Saturday, 2 June 2012

The Secret Retreat

Internal space. I have found it incredibly helpful to be aware of an internalised space- a locus of prayer and communion between the soul and God.

I meet God in the sacrifice of Mass very intimately it is true, but parish Mass is not always the most helpful space and time to meet God and to hear what He says. Noisy children, people shuffling and myriad other distractions make it hard sometimes to concentrate. The famous hymn ‘Dear Lord and Father’ speaks of a “still, small voice of calm”, and I can relate to that. I find God most readily in my own internalised space, in the form of a “still, small voice”. I count this space as a gift from God, transmitted to me via a learned Anglican priest and friend of mine who passed away some time past. Many years ago during lent, he spoke of one means by which he found the peace and calm to talk to God. He found visualising a space, and occupying it mentally, he moved himself away from the here-and-now and into a new time and place, calm, and free from the cares and worries which had a tendency to creep into his prayers otherwise. I could immediately identify with what he said, and began to develop this idea. Over time, this space has expanded and contracted, developing organically.

This space is where I mentally retreat to when I find prayer hard. In the act of imagining myself in another, vivid and even tangible space, I find I am indeed distanced from the petty concerns which hamper prayer. This place within has an entire topography of its own. It has rooms, corridors, open spaces, cloisters, courtyards and gardens. It is borne of memory maybe more than imagination and it is perhaps best described as a composite of those places which have most shaped my understanding of the divine.

Over the years it has concretised itself as a metaphysical space within me, which has become the place where God comes to meet me in prayer. It has always been a deeply personal thing- a matter of private devotional practice and nothing more, but a short while back, I wondered whether I might have something worth sharing in this method.

I began work on a book, which I am considering taking up again. I have been influenced very much in this endeavour by the writings of mystics (and theologians) from various faiths and traditions, but particularly my own- St Theresa of Avila, St Augustine, Anne Catherine Emmerich, The venerable Mary of Agreda and St John of the Cross to name but a few. In all of these writings I have found, both explicitly and implicitly, a sense of internalised space, prayer of the heart, holy encounters in the silence of our innermost being…

For this reason, I feel inspired myself, to put into words, what that space is to me and how I have used it. I shall offer it up, as the saying goes, and maybe in outlining my own path, others will find something of use in their own pilgrimage.

Friday, 30 March 2012

The Trillion Dollar Question

I have a question for you all- and I mean all of you... Please read this, or if you don’t have the time, consider the question in bold at the bottom and give an answer. Many thanks.

Sometimes injustice, greed and evil just make me really angry, when I hear of people in authority abusing their power while the poorest suffer: Banks repossessing homes, insurance companies refusing to pay out to the most desperate and needy, warmongers playing games with people’s lives, greedy and foolishwall-st men gambling with stupid sums of money, and with it the livelihoods of others, the powerful making a mockery of the poor and sucking them dry, giving us all celebrity and wealth as false gods to offer faint and pathetic succour... the list could go on for pages. I know this is how society works, and normally when I have raised the issue in the past, I’m laughed down, but I say- why? Why should injustice be the norm? It needs to change. I feel a bit like a 'Jesus-vs-moneylenders' moment. I want to storm into these comfy offices, mansions, meeting rooms and clubs and overturn desks, tear up papers and smash up their computers in a non-lethal frenzy of righteous fury, like an avenging angel striking the awesome fear of God into those who build their comfort on the pain of others. I can't do that though.
My impotence in the face of all this makes me sad. It makes me cry with frustration and deep deep sadness at our fallen state.

My question then is this: Just because greed and self-interest are the guiding principles of society, why should this be so? Why should we just accept received wisdom and say “my my, what a shame that some people have to live in abject poverty, but that’s just how it is”? Are we going to take at face value, the belief that some people should live devalued and painful lives, ignored by society, while others live in unnecessary luxury? Are we going to simply accept that 90% or so of the world’s resources should be owned by about 1% of the population? Nonsense. Absolute, unmitigated rubbish! I refuse to accept that this is how the system just is, and there is nothing to be done.

I’m sure some pretty smart people told John Newton and John Wesley that the slave trade was a sad fact of life that was a necessary evil. I’m fairly sure Nelson Mandela was told to stop being silly- apartheid was there to stay. Did St Vincent de Paul, Blessed Mother Theresa or St Nicholas just tut and say what a shame it was that some people have to live in horrifying poverty?

These people and many other nameless individuals all refused to take no as an answer. They armed themselves with righteousness, and with the help of God they conquered the darkness, and now they surely stand before their Maker, able to account without regret, for how they invested His grace in their lives. How are we, in this generation, going to answer our maker when asked to account for our lives?

My call then is simple, and not just to the religious, but to all those of you who have had enough of the status quo, who feel as bloody-minded about this as I do, let us discuss this. There is surely something that can be done about this ridiculous situation. I for one am going to begin combating much more vocally, any form of injustice when I encounter it. But as a group of people, what can we do? No system is indestructible, and no evil so impenetrable that the light of God cannot pierce to its rotten core. If enough good people stand up and are counted, surely change can be effected?

My main question, and the one to which I would like an answer if you are willing to give one, is this: “Do you really believe that our social, financial and economic systems, with all their injustices, greed and selfishness, are truly permanent and necessary, or can they be changed for the better, and can we rebuild a better society?”. This is my trillion dollar question. It’s no trick. Just please think carefully and then give your answer. Thank you.

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

The Loving Extremist

One of my lenten books this year has been ‘Faith under Fire’ by Andrew White, the vicar of Baghdad. It is a powerful, moving work which speaks of unbelievable courage, and a profound faith in God, even in the darkest times, with persecution and violence being a daily reality. One passage in particular stuck out at me as I read it, and I re-read it several times afterwards to let the full impact of the words hit me:

“We often say that our love has to be as radical and as extreme as the hatred that surrounds us.”

The results of these actions have been obvious and positive. If that’s what love can do in a warzone, what good could it maybe do in our own, less extreme, but equally complicated and confused society?

In conflict, one often repeated phrase is ‘fight fire with fire’. To me, that has always struck me as a bit stupid. You don’t extinguish a blaze with the aid of a flame-thrower. You do however fight fire with water. The same is surely true of violence?
What love is more radical or extreme than that of Christ? His example is to lay down His life, not only for His friends, but for His enemies too. His sacrifice in the name of love is limitless and breathtaking. For a Catholic, it is re-enacted continually in the Eucharist, but that some love is present also in every other aspect of our lives- at prayer, at work, at play, with others and on our own.

In the past few weeks, I have been sadly aware of a great deal of hate and ignorance, some of it quite extreme, on both sides of the debate on marriage, but also on some of the wider sociological debates surrounding religion, which seem to have sprung up as a result of the marriage debate. People who should know better on both sides have said hurtful and painful things. It is saddening to see such destructive behaviour in anyone, but in people who profess to follow the Gospel path, it is particularly so.

The angry rhetoric of some Christians certainly seems borne out of legitimate concerns about our marginalisation. It certainly feels that the views of more traditional Christians of all denominations (and indeed all people of faith), are increasingly at odds with those of our secular neighbours. However, the temptation to gravitate towards the rhetoric of exclusivity, rancour and even hate needs to be resisted at all costs, no matter how hard it may seem… On one side, secular society may see an antiquated restrictive organisation (or group of organisations), attempting to impose apparently medieval systems on the majority. On the other, religion can sometimes feel marginalised, mocked and devalued when it brings the kind of spiritual nourishment which our society so deeply needs. The concerns on both sides of the debate seem legitimate. It is indeed wrong for a religious minority to impose their ethical code on those who do not subscribe to it, but society cannot continue to be so dismissive of religion either. Religion is here to stay. So is secularism. We can all either work together, be friends and make the world a better place, or continue in our current polarised fashion. I know what I’d like to see.

I shall be thinking more about this in the next few weeks, especially as Holy Week arrives. It certainly seems however, that for those who wish to further the cause of religion, there needs to be a move from one extreme to another. Instead of indiscriminate hate, what about indiscriminate love? So this is my suggestion today to all those who wish to demonstrate the relevance of religion in western culture, turning the rhetoric of the extremist on its head-

love indiscriminately, love without remorse, love without thought to the personal cost to you, rock society to its core with acts of love that cannot be ignored- acts of love that grab media attention- let everyone see the incredible power of love and let them stand awestruck and dumbfounded before it!

So this is my call to extreme, militant love; especially to Christians, but indeed to people of all faiths and none- let’s hit society with the true arsenal of those who want to establish the Kingdom of God on earth; kindness, generosity, tolerance, open-mindedness, meekness, prayer, and most importantly; love. Society won’t know what has hit it…

Saturday, 10 March 2012

Lenten thoughts on Tolerance

Tolerance, and our ability to live together has been a recurring theme during the past few weeks in the media, and has set me thinking…

It is never an easy thing to come back to something after some time away. However, the past two or three months in particular have had a profound effect upon my outlook on life, and I wanted to share reflections on my past, and also on some of my continuing journey with those who are inclined to listen to my ramblings. Over the past weeks, as Lent moves on apace, I have felt profoundly compelled to return to this blog, which as I have mentioned before, is a record of my journey in faith, including my ‘not-so-proud’ moments as well as those when I feel I have spoken in the pattern of God, and under the influence of the Holy Spirit. Finally, the urge has become too great, and I have decided to take the ‘plunge’.

The past few months and weeks have seen a lot of changes in my life, both public and private, especially as regards my faith. This is not to say that I have been absent or distant from my faith before these past few months- my attendance at mass, and my fulfilment of the basic requirements of our faith has been to all intents and purposes, without blemish for several years now. However, I have begun returning to many of the more devout practices of previous years; lectio, the rosary, keeping a spiritual journal, studying my collection of catholic literature… I am ever conscious these days though, that I do not become over zealous as I did in the past. Many of these more pious practices, because perhaps they were unguarded from the harmful effects of pride, led me to become a hard line, dogmatic bigot who became detestable to even those of his own faith.

It is not an easy path to tread, and may even sound to be a paradox to some, but I believe ever more, the more I pray and meditate upon it, that one can be strict in one’s observances in faith, while still avoiding being a bigot, or losing the wider view- the view in which there can be no condemnation of others, for we have all been called together in the love of God. Indeed, the deeper I move within my own faith, the more I feel I can learn from those with other beliefs. It is my belief that one must be firmly rooted in ones own faith before one can engage effectively in ecumenical or inter-faith work for example.

When we are aware and knowledgeable of our own faith, we can deliver a suitable ‘apologia’ in defence of it, and still learn so much more from the experiences of others in faith. I am now convinced that those years ago, it was my own weakness of faith, which caused false pride to take root, and which caused me to scorn certain other faiths and beliefs. I was scared of these other systems of belief I see, mostly because my own was so weak, I did not want it to be shaken. It was easier to retreat into dogma and become hostile, than open my vulnerable heart.

Perhaps this is a reason why some turn to extremism in other faiths too? Weakness in ones own convictions makes one fearful of the strength of other’s convictions perhaps? When one is grounded in ones own faith, with a living relationship with God (no matter how we perceive that to be), it is so much easier to reach out with an open heart, in love, to greet those different to ourselves, for we recognise, not difference, but similarity. Religion is about sharing our complexities- recognising that none of us is perfect, but that we all make our own varied, imperfect paths towards light. Towards holiness. Towards God.

As the psalmist says-

Behold how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity.” (Ps. 132; 1) (Ps. 133; 1 for those using protestant versions)

My final thoughts in closing then, are from the hauntingly beautiful words of the ‘ubi caritas’, a text which often brings me to tears with its power, and which we shall be hearing in a few weeks during this holy season. They perhaps sum up what I am trying to say.

“Where charity and love are found, there is God”

“The love of Christ has gathered us together into one, let us rejoice and be glad in him. Let us fear and love the living God. And let us love one another with a sincere heart”

“Therefore when we are together, let us take heed not to be divided in mind. Let there be an end to malice and strife. And in our midst, be Christ our God.”

There in company with the blessed may we see Thy face in glory, Oh Christ our God; There to possess immeasurable and happy joy. From age to infinite age.”

“Where charity and love are found, there is God.”

A happy and holy remainder of Lent to you all. Amen

Monday, 4 October 2010

Seeking Redemption

Which of us has never strayed from the path of righteousness?

Silly question really. Those who insist there is no sin in them must be in the situation of not seeing the wood for the trees. They’re so surrounded by it, that they don’t recognise it for what it is anymore. That seems to be the face of 21st century society in general.

Recently, several protestants have vehemently criticised the sacrament of reconciliation. They have all been washed in the blood of the lamb, and sure as hell don’t need some old priest to grant them absolution.

While I understand their arguments, I cannot agree. To say I have been justified by faith alone is a chimera, and a dangerous one at that. The problems with such anti-catholic teaching is laid out quite eloquently in James Hogg’s “Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner”

If we are elect, and then stumble and go on a murderous rampage, what does that have to say. No, justification by faith and not by works is a dangerous mistake to fall into. Moreover, it is quite unbiblical (see the end verses of James chapter 2…)

The point is that faith is a relationship. It is not simply a one off moment at our conversion, when from that moment on we have been redeemed and it is all good with the Lord. It requires coming to terms with the situation when we fail the relationship, and admitting openly our shortcomings, and most importantly, making amends and finding ways to avoid the situation in the future.

I think possibly an outdated image of confession doesn’t help with various prejudices and issues. For me confession isn’t about turning up with all my dodgy wrongdoings and pouring my heart out to some old bloke for his voyeuristic pleasure as some people seem to think it’s about.

For me it’s about getting right with my brothers and sisters in the Lord by bringing the damaging sin which I have committed, before a leader in our church community. It is a two way thing too- the priest often asks us to go away and pray for him too- a sinner- just like us.

It is about seeking strength and mutual support in our weakness, and together being able to defeat sin. It is also about counselling- receiving wisdom from a wiser person in how to avoid such sin in the future. It is about speaking with the heart between the priest and the person confessing, and all in the presence of God.

Although this will not provide for most protestants every answer they would like to hear regarding confession, my last point would be most simply- it is as it is. We have our strange customs and traditions. There is reasoning behind them, even if you are disinclined to agree with it.

We all have to come to terms with our sin though. It’s your own personal choice how you go about it.

Sunday, 26 September 2010

Continuing the Pilgrimage

The Pope’s visit has been interesting to say the least. A week ago, the media, (especially the newspapers) were having to look to revise the opinions that they had expressed during the run up to the visit.

Not only were the crowds of supporters much larger than the small bunch of protestors, but the crowd was larger than even the organisers had been expecting. _49125369_pope_arrive_edin_airport_reuters

Clearly whatever aims the gutter press had in sabotaging the affair, the whole thing backfired spectacularly. Indeed, the streams of vitriol and invective from ‘celebrities’, such as Stephen Fry, or Richard Dawkins and characters such as Peter Tatchell, were one of the main reasons that I seriously re-examined my faith and came to the decision that I had to become proud of my faith once more, and leave the secular mindset that has been like a drugged up stupor for me for longer than I care to recall…

What after all is there to be ashamed about in my faith?

As Patrick West (an atheist incidentally) notes in the comment section of the Catholic Herald this week, while the hatred and bile being spewed out by the ‘celebrities’ and media will simply deter people and make enemies, at the same time, a man of profound prayer and humility like Pope Benedict is clearly much more likeable, and likely to win in the whole ‘hearts and minds’ stake.

This visit has clearly affected a great many people in a similar way to me. Non-Catholics, lapsed Catholics, catholics (with a small ‘c’) and even practicing Catholics have been encouraged to continue their pilgrimage in the faith, with new profundity, new spirituality, and a deeper reverence.

My earnest hope and prayer is that there will be a real spiritual renewal, not just for myself, but for everyone who has been touched by the Pope’s visit.

May we persevere in our pilgrimage of faith together, supported by prayer and our mutual love for one another- members of the same family, the same body…One in Christ



Saturday, 25 September 2010

Starting all over again…

Many of you will be aware that this is not the first blog to go by this name. This blog’s predecessor was probably quite notorious for it’s less than impartial content, (at times) offensive nature, and generally negative tone.

Whereas this may have been the order of the day some years back, several transformative experiences have occurred in my life. Firstly, I have been on a year abroad in France, teaching. This time for me was of great change and personal growth. I learnt more about myself than I thought possible. I discovered a passion for working with people and teaching.

Also, quite importantly, I have been through a series of relationships that have changed my perception of a great many things. I have loved and been loved, and I have lost. Through all this uncertainty I have always been aware of the presence of God, looking over me. When I have felt lonely and unloved, I have been reminded that not only are there are a great many people who love me, but that there is a force- a silent presence that is love itself, looking over me and caring for me. The outcome of all this uncertainty and difficulty though has encouraged me to think again about what I want to be, and who I want to be with.

Change is though, an ongoing process, and what happens I would leave in God’s hands.

After all, what more can we do when facing the vastness of the eternal, than place it all before that power and know that all things are ordained by that mighty hand.

All that it is necessary is for us to simply be.


In Christ,