Sermon Christ Church Cathedral 13/09/20: Resentment, Fairness and Black Lives Matter

Sermon Trinity 13 2020

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. 

Jesus is.

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.

Meg Wroe

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.”

Because

“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.

An immensity of waters: chanting the whole psalter in a day

“As we move from late antiquity toward the Middle Ages, more complex Latin syntheses of these originally Eastern elements emerge. The simplest of these can be found in Irish monastic sources, which reached their most developed form in the traditions and texts of the Céli Dé or Culdees. While the Apophthegmata include stories of monks heroically reciting all 150 psalms, the Irish texts seem to make this the daily responsibility of every monk, to be completed in “three fifties” along with other texts, such as the Beatitudes (Matt. 5:3–12). One finds Irish liturgical offices in which the three fifties form part of an even larger course of daily psalmody, but more often the recita- tion seems more like an expiatory exercise for the individual monk, to be combined with other ascetic practices such as holding up the hands for long periods, numerous genuflections or prostrations, repeated blows with a scourge, fasting, exposure to harsh weather conditions, and so on. Similar practices are prescribed in some of the Irish penitentials.”31 

Jeffery, P. (2020). Psalmody and Prayer in Early Monasticism. In A. Beach & I. Cochelin (Eds.), The Cambridge History of Medieval Monasticism in the Latin West (pp. 112-127). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

“A reform movement influential from 750 – 900 required even a secular cleric to recite all the psalms every day”

van Heusen, Nancy. The Place of the Psalms in the Intellectual Culture of the Middle Ages (p60)

Keeping a journal has never been part of my life except on retreat and I now have quite a set of these notebooks recording most of the retreats I have made in my adult life. I usually bring all or some of my previous journals with me. In 1997 I was not far from where I am now in north Wales. Also in a borrowed cottage, on the Llyn Peninsula. RS Thomas and Jim Cotter country. On one day then I wrote in my journal: “150 psalms prayed, 3 hours 55 minutes”.

The psalms are extraordinary. There is never a day when I not only pray a substantial portion of psalmody but also spend a little time reading commentaries or devotional guides or expositions of the psalms. Most importantly the expositions on the psalms of Saint Augustine of Hippo.

The Celtic saints are renowned for their ascetic practices and the recitation of the psalter is often among those quoted. A Facebook request brought fascinating material on the idea of reciting the whole psalter daily. St Benedict refers to this (Chapter 18) in his Rule:

“We read, after all, that our holy Fathers, energetic as they were, did all this in a single day. Let us hope that we, lukewarm as we are, can achieve it in a whole week.”

Beginning a new ministry at Christ Church, Oxford I am drawn to St Frideswide, patron of Oxford whose shrine is in the Cathedral and where, soon I shall be praying daily. The loan of a stunning icon of her for me to bring with me on retreat (see above) has reinforced that sense of connection. She may well be a link to those Celtic saints not just in time but possibly in her own origins.

There is something extreme about the effort to pray the whole psalter in a day that appeals to me. The effort to do something heroic even if only in a minor way. So I had been planning on doing this for a while. I had, in fact decided to divide the psalms across 15 hours starting at 4:30am and reciting a group of psalms beginning at each half hour throughout the day. However, when I read about the Céli Dé and their practice of three-fifties I changed my mind.

The length of the entire psalter is interesting. It is best measured in words rather than verses or psalms. In the Hebrew there are just 30,147 words. In English the BCP/Coverdale psalter has 48, 417 words. Common Worship comes in at 45,375 and my favourite translation of the psalms, the Grail version, at 42,621. I would love to know how many are in the defunct ICEL translation of the late 1990s which deliberately tried a sparser vocabulary to be closer to the Hebrew. But I haven’t been able to find an electronic version (do let me know if you have one). It is a beautiful translation which I use occasionally, although it lacks the lovely rhythmic patterns of the Grail.

Singing is an essential part of prayer for me. So I decided to use the Conception psalm tones which are designed to be sung with stanzas of varying lengths. I had thought about use a setting of the Grail psalter to the traditional plainsong tones but I would need to play those over on my recorder to get them anywhere near right and that would have added time. They are also rather slower to sing than the Conception tones which really draw out the sprung rhythm that the translators deliberately sought.

Beginning the three fifties at 4:30am, 1:30pm and 6:30pm I was surprised that they are remarkably similar in length (14,126; 14,480; and 14,015 words respectively). They also took a remarkably similar length of time to sing, between one hour and fifty and one hour and fifty-five minutes. A lot longer than my younger self; perhaps I hurried then, I certainly must have recited not sung the psalms to have done it in such a time. This time I didn’t hurry but I went at a good pace and there were no pauses or silences. I prayed Mass and Compline but otherwise didn’t pray any other Offices or texts.

Praying the psalms daily I know them well and so I was not expecting the powerful effect that praying them all in one go would have on me. I am particularly taken with a scholarly approach to studying the psalms that takes the canonical form of the psalter seriously. At one time genre criticism concentrated on what category each psalm belongs in (lament, royal etc). More recently reception criticism particularly in the work of Sue Gillingham has looked at their use and reception in different communities and contexts. Canonical criticism takes the work of the final editors very seriously. Why did they place the psalms in this order and in these relationships to one another. Although I knew much of that intellectually, the praying of them all in one day makes those patterns very interesting indeed. Psalm 119 in the final of the fifties both referred back to where I had begun with its wisdom and torah; and feels like an assimilation of the surge of varied experiences, emotions depths and heights described in the preceding psalms. The royal psalms, if anything, diminish by their relationship to the wisdom tradition; it is royalty firmly in its place. The psalms of ascent are truly an ascent; like the last leg of climbing mountain after a long preceding climb. I was tired, my voice was tired. And then the view at the top of the mountain. The wonderful psalms of praise the climax, the big sky moment. These psalms are normally associated with the morning so praying them in the dark increased the disorientation.

Throughout the singing I was struck by Brueggeman’s description of the process of orientation – disorientation- reorientation. Singing the psalms in this unfamiliar way, in an unfamiliar place, at unfamiliar times. At times it felt like I was losing my footing.The experience to which I can most easily compare it is the one occasion when, as a teenager on some outward bounds type week, I went white water rafting (coincidentally also here in Wales on the Wye). It was probably pretty tame really but I remember that sense of being almost out of control; the river carrying me; not being able to stop. And the exhilaration.

Extreme acts of piety do appeal to me. But I am not insane. I am not suggesting that any of us could adopt this as a regular practice. But I would like to think that I might make this an annual practice. Often people say to me that they don’t really know what to do on retreat. Spending one day doing this would be a fascinating process. I hope as exhilarating and spiritually enervating as it has been for me.

It has made me wonder about moving to more frequent recitation of the psalms in my prayer. I have always suggested that a month / four weeks (as in the BCP and in the Roman Divine Office) is the longest appropriate period for praying the psalms. I am now wondering if I could develop a weekly cycle for the whole psalter at Vigils. Many of my friends use the weekly cycle of the Anglican Breviary for their prayers and find it deeply satisfying.

Today, I went to the beach. With mountains around me and the waves crashing in a psalm is the only possible response:

The Lord’s voice resounding on the waters,

the Lord on the immensity of the waters;

the voice of the Lord, full of power,

the voice of the Lord, full of splendour.

Sermon: Bartlemas Chapel, Cowley, Oxford 23rd August 2020

St Bartlemas Chapel, Cowley

Vigil Mass 7:30pm Sunday 23 August

Isaiah 43: 8-13   Acts 5: 12-16.  Luke 22: 24-30

Three Scriptures:

You are my witnesses, says the Lord,

and my servant whom I have chosen,

so that you may know and believe me. 

Is 43:10

Many signs and wonders were done among the people

Acts 5:12

I am among you as one who serves.

You are those who have stood by me in my trials.

Lk 22: 26

When did you last hear the Lord speaking to you?

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.

At first

belief was a joy I kept in secret,

stealing alone

into sacred places;

a quick glance, and away – and back,

circling.

I have long since uttered your name

but now

I elude your presence.

I stop

to think about you, and my mind

at once

like a minnow darts away,

darts

into the shadows, into gleams that fret

unceasing over

the river’s purling and passing.

Not for one second

will my self hold still, but wanders

anywhere,

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.

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?

Powerful Protection: St Patrick’s Lorica

10th July, 2020: This is an old post from my previous blog. I re-post it because it is one of the most popular and one that I regularly refer people to. Often in life we feel the effects of the spiritual conflict between good and evil, we feel and sometimes are, attacked, and we need a prayer for protection. Of course it is always important to recognise that the conflict is as much within us as outside. Our own selfishness and sinfulness attacks us. It is important that we never think of those who attack us as ‘evil’ and ourselves as ‘good’. With the addition of readings this prayer makes a good little liturgy, almost a ‘little Office’. I have used it with both adults and teenagers. It works really well prayed outdoors, especially early in the morning at sunrise; with hot chocolate and marshmallows around a fire at night; or on a stormy day on a mountain-top …

My great grandparents came from the west of Ireland at the end of the nineteenth century and ended up in Chesterfield in Derbyshire. The family story is that they lived, along with many other Irish immigrants, in Brown’s Yard and that great-gran was a laundry woman. Although she was born in England my grandmother considered herself Irish and it was from her I learnt the faith.

My Irish forebears were reversing the journey made by St Patrick. I have always loved the Lorica, St Patrick’s breastplate, in its full version (as found in the English Hymnal). The strong sense of the spiritual combat permeates the whole prayer but also the wonderful, dynamic relationship of the Trinity which is alive and powerful.

The Lorica makes a lovely little liturgy all by itself. The addition of readings – in the booklet below I suggest either Ephesians 6 (the breastplate of righteousness) or Deuteronomy 6 (the Sh’ma) and that lovely verse from Hosea “I will betroth me unto thee for ever” seem to work really well.

I have used this booklet of the Lorica as a morning liturgy on retreat with parishioners and have strong memories of standing in the grounds of Llangasty Retreat House with friends from St Andrew’s, Earlsfield singing it in the morning sun. My other memory of it is on a blustery, rainy day on Dartmoor with a group of pupils from Trinity, singing it with rain blowing into my face and the booklet disintegrating in my hands. It is a bracing outdoor prayer for a stormy day.

Lorica booklet in PDF format.

Most hymn books omit sections of the Lorica which is a shame. For those of us who live the spiritual conflict on a daily basis (isn’t that everyone?) – it’s a powerful prayer.

From Cyberhymnal: “The lyr­ics are a trans­la­tion of a Gael­ic po­em called “St. Pat­rick’s Lor­i­ca,” or breast­plate. (A “lorica” was a mys­tic­al gar­ment that was sup­posed to pro­tect the wear­er from dan­ger and ill­ness, and guar­an­tee ent­ry in­to Hea­ven.) Ce­cil Alex­an­der penned these words at the re­quest of H. H. Dick­in­son, Dean of the Cha­pel Roy­al at Dub­lin Cas­tle. I wrote to her sug­gest­ing that she should fill a gap in our Irish Church Hymn­al by giv­ing us a me­tric­al ver­sion of St. Patrick’s “Lor­i­ca” and I sent her a care­ful­ly col­lat­ed co­py of the best prose trans­la­tions of it. With­in a week she sent me that ex­qui­site­ly beau­ti­ful as well as faith­ful ver­sion which ap­pears in the ap­pend­ix to our Church Hymn­al. This hymn can be a chall­enge to sing with­out see­ing the words matched to the notes, but it is a mas­ter­piece ne­ver­the­less.”

The text:

I bind unto myself today 
The strong Name of the Trinity, 
By invocation of the same 
The Three in One and One in Three. 

I bind this today to me forever 
By power of faith, 
Christ’s incarnation; 
His baptism in Jordan river, 
His death on Cross for my salvation; 
His bursting from the spicèd tomb, 
His riding up the heavenly way, 
His coming at the day of doom 
I bind unto myself today. 

I bind unto myself the power 
Of the great love of cherubim; 
The sweet ‘Well done’ in judgment hour, 
The service of the seraphim, 
Confessors’ faith, Apostles’ word, 
The Patriarchs’ prayers, the prophets’ scrolls, 
All good deeds done unto the Lord 
And purity of virgin souls. 

I bind unto myself today 
The virtues of the star lit heaven, 
The glorious sun’s life giving ray, 
The whiteness of the moon at even, 
The flashing of the lightning free, 
The whirling wind’s tempestuous shocks, 
The stable earth, the deep salt sea 
Around the old eternal rocks. 

I bind unto myself today 
The power of God to hold and lead, 
His eye to watch, 
His might to stay, 
His ear to hearken to my need. 
The wisdom of my God to teach, 
His hand to guide, 
His shield to ward; 
The word of God to give me speech, 
His heavenly host to be my guard. 

Against the demon snares of sin, 
The vice that gives temptation force, 
The natural lusts that war within, 
The hostile men that mar my course; 
Or few or many, far or nigh, 
In every place and in all hours,
Against their fierce hostility 
I bind to me these holy powers. 

Against all Satan’s spells and wiles, 
Against false words of heresy, 
Against the knowledge that defiles, 
Against the heart’s idolatry, 
Against the wizard’s evil craft, 
Against the death wound and the burning, 
The choking wave, the poisoned shaft, 
Protect me, Christ, till Thy returning. 

Scripture Reading: 
Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness; And your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace; Above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God: Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints. 
Eph. 6:10-18 

Or: 
Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD: And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might. And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart: And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up. And thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thine hand, and they shall be as frontlets between thine eyes. And thou shalt write them upon the posts of thy house, and on thy gates. Dt. 6: 4-9
Christ be with me,Christ within me,
Christ behind me,
Christ before me, 
Christ beside me, 
Christ to win me, 
Christ to comfort and restore me. 

Christ beneath me, 
Christ above me, 
Christ in quiet, 
Christ in danger, 
Christ in hearts of all that love me, 
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger. 

Scripture Reading: 
I will betroth thee unto me for ever; yea, I will betroth thee unto me in righteousness, and in judgment, and in loving kindness, and in mercies. I will even betroth thee unto me in faithfulness: and thou shalt know the LORD. 
Hosea 2:19
I bind unto myself the Name, 
The strong Name of the Trinity, 
By invocation of the same, 
The Three in One and One in Three. 
By Whom all nature hath creation, 
Eternal Father, Spirit, Word: 
Praise to the Lord of my salvation, 
Salvation is of Christ the Lord.

A new ‘Manual of Plainsong’: Common Worship psalms pointed for traditional Gregorian tones

When I first began learning to sing plainsong to English words it was at Holy Trinity, Winchester with Julien Chilcott-Monk, who was Director of Music there at the time. The book he put into my hands was the green Proctor and Frere ‘Manual of Plainsong‘. Generations of Anglo-Catholics were raised on this book. It had numerous editions and it, and other versions of the Coverdale psalms set to the traditional tones were used in churches across the country from the middle of the nineteenth-century onwards.

St Stephen’s House in Oxford recently published their own Office book (which I reviewed here) which contains a version of the Manual of Plainsong in a late edition containing the Revised Psalter, it is very well pointed and a great achievement. It is good to think that those being formed for the priesthood there are doing so using this.

I am enormously grateful to Fr Daniel Trott for providing the version of a pointed text, with chants for each psalm, of the psalms in Common Worship. The CW psalms are intended to be in the tradition of the Coverdale translation. I think they work surprisingly well to the traditional tones. I have always been sceptical of setting contemporary texts to the tones because what ends up happening is that the complex music dominates the words rather than, as should be the case, the music serving the text. Brother Reginald Box’s book Make Music to Our God explains this very well.

However, although I have only had a few days using these psalms I am surprisingly comfortable doing so. See what you think.

Fr Daniel writes “it’s very much according to the principles of the revised and enlarged edition of A Manual of Plainsong (1951), which in my opinion is much superior to the first edition. What I wouldn’t stand by is replacing ‘Alleluia’ with ‘Praise the Lord’ in Lent. I copied that from John Harper’s RSCM Anglican Chant Psalter, but I think the word should just be removed. It would still involve repointing the end of quite a lot of psalms, but in a different way.”

If you use these texts and the pointing please acknowledge Fr Daniel’s work, which is excellent, and please use the normal copyright notice for CW texts:

Common Worship: Services and Prayers for the Church of England, material from which is included here, is copyright © The Archbishops’ Council 2000 and published by Church House Publishing.

Start singing the Office! Week Beginning 13 July 2020: CWDP Morning Prayer psalms with traditional plainsong tones

Anyone who reads this blog will know how fervently I believe in singing the daily Office. It is a source of joy and sustenance in the spiritual life. It refreshes parts of the soul that recitation cannot reach.

I am often asked about simple music for singing Common Worship Daily Prayer, so this week I am going to publish morning prayer each day with very simple music. You can even watch and listen to me sing it on Facebook at 6:30am each day and the video will remain on my FB page.

Because I sing Vigils earlier in the morning I use the Invitatory / Opening palm at that, so at MP I will use the songs of creation which I have written about before here, and which I think are important in keeping us rooted in creation. They come from the music of Fr André Gouzes, a French Dominican based at the Abbaye de Sylvanes in France. They are used at the Jerusalem Community in Pais where the English translations were made. This is one of only two adaptations I make to CWDP in this Office. The hymns will be by Aelred Seton Shanley Obl.OSB Cam, a British born American hermit who died some years ago. The psalm antiphons are ‘common’ rather than specific to the psalm, the tone for the singing of the psalms incredibly simple ones from Conception Abbey in the US and available to buy from GIA. They need the psalter arranging into stanzas. For the CW psalter in that form see my latest version here:

The tones for the canticles are from St Meinrad Archabbey and the refrains are possibly by me or by Fr Colin CSWG, at the monastery of the Holy Trinity, Crawley Down.

To follow the Office you will need a bible and your copy of CWDP or the app.

There are not many feasts this week and I will politely ignore the saints days so that it is the ferial/ordinary Office every day.

The only other adaptation I make to CWDP is to conclude the short intercessions with the Lord’s Prayer and pray the Collect after that. CWDP suggests the other way around which is an innovation, and not a very helpful one in my view.

I am not a very good singer. I use my tenor recorder to play over the music. You don’t need to sing well. Singing in any way is the important thing.

Let me know what you think and if you have a go at singing Morning Prayer.

And as they dance they shall sing,
‘All my fresh springs are in you.’

Psalm 87

Singing is like a fresh spring, I hope it makes you want to ‘dance as David danced’. It does me.

Common Worship: Daily Prayer set to simple modal plainchant – Trinity 3

Several people have asked for an example of a CW Office set to simple plainchant. here it is for Evening Prayer of Trinity 3, 2020. The full text including readings is given here and I will Live-stream singing it on Facebook.

Plainchant is based on eight modes and these chants are in that sense modal and traditional. The exact form of the traditional plainchant psalm tones does not work well with English and rather than serving the text tends to dominate the words and rather butcher natural English rhythm. This doesn’t seem to matter so much with, for example, the Coverdale psalms, where it is not our natural idiom anyway. However, with texts in contemporary English is is very obvious.

After Vatican 2 Roman Catholic monastic and religious communities quickly gave up trying to squeeze English words into the exact pattern of the traditional tomes and adapted the tones into the sort of patterns in these texts given here. They work very well and have a gentle rhythm.

Despite singing the Office daily since I was in my mid-teens I don’t have a very good singing voice and can’t pitch a note without help. I use a tenor recorder to play over the tones and chants. It works for me. It may not be the most beautiful noise but it engages parts of my brain that simply reciting the texts does not. I really recommend that you try singing every Office. The liturgy is song!

For more on the use of chant with English texts see Reginald Box SSF Make Music to Our God. the New English Hymnal contains some chant settings of the psalms in this style of psalm tone, as do most Roman Catholic Hymnals (Celebration Hymnal, Laudate) and books of settings of the psalms for responsorial use.

I am currently using the Authorised Version of the Bible for Office readings. I think mixing ‘traditional’ and contemporary language works well and don’t understand why it is not done more often. Most churches already do it with hymns. The AV txts of the readings are in the booklet above.

Resurrection Vigil mark 2 – update 28 June 2020

It is interesting how the experience of Live-streaming some of the worship in my little Oratory has changed what I do. Some of it is due to helpful feedback (I am grateful for critical and encouraging friends). Some of it has needed to change pretty quickly because even to me it just doesn’t feel right.

The most obvious change has been the music I use at the Eucharist where Taizé chants just didn’t work for singing every day. One voice Taizé chants never really work, the chants need harmonies and, ideally, instruments as well. They work for the peripatetic Eucharists I was doing previously because they are well known and easy to pick up when celebrating with different people each time. More traditional chants for the Mass settings as well as Introit and Post-communion psalms are the fruit of centuries of use and developed specifically for daily use. They are not stimulating but are conducive to contemplative prayer. I adopted them pretty quickly.

I have been using the Resurrection Vigil with the music in the first version I posted (here) for nearly a decade, but after only two weeks it was clear that it didn’t work. Reading poetry doesn’t really work unless listeners have the text. Some of the music was not easy either, and on my own that didn’t matter so much. When others are listening that stands out. Some of the texts (Psalm 104 for instance) were too long to be listened to.

Well, the new version with new music is above and I will use it next Saturday for the first time. I will also set the camera at an angle more like that for Mass and have the vessel of water on the altar to bless. Giving the whole thing a more visual appearance and liturgical action. I may wear an alb and stole too.

I’ve also been asked about a ‘Prayer at the Cross’ in place of Friday evening Compline. I may well have a go at that this week …

If you tune in on Facebook, do let me know how it works.

Christ is risen. Alleluia!

“Je choisis tout.”: Praying the Office – June 2020 update

Therese of Lisieux chose it all. I have always admired that approach. It might sum up the little Odyssey I have been on in the last couple of years in the praying of the Daily Office. As documented on here (and music compiled or written by me here) I’ve experimented with Common Worship and the Book of Common Prayer, two lectionaries for the latter, but never quite been able to give up The Divine Office, with the Grail Psalms which are so ingrained in me and whose sprung rhythm and sparser language I love.

In the Autumn I shall begin praying daily in Christ Church Cathedral. I am looking forward immensely to having a place and a community for daily prayer. There the Morning Office is Common Worship and Evensong on most days is Book of Common Prayer. Both using the selective CW choice of psalms.

On Holy Saturday this year, having used the BCP for the Office for a few months I felt a yearning for the beautiful second reading from the Office of Readings in The Divine Office, which I know so well. I was tempted, and picked up and returned to my Breviary.

With Christ Church in mind I have tried since then to establish a pattern that would be manageable for my new life as well. Combining Anglican forms for Morning and Evening Prayer with use of The Divine Office for all the other Hours. The simplest way to do this is to use the psalms of Lauds at Terce and the psalms of Vespers at None. This gives coverage of the psalter in the monthly cycle of the Divine Office and works surprisingly well. However, I like to pray Psalm 119 daily at the Little Hours in accord with Anglican and indeed western Catholic tradition (see here and here). Although not the case in lockdown, the reality is likely to be that the Little Hours are the ones I am going to have to miss on occasions, so using the same psalm daily means I don’t miss out on any psalms in the monthly cycle.

Since Holy Week (so on to the third turn or so through the psalter now in June) I have prayed a three Nocturn Vigil / Office of Readings: first Nocturn the psalmody of the Office of Readings and the mid-day hour (omitting the sections of psalm 118/9) – followed by the Scripture Reading in the two-year cycle for the Office of Readings; second Nocturn the psalmody (but not the canticle) of Vespers and the non Scriptural reading. The third Nocturn, psalms (but not the canticle) and antiphons of Lauds, the Gospel reading for the day, followed by a Gospel canticle, the Beatitudes with proper or Common antiphons normally used at the Benedictus, Litany and conclusions. This gives a good shape to to the Vigil climaxing with the day’s gospel which is itself a traditional form of Vigils. It means I get to sing the proper antiphons too. It takes, done in quite leisurely way, just under 45 minutes. The additional material is from Crawley Down and New Skete, some Orthodox patterns creating a more doxological feel.

The booklet for the music and shape at Vigils is here:

For Morning Prayer I am using Common Worship Daily Prayer and the accompanying lectionary but with just one psalm, the highlighted psalm in the lectionary and an Office hymn rather than Opening psalm. At Evening Prayer BCP Evensong with a single psalm. Using AV for the readings at Morning and Evening Prayer, traditional plainsong at EP and modern, modal chants at MP. I attach the CW Psalter arranged in stanzas for singing to modern chants here, along with refrains set by me to simple modal melodies. These, I keep saying, are not really very good at all. But I keep using them and just haven’t found time to do anything else:

On my rest day I pray Divine Office Lauds late Saturday morning after a long lie-in and cooked breakfast, a single daytime Office combining Office of Readings with the Daytime Hour after lunch usually and Vespers at the usual time. Saturday normally ends with a Resurrection Vigil.

I consider The Divine Office and readings of the Daily Eucharistic Lectionary as my ‘core Office’, this provide the monthly repetition of the psalms (the maximum length of time useful to learn texts in my view). The single long Scripture reading with the Patristic commentaries in the two year cycle (see here) provide the ecclesial/patristic way reading of Scripture. I use these three readings for study and lectio. The additional material at the other Offices is a sort of bonus. But if I need to travel (and I am hoping not to very much, having spent the last four years travelling a good deal) I can use the Breviary or Universalis without disruption to my ‘core Office’.

I often read a patristic commentary on the Gospel of the day at Vigils if the reading in the two-year cycle is only vaguely, or not at all, linked to the Scripture reading – probably twice a week. Using Journey To the Fathers, Augustine on the Gospels and Meditations on the Gospels as the source.

All the rest is a wonderful extra, giving full observance of the Canon to say Morning and Evening Prayer and use of the Prayer Book. Using three translations of the psalm texts etc day is interesting. Grail I think stands up very well, as do the Coverdale psalms, the CW psalms are the weakest. Too wordy, quite clumsy construction some times, too obviously trying to be Coverdale-esque but with none of the beauty.

The element I am missing in this pattern from my little Odyssey is the one year lectionary of 1922 and the basis of the one year traditional western Sunday Eucharistic lectionary. I remain convinced that these are preferable to the the three-year and two-year cycles but as a visiting Zoom preacher Sunday by Sunday I am not in a position to determine the lectionary; any more than I will be as Sub-Dean.

Packing my books I have filled two crates with various editions of Anglo-Catholic altar missals dating from the last quarter of the 19th century right up to the present day (the hand -made New English Missal by Fr Rod Cush and Prior Andrew from Alton). It is wonderful to see the hybrid rites of varying degrees of mixing. I think our Anglo-Catholic forebears, who I so often look to for inspiration, would understand the hybrid nature of what I am doing. Anglicanism is itself a wonderful hybrid creature. One of the things I am looking forward to in Oxford is having St Aldate’s across the road and being as happy worshipping and receiving teaching there as at Cathedral Evensong with the superb music of the choir.

“Je choisi tout.”

St Therese de Lisieux

For completeness here is the Ordinary of the Hours for The Divine Office for rest days and for the Little Hours and Compline on all days:

Eucharist in the Oratory 22 June

Apologies for not having much time for explanation, here is the current use. A number of Mass settings (all Latin) all but three from the Graduale Romanum, one from Dom Gregory Murray his 1957 People’s Mass, and two simple Latin settings (Mass XIX and Mass XX) from Dom Alan Rees which may be found in the Belmont Abbet An English Gradual, from which the Introit and Pots-Communion chants are taken each day.

CW Eucharistic Prayers A, B, C, D, E, F and G and H are included along with the Canon Romanus (for Solemnities). Extended Prefaces on separate cards. Entire musical settings of CR, B and H.

Music from Gelineau, Crawley Down (CSWG) or Tamié at the Offertory and more more CSWG at the Communion rite.

All prepared for the new Oratory (of St Joseph ready for the move to Oxford, hence OSJ).

(Updated) Jesus Prayer with Devotions and Intercessions

UPDATED 22 June: Feedback from faithful viewers/prayers was that there was not enough silence and space this morning (while still wanting to keep to 30 minutes). So, I have removed some elements of the devotions and simplified the chant on the Canticle. See version 2 posted above. This should have cut around 5 minutes of singing out which I will use for silence tomorrow. I suspect of to still needs trimming I will need to reduce the repetitions in each section. Thank you so much for praying with me.

As part of the transition to post-lockdown and open churches, I am moving the daily intercessions I have been offering out of the Eucharist and praying them with the Jesus Prayer. To frame that I am adding a few devotions and some structure. The music and texts for the most part come from the Monastery of the Holy Trinity (Community of the Servants of the Will of God) at Crawley Down. They were inspired by the renewal of monastic life in France after Vatican II and particular in the Francisan hermit tradition so the use of these texts in a way like this has good pedigree.

It is also from Crawley Down and via them from the Orthodox monastery at Tolleshunt Knights, that the public use of the Jesus Prayer comes. I am going to limit myself to 30 minutes and think that with the devotions, no hurry, some silence and the intercessions I can pray three lots of 25 repetitions of the prayer. I normally use this form:

Lord, Jesus Christ, Son of God, take pity on me a sinner.

Occasionally I may use a, shorter, Greek form:

Kyrie Jesou Christe, eleison me.

Kaliistos Ware in his marvellous little booklet on the Jesus Prayer for the CTS suggests we might also use a plural form in communal and intercessory use, so I may try that at times:

Lord Jesus, Christ, Son of God: have mercy on us.

I have tried playing around with my morning schedule to have these a little later but it doesn’t really work for me, so this will be live-streamed each weekday at 5:30am and available afterwards on Face Book. I know that some people value hearing their intercessions prayed aloud (first names only) so that continues. There isn’t much to see and I am experimenting with the camera angle. Again some people like to see who is talking rather than just an icon or candle. I also hope to demonstrate the use of prostrations which I find enormously helpful.

Until churches re-open for public worship or until I move to Oxford, but almost certainly until mid-July, I shall continue to live-stream the Eucharist at 6:30am, but without the intercessions.

I shall be adding to the text above a short reading each day from Scripture which highlights the power of the divine name. This will give me the chance to build up an anthology of those texts.

It has been a wonderful and joyful ministry to bring names for prayer to the Lord each day at the altar and I shall continue to do so in this way. Please keep messaging me with them. It is a privilege, thank you. And please pray for me, a sinner.

Resurrection Vigil

My first experience of a Resurrection Vigil was on a Saturday night at a camp site in the Brecon Beacons. I was on a week’s walking holiday along with other young people from parishes belonging to Douai Abbey, I must have been fifteen or sixteen. We had prayed Compline together (and Mass each morning) all week and on Saturday evening sat around the camp fire and sang songs from the Charismatic song book ‘Songs of the Spirit’, read a resurrection narrative, chanted a psalm or two and were sprinkled with water which one of the priests present had blessed. I was entranced. Not least by the marshmallows and hot chocolate that we enjoyed afterwards.

I have never been able to pray Compline on a Saturday night since. It seems totally inadequate as a way of preparing for Sunday.

A year or so later I was at Taizé in France for the first time and was equally entranced by the Saturday evening prayer there, repeating alleluias, the lighting of candles by everyone present. Having stayed up much of the previous night in prayer ‘around the cross’ I was transfixed by this celebration of the Risen Jesus and felt his presence very strongly.

Since those years I have experienced Resurrection vigils with numerous communities, tried various forms of it at home – sometimes in the garden around a fire, or at the dining table – and shared simple liturgies of Resurrection in many parishes and with groups of pilgrims and young people in a variety of contexts.

I have added above a form of Resurrection Vigil that I am currently using in my little Oratory at home. It works for me, you might want to do something else.

The Resurrection is the central fact of the Christian faith, celebrating it, being familiar with the gospel accounts, reflecting on the Patristic commentaries on the Resurrection is a wonderful way to keep this central fact central to our lives. Celebrating a Resurrection Vigil also gives shape to the week, along with memorialising the Crucifixion each Friday and observing fasting and abstinence on Fridays. Doing this has been a blessing to me, I hope this will bless you.

Practical notes:

The text is littered with Alleluias, and because it doesn’t seem appropriate in any case, I don’t celebrate this during Lent. I do celebrate it in place of Compline whatever the Solemnity or Feast of Our Lord being celebrated on the Sunday.

I celebrate with an icon of the Resurrection, a candle next to it which I light as I sing the Phos Hilaron, and a small bowl of water which I use as Holy Water for the remainder of the week.

Common Worship and the Jesus Prayer: Live-streaming in July and August

It has been a fascinating experience live-streaming the Eucharist and other liturgies from the little Oratory at home. I am enormously grateful to the faithful who have remained constant companions in prayer, to those who have dipped in and said something warm, to those who have dipped in and have not pointed out the sad state of my singing voice. Most of all I am grateful to those of you who have entrusted to me your loved ones, relatives, friends and others known to you for prayer. To pray for people is at the heart of priestly ministry. Thank you for helping me feel so fulfilled as a priest during this lockdown.

In August we will be moving to Oxford which is going to disrupt things. From September I shall have the enormous privilege of worshipping daily in Christ Church Cathedral. Before either of those events it is possible that the Government will allow public worship in churches.

The bishops’ permission to celebrate the Eucharist with no other person present was a gracious and well received gift for this lockdown only. I will cease live-streaming the Eucharist on Saturday 11th July (the Feast of St Benedict).

Many people have asked me to continue to Livestream something, especially elements of Common Worship Daily Prayer sung to simple modal chant. I would also like to continue the ministry of intercession.

So, from 11th July I am going to Livestream about 25 minutes of Jesus Prayer, with Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and prostrations, as I have done once or twice already. In between every 25 petitions of the Jesus Prayer I will pray the names of those for whom prayer has been requested. I will begin and end with simple chants (see below). Monday to Friday this will normally be at 6:30am which seems to work for many people. I know that some of those who have asked for prayer like to hear the name prayed out loud and this will allow that.

I will also Live-stream simple services of Morning and Evening Prayer, Compline and on Saturdays a Resurrection Vigil. These may be more intermittent and (apparently random) although I hope to be able to commit to Morning Prayer at 7:00am each day at the end of the Jesus Prayer. Evening Prayer is likely to be at 5:30pm and Compline at 8:30pm, perhaps just Monday to Thursday. Each of these will take about 15 minutes. At Morning and Evening Prayer there will be one psalm or selection from a psalm and one reading from the lectionary. Occasionally I may also Livestream Mid-Day Prayer, also from CWDP.

To follow the liturgy at home Compline is straightforwardly from the booklet below, as also the Resurrection Vigil. Morning and Evening Prayer will need the booklet for the Ordinary of the Office, the booklet for Ordinary Time (Hymn and Benedictus and Magnificat Refrains). But you will be able to follow using CWDP in the book or app. On saints days it may get more complicated but hopefully not too much so.

I will continue to post a request for prayer each afternoon or evening for the next day and, as at present, keep the list going for a fortnight before starting again. Please feel free to add the same names every time.

At some point I will be packing the Oratory up and finding a corner (no doubt surrounded by boxes) to pray in. It will be good to demonstrate that a simple corner is enough for our sacred space and if that happens before 11th July to celebrate Mass more simply.

Funerals – Ministry for Mission in a Time of Pandemic

Don Cupitt,” said Bishop Paul in a conversation, “asks the right questions, but comes up with the wrong answers.” It was one of the many wise things that the Bishop of Liverpool has said to me, and one of several that I have gone away and written down. It’s spot on. I love reading Cupitt. He writes beautifully and he does ask the right questions.

Three of Cupitt’s books are among my favourites:

The Meaning of it All in Everyday Speech (SCM 2011)

The New Religion of Life in Everyday Speech (SCM 1999)

And, The Kingdom Come in Everyday Speech (SCM 2000)

Cupitt is interested in what language we use for the ultimate. Which idioms describe what is meaningful. He spends much time examining idioms including the word ‘life’, but is also interested in the way in which ‘it‘ carries meaning:

“A particularly interesting family of terms is the group It, It all, Things and Everything, which enter into dozens – perhaps hundreds – of idioms . In these idioms it seems to indicate the whole of a person’s circumstances, considered from a finalising point of view … it is evident that the It-group of terms could be shown to figure in a large number of idioms that have a markedly theological flavour … For when we say: ‘This is it, the real thing!‘ we posit a kind of divine completeness, a totality, an unsurpassable finality, more clearly than we ever do with the life-idioms. In its flowing contingency, life is closer to Being; whereas it is perhaps closer to the traditional God,”

The New Religion of Life SCM 1999, pp 104-105

I’ve been re-reading these books during the lockdown and they have worn well. What drove me back to them was a ministry of funerals that I have been exercising, in the area where I live, to help out the local clergy and friends and acquaintances who are vulnerable in some way and have been self-isolating.

When I was first ordained I took plenty of funerals in my two curacies. Since then I have been working full-time in education and I have tried to do one or two funerals during the school holidays to keep my hand in. But most of the funerals I have taken have been relatives, friends or, in tragic circumstances, members of staff, and even, children.

Observing regular funeral ministry from the outside has enabled me to notice two major developments. The rise of civil celebrants. Not just radical humanists and secularists opposed to religion in general, but non-clergy and sometimes ‘inter-faith’ celebrants who will perform ceremonies which are distinctly spiritual and often include elements of Christian liturgy. Most commonly Psalm 23 and theLord’s Prayer. Many clergy are deeply scathing of these services. To those of us who are committed, believing, Christians, there clearly is something missing. But many people I meet speak very highly indeed of the service provided by Civil Celebrants. Many of the Funeral Directors I have spoken to rate them highly. Yes, it can be more convenient to Funeral Directors to have people who are not doing other work and are easily available or who can even commit to certain periods of time a crematorium. However, what is always mentioned to me is the flexibility that Civil Celebrants show in crafting the service and the care they take to provide what the bereaved want. Many of them have clearly developed very high skills in pastoral care. A good number also offer continuing pastoral care, links to counselling, work with Undertakers to invite families to an annual memorial service.

The second factor I have noticed is the number of clergy who tell me that funeral ministry is a waste of time. Using exactly that language. In particular a sense in which funerals for very elderly non-churchgoers where there are no living family and friends are dismissed.

My, negative, reaction to these comments is based, I think on four things:

a) a catholic belief in praying for the dead and the importance of that

b) a strongly Anglican commitment to the Parish, although the parish system as a comprehensive totality was probably always somewhat mythological, recent decades and the events of the Corona Virus are seeing it moving from life-support to palliative care, I think we need to hold on to a theology of parochial-community life in which we genuinely serve the whole population

c) the pastoral instinct to provide care and nurture for those who mourn. In the Beatitudes Jesus, does, after all, declare those who mourn to be blessed.

c) my own experience that funerals are a profoundly missional opportunity. Some of the individuals who it has been my privilege to accompany on a journey to faith have been though funeral ministry. Some of them still keep in touch with me many years later and one is now a priest.

For the Church of England reduction in fee income from funerals (and weddings) is a very significant issue, particularly in a diocese, like my own in Liverpool where there are virtually no historic assets. Earning income should never be the purpose of pastoral ministry but good stewardship demands that we address this issue. As good stewards if clergy are not conducting funerals we need to suggest ways to replace this income.

An innovative approach taken in Liverpool has been the creation of the Good Funeral Company and the recruitment of a remarkable and gifted, priest, Mother Juliet Stephenson to run it (if you ever need clergy training on funeral ministry she is your woman!). You can read more about the GFC here. The mission statement is wonderfully simple and jargon free:

Making good Christian-based funeral services available, personalised, accessible, and affordable for anyone in the Diocese of Liverpool who wants to mark a loved one’s death through prayer.

As soon as it became apparent that I would have some funeral ministry in this crisis I emailed Mother Juliet to ask what she would recommend. Her email reply was enormously helpful, I reproduce it almost in full:

“I attach the service that I am doing in an hour. (it is not what we did as curates…because what we did as curates is not wanted by anyone who is fringe…and on the edge)

Some bits from Iona / celtic stuff and reworked prayers from over the years.

AND…I do not cut and paste, I have several hundred ways of saying the God loves everyone…

He forgives us all, because of JC…

I usually get a bible reading in there…but can be amazingly creative with lyrics from Eric Clapton songs too!

You will see the poems and reading and tribute, that the family have provided…

And I welcomed it all…that’s amazing, that’s wonderful…because this is what THEY want.

I am the MC…and the one who will bless.

I was asked, to do this…because the FD’s know that I do a celebration of life with prayers, and I am good.

The woman used to go to church, but the family have no connection at all….

If I couldn’t do it, they would have had a celebrant, and NOT a vicar

Like I say, I think the success of the GFC, is that we are being offered as celebrants that pray…celebrants that pray and bless…and are authorised to do so.

This is what the FD’s like about what we do.

I get asked to do ‘celebrations of life’…because the perception of vicars is that we can only recite pre-prepared words from the book, and say very little about the woman in the box…

This is why we lose out, over and over again.

You will see very little of the purple book…

And yet, 

– we still gather, we reflect, we offer tributes, a bible reading and short ‘popular religion’ reflection and prayer.

We are (at least I operate now)  in a world where people want white feathers as signs, robins for comfort, shooting stars across the sky to wish upon.

– rather than words from scripture about men they have never heard of…’Lazarus’

We are amidst folk who want Whitney Houston, YNWA, Perry Como and Monty Python.

– rather than hymns, psalms and symphonies…

And if we can’t connect with this world, with the grace of God, and stop being precious about ‘Lazarus’ or ‘penitential prayers’…we lose it.

We can still talk of hope, forgiveness, resurrection.

We can still offer formal prayers, encourage the corporate saying of the Lord’s prayer

And commend and commit and bless.

If we use comforting, and familiar phrases…like the words to enter into the chapel ‘Jesus said I am…’ that’s good.

If we say with conviction ‘in sure and certain hope…’ that’s good.

If we listen to their heartache, and connect where they are, and see how they gain comfort and assurance that God is real, and heaven is worth believing in…because a white feather drifted onto the windscreen of their car…then that also is very good.

This is what the civil celebrants can’t do effectively…they have to rely wholly on the ‘universe’ and ‘stars’…

We have Jesus…

And we have Easter…

Amen brother! 

This may never be the way you would ever choose to do services…it works, and people pray at them. 

I also asked members of the Sodality, the community of priests I belong to to send me their compiled texts and had a number of conversations with them. This was really helpful. As was a conversation with Fr Daniel Ackerley, a deacon-aspirant to the Sodality who is an experienced Funeral Director. Among many other things he said:

Somebody once said that a funeral service should be like a cup of hot chocolate on a cold winters day. Every word should be soothing.

There is a bit of me that baulked at this. No! We are here to admit that we are sinners, in need of a Saviour and to pray that the dead may have forgiveness! But then I got real.

Famously, a principle of mission for the Jesuits is to go in and learn a language, a culture to be able to speak to it and understand it. Fr Daniel knows well that what people are wanting in a funeral is that cup of hot chocolate. If we stand on our liturgical, theological preciousness and do no translation we will not be understood.

Having been taught early on never to throw anything away in ministry I also had the funeral service I developed in my second full-time parish (St Mary, Portsea). This drew on what must have then been ASB, but I had looked at books more widely, I can’t now remember which. There may have been some Iona, and possibly the Uniting Church in Australia. I had become a correspondent of Jim Cotter and he offered some helpful advice too.

The service I have developed is posted at the top and bottom of this post. I shared the original version with members of the Sodality and also with one or two others. One or two of the local Funeral Directors have also commented positively and with helpful suggestions. Last week I took a funeral for the partner of a woman who was a published poet and is a poet herself. She worked in great detail on the text we agreed and this was really helpful in improving the English. Finally, Fr Steven Shakespeare, an aspirant to our Sodality, and a well-known, published liturgist has published a book of liturgies The Earth Cries Glory. I have used elements from this woven into the service (and one complete set of intercessions), these are marked SS. I am trying to persuade Fr Steven to produce a book of pastoral liturgies.

I am not making any great claims for my liturgy. It is a ‘work in progress’ and offered for discussion more than anything else. I would welcome any comments. I hope that you can see that I have taken Cupitt’s questions seriously particularly in using the word ‘life’, but also and perhaps less surprisingly ‘love’. ‘It’ is more complex but I do find myself using that sort of language in my more informal words. Using the language of everyday life is, of course, exactly what Jesus did, always talking about himself in this way and avoiding institutionally religious language: way, truth life, gate, bread, shepherd …

Don Cupitt perfectly captures the language that our culture uses around what is meaningful, how to describe the ultimate, the significant. However, he comes up with the wrong answers, a non-realist interpretation of God. Civil Celebrants are doing the same thing. The question is the right one, what language (not just words, but music, images actions) speaks to people where they are? As a Christian I know that their answer is not enough. The world does need a Saviour, but it is our task to speak of Jesus in ways that our culture understands, because Jesus is, yes, so much more than a cup of hot chocolate on a cold winter’s night, but he is that too and what more important time than now to need that. Each day as I kneel before the Blessed Sacrament I pray “Sweet Sacrament Divine”:

Sweet Sacrament of rest,
Ark from the ocean’s roar,
Within thy shelter blest
Soon may we reach the shore;
Save us, for still the tempest raves,
Save, lest we sink beneath the waves:
Sweet Sacrament of rest.

Sweetness indeed, sweetness on a cold winter’s night, sweetness in a time of death and pandemic.

Deep from the Great Tradition: Litany in a time of Pandemic

When we wrote The Manual, the way of life of the Sodality, the community of priests I belong to, we included this important paragraph:

Sodalists will be at the forefront of those seeking to understand what it means to ordain men and women to all orders of ministry; we will particularly celebrate women saints and integrate the writings of women and men into our experience and understanding of priesthood.

Slightly tongue-in-cheek, in the early days of the Sodality I described us as ‘Extreme Anglo-Catholics in favour of the ordination of women.’ Tongue-in-cheek as it was ( and far too limiting of the breadth of the vision God was calling us to) there was some truth in it. I quite liked it when the bishop of Croydon described us as the Trappists of the catholic stream of Anglicanism “of the Strict Observance.”

Rigour and high demands are important, and were what led to the flourishing of Anglo-Catholicism in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. They enabled the ministry to the poor and the work for social justice that was the essential outworking of that spirituality. Without outward facing work for justice, spirituality simply strokes the ego and enhances rather than crucifies the ego. Rigour and high demands are not rules to be kept or hoops to be jumped through. Better to think of them as a balloon flying freely into the sky, or a kite carried by the wind.

The Great Tradition (see footnote below) is ‘ever ancient, ever new’ (St Augustine). Drawing deeply from the tradition is vital, and it must bear fruit in the new. My great mantra for the Christian life is : Jesus centred – Spirit filled – bible based.

There is great flowering of creativity in the Sodality: blogs, litanies, such as the one above written by Mother Ayla, Mother Berni, Father Angela, Mother Sally and Father Steven.

The Litany is a great example of ‘ever ancient, ever new’. It is deeply rooted in the tradition and also creative and responsive to the needs of our time. I am deeply grateful for this gift.

Another example of this is the book Prayers for An Inclusive Church. by Fr Steven Shakespeare an aspirant to our Sodality. The title doesn’t quite reflect the content. It is a deeply traditional collection of Collects for the three year cycle of readings in the Revised Common Lectionary. Traditional in that each Collect is constructed with the ‘noble simplicity’ of the western Collect form, at which Cranmer was so gifted. Creative and new in the images used, which are truly Jesus-centred and Spirit filled, drawing on the Scriptures in the lectionary it is bible-based.

There is much in the tradition to help us pray this current pandemic. Christians have lived with plague in many circumstances and many times. I often find myself at the moment re-reading Julian of Norwich who experienced plague more destructive than our current afflictions and who saw in the cross a life-giving tree. Ever ancient, ever new.

The Great Tradition

This description of the spiritual life of the church is one I first came across as a teenager at the Monastery of the Holy Trinity, Crawley Down in West Sussex, I would recommend Fr Steven Underdown’s book Living in the Eighth Day: The Christian Week and the Paschal Mystery as a further explanation of this. He writes in that book:

“Three men, whom CSWG now accounts its joint-founders, not only shared a common experience of ministry among the disadvantaged and marginalised, they also shared the conviction that is was the specifically spiritual dimension in Christian life that was most in need of renewal. A saying attributed to Fr [William] Sirr has been seen as encapsulating their common belief:

“The mission of the church is weak because its prayer is weak.” Only though the renewal of the Church’s mystical and ascetic traditions – that is its vision of God and its tradition of conversion of life – could the life and witness of the the Church be renewed.”

(Update 4) Texts and music for live-streamed Eucharist and Compline

UPDATE 10 June 2020

UPDATE 5th June 2020

UPDATE 17 May 2020

We are a few weeks into the live-streaming now. I am deeply grateful to those who join me or watch later in the day and am much encouraged by your gratitude. It is nothing other than a privilege to offer intercession at the altar for the many names received.

Regular visitors will see that I have been experimenting with the chant a little, using more traditional plainsong (with English texts) as well as the material from the English Gradual. I have also added in a chanted version of Psalm 42 (43) as a transition from the Liturgy of the Word to the Liturgy of the Sacrament), almost a ‘prayers at the foot of the altar’. The experiment with seasonal insertions to Prayer H didn’t really work, getting the grammar right to lead into “on the nigh he was …’ is too complicated and needed insertions in two different places. With the new chant at the Offertory – using a Gelineau tone which I like to do – may mean that I omit a seasonal chant after the post-communion prayer and just use the Sodality Anthem to Mary, Mother of Priests.

Apart from that the rite, and especially the way in which I have tried to include those watching and unable to receive Communion seems to work. The changes and a couple of typos corrected are in this version of the booklet:

Update 27 April 2020

I got very tired of the 8-fold Alleluia so here is a revised Compline with a traditional mode viii antiphon and tone for the psalms.

Eucharist: no change except that I trying out using seasonal inserts into Eucharistic Prayer H, based on the Short Prefaces in Common Worship and inserted before the institution narrative.

It has been really good to experiment with live-streaming worship in Holy Week and the Octave of Easter.

During the continuing lockdown I shall live stream the Eucharist at 6:30am BST each day and Compline at 7pm. After the opening verse I will read a poem. I probably won’t choose this until just before the Office but will try and Tweet it when I have done so.

I have been experimenting with the way to livestream through one fixed camera in a very small space. The layout of the Oratory has changed a little and I have tried to include those watching in a meaningful and non-trite way without intruding myself too much, I hope.

Here are the forms I shall be using for the time being:

Eucharist

It is pretty much as before although the introduction I have devised for those watching just didn’t work and I have removed it, as also the post-Communion prayer. I have extended the Prayer over the Gifts to include mention of ‘lockdown’ and extended the intercessions with more material on the pandemic. There is a ‘statement’ (not really a prayer) before receiving communion to include those watching and not receiving communion. I am not sure about it but will give it a go.

In communion with those who cannot receive communion,

with all who watch this Eucharist

and with all the faithful in every time and place, in heaven and on earth:

The bread of heaven in Christ Jesus.  Amen.    

The cup of life in Christ Jesus. Amen.

The readings are from the Daily Eucharistic Lectionary – I read them in the Jerusalem Bible version mainly because that means I can use the monthly Magnificat booklet which is easier to juggle with everything else on the legilium.

For the Introit and Concluding Chants I am using Abbot Alan Rees’s music published by Belmont Abbey in An English Gradual, it is really good. I will use one chant at each point for a whole week (except on feasts). It is only £7:50. A real ‘must-buy’. Which you can do here). Each refrain is provided with verses from the psalms (Grail psalter),

The responsorial psalmody is by Fr Anthony Ruff OSB (St John’s, Collegeville) Responsorial Psalms for Weekday Mass in the Seasons. They are very simple modal chants and work really well. All the texts are those set in the lectionary but it should be noted that they are the ICEL texts not those in British liturgical books.

I have also added the texts and music from the monastery at Crawley Down (Community of the Servants of the Will of God) to greet and give thanks for the Gospel. It just seems a bit ‘naked’ without something.

I aim to have longer silences after the gospel and after Communion. I have been a bit cautious so far when live-streaming given that many people just ‘dip in’. But now that we are out of the high seasons will go for it.

Compline:

Again this is pretty straightforward. The English Anthem to the BVM is a version by Aelred Seton Shanley Obl. OSB Cam. an English hermit who lived in the Unites States for many years and died in the mid 1990s. I very much like his material, including Office hymns and these anthems to Our Lady. A few of the hymns have been published here. I am grateful to have been given a copy of the whole Office. The Antiphon on the psalms at Compline is the 8-fold alleluia that was popular when I was a teenager and will make many groan. I don’t know whether it will wear singing every night but thought I would try it.

On Saturdays and Sundays I will sing Compline in Latin.

It is such a joy to have people praying with me even though remotely, I am profoundly grateful for the prayerful support that offers and it is wonderful to be able to pray so many prayer intentions. There is a very real sense of communion and ‘inter-being’. I could not be more grateful.

“Seven times a day I praise you” (Ps. 119:64) – live-streaming a day of worship in the Oratory

“Pray constantly”, said St Paul (1 These 5:17), using two simple words to describe something that would exercise the minds of many, and thousands of volumes of books by Christians, through the centuries. Almost all modes of spirituality and Christian practice (Jesus Prayer, Divine Office, Little Hours especially, Practice of the Presence of God) aim to help us remember God and that we are in the Divine Presence always. To pray constantly.

I have been doing a bit of live-streaming of the liturgy during the lockdown as I celebrate it each day in the little Oratory at home (which is how I use an old lean to on the house). It’s been good to have a few old and new friends join me for that. Several have asked for more. I am something of an introvert and although I arrange the live-streaming in such a way so as not to focus on me (I hope) it does feel a little intrusive and less relaxed so I won’t be doing this all the time (you will be relieved to know) but as a one off on Friday 17th April I am going to live stream all the set prayers for a day.

My first experience of the Office was at Douai Abbey and of the monks singing the whole of the Office. That experience marked me indelibly and even though I am not a good singer (as you will find if you tune in at all), I love to sing and find it relaxes me in ways that simply reciting the Office does not. Somehow it engages different parts of my brain. When (in another life) I was doing a lot of driving, if I stopped and sang an Office it felt far more refreshing when I started driving again than if I had simply recited it, and reading to myself in my head never seems like praying the liturgy at all, but on trains, buses and planes is usually necessary.

Since Holy Saturday, and partly because for live-streaming the text is more accessible, I have been singing the Divine Office, the texts are in the Universalis app which does charge but only a very small amount. The Universalis website sadly uses a different translation of the psalms. The antiphons and hymns I use are in the setting of the music for the Office that I have done and is available here (a revised edition should be available in the not too distant future and will be posted on this blog very soon). The booklet below this post puts them together in order with the usual texts and music for this single day of live-streaming, you will need the booklet together with the psalms, readings and prayers from Universalis to be able to follow everything. Please note I use a different set of Collects – translated from a French Cistercian source (from Proclaiming All Your Wonders, Dominican Publications).

I wrote yesterday about the joy of coffee, tea and lunch breaks in our Zoom driven working days. I have always maintained little spaces to pray at least one daytime Office and that has kept me going through many hard times in my working life. If you haven’t discovered it yet do give it a go.

So, the timetable for the day:

5:30 am Office of Readings/Vigils (two nocturns the Mid-Day prayer psalms as in Universalis – but omitting sections of psalm 119 – providing the second group of psalms) a triple alleluia antiphon for all psalms. The psalms at Vigils are sung to traditional plainsong tones.

I will switch off live streaming between each Office/devotion – a chance for me to get a cup of tea or check the dog doesn’t need to go out …

6:15 am Rosary the Luminous Mysteries

I would normally celebrate Mass at 6:30 but am doing that later in the day, at 12:15, in the Octave.

7am Lauds (Morning Prayer)

Jesus Prayer

About 7:45am Prime with Martyrology – Psalm 119 (118) shared across the Little Hours in a day – see the booklet for the text.

I should point out that this is a rather luxurious lockdown schedule. On normal working days I would tart at 5:20 combine Vigils and Lauds (or Sing Mattins/Morning Prayer when praying BCP or CWDP), go straight into Mass, then Prime. Rosary and Jesus Prayer prayed as I drive.

10am Terce

12 noon Sext and Eucharist

2:00 None

4:30pm Vespers

6:30 Devotions on Hebrew Heroes – Deborah –

and Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament

7pm Compline

Again normally on a working day Vespers would be either stopping on the way home or as soon as I get home, often quite late, and Compline much later, ideally just after dinner but sometimes just before bed, ideally at 9 to 9:30.

BOOKLET:

Learning from the lockdown: re-discovering lunch breaks

The first Spiritual Director I had, when I was fifteen or sixteen was in many ways an impatient man. In one meeting with him I explained some injustice or bad deed I thought I had suffered. “Well, there’s no point whining,” he said, “What have you learnt from it?”.

I don’t recommend this as good practice on all occasions in spiritual direction. However, it is an ill-wind and all that. I’ve been thinking about what I am learning during the lockdown. Apart, that is, from the necessary skills of using Zoom (I can do break out rooms and everything); Go To Meeting, FaceTime, Microsoft Teams and more.

Yesterday, in a messaging conversation with my dear friend the Assistant Diocesan Secretary in the Diocese of Liverpool, I suggested we have a Zoom conversation, “How about one’o’clock?”, he returned. “Sorry, that’s lunchtime,” was my response, before we settled on a time later in the week.

It was only afterwards that I realised how extraordinary my response had been. Not because Stuart minded in the least. But because I haven’t taken lunch breaks for over twenty years, since I was appointed Acting Deputy Head at Emsworth Primary School in 1998.

I remember lunch breaks in school staffrooms before that as rather good times, friendly banter, much of it with colleagues who remain friends to this day. Birthday celebrations, cakes, those piles of books and odd objects that companies sold in staff rooms. Even my friend Becca introducing us to the Physalis in her lunch box one day. Exotic stuff indeed.

Since then, however, lunch has been always on duty, walking the corridors and playground, chatting to pupils or seeking out colleagues for whom this is a chance to have a quick ‘meeting’. School leaders are, and I am one of them, proud of this. Whenever Heads are together on a conference or residential training and have a sit down lunch somebody will soon comment on never sitting down to eat usually.

When I moved to the role of Director of Education here in Liverpool I brought these working habits with me. Like my colleagues in the team I am often driving around. So there are breaks between schools. I have learnt what food I can eat in the car as I drive without making too much mess. Sandwiches are hopeless. Thank goodness for Samosas and Baby Bel cheeses.

In the first week of the lockdown, like many other people I was introduced to Zoom. I think it is wonderful. I hope never again to ask people to drive to attend a meeting that takes a fraction of the time they were travelling. I have renewed old friendships and given real life to existing networks. It is a good thing. But that week I was frazzled. I learned how much I needed those driving times between meetings. Zoom meetings came thick and fast with barely time to pop to the toilet or make a cup of tea. Texting for a cup of tea to be brought to me during one meeting really made me realise how bad it had got. It was utterly unsustainable.

So I made some rules. Coffee at 10 every day, away from the desk, not a long break but time enough to make and drink a coffee; lunch for an hour from 1 to 2, tea at 4 – again just time to make and drink a cuppa, and not drunk at the lap-top or even on the phone. No Zoom meetings for work after 6. I still do early meetings when people want them, often early phone calls; so I don’t think I am being lazy in any way. Of course I have to be a little flexible, there awesome meetings I can’t control the times of, but then I move the break time.

This is the learning. Aren’t lunch breaks wonderful. It’s been helped, of course, by being able to sit in the garden most days. But taking time to make a proper meal (no more Samosas or sausage rolls), sitting down and eating it, conversation about something different to work, eyes off a screen.

Is this a lesson I can put into practice once this is over? I don’t know. Is it possible to do this as a Headteacher – perhaps some of my colleagues will tell me that they do? And, even as I write, I realise that in this crisis I am immensely privileged (not just in having a garden to sit in), most of our schools are open, most of our Heads are in school every day (I keep telling them not to be) and as for NHS staff and other Carers the idea of a lunch break must seem like a distant prospect.

In our Anglo-Saxon world we have always looked jealously at cultures where proper meals are part of working life – my dad used to drive five miles home and back to have lunch with mum and us during the school holidays. Even in the little village where I live the farm workers pass by as they walk home each day for lunch.

Corona Virus 19 is going to change our world. So many of those changes will be devastating and awful, but perhaps a few of them could be for good.

“Sorry, that’s my lunch break.” I’ll ask Stuart if he noticed. I am slightly proud of myself.

‘Village religion’ on Zoom: worship for Easter Day

‘Village religion’ is how one priest-friend describes the worship in the village where I live. It’s true, it is common to many village churches I visit to preach or preside in. It doesn’t just describe the liturgy or the rite, or the way it is performed but also the relationships, the community, the sense of being together in a particular way. A church that belongs to everybody even those who don’t attend very often. A place full of collective memory and simple welcome. Our village churches are ‘inclusive’ in ways that many city churches can only dream of. There is certainly no room for ‘churchmanship’ or partisanship in any way. It is a very beautiful way of being Anglican. A Sunday when I am presiding and preaching in our 14th century church, visible from the garden is a total joy.

For the last two weeks in this village and the villages around, all part of the same benefice, have been worshipping together on Zoom. I was sceptical about how it would work, and how many people would be able to access this strange new technology. In fact on Easter Day 41 computers were logged in and most had more than one person viewing them. I put together and led the liturgy, a simple liturgy of the word (see below). Our vicar preached a short and powerful sermon, a house for duty priest in the parish led the intercessions. We will swap those roles around over the coming weeks. The liturgy was designed to be familiar. Hymns we know well (played via Spotify playlist) and familiar texts. The most daring liturgical creativity is an ee cummings poem I put at the start.

There was nothing remarkable about what was happening other than that these times are entirely remarkable. For me it had a lovely ‘village religion’ feel to it. It was wonderful to see so many familiar faces, not people I know well, but people who belong, have belonged here longer than I have. In ‘unprecedented’ times, when all seems made strange, familiarity was just what we all needed. I’ll take ‘village religion’ any time.

Praying the Easter Octave with Hebrew Heroes

There is such intensity about Lenten observance and particularly about Holy Week and the Triduum that it is possible to mis the great eight days, the Easter Octave that follows. The liturgy which has seen such variety for three days suddenly becomes very repetitive. Partly that’s necessary, and the first simple celebration of the Eucharist on Easter Monday is a necessary tonic after the rich diet of the preceding week.

This year in our isolation I am going to be meditating on some of my ‘heroes and heroines’ in the Hebrew Scriptures. For the first time on Sunday morning before dawn I was able to read all nine readings at the Paschal Vigil, slowly and with plenty of time for reflection between them, I did this by a fire in the garden as pictured. I found it profoundly moving. From Common Worship: Times and Seasons I chose the ‘Women in Salvation’ series. Given that women are under-represented in our lectionaries I would value doing that every year. I used the Anselm canticle (from Common Worship Daily Prayer) with the ‘mother reading’ from Isaiah 66 and found that especially moving.

I am not going to reflect simply on women this Easter week but on a variety of figures:

Monday – Isaac

Tuesday – Sarah

Wednesday – Ruth

Thursday – Nehemiah

Friday – Deborah

I will Livestream these meditations each day 6:30 – 7pm BST and they will consist of poems and prayers with short reflections in the way of a monologue with the character by me, one sung responsorial text and silence. At 7pm I will sing Compline, in English in this version:

Liturgy of the Paschal Vigil

Here is the slightly revised liturgy for the Vigil. The two differences to the earlier version is that the whole of the text of the Exultet is used. I just couldn’t bear to omit it. I have put it in as a responsorial text with an offering of incense refrain, this is slightly odd but I know the refrains nd tone well so will be able to sing it while censing the candle and the icons. I have also added a tone and refrain for the Collects after each of the nine readings and psalms/canticles of the Vigil.

A Liturgy for Good Friday in a time of pandemic

What is very obvious from live streaming liturgies in a small space and using a fixed camera is the difficulty of liturgical action. Without any action it is really just audio, but the action is difficult to capture without camera movement.

Anyway, here is my attempt at a liturgy for Good Friday in this strange year. In the absence of the action of the veneration of the cross I am using the poem After the Seven Last Words by poet Mark Strand. I think it is a rather stunning meditation. I shall intersperse the readings with Responsorial psalms and end with the Beatitudes. I will be interested to see how it works. It may be a bit rich for Good Friday – losing the starkness of the liturgy.

I shall use the Grail Psalms for all but the final Psalm (Ps 22) which will be from the BCP and sung to a traditional plainsong tone.

I would have liked to use some recorded music. I thought Hania Rani‘s Esja would work really well. But then I would be adding the action of turning on the music etc which would spoil my own engagement with the worship and also probably break Facebook’s copyright rules.

Compline in Holy Week

For Compline in the Sacred Triduum, Thursday, Friday and Saturday I will be using Latin for all but the poem. Here’s the booklet for Holy Thursday. Compline will be live streamed at midnight on Holy Thursday, and at 7pm on Good Friday and Holy Saturday.

Compline daily in the Easter Octave live streamed at 7pm BST preceded by 30 minute meditation:

At one level our communion with one another is always invisible, or at least largely invisible The people we gather with in church Sunday by Sunday, however large the congregation, are just a fragment of the many millions we are in communion with in heaven and on earth in the Body of Christ. We also share a deep, consubstantial, inter-being with all human beings in every time and place, and indeed with everything that exists, through our creation from the matter of the earth.

The current crisis has made some of that invisibility visible. I am really grateful for those who have joined me at Mass in my little Oratory and sent messages of appreciation. Several have asked for more of the Office to be streamed. So I thought I would add Compline for this Holy Week.

You will find the text and music I will use in the booklet above. I will do a new booklet each day with a different poem that I will read between the opening verses and the Prayers of Penitence.

As there is no movement or action I will focus the camera on one of the icons rather than on me. Which should improve the experience! I have indicated in the text where I will pause for silences, hopefully it’s not because I have fallen asleep.

I normally sing Compline rather early in the evening if I can, I will try for a consistent 7pm. It’s nice to feel the Office is complete before having family time and early to bed.

SOURCES

The Divine Office as used at Worth Abbey, music by Dom Philip Gaisford OSB:

music for the Introductory verses, the hymn, Responsory and the Refrain to the Nunc Dimittis

Hymn: Text Patrick Lee (Hymns for Prayer and Praise rev. Ed  265)

Samuel Weber OSB: refrains for the psalms

Aelred Seton Shanley Obl. OSN New Camaldoli: the anthem to Our Lady

Common Worship Daily Prayer: texts of the psalms and the Nunc Dimittis

Script for the Liturgies of Holy Week

For the timetable for the week and more thoughts on these strange times see here.

Here (above) is the booklet of how I shall celebrate the liturgies this week in the Oratory. It is not a complete script, but I have included as much as possible, including music, so that I am not juggling with too many books. It does still require Common Worship: Times and Seasons, a separate booklet of readings (above), a psalter (I shall use the Grail) and the Belmont Abbey English Gradual. Sadly, this is not available online, but the wonderful music of Abbot Alan is very singable, modal and simple. The Eucharistic liturgy is the one I have written about here and here. There is not much seasonal variation to it (no proper Prefaces etc) but the simplicity works, I think.

The Gospel of the Entrance into Jerusalem will begin Palm Sunday’s Eucharist, but without blessing of palms or procession.

For the liturgy on Good Friday I have added the insert prepared by the Vatican for the Solemn Intercessions in this time of pandemic, adapting it slightly to match the language of Times and Seasons, I think it works best in that text between the second and third intercession. In the Roman Rite it is suggested for rather later. The Proclamation of the Cross will be fairly informal with readings and poems from outside of Scripture.

At the Paschal Vigil I have followed the suggestion of Times and Seasons for Pattern B with an extended vigil of readings and psalms ending with the lighting of the Paschal candle. I think this makes much more sense than the usual pattern proclaiming the resurrection with the Easter fire and then settling down for the Vigil. As T&S suggests I shall do this by a fire (either in the garden or the fireplace, depending on the weather), but more like a camp fire for story-telling than the Easter light itself.

The only issue with the Pattern B structure is the proximity of the Exultet and the Gloria. Because I am just going to use the very short metrical Exultet that T&S gives and then a refrain to a simple chant Gloria I don’t think that will matter, but if the Exultet was sung solemnly I think it might seem odd to follow it immediately with the Gloria.

I am using the Women in Salvation readings from T&S but have replaced Psalm 113 after the Isaiah 66 reading with the Canticle in Common Worship Daily Prayer from Julian of Norwich which beautifully picks up the image of motherhood.

This is not a polished service booklet but a script for me to use in these strange times. I will, no doubt be adapting it as the week goes on and will post updates. Unless otherwise indicated the music in the booklet is my own adaptation of plainsong chants.

UPDATE Saturday 15:30 – The introductory chant on Palm Sunday is surprisingly underrepresented in my collection of liturgical music. A simple plainsong setting by Br Reginald SSF seemed to be the best I could do. There is a version in the Hymn-Tune Psalter which I have recently acquired, also the ‘Hosanna’ Jacques Berthier / Taizé chant but this is really a canon and seems very weak sung by a single voice. I then remembered the collection by Paul F Ford, By Flowing Waters, which is an English version of the Graduale Simplex. His setting of one of the palm procession chants to mode 1 works well I think. He sets the psalm verses to the traditional plainsong tone; I will use that with a text pointed in the Sarum Psalter or the Grail version with the Conception mode 1 tone as shown below. Or I may even use it twice, before and after the Palm Gospel, with verses from psalm 118 before and psalm 24 afterwards.

Women in Salvation: Readings for the Easter Vigil

Common Worship: Times and Seasons includes a number of alternative, themed, patterns of readings for the Easter (Paschal) Vigil:

  • Baptismal
  • Women in Salvation
  • Salvation
  • Renewal
  • Freedom

All of them require the use of Exodus 14 (rightly !) and there are 22 readings used over the 5 themes. One Easter night I would love to use all of them over the course of the night!

Given that I think that repetition is the key to good liturgy and that women are seriously under represented in both Scripture and lectionaries I would argue for using ‘Women in Salvation’ every year.

So here is a booklet of those readings (in the Authorised Version) in the hope that it might be helpful to some. I shall be using these on my own this pandemic year. T&S includes psalm references and Collects for each reading which are excellent. I may get round to adding those to the booklet, but, for now, the readings:

Liturgy at Home: Holy Week and the Triduum in a Time of Pandemic

UPDATE Good Friday – I tried rehearsing Stations of the Cross live in the garden; sadly it just didn’t work, there was no way of moving the camera (iPhone on a tripod) in a way that wouldn’t have made anyone watching seasick. So no lies team of Stations but I will livestream Compline each night at 7pm Friday and Saturday.

UPDATE 6 April, 15:30 – please note there will now be no Eucharist of the Day in the Oratory, I am leading worship for the parish on Zoom at that time. In addition to the liturgies below I will livestream Compline each day at 7pm BST except for Maundy Thursday when Compline will complete the Watch at midnight.

Several people have asked what I intend to do for the liturgical services of Holy Week. I had been due to preach at St George’s, Paris and am sad not now to be with Fr Mark and the people there. I normally ‘preach’ Holy Week as a guest preacher so I rarely have to organise the liturgies of the week or the Triduum, although I have done a few vacancies over the years and when I was a parish priest always enjoyed working out what would work and what wouldn’t. here’s a picture of the booklet from the last time I had sole responsibility which was at St Faith’s, Landport in 1997:

I have been live-streaming the Eucharist each day from my little Oratory in the garden over the last few days. I am so deeply moved to be joined by people, some I know and am fond of, some strangers to me. I shall continue doing this during Holy Week at the following times:

Palm Sunday, Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday: Eucharist at 6:30am BST (GMT+1)

Maundy Thursday: Eucharist of the Lord’s Supper 8pm, I will keep a Watch until midnight and sing Compline at midnight. Eucharist and Compline but not the Watch streamed.

Good Friday – Stations of the Cross 10am

Good Friday: Liturgy of the Day at 2pm

Easter Day: Paschal Vigil and First Eucharist of Easter: 3:30am;

In terms of what I will do, those who tune in to the stream from the Oratory seem to appreciate the simplicity and silence. Others will be looking for something very different and there are many places offering sophisticated audio-visual material, and grander liturgies. Which is excellent. For this domestic Oratory as simple as possible seems to be best. For the Eucharistic liturgy the rite will be just as I have been doing and as described here.

Normally for a weekday Eucharist in the Oratory I just wear a stole over my usual clothes; to mark the solemnity of this week I will wear the usual vestments on Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday and at the Easter Eucharists and an Alb and stole on Good Friday at the Liturgy.

As you can see there is no blessing of the palms or procession, no Easter fire, no veneration of the Cross. Times and Seasons (T&S) gives different sets of readings for the Vigil with themes. I have chosen ‘Women in Salvation’. I will sort out what I am going to do at the Stations of the Cross on Good Friday morning in due course and post here when that is done. It will be very simple indeed. The Vigil will start early and be very leisurely which I have done before and works really well, with a rather informal feel. I’m hoping I can do this in the garden at a little bonfire. Vestments put on only at the move into the Oratory for the first Eucharist of Easter.

Music

I love to sing and I love the psalms. So alongside a few simple chants from Taizé and the Iona Community there will be psalms with sung refrains, from Belmont Abbey (An English Gradual, Fr Alan Rees OSB), Br Reginald SSF (Lent, Holy Week and Easter – Services and Prayers). I won’t sing any hymns. I am not a great singer and singing hymns unaccompanied is pretty tough going. On Monday to Wednesday the Chants (sung with verses of psalmody) will be (Mon – Wed Introit Belmont 35, Psalm Belmont 44, Concluding Chant Belmont 42). Other music see below:

Palm Sunday

  • Introit Reginald 9
  • Commemoration of the Lord’s Entry Into Jerusalem (T&S 269 – 271 omitting prayer over the palms and procession
  • Liturgy of the Word – Psalm Belmont 35
  • Intercession T&S 272-273
  • Eucharistic liturgy continues as usual Concluding Chant Belmont 30

Maundy Thursday

  • Introit Belmont 52
  • Penitential verses T&S 294
  • Psalm Belmont 111
  • Intercessions T&S 299
  • Preparation of the Gifts T&S 300
  • Eucharistic liturgy continues as usual
  • Concluding Chant Lamentations (traditional)
  • John 17
  • Watch until midnight before the Blessed Sacrament
  • Midnight Compline: traditional plainsong

Good Friday Stations of the Cross (10am) more detail later.

Good Friday – Liturgy of the Day

  • No Introit
  • Gathering and Liturgy of the Word T&S 307 – 308 Psalm Belmont 181 (The Passion ends at Jn 19: 37)
  • Prayer around the Cross – Jesus remember me, (Taizé), Belmont 178 verses from psalm 26, poetry and silence
  • The Solemn Intercession at the Cross
  • T&S 316 -318
  • Holy Communion T&S 319 – 320 Gospel of the Burial of Christ (Jn 19: 38-42

The Paschal VigilTimes & Seasons Pattern B ( 3:30 am – 5:30 am)

  • T&S Pattern B – outside (if not raining, or by the fireplace), at a fire
  • Introduction T&S 354 –
  • Readings T&S 373 (Theme ‘Women in Salvation’) Refrains for psalms, selected verses, from Sunday Psalms, Kevin Mayhew
  • 1 Genesis 1 Psalm 104
  • 2 Genesis 3 Psalm 51
  • 3 Exodus 12 Psalm 77
  • 4 Exodus 14 Canticle
  • 5 Ruth 1 Psalm 61
  • 6 1 Samuel 1 Canticle CWDP p 572
  • 7 Proverbs 8 Canticle CWDP p 599
  • 8 Isaiah 66 Psalm 113
  • 9 Daniel 3 canticle Benedicite
  • The Paschal Candle is blessed and lit T&S 355
  • Move to the Oratory (5:30am)
  • Metrical Exultet T&S 358 Tune: Woodlands
  • Gloria mode viii
  • Collect
  • Liturgy of the Word Psalm Belmont 60
  • Blessing of Water Chant: Water of Life …
  • Apostles’ Creed
  • The Eucharistic Liturgy continues as usual
  • Concluding chant: Belmont 67

Eucharist of Easter Day

Usual Eucharistic Liturgy with Gloria and Creed, chants:

  • Introit Belmont 67
  • Psalm Belmont 64
  • Conclusion Belmont 56

Taking Farewell of An Oratory

My friend and colleague in the Diocese of Liverpool, Mother Hannah Lewis has recently moved her prayer corner / Oratory from a bay window to the attic. Having prayed in the former space for some years she wanted to mark her farewelling of that space liturgically and has produced this rather lovely liturgy for doing so.

The prayer for taking leave is adapted from “A liturgy for leave-taking a house” in Human Rites compiled by Hannah Ward and Jennifer Wild

Before Coronavirus (BC) when I was travelling a good deal and staying overnight in hotels and conference centres I always said a little prayer of blessing for the corner of the room I set up for my prayer. I often thought that I needed a farewell prayer as well. I may just work on that at some point …


Life with Zoom – Small solitudes, little deserts: Poustinia for a time of Pandemic

“A marathon not a sprint.” That’s a phrase government ministers and medical advisers are using for the the pandemic. For those on the frontline of hospital care pacing yourself must seem like a luxury. But for those of us locked down at home it is rather different. It is a fortnight since what I think of as week zero began and my diary started to empty, actual cancellation emails or just the reality that these things are not going to happen. I have Holy Week Sermons prepared on Augustine for Paris. Conference talks on renewal of the church planned for Australia and New Zealand, parish days on Julian of Norwich, an ordination retreat on the poet Gwenallt. When that material will see the light of day I don’t know.

It was in the middle of week zero that the platforms allowing face to face meetings online began to impact. Added to Skype and FaceTime, GoToMeeting, Microsoft Teams and the now ubiquitous, among clergy, Zoom.

My short term diary filled again quickly. National and diocesan meetings. Conversations with Headteachers, MAT CEOs, Local Authority Officers. I have ‘seen’ my diocesan education team colleagues more in a week than I normally see them in a month. There is spiritual direction to be done on Zoom as well as ‘meetings’ with family and friends. In the village I live in caring for the elderly and housebound is being done on a What’s App group and together with that communication have been additional shopping trips for them. The community of priests I belong to (the Sodality) is also meeting three times a week on Zoom.

At the end of Week One of Zoom working I was shattered. So I decided to take 24 hours off all digital communication. It gave me chance to think about why the digital life has been so tiring when I normally have a significant online presence (Twitter, Facebook and my blog) which does not tire me.

Before thinking about the difference between my normal online activity and the new circumstances we are all in it’s important to acknowledge the exhaustion caused by trauma and anxiety. Almost the whole human population is experiencing a significant trauma. My observation of people and my own experience, is that there is a combination of shock, and from some, still, denial. There is a permanent sense of anxiety that never goes away. Several people have spoken to me about dystopian dreams. I may be wrong but this particularly seems to be so for those living in cities who are seeing places they know well, and which are normally busy, bustling places, suddenly bereft of people. Couples, families, households are spending enforced time together, our normal routines are broken, Many people are being furloughed or can’t get the work done that they normally do. This sense of being out of control causes stress.

Add to that our worries and concerns for those we love. My elderly dad in a nursing home. My nephew in China. A friend’s son with pneumonia.

Given all of this it is not surprising that we feel more tired than usual, or express our anxiety in other ways. For headteachers there is the additional task of organising child-care and exposure to children who might well be bringing the virus into school from healthcare parents. This real danger and the fear of it will only increase.

For clergy there is a strong sense of wanting to do something, added to not being able to do the things we normally do. The resentment about closing church buildings and the large number of live streamed services is, I think, a relatively healthy expression of all this. There is also, it seems to me, a fear among clergy that this will hasten the end of many elements of our inherited church life. With collection-plate giving no longer possible everyone realises that the financial consequences for parishes and dioceses are going to be enormous.

So, to get to online working, why is that making us more tired? I don’t want to universalise my own experience but I am hearing this from many other colleagues too. It ought to be better, we might think, none of the driving and travelling that I normally do, I ought to be less exhausted! But in fact, for someone like me who is strongly introverted I have lost all my ‘down time’. Time in the car is time alone. I miss audible books and Radio 4 when I am thinking about something different, or times when I am processing the meeting I have just had and preparing for the meeting ahead. All of that is gone.

Another factor that is unusual in online meetings is that there are few transition points, arriving somewhere, getting settled, packing up at the end of a meeting; all this creates a sense of transition. I find that I am now often going from one meeting to another without any transition. Often there are literally no gaps. Zoom in its free version is limited to 40 minutes. I think there is a wisdom in that. My best meetings online have lasted 40 – 50 minutes. After that I am tired. Online meetings require a level of concentration and attention that is different to being in a room with people. There are less non-verbal signals to read. There is also less opportunity for humour to relive tension, or give a moment’s breather. We may get better at that as we get more used to using these media. We may also need to get better at controlling our use of some of these platforms. On Microsoft Teams my colleagues can see if I am available (it may be possible to stop this but I haven’t found that yet). There have been times when as soon as I have finished one call a colleague has seen that I am available, and called straight away.

My own personal use of Twitter and Facebook has tended to be much more of a broadcast than conversation. That has been harder to maintain in the past week and is very different from Zoom and the video meetings.

So this coming week I am looking to change some of the ways I have been working to give myself more reflective space. Times to reflect and to prepare. Times when I won’t take calls. But also building into my weeks and months some ‘desert time’.

I must have first read Catherine de Heck Doherty’s book Poustinia some time in the mid 1980s. It is well worth re-reading. Posutinia is simply the Russian word for ‘desert’, but it also refers to the spiritual desert of those, poustiniks, who live in the desert of solitude. For a few years Poustinias were popular among the spiritually minded. Huts in gardens or rooms set apart at retreat centres were named Poustinia. Traditionally a Poustinia contained nothing except simple furniture, a cross and a Bible.

Worn out by my week on Zoom (and other platforms) I set aside Sunday as a Poustinia day. Using the little Oratory which I have made out of a lean-to on the side of the house. (It was probably built for laundry, perhaps as a laundry for the village.) The many icons and quite a number of books are rather more than a Poustinia would provide, but it is a sacred space. The Eucharist has been much celebrated there, with many people; sins absolved; oil applied for healing and psalms sung.

Other than celebrating the Eucharist I decided to make it a non-liturgical day. Not singing the Office but simply chanting the psalms through in order and reading the book of Genesis. My two favourite books of the Bible. Prostrations with the Jesus Prayer (see here) and the simple prayer of the Cloud of Unknowing (see here) completed the day.

Poustinia is available on Kindle. Most of us can’t live as poustiniks in our daily life but Catherine encourages us to find “small solitudes, little deserts”.

In these crazy times we need little deserts more than ever. It may be just a corner of a bedroom or a spare room, the attic or even space in the garage or garden shed. Perhaps the only place is a time, a walk round the garden or local park.

We all know that there are dark days ahead. In these days caring for ourselves is vital. That can only begin with self-knowledge. A knowledge learned in silence and solitude.

I have always needed time alone. More important even than sleep. Which is why I have always love the last hours of the night and first hours of the day.

As we renegotiate our lives with technology and lockdown we will all need to look at the way we spend our time. For me, social isolation and lockdown that is full of e-communication means I need more solitude. I don’t have a parish, and in any case there are now many online forms of worship, so Sunday is a good day for me to have a desert day. It may be that another day or time will work for you. Jesus needed solitude (Lk 4:1-2,141-5; Mk 6:30-32; Mt 14: 1-13; Lk 6:12-13; Lk 22:39-44; Lk 5:16). It is not surprising that we do too.

“The essence of the poustinia is that it is a place within oneself, a result of Baptism, where each of us contemplates the Trinity … The is another way of saying that I live in a garden enclosed, where I walk and talk with God – though a Russian would say, “where all in me is silent and where I am immersed in the silence of God”.

Catherine de Hueck Doherty, Poustinia AMP 1975 p.212

The spiritual life is a marathon, not a sprint.

The Philokalia and the body in prayer: Jesus Prayer and prostrations

Re-post of an old but popular piece.

“Do not neglect prostration. It provides an image of humanity’s fall into sin and expresses the confession of our sinfulness. Getting up, on the other hand, signifies repentance and the promise to lead a life of virtue. Let each prostration be accompanied by a noetic  invocation of Christ, so that by falling before the Lord in soul and body you may gain the grace of the God of souls and bodies.”

Theoliptos, Metropolitan of Philadelphia

in The Philokalia, Volume, 4 p. 185 (Palmer, Sherrard and Ware, Faber 1995)

In a recent online article Rowan Williams writes:

“So: the regular ritual to begin the day when I’m in the house is a matter of an early rise and a brief walking meditation or sometimes a few slow prostrations, before squatting for 30 or 40 minutes (a low stool to support the thighs and reduce the weight on the lower legs) with the “Jesus Prayer”: repeating (usually silently) the words as I breathe out, leaving a moment between repetitions to notice the beating of the heart, which will slow down steadily over the period.”

I have been practising the Jesus Prayer  (the Prayer) since I first learnt it as a teenager. I have taught it, in sermons, on retreats and quiet days and in prayer accompaniment to many others. Although I have been practising prostrations and walking meditation with the Prayer for many years I haven’t so far taught these, or talked about them much to others. The former Archbishop’s piece has encouraged me to write this little blog about how I use these physical postures and movements in the hope that it will encourage others to explore this side of the use of the Prayer.

“Glorify God in your body.” Is St Paul’s clear exhortation to the Corinthians (1 Cor. 6:19) but, probably like many other pious Christians I am very much a ‘head’ person. As a child when my siblings were playing in the garden I would much rather have my head buried in a book. I have had to work at and enable others to liberate me from this.

It was experience of Catholic charismatic renewal, ‘baptism in the Holy Spirit’ and praying in tongues when I was fourteen that freed me to be more physical in my prayer (and in life generally). Although I had read The Way of A Pilgrim in my mid-teens it was as a late teenager that I discovered the prayer more thoroughly from the Anglican monks at Crawley Down (Community of the Servants of the Will of God). My, then, Spiritual Director and Superior of the community, Fr Gregory, had a strong friendship with Archimandrite Sophrony at the orthodox community at Tolleshunt Knights in Essex. At Crawley Down the only prostrations associated with the prayer was a deep bow, touching of the floor and sign of the cross at intervals during the communal recitation of the prayer which replaces Compline.

Communal recitation was itself an innovation at Tolleshunt Knights but one that works well and I have used with many retreat and prayer groups. Single voices, reciting the prayer in turn, 50 or 100 times each,  praying the short doxology after each set of recitations.

prayers-around-the-cross-taize

Prostrations, often over a prayer stool, had also been a form of prayer that I had learnt at Taizé which I’d first visited as a seventeen year old. At the Friday prayer around the cross there individuals also place their foreheads on the icon of the cross lying on the ground, a powerful form of prayer.

Retreats with the Buddhist monks at Chithurst Forest Monastery in the south downs and at Amaravati north of London (both in the Thai Forest tradition) also taught me the art of bowing the forehead to the ground.

taize-brother

Sometime in my late twenties I began to practice prostrations with the Jesus Prayer. Both types of prostration from the standing position (I have never felt comfortable praying sat in a chair and usually use a Taizé style prayer stool or a Buddhist meditation cushion.) For the basic prostration, with each repetition of the Jesus Prayer, I bow deeply at the waist, making the sign of the cross and touching the floor with my fingers, I do this for each of 50 or 100 recitations of the prayer (using a prayer rope to count) and then pray either the lesser doxology or the Lord’s Prayer dropping to my knees and placing my forehead on the ground.

I find this level of physicality in prayer very helpful especially immediately after getting up in the morning and before praying the morning Office, or in the middle of the day. Sometimes if I am tired it is a helpful way of preparing for Vespers. I rarely use this form of prostration before Compline as I find it overstimulating at a time when I want to relax. If I am sleepless because of an over busy mind it can be a good way to switch off thoughts before a cup of camomile tea and a return to bed.

On occasions, for a change, I use the short Greek form of the Jesus Prayer:

Kyrie Jesu Christe, eleison me.

Other times I seek to remind myself of the faith dimension of the words by speaking aloud an extended meditation/ prayer on the meaning of Lord/Jesus/Christ etc. I think this is important so that the Prayer is always an exercise of faith, trust in Jesus and never perceived as some sort of mantra or invocation.

There is a good piece by Saint Ignaty Brianchaninov here. He describes how:

“The bows warm up the body and somewhat exhaust it, and this condition facilitates attention and compunction.”

Of course, this sort of prayer is only for private use. On retreat or holiday I have occasionally practised prostrations for extended periods of several hours at a time; I find the sense of exercise very helpful. It is also a good practise for outside facing the rising sun in a chilly autumn dawn.

I haven’t said much here about uniting the Prayer with the breathing; I would very much encourage this and find it an essential way of using the prayer and extending the prayer into my daily activities.

There is a very good essay about uniting the Prayer with the breath here.

Walking meditation is another way of using the Prayer physically. Again this was something I learnt from the Forest monks. The best way I find is to alternate prostrations with walking meditation. Find a flat area where you can walk up and down a line for about 20 feet and just walk very slowly along the line and back again. Outside in a private area and focusing the eyes simply on the steps ahead. I find it is best not to be too artificial about the pace of walking; just as slow as is possible without being theatrical. I have never been able to combine the rhythm of walking with the breathing although I am told that some people do this; I breathe in the first part of the prayer and breathe out the second part and let the walking look after itself. I find it easier to combine the breathing with the prayer when praying silently in my head but sometimes, and usually with the prostrations, pray the prayer aloud, again only in private.

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The Vietnamese Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh who met Thomas Merton, practises a much freer form of Walking Meditation that is much more just mindful walking. I sometimes use this with a mindful verse that he suggests:

With every step / a flower blooms.

There are plenty of YouTube films of Thich Naht Hanh teaching this kind of prayer:

I have used this form of group walking meditation, silent walking, with retreat groups, it has a strong bonding quality for a group and can be a good break from sitting and listening in a retreat centre!

Bowing to the ground with the forehead is normally referred to as the Great Prostration and touching the ground with the fingers while bowing at the waist a Small Prostration.

There is a very helpful page about the use of the Jesus Prayer on the St Vladimir’s seminary website here.

I thoroughly recommend using physical posture with the Jesus Prayer and exploring posture in all our prayer (bowing at the doxology at the end of the psalms in the Office, for example) but there is no ‘right’ way to pray. As St Teresa of Avila wrote,

st-teresa-of-avila-icon-425

“mental prayer is none other … than an association of friendship, frequently practised on an intimate basis, with the one we know loves us.”

(The Book of Life 8:4, tr. Peter Tyler)

The important thing with prayer, as Dom John Chapman wrote, is that we pray as we can, not as we can’t (Spiritual Letters 109).

There is a lovely sentence in Teresa of Avila’s Interior Castle (1.28):

“It is very important for any soul that prays, whether little or much, that it doesn’t tighten up or squeeze itself into a corner” (tr Peter Tyler).

Posture helps me to pray because it loosens me up; it frees me from my head space and allows me to descend to the heart. It works for me because I am a naturally fidgety person. Other things will work for other people.

Prayer is friendship with God, just as we each find our own ways of friendship we all need to experiment and try things out to find our way of being friends with God. Posture is a form of touch, a making physical our prayer, our friendship. Just as touch is important in friendship, so it can be important in prayer.

Eucharist in a time of Pandemic: Adapting the Liturgy for Live Streaming

So I did it. After many requests. And after seeing the wonderful efforts so many others have made to provide Christian worship in this time of pandemic. I live streamed the Eucharist in the little Oratory which I’ve turned a lean-to on the side of the house into.

Some rooky errors: apparently FaceBook live stream won’t film in landscape on my iPhone so the whole thing was at right angles; despite Kate Bottley’s very helpful advice I didn’t place the phone high enough up which gives the whole thing a rather odd look. I shall improve on both of those tomorrow

It was my friend and brother Sodalist Fr John-Francis Friendship who made the point to me (on the phone) and publicly on Facebook that perhaps we need to make some greater acknowledgement of the viewer in these online broadcasts. I think he is right.

At the beginning of the liturgy I will say:

Wherever we are we meet in the name of Christ who is present in every time and place as our friend and brother:

The Lord be with you: And also with you.

At the offertory I will pray this prayer adapted from Common Worship:

Be present, be present, Lord Jesus Christ, our risen high priest, make yourself known to us; though we are separated unite us in faith; though we are apart grant us the communion of the Holy Spirit. Amen

At the intercessions I will add:

Remember us, separated by pandemic, but united by faith in the body of Christ; may all who see this celebration of the Eucharist know the presence of Christ in their hearts and in their lives. Strengthen our communion that we may be strengthened in the service of others.

At the moment of Communion I will turn towards the camera holding the consecrated hosts nd chalice and say:

Christ is in or midst. He is and always will be.

I will make the sign of the cross with the host before turning back to receive communion.

I am working on a suitable post communion prayer. I would appreciate any help on this:

Almighty God, we thank you for feeding us by your holy Word and by our fellowship in the body of Christ. United with him and with all the baptised in every time and place we offer you our souls and bodies to be a living sacrifice. Sustain us in our isolation by the power of your Spirit, that we may live in peace, and free from all anxiety, to your praise and glory.

Finally, I love singing. Praying by singing has a whole different effect on me. It used parts of my brain I don’t use when reciting prayers. Sadly I am not the great singer I would love to be. I thought about not singing in the live streamed liturgies but I am going to carry on. Sorry!

The form of the Eucharistic liturgy I use is adapted slightly from Common Worship and I use Eucharistic Prayer H with intercession inserted. Here it is with the prayers above added for live streaming.

Please do continue to send me names of people you would like to be prayed for. I will pray aloud for everyone by first name only. I don’t mind if it takes me half an hour or more!

NOTE: I have come in recent years through my educational/pedagogical work to believe that repetition is more important in learning than novelty and total coverage. Applying that to the liturgy I suspect that one year lectionaries are better than the multi-year cycles that have been developed in the last 60 years or so. Thus, I am using the BCP Sunday lectionary, repeating those readings on weekdays unless there is a saint’s day. On saints’ days and in seasons – such as Lent – where there is daily provision the readings from the old western rite are used as found in the 1958 edition of the English Missal. These are taken from the Authorised Version.

Not Simply To Endure Events: wisdom from Taizé for the time of the Coronavirus

As we come nearer Easter, anxiety is growing across the world in the face of the spread of the coronavirus. At Taizé, it seems that for the first time we will probably spending Holy Week and the Easter celebration without visitors. We have had to ask the people who had registered for the meetings to put off their stay, and the Church of Reconciliation is closed. We continue with our life of prayer and work “separated from all but united to all.” We are very conscious that intercession keeps us united with so many other people throughout the world.

By phone or internet, we receive a lot of news from people facing similar challenges in different parts of the world. Some of our brothers are living or travelling in Korea, Italy and elsewhere. Our Chinese brothers, in contact with their families there, have been following with attention and deep concern the developments of the epidemic since its beginnings.

Quite apart from the question of the precautions and changes to our way of life that are necessary, this quite unexpected and exceptional health crisis touches us in a deeper way. First of all, we are led to feel for the suffering and anguish of the victims, the sick, their families and all those who are severely affected by its economic consequences. We bear them in prayer.

We would also like to give thanks and express our admiration for those who are committed with all their strength to helping the victims and, more generally, in reorganizing public services. There are so many testimonies of creative generosity, of solidarity, and of people resisting passivity and discouragement.

In this difficult period, how can we not ask ourselves: What does Christ expect of us? What does the Risen One, who came to be with his discouraged disciples in spite of the closed doors, offer us? And to what is he calling us today? In the difficulties of the present, in Brother Roger’s words, “Not simply to endure events but, in God, to build with them.”

Following Christ leads us to an experience of conversion, of turning away from darkness and towards the light of the Risen One. Day by day, let us not be diverted by fears, anger, regrets, confusion, and the darkness that often claims to cover the whole world and to monopolise our attention… But let us remain united, deep within our hearts, to the source of peace that remains always beyond everything.

As containment measures and health precautions are increased to prevent contagion, let us take great care of the treasure of human relations. Let us keep in touch – through telephone calls and messages of friendship – with those who are isolated, and first and foremost the oldest, the most fragile and those already affected by another illness or hardship.

Over the coming days, we would like to take and transmit some concrete initiatives to express our solidarity spiritually. Every evening, a prayer with a small group of brothers will be broadcast from our house on social networks(at 8.30 pm, Western European time). And those who wish to do so can also send us prayer intentions.

As Saint Paul said to the Romans: “Who can separate us from the love of Christ? Can trouble, or anguish, or persecution, or hunger, or deprivation, or danger, or death? (…) I am certain that nothing will be able to separate us from the love that God has shown us in Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 8:35, 38-39)

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Communauté de Taizé
Secrétariat
F-71250 Taizé
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+33 3 85 50 30 60 (secrétariat) • +33 3 85 50 30 30 (standard)
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secretariat@taize.frwww.taize.fr

Prayer Spaces at Home

Christians and other religious groups are not gathering together for prayer during the current pandemic. This is a really good time to remember that every Christian home is a ‘domestic church’ and can be a place of prayer. Whether you live alone or with others, whether you have children at home or not, having a prayer space at home is a good way of blessing our homes and lives.

One of the things I love when I visit schools is to see the prayer spaces that many schools have in each classroom or in an area of the corridors or shared spaces. Huge imagination goes into making these spaces interesting, calming and places of beauty. Children also love them. In every school I visit it is clear that children use these spaces for prayer and mindfulness.

When I was growing up my gran had a prayer corner. In the back room a statue of Our Lady, her bible, prayer books and Rosary. It was a special place that fills me with peace and joy just thinking about it. Prayer Spaces can work for all families and households as places that trigger positive emotions when we go to them, especially if we light a candle, an incense stick and make it a place of peace and calm.

Whenever I teach Mindfulness I talk about how to build a habit of Mindfulness. Just five minutes every day is better than a splurge one day and nothing then for weeks. A Prayer Space is a great place to go and practice mindfulness and silence. It is amazing how quickly the space will become associated with positive feelings and trigger them even when bad things are happening in our lives.

At first you may feel self-conscious or embarrassed praying aloud with others. It’s Ok to laugh about that. Remember when you are praying you are talking to God just as you would talk to anyone. You don’t have to put on a special voice!

I have written a little prayer and made a card about prayer spaces. It is pictured above and the PDF is available below. Let me know if this works for you. Why not send me a picture? Whether your Prayer Space is Christian, Buddhist, Hindu or completely secular I will be glad to see it.

Sources: the blessing prayer uses elements from the book ‘Prayers for the Domestic Church’, Ed Hays; and the ‘Puja Book’ of the Triratna Community

Resources for Prayer When Public Worship is not Possible

Welcome. PLEASE NOTE THAT UPDATES ARE BEING ADDED AT THE TOP OF THIS PAGE (further contributions are very welcome) scroll down for original post.

19 March 2020 Update 5 – Prayer Spaces At Home

18 March 2020 Update 4 Blessing of Daffodils in a Time of Pandemic for Mother’s Day

And here is the text of the above prayer:

Blessing for daffodils

– A Mother’s Day Prayer in a Time of Pandemic

Daffodils are placed in a vase in front of those praying:

Lord of the dance,

as we wander on our earthly pilgrimage

we know moments when we float like clouds

not knowing the way ahead.

You remind us by simple signs that you are beauty.

In all that is simple and beautiful

we see that you are as a mother to us, 

continuous as the stars that shine.

We praise you for these golden daffodils,

that they may be signs 

of  gratitude to all who are mothers in your world:

our mothers and those who show a mother’s love.

Fill our hearts with pleasure,

that in the breezes and winds of life we may dance with the daffodils

and bring a mother’s love to all we meet.

We make our prayer 

through Jesus, who loved moments of solitude,

and who lives and reigns with you, 

God for ever and ever.  Amen.

18 March 2020 Update 3:

A list of online prayer resources from Fr John-Francis Friendship:

ONLINE PRAYER RESOURCES

Churches TV

www.churchservices.tv/

A range of daily services and other resources from around the UK.

Coptic Church in Britain

birminghamcopts.org/

The Egyptian Orthodox offer some excellent resources via this website.

Daily Meditations – Richard Rohr

cac.org/category/daily-meditations/

Developed by this well-known Franciscan this site is well-stocked with useful information including a Daily Meditation for active contemplatives

Daily Prayer – Church of England

www.churchofengland.org/prayer-and-worship/join-us-service-daily-prayer

Available in both contemporary and traditional forms for all times of day.

Daily Prayer – Universalis (Roman Catholic)

universalis.com/

Mobile phone app. Offering Morning, Midday and Evening Prayer together with information about the day.

Diocese of London

www.london.anglican.org/articles/author/communications/

Offers resources for those unable to attend church (see 12.03.20)

Sacred Space

www.sacredspace.ie/content/about-sacred-space

A ministry of the Irish Jesuits.  The pages guide you through sessions of prayer in six stages culminating in reflection on a scripture passage for the day.

The Ordinary Office – alone together

anordinaryoffice.org.uk/

Designed to be as accessible for the disabled and able-bodied. 

World Community for Christian Meditation (WCCM)

wccm.org/

A global and inclusive contemplative family founded by Dom John Main offers resources for meditation

Fr John-Francis Friendship has produced this helpful booklet on ways of praying:

Finally, from Fr John-Francis an alternative (to the one below) Act of Spiritual Communion, using some imaginative, Ignatian type elements:

Update 2: A simple form of prayer for making a Spiritual Communion at home when the Eucharist can’t be received:

Update 1: Thank you to Mary Hawes for this set of resources for worship at home: here.

17 March 2020 Thank you to Facebook friends for providing links to some of these. This is not a polished response but a quick list, please send me any other links to add or resources you have made. I will keep updating at the top of this post. Our Archbishops urge us to maintain the disciple of daily prayer and Eucharist. This is more important than ever. Reducing stress and anxiety will come when we have solid patterns of praying in our lives and model that for others. For all of us this is an opportunity to deepen our prayer and pray in new and old ways. As the Bishop of Liverpool writes to the diocese:

You will see that [the Archbishops] encourage us all to find new ways of being the Church in these days. As they say: “Public worship will have to stop for a season. Our usual pattern of Sunday services and other mid week gatherings must be put on hold. But this does not mean that the Church of England has shut up shop. Far from it.” Church is changing, and we all need to be part of that change.

I particularly urge us to explore the serious Christian tradition of praying 7 times a day; even if only briefly. The use of Psalm 119 divided over the day is very powerful with its gentle rhythm and constancy. Nothing dramatic just the simple love of the Lord who is the Way, the Truth and the Life.

Psalm 119 arranged to be prayed in a day:

Prime – before the day gets going – verses 1 – 32

Terce – about 9am – verses 33 – 80

Sext – about noon – verses 81 – 128

None – about 3pm – verses 129 – end

Here are some old posts of mine on this subject:

Serious Christianity (2): The Little Hours, a gift for the forgetful

On praying the Little Hours: New Wine and 1 Thessalonians (5:17)

Serious Christianity (4): Psalm 119

The following booklet by Fr Dominic Cawdell OGS of the Diocese of St Asaph in Wales is very good:

It contains:

  • Simple Orders for Morning and Night Prayer, which you can use at home;
  • The special readings and prayers for each Sunday
  • Some sermons for between now and Pentecost
  • A way of reflecting on Jesus’ journey to the Cross, using poems from Malcolm Guite
  • Information about further resources that may be helpful

The Methodist Church is providing a sheet each week:

https://www.methodist.org.uk/our-faith/worship/singing-the-faith-plus/seasons-and-themes/worship-during-the-coronavirus-pandemic/

This form of worship is particularly suitable for families:

Fr Alexander Crawford has produced these excellent materials:

https://aigc88.wixsite.com/beautyofholiness/post/prayer-resources-for-use-in-isolation?fbclid=IwAR1dlucFoCvOPdfxz7LXKdnk-9S-T42V1PuhevqIwfn-dQncFucviX-2C18

Some popular hymns are available on YouTube here assembled by Father Angela:

A form of Morning Prayer for Sundays here from Mother Nicol:

http://westhoathly.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/How-to-Worship-when-you-cant-get-to-church.pdf?fbclid=IwAR2isOuIsCNaP-X-YDXrFiio9rKlLaTBjJeTHZso6qPwjFK614NsJ9aoj0U

Some more varied ways of praying here from Mother Jo:

https://docs.google.com/document/d/1ZGrALL8wTwlsvJEUhFD2B35KH8pN0K4roAbCjE_rnz4/edit?fbclid=IwAR0QWA1cN4rRFtip-NiLrXYQzzKBEEh7RL6Ty-DWoWgPA5pefBfIQzLFytw

As well as the usual Church of England apps these are good resources:

Reimagining the Examen

Examen Prayer

JesuitPrayer

Pray As You Go

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Litany in a Time of Pandemic Fr Rick Morley

God the Father,

Have mercy upon us.

God the Son,

Have mercy upon us.

God the Holy Spirit,

Have mercy upon us.

Holy Trinity, One God,

Have mercy upon us.

Spare us, good Lord, spare your people, who you have redeemed with your most precious blood, and by your mercy preserve us through this crisis, and for ever.

Spare us, good Lord.

From all evil and wickedness, from disease and illness, especially this coronavirus,

Good Lord, deliver us.

From all ignorance and apathy, and from all willingness to engage in activities that could harm others,

Good Lord, deliver us.

From all refusal to understand, from pride and a sense of invincibility,

Good Lord, deliver us.

We your children beseech you to hear us, O Lord God, to look upon this world struck by pandemic, and drive from us this disease,

We beseech you to hear us, good Lord.

That it may please you to strengthen the weak, the elderly, and those with compromised immune systems,

We beseech you to hear us, good Lord.

That is may please you to give health and comfort to all who are already stricken with illness,

We beseech you to hear us, good Lord.

That it may please you to give patience and grace to all those who are in quarantine or who fear that they have already contracted the virus,

We beseech you to hear us, good Lord.

That it may please you to surround those who are scared and fearful, those who are overcome with anxiety and worry,

We beseech you to hear us, good Lord.

That it may please you to give wisdom and stamina to all scientists, biologists, doctors, and all who are working on tests, vaccines, and treatments,

We beseech you to hear us, good Lord.

That it may please you to uphold all those who are treating and ministering to the sick,

We beseech you to hear us, good Lord.

That it may please you to give to your people a heart to love their neighbour through this time, and to look after those who are most vulnerable.

We beseech you to hear us, good Lord.

That it may please you to support, help, and comfort those who are worried about getting through this time financially, and whether they will have employment when this passes,

We beseech you to hear us, good Lord.

That it may please you to help our young people grow in wisdom and knowledge even as schools and universities are closed,

We beseech you to hear us, good Lord.

That it may please you to heal the sick, lift up the stricken, and open the airways of those who have difficulty breathing,

We beseech you to hear us, good Lord.

That it may please you to receive into your bosom those who have died from this disease, and to gather into your arms those who grieve,

We beseech you to hear us, good Lord.

Son of God, we beseech you to hear us.

Son of God, we beseech you to hear us.

O Lamb of God, that takes away the sins of the world,

Have mercy upon us.

O Lamb of God, that takes away the sins of the world,

Have mercy upon us.

O Lamb of God, that takes away the sins of the world,

Grant us your peace.

Serious Christianity for Families: introduction

Monasticism is in. It is fashionable. Or at least the spirituality of it is. Not the reality of the commitment of lifelong vows. ‘New monastic communities’ are a great blessing to the church. But we need to see the difference to the sacrificial lives of those vowed monastics who have been at the heart of the renewal of the church through the centuries.

Sometimes ‘monastic’ is used as a way of distancing ourselves from the disciplines of the spiritual life. Ordinary, everyday, diocesan priests, for most of Christian history have prayed an eight-fold Office, fasted, meditated, celebrated Eucharist daily. Yet when we do this in our time it is described as ‘monastic’. I don’t believe it is. This is one reason why in the Sodality I have always resisted the definition of us as a ‘new monastic community’. The serious Christianity we aspire to is normal for diocesan priests, it is not ‘monastic’.

Most of the people I direct, accompany, in the spiritual life are married, most have children. What is an appropriate non-monastic spiritual life for them?

I don’t have children. But I don’t believe that my own practice is monastic. I am a diocesan priest, a householder. I want to hear from my married, parent friends how they create a space for serious Christianity in their lives. I certainly don’t want to impose anything on them.

This new series (I hope) will give some of my friends the opportunity to reflect on that.

One of my brothers in the Sodality has recently become the father of a second set of twins. Four children under five. I am privileged to have been asked to be godfather to one of the new-born. What is an appropriate, serious, spirituality for that family, for him as a priest? I hope that we can begin to explore that.

Praying the Prayer Book Office

In the form of Mindfulness of Breathing that I was taught thirty or more years ago, and still teach myself, there is a shift in stages between noticing the in-breath and noticing the out-breath. It’s a subtle shift but most people sense a change of energy and perception. I feel the same way about changing my practice of praying the Daily Office. Having used the Divine Office for many years and then Common Worship Daily Prayer I have now moved to the Book of Common Prayer. (Originally described here). The shift is subtle. It is still, after all, just an arrangement for daily praying of Scripture but there is a different energy, the shape is different. I like it. Now I have started singing the Office hymns at the traditional place (before the gospel canticles) the front-loading of lengthy psalmody gives the whole thing a still, contemplative feel. The lack of variety adds to this. Novelty is stimulating, the very opposite of contemplative.

Several readers and friends have asked how I am getting on with my use of the BCP Office (and 1928 lectionary) this liturgical year. The changes since my first version of the booklet will show some of the ways in which I am adjusting to this.

Here is the latest iteration of my booklet:

I have added a greater variety of music, antiphons for the Te Deum and Benedicite. I am using the Wantage Benedictus and Magnificat antiphons:

I began using antiphons for the psalms but actually the Office is rich enough without those so I just sing them to plainsong tones without antiphons.

The 1928 lectionary is a joy. Just one OT book across Morning and Evening Prayer makes use of commentaries much more feasible alongside the gospel and other NT reading. The monthly BCP cycle of psalms makes following commentaries through with the psalter so much easier.

This is the second time in my life I have made long term use of the BCP (the other when Mother Victoria and I prayed the Office at St Andrew, Earlsfield). So nothing is unfamiliar. And, of course, a lifetime of cathedral Evensongs.

I am using the Mirfield 1949 Office Book (as rare as hen’s teeth on Abebooks etc) which provides all the Office hymns, responses and Mag and Ben antiphons as well as the lectionary readings set out. This is very helpful. It also includes Compline and the Little Hours. Since I travel so much having all this in one book is very useful.

I am just beginning trying the Office hymns (melodies in the English Hymnal) in the place traditionally assigned them before the gospel canticles which seems less strange than I thought it would. At Compline the hymn after the psalms. The CR book suggests Psalm 51 daily in Lent as the first Canticle at Matins and this works well. I use that with modern four part tones as I often do for the Gospel and other canticles, so traditional plainsong tones always for the psalms, including Venite. This gives the psalmody a different flavour too. Not sure I can describe it but I am not missing the slightly over rhythmic quality of modern psalm tones on all the psalms and canticles.

Four substantial readings is enough in a day so I am using the traditional one-year cycle of readings at Mass daily, repeated on ferias unless there is daily provision (Series 1 lectionary) and alternating the additional OT readings with the Epistle. The repetition is really sustaining and the range of patristic and later commentaries enormously enriching.

People occasionally join me for Morning or Evening Prayer or for Mass, especially at weekends, and this has worked well. I use an NEB lectionary at Mass with a CW Order of Mass (described here), and an RSV Bible for the readings when praying with others. There is a familiarity with the shape and texts that seems to make this very accessible for visitors.

This form of Office is very manageable, accessible and, also, very Anglican. A good place to feel at home in.

Celebrating the Eucharist Daily

Underneath the large church at Taizé is the crypt. A door from there leads to a corridor and the Orthodox chapel. Every day, before Morning Prayer,  Brother Pierre-Yves Emery of the community celebrates the Eucharist with the one or two people who turn up.

It is the simplest possible form of Eucharist but one of the richest experiences in my life of celebrating Mass. When I am at Taizé I am privileged to concelebrate this Eucharist. When I first did so I was terrified. Pierre-Yves, a Reformed pastor, does not use any books but extemporises the Collect and the Eucharistic Prayer (using the typical Hyppolitan structure of contemporary liturgies). He speaks no English and we communicate in liturgical latin and my weak French. Pierre Yves divides the Eucharistic Prayer up and I pray my bits in English, always dividing the consecration of the bread or wine between us, one of us getting the anamnesis, the intercessions, the epiclesis and so on. Praying, as an international ecumenical community not for a local bishop but for the Archbishop of Canterbury, the ecumenical Patriarch, the bishop of Rome, the Secretary General of the World Council of Churches, and the leaders and pastors of all the churches.

Beginning in silence, in the dark, after greeting the assembly we sing a three fold Kyrie before Pierre-Yves extemporises a Collect, often on some theme from the gospel of the day. The Liturgy of the Word is read, with a psalm chanted simply and three Alleluias before and after the gospel. After a long period of silence we all go and stand around the altar in the small sanctuary area beyond the iconsostasis. The chalice and paten already have the bread and wine in them. After the Eucharistic Prayer we pray the Lord’s Prayer, sing a simple Agnus and are invited to receive. The paten and then the chalice are passed around the small circle. An extemporised prayer follows communion before a dismissal. It is very beautiful indeed.

IMG_4907

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In the Lord’s Prayer we pray that God will give us ‘our daily bread’. For many Christians this has been read as an invitation to celebrate the Eucharist daily. For Anglo-Catholics the daily celebration of Mass was an essential part of the tradition for many. The spiritual writer Henri Nouwen made a point of celebrating Mass each day wherever he was, always carrying a supply of hosts with him.

I think the diminution of the daily Mass in many Anglo-Catholic parishes is one of the signs and causes of our diminishment as a movement, and I do everything I can to encourage my sister and brother priests to restore daily celebration.

It is my great joy to celebrate every day. I carry a travelling kit with me and when staying with friends and colleagues will often celebrate simply at a coffee or dining table. I love to celebrate with family and friends at the dinner table using a little of the wine and bread that will be eaten as part of the meal afterwards. I also, at home, have the joy of a little Oratory in an old tool shed attached to the house, the altar consecrated by the diocesan bishop.

The following two attachments are my current practice for celebrating the Eucharist daily. The longer document printed and in an A5 folder on the altar and the other a people’s card for those who join me.

If I am joined by someone who sings I like to use the very simple musical setting of EP H. On days when there is a Proper Preface I tend to use one of the other Eucharistic Prayers. The collection of Eucharistic Prefaces translated by Fr Alan Griffiths for the Ambrosian rite is a rich resource (We Give you Thanks And Praise). The prayers are enriched with intercession as suggested here. I normally begin and end with a Taizé chant. In this Kingdom season “The Kingdom of God is justice and peace…” is especially suitable.

Eucharist OSH People’s Card

(Text reproduced below)

Eucharist OSH Altar Book

B2LspLLWTCOOWGW9UPLavA
sm08cgUMS%aTHTvNLg9LpA

Eucharist

in the Oratory of the Sacred Heart

*

Blessed be the kingdom of the Holy and Undivided Trinity,

Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Amen.

After the greeting:

And also with you.

*

Kyries

*

The Gloria on Principal Feasts and Festivals

Glory to God in the Highest

and peace to his people on earth

Lord God, Heavenly King

Almighty God and Father

we worship you, we give you thanks

we praise you for your Glory!

Lord Jesus Christ , only Son of the Father,

Lord God, Lamb of God,

You take away the sins of the world

have mercy on us

You are seated at the right hand of the Father

receive our prayer.

For You alone are the Holy One

You alone are the Lord

You alone are the Most High

Jesus Christ

with the Holy Spirit

in the Glory of God the Father.

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The Collect

*

The Readings the book, chapter and verses are announced but without conclusion

*

Before and after the Gospel, Alleluia is said or sung

*

The Creed on Principal Feasts

We believe in one God,

the Father, the Almighty,

maker of heaven and earth,

of all that is,

seen and unseen.

We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,

the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father,

God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God,

begotten, not made,

of one Being with the Father;

through him all things were made.

For us and for our salvation he came down from heaven,

was incarnate from the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary and was made man.

For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate; he suffered death and was buried.

On the third day he rose again in accordance with the Scriptures;

he ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father.

He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end.

We believe in the Holy Spirit,

the Lord, the giver of life,

who proceeds from the Father and the Son,

who with the Father and the Son is worshipped and glorified,

who has spoken through the prophets.

We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.

We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.

We look for the resurrection of the dead,

and the life of the world to come. Amen.

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The Peace

The peace of the Lord be always with you;

All And also with you.

*

The Preparation of the Gifts

With this bread that we bring

All we shall remember Jesus. 

With this wine that we bring

All we shall remember Jesus.

Bread for his body,

wine for his blood,

gifts from God to his table we bring.

All We shall remember Jesus.

Blessed be God,

by whose grace creation is renewed,

by whose love heaven is opened,

by whose mercy we offer our sacrifice of praise.

All Blessed be God for ever.

*

Eucharistic Prayer H

The Lord is here.

All His Spirit is with us.

Lift up your hearts.

All We lift them to the Lord.

Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.

All It is right to give thanks and praise.

It is right to praise you, Father, Lord of all creation;

in your love you made us for yourself.

When we turned away you did not reject us,

but came to meet us in your Son.

All You embraced us as your children
and welcomed us to sit and eat with you.

In Christ you shared our life

that we might live in him and he in us.

All He opened his arms of love upon the cross 

and made for all the perfect sacrifice for sin.

On the night he was betrayed, at supper with his friends

he took bread, and gave you thanks; he broke it and gave it to them, saying:

Take, eat; this is my body which is given for you;

do this in remembrance of me.

All Father, we do this in remembrance of him: 

his body is the bread of life.

At the end of supper, taking the cup of wine,

he gave you thanks, and said:

Drink this, all of you;

this is my blood of the new covenant,

which is shed for you for the forgiveness of sins;

do this in remembrance of me.

All Father, we do this in remembrance of him: 

his blood is shed for all.

As we proclaim his death and celebrate his rising in glory,

send your Holy Spirit

that this bread and this wine may be to us

the body and blood of your dear Son.

All As we eat and drink these holy gifts 

make us one in Christ, our risen Lord.

May this Sacrifice of our reconciliation we pray, O Lord,

advance the peace and salvation of all the world.

Be pleased to confirm in faith and charity your pilgrim Church on earth,

with your servant N our bishop (N and N his assistants),

and the leaders and pastors of all the churches.

Remember in kindness people of all faiths and none,

that the whole human family may live together in peace and harmony.

Remember Elizabeth our Queen and the leaders of the nations,

grant peace and prosperity to all, the protection of our planet,

and an end to violence and war.

Remember [N and N and] all who have asked our prayers,

those who have no one to pray for them by name and those whose needs are hidden.

Remember [N and N] and all who have gone before us,

welcome them into the light of your face

and grant us, with them, a place of refreshment, light and peace.

With the Blessed Virgin Mary, Saint Joseph her spouse,

[Saint N and ] with angels and archangels,

with Thrones and Dominions, with all the hosts and powers of heaven

and with your whole Church throughout the world

we offer you this sacrifice of praise

and lift our voice to join the eternal song of heaven:

All Holy, holy, holy Lord, God of pow’r and might,
Heaven and earth are full of your glory. Hosanna in the highest.

*

Our Father in heaven,

hallowed be your name,

Your kingdom come,

your will be done,

on earth as in heaven.

Give us today our daily bread.

Forgive us our sins,

as we forgive those who sin against us.

Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from e-vil.

For the kingdom, the power and the glory are yours,

now and for ever. Amen.

*

Lamb of God, you take away the sin of the world,
have mercy on us.

Lamb of God, you take away the sin of the world,
have mercy on us.

Lamb of God, you take away the sin of the world,
grant us peace.

*

God’s holy gifts for God’s holy people:

Jesus Christ is Holy, Jesus Christ is Lord:

to the glory of God the Father.

*

The bread of heaven in Christ Jesus. Amen.

*

The cup of life in Christ Jesus.

*

Prayer After Communion

*

Concluding Chant

We have seen the true light,

we have received the heavenly Spirit,

we have found the true faith, worshipping the undivided Trinity, who has saved us.

*

Easter

Alleluia to God be glory in the Church

and in Christ Jesus for ever and ever. Amen.

*

Mindful Eucharist

Gong in the chapel at Shepherd’s Dene

For a while now I have been saying that the essential elements of Christian prayer are Psalmody and Eucharist. Not claiming any particular arrangement, frequency or style of doing either of those two things (well, psalmody almost certainly needs to be daily at least) but the universality of them among those of deep prayer and spirituality in Christian history.

Alongside them, the practice of silence, sitting still, simple awareness of the presence of God seems almost as universally important.

So why not put all three together?

I am not suggesting that the form of celebration of the Eucharist suggested here would be appropriate as the normal Sunday diet for a worshipping community. I have used this form on a number of retreats, Quiet Days and parish weekends, where it has always seemed to go down well. I also tried it at a staff meeting where it didn’t work so well. It probably needs to be in the context of teaching about all three elements, particularly mindfulness, and in a situation where people are able to let go of their discursive-critical mind. Perhaps, too, my ‘persona/role’ in the meeting context did not fit quite so well as when I am ‘retreat leader’.

Three forms are proposed here each with a different psalm. They are linked above in PDF format, I create them in Pages and am happy to send Pages or Word exports from Pages (which may lose formatting) if you email me but WordPress will not link to these files.

The versions for Psalm 23 and 119 are for sung/metrical settings. The Lord’s My Shepherd is the popular setting usually sung to Crimond but I have only ever used it at these mindful Eucharists with the tune usually used for Amazing GraceNew Britain -which has, I think, a bit more energy. The same tune is used for the metrical version of Psalm 119 which is from Adam Carlill’s brilliant metrical version Psalms for the Common Era, where he provides this extraordinary alphabetic translation of the psalm. In both cases the text is sung in full at the beginning and end, and various verses are then interpolated into the Eucharistic liturgy.

I have always used this format sitting in a circle around an altar; I just place a stole over my clothes. I extemporise the Collect and post-Communion prayer; the readings are read without announcement or conclusion. Standing for everything except the homily and first reading.

During the Eucharistic Prayer I use manual acts, raising the host (I prefer a single host big enough for everyone, usually a ‘concelebration host’ and cup at appropriate points and holding them aloft throughout the bell that follows the words of Jesus. I genuflect after these elevations, and hold my hands over the gifts at the epiclesis. The Eucharistic Prayer is a slightly adapted form of Prayer H in Common Worship. Another voice for the intercessions (within the EP) works best.

Communion is passed around the circle, concluding with the celebrant. On some occasions the host is passed around the circle and everyone holds it in their hand and consume together with the celebrant. I rather like this, that moment of holding the host is deeply intimate with the Lord and one of my favourite moments when concelebrating.

I would guess that 30 or so people would be the maximum this form of celebration could work with. As the last communicant I consume anything that is left and place the vessels at the side of the altar to be cleansed later. At the start of the celebration the hosts are ready and the chalice pre-charged.

I originally included a sign of peace but find that is disruptive so have removed it. The tropes at the kyries are either from the psalm chosen or a suitably linked text.

The bell/gong ringer needs a practice before hand and the gong should be allowed to ring its full length before any further action or words.

Repetition is key to learning and a key element of this form of Eucharist; at a recent retreat I gave people white cards now which to write a phrase which stood out for them at the end of the celebration and to use that phrase as prayer throughout the day, several participants commented on how useful this was.

I quite often celebrate the Eucharist in informal situations, Headteachers’ offices, school staff rooms, friends dining rooms, and so forth. That form of celebration is described here. I will usually use a small gong before and after that but not during the celebration.

I am not making any great claims for this form of the Eucharist. It has proved fruitful partly because it is both unfamiliar to people and repetitive so they feel safe, I normally do some explanation in advance, ideally not immediately before hand. Let me know if you try this at all and how it goes.

The Chapel at Shepherd’s Dene

The Wisdom of Solomon: some thoughts on New Patterns for Worship … and living.

Sermon at St John’s, Fulham for the meeting of the Sodality of Mary, Mother of Priests on 13 February 2020

My dearest friends, Mothers and Fathers. One of the the many things I love about our very own Church Of England is the variety of streams of tradition within it. While I think it best to drink deeply from a single stream. To be formed in one tradition. To know who we are so that we can be fully ourselves with others who are different to us is vitally important.

It is no less vitally important that we drink at other wells and learn from others. To realise that our differences never negate our common humanity, let alone our common baptism.

One of the elements of the evangelical tradition that I have come to love is the preaching of a series of sermons. If you look at well known evangelical parish websites you will find many sermons to listen to and even, sometimes watch.

On many occasions these will be based on individuals in the Old Testament. Nehemiah often comes up – and indeed I have led a number of study sessions on Nehemiah myself, including last October, for the Conference of Leaders of Anglican Religious Communities, our traditional, vowed monastic communities. Nehemiah is a great role model for Christian leadership, especially in a time when institutions seem to be in decline and some rebuilding of the walls is needed.

I imagine, perhaps I am guilty of stereotyping us! But I imagine that we are perhaps not as familiar with the liturgical book New Patterns for Worship, as we might be of certain other official liturgical publications.

Perhaps I am wrong, I hope so, because NPW includes some really excellent material. Not least among these are a series of modules of readings that can be used outside the seasons of the church’s year in place of the official lectionary. I recommend you get to know them and make use of them. Many feature significant individuals from the Old Testament such as Noah.

If you read my blog you will know that for pedagogical, educational reasons, I have become something of a fan of the traditional one year lectionary. I can imagine Sunday worship in which the ante-communion, the liturgy of the Word makes use of one of these series of readings for a first reading, followed by a sermon and then continues with the two short readings of the historic lectionary and on into the Eucharistic rite. In one church where I served we even broke for coffee after the liturgy of the Word so that some people could leave at that point and those who wanted to remained for the rest. It was very effective and worked well.

That is a somewhat long, and homiletically poor, introduction to looking at today’s first reading.

There is no series of readings in NPW on Solomon, which is a shame.

Solomon is best known, of course for being wise. But if that is all we know about him we have a rather weak and uninteresting character. Today’s reading fills that out a bit. We have to be a little careful that there is not some gender bias going on, the wise man led astray by his wives. But the important thing is not who leads who astray, but that Solomon exhibits some considerable foolishness.

Personally I find that quite helpful. We all, yes we do, all of us, do foolish things. We are all, yes all of us, unwise at times, perhaps very often. Tragedy appeals to us because deep down we know that at any point our foolishness might undo our lives.

I am glad to say that I do not have a number of pagan wives leading me astray. But I do know that I do not love the Lord wholeheartedly. I love God very much. Jesus is the centre of my life. But I know that I also am very attached to my nice middle class lifestyle. When I pray “do with me what you will”, when I say multiple times a day in the Lord’s Prayer: “Thy will be done.” I really don’t mean it wholeheartedly …

We Anglo Catholics like to remind ourselves of our glorious past. The slum priests who gave up everything to serve the poor. But when I was a priest in Grangetown in Middlesbrough or Portsea where Fr Dolling had been a priest, or Lewisham. All areas of considerable deprivation (and how proud we can all be of our very own deprivation index!) I lived the same middle class life I could have lived anywhere. Yet in my work as Spiritual Director/Adviser to emerging new communities I meet young evangelicals, Anglicans and others, who give up everything to take their families and children into places of dire poverty, who open up their homes to live with recovering alcoholics, gang members and the generally socially inept. For whom dinner is a simple shared meal with strangers not a dinner party with too much gin and four crystal glasses.

Changing the way we live. The choices we have made and make is tough. But what is conversion if it is not that? In the story we have just heard in the gospel I imagine Jesus smiling when the Syro-Phoenician woman tells him that even the dogs deserve crumbs. He knows she is right. He changes his mind. And that is wisdom indeed.

Solomon, like the rest of us was both wise and foolish.

I am not especially keen n formal dinner parties so it’s easy for me to critique them. I know what my idols are. Thy will be done? I suspect in a month’s time there will be just as many Amazon parcels arriving as there have ever been …

Growing the Church: parish weekends and events

This is, famously, an age of anxiety. That anxiety is certainly shared by the church. For the last four or five years as well as retreats and pilgrimages and other teaching and preaching. I have been delivering sessions to parishes which I have been calling “Growing the Church”. Some of these have been weekends, others days or part days, yet others multiple sessions of 90 minutes or so. At the start I generally ask people to write up what they hope to get out of the sessions. It’s a good reality check for me, particularly when I review them at the end. Anxiety is very strong in those hopes expressed at the start for: more children, more people …

These Growing the Church sessions are not intended to replace any of the well developed schemes for church growth and renewal. In many ways I would see the work I do as preparing the way for them. I will almost always mention the New Wine network, Leading Your Church Into Growth, Alpha and more recently tried to plant seeds about starting new worshipping communities outside the church building at times other than a Sunday morning. A way of working that is proving highly successful in the diocese of Liverpool, especially when using our school buildings.

One of the things that strikes me is that in parishes people are very eager to get to the vision writing/mission action planning stage very quickly. In schools a new Head might take two or three terms to work on, and that is seeing each other five days a week for the whole of the working day.
I try on these days to establish some basics – Why do I go to church? Who is Jesus to me? etc before moving any further. I have also begun using Psalm 44 to do some real lamenting about the difference between our ‘memory’ of church as a sort of ideal period we would like to return to, but which in reality can never exist again. I think if we don’t do that we are just frozen in grief or yearning for a mythical past in which there were dozens of children in the Sunday school and crowds at the daily Mass.
Other elements I include are my thoughts on Education and how they relate to our work with children and young people: the need to raise the standard of our education material and make it knowledge-based not simply experiential; and give young people real, substantive leadership. I always include some Mindfulness material. Bookshops, attendance at Mindfulness events etc are evidence that there is a real hunger for stillness, silence and meditation in our wider society. A hunger that we are failing to address in our Sunday worship. This is an open door for Christian mission which we are almost totally neglecting. There is very little opportunity for silence in most Sunday worship. Generally, when anyone leading worship says that ‘now we will keep a few moments of silence’ I barely have time for one breath, I have never, anywhere, had time for more than three. At Taizé they manage 10 – 15 minutes of silence in their worship three times a day. And this is always the thing that children and young people find most intriguing and good.
Finally, I always include an informal celebration of the Eucharist as part of the day. Ideally about half way through. This can bring together elements of Mindfulness, as well as a good chance to re-iterate the overriding importance of memory both as learning and in establishing shared memory as who we are, in Jesus’ words to ‘do this in memory of him’.
Preaching on the second day is a good chance to pick up on themes that strike me from the initial session. Almost always this is the same: the need to root our mission, our desire to grow the church, in substantive Christian faith. I come more and more to see the Apostles’ Creed as useful here. The reasons people give for Jesus being important to them, or what they like about Jesus, are generally either emotional (although there’s often not much of that) or Jesus as an example of living a good life. A living relationship with Jesus is, of course, essential to Christian faith and I often use the icon of friendship (Jesus with his arm affectionately around his friends’s shoulder). However, no one ever mentions the acts of salvation history. So what we have to tell people becomes very weak indeed.
I also stress the cross as an image of us needing grow the church horizontally – to draw more people to Jesus – and vertically – our relationship as individuals and as a community, with God. Interestingly this is the work that people seem to neglect most, or perhaps take for granted.
Unless it is a whole weekend we don’t spend any time writing a Mission Action Plan. That can be done by a small group separately. That is not because I don’t think it is important. On the contrary, being ‘intentional’ about mission is only going to happen if we have a plan and hold ourselves to account for it.

These events are really helpful for me and I learn a great deal from them. I change the material I use every time because I am always learning as well as because contexts are different. The work we have done in Liverpool on new worshipping communities in schools (mainly in the Wigan area) has really helped me to see that developing new congregations can be useful in relieving the anxiety of existing, ‘inherited church’ congregations. So often much of the anxiety comes from expecting that a new priest will suggest yet another set of changes to the worship, or moving of furniture. Sometimes it can be best to leave all that as it is and put our energy into new manifestations of the church. It also helps us to face up to the fact that those of us who love church can find it hard to understand the resistance of people who have no church experience to traditional church.

More children, more people is the constant hope of parishes and congregations. That horizontal growth will only come, in my view, when there is more faith, more experience of Jesus, more faithful living, more deep conversion to the gospel. That is the challenge to every Christian. Why is my life not sufficiently converted that my living alone brings people to Jesus?

The constant mantra in my teaching is a quite simple:

– Jesus centred

– Spirit filled

– Bible based

The anxiety is real. But we should not be controlled by it. In particular we need to be faithful to the New Testament vision of prayer as releasing the gifts of the Spirit. God expects every Christian to experience and share in these gifts. To believe that prayer is somehow difficult or fruitless is to collude with the anxiety.

An age of anxiety, yes. But also an age of liminality, provisionality and that provisionality can contain much energy and the seemed of renewal. Growing the Church never leaves me feeling depressed or anxious for the church. I find these events stimulating and energising. I hope some of those who participate in them do too.

Serious Christianity: a review of the St Stephen’s House Office Book

It is impossible for me to hear or sing the stunningly simple Peregrine Tone of Gregorian chant without thinking of Holy Trinity church in Winchester. There, as an undergraduate in the mid 1980’s, Julian Chilcott-Monk taught me to sing plainsong from Procter and Frere’s A Manual of Plainsong. The Peregrine, the ‘wandering’ tone is the simplest of all the tones and hauntingly beautiful.

The recovery of Plainsong in Anglican liturgy in the nineteenth century was an essential part of the the Catholic-Revival. Wherever I have introduced some sort of chant liturgy it has brought young adults to church. A ‘Compline Choir’ I ran once sang only the music of Compline week after week ending with drinks in a local pub. Everyone that came was between 20 and 30 years old.

There is a profoundly contemplative quality to chant. It demands our attention to text and music and draws us away from our own mental roundabouts.

Many, like me have spent years collecting books of chant from second-hand bookshops and clergy clearing their libraries at retirement. This is interesting. Often there are so many variations in editions that it is impossible to use multiple copies with a group.

I am, therefore, deeply grateful to St Stephen’s House, the Anglo-Catholic theological college in Oxford for publishing their Office book. It is a great contribution to the much needed new revival of catholic Anglicanism and I hope that it will be well used and much bought. There are still, I am told, plenty of copies left but it was a limited print and there will be no re-print. Please email officebook@ssho.ox.ac.uk to order.

The Office book was compiled by Fr Kyle McNeil and is a superb piece of work. He deserves much congratulation and thanks. There is a fine foreword by the Bishop of Chichester, Martin Warner, who draws attention to the obligation on the clergy to pray the Office, the value of a physical book which “locates us in the material world of specific things, such as time and place, that are themselves part of the scandalous immediacy of encounter with God.” Bishop Martin continues:

“The book’s location in a stall or similar place of prayer in church calls us daily onto the threshold of sacred space, not only does the journey there witness to a habit of prayer, it also opens up the possibility that we might invite and inspire others to join us in the routine of prayer.”

There is also a fine introduction which places the praying of the Office in the context of the priestly life and gives practical information for the praying of this book. This is fundamentally a ‘Prayer Book Office’ but makes use of the 1963 Revised Psalter which lightly adapts the Prayer Book psalms to accord with better scholarship on the Hebrew text, and intelligibility to the modern reader. It loses none of the beauty. It is assumed that the contemporary liturgical year and calendar of Common Worship is being followed but enriched with some additional material for saints and a few other celebrations.

All psalms and canticles are pointed to be sung to the traditional plainsong/Gregorian tones. A complete collection of Office hymns for Morning and Evening Prayer is also provided each with the traditional Sarum (rather than Roman) form of the plainsong music. For many of us some of these hymn melodies will be too complex to sing either alone or with a small group but it is good to see these ‘authentic’ melodies present and other, simpler melodies in the book could generally, be used in their place.

The texts of antiphons for the Benedictus and Magnificat for the entire liturgical year are also provided and these are pointed for simple tones. The canticles are given in Solemn and Simple tones and the Venite and Gospel Canticles are given in four sets of tones to be used a week at a time over a four-week cycle.

No other reference is made to lectionary provision other than to state:

“The Church of England’s lectionary is highly complex … It should be consulted separately, or an alternative lectionary employed.”

A sentiment with which I wholeheartedly agree. As I have written on this blog recently.

For those wanting to pray a ‘traditional language’ office the provision of Collects in one place is extremely helpful and very usefully enriched by some collects not provided for in any form in Common Worship. Today’s Memoria of Saint John Bosco being a very good example. These are translated into traditional language liturgical English. These are generally well done although a smile of amusement might be needed on occasion. For St John Bosco “young men and maidens” certainly caused me to smile.

Innovations in the book are the provision of a set of Old Testament Canticles for use at Matins in place of the Benedicte which is reserved for Feasts and Solemnities. I am a great fan of the Benedicite with its creation emphasis and the repetition of it and the Te Deum don’t worry me, but I know that this is an issue for many people. However, it does mean that only one setting of Benedicite is given which seems very light. For Evensong a set of New Testament Canticles (as used in the Roman Office) is given in traditional language so that those who pray Compline every day can reserve the Nunc Dimittis for that. Both of these provisions are very helpful.

The Te Deum is reserved for its traditional Roman / western place, at the end of the Morning Office on Feasts and Solemnities, rather than the Anglican practice between the readings. It is provided in just one setting.

The traditional anthems to the Blessed Virgin Mary are provided in Latin with their Versicles and Responses and collects.

For those using the book outside of Oxford notes are given to adapt the rank of various Oxford specific celebrations.

I have very few criticisms of this book, it is an outstanding piece of work, handsomely produced. I would have liked to see provision for the Circumcision of Christ on January 1st in accord with Anglican and long-standing western custom, rather than an additional feast of Our Lady. It would have been useful to have the Prayer Book Collects in their traditional order and form as an appendix. But these are minor quibbles.

I am especially happy to see provision made for the Interior Life of Our Lord (on January 19th) and The Interior Life of Our Lady (on October 22nd). These are often seen as precursor devotions to the Sacred and Immaculate Hearts but in fact they reflect something rather more about the imitation of Christ and his mother.

These commemorations of the interior lives are important because they emphasise the inner conversion that is at the heart of the Christian life. They also relate to the Sulpician tradition of training priests that has its origins in the French school of spirituality of Bérulle and Fr Olier. His beautiful prayer is an important part of the Manual of the Sodality and is worth praying by any ordained person. I know that it is a prayer much loved by Fr Robin, Principal at St Stephen’s House and many of the fine priests trained there in his time as Principal.

I hope that the SSH Office Book will be much prayed and form a significant part of the seriousness needed for a revival of the catholic stream in the Church of England:

O Jesus, living in Mary,

come and live in thy servants,

in the spirit of thy holiness,

in the fullness of thy might,

in the truth of thy virtues,

in the perfection of thy ways,

in the communion of thy mysteries.

Subdue every hostile power in thy Spirit,

for the glory of the Father.

Amen.

Jean Jacques Olier

Return to tradition – How I am Praying the Office: January 2020

In the early 1990s I wrote my dissertation, while at Chichester Theological College, on the renewal of a ‘People’s Office’. I was particularly interested in what some monastic communities (Jerusalem in Paris and elsewhere), CSWG at Crawley Down and Hove, and New Skete in the United States. Along with many other people I assumed that a really popular form of daily prayer would be about action: incense, lighting of the lamps, processions, movement – short and dramatic. Like many other people I implemented this in both my first two parishes and in other situations since. While people did come neither form has endured beyond my leaving.

One 1970s form of a ‘people’s office’ with music and action.

I have always been struck by this important quotation from the great liturgist Robert Taft:

In his The Liturgy of the Hours in East and West:

“To its great merit the Anglican communion alone of all Western Christian Churches has preserved, to some extent at least, the daily services of morning prayer and evensong as a living part of parish worship.”

In recent years I have been challenged by colleagues, particularly younger colleagues, making use of the Office in the Book of Common Prayer. The phenomenon of our cathedrals attracting growing numbers to the Office is also an important factor.

It is well over a year now since I last wrote about my own manner of praying the Daily Office which has been in transition for the last couple of years. That most recent post (November 2018) is available here.

Many friends have asked me to produce simple material to sing the Prayer Book Office and I did so here. Thank you to everyone who has responded to that.

Since I was working on that material and it is impossible to spot errors without using it I began doing so on the Monday after the Baptism of the Lord. Together with the 1922 lectionary for the Office which I write about here. So, for the sake of those interested, this is my current pattern. I add the times in only because time is often given as a reason for not being able to say the Office and it is important to see how it fits into a working day. I realise this new pattern is just that and will keep readers informed!:

5:20 Matins

Prayer Book Matins with the 1922 lectionary, as in the booklet here. Prayer Book cycle of psalms. Office Hymns from English Hymnal. Intercessions following the third Collect, but more intercessions at the Eucharist and Evensong than here for time reasons.

Eucharist as described here. With the one year cycle readings as in the BCP, using Proper and Common readings for saints fairly often, and from a variety of translations over a week.

Prime with martyrology.

I can do all this by 6:30 on a working day. On other days I allow a more leisurely approach and will normally celebrate the Eucharist either after Sext or before Evensong, or when there are guests, on Saturday morning rather later, before breakfast.

At convenient moments at 9-ish, noon-ish and 3-ish and omitted if these don’t happen:

Terce, Sext and None: as in the booklet with reading from Prime and Hours and only the simple V and R in the booklet.

6pm

Evensong

Prayer Book Evensong with the 1922 lectionary.

After dinner: Compline

I prefer to sing Compline as a sort of after dinner prayer rather than later just before bed. My ideal bed time is 9, but work and being sociable take over very often. With a bit of book reading (no phone or iPad) that means I get about 7 to 7.5 hours sleep a night. If I have had a day of heavy driving or a late night I sleep later.

One of the things that was part of my previous thinking about liturgy was the structure and purpose of the Office. Anglican forms of the Office are often criticised for being too didactic, not enough about praise. I wonder if that is too tight a division? Reading Scripture as part of our worship is not just about us learning, it is also about us praising God for his works. It is in itself a form of praise, of relationship. In families we all feel valued and loved when family members tell those endless stories about how we were as children and I love teasing my nephews with accounts and photographs of their childhoods.

In terms of structure I suspect that the only person who ever appreciated the subtlety of the structures of the ‘people’s offices’ that I have designed in the past was me. I don’t think many people really were thinking ‘oh the Magnificat, the climax of the Office!’ The Anglican structures work really well, they have endured, they have a simplicity that anyone can get hold of and understand, feel at home in, and familiar with. All of this contributes to a contemplative spirit to the Office which might actually be more what people need than a strong experience.

The place of intercession after the formal part of the office (the third Collect) in Anglican Offices is also interesting and works really well. People feel very comfortable with it and it is a good way to end the formal, public prayer.

I would be interested to hear from anyone who uses the Prayer Book structure but with modern language texts. I wonder how much the success of the structure is based on the solidity and beauty of the Prayer Book texts?

I travel a good deal and often find myself praying the Office in Cathedrals, churches, vicarages, curates-houses around the country. Common Worship Daily Prayer is excellent in so many ways but it is complicated. Wherever I go and the Prayer Book Office is being prayed there is a familiarity, a lack of announcements that allow people even very unfamiliar with the Office to feel at home.

The language of the Prayer Book is also interesting, I am particularly fascinated by its adoption by the young and those who were not brought up with it. It has a depth and a continuity that strangely make it more accessible than modern language for many people. It also allows people to share in it without yet believing it. Just as at Taizé young people can approach the intense life of the community to the extent that they choose to, so the intensity of the Prayer Book is actually more inclusive not less, than more contemporary language.

For anyone wanting an app with the BCP Office and 1922 lectionary readings see the very good iPray. It would be good if Aimer and Church House Publishing would add the 1922 readings to the otherwise excellent Daily Prayer app

Scripture for Mission: The Bible in A Year – recommendations for Office and Eucharistic lectionaries

Working as a Spiritual Director is one of the greatest joys of my life. Mainly because I learn and gain so much from it. If I am ever tempted to worry about the future of the church a session with one of the ordinands or newer clergy (some young and some not so young) I see is the antidote. I am constantly challenged, impressed and humbled by the seriousness of faith and commitment my sisters and brothers show.

I am particularly challenged by the lives of evangelical friends inside and beyond the Church of England. Their commitment to mission. The ability to see what is essential – and what is not. The commitment to the poorest. The sacrificial living. The commitment of couples and families. The openness to me with my very different background and tradition. The yearning for contemplative stillness.

I could go on.

One area that I have written about before is the desire to read the bible carefully and frequently. Particularly to read the whole bible each year. there are many such schemes for doing this, some available as apps or in other electronic/virtual ways.

This interests me because it matches my changing thinking on education. Like many teachers educated in the 1980s and earlier and later. Progressive methods, discovery learning, novelty and grabbing the interest of pupils were at the forefront of our methods. Like many others I have more recently come to the view that memory is the basic building block of learning, and indeed of human culture and existence. Therefore repetition, memorisation, learning things by heart, is essential to the educational process and to mission and evangelism.

I am now firmly of the view that the post-Vatican 2 lectionaries for daily prayer and Sunday services adopted both by the Church of England and other churches are part of the problem not the solution.

The lectionaries we are now using demand a three year cycle for Sundays and a two year cycle for weekdays. This is too long period to enable them to become familiar. With many people attending church fortnightly or less on Sundays this is even more a problem now than it was in the rather recent past.

The new lectionaries also cut us off from our spiritual ancestors, from the commentaries and preaching of the centuries and from a sense of belonging.

It is not a surprise to me that among the young committed to liturgical worship there is a ‘return to tradition’ in the use of the Prayer Book lectionary for readings at the Eucharist, and in the one year 1922 lectionary for the daily Office. This matches exactly the desire of non-liturgical younger clergy and others for simplicity in patterns of reading Scripture and frequent use of well know readings for congregational preaching and teaching.

Last year I used the 1662 one year lectionary for the daily Office. I had a couple of periods when I fell back on other patterns while I was travelling, and when praying with others didn’t impose this on anyone, but for most of the year I managed this. Using Common Worship Daily Prayer as the form of the Office and various modern versions of Scripture for the readings.

It was a fascinating experience. Some days it did seem that there was a lot of Scripture and if I missed sections because I was praying with others it was impossible to catch up by adding readings on at the Office – but I could easily read them to myself. When people were staying with me they occasionally commented on the length of readings. Sometime where passages were omitted there seemed to be big gaps. Not having a word-processor Cranmer and his editors generally went for whole chapters.

I liked having much more lectio continua, less interruption from saints’ days. Using the secular calendar rather than the church’s year at times felt odd and this is the main reason I am now recommending the 1922 lectionary.

To use officially approved lectionaries members of the Church of England have three choices at the Office. The CW provision and the 1922, and 1871 provisions.(thank you to Fr Liam Beadle for reminding me that 1871 is still authorised). The CW lectionary is actually a four year cycle. It is relatively complicated, involves many omissions and shortenings and a lot of jumping around Scripture. Where there is lectio continua it is over a 24 hour period, so at Matins, but not across Matins to Evensong.

The 1922 lectionary was adapted slightly to form a 1961 version but this is no longer authorised for use, although it does still appear as an alternative in the ‘Church Union’ Ordo produced by Fr Hunwicke. It re-arranges what had been an attempt at harmonisation of the gospel accounts for parts of the year in 1922 and opts for lectio continua at those times. It is probably an improvement but the harmonisation is interesting.

The original 1922 lectionary is available on the Church of England website here.

For ease of use I have also produced a PDF booklet here:

A big advantage for me is that the first readings from the Old Testament flow from Morning to Evening. This means that for any day commentaries and study is only needed of one OT book, the gospel and the non-gospel reading from the New Testament. I think that is a much more approachable task.

For those who wish there are often copies of lectionaries with the readings in full available second hand. They are sometimes called “Daily Service Book” or “Services of the Church” or simply BCP and lectionary. The Canterbury Press produced a re-print relatively recently.

The 1922 lectionary also preserves many traditional elements of the Christian reading of Scripture. Fr Hunwicke on his blog observes of the 1922 lectionary:

Its ‘Common Worship’ replacement is unbelievably complex and convoluted and, following the Bugnini abandonment of the ‘gesimas’, can make no attempt to start Genesis with Septuagesima. But the 1922/1928/1961 Lectionary … bases itself patristically on what Pope Gregory the Great devised and explained about the meaning of his ‘Gesima’ season. It then uses the ‘lectio continua’ instinct and provides a systematic reading-through of most of the Bible each year (the New Testament, twice a year). This embodies, of course, an aim which the Anglican Patrimony owes to the Reformation period (together with the entire structure of the Anglican Divine Office): the principle that clergy and laity together should “read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest” the Scriptures.

Alongside the use of this lectionary I would firmly recommend the use of the Prayer Book distribution of the psalms over one month (given in very slightly adapted form as an option in Common Worship. Any longer than a month makes it much harder if not impossible to learn the psalms. Reading the psalms in the order in which the final biblical author placed them takes that canonical structure seriously, just as scholarship has moved on from genre criticism to canonical criticism of the Psalter. A longer provision of psalmody also creates a more contemplative approach to the Office, giving time to sink into the psalms and let go of our own thoughts and obsessions. Psalmody needs to be long enough to get us through our own ‘squirming point’. Incidentally using the biblical order on a practical level it makes it far easier to work through commentaries on the book of psalms at the prayer desk where the Office is prayed. I particularly recommend the Reflections on the Psalms produced by Church House Publishing and as an app by Aimer. They are sufficiently short that they can be used for meditation in silences between the psalms at the Office. John Eaton’s commentary on the Psalms is also essential reading.

For Sundays I have written before (in the Church Times in August 2019) on the younger clergy re-introducing the Prayer Book one-year series of readings at the Sunday Eucharist. The Church of England website provide an important document suggesting Old Testament lessons and psalms to accompany the traditional lectionary. I am very concerned about the lack of use of psalmody in most parishes, if it is felt that three readings and a psalm is too much then I would recommend the psalm over the OT reading.

There are many wonderful commentaries and sermons from across the Christian centuries to help the preacher prepare and the pastor to pray. I particularly value Bishop Wand’s three-volumes on the Prayer Book Epistles and Gospels (and indeed Collects), Austin Farrer’s sermons and most beautiful of all the four volume “The Sunday Sermons of the Great Fathers – Patristic Homilies on the Gospels” which take me at least a week to read on each gospel and provide a lifetime’s meditation.

Finally, for many Catholic Anglicans there is a really important (and I would say essential to the health of the catholic stream) desire to celebrate the Eucharist daily. I would recommend returning to the pattern prior to the late 1960s of repeating the Sunday readings on ordinary days but using the readings for the Propers and Common of Saints whenever a saint’s day occurs. This gives ample opportunity for repeating the readings and getting to know both the Sunday and common and proper provision well. Far from finding this boring (I have been doing this for a year now) it is much more deeply enriching than constant variety. To be faithful to the Anglican tradition of four Office readings a day to have two novel readings at Mass in addition, six readings a day is just too much I believe, for anyone to take in. I use a variety of translations over a week, BCP, RSV, NEB and Phillips, all of which are available second hand.

This post really re-hashes material that I have been saying, perhaps somewhat more tentatively, for a while now. I would be interested in hearing from parishes where the one-year cycle is used, either as a recent change or for many years. I would be particularly interested in places where modern language and children’s resources are used to accompany the cycle of readings. I would be very happy to publish here resources for use of these lectionaries. Using these cycles need not be a wholesale archaeological approach to tradition and liturgy but part of a simple, straightforward approach to the reading of Scripture accessible to anyone without a degree in liturgy and based on the best current understanding of how we learn, and how the human brain works.

Writing and talking about liturgy can sometimes seem like re-arranging the deckchairs on the Titanic. Irrelevant to the missional crisis the church faces in the the UK and elsewhere. On the contrary, I have been brought to change my mind about these issues because of my own fundamental drive to mission and evangelism, my lifetime’s work with children and young people and my conversations with those in and beyond Anglicanism who are totally committed to mission in our time and for whom many of the approaches of my own younger days seem rightly obsolete.

Singing the Daily Office: The Book of Common Prayer

UPDATE 29 January 2020

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.

UPDATE 21 / 01 20:

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.

Original post:

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.

In the 1940s the Community of the Resurrection produced ferial antiphons for the whole psalter, which are available as a PDF below.

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.

Beginning Contemplation: Review of ‘How to Sit With God’

How to Sit With God – A Practical Guide to Silent Prayer Jean-Marie Gueullette Tr Kieran J. O’ Mahony Veritas, 2018

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.

Method

Gueullette presents the method of prayer he is describing simply and beautifully. Quite simply:

It consists of saying a word inwardly while sitting calmly.

(page 17)

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’.

(page 17)

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.

(page 108)

Posture

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.

(page 28)

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.

(page 27)

Breathing

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.

(page 36)

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.

(page 45)

and

The one who prays does not seek to feel the presence of God, but rather is called upon to believe it.

(page 59)

Distractions

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.

(page 62)

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.

(page 75)

Lifestyle

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.

Seriousness

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.

(page 124)

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.

Serious Christianity 8: Making a Retreat – Treasures of Darkness

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.

Where?

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.

– Monasteries

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.

– Walsingham

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.

– Cottages

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.

– Home

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.

Books?

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.

Fasting

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.”

Thomas Merton 

“Fasting clears the head and lessens the angustia, also brings order into one’s life.”

Thomas Merton

Sleep

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.”

Thomas Merton

Alcohol

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.

E-communications

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 …

Pilgrimages

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.

– Conferences

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.

Meditation

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.”

Paul Quenon

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!

Hard Work?

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.”

Thomas Merton

PART TWO – RETREAT JOURNAL

DAY 1

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.

3:30 arrive

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.

Meditation

5:15 Evening Prayer Isaiah 1 -2

Followed by reading of the commentaries on the reading

Learn to do good,

seek justice.

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.

9:15 bed

DAY TWO

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.

Jakob Kr

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

8:30 Prime

10:00 Terce Isaiah Chapters 9-10

Eucharist

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.”

Thomas Merton

Meditation – 30 minutes

Lunch – main meal of the day

Snooze – walk

2:30 None Isaiah 13-14

4:00 Adoration

5:00  Evening Prayer Isaiah Chapters 15-17

Meditation

Supper – soup and cheese

7:00 Compline Isaiah Chapters 18-21

lectio on the following day’s gospel

8:30 bed

DAY TWO

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.”

Thomas Merton

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. 

ISAIAH

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.

1

Chapters 1 -12 Jerusalem’s Future

2

Chapters 13 – 27 Jerusalem and the Nations

3

Chapters 28 – 39

Judgement and Salvation for Jerusalem

4

Chapters 40 – 55 Jerusalem’s Liberation

5

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.

The Prophet

By Alexander Pushkin

Translated by A.Z. Foreman

My spirit was athirst for grace.

I wandered in a darkling land

And at a crossing of the ways

Beheld a six-wing’d Seraph stand.

With fingers light as dream at night

He brushed my eyes and they grew bright

Opening unto prophecies

Wild as a startled eagle’s eyes.

He touched my ears, and noise and sound

Poured into me from all around:

I heard the shudders of the sky,

The sweep of angel hosts on high,

The creep of beasts below in the seas,

The seep of sap in valley trees.

And leaning to my lips he wrung

Thereout my sinful slithered tongue

Of guile and idle caviling;

And with his bloody fingertips

He set between my wasting lips

A Serpent’s wise and forkèd sting.

And with his sword he cleft my chest

And ripped my quaking heart out whole,

And in my sundered breast he cast

A blazing shard of living coal.

There in the desert I lay dead

Until the voice from heaven said:

“Arise O Prophet! Work My will,

Thou that hast now perceived and heard.

On land and sea thy charge fulfill

And burn Man’s heart with this My Word.”

Source

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:

Tamar

Rahab

Ruth

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.

8:45 

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.”

Hoppe; 

8: 7b-9

Wordplay

‘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”

Immanu el

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.

Isaiah 10:20 “lean on him”

Brueggemann suggests old gospel song:

What a fellowship, what a joy divine

Leaning on the everlasting arms

What a blessedness, what a peace is mine

Leaning on the everlasting arms

Leaning, leaning

Safe and secure from all alarms

Leaning, leaning

Leaning on the everlasting arms

What have I to dread, what have I to fear

Leaning on the everlasting arms?

I have blessed peace with my Lord so near

Leaning on the everlasting arms

Leaning, leaning

Safe and secure from all alarms

Leaning, leaning

Leaning on the everlasting arms

YouTube:

Mahalia Jackson https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=3Mb0XA2BDx0

Lunch: avocado, tuna fish, mayonnaise – beef Bologna’s and peas – cheese – Brazil nuts, coconut and chocolate

11:3 

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

14:10-11

The oppressor is overturned

Complete reversal

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

Compline: 19-21

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.” !

7:45 bed

DAY THREE

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.

26:9:

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

Isaiah 7

“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).”

Briggs

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”

Briggs:

“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.”

Eaton

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]

30:15 

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.

8:30 Prime

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.

Read more local history here.

Eucharist

Sext Isaiah 33-36

Isaiah 33:17

A king in his beauty your eyes shall behold

Your heart shall murmur in awe.

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.

DAY FOUR

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.

45:3

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.

45:15

Indeed, You are a God who hides

God of Israel, Rescuer.

47:5

Sit mute and come into darkness.

Another powerful line. Sit in silence.

49:15ff

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:

Trust

Darkness

Hiddenness

Sin/judgement – God’s anger

Jerusalem

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

Awake, awake,

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

Prime

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.

53:4-5 (Alter)

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 ….

Walk

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

60

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.

60:15

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

61v2

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

61:4

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.”

Thomas Merton 

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.”

63:1

In ensanguined garments (Alter): nice play on words

63:2

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.

Meditation

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.

65:13-14

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.

9:30pm bed

DAY FIVE

3:30am Rise

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.

Rain Mass 

Enormous choir 

in monotone Ordinary 

of rain 

poured down massive chant. 

Sacred Mass 

soon slacked off 

in soft diminuendo, 

soaking into mute, 

sated grass.

Paul Quenon

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.

THE COWL–

solemn as chant, 

one sweep of fabric 

from head to foot. 

Cowls hanging 

on a row of pegs–

tall disembodied spirits 

holding shadows 

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 

and envelope 

my prayer-hungry body 

with light.

Paul Quenon

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.’

Psalm 91

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.

Meditation

Adoration

In the morning I come before you 

watching and waiting 

watching 

then 

waiting 

waiting 

and 

watching 

tired of watching 

I wait. 

When I waited 

enough 

I watch. 

When watch and wait 

are not enough 

I disregard enough 

for You are 

enough. 

When You are 

enough 

I am 

enough 

when I am 

enough 

You are 

enough 

enough 

that You are 

watching and waiting 

and my 

watching and waiting 

is Your 

watching and waiting.

Paul Quenon

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.”

Thomas Merton

8am Prime

9am Terce

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.”

Thomas Merton 

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.”

Thomas Merton 

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. 

Send me.

Adoration

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.

Mon Père,

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

2pm None

Adoration

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. 

No clock: 

Only the heart’s blood 

Only the word. 

O lamp 

Weak friend In the knowing night! 

O tongue of flame 

Under the heart 

Speak softly: 

For love is black 

Says the season. 

The red and sable letters 

On the solemn page 

Fill the small circle of seeing. 

Long dark—

And the weak life 

Of oil. 

Who holds the homeless light secure 

In the deep heart’s room? 

Midnight! 

Kissed with flame! 

See! See! 

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.

Thomas Merton 

6pm Vespers

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!

8pm Compline

Meditation 

 9:30 bed 

DAY SIX

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. 

6:30 Eucharist 

Still dark.

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

Thomas Merton 

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 

Prime

Preparing to leave

Car packed

Hermitage cleaned

Sheets and linens swapped

Monastic life is always detail and routine. These packages of sheets, linens, towels and cloths carefully labelled:

10am Terce 

10:30 prayer in the community chapel

11am Monastery Mass

DEPARTURE 

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
  • rain
  • 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. 

***

Books used

Common Worship: alternative lectionary for the Office in the Christmas Octave

We say a lot about what we consider to be important by our worship. In schools worship can be a rehearsal for how the whole day can be. Liturgy as mimesis, a model that can be followed at other times. As Christians we claim to put much store by families. But there are surprisingly few opportunities in the worship of the church to celebrate families. So many of the saints are celibate monks or nuns, or died as or protecting their virginity – all worthy things but not easy role models for the vast majority of people.

Many of us value the feast of the Holy Family. Instituted in 1893 originally within the Octave of Epiphany, with the liturgical reforms of the 1960s it found its home on the Sunday within the Octave of Christmas. The Church of England’s 1990 publication the Promise of His Glory, made good provision for the celebration of the Holy Family but sadly this emphasis didn’t quite make its way into the Common Worship liturgies.

For those of us who will be celebrating the Holy Family on the Sunday after Christmas I have compiled a lectionary for the Office with elements from Promise of His Glory and the usual Common Worship Calendar. This little lectionary also creates a neat division between Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer on the weekdays of the Octave. These days also celebrate the comites Christi, the companions of Christ, St Stephen, St John, the Holy Innocents. To avoid these celebrations taking over the proper celebration of Christmas, the Roman Rite suggests making Morning Prayer, Daytime Prayer and Mass of the saints and Evening Prayer of Christmas. This works very well and this lectionary also does that. I first published this a few years ago and many people expressed appreciation so I put it here again for anyone that wants to use it and hope that it helps you celebrate a holy Octave.

The Proclamation of Christmas

The Proclamation of Christmas is the martyrology for December 25th. It may be used at First Vespers/Evensong before the opening verses; during a Vigil or carols before the Midnight Mass (it works well before the Te Deum at the end) or after the Penitential Rite of the Midnight Mass (immediately preceding the Gloria).

Here is a slightly alternative version by the late Brother Aelred Seton Shanley OblOSB Cam, which includes mention the Buddha and Socrates. These liturgical moments are good ones for remembering that we live in a must-faith world without being syncretic in our worship. The Monastic Community at Bose remember all the main feasts of the major religions in their martyrology as they occur.

The Martyrology is the book of the saints, the ‘martyrs’ of the church, arranged in calendar order on the day they died (their ‘birthday into heaven’) and/or the day they are remembered liturgically. In monastic communities the martyrology of the following day was traditionally read at Prime, the Little Hour at the start of the working day. The monastery of Christ in the Desert provide their martyrology here. The Bose martyrology is here. I have produced an Anglican Martyrology for the British Isles which is very much a work in progress and is available here. It works well read just before Compline or at the end of Evensong.

The alternative Proclamation of Christmas provided here comes from the Hermitage of the Dayspring where Br Aelred Seton Shanley lived for many years. He died in the mid 1990s. He had tried his monastic vocation in a number of communities before settling to the hermit life as an Oblate of the Benedictine Camaldolese Community at Big Sur. He wrote a whole sung Office which I have used to provide some of the hymns for the Office in my musical setting.

Page 1 of the alternative Proclamation

Page 2 of the alternative Proclamation

For the traditional version, with rubrics, go here.

More here, including a video of the chanted version. Chant score here.

Rejoice! Rejoice! Daily refrains for Benedictus and Magnificat in Advent

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.

Singing Compline and the Lord’s Prayer yn Gymraeg

UPDATE 24 08 19Many thanks for comments on the pointing etc. Here are updated forms of Compline, a setting of the Lord’s Prayer to Rimsky-Korsakov (based on that in Emynau Catholig) and the Conclusion to the Office. All in PDF format.Cwmplin

Ein Tad … RK

Conclusion yn G

*** Spending my teenage years just outside of Reading my first experience of the Daily Office was sung Evensong at St Nicholas, Sulham and the sung Office of the monks at Douai Abbey. I was surprised to discover that the Office could be said. These days next to my prayer desk as well as the usual books I keep the music and texts for singing the Office in French and German (Chanter l’Office and Antiphonale zum Stundengebet). I have enough of both languages (and knowledge of the liturgy) to be able to use them now and again and there is something about praying in another language that keeps the attention at 100%. Last week I was in the Bangor diocese and glad to share in worship partly in Welsh. I am a failed Welsh-learner having made three or four attempts over the last twenty years or so, mainly in order to be able to read Welsh poetry, but latterly as more priests in Wales have joined the Sodality. (A personal hero, A.M. Allchin, is reputed to have learnt Welsh in a year …). I particularly enjoyed singing Tell Out My Soul in Welsh (O f’enaid, cân, mawrha yr Arglwydd Dduw) and last year I was at a beautiful dawn Vigil on Easter day and enjoyed singing Taizé chants in Welsh. Some of those chants are in the Welsh Methodist Hymnal Caneuon Ffydd which I have and is excellent. I’ve been searching for resources to sing the Office in Welsh so I can get it by heart and it seems that there are very few (I am happy to be corrected!). My friend and Associate of the Sodality, Fr Dylan Parry Jones, and I have exchanged messages about this and he tells me that Welsh is difficult to use with chant because of the nature of the stress patterns – mainly on the penultimate syllable of words. English too has complicated patterns for stress and many musical or chant purists object to the setting of English to Latin plainchant melodies. I agree that when this is done just by squeezing English words to fit the traditional melodies this can create some very peculiar effects. But in the last half century many musicians have worked to create authentically modal chants for use with English. So, Fr Dylan’s message came as something of a challenge. I thought I would start with Compline. The opening and concluding verses are set to a simple but memorable psalm tone:

The hymn to the traditional ferial tone for Te lucis:

I am pleased with the antiphon to the psalm (used for all three traditional Compline psalms). The tone and antiphon are in the 8th mode (traditional at Compline). The tone is very simple (from Stanbrook Abbey – apologies, I first claimed to have written it myself!) with just a change of note at the final stressed syllable (so it doesn’t matter whether that is the final or penultimate syllable). The Eastertime triple alleluia is given here as well:

The Responsory is set to the Latin melody and I think works.

The antiphon to the Nunc Dimittis has been much more difficult. The Welsh version in the Church in Wales’ liturgy has 32 words; the English has 25 words and fewer syllables, and the Latin only 15. I tried hard to fit the Welsh text to a repeated pattern of the Latin melody but it really felt very strained. So I have used an English setting by Dom Philip Gaisford at Worth Abbey, repeating sections of the melody and providing another very simple tone:

The text of the whole Office is available here: Cwmplin (PDF)Cwmplin MSW (The music will only appear if the Meinrad fonts are installed). I would be very grateful to have any improvements and corrections suggested or hear about other resources. I hope this will be helpful to my sisters and brothers in the Sodality in Wales (and beyond) and to others.

Liturgy for the Creation Season

Liturgy of Creation Anyone who has been in a pub with me when a pub quiz begins knows that I don’t hang around for long. What they may not know are the bad experiences that have given me a lifelong aversion to quizzes. The first when I was 12 was a competitive inter school quiz. As the year rep on our team I did well on politics, history, religion and even music. But then came sport. ‘What sport takes place at Brands Hatch’. In a moment of ignorant panic I called out ‘rock climbing’. The whole school  fell about laughing and even now people who remember me from then are known to whisper those two words teasingly. The second was just after I’d been ordained priest. I was in a pub with my brother-in-law. We joined a team and did well at History, General Knowledge and so on. Then came the Religion round. In my clerical collar I could hardly avoid appearing to be the expert. ‘What did God make on the fifth day of creation?’ My stab in the dark was not successful. My brother-in-law never lets me forget. I have however done much, since then, to improve my knowledge of the first account of creation. Of the making of liturgical seasons it can sometimes feel there is no end. Fortunately the ‘kingdom season’ has not really caught on and most of us have been able to enjoy the eschatological themes of the end of the liturgical year without changing liturgical colours and managing quite well in green vestments from the Baptism to the Presentation. Green vestments seem especially appropriate in what some describe as the ‘Creation season’ from 1st September to the 4th October. Actually I think this is one of the most sensible ideas for a new ‘season’ and draws out themes which are often underplayed in the liturgy. In light of the threat to the environment and planet it is more important than ever that we not only celebrate creation but repent of our abuse of it. There are many resources available for this season which has been encouraged by the Pope and the Ecumenical Patriarch. Common Worship: Times and Seasons is excellent and a simple Google search reveals many more resources. These are all very useful for adding a ‘creation’ flavour to these Sunday’s in Ordinary Time or for compiling a special liturgy. For those who use the Roman Missal appropriate Masses for the ferial days of this season include the two formulas for the Sanctification of Human Labour (pp.1353-1355) At Seed Time (p. 1355 and 1356) After the Harvest (p.1357), For Those Suffering Hunger (p.1365-1366) For Rain, (p.1367). Some of the elements in the traditional liturgy provide rich resources for use at this time and could give the Daily Office a creation theme throughout the period. It is these I will highlight here. The most obvious is the canticle Benedicite which for Anglicans was one of the invariable canticles of Matins (with the Te Deum as an alternative) throughout the year. It is repeated on all Sunday’s and Solemnities in the Roman Office and is given as an Opening Psalm for Sundays in Ordinary Time in Common Worship. Benedicite is a text worth memorising, so might well be usable daily from 1st September to October 4th. There are many simple musical settings. Here is a simple tone (I think from Douai Abbey) set to the Common Worship text:

This antiphon and tone are from Conception Abbey and is a reminder of the origins of this Canticle:

There are many Anglican Chant settings and recordings of Benedicite. Not least the simple ones in The Manual of Plainsong, here to the lovely Peregrine tone:

But the memory of my ignorance at a pub quiz directs me to the seven days of creation. It is surprising in some ways that these haven’t figured more highly in Christian or Jewish liturgy. The most recent Liberal Jewish prayer book (siddur) in the UK Siddur Lev Chadash (1995) does include the appropriate section of Genesis 1 in the daily morning service:

The notes state “The idea of reading on each day of the week the relevant section of the Creation Story is a revival of an ancient practice (of the Ma’amadot, lay prayer-groups, of Temple times; cf. M.Ta’anit 4:2f.” (page 665). I once tried to use the seven days as a set of invitatory antiphons:

The texts are a bit long really, and lose the sense of a call to worship. The most obvious place  where the western liturgical tradition commemorates the seven days of creation is in the hymns at vespers from Epiphany to Lent. They are in the English Hymnal as hymn numbers 58 to 62. Modern versions are in the Stanbrook Abbey Hymnal and by Aelred-Seton Shanley Obl.OSB Cam. The latter are to be found in the music for the Office book posted earlier on this blog and as a series of pictures below which also includes the English Hymnal texts and a modern use of the days of creation in the office of the Jerusalem Community in Paris. These are the work of the Dominican Andre Gouzes for his complete setting of a French language office as the Liturgie Chorale du People de Dieu. These chants work well as an alternative to the Opening Psalm / Invitatory at Morning Prayer / Lauds or could be used as a hymn at Prayer During the Day during the Creation Season. At the very least the Genesis text could replace the short reading at Prayer During the Day or Lauds/Vespers, or Psalm 104 with its magnificent creation themes could be used as an additional psalm at the beginning of Evening Prayer throughout the season. (Apologies for the spell check marks here, up date in due course…)

Mindfulness for Mission: there is no God-shaped hole

Some time in 1989/90 I was due to meet the then Bishop of Winchester at Wolvesey, his home next to the Cathedral, having been recommended for training for ordination. As I walked across the Cathedral green coming towards me were monks and nuns from the Theravadan Buddhist community at Chithurst. I knew them well having made several retreats there, and it seemed like a good sign to see them as they began a lengthy walking pilgrimage.

I can’t remember when I first became interested in meditation, or indeed started meditating. It may have been reading Thomas Merton as a fourteen year old, or perhaps it was talking to Fr Peter Bowe at nearby Douai Abbey? Either way I am glad that right at the beginning of my preparation for ministry as a priest that important thread was present. I would never have guessed then how significant the teaching of what is now almost universally called “Mindfulness” would be in my life.

It is easy to sneer or at least feel an inner rolling of the eyes in church or other circles when Mindfulness is mentioned. “Religion-lite” or “just another fad” are phrases I’ve heard. But I am always impressed with the seriousness which participants bring to the training. Formal meditation of this sort is a fundamental part of my life. I have taught it in all the schools I’ve worked in with four to eighteen year olds and with colleagues. It was an essential part of school improvement as a Head teacher and I have taught Mindfulness in parishes, on pilgrimages and on retreats. I can’t possibly meet the demand from across the country for this teaching. I am interested in this and in how this relates to mission. Does mindfulness lead to people meeting Jesus? The simple answer is yes, I have seen it happen. It does this in a number of ways.

In the last few years I have developed a two stage process in mindfulness training. In the first stage of four sessions I teach practices which could be used by anyone, regardless of faith or belief, I use no specifically Christian language or imagery and I make clear that the results will be a reduction in stress, relaxation and greater clarity, although meditating to get these results is unhelpful. I then offer additional sessions on specifically Christian forms of meditation, lectio, the Jesus Prayer and recently I’ve added the technique of the Cloud of Unknowing. Interestingly, the expectation is always made clear when these sessions stretch over a number of weeks that some people will not want to attend the explicitly Christian sessions. Usually a few people will tell me at the first session that they are not going to. But what actually happens is that on every occasion, so far, everybody does attend all the sessions. Happily, as a result of doing so, some individuals over the years have begun attending church and have come to faith.

I have come to believe – and it really is only from my conversations with participants – that there is something about the experience of meditation that prepares people for faith. Over the next year I hope to use feedback forms to get a clearer picture of this, but my working hypothesis is that mindfulness leads to these four experiences all of which are good foundations for faith:

1 – compassion

2 – connectedness

3 – watchfulness

4 – abandonment

COMPASSION When people sit still, observe their breathing, notice their thoughts coming and going they always experience something close to a feeling of love. They feel more loving and more loved. Although, very occasionally distressing thoughts and memories do arise this is really quite rare and even then it is within a larger experience of love.

CONNECTEDNESS Although mindfulness may appear to be a very solitary, individualistic exercise, focussed on the self, in fact the internal experience is of being less separated and more connected, not just to people but to the physical world. Sitting still and observing the breath is a strongly physical experience. It is not “all in the mind”.

WATCHFULNESS I have been undecided on what to call this experience and wondered about ‘awakeness’. In the end I’ve decided on watchfulness because it has Christian history in the Philokalic tradition where the writings of the Philokalia are the writings of the neptic ones, the awake, the watchful. Participants typically describe this as being more alert, or even more alive. Occasionally, in the early stages and often with teenagers, there is a feeling of sleepiness, sleep deprivation is a significant problem, but this usually passes.

ABANDONMENT Again, I haven’t been very certain what to call this. Because mindfulness is about noticing things, and particularly noticing thoughts as they arise and as they pass, it increases the ability to let go, to not need to be in control. This is very helpful preparation for abandonment to God.

Over the last year I have been reading and re-reading Augustine’s Confessions, although he is frequently held up as an example of “conversion experience”, notably his experience in the garden when he hears a voice tell him to “tolle, lege“, take up and read the Bible, in fact his experience is really of a long process of conversion through reflection on his own life. Indeed, that is exactly what the Confessions is, an extended meditation on his own life that Augustine hopes will show not himself but his method of coming to faith. It is not surprising therefore that for Augustine, using the human mind as an analogy for the god-head, our threefold experience of memory, understanding and will is one way of perceiving the existence of the Trinity. We are hard-wired for faith, it is in the structure of our minds not just in our thoughts. One homiletic reflection on mission is that people have a need for God that cannot be met in any way other than by knowing God, this is sometimes referred to as a “God-shaped hole” . This blog post has a good discussion on the origins of this phrase. I am not convinced that the phrase is particularly helpful either missionally or in our understanding of how and why people come to faith, I think (contra some of the comments on that blog) that it does not describe Augustine’s experience. It may be that I am simply trying to say kataphatically what “God-shaped hole” is saying apophatically, but I think the effect of saying it in that different way is quite significant. Frankly, if there is a God-shaped hole most people in our societies don’t feel it, or the need to fill it. Rather, it seems to me that people find not a lack of something in mindfulness but a waking up of a very real, positive part of themselves that has been underused, this is a good biblical image too since Jesus reminds us to “stay awake”.

When people experience compassion, connectedness, watchfulness and abandonment, they are experiencing God. In fact I am not convinced of the helpfulness of the distinction made in some spiritual writing between apophatic and kataphatic. John of the Cross’s powerful poem on the Dark Night is notably passionate, and positive in what it says about God. There are two other areas of interest for me which I hope to investigate further. One is the practice of the Cloud’s method of prayer. The slow repetition of a single word. I only began this practice myself a relatively short time ago and have only taught it to groups twice. I need to work further on the teaching of it but I am encouraged that some people reported finding it helpful. The other area is in the teaching of the Jesus Prayer. The form I use myself is “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon me a sinner.” Sometimes I omit the latter two words. If I don’t one or of the participants will say that they find thinking of themselves as a sinner difficult. This too must relate in some way to our difficulties in communicating Christian faith, I would like to think more about that.

Now, I am not claiming that Mindfulness will lead seamlessly to conversion to Trinitarian faith. Clearly it doesn’t. Buddhists have been practising Mindfulness for centuries without embracing Christianity! Mindfulness is not the whole of conversion and solid teaching of Scripture and doctrine is also needed (part 2 of this series on Mission) but it can be a very helpful preparation. Any bookshop will have rows and rows of books on Mindfulness but very little on Christianity. If we avoid Mindfulness we are losing an important tool for mission. When I teach mindfulness practices from the Christian tradition, lectio, Jesus Prayer, the Cloud’s method, a reaction I regularly hear is that participants had no idea that Christianity has such practices. A final difficulty for us is that people who have had profound experiences in Mindfulness practice are often disappointed by the lack of silence and stillness and the sheer busy-ness they find when they go to church.

Mission: it’s all about memory

There is a substantial literature on mission. People study degrees in it and publish learned theses about it. That is not my area of expertise. Although, I have been involved in mission all my life. In parishes and schools, in every context I find myself I have sought to bring people to know Jesus. I do not think we should be running schools unless they are genuinely at the heart of our mission to the nation.

So, this post is an exercise in applying what is the nearest thing to an expertise I’ve got, education, to the subject of mission. In particular a recent publication, Understanding How We Learn, provides an excellent overview on current thinking on learning. I believe there is much that the church, leaders, clergy, Sunday school teachers and others can gain from reading this and applying it in our churches. Finally I will say a little about how I am applying this thinking in my own preaching and teaching in church contexts.

Who is Jesus?

Seems like a good place to start. In the Gospels there are 90 occasions when Jesus is addressed directly with a title. On 60 of those occasions he is addressed as ‘Teacher’. Jesus himself used the term when he said, “You call me Teacher and Lord, and rightly so, for that is what I am” (John 13:13). When Nicodemus came to Jesus by night, he said, “We know that you are a teacher who has come from God” (John 3:2). We know, from Matthew’s gospel that “he taught as one having authority, not as the teachers of the law” (Matthew 7:29). At the end of his gospel Matthew tells us that Jesus commands his disciples “Go into all the world and teach all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19). Jesus’ followers are ‘disciples’, learners. Teaching is a fundamental part of Christian leadership. The traditional explanation of the functions of Jesus in ministry are as ‘prophet, priest and king’, this was probably firstly explicated by Eusebius and then taken up in Reformed churches by Calvin, and, later Wesley. It has found its way into the current Catechism of the Catholic Church at no. 436 “Jesus fulfilled the messianic hope of Israel in his threefold office of priest, prophet and king.”.

It is a shame that the tradition has not enshrined the role of Jesus as teacher as firmly as the roles of prophet, priest and king, but the biblical evidence is enough. Teaching is what Christian leaders do. Discipling people is teaching them, enabling them to learn what it is to be a Christian. When Jesus wanted to do the most profound thing he could to sustain his disciples (learners) through the darkest times, and at all times and in all places, what did he ask them to do? “Do this TO REMEMBER me.” It shouldn’t, therefore come as any surprise to Christians that the best research education shows us that memory is not only the fundamental unit of learning but also of who we are. “Think about how you define yourself,” write Weinstein and Sumeracki in their book Understanding How We Learn, “your very identity is most likely full of things you remember yourself doing.” p. 64 “Everything you do requires memory in some form or another.” p 64 “For brain scientists, there are no other forms of knowledge: everything that is learned is memory.” p.75

We are what we remember. This is not radical. My 86 year old mother has dementia. I don’t know exactly when but at some level we lost her a few years ago. We love her dearly, we do everything we can for her but she is not herself any more because she has lost her memory. Memory is the fundamental existential unit. It is who we are. When we disciple people, we teach them to remember Jesus, not just in some abstract sense but by actually remembering, memorising the words he spoke, the psalms he prayed, the things people said about him. Almost every traditional practice of the spiritual life in the Christian tradition is about getting over our basic forgetfulness. Is about helping us to remember, praying regularly through the day, praying in every moment, helping us not to forget.

Understanding How We Learn, is written by two cognitive scientists. They provide really helpful models for teaching based on this pattern: 1Spacing2 Elaboration3 Concrete Examples4 Visuals5 Retrieval You will, I’m afraid have to read the book – and I recommend it, without reservation, to clergy and other church leaders, to see what exactly is meant by this. I would however draw attention to the fact that the book addresses firstly the tendency we all have to assume that we know what learning is and how to achieve it. After all we have all been in education for many years, in fact though, intuition is the enemy of learning. All of us who teach and preach in church need to re-examine what we do, and work out whether we are delivering, achieving what we think we are. All the evidence suggests that we are not. We need to do something differently.

In my own life I now cringe when I think about some of my earlier classroom practice. I also cringe when I think about my teaching as a priest on Lent courses, bible studies, and in my preaching. What I have been trying to do as the research evidence on effective teaching becomes clearer is to teach knowledge based sermons. Content is all. People should leave knowing more than they did before they arrived. My experience is that evangelicals are much better at this than Catholic Anglicans, but that there is also a danger for evangelicals in becoming all about experience and not about knowledge. At New Wine this summer Ian Paul was, by a long way, the best teacher present, but probably the lowest attended sessions I went to. We live in an experience driven culture. I want to distinguish between preaching and teaching sessions. I have, as anybody who knows me is aware, a deep love of the rhythm and structure of the liturgy. A sermon or homily has a character that is distinctive from a teaching session. But … as those of us who pray the Breviary know the extracts we hear and read daily from the great fathers and teachers of the church in their homilies do not bear much relation to the 3 minute ‘Thought for the Day’ that characterise many of our homilies.

I have come to believe that I need to think of my preaching much more in the way that I thing about learning in schools, Understanding How We Learn, can help inform our preaching and teaching. I suppose, when I was ordained a quarter of a century ago I imagined preaching like a tiny diamond, the smaller, the more perfect, the better. Three minutes, perfectly crafted. I just do not believe any longer that that is sufficient for Christian growth. For most people in church on a Sunday that will be their only Christian teaching of the week. To deliver an effective teaching session on a Sunday morning I now believe that 15 – 20 minutes are needed. This takes me 4-6 hours to prepare. The longer I spend on the preparation the better it is. In that time, didactic as it, intentionally, is, I try and make sure that it is not just me speaking. I often ask questions, I use paired activities, I use white cards that people write on, I ask the whole congregation to repeat prayers and texts after me. If it is a series, which I prefer, I revise material from previous sessions, I describe the map of learning. If I am presiding as well as preaching I will use every opportunity to re-cap the learning, pointing out at the beginning of Mass what I am going to preach on, preaching on it, referring to it again in the intercessions, at the peace or offertory, at the beginning of the Lord’s Prayer, at the silent prayer after communion and even just before the blessing, especially if I have set homework. The content too of my preaching has changed. Doctrine and Scripture provide us more than enough material. Most people in our churches have received minimal if any substantial teaching. The field is open to us. My only question to myself: What have they learnt? My ‘new’ (to me) style of preaching often elicits the comment “Oh, we can tell you are a teacher”. I used to worry about that. Now, I just think that I am grateful to be a follower of Jesus, The Teacher, and if I am described as a teacher that is flattery indeed.

Please read Understanding How We Learn. It is very helpful indeed.

Mission and Young People: the easier we make it the less attractive it is

In Understanding How We Learn, the authors spend some time showing how our intuitions about learning are often, perhaps usually, wrong. They explain that one of the reasons for this is that almost everyone has many years experience of education before they become teachers and that misunderstandings become habits that it is hard to break. They list a number of common misunderstandings, all of which have been shown to be untrue, and the percentage of teachers and educators who continue to believe them:

There are many cross-overs between the two worlds in which I work, church and education. Partly because so much of what church leaders do is teaching, partly because through our church schools many clergy and others in the church are involved in the life of schools and also because so many clergy are former teachers. I often hear ‘learning styles’ mentioned in church contexts and sometimes manage to bite my tongue and don’t point out the substantial research base proving this misunderstanding to be just that.

The sweep of educational change in the west to ‘child-centred’, progressive, discovery based methods and now the emergence of knowledge-based learning and more didactic styles of teaching are referred to in links and references in the previous posts on mission in this series of posts. I don’t think, that I am yet seeing the move away to knowledge-based, didactic methods much influencing the church so far.

In all of the contexts where I have worked as a priest and teacher I have been struck by the apparent mismatch of Anglican church culture and the needs of children for something that they could take more seriously. The attraction of some young people to Islam and the popularity of the writer Jordan Peterson among white working class men are phenomena that are making me wonder about the need for greater seriousness in our teaching, and living, of the faith. Whenever I take young people to Taizé I can be certain that the biggest impact on them is the seriousness of the brothers, committing themselves for life to this way of living. Many people are deeply critical of the emerging knowledge based, didactive methods of education and often claim that children will be unhappy or less creative as a result. Our intuition is that making things easier, more entertaining is what will make children more successful. In fact, the evidence, and my experience is quite the opposite. In schools like Michaela Community School, or St Martin’s Academy I see children challenged to levels of work that would have been inconceivable 15 years ago. And they love it. There is a seriousness about these schools, but it is a happy, healthy seriousness that is deeply inspiring.

One of the most damaging phrases in schools has been “child-centred education”, first used, I think, in the Plowden Report of 1967 and deriving I suspect, from the “person-centred” counselling of Carl Rogers. I could not disagree more with this model of education. We human beings only make sense when we are God-centred. That’s what worship reminds us of and what we rehearse in worship. The following six areas are ones which I have been developing thoughts around on seriousness if our Mission is to be successful in bringing more people to know Jesus.

Teaching

Our expectations of what children should learn and know about their faith intellectually should be the same as those now being in schools in equivalent areas of the curriculum. Colouring in, glueing and sticking are not educational activities, they are time-fillers. Our teaching and activities with children need to demand the highest they can give and leave them exhausted with exhilaration at their learning. It needs to be content heavy and involve much repetition and memorisation. At the back of Understanding How We Learn, are sections for Teachers, Parents and Students. These sections would be a great starting place for training sessions with youth leaders and Sunday school teachers. The whole of this methodology applies equally to adults. As should our expectation that they will be as challenged intellectually by what we teach as by anything else in their lives.

Piety

Children are natural pray-ers, just as they naturally do all sorts of things. But it often feels like prayer is the only area where we leave them to work things out for themselves. And most don’t. Teaching technologies of prayer, techniques that Christians have developed and used often over centuries is essential. Much memorisation will be involved. There are methods in both the Catholic and Evangelical streams of the church that we could use. Memorisation of the Bible and psalms will be part of this too. Mindfulness is a really good way into this and can begin in the Nursery. I have taught lectiodivina to children from 4-18 years old, not to mention the Jesus Prayer, the Rosary and the Office. This applies equally to adults. People want to be taught how to pray, what the experience of prayer will be like and what they should expect to experience in prayer.

Belonging

Many children and young people like to belong to things, to join, to wear a badge or a uniform. As a Secondary Head teacher I used badges all the time, to communicate key messages and to reward achievement. Adults mocked when I told them that we were introducing coloured, ranked academic gowns of pupil leaders. But the children loved them, longed to wear them and were mortified if they were “de-gowned” for a period for any reason. Sometimes exclusiveness is as important as inclusion. It is hugely encouraging to see Rules of Life, new expressions of community and other ways of belonging springing up in the church.

Spiritual Direction

Far too much direction is actually non-directive person-centred counselling. The Director who will not name sin, or point out the danger of the opportunities for sin is dangerous to souls. But so is the one who won’t push the directee further, to demand more, to question motives and point out patterns of behaviour. Much of the current literature on direction is lamentable, weak on theology, and low in its expectations for spiritual growth and change. There is an unhealthy mystique about Spiritual Direction, mystical experiences are not necessary. Anyone seriously living a Christian life is capable of helping others to do so.

Fasting

Mixing with Pentecostal Christians and Muslims made me ashamed of my weak efforts at fasting. This is such a biblical spiritual discipline, tied so closely to prayer throughout the Bible that our failure to fast must surely be a substantial part of our failure in mission.

Everydayness of prayer and Eucharist

One of the reasons sometimes given for our failures in mission is that children, young people and families are so busy with other hobbies and interests. I am not entirely sure this is true. But if we ourselves act as if our faith is one more leisure choice among many then it will appear that way. From a Catholic-Anglican perspective the importance of the daily Mass, seven days a week, was fundamental to slum ministry. Few of our churches now maintain this. Even where they do the Mass is at times that only the retired or unemployed could attend. When I was at St Andrew’s, Earlsfield, I started a 6:30am Mass on weekdays before I went to school. I was told by some that no one would come. I never celebrated alone. Again, for Catholic Anglicans the Daily Office, seven days a week, for many seven times a day, was at the heart of their ministry. If we think we are too ‘busy’, it is simply because we have lost control of our diaries.

“Young people want more commitment not less.” Wrote the Bishop of Chelmsford (my former pastoral tutor at Theological College). It feels counter intuitive, it is. In education intuition has not served us well. Perhaps we need to be less intuitive in our church life too. The easier we make it, the less important, the less significant it looks. If that is the case why bother?

An Anglican Martyrology

Word format:Martyrology 12 09 19 PDF: Martyrology 12 09 19

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

This is an update of a form of martyrology I posted some time ago. It is traditional to read the martyrology liturgically each day. This text is ecumenical but designed particularly for use in the four Anglican Churches of the British Isles.

The base text used was the martyrology compiled by Fr. Hugh Feiss, OSB. Copyright © 2008 by the Monastery of the Ascension, Jerome, ID 83338 and available online at the website of the Monastery of Christ in the Desert. The calendars of each of the four Anglican churches of the British isles contain varied group commemorations, I suggest these entries are read only in the province where they are observed and have indicated that by the use of italics and brackets. However, people, particularly in the Church of England, are woefully ignorant of the history of the other Anglican Churches of our islands and it would be good if all entries for the islands are used in each province. The Roman Catholic dates for saints are also indicated where these vary from Anglican ones, but not all those on the Roman Calendar have an entry. The introductions to the saints and celebrations in the Anglican calendars in England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales in Exciting Holiness, ed. Brother Tristam SSF, The Canterbury Press, 1997, have been added where a saint did not already appear in the martyrology. These have been adapted to indicate the place and date of death at the beginning, as is traditional at the reading of the martyrology. For the place of death I have generally relied on Wikipedia. For Irish, Welsh and Scottish celebrations not appearing in Exciting Holiness, (they do appear in subsequent editions, I only have the first) I have used the latest edition of Celebrating the Saints, Canterbury Press, 2004. These entries are generally longer than appear in martyrologies and probably need editing down even more than I have done if they are to be read liturgically.

Additional entries from the online martyrology of the Bose community have been used. I would have liked to include (as does the Bose Martyrology) the celebrations of other faith communities, however as these are movable (based often on lunar calendars) that is not easy to do. An online inter-faith calendar could be consulted to add to this martyrology. I would like to add more Celtic and Saxon saints and am working on that. Often it is hard to distinguish between saints with the same name or the same saint with alternative dates for commemoration. Other Sources:For All The Saints – A Calendar of Commemorations for United Methodists, ed. Clifton F. Guthrie, Order of St Luke Publications, Akron, Ohio, 1995. A Calendar of British Saints – Orthodox Synaxarion, Fr Benedict Haigh, Bluestone Books, 2004 Ordo of the Community of the Servants of the Will of God Saints of the Roman Missal, J Michael Thompson, Ligouri, 2012 People’s Companion to the Breviary, The Carmelites of Indianapolis, 1997, Volumes 1 and 2 Troparia and Kondakia, New Skete, 1984 Holy Women, Holy Men, Church Publishing, 2010, in the online edition available in May 2018. Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals, ed Shane Claiburne et al, Zondervan, 2010 Blessed Among Us, ed. Robert Ellsberg, Liturgical Press, 2016 New Book of Festivals and Commemorations [Lutheran], Philip F. Pfatteicher, Fortress Press, 2008 Carmelite Propers for the Liturgy of the Hours, http://carmelcanada.org/liturgy/office.pdf Dominican Propers for the Liturgy of the Hours, http://opcentral.org/resources/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/Supplement.pdf Propers for Congregations Dedicated to the Precious Blood of Christ Finally, some dates of significance have been added to the entries.

Because non- Christians (eg Gandhi) have been included the phrase “people of good will” has been added to the usual conclusion of the reading of the martyrology. Events which are entered and are not people should be read at the beginning of the reading of the martryology when announcing the liturgical day. In adding to the base text used consideration has been given to the length of the reading for the whole day, so some of the many saints mentioned in that have been removed; and to ensuring the presence of more Anglican, women, married, and non-European entries. The original text included many nineteenth century saints and founders of religious communities these have largely been removed. This martyrology naturally reflects my own interests and prejudices. To reduce the length of the reading of the martyrology readings may be alternated in a two year cycle, first and third etc entry in Year 1 and so on. Obviously any entry that is going to be observed liturgically ought to be used.

The reading of the martyrology traditionally occurred at the end of Prime, with the reading for the following day being read. In reading the martyrology in Latin the day in the lunar cycle was also announced. I don’t know any communities who do this in English. The martyrology may be read at the end of a daytime hour, before Compline or separately. For those praying only Morning and Evening Prayer it might helpfully occur after Evening Prayer for the following day.

Reading The Martyrology in the Daily Office

The Martyrology for the nth day of X the year of Our Lord 20XX.

The liturgical day is then given, eg. Monday in the eighth week after Trinity, or the first entry in the martyrology if that supersedes it.]Other events at the top of the day’s entry are also read. Any entry that is to be observed liturgically is mentioned first.

After the Reading from the martyrology:

And elsewhere, many other holy women and holy men, saints of the Most High God and people of good will.

V. Precious in the eyes of the Lord. (Alleluia.)

R. Is the death of the faithful. (Alleluia.)

Let us pray. May holy Mary and all the saints pray for us to the Lord, that we may obtain from Him, help and salvation, who lives and reigns for ever and ever. Amen.

Common Worship Daily Prayer: readings for Terce, Sext and Nkne

For those who pray Terce, Sext and None daily (as suggested on page 20 of Common Worship Daily Prayer) there is a need to supplement the provision of readings for these additional Little Hours. I suggest in Ordinary Time that the four week cycle at Prayer During the Day is divided to become a two week cycle providing readings for two Hours and that the very short reading is used at the third Hour. In the seasons the weekly cycle and the very short reading provide for two Hours, a sentence from the Gospel for the day could be used at the third Hour.

On saints days the Little Hours are of the feria on memorias/Lesser festivals; on Festivals and Principal Feasts readings are needed which the table provided here gives references to in the rather rich provision available in CWDP. Three of the longer readings are suggested for each Common and one of the short readings. The first number, in bold, is a page reference to CWDP. Readings for the LH CWDP

New Wine and the Little Hours

I met her at the New Wine Leaders’ Conference in Harrogate in 2017. We got on straight away, after she told me there was no doubting that the friend and colleague I was with was my son, “You have the same smile!” (sorry Dave, although technically possible, I suppose … ). We have kept in touch ever since although we were at different weeks of New Wine United in the summer. We communicate about prayer (and books, sometimes, books on prayer). She has changed her routine to get up earlier and have time with the Lord in the early morning. It has taken about three months to change sleeping habits to feel really comfortable with this. But it still feels like something is missing she tells me. “I have a great prayer time in the morning, I listen, and sing along to worship songs, I pray in tongues I read my Bible on a Bible in a Year plan. But then when I get to work I am just as crotchety and irritable as ever.”

St Paul tells us to “pray constantly” (1 Thess. 5: 17), continually, without ceasing. Easier said than done. There are three techniques that I think can really help this. I have written much about them here on this blog, I won’t put links here, you can search the blog below. Briefly on two of them:

Mindfulness: two elements turn mindfulness practice into prayer. One is recognising that the breath, our breathing is God’s Holy Breath, pneuma, breathing in us. The second is awareness of God’s presence when we achieve stillness, “Be still and know that I am God.” (Ps 46:10). Amazingly, it is possible to have this sense of the presence of God whatever you are doing and however busy you are.

Jesus Prayer: when this prayer becomes part of us, when it prays itself in us we can pray constantly, at all times. Again, it doesn’t matter how busy or preoccupied we are, if we allow it the prayer will rise. It is however, another technique that the Tradition gives us that I want to draw attention to here. The practice of extending the Daily Office across the day by praying short little Offices or Hours, during the course of the day. Punctuating the day with prayer.

Since I first wrote about praying the Little Hours my own practice has moved on a little as has that of some of those I accompany. I have also been struck by how this tradition of praying a sevenfold Office has emerged in two recently published books. The historian Eamon Duffy has published a collection of essays Royal Books and Holy Bones – Essays in Medieval Christianity (Bloomsbury 2018) which includes an excellent essay on The Psalms and Lay Piety. Like all of Duffy’s writing it is accessible and readable. There has been much research on the medieval Primers, collections of prayers for the laity. They are usually very liturgically based books and and always contain a good deal of psalmody. Often psalmody for use at the Little Hours – Terce, Sext and None – used to punctuate the day with prayer. Despite churches of the Reformation removing Little Hours from their official liturgies, and the Roman Catholic Church only mandating clergy to pray one Daytime Hour since the early seventies, there is a remarkable hunger for these Hours. They just won’t go away because they meet a need.

As an example the unofficial Lutheran Office Book, The Daily Prayer of the Church, edited by Pastor Philip Pfatteicher (Lutheran University Press, 2005) includes forms for Terce, Sext and None, as well as an alternative single Daytime Hour. For each section of the Daily Office lectionary of the BCP 1979 it includes a short extract which could be used as the reading at these little Hours to extend the prayer into the day, an ingenious idea. It is an excellent book containing a rich resource of hymnody for the Office from the Lutheran tradition. The two recent books I recommend are:

The first is from The Episcopal Church in the United States but has been published in England with a preface by the former bishop of Oxford, John Pritchard. Daily Prayer for All Seasons – A contemporary Benedictine prayer companion (Canterbury Press, 2016). (DPFAS). Fr Christopher Woods reviewed this for the Church Times, here. Derek Olsen of St Bede’s Publications writes a somewhat harsh review here from a liturgical purists point of view. He is right on almost every substantive point but wrong about the helpfulness of the book. DPFAS is not a liturgical book, it is a devotional prayer book which uses liturgical structures, seasonal, weekly and daily, to provide a framework for prayer. For each day eight sets of prayers are provided, one for each of the canonical Hours (Prime, Lauds, Terce, Sext, None, Vespers, Compline, Vigils), each provided with a an overarching theme used in every season:

Prime – Praise

Lauds – Discernment

Terce – Wisdom

Sext – Perseverance and Renewal

None – Love

Vespers – Forgiveness

Compline – Trust

Vigils – Watch

A set of prayers is provided for each Season of the church’s year and two sets for Ordinary Time. The prayers are designed for private use at Prime and Vigils but corporate use at the other Hours. Here are two examples of provision, the first in Advent and the second in Eastertime. I think this would make an excellent resource for punctuating the day with prayer, for drawing from the liturgical tradition but doing so in a somewhat more devotional way. I have recommended it to several people and so far have had very positive feedback.

*

The second recommendation is a book edited by Sister Stan, a Sister of Charity in Ireland who is something of a star. It is a beautifully crafted book, published by Columba Press. Awakening Inner Peace provides a four week cycle of little offices for each of the eight canonical hours for every day. There is no seasonal material. The short but helpful introduction also provides suggestions for using particular hours at various points in life or in need.

For each ‘Hour’ there is a verse or two of psalmody, a very short meditation in poetic form and a final verse of intention. The shortness of these Hours would provide a momentary pause in the working day or on retreat, the meditations are simple but profound. Here are two example pages.

Even the traditional forms of the Little Hours take only a few minutes. These devotional forms even less. Breaking the day for these prayer pauses asserts the fact that there is something more significant than what we have to do, or the demands of the diary. It asserts our control over our diaries and over our busy-ness and the sovereignty of God in our lives. We cannot say “Jesus is Lord” and then ignore him from morning til evening. Busyness is just a state of mind. It is about choices we make. We could all of us fill our days many times over. Praying the Hours can help us reduce stress and anxiety by reminding us of what is important and also by giving us an ‘Office’ that is completed at the end of the day. Many of us do jobs that are never really finished. Finishing, completing the Office can be immensely satisfying.

The Daily Office is often said to be about sanctifying time. The interesting thing for me in my present job is that it is also about sanctifying place. I have prayed the Little Hours in car parks, shopping centres, garden centres, empty offices in schools, town halls, the diocesan office, across the diocese of Liverpool and on trains and in my car. If these books don’t appeal, and the structure of the traditional offices seems too much, just pray your way through Psalm 119 a section at a time. This is what Christians have done for much of Christian history. My New Wine friend has only just begun this practice but already she has messaged me several times to say that her day feels so much better, so much more fully offered to the Lord.

The Little Hours: a gift for the forgetful

First published in May 2018.

At Plum Village, the Buddhist monastery founded by Vietnamese teacher Thich Nhat Hahn, when a clock strikes or a gong sounds, everyone stops, breathes deeply and remembers a brief gatha or mindfulness verse:

“Listen, listen,this wonderful bell

brings me back to my true self.”

We human beings are forgetful, half-asleep creatures. Mindfulness is nothing more than waking up, becoming attentive and aware. You can download a mindfulness bell to sound on your computer. I used to have it ringing in my office when I was a Headteacher, an old fashioned chiming clock can serve the same purpose. Stop and breathe deeply three times. The Christian tradition, too, has many ways to remind us to stay awake. One of these is the Liturgy of the Hours. For some people, two longish liturgies a day, in the morning and evening, are sufficient, as in the Book of Common Prayer.

For some of us, however, little and often is best. One way many Anglicans have found to pray, in this little-and-often sort of way, is through the ‘Little Hours’ of the Daily Office: Terce, Sext and None, at the third, sixth and ninth hours of the day. One of the Anglican books used for this, for many decades was the Monastic Diurnal, a translation of the Latin Benedictine Office, produced in 1933, and edited by Canon Winfred Douglas. Writing in the Preface to The Monastic Diurnal he said:

“The Monastic Office was planned from the first for busy men [sic] … for our frequently overburdened parochial Clergy, it is an ideal Office because it combines great variety with comparative brevity.”

(Monastic Diurnal, OUP, 1933 v-vi).

From the very beginning of the separation of the church in England from Rome, many people have supplemented the Offices of the Prayer Book with liturgical devotions at other times of the day. In 1627 John Cosin (later Bishop of Durham), then just thirty years of old, published his Collection of Private Devotions for The Hours of Prayer. It is a beautiful combination of Prayer Book liturgy and language, providing forms of prayer for Prime, Terce, Sext, None and Compline, translated from traditional sources, as well as many other prayers and devotions.

We know too that the community at Little Gidding prayed the psalms throughout the course of the day. There were, no doubt, many other examples of the punctuation of the day with psalmody (see Anglican Devotion, C.J. Stranks, SCM 1961, for the period from the Reformation to the Oxford Movement). The Catholic Revival of the nineteenth century continued this tradition. Many clergy prayed the Western Office in Latin, but soon books of Hours appeared to enable the traditional canonical hours to be prayed in English, using the texts and Calendar of the Prayer Book, and usually providing for the Little Hours to be prayed alongside the Prayer Book Offices of Matins and Evensong. Versions of these books are so numerous that it would be a long list if it was reproduced here. Two traditions predominated among Anglo-Catholics: the monastic version of the Office, as in Canon Douglas’s book, and more popularly, translations of the traditional western Office (before the 1911 reform) which made provision for the recitation of Psalm 119 over the course of each day at the Little Hours. These Offices found their way into the Cuddesdon Office Book and the very popular Prime and Hours and The Priest‘s Book of Private Devotion and are recommended in Fr Whatton’s magnificent The Priest’s Companion. For the laity they appeared, in simplified form, in A Manual of Catholic Devotion.

An 1891 version of The Day Hours.

It was the reforms of the Second Vatican Council that reduced the normal Office to a fivefold form, with a single daytime Hour, and Prime removed. However, The Divine Office, the current western (Roman) rite does make provision for Terce and None. Even now, some people use the old books, including The Anglican Breviary (a translation into Prayer Book English of the post-1911 Breviary) to pray a sevenfold, or even eightfold, Office.

I often hear the claim that a Catholic renewal in our Church is not a management issue but a spiritual one. I believe that all renewal needs good management. St. Paul was highly efficient.

Next week, when I am at the New Wine Leaders’ Conference I have no doubt that I shall be part of something that is superbly managed. When Anglican Catholicism was at its strength it was a serious enterprise. Fasting, as Newman and Pusey recognised, was an essential part of the spiritual life. The praying at regular intervals during the day was the foundation of the energy and mission of countless heroic priests and laypeople. It seems unlikely to me that spiritual renewal will come unless we too embrace these disciplines, as our predecessors did, joyfully.

Like many Catholic Anglicans I have been praying the five-fold Divine Office for almost all of my adult life. Using it as a supplement to Common Worship. In 2014 I added Terce, using Psalm 119 over a week, to end the quiet desk time after my morning prayers and before the workday begins. In Eastertide 2016 I added None to the daily round and in September 2016 a brief Office of Prime. I do so using Psalm 119 to link myself to Catholic and Anglican tradition. I recently put together a little card to tuck into my Breviary with some simple music and the distribution of the psalms. Common Worship: Daily Prayer also refers to the Little Hours and they could easily be prayed using it. Here are the cards:

(Music for the opening verses is from Abbot Alan Rees OSB)Word version here. (You will need to install the St Meinrad fonts to read the music, available here)PDF here.

Psalm 119 arranged for praying over a week at Terce (or any other Hour) here, in the Grail translation.

The obligation to pray Morning and Evening Prayer is a serious one for Anglican clergy, and they should not be omitted except for a substantial reason. I find it deeply moving on my travels as Superior of the Sodality, and in the diocese of Liverpool as Director of Education, to pray with my sister and brother priests and to know they are praying day by day. Some people choose to add to the basic obligation the praying of the Office of Readings, Daytime and Night Prayer. This is a personal choice, so not of obligation. Just as with fasting, there is always a danger of scrupulosity or adding these devotions as ego-centred ‘works’, this is why a Spiritual Director is so important. We must never forget that we are freely saved and can never merit the salvation Jesus brings – we don’t have to, and can’t, earn it. However, if done lovingly and freely, like a lover who wishes to phone his beloved during the day, not once but many times, or when in the beloved’s presence can hardly resist their touch, this can be a beautiful way of enjoying the divine Presence throughout the day. It is not just a cure for forgetfulness, but a satisfying of the desire and need to be with God intensely.

Just as with fasting there is the suggestion that somehow modern people are not quite up to praying so often. That we are too busy, our lifestyles too full. I am not at all sure about this. I particularly object to the use of the word busy. I think we need to think more carefully about how we use, and control the use of our time. Surfing the web, watching TV, even listening to the news can suck up time. We could all fill our days many times over, but we can, mostly, choose the things that we want to do. Why not choose to spend a few extra minutes with God? If prayed quickly each Office can be said in three or four minutes, it would be hard to make them last longer than ten. Today, for example, I prayed Terce sat in my car on a street in St Helens, Sext on the same street, after the meeting I was attending and None, outside the school I was due to visit in Garston in Liverpool, a little later. These are, for me, refreshing pauses, Psalm 119 a gentle brook, gently gurgling its way through my day and renewing me.

“Happy indeed is the man … whose delight is in the law of the Lord and who ponders his law day and night. He is like a tree that is planted beside the flowing waters.” (Ps 1)

The Little Hours are little mindfulness bells, reminding us of the great story of salvation told in Scripture, but they are also a loving touch in the working day with the One who made us and loves us. As Fr Jonathan Graham CR wrote,

“Psalm 119 is a love song.Not a passionate love song; certainly not.It is not the song of love at first sight,nor of the bitter sweet of emotion and desire.It is the song of happy married life.That is not to say that it is, literally, the song of a poet happily wedded; but it breathes all the way through   the charmed monotony of a life vowed to another;it repeats with endless variety and sweet restraintthe simple inexpressible truth that can never grow weary or stale– I love thee. Thou, thee, thine;every verse of the poem, except the three which introduce it,contains thou, thee or thine.And a very large number of them echo: I, me, mine.Well might its author find the sum total of his song in the high priestly prayer of Jesus:All mine are thine and thine are mine.”

Serious? Well, yes, but joyful, light and energising, if prayed freely and as a free gift to Him.

How I do my daily lectio? #todaysgospel

First posted May 2018.

Every day I publish a daily gospel tweet #todaysgospel, on the gospel of the daily Mass / Daily Eucharistic Lectionary, a tweet length distillation of my daily lectio.

Several people have asked me how I do this form of prayer. Lectio is simply the Latin word for reading, in this context it is short for lectio divina, the sacred reading that is the traditional way of chewing on, and digesting, Scripture. Here is a very good paper from a Carmelite author on lectio. The Wikipedia article is also good.

As part of my lectio I use the prayers on this card.

The table indicates the four traditional phases, each column is one writer’s interpretation of the traditional stages. (Unfortunately I haven’t kept a record of whose they are – apologies to the originators.) The Collect is usually attributed to St Jerome.

I reckon forty minutes is about ideal for working with one piece of Scripture. About ten minutes for each stage. I find it difficult to find 40 minutes in one go and so have developed a way of dividing up the phases into just before going to bed and when I get up. At weekends I am more likely to be able to find the time to work with a reading in one sitting. I can’t say I prefer one way to the other, they are just different.

Before I say Compline, the final prayers of the day, just before bed, I read the Gospel for the following day, I then do the lectio stage. I may consult a commentary or two, probably look at the Greek text. I often see if one phrase stands out and, if it does, write that on a card that I will put on my bedside table and then carry with me the following day. At the end of Compline after the anthem to Our Lady I read the Gospel out loud, often from the Nick King translation of the NT. I then do the meditatio phase, almost Ignatian in my approach, imagining the scene (‘composition’ as Ignatius would say). I imagine or hear Jesus speaking to me. I try and picture the scene in all its detail, temperature, smells, sounds, light. And then go to bed. It is wonderful to have heard the Lord in this way just before sleeping.

In the morning the card will be the first thing I see, with two cups of tea I will do the oratio stage of the lectio, the praying. I talk to Jesus about the passage. At this stage I may write a draft version of the tweet, which is often addressed to Jesus. It is Jesus that I feel very much with me as I do this. Perhaps if I used texts other than the gospels it would feel differently. Next I read the Gospel again, out loud, usually in the original Greek, which means I need to read it slowly. I pray the Office out loud whenever I can which seems much better to me. I then have the contemplatio phase, the just dwelling with the Scripture. Not so much thinking about it as dwelling in it, or it dwelling in me. I don’t expect any particular outcome. I often read the gospel in another language, Latin (which I know best), French or German. This reading really slows me down. I will carry the card around with me during the day, if I am driving putting it where I can see it.

At Mid-day prayer I, again, use the same text as the reading. After the Office at Mid-day I pray the Ignatian Examen and find the gospel passage often informs that. One of the re-discoveries we are making in education is the absolute importance of repetition and memorisation. Repeating the same reading five times (including Mass) in one day, out loud, as well as silent praying of it really helps the reading sink deep in me and fixes it in my mind. Chewing on the passage at length like this is really rewarding, whether it produces good milk is for others to judge and to be seen, or not, in my life. But as a way of praying I recommend it.

I am really grateful for the positive comments on the tweets and will continue them. It helps me to have to reduce the thoughts to something succinct. Scripture is an endless mine, I hope even these little fragments are worthy of it. It is a great joy to think of those same readings (in the Daily Eucharistic / Mass Lectionary) being chewed on around the world.

Mission and Mindfulness

An old post lightly edited.

From my earlier post, here:

“it is the missional problem of our time that needs most thought and reflection and most occupies my mind. Our failure to evangelise, to communicate the gospel, particularly to the young, and the decline of the church. I have a series of posts planned that will address this problem in four key areas for further investigation:

1 Mindfulness for Mission: there is no God-shaped hole

2 Learning for Mission: it’s all about memory

3 Seriousness for Mission: the easier we make it the less attractive it is

4 Morality for Mission: why people think the church is immoral”

Some time in 1989/90 I was due to meet the then Bishop of Winchester at Wolvesey, his home next to the Cathedral, having been recommended for training for ordination. As I walked across the Cathedral green coming towards me were monks and nuns from the Theravadan Buddhist community at Chithurst. I knew them well having made several retreats there, and it seemed like a good sign to see them as they began a lengthy walking pilgrimage. I can’t remember when I first became interested in meditation, or indeed started meditating. It may have been reading Thomas Merton as a fourteen year old, or perhaps it was talking to Fr Peter Bowe at nearby Douai Abbey? Either way I am glad that right at the beginning of my preparation for ministry as a priest that important thread was present. I would never have guessed then how significant the teaching of what is now almost universally called “Mindfulness” would be in my life. It is easy to sneer or at least feel an inner rolling of the eyes in church or other circles when Mindfulness is mentioned. “Religion-lite” or “just another fad” are phrases I’ve heard. But I am always impressed with the seriousness which participants bring to the training. Formal meditation of this sort is a fundamental part of my life. I have taught it in all the schools I’ve worked in with four to eighteen year olds and with colleagues. It was an essential part of school improvement as a Head teacher and I have taught Mindfulness in parishes, on pilgrimages and on retreats. I can’t possibly meet the demand from across the country for this teaching. I am interested in this and in how this relates to mission. Does mindfulness lead to people meeting Jesus? The simple answer is yes, I have seen it happen. It does this in a number of ways. In the last few years I have developed a two stage process in mindfulness training. In the first stage of four sessions I teach practices which could be used by anyone, regardless of faith or belief, I use no specifically Christian language or imagery and I make clear that the results will be a reduction in stress, relaxation and greater clarity, although meditating to get these results is unhelpful. I then offer additional sessions on specifically Christian forms of meditation, lectio, the Jesus Prayer and recently I’ve added the technique of the Cloud of Unknowing. Interestingly, the expectation is always made clear when these sessions stretch over a number of weeks that some people will not want to attend the explicitly Christian sessions. Usually a few people will tell me at the first session that they are not going to. But what actually happens is that on every occasion, so far, everybody does attend all the sessions. Happily, as a result of doing so, some individuals over the years have begun attending church and have come to faith. I have come to believe – and it really is only from my conversations with participants – that there is something about the experience of meditation that prepares people for faith. Over the next year I hope to use feedback forms to get a clearer picture of this, but my working hypothesis is that mindfulness leads to these four experiences all of which are good foundations for faith: 1 – compassion 2 – connectedness 3 – watchfulness 4 – abandonment COMPASSION When people sit still, observe their breathing, notice their thoughts coming and going they always experience something close to a feeling of love. They feel more loving and more loved. Although, very occasionally distressing thoughts and memories do arise this is really quite rare and even then it is within a larger experience of love. CONNECTEDNESS Although mindfulness may appear to be a very solitary, individualistic exercise, focussed on the self, in fact the internal experience is of being less separated and more connected, not just to people but to the physical world. Sitting still and observing the breath is a strongly physical experience. It is not “all in the mind”. WATCHFULNESS I have been undecided on what to call this experience and wondered about ‘awakeness’. In the end I’ve decided on watchfulness because it has Christian history in the Philokalic tradition where the writings of the Philokalia are the writings of the neptic ones, the awake, the watchful. Participants typically describe this as being more alert, or even more alive. Occasionally, in the early stages and often with teenagers, there is a feeling of sleepiness, sleep deprivation is a significant problem, but this usually passes. ABANDONMENT Again, I haven’t been very certain what to call this. Because mindfulness is about noticing things, and particularly noticing thoughts as they arise and as they pass, it increases the ability to let go, to not need to be in control. This is very helpful preparation for abandonment to God. *** Over the last year I have been reading and re-reading Augustine’s Confessions, although he is frequently held up as an example of “conversion experience”, notably his experience in the garden when he hears a voice tell him to “tolle, lege“, take up and read the Bible, in fact his experience is really of a long process of conversion through reflection on his own life. Indeed, that is exactly what the Confessions is, an extended meditation on his own life that Augustine hopes will show not himself but his method of coming to faith. It is not surprising therefore that for Augustine, using the human mind as an analogy for the god-head, our threefold experience of memory, understanding and will is one way of perceiving the existence of the Trinity. We are hard-wired for faith, it is in the structure of our minds not just in our thoughts. One homiletic reflection on mission is that people have a need for God that cannot be met in any way other than by knowing God, this is sometimes referred to as a “God-shaped hole” . This blog post has a good discussion on the origins of this phrase. I am not convinced that the phrase is particularly helpful either missionally or in our understanding of how and why people come to faith, I think (contra some of the comments on that blog) that it does not describe Augustine’s experience. It may be that I am simply trying to say kataphatically what “God-shaped hole” is saying apophatically, but I think the effect of saying it in that different way is quite significant. Frankly, if there is a God-shaped hole most people in our societies don’t feel it, or the need to fill it. Rather, it seems to me that people find not a lack of something in mindfulness but a waking up of a very real, positive part of themselves that has been underused, this is a good biblical image too since Jesus reminds us to “stay awake”. When people experience compassion, connectedness, watchfulness and abandonment, they are experiencing God. In fact I am not convinced of the helpfulness of the distinction made in some spiritual writing between apophatic and kataphatic. John of the Cross’s powerful poem on the Dark Night is notably passionate, and positive in what it says about God. There are two other areas of interest for me which I hope to investigate further. One is the practice of the Cloud’s method of prayer. The slow repetition of a single word. I only began this practice myself a relatively short time ago and have only taught it to groups twice. I need to work further on the teaching of it but I am encouraged that some people reported finding it helpful. The other area is in the teaching of the Jesus Prayer. The form I use myself is “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon me a sinner.” Sometimes I omit the latter two words. If I don’t one or of the participants will say that they find thinking of themselves as a sinner difficult. This too must relate in some way to our difficulties in communicating Christian faith, I would like to think more about that. Now, I am not claiming that Mindfulness will lead seamlessly to conversion to Trinitarian faith. Clearly it doesn’t. Buddhists have been practising Mindfulness for centuries without embracing Christianity! Mindfulness is not the whole of conversion and solid teaching of Scripture and doctrine is also needed (part 2 of this series on Mission) but it can be a very helpful preparation. Any bookshop will have rows and rows of books on Mindfulness but very little on Christianity. If we avoid Mindfulness we are losing an important tool for mission. When I teach mindfulness practices from the Christian tradition, lectio, Jesus Prayer, the Cloud’s method, a reaction I regularly hear is that participants had no idea that Christianity has such practices. A final difficulty for us is that people who have had profound experiences in Mindfulness practice are often disappointed by the lack of silence and stillness and the sheer busy-ness they find when they go to church.