Deep Roots ..
A couple of months ago, we had an excellent Diocesan conference, with deeply challenging Key Note speeches. They have each continued to speak to me, but one in particular, God has drawn me back and back to.
Oak trees flourishing in Winter given by The Rt Revd Robert Atwell, Bishop of Exeter, who spent many years as a monk.
12 The righteous flourish like the palm tree,
and grow like a cedar in Lebanon.
13 They are planted in the house of the Lord;
they flourish in the courts of our God.
14 In old age they still produce fruit;
they are always green and full of sap,
15 showing that the Lord is upright;
he is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in him.
“How do we stay evergreen?
How do we remain open to new ideas
how do we remain fruitful and full of sap?
How do we retain our confidence and not locked into a survival mode?
What are our ‘Roots of Joy?’ ”
These were some of the questions he put to us all.
The week following the conference, I found this at a craft fair in York, carved in oak. It seemed to sum up the whole talk in a visual image.
Deep roots. The height and health of the branches are directly related to the depth and strength of the roots.
Sinking our roots deep into Joy. Deep into God, and reaching up and out to the world.
Next to come my way by ‘Godincidence’ was this beautiful piece of artwork called Mother Root by fellow priest, artist and author & blogger Jan Richardson. ( Click on the picture to go to her website and purchase it for yourself/see her other work.)
I found much richness in its imagery.
Flourishing in sunshine and shadow, light and dark.
Centred, abiding in the Vine/tree .. and much much more.
This weekend I spent a couple of days on retreat at Launde Abbey a centuries old place of prayer set in a hidden bowl of a valley. A beautiful spot, it has so many memories attached. I have been coming here since the early ’80’s when it was a freezing, un-refurbished, draughty ancient dwelling serving up huge quantities of hearty food to all conference guests/those on retreat, three times a day. It has now been completely refurbished, and is more akin to a high quality hotel. A place of pause, of reflection, of prayer.
Here, I spent my pre-ordination retreats, Deacon and Priest. Very significant moments.
I came this weekend listening for a still small voice amidst the cacophony of competing noise/calls on and in my life. Walking is the best way I find to do this. I pulled on my welllies and I spent most of both days outside in the brisk winter wind, tramping the muddy paths and fields. My first walk took me up to the brim of the ‘bowl’ to a large oak tree that had caught my attention. I stood with my feet between its roots, my back against its firm trunk.
The words that came instantly were
in the middle of something Big…
Rooted, grounded, God covering my back, and my shadow lost in His.
I didn’t see it at the time, but a couple of people pointed out that it looked like a path-
stretching out into the distance..
Paths were a natural theme of my retreat as I contemplate and pray about where God would lead me next…
Wherever He takes me me, whatever this year holds , I am no clearer.
No signs in the sky. (Does He ever do that?)
Trees and paths aplenty. Reminders that God has my back, and that I need to sink my roots ever deeper into His Joy.
Bishop Robert speaking of the indispensable nature of prayer to growth in all dimensions..personal and church quoted RS Thomas poem, called The Prayer.
[Reading 1: ‘The Prayer’ written by R S Thomas. Available in the book, The Collected Poems ’45 – 90. Published by J.M. Dent]
He kneeled down
dismissing his orisons
as inappropriate; one by one
they came to his lips and were swallowed
but without bile.
He fell back
on an old prayer: Teach me to know
what to pray for. He
listened; after the weather of
his asking, no still, small
voice, only the parade
of ghosts, casualties
of his past intercessions. He
Held out his hands, cupped
as though to receive blood, leaking
from life’s side. They
remained dry, as his mouth
did. But the prayer formed:
Deliver me from the long drought
of the mind. Let leaves
from the deciduous Cross
fall on us, washing
us clean, turning our autumn
to gold by the affluence of their fountain.
Turning to gold.. becoming all flame. . ‘you can if you will, become all flame’
+Robert reminded us that true prayer can at times, be like a fire out of control. The experience can be profoundly disturbing.
He told the story of Abba Lot ..
The following is taken from http://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/holyfathers/if_you_would_you_could_become_all_flame
“The subject of this particular saying is a certain Abba Lot, another great Father of the Desert, about whom a number of sayings are also collected—but here we see Abba Lot approaching Abba Joseph from saying number seven:
Abba Lot went to see Abba Joseph and said to him, “Abba, as far as I can I say my Little Office. I fast a little. I pray. I meditate. I live in peace and as far as I can. I purify my thoughts. What else am I to do?”
Now I must interrupt the reading here to make a little note. The saying makes no indication that Abba Lot is incorrect, nor that he is despondent or in error. He, presumably, truly does pray. He truly does fast. He truly does meditate and keep the Office he has been given. He is not presented as someone who is whinging or whining, but someone who is accurately and honestly giving an account of the spiritual life as he is keeping it. The difficulty, the problem is not in what he says, but in his belief that this is the extent of such a life.
“What else,” Abba Lot says, “can I do?”
Then the old man stood up, stretched his hands towards heaven and his fingers became like ten lamps of fire, and he said to him, “If you will, you can become all flame.”
The ultimate response to Abba Lot’s query is not to suggest other ways in which the spiritual life can be lived, other practices, other means. It is not, in fact, to say anything at all.
But it is for the elder monastic to stand in the presence of the younger, to reach his hands towards Heaven and to be visibly transfigured by the light of God. The life in Christ is a life permeated by the power and energy of the Holy Spirit. Our freedom enables this life, and without our freedom—the freedom to follow Christ, rather than our own will, rather than our own sin—without this freedom, the life struggles and falters from its beginning. ”
+Robert closed with some very wise advice from another Desert Father, St Antony the Great.
Speaking of the secret to the spiritual life contained in a nugget. “I fall down, and I get up”
“I fall down and I get up.” .. there is much to make us fall, push us over, or knock the wind out of us, but we get up, (and keep getting up) and travel on with God, wherever He leads.
Sunday’s retreat was led on the theme of Psalm 23 – perfectly illustrated by the pastoral setting of Launde Abbey. The Lord is my Shepherd. He will lead me down all the twists and turns, joys and challenges of this year and all the rest.