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Prayer

Images of Work

If you had to find an image for the work you do – whatever it is that preoccupies most of your time – what would it be?

This is mine:

Sometimes ministry can feel quite lonely so the lone dandelion represents it well. There are a number of other dandelions around, but actually I am often slightly separate from everyone else – you can really stand out in a clergy collar and people react in a variety of ways; I have had some crossing the street to avoid getting too close! There is something wonderful about what I do though, and about being a little on the periphery. Whilst it can be slightly lonely at times, it can also be a real privilege to be alongside people at the happiest and most difficult times of their lives. That is represented in this photograph by the light and vibrant green in the foreground and the darkness looming in the background.

How about you?

The Encounter

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Above the beauty and bustle of the valley
An expanse of heather filled space awaited.
The beautifully radiant blue sky was fresh,
Fragrant with the scent of the morning.
A light wind wound its way towards me –
It caressed my face urging me ahead.
Every step gave way to astonishing awe,
Wonderment grew within…my heart raced;
A mixture of excitement and delight
At all that my eyes were able to take in.

From the edge I heard only the wind.
Stronger now it whistled around my being
Awakening, sharpening my senses.
A man standing some way to my left,
His gaze undoubtedly directed at me,
Drew my attention momentarily. I looked
In that way which we often try to look,
Without looking like we are looking.
His was staring intently, still unmoved,
Yet I walked towards him…as if being drawn.

Close enough to speak, uttering silently,
His eyes remained thoughtfully on mine.
Reading me, delving right into my core,
Like one would an old abandoned book
Beginning to read on the page it fell open at –
It’s like he knows me…like I know him,
Even though I have never seen him before?
He had familiarity in his beautiful radiance,
His face attracted attention, necessitated it –
Its depth of wisdom brought a perfect peace.

His eyes were infinite dark ink pools with
Potential and understanding illuminating.
Pure kindness and laughter lines surrounded,
Softened, magnitude emanating, without threat.
His smooth olive skin blushed by the wind
Was accented by a beard outlining his jawline.
Wavy almost black hair blown about his face
Failed to distract from his present occupation: me!
An unusual encounter avoidable with a sharp turn –
Why, oh why, would I even contemplate that?

Unable to move, unaware of life around me,
Why do I not want this moment to end…ever?
It’s like I have been noticed, no not noticed…
Not merely seen for a spilt second!
Truly encountered and profoundly known.
Such knowing continues as I remain unable,
No unwilling, to move. Silent for if I dare
This moment will be gone, over, lost….
Oh that for once bringing ruin would fail me,
That clumsiness in word and deed would absent.

There is something about this moment
Which tells me none of that matters.
It is insignificantly significant in that
It is relevant because it is about who I am
But it is also irrelevant. It does not change now.
It will not stop it or move it in a direction
Other than the one already intended, and yet
It happens due to the insignificantly significant;
Because of who I am utterly and completely.
So many feelings washing over me right now….

I am known from the deepest part of me
Right to the crumb of toast which has rested
In the corner of my mouth since breakfast!
Every single memory is part of that knowing
Those I love and those I would care to forget
Even those that I have sought to push out –
Guilt and shame can overpower and overwhelm –
But they are there also and they are known.
That is undoubtedly good, perfect and right.
Fear, insignificance and inferiority melt away….

I am liberated floating over the artistry of the valley,
Then quite suddenly, with the blinking of an eye,
His or mine…this moment passes. Freedom
Begins to fade, fear and insignificance pervade.
Perhaps slightly less consuming…the man
Has moved. I turn around slowly yet he is nowhere.
Nowhere amongst the vast expanse of heather.
Did he disappear, was he ever here? My heart knows
He was and is and ever shall be…transformed
I yearn for this again as I realise that this is prayer.

Prayer as knitting

#lamentandhope #lentreflections

Broken lent study

#lentreflections #lamentandhope

One Body

This is the week of the year dedicated to Christian unity,
a time to join together to pray for the possibility
that one day we will be a whole body or community
which celebrates and commemorates catholicity.
A week where each of us align our intentionality
to that of God our maker our creator, and the reality
of the body of Christ which draws such responsibility
from each believer regardless of individual sensitivity.

It is so much easier to focus on matters of disparity
rather than actively seek those areas of commonality.
How happily we slip into ‘them’ and ‘us’ in our humanity
and quickly identify those points requiring conformity.
We fail to remain awake to worldly ways of destructibility,
instead straying like sheep, we are allured by animosity.
Previously indistinct notes become matters of legality
further severing bonds which bind with fierce brutality

What if one week became two, three or four of generosity
of spirit to our fellow believers? If we espoused the ambiguity
of the mysteries surrounding people and God’s interactivity,
and perhaps laid aside the centrality of certainty or clarity
on issues often known to divide like gender or sexuality?
Intent on establishing a universal and obligatory morality
which ignores God’s upside-down justice for austerity,
with the God of surprises does it not all lack reliability?

I pray for unity which extends beyond human probability,
one which disciples to favour quality over quantity
and places Jesus’ example and gospel of inclusivity
at its heart – Jesus of the marginality not the majority!
I pray for unity of the body of Christ where vulnerability
is held and cherished, with division hidden by invisibility.
A unity which recognizes Christ Jesus as superiority
and all who make up the body as existing in equality.

Beholding!

I have begun a journey with a book titled Eyes of the Heart – this is an eight week journey into contemplative photography. This is something that I have almost instinctively found and begun to develop independently, but it is marvellous to read about how someone with a very similar heart to my own has made sense of using photography as a form of prayer.

This week focuses on beholding aspects of life. There were two main meditations to complete: the first to take 50 photographs of an item that you are familiar with and; secondly to limit yourself to one photograph a day which truly beholds a shimmer of God  in our world. It has been amazing to have such a focus on my contemplative prayer, and I chose to behold my pen.

After taking the first 20 or so photographs, I wondered how I was going to find 50 photographs to take of such a small object – I think it was shortly after this that the beholding really began. I started to think where and how I used my pen, and photographed it with those items as well. I also began to think about my relationship with my pen – I often feel that my writing is divinely inspired and I wanted to find a way to depict that divine meeting the material in some way. I began to play with shutter speeds and focus of lens, and it produced some pictures that I really felt brought that divine inspiration to light. Equally I thought about my own emotions when trying to write: sometimes there is flow, other times impatience, others still there can be a lack of inspiration.

By the time I had got to 50 photographs, it felt like I was just getting started! Here is a selection of the photos – 50 seemed a few too many. What do you see when you look at them? Is it just a photograph of a pen, or do you see more to it? Could you try this meditation with something which is important to you? Good luck if you do!

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Beyond the Study

The comfortable security
gently draws me in.
The old leather arm chair
sits in the corner waiting
to envelope, to take me home,
back to a time and place
which no longer exists
with the charm and charisma
of wonderful nostalgia.
The leather smell releases
as I sink deep into the chair
which empowers the dreamer
to dig deep into the soul.
I close my eyes to explore
the space and place I have
been brought – past, present, future?
None of it beyond reckoning –
I am outside time and space.
I sit at the top of a castle tower,
overpowered by darkness.
Light clusters around a small candle
to my left – I reach out for it
and take it as I tentatively lean
towards the top of the steps
the urge to step out and explore
overtakes me…and I go!

Disruption…

Have you ever been frustrated by a disruption to your day? Your plans fail not because of your actions, but because of something completely outside of your control. Many of us would see this as a negative thing, I’m sure, but what about positive disruption? My ministerial training was centred around a benedictine pattern of prayer; in practice this often meant that just when I was getting somewhere with my latest essay, I needed to stop to go and pray.

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This took some getting used to and, initially at least, I failed to see the positives of this pattern of prayer. Slowly though I began to see that, when I did return to my work, I had a fresh perspective. I had benefitted from taking time away, and was developing a greater anticipation for prayer, thus what I had first seen as an unwelcome disruption had become a welcome one.

I began this week with a Lectio Poetica Quiet Day at Launde Abbey. Whilst I was looking forward to this, I was concerned about how little space there was for ‘work’ in my diary. During the Quiet Day we were invited to ‘walk out’ a poem, or recite it whilst walking to find it’s rhythm and the disruptions within that rhythm. I focused on the following poem, and found myself disrupted by it!

The Agony

Philosophers have measured mountains,
Fathom’d the depths of seas, of states, and kings
Walk’d with a staff to heaven, and traced fountains
But there are two vast, spacious things,
The which to measure it doth more behove:
Yet few there are that sound them; Sin and Love.

Who would know Sin? Let him repair
Unto Mount Olivet; there shall he see
A man, so wrung with pains, that all his hair,
His skin, his garments, bloody be.
Sin is that Press and Vice, which forceth pain
To hunt his cruel food through every vein.

Who knows not love, let him assay,
And taste that juice, which on the cross a pike
Did set again abroach; then let him say
If ever he did taste the like.
Love is that liquor sweet and most divine,
Which my God feels as blood; but I as wine.

George Herbert

Part of the disruption was that I had got completely engrossed in the poem that I forgot to pay attention to where I was walking and found myself lost in the middle of a forest, with no idea of how to get out and no phone reception to find out which direction I should be headed in!

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There was much more to this disruption however; as the last two lines heavily imprinted on my heart I became aware of all of the ideas I had wanted to bring to my churches, and watched them slowly float away!

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Fundamentally I saw that ministry is about two things, Sin (or Good News) and Love, and I was in danger of making it about so much more! The disruption here was incredibly liberating!

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The next day I had my first curates training day – another reason to be concerned about the ‘work’ that I could not do. I laughed therefore when the person introducing the day said that the intention was to disrupt the routines that we were inevitably already building! What if it were not only routines that were disrupted, but also attitudes, stereotypes and preconceptions? My weekly poem, The Dolls House Day, explores this notion in a little more depth.

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I love my diary, and organising my time in order to not miss anything and ensure that I have enough time put aside for all that I need to do – but I wonder whether it is possible to be too organised? Am I still leaving time for God to guide, for opportunistic encounters, and to just be present in parish?

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Equally no matter how organised I am, mistakes still happen, and things are still miscommunicated at times causing some sort of disruption. This happened before my training day with an interment of ashes service which had not been booked in. It did all still happen though, and all was well.

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A regular form of disruption are road works, preventing people from getting where they need to be in the time that they need to get there. Whilst at times such delays could be avoided, is there something important about being made to slow down from the fast pace of our world? Might we see something that would otherwise pass us by?

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One final disruption this week has affected gardening plans – I cannot control the rain! I have become aware of a refreshing, pleasing feeling which comes after the rain. Perhaps it doesn’t matter so much if the grass doesn’t get cut for another few days, and I can use the extra space to be attentive to the beauty and refreshment around me!

Focus

Most of this week I have accompanied a parish retreat with the Community of Saint Mary the Virgin in Wantage. It is always a privilege to take time out of the busyness of life, but even more so when supporting others in that. It has been a wonderful opportunity to explore or embrace a focus which allows for concentration on finer details of God’s calling, where everyday parish life encourages a bigger picture approach.


Focusing in on fine details has to begin with a scan of the overall picture, before considering where to hone your attention.


How close you focus depends very much on God’s leading, and it can be about trying a few things before truly reaching the place where the light leads…


Even when these initial steps seem irrelevant, it can be so important to notice our feelings and thoughts through this process of discernment.


Very often I have found that the destination is the journey itself, observing the intricacies of God’s character through the beauty of creation can only leave us in awe of God as creator, redeemer and sustainer. That awe leads us on.


Sometimes it leads to a change in focus before we fully realise where the light is drawing us.


When drawn deeper into a place of solace with God that is when the focus can really begin to deepen.


As well as becoming more centred on Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, and focusing on the importance of the Eucharist as a spiritual meal through which we are transformed into the likeness of Christ, I began to experience the cross in a new way.


I was drawn to this particular cross which rested above the altar. Right at its heart was the world, the whole world, drawn in by one huge final sacrifice. Having also been afforded the luxury of reading Mindfulness and Christian Spirituality by Tim Stead, and putting some of that into practice, I began to notice the absolute comfort which came from this powerful symbol, which represented the sacrifice given for the whole of creation through the death of Christ on the cross – and it’s that simple! This is such good news…do we always present it in this way?

Try focusing on one small object or symbol that you feel drawn to – where does it take you?

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The Little Ribbon Tin
As my eyes fixed on the little ribbon tin
Transfixed on the beautiful, paled pattern
I wondered who, before me, had it chosen
Whose fingerprints had been embellished
by the vibrant colours here once settled
on this worn, mesmerising, little ribbon tin.

How long ago had they walked the earth
What sort of person, was there any mirth
vibrance and creativity or more of a dearth
of all that we respect, admire and hold dear
How did they come to lose it, through fear
disregard or death perhaps…and thenceforth?

And what was the purpose of this beautiful
receptacle, before it became slightly dull
Did it always house ribbons, always so full
or was it sat empty? Money, buttons or tea?
Bills, cotton, sugar or another commodity
Something meaningful or insignificant, little…

Where and when did it originally come alive
Somewhere familiar or foreign, with a vibe
clearly oozing opportunity, vitality and life
A world far from our time and knowledge
Yet one which may say much about dredge
and call us to be content with what we have.

And these hands, have they been embellished
Or rather influenced, shaped and moulded?
Positively, gently…maybe abused, oppressed
With expectation; demands to be, say and do
Things fitting for a woman, to have and to hold
Still content to be contained and constrained?

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