Imagine you could be at an Abbey every day to pray …

More people than you might think still live in religious communities and share the life of prayer – even if their “abbey” is unlikely to look like Tintern (pictured) where I was yesterday. Even more are linked to them as companions/friends/tertiaries and share that prayer sometimes there but more often at home; while other communities have no physical meeting place other than perhaps a website.

I’ve often taught the importance of “praying as you can, not as you can’t” and urged people to try out new forms of prayer as their life situations change. Linking to a religious community in whichever of the ways I’ve just mentioned might be the next step for you.

I’m learning myself how to pray in my own new situation, in retirement without the whole structure of a Diocese to shape my spirituality.

It’s not so different in some ways – I’ve tended to say the office on my own anyway – but in others it is. Family and friends come to mind more as the call to picture and hold before God a very considerable number of people, for whom I have pastoral care, slips away.

So I’m trying out different “ways to pray” for myself. And since I enjoy visiting mediaeval abbeys (as well as modern ones) I’m imagining myself visiting somewhere like Tintern or Fountains when they were going concerns. There’s a clear moment of arrival at the site; a warm welcome; a checking-out of my own needs. Then an invitation into the abbey church to sit and gather myself for a while and sense the peace and presence of God.

Then perhaps I am invited, with some sense of privilege, to draw closer and join the community as mattins is sung.

I might stay with the brothers for the beginning of chapter, sharing greetings and news, and then perhaps walk over to the infirmary where older or ill friends are taking things more quietly. All can be triggers for my own intercession, before I take time again to enjoy the garden, or visit the library to ponder something over.

Early days, and probably too artificial to be permanent, but I wonder if others have tried it, or might like to?

Llanthony Priory

We edged our way up the narrow lanes of the beautiful Eywas valley outside Abergavenny to the Augustinian Priory of St John the Baptist, Llanthony – one of Wales’ great places, though remote enough that even Gerald of Wales didn’t quite make it there on his Itinerary, and sometimes post enough that its daughter-house Llanthony Secunda at Gloucester outshone it. The bulk of what we see now was built in a single campaign of renewal circa 1200, and this gives the ruins a coherent elegance and calm, that the overflowing glasses from the hotel formed from its west end don’t disturb. A striking mackerel sky enhanced the views as we ate our own picnic, before calling in at the parish church of St David next door and giving thanks for a glorious day.

Abergavenny Priory

“The Westminster Abbey of Wales.” Well, that’s what the sign outside the Tourist Information Office next door said. It’s certainly a fine, large building with a strong display of the dead (though not royalty), but I rather felt that it was both overblown and demeaning at the same time to compare it in that way with a church in London. Jesse lies majestically there, a shadow of his former colourful self, though a modern window above him goes some way to resurrecting the effect with an eclectic array of folk in his tree (I spotted Etheldreda). The church is obviously something of a hub, with a small New Monastic Community in residence, lots of artwork from local children and adults alike, and a general air of investment and care. Seeing it more or less empty of people was also therefore rather strange – and perhaps at odds with what I imagine is its vision. A place to go back to and wonder about and wonder in.

Evangelism for the faint-hearted: Luke 10:1-8

Notes from a sermon preached at Bromyard

The disciples were faint-hearted then 
And most of us are faint-hearted about it now (we voted!)
Luke tells the story of the first mission
And does it in a very simple way, like a journalist today
Uses Kipling’s six honest serving-men from the Elephant’s Child

I keep six honest serving-men
(They taught me all I knew);
Their names are What and Why and When
And How and Where and Who.


Let’s see if they can say something helpful to us

Who
After this the Lord appointed seventy others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go.  
“Seventy” must have been pretty well whole “regular congregation” at the time
All sorts; including women and children? And the faint-hearted.
NB Not sent out alone, and not sent where J himself won’t be going

Why
The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.

Why does it matter?
Because God so loves whole world
God’s desired harvest not a select crop but a bumper yield 
It’s Christ’s passion to see “Thy Kingdom Come”: the Lord’s Prayer coming true 

When
Go on your way.
For the same reason it is urgent
And the moment is (always) NOW
Same sort of big-picture challenge as climate change
Important to recognise that small local actions matter even if issue is global

How
See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves. Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road. 
Scary? Of course 
But Jesus’ implicit message is to trust him
In an innocent simplicity 
Perhaps the hardest part of all of the challenge
But at the heart of our faith and trust in God

Where
Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace to this house!’ And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you. Remain in the same house, eating and drinking whatever they provide, for the labourer deserves to be paid. Do not move about from house to house. 
Good news is that we are asked to do no more and no less than
Taking good news that a new sort of society is on the way
Like freeing occupied Europe
And in the ordinary places we go to anyway
As part of the ordinary things we do, by the sort of people we are
Very opposite of hit & run: peace & stay

What
Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, eat what is set before you; cure the sick who are there, and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’ 
Special mention given to meeting needs of sick & their families
As I hope would come naturally to us
We can generalise “cure”: all dis-ease of body, mind and spirit
And care as well as cure
Wonder what that might mean for you in a place like this?

To accept that all of us, many sorts in many ways,
Bring asked by God  to work together & with him
To bring love and care to people affected by sickness of all sorts
Right here and now 

Or was all that just for 2000 years ago?

Cuthbert the bishop: bringing out the composition

© British Library Board, Yates Thompson MS 26 fol. 253v. 
Used by permission.

This is the fourth of four talks I gave at the Seeing the Light retreat earlier this year at Shepherds Dene. Participants visited the Cuthbert sites and were encouraged to take photographs as a way of “seeing” and enabling reflection, with expert input from priest-photographer Steve Radley (https://www.radleyphotography.co.uk)/ He and I have set up a Facebook page Seeing the Light in Life where such meditative images can be shared, which you are welcome to ask to join (via the page).

Let’s start with a rather glum picture: it’s poor old Cuthbert who’s been summoned from his cell and is being enthusiastically chosen to be a bishop at the Synod of Twyford – Alnmouth as we call it – when he doesn’t feel enthusiastic about it all. The Catch-22 is that the greatest mark of a calling to the episcopate is to want to say no; so yes meant yes, and no meant yes as well, and he was Bishop of Lindisfarne very soon afterwards. The little island where the Synod was held is between two fords as the name Twyford implies and has a later cross on it now to mark the spot. It’s the sort of marginal place – only reachable at low tide like Lindisfarne – that the early Christians of the North so loved.

Continue reading

Cuthbert the prior: Lindisfarne and longing for a long exposure

© British Library Board, Yates Thompson MS 26 fol. 35v. 
Used by permission.

This is the third of four talks I gave at the Seeing the Light retreat earlier this year at Shepherds Dene. Participants visited the Cuthbert sites and were encouraged to take photographs as a way of “seeing” and enabling reflection, with expert input from priest-photographer Steve Radley (https://www.radleyphotography.co.uk)/ He and I have set up a Facebook page Seeing the Light in Life where such meditative images can be shared, which you are welcome to ask to join (via the page).

Bede tells us that after 

many years in the monastery at Melrose [where he] had distinguished himself by the many signs of his spiritual powers, Cuthbert’s most reverend abbot Eata transferred him to the monastery which is situated in the island of Lindisfarne, in order that there also he might both teach the rule of monastic perfection by his authority as prior and illustrate it by the example of his virtue; for the same most reverend father ruled this place also as abbot at that time. 

So there he is in the picture, teaching the monks in the Chapter House at Lindisfarne.

Continue reading

Cuthbert the monk – the Melrose years: miracles or tricks of the light?

© British Library Board, Yates Thompson MS 26 fols.10v-11r. 
Used by permission.

This is the second of four talks I gave at the Seeing the Light retreat earlier this year at Shepherds Dene. Participants visited the Cuthbert sites and were encouraged to take photographs as a way of “seeing” and enabling reflection, with expert input from priest-photographer Steve Radley (https://www.radleyphotography.co.uk)/ He and I have set up a Facebook page Seeing the Light in Life where such meditative images can be shared, which you are welcome to ask to join (via the page).

Don’t you think this is an amazing book-illustration, from that British Museum manuscript again only this time across two pages, showing Cuthbert as a boy praying that some monks caught in a storm out at sea would be saved, even though all the locals were jeering at them and complaining that they had changed all their old religious ways, and good riddance to bad rubbish. Well, I’ve heard a few complaints about change in the church in my time, but that was rather extreme, and of course God heard Cuthbert’s prayer, the storm subsided, and they were returned safely home.

Continue reading