarity, a lack of announcements that allow people even very unfamiliar with the Office to feel at home.
The language of the Prayer Book is also interesting, I am particularly fascinated by its adoption by the young and those who were not brought up with it. It has a depth and a continuity that strangely make it more accessible than modern language for many people. It also allows people to share in it without yet believing it. Just as at Taizé young people can approach the intense life of the community to the extent that they choose to, so the intensity of the Prayer Book is actually more inclusive not less, than more contemporary language.
For anyone wanting an app with the BCP Office and 1922 lectionary readings see the very good iPray. It would be good if Aimer and Church House Publishing would add the 1922 readings to the otherwise excellent Daily Prayer app
Working as a Spiritual Director is one of the greatest joys of my life. Mainly because I learn and gain so much from it. If I am ever tempted to worry about the future of the church a session with one of the ordinands or newer clergy (some young and some not so young) I see is the antidote. I am constantly challenged, impressed and humbled by the seriousness of faith and commitment my sisters and brothers show.
I am particularly challenged by the lives of evangelical friends inside and beyond the Church of England. Their commitment to mission. The ability to see what is essential – and what is not. The commitment to the poorest. The sacrificial living. The commitment of couples and families. The openness to me with my very different background and tradition. The yearning for contemplative stillness.
I could go on.
One area that I have written about before is the desire to read the bible carefully and frequently. Particularly to read the whole bible each year. there are many such schemes for doing this, some available as apps or in other electronic/virtual ways.
This interests me because it matches my changing thinking on education. Like many teachers educated in the 1980s and earlier and later. Progressive methods, discovery learning, novelty and grabbing the interest of pupils were at the forefront of our methods. Like many others I have more recently come to the view that memory is the basic building block of learning, and indeed of human culture and existence. Therefore repetition, memorisation, learning things by heart, is essential to the educational process and to mission and evangelism.
I am now firmly of the view that the post-Vatican 2 lectionaries for daily prayer and Sunday services adopted both by the Church of England and other churches are part of the problem not the solution.
The lectionaries we are now using demand a three year cycle for Sundays and a two year cycle for weekdays. This is too long period to enable them to become familiar. With many people attending church fortnightly or less on Sundays this is even more a problem now than it was in the rather recent past.
The new lectionaries also cut us off from our spiritual ancestors, from the commentaries and preaching of the centuries and from a sense of belonging.
It is not a surprise to me that among the young committed to liturgical worship there is a ‘return to tradition’ in the use of the Prayer Book lectionary for readings at the Eucharist, and in the one year 1922 lectionary for the daily Office. This matches exactly the desire of non-liturgical younger clergy and others for simplicity in patterns of reading Scripture and frequent use of well know readings for congregational preaching and teaching.
Last year I used the 1662 one year lectionary for the daily Office. I had a couple of periods when I fell back on other patterns while I was travelling, and when praying with others didn’t impose this on anyone, but for most of the year I managed this. Using Common Worship Daily Prayer as the form of the Office and various modern versions of Scripture for the readings.
It was a fascinating experience. Some days it did seem that there was a lot of Scripture and if I missed sections because I was praying with others it was impossible to catch up by adding readings on at the Office – but I could easily read them to myself. When people were staying with me they occasionally commented on the length of readings. Sometime where passages were omitted there seemed to be big gaps. Not having a word-processor Cranmer and his editors generally went for whole chapters.
I liked having much more lectio continua, less interruption from saints’ days. Using the secular calendar rather than the church’s year at times felt odd and this is the main reason I am now recommending the 1922 lectionary.
To use officially approved lectionaries members of the Church of England have three choices at the Office. The CW provision and the 1922, and 1871 provisions.(thank you to Fr Liam Beadle for reminding me that 1871 is still authorised). The CW lectionary is actually a four year cycle. It is relatively complicated, involves many omissions and shortenings and a lot of jumping around Scripture. Where there is lectio continua it is over a 24 hour period, so at Matins, but not across Matins to Evensong.
The 1922 lectionary was adapted slightly to form a 1961 version but this is no longer authorised for use, although it does still appear as an alternative in the ‘Church Union’ Ordo produced by Fr Hunwicke. It re-arranges what had been an attempt at harmonisation of the gospel accounts for parts of the year in 1922 and opts for lectio continua at those times. It is probably an improvement but the harmonisation is interesting.
The original 1922 lectionary is available on the Church of England website here.
For ease of use I have also produced a PDF booklet here:
A big advantage for me is that the first readings from the Old Testament flow from Morning to Evening. This means that for any day commentaries and study is only needed of one OT book, the gospel and the non-gospel reading from the New Testament. I think that is a much more approachable task.
For those who wish there are often copies of lectionaries with the readings in full available second hand. They are sometimes called “Daily Service Book” or “Services of the Church” or simply BCP and lectionary. The Canterbury Press produced a re-print relatively recently.
The 1922 lectionary also preserves many traditional elements of the Christian reading of Scripture. Fr Hunwicke on his blog observes of the 1922 lectionary:
Its ‘Common Worship’ replacement is unbelievably complex and convoluted and, following the Bugnini abandonment of the ‘gesimas’, can make no attempt to start Genesis with Septuagesima. But the 1922/1928/1961 Lectionary … bases itself patristically on what Pope Gregory the Great devised and explained about the meaning of his ‘Gesima’ season. It then uses the ‘lectio continua’ instinct and provides a systematic reading-through of most of the Bible each year (the New Testament, twice a year). This embodies, of course, an aim which the Anglican Patrimony owes to the Reformation period (together with the entire structure of the Anglican Divine Office): the principle that clergy and laity together should “read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest” the Scriptures.
Alongside the use of this lectionary I would firmly recommend the use of the Prayer Book distribution of the psalms over one month (given in very slightly adapted form as an option in Common Worship. Any longer than a month makes it much harder if not impossible to learn the psalms. Reading the psalms in the order in which the final biblical author placed them takes that canonical structure seriously, just as scholarship has moved on from genre criticism to canonical criticism of the Psalter. A longer provision of psalmody also creates a more contemplative approach to the Office, giving time to sink into the psalms and let go of our own thoughts and obsessions. Psalmody needs to be long enough to get us through our own ‘squirming point’. Incidentally using the biblical order on a practical level it makes it far easier to work through commentaries on the book of psalms at the prayer desk where the Office is prayed. I particularly recommend the Reflections on the Psalms produced by Church House Publishing and as an app by Aimer. They are sufficiently short that they can be used for meditation in silences between the psalms at the Office. John Eaton’s commentary on the Psalms is also essential reading.
For Sundays I have written before (in the Church Times in August 2019) on the younger clergy re-introducing the Prayer Book one-year series of readings at the Sunday Eucharist. The Church of England website provide an important document suggesting Old Testament lessons and psalms to accompany the traditional lectionary. I am very concerned about the lack of use of psalmody in most parishes, if it is felt that three readings and a psalm is too much then I would recommend the psalm over the OT reading.
There are many wonderful commentaries and sermons from across the Christian centuries to help the preacher prepare and the pastor to pray. I particularly value Bishop Wand’s three-volumes on the Prayer Book Epistles and Gospels (and indeed Collects), Austin Farrer’s sermons and most beautiful of all the four volume “The Sunday Sermons of the Great Fathers – Patristic Homilies on the Gospels” which take me at least a week to read on each gospel and provide a lifetime’s meditation.
Finally, for many Catholic Anglicans there is a really important (and I would say essential to the health of the catholic stream) desire to celebrate the Eucharist daily. I would recommend returning to the pattern prior to the late 1960s of repeating the Sunday readings on ordinary days but using the readings for the Propers and Common of Saints whenever a saint’s day occurs. This gives ample opportunity for repeating the readings and getting to know both the Sunday and common and proper provision well. Far from finding this boring (I have been doing this for a year now) it is much more deeply enriching than constant variety. To be faithful to the Anglican tradition of four Office readings a day to have two novel readings at Mass in addition, six readings a day is just too much I believe, for anyone to take in. I use a variety of translations over a week, BCP, RSV, NEB and Phillips, all of which are available second hand.
This post really re-hashes material that I have been saying, perhaps somewhat more tentatively, for a while now. I would be interested in hearing from parishes where the one-year cycle is used, either as a recent change or for many years. I would be particularly interested in places where modern language and children’s resources are used to accompany the cycle of readings. I would be very happy to publish here resources for use of these lectionaries. Using these cycles need not be a wholesale archaeological approach to tradition and liturgy but part of a simple, straightforward approach to the reading of Scripture accessible to anyone without a degree in liturgy and based on the best current understanding of how we learn, and how the human brain works.
Writing and talking about liturgy can sometimes seem like re-arranging the deckchairs on the Titanic. Irrelevant to the missional crisis the church faces in the the UK and elsewhere. On the contrary, I have been brought to change my mind about these issues because of my own fundamental drive to mission and evangelism, my lifetime’s work with children and young people and my conversations with those in and beyond Anglicanism who are totally committed to mission in our time and for whom many of the approaches of my own younger days seem rightly obsolete.
Thank you so much to everyone who has contacted me on this post. I am attaching just below this update notice a somewhat updated version of the booklet, as requested I have added the Litany and the Athanasian Creed, as well as giving guidance on the use of the Te Deum and Benedicite and adding a further range of antiphons and tones for the Benedicite. I have removed the longer Prayer Book version of the Benedicite with its repetition of the praise line after every verse and left in the form from 1928 based on the Latin Office. I have been asked to write a further update on my own praying of the Office and will do so as soon as possible.
Thank you to everyone who has downloaded the booklets below and responded to this post. The response has been enormous. Which is, as I say in the post, very encouraging. I have now added a version 2 of the booklet below incorporating a number of changes that readers have suggested:
the Te Deum is provided pointed for the traditional plainsong tones
I have added a set of plainsong tones, one in each mode, so that the booklet can be used without a tone chart (the simplest possible ending for each mode)
I have re-arranged the material so that the Matins and Evensong material is still conflated into one; the Little Hours follow, and Compline last of all
there are some corrections of typos and a few layout changes
Several people have asked how this booklet fits with the SSH Office Book. What is provided here is much more simple, deliberately, and also much less comprehensive. This booklet could be used with SSHOB to provide a similar form of the Ordinary.
A surprisingly (to some perhaps) large number of my younger clergy friends and colleagues pray the Daily Office using the Book of Common Prayer. Usually with the Common Worship or 1922 lectionaries. I think this is very encouraging. The Prayer Book Office is the most successful ‘people’s office’ in Christian history. It is still attracting thousands in our cathedrals and has an elegance and simplicity that is easily accessible.
From an educational point of view a month is about the longest that I believe should be given to the recitation of the whole psalter if it is to be embedded in the memory. It is good to know that so many young priests are finding this a satisfying structure for prayer. I am certain that it will be the foundation for the well-being and the resilience needed for a lifetime of ministry.
This post is a response to the many requests for resources or information on material to sing the Prayer Book Office. This is also terrifically encouraging. When we sing we use a different part of our brains to a simple recitation, it refreshes and relaxes, reaching parts that reading aloud does not! There are many resources available, often to be found second hand for singing the Office to the traditional plainsong. The Manual of Plainsong points all the psalms and canticles and gives the opening and concluding sections set to simple music. The traditional plainsong psalm tones are easy to fix in the mind and whether alone or in a small group work well. The St Stephen’s House Office Book is a recent addition which adds antiphons to the Gospel Canticles and Office Hymns, all with music. The psalm text used in that is the Revised Psalter, a light revision of Coverdale’s psalms in the Prayer Book. The music is accurate to the tradition but that means that some of the hymn melodies and antiphon settings are quite complex.
To use those antiphons a pointed psalter (The Sarum Psalter is occasionally available second-hand) or simpler, modern modal tones will be needed. Relatively simple antiphons for the Benedictus and Magnificat for the whole year are available as a PDF below. And the Magnificat set to the eight modes is also provided.
The final booklet is my attempt to provide some very simple music to sing the Office to based on the material I have assembled for Common Worship Daily Prayer. Much of that material could be used to provide seasonal and proper material for the Office and although purists may object I have provided a modern text Te Deum alongside the Prayer Book version. A seven-fold Office is provided for. Readings for the Little Hours could be taken from books such as Prime and Hours or simply a sentence or two from the day’s lectionary readings used as a reminder or ‘memory sentence’. Hymns for Prayer and Praise is the best modern collection of Office Hymns available and the English Hymnal (not the New English Hymnal) provides the best traditional Office hymnal. I recommend the modern position of the hymns after the Venite at Matins and immediately after the opening verses at Evensong. A simple set of tones to sing the psalms to in the eight modes is also given.
Modern chants are given for the canticles, which are not pointed but are set out to sing to these. The Gospel canticles are also pointed for the traditional plainsong tones. This is in the manner used by CSMV at Wantage placing small numbers for each tone above the syllable where the reciting note is left. A chart with the traditional tones will be needed. (Here).
If these resources are helpful to you in your praying please spare a prayer for me.
How to Sit With God – A Practical Guide to Silent Prayer
Tr Kieran J. O’ Mahony
Jack is twenty-nine, he has been married for seven years and has two children under five. He and his wife both graduated with very good degrees from one of the UK’s best universities. They married that same year and moved to the northern town where they now live and work in full-time ministry for a ‘non-denominational church’.
Jack and his wife are fictionalised versions of many individuals and couples I have come to know in recent years. Their friends have high powered jobs in the City, Civil service or industry. But they became involved in large evangelical churches while at university, took part in summer activities and placements in various parts of the country. They have heard and responded to God calling them to ministry in places they would never have been to otherwise.
I am almost overwhelmed with awe when I see the sacrifice that couples and individuals like this have made. This is taking the option for the poor seriously.
It is not easy in so many ways. The energy and enthusiasm of a large church full of committed young people makes it easy to sustain faith, to feel confident and buoyed up. But the realities of life in places where there are no or few young people at church; where the levels of neediness, mental health issues and all the associated factors of poverty are the dominant reality can eat away at that.
Conferences, visits to and from friends, inspiring podcasts can all help. However, moments of spiritual renewal and refreshment can sometimes make the thirst seem greater at other times.
That’s the question Jack came to me with having followed me on Twitter. How can I sustain my prayer, my relationship with Jesus in the daily grind, the relentless cycle of family, children, pastoral work, ministry?
Like many others, Jack’s family are experimenting with forms of daily prayer. They bought Northumbria Community Office books, and tried other online materials – but found them unsatisfying.
Jack feels a need for silence – not just as an escape from family life! – but in his prayer.
I made two suggestions. For daily prayer just reading Scripture as it is. Beginning with psalmody, as much or as little as wanted at each sitting, and then readings from a ‘bible in a year’ plan.
My other suggestion was around finding some time every day for contemplative practice. Sitting still with God.
I wish I had found Jean-Marie Gueullette’s book How To Sit With God, when I first met Jack. Gueullette is a French Dominican priest teaching at the University of Lyon. I know nothing more about him. His book is an excellent introduction to Christian contemplative prayer. It is wise, unpretentious and practical. I have already bought multiple copies to share.
As I read How To Sit With God, I marked with a pencil important passages and quotations. My copy is very heavily underlined throughout. This is a rich source of teaching. Gueullette begins by showing how the prayer he is suggesting is the simplest possible form of prayer. This simplicity will have a strong appeal to those who are looking for an un-churchy, un-adorned gospel. Jesus in the raw.
Perhaps even more attractive to those formed by conservative evangelicalism will be Gueullette’s emphasis on faith as the fundamental requirement for contemplative prayer. In this short (176 page) book he goes on to describe how to do this prayer and places it within the context of struggle and discipline There is no pretence that this will be easy. He shows how it is one way of praying among others and finally gives an overview of the place of this prayer in Christian history.
It is this final section of the book that is weakest for the purposes for which I want to use it. here, Gueullette is writing very much from his tradition and nation. After the early centuries of Christian history is exclusively Roman Catholic and heavily weighted to France, with sections on Francis de Sales and the seventeenth century French spiritual tradition. That said the English mystics get surprisingly strong treatment in the main text of the book. In particular the Cloud of Unknowing; the source of English Benedictine spirituality (in the English Benedictine Congregation), Augustine Baker, and in its twentieth century flowering in the spiritual letters of Dom John Chapman of Downside. Although as Gueullette points out Baker lived in northern France for significant parts of his adult life and so might well be said to represent, partially at least, French spirituality.
My only other criticism of this book is Gueullette’s reference point in those Christians who have sought, and discovered, a practice of silence and stillness in the traditions of the Far East. I agree with everything he says about the need to be aware of the religious beliefs that underpin some of the practices, making them unsuitable for Christians. However, he never refers to the secular practices of mindfulness that are not rooted in an alien metaphysic. It may be simply a refection of his context in French Catholicism. Again, for my purposes this material is not useful. Most of the people I work with have not investigated Far Eastern traditions but come from evangelical Protestant traditions.
Gueullette presents the method of prayer he is describing simply and beautifully. Quite simply:
It consists of saying a word inwardly while sitting calmly.
Gueullette suggests words such as: Father, Abba, Jesus, Lord, God, Kyrie Eleison, Adonai. Fundamental to his teaching is that the word
… must be a name for God, not an idea about God or a description of God such as ‘love’ or ‘goodness’.
Throughout the book Gueullette stresses that this is a practice for a lifetime, and will bear fruit over many years. He distinguishes the practice from that of repeating a phrase or verse of the psalms or other parts of Scripture through the course of the day (as suggested by John Cassian).
Twenty five minutes a day is the time suggested for silence. Interestingly Gueullette suggests staying faithful to that amount of prayer even when the desire to sit for longer comes. For him it is important to be free of ‘feelings’ as the driver of prayer.
To those who think rules like this rob us of spontaneity he is clear that this practice is principally about faithfulness and discipline:
Faithfulness calls for a certain discipline, which today can appear contrary to authenticity or spontaneity. yet we are ready to accept it when it comes to dieting or keeping fit! In the case of physical exercise, as in the spiritual life, one can only progress at the cost of daily effort. It is not the extraordinary experience that make the life of prayer, but the humble fidelity to it every day, lived over many years.
Very few books on prayer are helpful on posture. This is extremely unfortunate because it is so important. When I began my first degree, in World Religions, I remember arriving at Buddhist monasteries, Mosques, Hindu Mandirs, Sikh temples and almost the first thing were told was how to sit, what posture to adopt. More than that, detailed instruction would be given on prayer and meditation at the very outset.
Gueullette knows what he is talking about when it comes to posture. He is clear on the role of the spine and pelvis and in using the abdomen (the diaphragm) for breathing.
It is mainly the spine that helps us stay awake: without being tense or stiff it stands, resting on the pelvis, supported by our breathing.
There are good descriptions of using prayer stools and meditation cushions with the lotus, half-lotus or sitting positions. Whatever posture is adopted the author is clear that it is sitting that is essential, and he quotes another English mystic, Richard Rolle:
It is the quiet sitting that makes the soul wise.
At the heart of sitting still is an activity we are engaged in as long as we are alive. Breathing. In this fascinating lecture at St Vladimir’s Seminary Bishop Alexander of the Orthodox Church in America shows how the roots of using the breath in prayer have textual evidence as early as the 5th to the 6th centuries. Again How To Sit With God gets this exactly right. Breath is not something for the author, that requires too much attention, but is significant. The ‘letting go’ that is the end of the out breath is particularly significant. If we think at all about breathing we tend to think of it as something that requires equal effort on the out and in breath but in fact once the contraction of the ribs that is the out-breath has reached its limit the air naturally fills the lungs again:
We do not need to look for air, we just have to empty the air inside us. … You just have to let go, to stop exhaling so that breathing in takes place spontaneously.
Theology of Sitting Still
Gueullette carefully addresses the apparent contradiction between faith and works in his explanation of this method of prayer. For him God’s action is paramount. His key conversation partner is, not surprisingly Augustine. Fundamental to his view is that:
The methods under discussion here act upon us and not upon God.
The one who prays does not seek to feel the presence of God, but rather is called upon to believe it.
One of the key issues facing anybody who tries to sit still and be with God, or even follow the breath in Mindfulness practice is thoughts. What are often called ‘distractions’. Gueullette helpfully quotes Abbot Chapman at length:
We want to use our will to ‘want God’, and not to keep our thoughts in order. We want to be ‘wanting God’, and detached from everything else. hence we want to let our thoughts run about by themselves … and not to control them; in order that our will may turn wholly to God. the result is naturally that, while our will is making its intense (but also imperceptible) act of love, our imagination is running about by itself, just a sir does in a dream; so that we seem to be full of distractions, and not praying at all. But this is contrary of the fact. The distractions, which are so vivid to us, are not voluntary actions, and have no importance; whereas the voluntary action we are performing is the wanting God …
(quoted on page 60)
For busy people
If you lead a very active lifestyle and feel there are never enough hours in the day, you are the ideal candidate for silent prayer.
Gueullette is clear that like breathing, thinking is what we do when we are alive, it is:
the signs of cerebral activity and it is not really helpful to dream of a time when the brain would no longer function.
Gueullette suggests ways in which this form of prayer will change our lives. Getting up earlier. Watching less television. Creating a place for prayer at home. Silent prayer will have ethical consequences in our lives.
Silent prayer is then a fight at every moment, where, each time the name is repeated, it is necessary to take oneself again in hand and to bring oneself back in the presence of God.
I understand the author’s (or translator’s) use of ‘struggle’ to describe this prayer, however, I am not entirely sure it is the most helpful image. “while the struggle is real, it is at the same time delightful” he says. Which seems to capture the balance better. I prefer to think of this as a serious business, a work. And like all hard work it is deeply satisfying; often most when most difficult.
It is always different after silence
Some time in 2013 a large group of headteachers came to visit Trinity, the school where I was Head in Lewisham. We had been practising Mindfulness as a school for three years. One of the places we used silence most effectively was in the Restorative Meetings that replaced sanctions on poor behaviour. One Year 11 (15-16 year old) pupils was describing this to the group and how when things became stuck in those meetings often someone suggests a time of Mindfulness using a five minute sand timer: “It is always,” she said, “different after the silence.”
Silence changes things. More importantly silence changes us. It make us more loving, more able to be attentive to others, to children, partners, those we minister to and with. As Gueullette so clearly shows silence isn’t the only way of prayer. It need not replace other forms of prayer and worship but take place alongside them in our lives.
Jack has been practising silent prayer in this way for almost 18 months now, “It has changed my life,” he says. It is always different after silence.
In the last fifteen years or so I’ve enjoyed working with Christians from Pentecostal churches and introducing them to elements of my own tradition that are new to them, just as they have challenged and encouraged me in my understanding and experience of the faith. Among the greatest gifts I have received from them is the gift of fasting as a serious discipline of prayer. I wrote about this on my previous blog and will move that post to this blog in due course: for now, it is here.
One of the elements in my own practice that I am often asked about is retreats. Where should I go? What do you do?
Below is a a long piece in three parts. In the first I make some observations about retreats. It is not a “How To” guide to retreats, jut some random thoughts I have had while being on retreat this week (the week of Advent 3, 2019). The second part is a rambling, stream of consciousness note-book of this retreat. I have been making retreats since I was fifteen. For many of the retreats I’ve made I have kept a notebook. I have twenty-seven of them, some more complete than others. They are not really journals, often consisting of not much more than a series of quotes on whatever I have been reading or reflecting on. I’m not sure they show much ‘progress’ as such but they do show change. They are very useful sources of quotes, thoughts and research over the years.
I am not expecting anyone to read every word of the notebook below. Scan it and it will give you the pattern of what I do and the way I keep a notebook. I have edited for publication, omitting some of the self-reflection on my life at the moment and my experiences in prayer as well as mentions of the living. Occasionally I have added rather more explanation than I would for myself.
I decided that the best way to answer “What do you do on retreat?” is the format here, a sort of timetable with notes. I realise that I probably learned this style from the journals of Thomas Merton, of which this is a pale imitation.
I have removed references to intercessory prayer although that is a big part of what I do on retreat. The formal prayer elements of the retreat (Office, Mass, Meditation, Rosary, lectio) should be understood within the opportunity this intense Christian living gives for spontaneous praise and, especially important for me, expressing this in tongues. This is an important part of retreat for me. The opportunity retreat provides to pay attention more closely is always a spark for praise.
I read a lot in an ordinary week so a retreat is a chance to read intensely too. Often I have picked a book (part of the Philokalia, Camus’ The Rebel, Julian of Norwich, The Imitation Of Christ, Wesley’s Hymns, The Rule of the Jerusalem Community, Herbert’s poetry, have all been topics in the past). Sometimes I choose a biblical book, Romans, Revelation, the Gospel of John, the Psalms have all been retreat topics.
This year has been Isaiah – all 66 chapters. But the length hasn’t seemed to matter using Robert Alter’s beautiful translation, Hebrew Scriptures (an essential translation). On retreat I have read multiple chapters in place of the lectionary readings at each Office and used in-between time for study.
I also generally have a fiction book on the go for reading just before sleep. Oh, and the ever present in my life: poetry.
“It is quite cogent how psalms in choir, how prophecy and gospel, how all great poetry, nurtures prayer; equally cogent are prayer and poetry. They can do without one another, and often do, but not as well. Like kissing cousins, you have to keep them apart sometimes or they will get to scrapping, get in each other’s way, get to too much kissing.”
Paul Quenon (In Praise of the Useless Life)
That is, I realise, quite a lot of words. I try and make sure that my retreat reading is not new, first-time, reading, but going deeper with stuff I have read previously. I didn’t quite manage that this year with some of the commentary on Isaiah but, of course, Isaiah is not new to me!
Please don’t read anything here (apart from one or two comments, notably on alcohol) as my saying this is how you should do your retreat. It’s how I do it, some of the ideas might work for you some not.
Finally, I end with a section of photographs of the books I have used on Isaiah for those who are interested.
There are various ‘retreat houses’, generally these are best for led retreats where there will be talks each day and a set fee. I have enjoyed leading this style of retreat very much but I prefer a bit more solitude when I am on retreat.
Most of my retreats have been made at monasteries of one sort or another. Most have guest houses. It is good to have worship going on to join in with. Some guest houses are pretty sociable places so that they may not suit everyone.
I have made my retreat at the Shrine of Walsingham four times. Always off season in November. It actually works quite well. Meals will involve talking in the refectory and some other chatting around the place, the Bull has to be resisted but the accommodation is good, there are plenty of walks nearby and a pattern of worship to join in with.
Borrowing, or if you have the money, renting a cottage somewhere is another option. I quite like self-catering, a balance to the reading, and being in the middle of nowhere. I’ve done this a few times as well and it has worked.
– Monastery of the Holy Trinity at Crawley Down
This is where I have made most retreats although with a. gap of a few years at one stage. There is a guest wing with shared bathrooms that works well although the walls are paper thin so chanting or praying out loud wouldn’t go down well. The community’s worship has Orthodox influences and is very prayerful, there are very many walks in the neighbourhood. They also have hermitages in the woods which are perfect in every way. As described below.
As I write I am staying in one of the three hermitages at the Monastery of the Holy Trinity, Crawley Down in West Sussex. I have been visiting the monastery since I was eighteen. Usually staying in the guest wing but occasionally in one of these hermitages in the woods. They are self-contained with a little kitchen, shower room and one room with a bed for everything else. They overlook the largest of the ponds in these woods, created for the iron smelting works that was here in the sixteenth century. Now the only disturbances in the woods are the dog walkers from the nearby housing estates.
Food is provided for residents of the hermitages in Red Riding Hood style baskets just before lunch each day. A hot lunch and enough food for an evening meal and breakfast.
I am self-catering, mainly because I am trying to sort out some food allergies that have been bothering me for the last few weeks. But it has the advantage of allowing fasting without fuss.
The monastic community, the Community of the Servants of the Will of God, pray Vigils, Lauds, Eucharist, Sext, Vespers each day and shared Jesus Prayer several evenings a week. Sometimes I join them for some or all of that. This time I am doing my own thing liturgically.
Some people make retreats at home. Sometimes there is no choice. I don’t think it is as ideal as being away from home but there could be ways of turning off the phone and internet and making space.
When / how long?
The pressure to cut away a retreat time is enormous. I really think six or more days are needed. But just before I came away I was persuaded to do Sunday cover on what had been due to be the last day of my retreat. It is hard. Even more so for those with families and children. Obviously any time, even a few hours or one day is better than nothing, but generally I think the longer the better. There is a rhythm to a week or more that doesn’t seem to work for shorter periods. That rhythm includes a squirming point when I wonder why I am wasting my time and just want to go home.
Some writers on retreats suggest that only the Bible, or a single devotional book should be allowed. Catherine de Hueck Doherty, author of the brilliant Poustinia, is a great advocate of this approach. But I am a disciple of Thomas Merton. Reading his journals it is hard to imagine him without a pile of books. Perhaps this love of books stems from the Benedictine influence on my teenage years.
A little like my changing ideas about education I think the more content-rich retreats have borne more fruit than the more ‘sit and do nothing’ retreats. Anyway, even with a lot of reading there is still plenty of time for sitting and being still (see notes on times below).
I am, however, increasingly cautious about all the reading so many of us do in the great mystics as if we are going to achieve such heights or depths. Better that we spend as much time digesting the words of Scripture and leave spiritual experiences for God to decide. Pursuing such experiences is certainly very much against the tradition. Even contemplative prayer is a gift from God, a grace, for Christians. Not a technique to be developed. The New Testament is full of the wonderful gifts of the Spirit that we can expect to receive in prayer and as a normal part of our Christian lives. The ‘dark night of the soul’, is not something we should seek and is very different to the ordinary sadnesses, depressions and low moods of everybody’s life.
It won’t always be possible to fast on retreat, probably only if you are self-catering. I have written about the importance of fasting before. For the Bible fasting and prayer are almost inseparable. If you can fast for part of the time on retreat it really is worth trying. This year (see below) I did two one day total fasts. I think it really changes and intensifies the experience of prayer and creates a certain spaciousness, as well as time. It adds to the sense of seriousness and that this is not a holiday.
“August 14, 1967. Vigil of the Assumption Said Mass quietly at the hermitage and fasted in the morning. (In the evening made too much rice and creole and am weighted down with it.”
“Fasting clears the head and lessens the angustia, also brings order into one’s life.”
Sleep deprivation is never a good idea. I need seven hours sleep a night, with, ideally one lie-in (9-10 hours) a week. I normally get this on a Saturday, so leave Morning Prayer, often even til after breakfast. On Saturdays I only pray one day-time Hour.
I usually get up at 5am so need to be in bed by 9:30 for sleep at 10 to get my full quota. On retreat this week I am getting up at 3:30 and aiming to get to bed at 8.
The reason I am doing that is the quality of time in the early hours and my energy in it. If I stayed up later in the evening instead it would be an extended preparation for sleep, my energy would be low. In the morning my energy is higher, there is a feeling of a whole day beginning, of movement into light that makes the prayer and quiet powerful. I was so excited for that on the first morning this week like a child on Christmas Day I was awake by 2:20.
While I am here I am also getting a nap in the afternoon, just 30 minutes or so gives me extra sleep.
“February 7, 1966. F[east] of St. Romuald I don’t know what happens to time in the hermitage. Three and four hours in the pre-dawn go by like half an hour. Reading, meditation, a few notes, some coffee and toast–there is not much to show for it, but it is probably the most fruitful part of the day.”
There is a scene in the TV series Rev where the hero goes on retreat. I don’t remember the details, but there is a priest-friend with him and I think they both open their cases to reveal the bottle of gin or whiskey they have with them. For many of us what makes this funny is its truth. In the guest wing of the very monastery I am writing in I have drunk the pre-mixed gin and tonics another priest guest had brought with him.
I find that even two glasses of alcohol interfere with my prayer – I can tell the difference and, as Herbert says and I have so often ignored, “take not the third glass.”
If we can’t do without alcohol on retreat we have to ask ourselves some serious questions.
I take a break from Twitter and Facebook on retreat. But I do phone home daily and check texts and FB Messenger. This week I have heard two pieces of bad news which have been a cause for intercession, I am glad I heard them when I did. The internet has aided my study of Isaiah. It’s a tool. The test for me is to the extent that something enhances my prayer, or lessens the peace of my prayer.
Retreats are not …
Read Chaucer. I don’t think I have always got this right myself. I was looking at the pack for a pilgrimage I led from StAndrew, Earlsfield a few years ago. It is pretty full on liturgically. I wouldn’t put so much into a pilgrimage now. A pilgrimage is a social occasion and there should be plenty of time and space for that.
When we started our Sodality we called our annual three-day get together a retreat. We are now calling it our Annual Residential. If there is an intention to socialise, build community, talk, it is probably not really a retreat but a Spiritual Conference.
– Holidays / Time off
I often hear people say they need a retreat because they need rest. Only you can decide how much rest you need. But I would offer a challenge. That rest should be built into our weekly, monthly and yearly patterns separate to retreat time. The weekly sabbath rest is an important biblical principle. Holidays should not be missed. If you are so exhausted that you are desperate for rest probably time off is needed not a retreat. I would draw a subtle difference where there is spiritual exhaustion and renewal of the spirit is needed not total rest. Of course, if you need rest and genuinely the only way you are going to get it is to call it a retreat, then do so.
In the Notebook section below I refer to ‘Meditation’. I don’t especially like this word, or even ‘Mindfulness’ (despite spending much of my life teaching it). They both sound too much like a method, a technique.
In this time, I just sit. I sit in the lotus or half-lotus position on a zafu (meditation cushion) because it is the most stable posture I know. I can easily sit like this for 45 minutes and on retreat with massaging of my legs for an hour or more. The posture gives it a sort of intentionality, energy; it is not just sitting doing nothing. I like the Japanese term shikantaza “just sitting”, to describe this “methodless method”. As I sit, the breathing naturally deepens but the breath is not the object. Neither is God, as if he is to be sought. He is present. What he chooses to do or not do is his business, not mine. I offer him this time as free gift.
“I am inclined to think that the more a thing is a “practice,” the less it is a prayer. You cannot do without practice, of course, but the better you get at it the more you forget practice and go beyond.”
I also sit on the zafu for the Office, but use a prayer stool for the Eucharist and Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, this enables me to prostrate more easily. When using the Jesus Prayer I sometimes stand and bow deeply to touch the floor at each invocation and prostrate with my forehead on the ground every 25 invocations. That helps my energy levels and keeps my body loose when I have been sitting for a long time. I often pray the Rosary while walking.
So all of this is quite a physical business!
Well, I have probably put you off completely if you are new to this. If this all seems too much like hard work, I suppose yes, I am saying this is hard work. Paul Quenon, monk of Gethsemane in his brilliant book, In Praise of the Useless Life (quoted often here, as also his collections of poetry) comments on his following of the Rule of Saint Benedict:
“I follow—or stumble along—the “Benedictine way,” which approaches life mostly in terms of prayer, work, and reading. To follow all three of these essential principles to the fullest is real work, and indeed at times a hard battle! Key phrases found in the Rule of St. Benedict are “the labor of obedience,” “the strong, bright weapons of obedience,” “the instruments of good works.” It is only when the work of obedience is advanced and matured that we “run the way of God’s commandments in the unspeakable sweetness of God’s love.”
But he also goes on to talk about the ‘Holy Game’ and the element of play. I often say that liturgy, worship, is a rehearsal for the way God wants the world to be. A retreat is a bit like that too. It is liturgical time. God’s playground for us. Hard work can, of course, be relaxing and rewarding. I have ended this week’s retreat invigorated and energised. Making a good retreat, like doing anything ‘well’ can be deeply satisfying and very far from exhausting
Not Just for Clergy
While working with the leaders of the Anglican Religious Communities earlier this year I had an interesting conversation with the Abbot of Mucknell about the many guests they welcome there. 95%, he said, are clergy. And this is a complete reversal to the situation twenty years ago. I checked with other community leaders where there are significant guest facilitates. They all confirmed that the vast majority of guests are now clergy. There may, of course, be many explanations for this. The pressures of work. People being too busy to visit for weekends. But I wonder if those of us who preach and teach do so about retreats often enough?
ADVENT RETREAT 2019
“In the hermitage, one must pray or go to seed. The pretense of prayer will not suffice. Just sitting will not suffice. It has to be real–yet what can one do? Solitude puts you with your back to the wall (or your face to it!) and this is good. One prays to pray. And the reality of death.”
PART TWO – RETREAT JOURNAL
It’s a long drive from the north-west to West Sussex, but the lane to the monastery takes the retreatant through a half mile or so of woodland before arriving. That last stretch is always a powerful letting go. Once I’d arrived and received the warm welcome I got on with unpacking and setting up the hermitage.
4:15 Eucharist –
Mass said, the Eucharistic presence. It is you, Jesus, it is you present as gently as you can be, like the hand on the shoulder, not imposing. You are the guest as so often you were, invited here by words and signs.
Next to you. I place mum’s picture. She is not here, but she is present. In my breathing that she gave me. As you are, Jesus. breathing in: Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God. Breathing out: have mercy on me a sinner.
5:15 Evening Prayer Isaiah 1 -2
Followed by reading of the commentaries on the reading
Learn to do good,
Make the oppressed happy,
Defend the orphan,
argue the widow’s case.
1:29ff is the opposite of Psalm 1: a garden without water, a tree whose leaves wither.
6:30 Supper – soup and cheese
7:00 Reading (on Isaiah)
7:45 Compline – Isaiah 3-4
Followed by reading the commentaries
Chapter 4 unlike most translators Alter has this as poetry
5And the LORD shall create over all the sanctuary of Mount Zion
and over its solemn assemblies
a cloud by day
and an effulgence of flaming fire by night,
for over all the glory there shall be a canopy.
6And a shelter it shall be
as a shade by day from heat
and a covert and refuge from pelting rain.
8:30 lectio divina on tomorrow’s Gospel Reading and first draft of my ‘todaysgospel’ tweet.
3:30 Rise, two cups of tea
Jesus Prayer with prostrations 20 minutes or so
“On me a sinner”: words that don’t make me feel shame, but human. Knowing the stupid things I have done. Love never diminished by any of them. There is a stage in friendship when you do or say something stupid, when your friend knows you for a fool, a sinner: and it matters but makes no difference. Or rather it does. It deepens. Then we can be undefended.
4:00. Vigils Isaiah 5 – 6
Opening parts of CWDP Morning Prayer
With the history psalms (104/105) forming two nocturns
“Here I am, send me.”
Not a happy message:
“Go and say to this people:
‘Indeed you must hear but you will not understand,
indeed you must see but you will not know.’
10 Make the heart of this people obtuse
and block its ears and seal its eyes.
Lest it see with its eyes
and with its ears hear
and its heart understand
and it turn back and be healed.”
Reading the commentaries.
A walk in the woods (20 minutes or so)
I put my cloak on. Envying Jewish friends their prayer shawls. “He shall cover you with his wings.” (Ps 91:4) I am immersed in dark. Wrapped in light.
Suddenly I remember. thirty six years ago. My friend Danny (long since dead). Staying over, in the morning he passed me his talit to put on. Hugging me as the wool embraced me with its black bands and titzit. I pulled the crown together and kissed it as I had seen him do. Then we prayed. He in his tefillin, me in his talit. Shacharit and Matins simultaneously. Psalms we shared, melodies different. A cacophony for sure. When he died we had lost touch. I didn’t hear about it for months. Yet now I feel as close to him as when he put the talit around me and breathed on my face, his breath rich from the cheap wine we’d stayed up drinking. I wrap my cloak around me and weep. Strange how our little griefs can stand in for all our griefs.
Meditation – 45 minutes
Jesus Prayer with Prostrations
Blessed Sacrament Exposed – Adoration 30 minutes or so
7:45 Lauds / Morning Prayer Isaiah Chapters 7-8
Reading the commentaries
10:00 Terce Isaiah Chapters 9-10
12:00 Sext Isaiah Chapters 11-12
Reading the commentaries
Rosary – walking up and down outside in my cloak.
“The presence of Our Lady is important to me. Elusive but I think a reality in this hermitage. Here, though I do not agree with the medieval idea of Mediatrix apud Mediatorem [the Mediatrix with the Mediator] (without prejudice to her motherhood which is a much better statement and truth). Her influence is a demand of love, and no amount of talking will explain it. I need her and she is there. I should perhaps think of it more explicitly more often.”
Meditation – 30 minutes
Lunch – main meal of the day
Snooze – walk
2:30 None Isaiah 13-14
5:00 Evening Prayer Isaiah Chapters 15-17
Supper – soup and cheese
7:00 Compline Isaiah Chapters 18-21
lectio on the following day’s gospel
Part way through Vigils, about 4:30, a cock starts crowing on the farm next door. It continues for about 15 minutes.
The rain is falling hard. Rain in the woods always seem louder, deeper than anywhere else.
Merton’s festival of rain:
“What a thing it is to sit absolutely alone, in the forest, at night, cherished by this wonderful, unintelligible, perfectly innocent speech, the most comforting speech in the world, the talk that rain makes by itself all over the ridges, and the talk of the watercourses everywhere in the hollows! Nobody started it, nobody is going to stop it. It will talk as long as it wants, this rain. As long as it talks I am going to listen.”
The hermitage is cosy and very warm from the night storage heaters.
I open the large glass doors. It’s not that cold but it feels a shock.
I put my cassock and cloak on, the warmest clothes I have. Take the umbrella provided and walk in the woods. Enjoying the rain.
It is pitch black but I walk slowly on paths I know pretty well, barely needing to use the torch. I get to the little weir at the end of the pond. Although it is not a large fall of water it makes a suitably crashing noise in the dark and quiet – the thunder of waters.
Two pieces of advice are really helping me read Isaiah. The first is in Leslie Hoppe’s New Collegeville Bible Commentary volume on Isaiah. Like scholarship on the Psalms, the academic world has moved on from the granular source-critical stance. It is easy to get hung up on which sections are first, second or third Isaiah. Hoppe takes the canonical, final form seriously and identifies five sections of relatively similar length. She doesn’t mention it but, of course the psalms are also in five books, Matthew’s Gospel is sometimes seen as being in a pattern of five. Do all these reflect the final form of the Five Books of Moses, the Torah?
Each of Hoppe’s five sections relate to Jerusalem, making that the dominant motif.
Chapters 1 -12 Jerusalem’s Future
Chapters 13 – 27 Jerusalem and the Nations
Chapters 28 – 39
Judgement and Salvation for Jerusalem
Chapters 40 – 55 Jerusalem’s Liberation
Chapters 56 – 66 The New Jerusalem
Each section begins with an oracle of judgement and ends with a word of salvation.
Although the salvific endings are balanced by the final verse of the book which is dark indeed. Alter points out that when this section is read as the Haggadah (the second reading following the Torah) in the synagogue, verse 23 with it message of hope is repeated after verse 24 to end on a positive note.
Hoppe also identifies the two main motifs of the book as firstly, the typically Isaianic phrase for God “the Holy One of Israel”, what is so very clear is that this holiness consists not just or only in the being of God but in the justice he requires of his people. It is all too easy to think of social justice as something we read into Scripture. In fact justice is woven deeply into it.
The second motif is that of Jerusalem/Zion.
Hoppe recommends reading the text straight through without commentary.
This is a recommendation also made by Nicholas King in his Bible (which is a translation of the Septuagint). King makes ten recommendations which I won’t repeat in full here. However some key phrases:
Concentrate on the beauty of the prophet’s language
The entire scroll belongs together and should be read as a whole
In the text consolation only comes in the Exile, when Israel is recalling in a mess
Don’t sit on the fence or remain uninvolved
Allow your unhealthy images of God to be systematically demolished
Motyer in his The Prophecy of Isaiah, also divides the book other than by source critical means. His reading of Isaiah is profoundly Christological, he sees three themes:
1 The Book of the King Chapters 1-37
2 The Book of the Servant Chapters 38-55
3 The Book of the Anointed Conqueror Chapters 56 – 66
Although this christological reading is helpful it does feel imposed on the book contrasting with the way in which Hoppe’s analysis emerges from the actual text.
Hoppe on Chapters 3 and 4: the wealthy are to blame for Israel’s fate. Strong portrait of the bejewelled rich.
SERAPHIM: are serpents, angelic tradition is post-biblical
At Vigils chapters 5 and 6. Six is the first real revelation to the prophet and includes the burning al image. I am so used to that image, and to thinking of it metaphorically that I think of it as painless.
Alter does this brilliantly, I like his “Woe to me, for I am undone” so much stronger than NRSV “I am lost”. Alter also refers to Alexander Pushkin’s poem “The Prophet” based on this chapter. It is stunning, here it is.
7am I return from my walk. My cloak is soaking wet. I am breathless. Partly the fear: is there a mad axe-man in the woods? Standing on the bridge over the weir is breath-taking too. There are lights on in the next door hermitage and in the monastery in the distance. I am grateful for these companions in prayer. The monks too have prayed Vigils and are now back in their cells before Lauds.
I am grateful that I found this place when I was eighteen, for the times I have spent here. For the lives lived here. Later I will go to the monastery cemetery and pray for the dead. Gruff but loving Brother Mark, provider of tea and digestives. Charles the friend of the community who spent many years living and praying here. Fr Brian, the sweetest and warmest of smiles but brightly intelligent. My memories of him are mainly from his days at the monastery at Hove. And Fr Gregory, so long Superior. About him complicated memories and feelings. On all the things that divide our church he and I disagreed. But he in many ways created the life here and all the gospel that it holds. As Isaiah knew it is a messy world. As today’s gospel (Matthew’s genealogy) makes clear:
Wife of Uriah
Jeconiah and his brothers
After the walk I still need exercise, that helps with the sugar-hunger too. So 20 minutes of prostrations with Jesus Prayer works up a sweat.
Light comes late on this dull December day. The dawn chorus just penetrates the sound of the rain. But as the trees emerge I am singing the Canticle from Baruch at Morning Prayer:
“The woods and every fragrant tree
Have shaded them at God’s command.”
Interesting essay by Torsten Uhlig in Interpreting Isaiah ed David G Firth et al
On the motif of ‘hardening’ of the heart in Is 6 (and elsewhere).
Brueggemann on Isaiah Chapters 7 and 8:
Two possible readings: historical or christological (virgin birth etc) but he offers a third;
The offer of faith
“Faith is to resist circumstances and to continue ‘a more excellent way’ a way with no guarantees beyond promises and the One who makes those promises.”
“The non-negotiable verdict of the prophet still lingers: No faith … no future.”
‘If you do not make yourself firm [in the Lord]
You will not be affirmed.’
Same Hebrew root as ‘mn from which we derive Amen
Isaiah 65:6 literally translated is that the Lord is “the God of Amen” [Alter makes the same point, notes]
Revelation 3:14: Jesus is “the Amen”
7:14, 8:8 and 10
Even here in the hermitage news comes in. One of my dearest friends is taken into hospital with a suspected stroke. The new Archbishop of York is announced; Stephen Cottrell. The very best of news.
Perhaps I should turn my phone off completely but somehow it seems better to have the world in here too.
Lunch: avocado, tuna fish, mayonnaise – beef Bologna’s and peas – cheese – Brazil nuts, coconut and chocolate
RSV: his delight shall be in the fear of the Lord
Alter: his very BREATH is in the fear of the Lord
Chapter 12 a short hymn of praise which is Canticle 27 on CWDP. Although with the first verse omitted:
“I acclaim, You, O Lord, though you raged against me,
“Your wrath has withdrawn and You comforted me.”
How we sanitise it all!
None: Isaiah 13 – 14
Ch 13: 6 Shaddai
14:4b ceases Heb. = Shabbat / rest
The oppressor is overturned
Brueggemann “The reception committee of impotence is already gathering to greet the next oppressor. And so Jews maintain by such poetry the capacity to wait, to resist, and not to give in.”
Reflection on all the wrath in Isaiah: what might God be angry with me about?
The sort of anger we feel for those we love.
Vespers: Isaiah 15-18
Supper Chicken soup
Containing, appropriately for the time of day:
Watchman, what of the night.
Beautiful Hebrew (Alter)
Shomer mah milaylah
Shomer mah mileyl
“One must concede that this entire short prophecy is far too fragmentary to allow us to guess what it is about.” !
3:30 an owl outside, somewhere very close
I open the curtains, important to be surrounded by the dark as I pray
But aware as I do so that my light is polluting it
Vigils Isaiah 22–27
(speeding up my reading so that there is more time to reflect on the whole thing at the end of the week)
Reading aloud from Alter’s translation which works very well,
I also brought AV with me and thought I might read that at the liturgy, but that doesn’t seem to be needed
Fasting today, just water, first food Thursday lunchtime, my fasts have been inconsistent since Lent, I need to get back on this. It intensifies the prayer, creates a space for it and an energy.
With my life-breath I desired you by night,
With my spirit within me I sought you.
There is nothing quite like praying in the night. Tonight is still and dark. Not even the sound of rain. Just animals moving, the occasional bird.
These chapters from Isaiah this morning and yesterday afternoon have been especially challenging to understand.
Briggs is very comforting on this:
“First, you cannot study everything. Much of chapters 13–33 is obscure. I rather like Walter Brueggemann’s comment regarding chapter 21, that it is ‘extraordinarily enigmatic and elusive and, given our present understandings, almost completely beyond comprehension. I take comfort in the surmise that likely the only people who attend to this poem are those, like myself, who attempt to write a commentary that does not permit skipping over the material.’ So we take comfort in that too, and skip over large sections.”
Key chapters demanding study:
6, 7 (especially 7.14), 9, 40, 53, 61,
And would require inclusion in a bible study, sermon series
“The Lord commissions Isaiah in v 3, and gives him an oracle to take to King Ahaz in vv 7–9. This includes the striking word-play, which translates rather nicely into English: ‘If you do not stand firm in faith, you shall not stand at all’ (v9:‘imlo’ta’aminu/kilo’te’amenu) or, as NT Wright has suggested rather more idiomatically, ‘Trust or bust.’ In fact, when this Hebrew text was translated into Greek (in the Septuagint version as used by the early church), this line became, ‘If you do not believe, neither shall you understand.’ As such, it was often cited by Augustine in his famous description of Christian faith as the pursuit of the mysteries of God, captured in the Latin phrase, fides quaerens intellectum (faith seeking understanding).”
Read 2 Kings 16.5–20, on Ahaz’s reaction to Isaiah (he tries to make a deal with the Assyrians)
See Is 36-37 for where the historical events come to a head
See also 2 Chronicles 32 and 2 Kings 19
Briggs: chapter 6 does not function (whatever some commentaries suggest) as the opening call, chapters 1-4 prepare the way for it:
First, 5.7b carries a careful word-play, literally: He expected justice (mishpat) but behold: bloodshed (mispach) Righteousness (tsedaqah) but behold: a cry! (tse’aqah)
In ch 5 the NRSV ‘ah’ is inadequate ‘woe’ is better
6:11 ‘Till, when, O Master?’ How long, O Lord.
Is highly significant.
[isn’t this what we all say in the midst of uncertainty / suffering]
And the answer is “until …:
And the gloom only rises in chapter 40
Briggs thinks of the putative three authors as three movements in a symphony
40 marks a shift to the servant, answering who will answer God’s call (ch 6) but mostly this is plural (except see 53)
55 – 66 ‘Unspectacular postscript’
61 a return to the anointed servant
Briggs: “It has always struck me as a relatively neglected aspect of the book of Isaiah that it wants to offer us such a broad range of visions of the life of faith among the people of God. The difficult bit today is holding on to the whole range and, even more, it is rightly discerning where in this vast narrative we find our own situations illuminated”
“It is, I suspect, easier to be visionary when you are heading somewhere or about to engage in some dramatic new project than it is when you are back home, working with the long-term issues of faithful living in the same old place. But it is dangerous to lift the Second Isaiah emphasis on vision and newness and transpose it to today without recognizing that a lot of our Christian living is about faithfulness in the place where God has put us, and that this kind of long-term and comparatively unspectacular faithfulness is just as important for many people much of the time.“
Corporate nature of the text:
“When preaching on ‘the armour of the Lord’ from Isaiah 59.15b–20, for example, I was struck by the way in which God’s armour is appropriated for the church as a whole community in Ephesians 6 rather than each individual wearing the full armour of God: it is as a whole church that we are corporately engaged in the mission of God as it is pictured in the book of Isaiah.”
In Firth et al Lyndsay Wilson on Wisdom in Isaiah: Proverbs 25:1 locates the collection of wisdom sayings in the time of Isaiah, some scholars even think Isaiah may have been among the wisdom school before entering the prophetic school; Isaiah certainly seems to inc some wisdom language, and a wisdom approach to Torah.
Vigils reading: 24-27 the apocalyptic
Strong movement 24 25
24 full of desolation yet even in the middle of the destruction some praise:
“It is they who shall raise their voice, sing gladly,
In God’s grandeur they shall shout from the sea”
And then trust emerges in ch 25:
God’s steadfast faithfulness
The Lord shall prepare a banquet
He swallows up the mantle (shroud)
He wipes away tears
Look! This is our God!
In whom we hoped and he has rescued us
More Trust in ch 26:
“a steadfast nature You guard in peace”
Jenni Williams (‘The Kingdom of our God’)
“Essentially, this is what trust looks like: it is not so much a state of mind as a choice about how to act.”
Brueggemann has it as:
(26:12) Those of steadfast mind you keep in peace:
In peace because they trust in you.
Jenni Williams draws attention to 26:12
“O Lord, grant peace to us,
For our every act you have wrought for us.”
How does God do our acts?
Is it all working out as God intended? Despite our need for repentance?
Keep coming back to this idea of God’s wrath (so strong in much of Isaiah) what might God be angry with me for/about?
Anger is what we feel for those we love and care about; it is easiest to show those we are close to. God being angry does not diminish his love for us!
Lauds Isaiah 28 – 30
The first antiphon for today:
My soul has yearned for you in the night,
And as the morning breaks, I watch for your coming.
As the night vigil moves to daylight.
The first psalm 88 with all its darkness
“in a palace of darkness in the mighty deeps
Will your wonders be known in the darkness
But as for me, Lord, I cry to you;
Even in the dawn my prayer comes early before you.
My best companion is now the darkness.”
I love that last line. “My best companion is darkness”. Grail has it as “my only companion”. Sadly CWDP has an alternate reading: “hid my companions out of my sight.” Which seems to be from Coverdale.
S29:11-12 “Pray, read this.”
Ambrose recommended Augustine read Isaiah first when he was close to coming to faith; is this the origin/inspiration for tolle, lege must look up the Vulgate.
[Just done so, lege, but not tolle]
In quietness and stillness you shall be rescued,
In calm and trust shall your valour be,
But you did not want it.
The final phrase is often omitted when quoting this!
A brighter day. Jesus P and prostrations outside as the sun breaks through the trees.
Early yet but hunger not too bad. The sugar high of the weekend was over after two days normal diet.
The perfect thing about praying outside is the sound of the water from the air. Pretty small scale really but definitely a torrent in sound.
On Is 28 Williams points out the wisdom language: pay attention, hear, instructed, teachers, counsel, wisdom: final words His Wisdom is great.
10am Terce Isaiah 31-32
Long walk in the sunshine.
Over the bridge across the weir the first house is interesting. Now a significant mansion with extensive grounds (it sold recently for £3m), it was once two labourers cottages.
The woodland is called Furnace Wood and the house just Furnace. In the mid sixteenth century for about 75 years the area was the site of an iron foundry and blast furnace; latter in the eighteenth century bronze smelting was added for a short time. The woodland provided the fuel and there is evidence of coppiced chestnut still in some of the gardens of the houses that now occupy part of the site. The pond is man-made for the furnace and at some later date there may have been a water mill. The dam decayed and the pond drained towards the end of the nineteenth century. In the early twentieth century the dam was re-built after the land had been sold with the invitation to create a trout pond, and indeed it is now used by a local fishing club.
On the side of the house a small plaque has appeared since I last walked this way. It commemorates Alfred Towes who died in the First World War and had previously lived in the house.
With very little googling it is easy to discover a little more about him. Born in about 1880 he was one of probably 10 children. His family lived in the house for just a few years before moving on. At some point he and his wife, Alice, moved to New South Wales, where address is available, when he signed up in 1917 he was listed as a gardener. Travelling back to Europe he lasted only a week at the front before being killed. At some point, by 1921 his wife (and children?) moved back to England to a house that still stands, the Laurels at Copthorne, just a couple of miles from the house where Alfred had lived.
I check the phone directories and there are still Towes’s listed, perhaps his direct descendants or those of his brothers.
Of such dreams and tragedies are our human lives made.
The town of Mosman where Alive and Alfred lives is close to Sydney harbour. The plot they lived at looks very beautiful, even if it didn’t then have the swimming pool it has now. Was it a dream come true to them? In contrast to the nightmare of war he returned to Europe for? When Alice moves back to England did it seem like she had left her dream?
Reading Isaiah this week and getting my head around the shifts of Empires 2700 years ago I note that not much has changed. Those armies sweeping the Middle East in Isaiah’s time were made up of Alfreds with their dreams and tragedies too.
It doesn’t make me sad. Just glad to have located a human story. And as I walk in the woods, despite the aircraft flying over from Gatwick, they are idyllic, I image the sounds and smells of a blast furnace here half a millennium ago.
Prose passage beginning Isaiah 36 see 2 K 18:13 to 2 K 20:19
Slept for 40 minutes: I wondered whether I would be able to make on an empty stomach; but no problem!
None Isaiah 37 – 40
38:10ff is one of the Canticles in the Roman Office (Tuesday II) and is rather fine “I said in the noon time of my days …” but it doesn’t appear in CWDP
ch 40 Comfort, comfort marks the beginning of what many call second or Deutero Isaiah
Hoppe makes an important point that Isaiah is using two images for Jerusalem’s future, one male and one female. The servant is male; Jerusalem is female. From here to 66 the “reader hears the story of a woman’s life from her abandonment by her husband and consequent childlessness to their recon isolation and the birth of many children.”
Going through the Canticles in CWDP and marking up a Bible with the verses used; they are quite chopped about; obviously any imprecation stuff omitted, but also anything particularly related to judgement. It gives a slightly swayed view of Isaiah, and indeed, of God.
There are 15 Canticles from Isaiah in CWDP, 16 in the Roman Office, 9 of them are similar texts but most not identical. CWDP chops the verses around much more and is much freer in creating Canticles by doing this. Both remove or don’t include texts about God’s wrath or judgement. It is a rather sanitised version of the prophet.
I hadn’t realised that in the Extended Vigil Office in the Roman rite several of the Isaiah canticles are repeats of those found at Morning Prayer.
Vespers Isaiah 41 – 42
11 Look, they shall be shamed and disgraced,
all who are incensed against you,
they shall be as naught and shall perish,
those who contend with you.
12You shall seek them and shall not find them,
those who battle with you.
They shall be as naught and as nothing,
those who war against you.
13For I am the LORD your God,
holding your right hand,
saying to you,
Do not fear, I am helping you.
Hoppe makes an important point about 42:14
God in feminine role:
Now, I cry out like a woman in labour,
Gasping and panting.
Compline Isaiah 43 – 44
Do not fear, for I have redeemed you.
I have called you by name, you are Mine.
2Should you pass through water, I am with you,
and through rivers—they shall not overwhelm you.
Should you walk through fire, you shall not be singed,
and flames shall not burn you.
3For I am the LORD, your God,
Very tired after not eating at all. It will be hard to get through to tomorrow lunchtime. But it does create a kind of spaciousness/lightness about the prayer.
3:30 Rise. A deep sleep but my head is pounding. It is always difficult to drink enough water when fasting.
Finish lectio and tweet todaysgospel. Read Rachel Mann’s Rossetti book for today and tweet sentence from that.
Hunger strikes and sudden feeling of despair. Why am I wasting my life like this? Six days away from home, fasting, getting up in the middle of the night, when I get back I have four services on Sunday. On Monday I shall spend the day seeing sorcerers for Spiritual Direction. I could be with the people I love. Relaxing, enjoying the build up to Christmas.
I start Vigils heavily, unwillingly. But immediately the words strike.
In the darkness (very dark and rain outside) I pray “Reveal among us the light of your presence.”
And the psalms (104, 105) the story of creation and salvation speak.
Then the magnificent power of Isaiah, especially in the translation by Alter which reads aloud so well. In fact it makes RSV/NRSV/CWDP seem very flat indeed.
Vigils Isaiah 45-49
So many powerful lines and sections. This second movement of the book (‘second Isaiah’) really does contain the greatest poetry.
I will set before you treasures of darkness
And hidden store,
So that you may know I am the Lord.
Treasures of darkness is such a beautiful phrase. It will stay with me. Darkness will be the strong memory of this retreat. The long December nights. And they have produced treasures. Just as the darkness of our lives can.
Indeed, You are a God who hides
God of Israel, Rescuer.
Sit mute and come into darkness.
Another powerful line. Sit in silence.
15Does a woman forget her babe,
have no mercy on the child of her womb?
Though she forget, I will not forget you.
16Why, on My palms I have inscribed you,
Hoppe on 49:15: “It is difficult to find a more touching image of God’s love anywhere else in the Bible.”
Wow. So by the end of Vigils I feel the exact opposite of the emptiness I felt an hour ago. There is fullness. Perhaps I should give up everything and live as a hermit!
Such are the whims of our feelings. So taking that advice and after all those words I will take the prophets advice. Silence. Lights out. The Blessed Sacrament with a single candle. Adoration.
Sit mute and come into darkness. Invites the Holy One who sets before me the treasures of darkness from his hidden store, the God who hide.
Walk. In the dark and rain in the woods. To the weir. The thunder of mighty waters.
While I am out the day arrives. Sheep and geese emerge in the middle of the field next to my hermitage. On the wooden bridge I wallow in the all-consuming sound of water.
Walking in the woods I am also wallowing in the deep mud. Even though it is quite short the bottom 12” of my cloak are mud spattered. Memories of funerals. Once dry it will brush clean.
Back at the hermitage I had thought when I woke up hungry that I would break my fast at breakfast time. But now, praying and walking, I am enjoying the lightness. I will eat at lunchtime. I’ll fast again tomorrow, Friday, but will break my fast first thing on Saturday. Food will make me sleepy and I don’t need that for the drive north on Saturday afternoon.
Home stretch now on Isaiah. I will finish the read aloud at the Offices today, making tomorrow lighter liturgically. And also finish the verse by verse commentaries (Brueggemann, Williams, Hoppe) and begin to think about the bigger picture. The idea of Isaiah as a symphony with movements has really helped me, as has the five-fold division, rather than the somewhat artificial constructions of Deutero – Trito – Isaiah and as one writer put it the obvious need for Quarto- and Quinto- !
Strong themes from Isaiah so far:
Sin/judgement – God’s anger
Morning Prayer (later than planned, my walk it turns out was 45 minutes, glad I didn’t have a clock/phone with me).
Reading: Isaiah 50 – 52
Strongest verse: 51:17
Rise up, Jerusalem,
You who have drunk from the hand of the LORD
The cup of his wrath
We are so phobic to the idea of God’s wrath, this must be something we have to reckon with. Isaiah is full of it!
The Suffering Servant in 51 -53
Terce Isaiah 53–55
53: the first of the songs of the suffering servant, powerful reminder of how these passages fit into the wider prophecy and record of rescue/salvation. These would make good canticles, a shame they are not used as such anywhere.
3Despised and shunned by people,
a man of sorrows and visited by illness.
And like one from whom the gaze is averted,
despised, and we reckoned him naught.
4Indeed, he has borne our illness,
and our sorrows he has carried.
But we had reckoned him plagued,
God-stricken and tormented.
5Yet he was wounded for our crimes,
crushed for our transgressions.
The chastisement that restored our well-being he bore,
and through his bruising we were healed.
Hoppe: about 40 allusions or citations of this text in the NT
Sitting in these woods that would have been alive with the sound of a blast furnace a few centuries ago 54:16 is pertinent:
It is I who created the smith,
Who fans the charcoal fire ….
Up to All Saints’ Church in Crawley Down, sadly locked but in the churchyard there is a Towes grave. Frederick. Local history sites suggest this is / could be Alfred’s cousin. He died in 1921 but it is a military grave, so perhaps he died of injuries sustained in the war. No sign of a grave for Alfred’s wife. I may look in the church yard at St. John’s Copthorne on the way home. A find a grave search finds nothing for here other, so perhaps she remarried?
Sext Isaiah 56 – 58
56:3 following the foreigner and eunuch accepted into Israel, no opposition between Jesus and the Hebrew Scriptures here
Fasting: is not this the fast I choose
Good corrective balance on a day I am indeed fasting:
Do I give my bread to the hungry?
Clothe the makes?
Lunch: Avocado, tuna, cream cheese, boiled egg; chilli con carne and peas – cheese and fig jam – Brazil nuts, coconut and dark chocolate
and the immediate effect of lunch after 42 hours total fast: Sleep.
3pm None Isaiah 59 – 61
Partly CW Canticle 34
Alter: “Rise, O Shine for your light has come. Often thought of with the next two chapters, as the core of Truro Isaiah, this poem picks up the motif of transcendent light from Second Isaiah and transforms it into an enthralling poetic vision of Zion magnificently restored. This vision is dramatically developed in the next two verses, in which the whole earth is imagined engulfed in darkness, and Zion’s brilliant dawn offers light for humankind.”
1Rise, O shine, for your light has come,
and the glory of the LORD
has dawned over you.
2For, look, darkness covers the earth,
and thick mist, the peoples,
3but nations shall walk by your light,
and kings by your dawning radiance.
19No more shall the sun be your light by day,
nor the moon’s radiance shine for you,
but the LORD shall be your everlasting light
and your God become your splendour.
20No more shall your sun set,
your moon shall not go down.
But the LORD shall be your everlasting light,
and your mourning days shall be done.
See Rev 22:4-5
And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever. Revelation 22:5
A day of vengeance for our God
The start of 61 forms CW Canticle 35
But This half verse is omitted:
Which is such a shame:
Lord, avenging God
Avenging God appear.
Psalm 93 (Grail)
The end of ch 61, verse 11, is, unusually used in two CW Canticles nos 35 and 36
Hoppe calls this ‘the priesthood of the poor’
Then listening to Bach. Really listening, not doing anything else. As Chrysogonus Waddell advised me in 1992. He took me to see Merton’s hermitage when I was at Gethsemane and so somehow Bach is always associated with hermit times in my mind. I listen to settings of Isaiah, one I don’t remember listening to before of the Do not be afraid text. Fürchte dich nicht. Very beautiful.
And then Goldberg.
4:30 To revive me and getting the energy flowing Jesus Prayer and prostrations, then Adoration
Raining hard outside.
“January 2, 1966. Feast of Holy Name of Jesus It has been raining steadily for almost 36 hours. This morning toward the end of my meditation the rain was pouring down on the roof of the hermitage with great force and the woods resounded with tons of water falling out of the sky.”
6pm Vespers Is 62 – 64
62: 4b ff
Part of CW Canticle 36, some very unCW language in Alter:
And your land shall be bedded
As a young man beds a virgin,
Your sons shall bed you …
Alter’s note says:
“The One Bedded. Again, the transliteration, Beulah, became an English name. Most translations render it as “espoused,” but that is too formal and too decorous. This passive form of the verb baʿal does indicate a woman who has a husband (the noun baʿal), but it has a sexual connotation: Zion, the woman who has been forsaken, will now enjoy consummation again. The sexual implication of the term is clearly suggested in verse 5: “and a bridegroom’s rejoicing over the bride / shall your God rejoice over you.” 5. your sons shall bed you. This sounds inadvertently like incest (in the next line of poetry, it is rather God’s relationship with Israel that is analogous to the bridegroom’s relationship with the bride), but the intended idea is that the desolate land, personified as a woman, will be plowed and cultivated by its sons, as a young man is intimate with a virgin and makes her fruitful.”
In ensanguined garments (Alter): nice play on words
Alter: “the association between wine and blood is not only because of the colour red but also because a kenning for wine in biblical poetry, inherited from the Ugaritic is ‘blood of the grape’ (see Gen 49:1)”
And of course Eucharistic for Christians
Supper: Soup, cheese and Piccalilli, Brazil nuts, coconut and dark chocolate.
Short walk in the dark, wind and rain. Which at least ensures there are no dog walkers about. Pretty much had the woods to myself in this weather.
9pm Compline Isaiah 65-66
And so Isaiah finished, at least the read aloud through is. And just wonderful it has been, never wearisome. Alter’s poetic sense is perfect, there is a lovely sharpness to his English and a sense of rhythm and metre. The language is spare.
And here to end with a koan from 65:1-2
I yielded oracles
when they did not inquire,
I was found
when they did not seek Me.
I said, “Here I am, here I am”
to a nation not called by My name.
I spread out My hands
all day long
Alter’s note: “2. I spread out My hands. This phrase continues the paradox of the previous verse because spreading out the hands is a gesture of prayer, and it is as though God, not the people, were praying.”
I didn’t expect this theme of darkness and hiddenness in Isaiah. He is a mystic – more than a visionary.
I shall chew on this.
Look, My servants shall eat
and you shall hunger.
Look, My servants shall drink
and you shall thirst. Look,
My servants shall rejoice
and you shall be shamed.
14Look, My servants shall sing gladly
with a cheerful heart,
and you shall cry out for heart’s pain
and from a broken spirit howl.
This is a piece of great poetry, brilliantly tr by Alter. But also harsh.
A lot of Isaiah seems to be about consequences. And we don’t like that, we don’t want to be rejoicing while others mourn. Yet the end of the book precisely describes that contrast.
Chapter 66 v10ff provides CW Canticle 38 (and Divine Office Vigil canticle for Christmas and the Presentation), entirely suitable for this with its mention of babies and mothers.
And it is still raining. People often comment on the ubiquity of rain in Merton’s journals. One reason must surely be quite simple: when you live in a one storey building the sound of the rain on the roof is significant, magnified by trees and making a difference to the possibility of a walk getting out of a small building.
Strangely, despite the restrictions it imposes the rain feels like a friend. Comforting, consoling, protecting. A barrier to others coming into the woods.
in monotone Ordinary
poured down massive chant.
soon slacked off
in soft diminuendo,
soaking into mute,
Two cups of tea.
Fasting day today. Which I will break after Morning Prayer tomorrow.
Jesus Prayer with Prostrations
Then I can’t resist it. I go straight out before Vigils to walk in the dark “fired by love’s urgent longing”. Walking straight to the weir without torch.
Dark and thundering sound. God gives treasures of darkness.
I am wearing my cloak for the walk.
solemn as chant,
one sweep of fabric
from head to foot.
on a row of pegs–
tall disembodied spirits
deep in the folds
waiting for light,
for light to shift
waiting for a bell
for the reach
of my hand
to spread out
the slow wings,
release the shadows
my prayer-hungry body
Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High
and abides under the shadow of the Almighty,
Shall say to the Lord, ‘My refuge and my strong-hold,
my God, in whom I put my trust.’
When I get back to the hermitage it is nearly 6am. No Vigils. The water has prayed all the words I need. Rain and weir. Darkness absorbing them.
In the morning I come before you
watching and waiting
tired of watching
When I waited
When watch and wait
are not enough
I disregard enough
for You are
When You are
when I am
that You are
watching and waiting
watching and waiting
watching and waiting.
7:15 Morning Prayer
“fasting is more of a celebration for me. There is an interior silence, a clear-headedness you do not get except by fasting. We are a society of gluttons.”
“fasting is excellent and clarifies the mind.”
Today feels lighter, clearer. The Office shorter without long chunks of Isaiah.
Final day before leaving tomorrow gives it a poignancy. Could I live like this for a month, a year ? Who knows. I don’t see any way of that happening.
“To come into solitude to discard both illusions, public and private, and to seek God, and to have no (exterior) self and no aims or claims, or pretensions, this is “right” (if the word means anything here)–it is what solitude means. But the problem is precisely that I still tend to come into solitude with an impure love, that is to say with “aims.” And with the “I” that can have aims. Time and quiet do much to dispel all this nonsense.”
Jesus Prayer with prostrations
More tea. I must be careful how much I drink.
“July 13, 1967 Fasting again but this time drank some tea, which makes all the difference in so far as keeping one’s mind alive goes.”
In the afternoons Turmeric tea is best, or Mint. They feel like food!
The fasting is so helpful. But the question is how to do it on a Friday when Ftiday evening is normally a sociable time? Doing it on another day would break the link with the crucifixion. I could eat just lunch on a Thursday but with a Wednesday fast that doesn’t give time to recover and often lunch is hard at work. Fasting is kind of nakedness. It leaves everything bare. It also reveals the shallowness and unreality of ‘moods’.
12 noon Sext and Eucharist
The total fast before receiving Communion makes a very beautiful offering. Eating nothing until receiving.
In today’s Gospel Mary says here I am.
That’s what Isaiah says (6:8), that is abandonment.
With those two key prayers:
My Lord God,
I have no idea where I am going.
I do not see the road ahead of me.
I cannot know for certain where it will end.
nor do I really know myself,
and the fact that I think I am following your will
does not mean that I am actually doing so.
But I believe that the desire to please you
does in fact please you.
And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing.
I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.
And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road,
though I may know nothing about it.
Therefore will I trust you always though
I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death.
I will not fear, for you are ever with me,
and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.
Father, I abandon myself into your hands; do with me what you will. Whatever you may do, I thank you: I am ready for all, I accept all.
Let only your will be done in me, and in all your creatures – I wish no more than this, O Lord.
Into your hands I commend my soul: I offer it to you with all the love of my heart, for I love you, Lord, and so need to give myself, to surrender myself into your hands without reserve, and with boundless confidence, for you are my Father.
Je m’abandonne à toi,
fais de moi ce qu’il te plaira.
Quoi que tu fasses moi, je te remercie.
Je suis prêt à tout, j’accepte tout.
Pourvu que ta volonté se fasse en moi,
en toutes tes créatures,
je ne désire rien d’autre, mon Dieu.
Je remets mon âme entre tes mains.
Je te la donne, mon Dieu, avec tout l’amour de mon coeur,
parce que je t’aime, et que ce m’est un besoin d’amour de me donner,
de me remettre entre tes mains sans mesure,
avec infinie confiance
car tu es mon Père.
Charles de Foucauld
Ending with Jesus Prayer with prostrations
Walk: past Furnace into the two private roads that grew up there in the pre WW2 period. Many grand houses but still some wooden framed bungalows that used to be weekend homes. The simple bungalow that is the heart of the monastery buildings would have fitted in well. That makeshift quality is always something that has attracted me to the monastic community here. Nothing is picturesque. Even in my little hermitage the crockery is the sort of stuff that would be thrown out after the jumble sale. No earthenware monastic look!
Charles de Foucauld wrote:
“I no longer want a monastery which is too secure, I want a small monastery, like the house of a poor workman who is not sure if tomorrow he will find work and bread, who with all his being shares the suffering of the world.”
Final few hours now. Reading Isaiah unadorned. Reflecting on the dark. So strong a theme as the solstice arrives just as my retreat ends. It is so appropriate after a dark year to look forward to days growing longer, light to strengthen.
THE NIGHT OF DESTINY
In my ending
is my meaning
Says the season.
Only the heart’s blood
Only the word.
Weak friend In the knowing night!
O tongue of flame
Under the heart
For love is black
Says the season.
The red and sable letters
On the solemn page
Fill the small circle of seeing.
And the weak life
Who holds the homeless light secure
In the deep heart’s room?
Kissed with flame!
My love is darkness!
Only in the Void
Are all ways one:
Only in the night
Are all the lost Found.
In my ending is my meaning.
Rosary and Adoration
As a Friday evening entertainment I watched Seeking God: the Way of the Monk a 1995 film about Christ in the Desert Monastery. It is wonderful but very dated. The community is much more traditional now with normal habits and Latin chant. But shows a certain phase in their life Abbot Philip as wise then as he is now. Distrustful of mystical experiences. Yes indeed!
No alarm set
Woke at 3:30 exactly. Rain still thundering down.
Today’s gospel is Mary hastening to Elizabeth.
Finishing my retreat what do I need to do immediately?
5:30 Morning Prayer
It was Paul Bayes’ book that made me start saying the creed daily at Matins and Evensong. Saying these words in the dark is very powerful. Against the face of dark we say the words. Against all evidence. We trust. Just as Jerusalem’s citizens seeing the destruction of everything they held dear must have felt. God’s judgement is clear.
I can’t stay. The days will get longer. The night will retreat.
There is no war that will not obey this cup of Blood.
Yet in the middle of this murderous season
Great Christ, my fingers touch Thy wheat
And hold Thee hidden in the compass of Thy paper sun.
There is no war will not obey this cup of Blood,
This wine in which I sink Thy words, in the anonymous dawn!
I hear a Sovereign talking in my arteries
Reversing, with His Promises, all things
That now go on with fire and thunder.
His Truth is greater than disaster.
His Peace imposes silence on the evidence against us.
from SENESCENTE MUNDO
I prayed the whole of the poem as the invitation to communion and the line:
“Here in my hands I hold that secret Easter.”
After each of the words of consecration.
The whole poem is in the collection In the Dark Before Dawn.
Breakfast : breaking the fast: avocado with Piccalilli. Cheese omelette, cheese with fig pickle, Brazil nuts, coconut and dark chocolate
Preparing to leave
Sheets and linens swapped
Monastic life is always detail and routine. These packages of sheets, linens, towels and cloths carefully labelled:
10:30 prayer in the community chapel
11am Monastery Mass
Surprise: How much Merton / Gethsemane there has been this week. Hermitage, rain and dark are pretty much central to his stuff I suppose.
Immersing myself in Isaiah has been total joy. I shall do some more of this between now and Epiphany. But it is so central to the gospel that having a clearer picture of it is already making a difference to my praying of the liturgy.
What I fantasise about taking away with me from this retreat:
getting up in the night, wallowing in darkness, aloneness
The rhythm of the double Wednesday-Friday fast
Total immersion in Scripture
The sound of the weir
What I can take away with me:
Isaiah, I think of him, whatever some scholars say, as one man, speaking with different voices. Passionate. Poet. But matter of fact about God’s wrath. It is the consequence of human actions. God bears no grudge. Is not malicious.
Isaiah as mystic. Lover of the night and darkness. Chewer on koans.
Something about how Jesus as suffering servant / rescuer (Saviour) is so intimately related to Jerusalem, even in this ancient prophecy. Church/Jerusalem are Jesus.
God’s wrath so important. This is a koan for me.
Fasting: going to try Mondays and Wednesdays and fast til the evening on Fridays.
We say a lot about what we consider to be important by our worship. In schools worship can be a rehearsal for how the whole day can be. Liturgy as mimesis, a model that can be followed at other times. As Christians we claim to put much store by families. But there are surprisingly few opportunities in the worship of the church to celebrate families. So many of the saints are celibate monks or nuns, or died as or protecting their virginity – all worthy things but not easy role models for the vast majority of people.
Many of us value the feast of the Holy Family. Instituted in 1893 originally within the Octave of Epiphany, with the liturgical reforms of the 1960s it found its home on the Sunday within the Octave of Christmas. The Church of England’s 1990 publication the Promise of His Glory, made good provision for the celebration of the Holy Family but sadly this emphasis didn’t quite make its way into the Common Worship liturgies.
For those of us who will be celebrating the Holy Family on the Sunday after Christmas I have compiled a lectionary for the Office with elements from Promise of His Glory and the usual Common Worship Calendar. This little lectionary also creates a neat division between Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer on the weekdays of the Octave. These days also celebrate the comites Christi, the companions of Christ, St Stephen, St John, the Holy Innocents. To avoid these celebrations taking over the proper celebration of Christmas, the Roman Rite suggests making Morning Prayer, Daytime Prayer and Mass of the saints and Evening Prayer of Christmas. This works very well and this lectionary also does that. I first published this a few years ago and many people expressed appreciation so I put it here again for anyone that wants to use it and hope that it helps you celebrate a holy Octave.
The Proclamation of Christmas is the martyrology for December 25th. It may be used at First Vespers/Evensong before the opening verses; during a Vigil or carols before the Midnight Mass (it works well before the Te Deum at the end) or after the Penitential Rite of the Midnight Mass (immediately preceding the Gloria).
Here is a slightly alternative version by the late Brother Aelred Seton Shanley OblOSB Cam, which includes mention the Buddha and Socrates. These liturgical moments are good ones for remembering that we live in a must-faith world without being syncretic in our worship. The Monastic Community at Bose remember all the main feasts of the major religions in their martyrology as they occur.
The Martyrology is the book of the saints, the ‘martyrs’ of the church, arranged in calendar order on the day they died (their ‘birthday into heaven’) and/or the day they are remembered liturgically. In monastic communities the martyrology of the following day was traditionally read at Prime, the Little Hour at the start of the working day. The monastery of Christ in the Desert provide their martyrology here. The Bose martyrology is here. I have produced an Anglican Martyrology for the British Isles which is very much a work in progress and is available here. It works well read just before Compline or at the end of Evensong.
The alternative Proclamation of Christmas provided here comes from the Hermitage of the Dayspring where Br Aelred Seton Shanley lived for many years. He died in the mid 1990s. He had tried his monastic vocation in a number of communities before settling to the hermit life as an Oblate of the Benedictine Camaldolese Community at Big Sur. He wrote a whole sung Office which I have used to provide some of the hymns for the Office in my musical setting.
In 2002 Jim Cotter published his set of antiphons/refrains based on the well known Great ‘O’ refrains that are traditional from the 17th (or in the Sarum rite the 16th December) at Evensong as Expectant: Verses for Advent (Cairns Publications). It is a delightful collection of images of longing and waiting. The O refrains are best known in the form of the hymn “O come, O come, Emmanuel …” and Jim wrote his refrains in the same metre so that they can be sung to the well-known tune.
In the Advent-Christmas volume of his series Celebrating the Christian Year (Canterbury press 2005) Alan Griffiths provides a tone to sing the verses of the Magnificat to with verses using the hymn tune. He provides his version of the ‘O’ antiphons for each day, to be sung before and after the canticle and the chorus sung between the stanzas.
Adapting these two ideas I have created a booklet of Jim Cotter’s verses (one for each day of Advent) with the Benedictus and Magnificat canticles in the Common Worship translation. I have used this setting for several years and think it works and wears quite well.
UPDATE 24 08 19Many thanks for comments on the pointing etc. Here are updated forms of Compline, a setting of the Lord’s Prayer to Rimsky-Korsakov (based on that in Emynau Catholig) and the Conclusion to the Office. All in PDF format.Cwmplin
Spending my teenage years just outside of Reading my first experience of the Daily Office was sung Evensong at St Nicholas, Sulham and the sung Office of the monks at Douai Abbey. I was surprised to discover that the Office could be said. These days next to my prayer desk as well as the usual books I keep the music and texts for singing the Office in French and German (Chanter l’Office and Antiphonale zum Stundengebet). I have enough of both languages (and knowledge of the liturgy) to be able to use them now and again and there is something about praying in another language that keeps the attention at 100%.
Last week I was in the Bangor diocese and glad to share in worship partly in Welsh. I am a failed Welsh-learner having made three or four attempts over the last twenty years or so, mainly in order to be able to read Welsh poetry, but latterly as more priests in Wales have joined the Sodality. (A personal hero, A.M. Allchin, is reputed to have learnt Welsh in a year …). I particularly enjoyed singing Tell Out My Soul in Welsh (O f’enaid, cân, mawrha yr Arglwydd Dduw) and last year I was at a beautiful dawn Vigil on Easter day and enjoyed singing Taizé chants in Welsh. Some of those chants are in the Welsh Methodist Hymnal Caneuon Ffyddwhich I have and is excellent.
I’ve been searching for resources to sing the Office in Welsh so I can get it by heart and it seems that there are very few (I am happy to be corrected!). My friend and Associate of the Sodality, Fr Dylan Parry Jones, and I have exchanged messages about this and he tells me that Welsh is difficult to use with chant because of the nature of the stress patterns – mainly on the penultimate syllable of words. English too has complicated patterns for stress and many musical or chant purists object to the setting of English to Latin plainchant melodies. I agree that when this is done just by squeezing English words to fit the traditional melodies this can create some very peculiar effects. But in the last half century many musicians have worked to create authentically modal chants for use with English. So, Fr Dylan’s message came as something of a challenge. I thought I would start with Compline.
The opening and concluding verses are set to a simple but memorable psalm tone:
The hymn to the traditional ferial tone for Te lucis:
I am pleased with the antiphon to the psalm (used for all three traditional Compline psalms). The tone and antiphon are in the 8th mode (traditional at Compline). The tone is very simple (from Stanbrook Abbey – apologies, I first claimed to have written it myself!) with just a change of note at the final stressed syllable (so it doesn’t matter whether that is the final or penultimate syllable). The Eastertime triple alleluia is given here as well:
The Responsory is set to the Latin melody and I think works.
The antiphon to the Nunc Dimittis has been much more difficult. The Welsh version in the Church in Wales’ liturgy has 32 words; the English has 25 words and fewer syllables, and the Latin only 15. I tried hard to fit the Welsh text to a repeated pattern of the Latin melody but it really felt very strained. So I have used an English setting by Dom Philip Gaisford at Worth Abbey, repeating sections of the melody and providing another very simple tone:
Liturgy of Creation
Anyone who has been in a pub with me when a pub quiz begins knows that I don’t hang around for long. What they may not know are the bad experiences that have given me a lifelong aversion to quizzes.
The first when I was 12 was a competitive inter school quiz. As the year rep on our team I did well on politics, history, religion and even music. But then came sport. ‘What sport takes place at Brands Hatch’. In a moment of ignorant panic I called out ‘rock climbing’. The whole school fell about laughing and even now people who remember me from then are known to whisper those two words teasingly.
The second was just after I’d been ordained priest. I was in a pub with my brother-in-law. We joined a team and did well at History, General Knowledge and so on. Then came the Religion round. In my clerical collar I could hardly avoid appearing to be the expert. ‘What did God make on the fifth day of creation?’ My stab in the dark was not successful. My brother-in-law never lets me forget.
I have however done much, since then, to improve my knowledge of the first account of creation.
Of the making of liturgical seasons it can sometimes feel there is no end. Fortunately the ‘kingdom season’ has not really caught on and most of us have been able to enjoy the eschatological themes of the end of the liturgical year without changing liturgical colours and managing quite well in green vestments from the Baptism to the Presentation.
Green vestments seem especially appropriate in what some describe as the ‘Creation season’ from 1st September to the 4th October. Actually I think this is one of the most sensible ideas for a new ‘season’ and draws out themes which are often underplayed in the liturgy. In light of the threat to the environment and planet it is more important than ever that we not only celebrate creation but repent of our abuse of it.
There are many resources available for this season which has been encouraged by the Pope and the Ecumenical Patriarch. Common Worship: Times and Seasons is excellent and a simple Google search reveals many more resources. These are all very useful for adding a ‘creation’ flavour to these Sunday’s in Ordinary Time or for compiling a special liturgy. For those who use the Roman Missal appropriate Masses for the ferial days of this season include the two formulas for the Sanctification of Human Labour (pp.1353-1355) At Seed Time (p. 1355 and 1356) After the Harvest (p.1357), For Those Suffering Hunger (p.1365-1366) For Rain, (p.1367).
Some of the elements in the traditional liturgy provide rich resources for use at this time and could give the Daily Office a creation theme throughout the period. It is these I will highlight here.
The most obvious is the canticle Benedicite which for Anglicans was one of the invariable canticles of Matins (with the Te Deum as an alternative) throughout the year. It is repeated on all Sunday’s and Solemnities in the Roman Office and is given as an Opening Psalm for Sundays in Ordinary Time in Common Worship.
Benedicite is a text worth memorising, so might well be usable daily from 1st September to October 4th. There are many simple musical settings.
Here is a simple tone (I think from Douai Abbey) set to the Common Worship text:
This antiphon and tone are from Conception Abbey and is a reminder of the origins of this Canticle:
There are many Anglican Chant settings and recordings of Benedicite. Not least the simple ones in The Manual of Plainsong, here to the lovely Peregrine tone:
But the memory of my ignorance at a pub quiz directs me to the seven days of creation. It is surprising in some ways that these haven’t figured more highly in Christian or Jewish liturgy. The most recent Liberal Jewish prayer book (siddur) in the UK Siddur Lev Chadash (1995) does include the appropriate section of Genesis 1 in the daily morning service:
The notes state “The idea of reading on each day of the week the relevant section of the Creation Story is a revival of an ancient practice (of the Ma’amadot, lay prayer-groups, of Temple times; cf. M.Ta’anit 4:2f.” (page 665).
I once tried to use the seven days as a set of invitatory antiphons:
The texts are a bit long really, and lose the sense of a call to worship.
The most obvious place where the western liturgical tradition commemorates the seven days of creation is in the hymns at vespers from Epiphany to Lent. They are in the English Hymnal as hymn numbers 58 to 62. Modern versions are in the Stanbrook Abbey Hymnal and by Aelred-Seton Shanley Obl.OSB Cam. The latter are to be found in the music for the Office book posted earlier on this blog and as a series of pictures below which also includes the English Hymnal texts and a modern use of the days of creation in the office of the Jerusalem Community in Paris. These are the work of the Dominican Andre Gouzes for his complete setting of a French language office as the Liturgie Chorale du People de Dieu. These chants work well as an alternative to the Opening Psalm / Invitatory at Morning Prayer / Lauds or could be used as a hymn at Prayer During the Day during the Creation Season.
At the very least the Genesis text could replace the short reading at Prayer During the Day or Lauds/Vespers, or Psalm 104 with its magnificent creation themes could be used as an additional psalm at the beginning of Evening Prayer throughout the season.
(Apologies for the spell check marks here, up date in due course…)
Psalm 104 is used daily in the Orthodox liturgy and could be added to the beginning of the psalmody at Evening Prayer. Here are a few refrains/antiphons and a pointed text from Common Worship which could be used in the long or short forms. Another good text for learning by heart:
Some time in 1989/90 I was due to meet the then Bishop of Winchester at Wolvesey, his home next to the Cathedral, having been recommended for training for ordination. As I walked across the Cathedral green coming towards me were monks and nuns from the Theravadan Buddhist community at Chithurst. I knew them well having made several retreats there, and it seemed like a good sign to see them as they began a lengthy walking pilgrimage.
I can’t remember when I first became interested in meditation, or indeed started meditating. It may have been reading Thomas Merton as a fourteen year old, or perhaps it was talking to Fr Peter Bowe at nearby Douai Abbey? Either way I am glad that right at the beginning of my preparation for ministry as a priest that important thread was present. I would never have guessed then how significant the teaching of what is now almost universally called “Mindfulness” would be in my life.
It is easy to sneer or at least feel an inner rolling of the eyes in church or other circles when Mindfulness is mentioned. “Religion-lite” or “just another fad” are phrases I’ve heard. But I am always impressed with the seriousness which participants bring to the training. Formal meditation of this sort is a fundamental part of my life. I have taught it in all the schools I’ve worked in with four to eighteen year olds and with colleagues. It was an essential part of school improvement as a Head teacher and I have taught Mindfulness in parishes, on pilgrimages and on retreats. I can’t possibly meet the demand from across the country for this teaching. I am interested in this and in how this relates to mission. Does mindfulness lead to people meeting Jesus? The simple answer is yes, I have seen it happen. It does this in a number of ways.
In the last few years I have developed a two stage process in mindfulness training. In the first stage of four sessions I teach practices which could be used by anyone, regardless of faith or belief, I use no specifically Christian language or imagery and I make clear that the results will be a reduction in stress, relaxation and greater clarity, although meditating to get these results is unhelpful. I then offer additional sessions on specifically Christian forms of meditation, lectio, the Jesus Prayer and recently I’ve added the technique of the Cloud of Unknowing. Interestingly, the expectation is always made clear when these sessions stretch over a number of weeks that some people will not want to attend the explicitly Christian sessions. Usually a few people will tell me at the first session that they are not going to. But what actually happens is that on every occasion, so far, everybody does attend all the sessions. Happily, as a result of doing so, some individuals over the years have begun attending church and have come to faith.
I have come to believe – and it really is only from my conversations with participants – that there is something about the experience of meditation that prepares people for faith. Over the next year I hope to use feedback forms to get a clearer picture of this, but my working hypothesis is that mindfulness leads to these four experiences all of which are good foundations for faith:
1 – compassion
2 – connectedness
3 – watchfulness
4 – abandonment
COMPASSION When people sit still, observe their breathing, notice their thoughts coming and going they always experience something close to a feeling of love. They feel more loving and more loved. Although, very occasionally distressing thoughts and memories do arise this is really quite rare and even then it is within a larger experience of love.
CONNECTEDNESS Although mindfulness may appear to be a very solitary, individualistic exercise, focussed on the self, in fact the internal experience is of being less separated and more connected, not just to people but to the physical world. Sitting still and observing the breath is a strongly physical experience. It is not “all in the mind”.
WATCHFULNESS I have been undecided on what to call this experience and wondered about ‘awakeness’. In the end I’ve decided on watchfulness because it has Christian history in the Philokalic tradition where the writings of the Philokalia are the writings of the neptic ones, the awake, the watchful. Participants typically describe this as being more alert, or even more alive. Occasionally, in the early stages and often with teenagers, there is a feeling of sleepiness, sleep deprivation is a significant problem, but this usually passes.
ABANDONMENT Again, I haven’t been very certain what to call this. Because mindfulness is about noticing things, and particularly noticing thoughts as they arise and as they pass, it increases the ability to let go, to not need to be in control. This is very helpful preparation for abandonment to God.
Over the last year I have been reading and re-reading Augustine’s Confessions, although he is frequently held up as an example of “conversion experience”, notably his experience in the garden when he hears a voice tell him to “tolle, lege“, take up and read the Bible, in fact his experience is really of a long process of conversion through reflection on his own life. Indeed, that is exactly what the Confessions is, an extended meditation on his own life that Augustine hopes will show not himself but his method of coming to faith. It is not surprising therefore that for Augustine, using the human mind as an analogy for the god-head, our threefold experience of memory, understanding and will is one way of perceiving the existence of the Trinity. We are hard-wired for faith, it is in the structure of our minds not just in our thoughts. One homiletic reflection on mission is that people have a need for God that cannot be met in any way other than by knowing God, this is sometimes referred to as a “God-shaped hole” . This blog post has a good discussion on the origins of this phrase. I am not convinced that the phrase is particularly helpful either missionally or in our understanding of how and why people come to faith, I think (contra some of the comments on that blog) that it does not describe Augustine’s experience. It may be that I am simply trying to say kataphatically what “God-shaped hole” is saying apophatically, but I think the effect of saying it in that different way is quite significant. Frankly, if there is a God-shaped hole most people in our societies don’t feel it, or the need to fill it. Rather, it seems to me that people find not a lack of something in mindfulness but a waking up of a very real, positive part of themselves that has been underused, this is a good biblical image too since Jesus reminds us to “stay awake”.
When people experience compassion, connectedness, watchfulness and abandonment, they are experiencing God. In fact I am not convinced of the helpfulness of the distinction made in some spiritual writing between apophatic and kataphatic. John of the Cross’s powerful poem on the Dark Night is notably passionate, and positive in what it says about God. There are two other areas of interest for me which I hope to investigate further. One is the practice of the Cloud’s method of prayer. The slow repetition of a single word. I only began this practice myself a relatively short time ago and have only taught it to groups twice. I need to work further on the teaching of it but I am encouraged that some people reported finding it helpful. The other area is in the teaching of the Jesus Prayer. The form I use myself is “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon me a sinner.” Sometimes I omit the latter two words. If I don’t one or of the participants will say that they find thinking of themselves as a sinner difficult. This too must relate in some way to our difficulties in communicating Christian faith, I would like to think more about that.
Now, I am not claiming that Mindfulness will lead seamlessly to conversion to Trinitarian faith. Clearly it doesn’t. Buddhists have been practising Mindfulness for centuries without embracing Christianity! Mindfulness is not the whole of conversion and solid teaching of Scripture and doctrine is also needed (part 2 of this series on Mission) but it can be a very helpful preparation. Any bookshop will have rows and rows of books on Mindfulness but very little on Christianity. If we avoid Mindfulness we are losing an important tool for mission. When I teach mindfulness practices from the Christian tradition, lectio, Jesus Prayer, the Cloud’s method, a reaction I regularly hear is that participants had no idea that Christianity has such practices. A final difficulty for us is that people who have had profound experiences in Mindfulness practice are often disappointed by the lack of silence and stillness and the sheer busy-ness they find when they go to church.
There is a substantial literature on mission. People study degrees in it and publish learned theses about it. That is not my area of expertise. Although, I have been involved in mission all my life. In parishes and schools, in every context I find myself I have sought to bring people to know Jesus. I do not think we should be running schools unless they are genuinely at the heart of our mission to the nation.
So, this post is an exercise in applying what is the nearest thing to an expertise I’ve got, education, to the subject of mission. In particular a recent publication, Understanding How We Learn, provides an excellent overview on current thinking on learning. I believe there is much that the church, leaders, clergy, Sunday school teachers and others can gain from reading this and applying it in our churches. Finally I will say a little about how I am applying this thinking in my own preaching and teaching in church contexts.
Who is Jesus?
Seems like a good place to start. In the Gospels there are 90 occasions when Jesus is addressed directly with a title. On 60 of those occasions he is addressed as ‘Teacher’. Jesus himself used the term when he said, “You call me Teacher and Lord, and rightly so, for that is what I am” (John 13:13). When Nicodemus came to Jesus by night, he said, “We know that you are a teacher who has come from God” (John 3:2). We know, from Matthew’s gospel that “he taught as one having authority, not as the teachers of the law” (Matthew 7:29). At the end of his gospel Matthew tells us that Jesus commands his disciples “Go into all the world and teach all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19). Jesus’ followers are ‘disciples’, learners. Teaching is a fundamental part of Christian leadership. The traditional explanation of the functions of Jesus in ministry are as ‘prophet, priest and king’, this was probably firstly explicated by Eusebius and then taken up in Reformed churches by Calvin, and, later Wesley. It has found its way into the current Catechism of the Catholic Church at no. 436 “Jesus fulfilled the messianic hope of Israel in his threefold office of priest, prophet and king.”.
It is a shame that the tradition has not enshrined the role of Jesus as teacher as firmly as the roles of prophet, priest and king, but the biblical evidence is enough. Teaching is what Christian leaders do. Discipling people is teaching them, enabling them to learn what it is to be a Christian. When Jesus wanted to do the most profound thing he could to sustain his disciples (learners) through the darkest times, and at all times and in all places, what did he ask them to do? “Do this TO REMEMBER me.” It shouldn’t, therefore come as any surprise to Christians that the best research education shows us that memory is not only the fundamental unit of learning but also of who we are. “Think about how you define yourself,” write Weinstein and Sumeracki in their book Understanding How We Learn, “your very identity is most likely full of things you remember yourself doing.” p. 64 “Everything you do requires memory in some form or another.” p 64 “For brain scientists, there are no other forms of knowledge: everything that is learned is memory.” p.75
We are what we remember. This is not radical. My 86 year old mother has dementia. I don’t know exactly when but at some level we lost her a few years ago. We love her dearly, we do everything we can for her but she is not herself any more because she has lost her memory. Memory is the fundamental existential unit. It is who we are. When we disciple people, we teach them to remember Jesus, not just in some abstract sense but by actually remembering, memorising the words he spoke, the psalms he prayed, the things people said about him. Almost every traditional practice of the spiritual life in the Christian tradition is about getting over our basic forgetfulness. Is about helping us to remember, praying regularly through the day, praying in every moment, helping us not to forget.
Understanding How We Learn, is written by two cognitive scientists. They provide really helpful models for teaching based on this pattern: 1Spacing2 Elaboration3 Concrete Examples4 Visuals5 Retrieval You will, I’m afraid have to read the book – and I recommend it, without reservation, to clergy and other church leaders, to see what exactly is meant by this. I would however draw attention to the fact that the book addresses firstly the tendency we all have to assume that we know what learning is and how to achieve it. After all we have all been in education for many years, in fact though, intuition is the enemy of learning. All of us who teach and preach in church need to re-examine what we do, and work out whether we are delivering, achieving what we think we are. All the evidence suggests that we are not. We need to do something differently.
In my own life I now cringe when I think about some of my earlier classroom practice. I also cringe when I think about my teaching as a priest on Lent courses, bible studies, and in my preaching. What I have been trying to do as the research evidence on effective teaching becomes clearer is to teach knowledge based sermons. Content is all. People should leave knowing more than they did before they arrived. My experience is that evangelicals are much better at this than Catholic Anglicans, but that there is also a danger for evangelicals in becoming all about experience and not about knowledge. At New Wine this summer Ian Paul was, by a long way, the best teacher present, but probably the lowest attended sessions I went to. We live in an experience driven culture. I want to distinguish between preaching and teaching sessions. I have, as anybody who knows me is aware, a deep love of the rhythm and structure of the liturgy. A sermon or homily has a character that is distinctive from a teaching session. But … as those of us who pray the Breviary know the extracts we hear and read daily from the great fathers and teachers of the church in their homilies do not bear much relation to the 3 minute ‘Thought for the Day’ that characterise many of our homilies.
I have come to believe that I need to think of my preaching much more in the way that I thing about learning in schools, Understanding How We Learn, can help inform our preaching and teaching. I suppose, when I was ordained a quarter of a century ago I imagined preaching like a tiny diamond, the smaller, the more perfect, the better. Three minutes, perfectly crafted. I just do not believe any longer that that is sufficient for Christian growth. For most people in church on a Sunday that will be their only Christian teaching of the week. To deliver an effective teaching session on a Sunday morning I now believe that 15 – 20 minutes are needed. This takes me 4-6 hours to prepare. The longer I spend on the preparation the better it is. In that time, didactic as it, intentionally, is, I try and make sure that it is not just me speaking. I often ask questions, I use paired activities, I use white cards that people write on, I ask the whole congregation to repeat prayers and texts after me. If it is a series, which I prefer, I revise material from previous sessions, I describe the map of learning. If I am presiding as well as preaching I will use every opportunity to re-cap the learning, pointing out at the beginning of Mass what I am going to preach on, preaching on it, referring to it again in the intercessions, at the peace or offertory, at the beginning of the Lord’s Prayer, at the silent prayer after communion and even just before the blessing, especially if I have set homework. The content too of my preaching has changed. Doctrine and Scripture provide us more than enough material. Most people in our churches have received minimal if any substantial teaching. The field is open to us. My only question to myself: What have they learnt? My ‘new’ (to me) style of preaching often elicits the comment “Oh, we can tell you are a teacher”. I used to worry about that. Now, I just think that I am grateful to be a follower of Jesus, The Teacher, and if I am described as a teacher that is flattery indeed.
Please read Understanding How We Learn. It is very helpful indeed.
InUnderstanding How We Learn, the authors spend some time showing how our intuitions about learning are often, perhaps usually, wrong. They explain that one of the reasons for this is that almost everyone has many years experience of education before they become teachers and that misunderstandings become habits that it is hard to break. They list a number of common misunderstandings, all of which have been shown to be untrue, and the percentage of teachers and educators who continue to believe them:
There are many cross-overs between the two worlds in which I work, church and education. Partly because so much of what church leaders do is teaching, partly because through our church schools many clergy and others in the church are involved in the life of schools and also because so many clergy are former teachers. I often hear ‘learning styles’ mentioned in church contexts and sometimes manage to bite my tongue and don’t point out the substantial research base proving this misunderstanding to be just that.
The sweep of educational change in the west to ‘child-centred’, progressive, discovery based methods and now the emergence of knowledge-based learning and more didactic styles of teaching are referred to in links and references in the previous posts on mission in this series of posts. I don’t think, that I am yet seeing the move away to knowledge-based, didactic methods much influencing the church so far.
In all of the contexts where I have worked as a priest and teacher I have been struck by the apparent mismatch of Anglican church culture and the needs of children for something that they could take more seriously. The attraction of some young people to Islam and the popularity of the writer Jordan Peterson among white working class men are phenomena that are making me wonder about the need for greater seriousness in our teaching, and living, of the faith. Whenever I take young people to Taizé I can be certain that the biggest impact on them is the seriousness of the brothers, committing themselves for life to this way of living. Many people are deeply critical of the emerging knowledge based, didactive methods of education and often claim that children will be unhappy or less creative as a result. Our intuition is that making things easier, more entertaining is what will make children more successful. In fact, the evidence, and my experience is quite the opposite. In schools like Michaela Community School, or St Martin’s Academy I see children challenged to levels of work that would have been inconceivable 15 years ago. And they love it. There is a seriousness about these schools, but it is a happy, healthy seriousness that is deeply inspiring.
One of the most damaging phrases in schools has been “child-centred education”, first used, I think, in the Plowden Report of 1967 and deriving I suspect, from the “person-centred” counselling of Carl Rogers. I could not disagree more with this model of education. We human beings only make sense when we are God-centred. That’s what worship reminds us of and what we rehearse in worship. The following six areas are ones which I have been developing thoughts around on seriousness if our Mission is to be successful in bringing more people to know Jesus.
Our expectations of what children should learn and know about their faith intellectually should be the same as those now being in schools in equivalent areas of the curriculum. Colouring in, glueing and sticking are not educational activities, they are time-fillers. Our teaching and activities with children need to demand the highest they can give and leave them exhausted with exhilaration at their learning. It needs to be content heavy and involve much repetition and memorisation. At the back of Understanding How We Learn, are sections for Teachers, Parents and Students. These sections would be a great starting place for training sessions with youth leaders and Sunday school teachers. The whole of this methodology applies equally to adults. As should our expectation that they will be as challenged intellectually by what we teach as by anything else in their lives.
Children are natural pray-ers, just as they naturally do all sorts of things. But it often feels like prayer is the only area where we leave them to work things out for themselves. And most don’t. Teaching technologies of prayer, techniques that Christians have developed and used often over centuries is essential. Much memorisation will be involved. There are methods in both the Catholic and Evangelical streams of the church that we could use. Memorisation of the Bible and psalms will be part of this too. Mindfulness is a really good way into this and can begin in the Nursery. I have taught lectiodivina to children from 4-18 years old, not to mention the Jesus Prayer, the Rosary and the Office. This applies equally to adults. People want to be taught how to pray, what the experience of prayer will be like and what they should expect to experience in prayer.
Many children and young people like to belong to things, to join, to wear a badge or a uniform. As a Secondary Head teacher I used badges all the time, to communicate key messages and to reward achievement. Adults mocked when I told them that we were introducing coloured, ranked academic gowns of pupil leaders. But the children loved them, longed to wear them and were mortified if they were “de-gowned” for a period for any reason. Sometimes exclusiveness is as important as inclusion. It is hugely encouraging to see Rules of Life, new expressions of community and other ways of belonging springing up in the church.
Far too much direction is actually non-directive person-centred counselling. The Director who will not name sin, or point out the danger of the opportunities for sin is dangerous to souls. But so is the one who won’t push the directee further, to demand more, to question motives and point out patterns of behaviour. Much of the current literature on direction is lamentable, weak on theology, and low in its expectations for spiritual growth and change. There is an unhealthy mystique about Spiritual Direction, mystical experiences are not necessary. Anyone seriously living a Christian life is capable of helping others to do so.
Mixing with Pentecostal Christians and Muslims made me ashamed of my weak efforts at fasting. This is such a biblical spiritual discipline, tied so closely to prayer throughout the Bible that our failure to fast must surely be a substantial part of our failure in mission.
Everydayness of prayer and Eucharist
One of the reasons sometimes given for our failures in mission is that children, young people and families are so busy with other hobbies and interests. I am not entirely sure this is true. But if we ourselves act as if our faith is one more leisure choice among many then it will appear that way. From a Catholic-Anglican perspective the importance of the daily Mass, seven days a week, was fundamental to slum ministry. Few of our churches now maintain this. Even where they do the Mass is at times that only the retired or unemployed could attend. When I was at St Andrew’s, Earlsfield, I started a 6:30am Mass on weekdays before I went to school. I was told by some that no one would come. I never celebrated alone. Again, for Catholic Anglicans the Daily Office, seven days a week, for many seven times a day, was at the heart of their ministry. If we think we are too ‘busy’, it is simply because we have lost control of our diaries.
“Young people want more commitment not less.” Wrote the Bishop of Chelmsford (my former pastoral tutor at Theological College). It feels counter intuitive, it is. In education intuition has not served us well. Perhaps we need to be less intuitive in our church life too. The easier we make it, the less important, the less significant it looks. If that is the case why bother?
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.
This is an update of a form of martyrology I posted some time ago. It is traditional to read the martyrology liturgically each day. This text is ecumenical but designed particularly for use in the four Anglican Churches of the British Isles.
Additional entries from the online martyrology of the Bose community have been used. I would have liked to include (as does the Bose Martyrology) the celebrations of other faith communities, however as these are movable (based often on lunar calendars) that is not easy to do. An online inter-faith calendar could be consulted to add to this martyrology. I would like to add more Celtic and Saxon saints and am working on that. Often it is hard to distinguish between saints with the same name or the same saint with alternative dates for commemoration. Other Sources:For All The Saints – A Calendar of Commemorations for United Methodists, ed. Clifton F. Guthrie, Order of St Luke Publications, Akron, Ohio, 1995. A Calendar of British Saints – Orthodox Synaxarion, Fr Benedict Haigh, Bluestone Books, 2004 Ordo of the Community of the Servants of the Will of God Saints of the Roman Missal, J Michael Thompson, Ligouri, 2012 People’s Companion to the Breviary, The Carmelites of Indianapolis, 1997, Volumes 1 and 2 Troparia and Kondakia, New Skete, 1984 Holy Women, Holy Men, Church Publishing, 2010, in the online edition available in May 2018. Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals, ed Shane Claiburne et al, Zondervan, 2010 Blessed Among Us, ed. Robert Ellsberg, Liturgical Press, 2016 New Book of Festivals and Commemorations [Lutheran], Philip F. Pfatteicher, Fortress Press, 2008 Carmelite Propers for the Liturgy of the Hours, http://carmelcanada.org/liturgy/office.pdf Dominican Propers for the Liturgy of the Hours, http://opcentral.org/resources/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/Supplement.pdf Propers for Congregations Dedicated to the Precious Blood of Christ Finally, some dates of significance have been added to the entries.
Because non- Christians (eg Gandhi) have been included the phrase “people of good will” has been added to the usual conclusion of the reading of the martyrology. Events which are entered and are not people should be read at the beginning of the reading of the martryology when announcing the liturgical day. In adding to the base text used consideration has been given to the length of the reading for the whole day, so some of the many saints mentioned in that have been removed; and to ensuring the presence of more Anglican, women, married, and non-European entries. The original text included many nineteenth century saints and founders of religious communities these have largely been removed. This martyrology naturally reflects my own interests and prejudices. To reduce the length of the reading of the martyrology readings may be alternated in a two year cycle, first and third etc entry in Year 1 and so on. Obviously any entry that is going to be observed liturgically ought to be used.
The reading of the martyrology traditionally occurred at the end of Prime, with the reading for the following day being read. In reading the martyrology in Latin the day in the lunar cycle was also announced. I don’t know any communities who do this in English. The martyrology may be read at the end of a daytime hour, before Compline or separately. For those praying only Morning and Evening Prayer it might helpfully occur after Evening Prayer for the following day.
Reading The Martyrology in the Daily Office
The Martyrology for the nth day of X the year of Our Lord 20XX.
The liturgical day is then given, eg. Monday in the eighth week after Trinity, or the first entry in the martyrology if that supersedes it.]Other events at the top of the day’s entry are also read. Any entry that is to be observed liturgically is mentioned first.
After the Reading from the martyrology:
And elsewhere, many other holy women and holy men, saints of the Most High God and people of good will.
V. Precious in the eyes of the Lord. (Alleluia.)
R. Is the death of the faithful. (Alleluia.)
Let us pray. May holy Mary and all the saints pray for us to the Lord, that we may obtain from Him, help and salvation, who lives and reigns for ever and ever. Amen.
For those who pray Terce, Sext and None daily (as suggested on page 20 of Common Worship Daily Prayer) there is a need to supplement the provision of readings for these additional Little Hours. I suggest in Ordinary Time that the four week cycle at Prayer During the Day is divided to become a two week cycle providing readings for two Hours and that the very short reading is used at the third Hour. In the seasons the weekly cycle and the very short reading provide for two Hours, a sentence from the Gospel for the day could be used at the third Hour.
On saints days the Little Hours are of the feria on memorias/Lesser festivals; on Festivals and Principal Feasts readings are needed which the table provided here gives references to in the rather rich provision available in CWDP. Three of the longer readings are suggested for each Common and one of the short readings. The first number, in bold, is a page reference to CWDP. Readings for the LH CWDP
I met her at the New Wine Leaders’ Conference in Harrogate in 2017. We got on straight away, after she told me there was no doubting that the friend and colleague I was with was my son, “You have the same smile!” (sorry Dave, although technically possible, I suppose … ). We have kept in touch ever since although we were at different weeks of New Wine United in the summer. We communicate about prayer (and books, sometimes, books on prayer). She has changed her routine to get up earlier and have time with the Lord in the early morning. It has taken about three months to change sleeping habits to feel really comfortable with this. But it still feels like something is missing she tells me. “I have a great prayer time in the morning, I listen, and sing along to worship songs, I pray in tongues I read my Bible on a Bible in a Year plan. But then when I get to work I am just as crotchety and irritable as ever.”
St Paul tells us to “pray constantly”(1 Thess. 5: 17), continually, without ceasing. Easier said than done. There are three techniques that I think can really help this. I have written much about them here on this blog, I won’t put links here, you can search the blog below. Briefly on two of them:
Mindfulness: two elements turn mindfulness practice into prayer. One is recognising that the breath, our breathing is God’s Holy Breath, pneuma, breathing in us. The second is awareness of God’s presence when we achieve stillness, “Be still and know that I am God.” (Ps 46:10). Amazingly, it is possible to have this sense of the presence of God whatever you are doing and however busy you are.
Jesus Prayer: when this prayer becomes part of us, when it prays itself in us we can pray constantly, at all times. Again, it doesn’t matter how busy or preoccupied we are, if we allow it the prayer will rise. It is however, another technique that the Tradition gives us that I want to draw attention to here. The practice of extending the Daily Office across the day by praying short little Offices or Hours, during the course of the day. Punctuating the day with prayer.
Since I first wrote about praying the Little Hours my own practice has moved on a little as has that of some of those I accompany. I have also been struck by how this tradition of praying a sevenfold Office has emerged in two recently published books. The historian Eamon Duffy has published a collection of essays Royal Books and Holy Bones – Essays in Medieval Christianity (Bloomsbury 2018) which includes an excellent essay on The Psalms and Lay Piety. Like all of Duffy’s writing it is accessible and readable. There has been much research on the medieval Primers, collections of prayers for the laity. They are usually very liturgically based books and and always contain a good deal of psalmody. Often psalmody for use at the Little Hours – Terce, Sext and None – used to punctuate the day with prayer. Despite churches of the Reformation removing Little Hours from their official liturgies, and the Roman Catholic Church only mandating clergy to pray one Daytime Hour since the early seventies, there is a remarkable hunger for these Hours. They just won’t go away because they meet a need.
As an example the unofficial Lutheran Office Book, The Daily Prayer of the Church, edited by Pastor Philip Pfatteicher (Lutheran University Press, 2005) includes forms for Terce, Sext and None, as well as an alternative single Daytime Hour. For each section of the Daily Office lectionary of the BCP 1979 it includes a short extract which could be used as the reading at these little Hours to extend the prayer into the day, an ingenious idea. It is an excellent book containing a rich resource of hymnody for the Office from the Lutheran tradition. The two recent books I recommend are:
The first is from The Episcopal Church in the United States but has been published in England with a preface by the former bishop of Oxford, John Pritchard. Daily Prayer for All Seasons – A contemporary Benedictine prayer companion (Canterbury Press, 2016). (DPFAS). Fr Christopher Woods reviewed this for the Church Times, here. Derek Olsen of St Bede’s Publications writes a somewhat harsh review here from a liturgical purists point of view. He is right on almost every substantive point but wrong about the helpfulness of the book. DPFAS is not a liturgical book, it is a devotional prayer book which uses liturgical structures, seasonal, weekly and daily, to provide a framework for prayer. For each day eight sets of prayers are provided, one for each of the canonical Hours (Prime, Lauds, Terce, Sext, None, Vespers, Compline, Vigils), each provided with a an overarching theme used in every season:
Prime – Praise
Lauds – Discernment
Terce – Wisdom
Sext – Perseverance and Renewal
None – Love
Vespers – Forgiveness
Compline – Trust
Vigils – Watch
A set of prayers is provided for each Season of the church’s year and two sets for Ordinary Time. The prayers are designed for private use at Prime and Vigils but corporate use at the other Hours. Here are two examples of provision, the first in Advent and the second in Eastertime. I think this would make an excellent resource for punctuating the day with prayer, for drawing from the liturgical tradition but doing so in a somewhat more devotional way. I have recommended it to several people and so far have had very positive feedback.
The second recommendation is a book edited by Sister Stan, a Sister of Charity in Ireland who is something of a star. It is a beautifully crafted book, published by Columba Press. Awakening Inner Peace provides a four week cycle of little offices for each of the eight canonical hours for every day. There is no seasonal material. The short but helpful introduction also provides suggestions for using particular hours at various points in life or in need.
For each ‘Hour’ there is a verse or two of psalmody, a very short meditation in poetic form and a final verse of intention. The shortness of these Hours would provide a momentary pause in the working day or on retreat, the meditations are simple but profound. Here are two example pages.
Even the traditional forms of the Little Hours take only a few minutes. These devotional forms even less. Breaking the day for these prayer pauses asserts the fact that there is something more significant than what we have to do, or the demands of the diary. It asserts our control over our diaries and over our busy-ness and the sovereignty of God in our lives. We cannot say “Jesus is Lord” and then ignore him from morning til evening. Busyness is just a state of mind. It is about choices we make. We could all of us fill our days many times over. Praying the Hours can help us reduce stress and anxiety by reminding us of what is important and also by giving us an ‘Office’ that is completed at the end of the day. Many of us do jobs that are never really finished. Finishing, completing the Office can be immensely satisfying.
The Daily Office is often said to be about sanctifying time. The interesting thing for me in my present job is that it is also about sanctifying place. I have prayed the Little Hours in car parks, shopping centres, garden centres, empty offices in schools, town halls, the diocesan office, across the diocese of Liverpool and on trains and in my car. If these books don’t appeal, and the structure of the traditional offices seems too much, just pray your way through Psalm 119 a section at a time. This is what Christians have done for much of Christian history. My New Wine friend has only just begun this practice but already she has messaged me several times to say that her day feels so much better, so much more fully offered to the Lord.
At Plum Village, the Buddhist monastery founded by Vietnamese teacher Thich Nhat Hahn, when a clock strikes or a gong sounds, everyone stops, breathes deeply and remembers a brief gatha or mindfulness verse:
“Listen, listen,this wonderful bell
brings me back to my true self.”
We human beings are forgetful, half-asleep creatures. Mindfulness is nothing more than waking up, becoming attentive and aware. You can download a mindfulness bell to sound on your computer. I used to have it ringing in my office when I was a Headteacher, an old fashioned chiming clock can serve the same purpose. Stop and breathe deeply three times. The Christian tradition, too, has many ways to remind us to stay awake. One of these is the Liturgy of the Hours. For some people, two longish liturgies a day, in the morning and evening, are sufficient, as in the Book of Common Prayer.
For some of us, however, little and often is best. One way many Anglicans have found to pray, in this little-and-often sort of way, is through the ‘Little Hours’ of the Daily Office: Terce, Sext and None, at the third, sixth and ninth hours of the day. One of the Anglican books used for this, for many decades was the Monastic Diurnal, a translation of the Latin Benedictine Office, produced in 1933, and edited by Canon Winfred Douglas. Writing in the Preface to The Monastic Diurnal he said:
“The Monastic Office was planned from the first for busy men [sic] … for our frequently overburdened parochial Clergy, it is an ideal Office because it combines great variety with comparative brevity.”
(Monastic Diurnal, OUP, 1933 v-vi).
From the very beginning of the separation of the church in England from Rome, many people have supplemented the Offices of the Prayer Book with liturgical devotions at other times of the day. In 1627 John Cosin (later Bishop of Durham), then just thirty years of old, published his Collection of Private Devotions for The Hours of Prayer. It is a beautiful combination of Prayer Book liturgy and language, providing forms of prayer for Prime, Terce, Sext, None and Compline, translated from traditional sources, as well as many other prayers and devotions.
We know too that the community at Little Gidding prayed the psalms throughout the course of the day. There were, no doubt, many other examples of the punctuation of the day with psalmody (see Anglican Devotion, C.J. Stranks, SCM 1961, for the period from the Reformation to the Oxford Movement). The Catholic Revival of the nineteenth century continued this tradition. Many clergy prayed the Western Office in Latin, but soon books of Hours appeared to enable the traditional canonical hours to be prayed in English, using the texts and Calendar of the Prayer Book, and usually providing for the Little Hours to be prayed alongside the Prayer Book Offices of Matins and Evensong. Versions of these books are so numerous that it would be a long list if it was reproduced here. Two traditions predominated among Anglo-Catholics: the monastic version of the Office, as in Canon Douglas’s book, and more popularly, translations of the traditional western Office (before the 1911 reform) which made provision for the recitation of Psalm 119 over the course of each day at the Little Hours. These Offices found their way into the Cuddesdon Office Book and the very popular Prime and Hours and The Priest‘s Book of Private Devotion and are recommended in Fr Whatton’s magnificent The Priest’s Companion. For the laity they appeared, in simplified form, in A Manual of Catholic Devotion.
It was the reforms of the Second Vatican Council that reduced the normal Office to a fivefold form, with a single daytime Hour, and Prime removed. However, The Divine Office, the current western (Roman) rite does make provision for Terce and None. Even now, some people use the old books, including The Anglican Breviary (a translation into Prayer Book English of the post-1911 Breviary) to pray a sevenfold, or even eightfold, Office.
I often hear the claim that a Catholic renewal in our Church is not a management issue but a spiritual one. I believe that all renewal needs good management. St. Paul was highly efficient.
Next week, when I am at the New Wine Leaders’ Conference I have no doubt that I shall be part of something that is superbly managed. When Anglican Catholicism was at its strength it was a serious enterprise. Fasting, as Newman and Pusey recognised, was an essential part of the spiritual life. The praying at regular intervals during the day was the foundation of the energy and mission of countless heroic priests and laypeople. It seems unlikely to me that spiritual renewal will come unless we too embrace these disciplines, as our predecessors did, joyfully.
Like many Catholic Anglicans I have been praying the five-fold Divine Office for almost all of my adult life. Using it as a supplement to Common Worship. In 2014 I added Terce, using Psalm 119 over a week, to end the quiet desk time after my morning prayers and before the workday begins. In Eastertide 2016 I added None to the daily round and in September 2016 a brief Office of Prime. I do so using Psalm 119 to link myself to Catholic and Anglican tradition. I recently put together a little card to tuck into my Breviary with some simple music and the distribution of the psalms. Common Worship: Daily Prayer also refers to the Little Hours and they could easily be prayed using it. Here are the cards:
(Music for the opening verses is from Abbot Alan Rees OSB)Word version here. (You will need to install the St Meinrad fonts to read the music, available here)PDF here.
Psalm 119 arranged for praying over a week at Terce (or any other Hour) here, in the Grail translation.
The obligation to pray Morning and Evening Prayer is a serious one for Anglican clergy, and they should not be omitted except for a substantial reason. I find it deeply moving on my travels as Superior of the Sodality, and in the diocese of Liverpool as Director of Education, to pray with my sister and brother priests and to know they are praying day by day. Some people choose to add to the basic obligation the praying of the Office of Readings, Daytime and Night Prayer. This is a personal choice, so not of obligation. Just as with fasting, there is always a danger of scrupulosity or adding these devotions as ego-centred ‘works’, this is why a Spiritual Director is so important. We must never forget that we are freely saved and can never merit the salvation Jesus brings – we don’t have to, and can’t, earn it. However, if done lovingly and freely, like a lover who wishes to phone his beloved during the day, not once but many times, or when in the beloved’s presence can hardly resist their touch, this can be a beautiful way of enjoying the divine Presence throughout the day. It is not just a cure for forgetfulness, but a satisfying of the desire and need to be with God intensely.
Just as with fasting there is the suggestion that somehow modern people are not quite up to praying so often. That we are too busy, our lifestyles too full. I am not at all sure about this. I particularly object to the use of the word busy. I think we need to think more carefully about how we use, and control the use of our time. Surfing the web, watching TV, even listening to the news can suck up time. We could all fill our days many times over, but we can, mostly, choose the things that we want to do. Why not choose to spend a few extra minutes with God? If prayed quickly each Office can be said in three or four minutes, it would be hard to make them last longer than ten. Today, for example, I prayed Terce sat in my car on a street in St Helens, Sext on the same street, after the meeting I was attending and None, outside the school I was due to visit in Garston in Liverpool, a little later. These are, for me, refreshing pauses, Psalm 119 a gentle brook, gently gurgling its way through my day and renewing me.
“Happy indeed is the man … whose delight is in the law of the Lord and who ponders his law day and night. He is like a tree that is planted beside the flowing waters.” (Ps 1)
The Little Hours are little mindfulness bells, reminding us of the great story of salvation told in Scripture, but they are also a loving touch in the working day with the One who made us and loves us. As Fr Jonathan Graham CR wrote,
“Psalm 119 is a love song.Not a passionate love song; certainly not.It is not the song of love at first sight,nor of the bitter sweet of emotion and desire.It is the song of happy married life.That is not to say that it is, literally, the song of a poet happily wedded; but it breathes all the way through the charmed monotony of a life vowed to another;it repeats with endless variety and sweet restraintthe simple inexpressible truth that can never grow weary or stale– I love thee. Thou, thee, thine;every verse of the poem, except the three which introduce it,contains thou, thee or thine.And a very large number of them echo: I, me, mine.Well might its author find the sum total of his song in the high priestly prayer of Jesus:All mine are thine and thine are mine.”
Serious? Well, yes, but joyful, light and energising, if prayed freely and as a free gift to Him.
Every day I publish a daily gospel tweet #todaysgospel, on the gospel of the daily Mass / Daily Eucharistic Lectionary, a tweet length distillation of my daily lectio.
Several people have asked me how I do this form of prayer. Lectio is simply the Latin word for reading, in this context it is short for lectio divina, the sacred reading that is the traditional way of chewing on, and digesting, Scripture. Here is a very good paper from a Carmelite author on lectio. The Wikipedia article is also good.
As part of my lectio I use the prayers on this card.
The table indicates the four traditional phases, each column is one writer’s interpretation of the traditional stages. (Unfortunately I haven’t kept a record of whose they are – apologies to the originators.) The Collect is usually attributed to St Jerome.
I reckon forty minutes is about ideal for working with one piece of Scripture. About ten minutes for each stage. I find it difficult to find 40 minutes in one go and so have developed a way of dividing up the phases into just before going to bed and when I get up. At weekends I am more likely to be able to find the time to work with a reading in one sitting. I can’t say I prefer one way to the other, they are just different.
Before I say Compline, the final prayers of the day, just before bed, I read the Gospel for the following day, I then do the lectio stage. I may consult a commentary or two, probably look at the Greek text. I often see if one phrase stands out and, if it does, write that on a card that I will put on my bedside table and then carry with me the following day. At the end of Compline after the anthem to Our Lady I read the Gospel out loud, often from the Nick King translation of the NT. I then do the meditatio phase, almost Ignatian in my approach, imagining the scene (‘composition’ as Ignatius would say). I imagine or hear Jesus speaking to me. I try and picture the scene in all its detail, temperature, smells, sounds, light. And then go to bed. It is wonderful to have heard the Lord in this way just before sleeping.
In the morning the card will be the first thing I see, with two cups of tea I will do the oratio stage of the lectio, the praying. I talk to Jesus about the passage. At this stage I may write a draft version of the tweet, which is often addressed to Jesus. It is Jesus that I feel very much with me as I do this. Perhaps if I used texts other than the gospels it would feel differently. Next I read the Gospel again, out loud, usually in the original Greek, which means I need to read it slowly. I pray the Office out loud whenever I can which seems much better to me. I then have the contemplatio phase, the just dwelling with the Scripture. Not so much thinking about it as dwelling in it, or it dwelling in me. I don’t expect any particular outcome. I often read the gospel in another language, Latin (which I know best), French or German. This reading really slows me down. I will carry the card around with me during the day, if I am driving putting it where I can see it.
At Mid-day prayer I, again, use the same text as the reading. After the Office at Mid-day I pray the Ignatian Examen and find the gospel passage often informs that. One of the re-discoveries we are making in education is the absolute importance of repetition and memorisation. Repeating the same reading five times (including Mass) in one day, out loud, as well as silent praying of it really helps the reading sink deep in me and fixes it in my mind. Chewing on the passage at length like this is really rewarding, whether it produces good milk is for others to judge and to be seen, or not, in my life. But as a way of praying I recommend it.
I am really grateful for the positive comments on the tweets and will continue them. It helps me to have to reduce the thoughts to something succinct. Scripture is an endless mine, I hope even these little fragments are worthy of it. It is a great joy to think of those same readings (in the Daily Eucharistic / Mass Lectionary) being chewed on around the world.
“it is the missional problem of our time that needs most thought and reflection and most occupies my mind. Our failure to evangelise, to communicate the gospel, particularly to the young, and the decline of the church. I have a series of posts planned that will address this problem in four key areas for further investigation:
1 Mindfulness for Mission: there is no God-shaped hole
2 Learning for Mission: it’s all about memory
3 Seriousness for Mission: the easier we make it the less attractive it is
4 Morality for Mission: why people think the church is immoral”
Some time in 1989/90 I was due to meet the then Bishop of Winchester at Wolvesey, his home next to the Cathedral, having been recommended for training for ordination. As I walked across the Cathedral green coming towards me were monks and nuns from the Theravadan Buddhist community at Chithurst. I knew them well having made several retreats there, and it seemed like a good sign to see them as they began a lengthy walking pilgrimage.
I can’t remember when I first became interested in meditation, or indeed started meditating. It may have been reading Thomas Merton as a fourteen year old, or perhaps it was talking to Fr Peter Bowe at nearby Douai Abbey? Either way I am glad that right at the beginning of my preparation for ministry as a priest that important thread was present. I would never have guessed then how significant the teaching of what is now almost universally called “Mindfulness” would be in my life.
It is easy to sneer or at least feel an inner rolling of the eyes in church or other circles when Mindfulness is mentioned. “Religion-lite” or “just another fad” are phrases I’ve heard. But I am always impressed with the seriousness which participants bring to the training. Formal meditation of this sort is a fundamental part of my life. I have taught it in all the schools I’ve worked in with four to eighteen year olds and with colleagues. It was an essential part of school improvement as a Head teacher and I have taught Mindfulness in parishes, on pilgrimages and on retreats. I can’t possibly meet the demand from across the country for this teaching. I am interested in this and in how this relates to mission. Does mindfulness lead to people meeting Jesus?
The simple answer is yes, I have seen it happen. It does this in a number of ways.
In the last few years I have developed a two stage process in mindfulness training. In the first stage of four sessions I teach practices which could be used by anyone, regardless of faith or belief, I use no specifically Christian language or imagery and I make clear that the results will be a reduction in stress, relaxation and greater clarity, although meditating to get these results is unhelpful. I then offer additional sessions on specifically Christian forms of meditation, lectio, the Jesus Prayer and recently I’ve added the technique of the Cloud of Unknowing.
Interestingly, the expectation is always made clear when these sessions stretch over a number of weeks that some people will not want to attend the explicitly Christian sessions. Usually a few people will tell me at the first session that they are not going to. But what actually happens is that on every occasion, so far, everybody does attend all the sessions. Happily, as a result of doing so, some individuals over the years have begun attending church and have come to faith.
I have come to believe – and it really is only from my conversations with participants – that there is something about the experience of meditation that prepares people for faith. Over the next year I hope to use feedback forms to get a clearer picture of this, but my working hypothesis is that mindfulness leads to these four experiences all of which are good foundations for faith:
1 – compassion
2 – connectedness
3 – watchfulness
4 – abandonment
When people sit still, observe their breathing, notice their thoughts coming and going they always experience something close to a feeling of love. They feel more loving and more loved. Although, very occasionally distressing thoughts and memories do arise this is really quite rare and even then it is within a larger experience of love.
Although mindfulness may appear to be a very solitary, individualistic exercise, focussed on the self, in fact the internal experience is of being less separated and more connected, not just to people but to the physical world. Sitting still and observing the breath is a strongly physical experience. It is not “all in the mind”.
I have been undecided on what to call this experience and wondered about ‘awakeness’. In the end I’ve decided on watchfulness because it has Christian history in the Philokalic tradition where the writings of the Philokalia are the writings of the neptic ones, the awake, the watchful. Participants typically describe this as being more alert, or even more alive. Occasionally, in the early stages and often with teenagers, there is a feeling of sleepiness, sleep deprivation is a significant problem, but this usually passes.
Again, I haven’t been very certain what to call this. Because mindfulness is about noticing things, and particularly noticing thoughts as they arise and as they pass, it increases the ability to let go, to not need to be in control. This is very helpful preparation for abandonment to God.
Over the last year I have been reading and re-reading Augustine’s Confessions, although he is frequently held up as an example of “conversion experience”, notably his experience in the garden when he hears a voice tell him to “tolle, lege“, take up and read the Bible, in fact his experience is really of a long process of conversion through reflection on his own life. Indeed, that is exactly what the Confessions is, an extended meditation on his own life that Augustine hopes will show not himself but his method of coming to faith. It is not surprising therefore that for Augustine, using the human mind as an analogy for the god-head, our threefold experience of memory, understanding and will is one way of perceiving the existence of the Trinity. We are hard-wired for faith, it is in the structure of our minds not just in our thoughts.
One homiletic reflection on mission is that people have a need for God that cannot be met in any way other than by knowing God, this is sometimes referred to as a “God-shaped hole” . This blog post has a good discussion on the origins of this phrase. I am not convinced that the phrase is particularly helpful either missionally or in our understanding of how and why people come to faith, I think (contra some of the comments on that blog) that it does not describe Augustine’s experience. It may be that I am simply trying to say kataphatically what “God-shaped hole” is saying apophatically, but I think the effect of saying it in that different way is quite significant.
Frankly, if there is a God-shaped hole most people in our societies don’t feel it, or the need to fill it. Rather, it seems to me that people find not a lack of something in mindfulness but a waking up of a very real, positive part of themselves that has been underused, this is a good biblical image too since Jesus reminds us to “stay awake”. When people experience compassion, connectedness, watchfulness and abandonment, they are experiencing God.
In fact I am not convinced of the helpfulness of the distinction made in some spiritual writing between apophatic and kataphatic. John of the Cross’s powerful poem on the Dark Night is notably passionate, and positive in what it says about God.
There are two other areas of interest for me which I hope to investigate further. One is the practice of the Cloud’s method of prayer. The slow repetition of a single word. I only began this practice myself a relatively short time ago and have only taught it to groups twice. I need to work further on the teaching of it but I am encouraged that some people reported finding it helpful.
The other area is in the teaching of the Jesus Prayer. The form I use myself is “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon me a sinner.” Sometimes I omit the latter two words. If I don’t one or of the participants will say that they find thinking of themselves as a sinner difficult. This too must relate in some way to our difficulties in communicating Christian faith, I would like to think more about that.
Now, I am not claiming that Mindfulness will lead seamlessly to conversion to Trinitarian faith. Clearly it doesn’t. Buddhists have been practising Mindfulness for centuries without embracing Christianity!
Mindfulness is not the whole of conversion and solid teaching of Scripture and doctrine is also needed (part 2 of this series on Mission) but it can be a very helpful preparation. Any bookshop will have rows and rows of books on Mindfulness but very little on Christianity. If we avoid Mindfulness we are losing an important tool for mission. When I teach mindfulness practices from the Christian tradition, lectio, Jesus Prayer, the Cloud’s method, a reaction I regularly hear is that participants had no idea that Christianity has such practices.
A final difficulty for us is that people who have had profound experiences in Mindfulness practice are often disappointed by the lack of silence and stillness and the sheer busy-ness they find when they go to church.