Ten Ideas for Lent

Ten Ideas for Lent. ( from Stephen Cherry’s Blog)

Ten Ideas for Lent

These ideas all all based on my book Barefoot Disciple: Walking the Way of Passionate Humility The Archbishop of Canterbury’s Lent Book 2011

The original plan was to include these ideas in the book but in the end we decided not to. Just as well, probably. Now you can get them without troubling to read it.

Have a great Lent! And if you do nothing else, try number 6.

1. Take Off Your Shoes

We have all walked barefoot and felt the earth beneath our feet. And we all played barefoot when we were children. But have you everprayed barefoot? Do it once and you won’t forget it. It will touch your imagination. Try it out of doors. As you feel the world through the soles of your feet, you will begin to realise the spiritual relevance of the material world. As a barefoot disciple living in a northern country you will, most of the time, be well shod. But if spiritually your feet are bare, you will tread carefully and walk differently. You and your prayer will be earthed, real, humble.

2. Admit a Recent Mistake

Just one will do. Notice when you have made a mistake and own up to it quickly, simply and honestly. And then let it go. Do not seek forgiveness unless the mistake has really hurt someone. If you say ‘sorry’ as a habit, stop it now. You are devaluing the currency. The idea is to acknowledge that you are a mistake-maker for much of the time. This is an exercise in realism and true modesty. Once you have mastered it, you will no longer try to cover up the mistakes you make in daily living. Rather you will find them to be opportunities to learn humility. After a while you might even develop the confidence to begin to address the mistakes for which you really do need to ask forgiveness.

3. Pocket an Insult

The phrase is Ghandi’s. He is a barefoot walker who can speak to us from another faith. It means: ‘do not take an insult personally’, ‘do not take it to heart’, ‘do not react’. But, equally, it does not mean ‘ignore it and it will go away’. Rather, if you are on the receiving end of an insult, it is rarely going to be helpful to react. Instead, pop it into your pocket and, after a while, take it out to see whether it is worth responding to carefully and humbly. Such humility can be determined and powerful, but it is never hot-headed or full of smouldering resentment.

4. Behave as a Child

Jesus says that children are at home in the kingdom of God. And so he wants adults to be childlike. What could be more fun than that! This is your the invitation to let the child within out to play. The child in you is naïve, impulsive, direct, simple, trusting, vulnerable, unsophisticated and unpretentious. Jesus tells us that this is a really most important part of who we are. If the inner child does not thrive then nor do we. Let your inner child out to play. It knows how to live.

5. Step across a Boundary

Visit somewhere that feels a bit scary, uncomfortable or even provocative to you. For many Christian people, a visit to the place of worship of people of another faith is uncomfortable and disorienting enough to wake them up to the fascination, depth and quality of their own faith. So visit a Mosque, Synagogue, Hindu Temple or Sikh Gurdwara. Risk putting yourself in a situation where you know that you will not fully understand what is going on and feel like an outsider. Pay attention to your feelings and let your bewilderment and confusion enhance your learning, your wonder and your enjoyment of the experience. Afterwards try to describe your experiences in a notebook or perhaps to a friend who agrees to step out of his or her comfort zone too.

6. Give up Grumbling

Do you remember Terry Waite’s vow when taken into captivity: ‘no self-pity’? It is a good one but it is far more difficult than we realise. So take the trouble to tune in to the grumbling that you hear around you (and which sometimes comes from your own mouth). It will be difficult to give up grumbling for good, so start by giving it up for Lent. After you have done without it you will wonder why you ever bothered with it. And if you can’t give it up, try to transform it into protest, penitence or petition. You will soon find you have a new passion for both justice and prayer.

7. Practise Hospitality

Take the trouble to notice the people you don’t usually notice. Offer a greeting when others are locked in silence. Learn how to wave in an affirming, positive way. Learn how to smile across a room or make eye-contact across a meeting to support someone who is struggling. You can’t be friends with everyone, but by being friendly you can touch, and perhaps change, many people’s lives and even have an impact on the whole social environment of a neighbourhood. Don’t think that you need to turn your home into a refuge for ex-prisoners in order to exercise true hospitality. Simply take one small but deliberate step in the direction of being more hospitable.

8. Do Something for Someone Else

Do something simple, modest but practical for someone else. It might involve giving someone an unexpected gift or offering to help lift something. Such gratuitous and caring action can touch the heart and imagination and have untold positive repercussions. But don’t be excessive. Don’t take over. Don’t create dependency. Lend a hand but try not to ‘make a suggestion’. It is modest, humble, practical generosity that is called for. Not grand projects or patronising performances.

9. Be Proud of Yourself

Surprised by this suggestion? While bad pride is to be avoided there is such an experience as good pride. It is a very down to earth feeling and we have it when we allow ourselves to look at work well done with kind and straightforward eyes. It is childlike to have good pride, because there is nothing arrogant or conceited in it. Good pride accepts praise gratefully but humbly and allows you to recognise that your efforts are worthwhile and achievements valid. Good pride is not pushy and might be expressed modestly: ‘hmmm, not bad’. It is a good feeling and not only consistent with healthy humility – but a sign of it. Meanwhile try to shake off all forms of bad pride: arrogance, conceitedness and chauvinism. But also try to do away with false modesty. No more ‘little me’, thank you.

10. Encourage Others

Encouraging others is the opposite of criticising them. Whereas criticism comes from meanness of spirit encouragement comes from generosity of spirit. As such it reflects something of God’s love. Also, whereas criticism often comes from envy, encouragement comes from a desire to see others thrive and flourish. Criticism can come from a spirit of competition or fear, whereas to encourage people involves noticing what they are contributing. Tell people you havenoticed the difference that their effort has made or let them see that you acknowledge their difficulty or suffering. We are often a bit stingy with our encouragement, for fear of causing others to swell in pride. The truth is that when encouragement is sincere and appropriately expressed, it nurtures genuine humility. Allow people the joy of feeling truly humbled and really encouraged by what you say.

( Editor’s note – I can thoroughly recommend both this blog and the book Barefoot Disciple The Way of Passionate Humility. Links to both in blue above) 

Treading into the unknown


I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year
‘Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.’

And he replied,
‘Go into the darkness and put your hand into the hand of God
That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way.”

These opening lines of a poem by Minnie Louise Haskings, were used in King George VI’s Christmas Radio broadcast at the start of World War II, in 1939 . He used them to speak to a nation and Commonwealth that was facing very uncertain times, in the upheaval of war. His life has been immortalised this year in the very moving film  ‘The King’s Speech’, showing how he faced down his own inner demons and difficulties.

We are again in uncertain times, but the message of this poem seems relevant to me for any year. None of us know what it may contain, nationally, internationally or personally.    I am looking ahead into a year of big changes. A house move, ordination and a new job to adjust to. Somewhere before all that lot, there is a degree to finish.  Fortunately I am one of those oddities who enjoys change and challenge, and am looking forwards to these new directions, but even so, the scale and pace of all this change feels quite daunting at times. What has been on the horizon for a long time, is almost here.

I know that I am not up to what God is asking of me, and never have been, but fortunately He knows that too. I am in good company. Almost everyone God asked to do something for Him in the Bible felt the same way. Moses certainly did.  On one occasion he said to God,  ” You have been telling me  “Lead these people” but you have not let me know whom you will send with me”  and God replies:

“My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest”   Exodus 33:14 

That is all I ask, and all I need as I set out on this newest adventure with God. I don’t know what else the year may contain, or what may be demanded of me, but I do know that He has promised to be with me every step of it. My prayer like Moses, is for a continual awareness of His Presence, and to be able to rest in His enabling.                       My prayer for me, and my prayer for you.

Taizé

High on the ‘Bucket List’, Taizé is a place that has called me most of my adult life. I haven’t been able, for a variety of reasons, to answer that call. Until now. God’s timing, however is always best, and this has been a timely visit. At the end of a long, busy summer that has been high on the ‘demand’ factor. Placements, essays, exams and overseas trips calling much from me and stretching me in many dimensions. Growing stuff, I wouldn’t be without, ( except the exam bit, perhaps) but God’s rhythms require balance. Retreat and rest, as well as service and growth.

Taizé is like a long hot soak in a scented bath. A gentle place. Gentle in pace and approach.  Room to unwind and relax in a restful, spiritual environment. A truly ecumenical centre, where the sharp boundaries and denominational divisions are deliberately blurred. A confluence of nations, people come week after week, from all over the world, predominately large numbers of young people. Language barriers are overcome with careful listening, love and laughter as lives are shared within the context of small groups.

The accent is on simplicity. In everything. Worship is both simple and profound. The pattern follows the rhythm of the Community, with morning, noon and evening prayer. Firmly God focused, the liturgy and music flows naturally and easily. Led by various of the monks, who occupy the central aisle of the church, disembodied voices, in a variety of languages, guide the prayer and song. There is little to get in the way, in this very ‘thin’ place. It is a very moving experience to worship with thousands of others from all over the globe- all sitting or kneeling together on the gently sloping floor. All pretensions, roles and higherarchies are left at the door. Child or bishop, are as one before God. When you are already on your knees, the only step to bow the spirit, is on your face.  Lighting is soft, with the dancing flames of a hundred or so candles gracing the chancel. You are bathed in God, in a wash of Love.

We were told the story of a young German atheist who came to Taizé out of curiosity. She could give you a thousand reasons why God simply could not exist. At the end of the week, however, she confessed to one of the brothers, ” I am beginning to have my doubts about that.”

Presence. Gentle and unassuming, and yet inescapable.  Brother Roger started the Community in the tiny village of Taizé, in France, during the Second World War, as a ‘mustard seed’ of Peace. An alternative to the craziness of war. Bringing people and nationalities together in reconciliation and understanding. His faithfully planted seed has become a spreading tree under whose branches the nations have gathered to find rest and discover God.

Spoons. All you need to eat with, at Taizé. Food is simple too, but wholesome and nourishing and a miracle of provision. Feeding thousands a day, in a well practised organisation of willing volunteers that has to be seen to be believed. Within minutes all are eating, from trays on their laps, spread out across the site. More than once I had a picture of a hillside in Galilee, and a carpenter from Nazareth, a couple of thousand years ago.  Shortly after, it is all cleared away and washed up, by yet more volunteers,  often singing, with their arms in buckets of suds.

Taizé is somewhere to bring others to. Young people in particular. Those of faith and none. It is a place you can take at many levels. Forget any ‘Taizé’ services you may have attended. Good or bad, they are very different from the real thing. One of the brothers described Taizé as ” a place to re-discover the joy of living, the joy and the love of God” .  I couldn’t agree more.

To find out more go to: http://www.taize.fr/en

Cathedrals

Early morning in Peterborough Cathedral

The early morning sun streaming through the East windows; bells tolling for worship, that fall quiet to the deep hush of this vast house of prayer. Its soaring dimensions and simple beauty simultaneously uplift and enfold the soul. These ancient stones are steeped in centuries of faithful orisons offered God-ward day and night, in word and song. We gather for prayer, humbly aware of our place in a long line of worshippers that stretches far back into the distant past.

I mused a couple of months back whilst on holiday in Chamonoix ( see Looking Up) about my response to mountains, and how they make my spirit soar. Working in the Cathedral, and being surrounded by such beauty everyday, is not unlike living with mountains, in an otherwise very flat landscape. There are many parallels. The constant changing light, that gives it so many moods and faces. The outsize dimensions and immense scale, to name just a few. This cathedral, like most, may have been built with very mixed motives, including those of power and authority, but it was primarily built to sing God’s glory.  It lifts my heart to God, and His presence is very tangible here.  Its effect on all who enter its ancient wooden doors is visible. Most simply stop and look, taking in the enormity of space. It catches me every time I walk through the building, or from one part to another- thrilling to a shaft of sunlight lighting a particular space, or the blaze of candles on the priket stand. It manages to combine both the majesty and intimacy of God in a way that is hard to explain. How such a voluminous building is able to convey intimacy, has to be experienced to be fully understood. A bit like God, I guess.


“How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord of hosts!
Even the sparrow finds a home,and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young, at your altars, O Lord of hosts, my King and my God.

Happy are those who live in your house, ever singing your praise. ”  Psalm 122

“Lift up your heads, O gates! and be lifted up, O ancient doors!
That the the King of glory may come in.
Who is the King of glory?
The Lord, strong and mighty,
The Lord of hosts,
He is the King of glory.” Psalm 24

Come to the Quiet

An invitation to the Quiet. At the end of a busy weekend,  and at the start to the season of Lent, it is an invitation that draws me.  The need to quieten our souls  in God’s gentle Presence is an ever present one.

I have had this in the ‘drafts’ category all weekend,  looking for a link to the music that inspired the following poem.  The poem was written half a life time ago, but is one that seems to re- surface from time to time.

Come to the Quiet

A proffered hand

outstretched in plea of love

a silent empathy of prayer.

I can see

the child inside

that hides behind the man.

Fear stalks behind a laugh

and pain beyond a smile,

for in some deeper place

the child cries

and cries alone.

The bright facade

shown to the world

boasts confidence and strength-

but where I stand, beside your heart,

I cannot see your mask

I only feel your pain.

Speaking at length, in cheerful note

I could not hear your words,

your spirit’s orison of tears

touched a silent place within

and brought my own soul to my knees.

Hush then, and let the silence speak

His balm of Peace awaits us here.

If you will – then take my hand

and let us come

come to the Quiet.

The song ‘Come to the Quiet‘ is by John Michael Talbot, a Franciscan monk, and is based on Psalm 131.  I will add or make a link in the next day or two.

Psalm 131

A Song of Ascents. Of David.

1 LORD, my heart is not haughty,
Nor my eyes lofty.
Neither do I concern myself with great matters,
Nor with things too profound for me.

2 Surely I have calmed and quieted my soul,
Like a weaned child with his mother;
Like a weaned child is my soul within me.

3 O Israel, hope in the LORD
From this time forth and forever.

Taking God in

Theosis and Theotokos

Theosis – Participation in the nature of God .. ( 2 Peter 1:4)  In Eastern Orthodoxy, this is considered the supreme goal of the spiritual life.  I heard it described this morning as

being drawn into God’s being, and having His Being drawn into us

The speaker  Bishop Simon Barrington Ward, was talking to us about the use of that most simple, profound and ancient of prayers known as ‘The Jesus Prayer’

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, be merciful to me ( us), a sinner

He spoke of praying it until the prayer “prayed itself within you”  and almost became part of your subconscious- finding it on your lips at moments when you respond to situations, and as you wake.

I mused further on being drawn into God’s being, and having His Being drawn into us – through presence, our presence in His Presence.

Blurring the lines between God and us, so that we no longer know                                   where One begins and one ends.

If it were simply up to us, this could never happen, but fortunately it is up to Him.               It is His gift of grace to us, His desire to make us one with Him, as He is one with the Father. The simplest of gifts can sometimes be the hardest to receive. We can hardly believe that He means it. That He means it for us.

I linked it in my head with Theotokos – God Bearer.

The name for Mary, Jesus’ mother.

It seemed to me that as we are drawn into God’s being,                                                     so we are also made to be ‘God bearers’ .                                                                           We are given His life growing within us to take to the waiting world.                                   Like Mary, this is not without cost. It demands our ‘Yes’ and that yes is our all.

Aftermath of Angels

Who are you and who am I

that you should choose me?

Who am I now

that I have chosen

to say yes?

How can I bear the weight

of this light,

carry the child of your heart;

hold He who is Love

within the limits of my own?

Face down, I lay my head

upon the earth

hide me under the shadow

of your wing.

As you form Him in me,

shape me within your hands.

Knit my soul

to the fabric of your being,

Cradle us both

In your enfolding

and bring us to birth

encircled by grace