Quiet Day – Cornwall

We continue to live in times of unprecedented and unsettling change and uncertainty. At a time when change is often feared, stability can be elusive, and busyness interferes with listening to God, this quiet day offers an opportunity for space and reflection.

There will be three short talks, times of silence and prayer. The event takes place at Treargel Retreats in Cornwall and is led by Revd Jane & Richard Frost.

All are welcome and please contact Treargel to book a place.

Advent Quiet Morning

As the period of Advent begins, time to take some time out in the busyness of the Christmas season. A special quiet morning led by Revd Jane & Richard Frost. More details to come but please contact Richard if you would like to attend.

Quiet Morning: Finding Stability in Times of Change

We continue to live in times of unprecedented and unsettling change and uncertainty. At a time when change is often feared, stability can be elusive, and busyness interferes with listening to God, this quiet morning offers an opportunity for space and reflection.

There will be two short talks, times of silence and prayer. The event takes place at St James’ Church, Exeter and is led by Richard Frost. There is no charge but donations will be requested to help cover costs.

All are welcome and please contact Richard to book a place.

A Good Innings

The first hour lasted for ages. It was cold. The seating was not exactly comfortable. The people around me talked while those taking part enacted their ritual and well-practiced actions. There were things going on which would seem strange to uninitiated.

No, not church… it was good to be at county cricket again after so many years.

And that first hour… That stage in a new experience when the unfamiliar lingers long, before the later moments rush by too fast… That first hour provided an unexpected presence of peace. I wanted it to last forever.

Depending on whether you are Indian or English it may or may not seem appropriate, but I am of course by far the first person to draw parallels between life and a game of cricket.

During our lives we can often be on the receiving end of the occasional googly, the random bouncer or find ourselves either stumped or caught out. We might even be like England (or indeed Somerset who I was watching last week) and suffer a complete collapse.*

But there are also those occasions when we strike a well-deserved boundary or even a six. All the same, in the traditional long game there are times when it’s all rather uneventful – although some may feel their life is more like the fast and furious T20 or The Hundred.

We talk of the long-lived as having had ‘a good innings’ and reflecting on my stay at the crease so far, moments of sheer happiness (hitting a six perhaps) are fairly few and far between and often short-lived. But I am content to play the game until the umpire calls stumps. There is peace in that contentment even when someone or something nearly runs me out.

Life is a long game. And so is prayer. If we approach prayer in the spirit of only having a set number of overs we find ourselves caught and bowled quite quickly. Prayer is not a test match.

Prayer is a long game and, in the same way the fielding side stays on the pitch for the whole innings, is a case of enacting ritual and well-practiced actions.

Ready. Waiting. In position. Responding.

I was reminded recently that in his book, You are the Beloved, Henri Nouwen puts what I’m getting at much more eloquently by using a totally different metaphor:

Dear Lord, today I thought of the words of Vincent van Gogh: “It is true there is an ebb and flow, but the sea remains the sea.” You are the sea. Although I experience many ups and downs in my emotions and often feel great shifts and changes in my inner life, you remain the same. Your sameness is not the sameness of a rock, but the sameness of a faithful lover. Out of your love I came to life, by your love I am sustained, and to your love I am always called back. There are days of sadness and days of joy; there are feelings of guilt and feelings of gratitude; there are moments of failure and moments of success; but all of them are embraced by your unwavering love…

O Lord, sea of love and goodness, let me not fear too much the storms and winds of my daily life, and let me know there is ebb and flow but the sea remains the sea. Amen.

 

 

 

Thank you for reading this post – please do share it with others, subscribe and contribute your thoughts at the WorkRestPray Facebook Group

*This post was published on the day England lost the fourth test match against India – and coincidentally, Somerset fell to a second consecutive defeat by an innings… hey ho.

Exploring our Faith

Sometimes I wonder why I bother going to church.

Being a lay minister and married to the vicar has something to do with it, I guess…

‘It’s nothing more than a religious social club,’ as a normally mild-mannered, retired priest put it recently.

Like many organisations made up of fallible human beings the church is often a place of paradox.  A place of compassion and conflict. Of forgiveness and fault-finding. Of singing and squabbling. Of prayer and power-holding.

Many appear more comfortable dealing with the linen, arranging the flowers or following the correct way to process around the altar than about nurturing each other’s faith and enabling people to receive the love of God. It’s easier to ‘do church’ than ‘do God’.

If he visited today, I wonder if Jesus would turn over a few tables and ask ‘Where is your faith?’ because it appears so well hidden.

A tad unfair? Yes, of course. I know many churchgoers who have a strong faith and, after all, who am I to judge?

And it is wonderful when (often in smaller numbers, such as during a Lent course or in a house group) people do feel able to speak openly about their belief and their doubts. And yet, why is it that I always feel surprised when that happens…? (‘Oh, ye of little faith, Richard…’)

If talking about faith is not part of natural conversation then what does that say about the church? But is this reluctance to talk openly about the things of God not so much a matter of discomfort but a lack of confidence?

If there is no culture of learning or praying together (outside that provided within a service) or no active sharing of insights about God, it is any wonder that people struggle to feel confident and assured in their faith?

That age-old construct of being ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ also continues to undermine the ability of people to ask questions, to have doubts and to take the risk of saying what they believe.

It’s astonishing how many people have been going to church for years and yet lack knowledge about some basic tenets of our faith and why we do particular things in terms of our acts of worship, prayer and teaching.

The growth of online services has opened up new ways of being church yet doing something that ‘isn’t how we do it’ is still looked upon sceptically and even dismissively by some.

In our current team of six churches we are reprising a series of teaching sessions that were run in our previous parishes called ‘Exploring our Faith’. A way of revisiting some of the basics about prayer, the Bible, communion and other aspects of Christian belief. A way of equipping people to live out their faith more confidently. Quiet events can also be a less verbose way of building up our reliance on God (do contact me if you’d like one for your church).

We have so much to learn from each other about how God works in individual lives. Finding ways to explore our faith with others not only helps each other but also aids the work and ministry of the church. We can reset the balance: so that how we ‘do God’ becomes more important than how we ‘do church’.

So lest you think otherwise, this isn’t about ‘spreading the Gospel’ or being theologically eloquent. It’s about encouraging others in a very natural, normal way.

If you find it difficult to talk about God or your faith, you’re far from being alone. Why not try this:

  • Think about the people you pray for. Do they know? How about in the next week telling one of them that you are praying for them – and then someone else in the following week?
  • And how about telling one other person about something God has done or how God has blessed you in some way.

You never know just how much that might mean to them.

 

 

Thank you for reading this post – please do share it with others, subscribe and contribute your thoughts at the WorkRestPray Facebook Group

 

 

 

 

‘Don’t you know who I am?’

‘I thought you’d have opened up by now,’ the voice said as I unlocked the church door for a Quiet Morning. ‘I’m going to the office.’

‘The office isn’t open to the public at the moment,’ I explained.

‘Well, I’m not the public. Don’t you know who I am?’

To be frank, no I didn’t. But I left it at that. It was when I overheard them talking to the local vicar about their significant health issues that, as is so often the situation, I understood their words. Another case of someone losing sight of who they are perhaps.

The tragic events in Plymouth (a town which was home for me when I was a child and many happy times visiting my grandparents in Keyham thereafter) have shown once again what can happen behind locked doors. But more than that, they will have left many struggling to come to terms with what has taken place and who they are within it.

In stark contrast, the Olympics brought stories of those who have opened the door to tell others about what they endure. The lack of family being there to watch them. The need to focus on mental wellbeing. A coming to terms with who they are.

The Quiet Morning took them theme of ‘Holidays, Holy Days’. A time to reflect on the current season. A time to revisit who we are.

I thought it a good excuse to show my holiday snaps but alas that was not permitted… but I did sneak one in.

A few weeks ago, Jane and I spent time in North Yorkshire and during it we went not once but twice to Ripon, one of the smaller cathedral cities in the UK. We joined a handful of people in the Cathedral’s midday communion service and sat there I became transfixed on this painting which hung on the wall across from where I was.

It’s a painting by Robert Thorburn of Mary Magdalene stood at the foot of the Cross.

Much has been done in recent years to restore the image of Mary and recognise just what an important figure she was in the life of Christ (you can read more about her here and in these other posts). Along with other women, she accompanied Jesus and the central group of male disciples and is arguably one of the most important figures in Jesus’ time on earth.

And here Mary stands at the foot of the Cross. The painting asks us several questions. What is she thinking? What is she feeling?  In the background is the sun: is it the setting sun of Good Friday after the crucifixion or the sun rising on Easter morning before she makes her way to the tomb? Is she holding on to the cross out of insecurity in her grief or in the security of the knowledge that Christ is the son of God?

Mary Magdalene knew who she was. And in that famous encounter with the risen Jesus, she heard her name being called, confirming all that she was.

I’ve written elsewhere about using images for prayer and reflection. You may like to imagine yourself holding on to the cross – and perhaps being held by it.

.

.

Thank you for reading this post – please do share it with others, subscribe and contribute your thoughts at the WorkRestPray Facebook Group. And please take a look at other images on Instagram and Pinterest.

Windows for prayer

‘Sometimes I sit and think, sometimes I just sit.’

The last twenty years has seen an increase in awareness of mental health issues. The last twenty years has also seen a resurgence in the use of mindfulness. The two are not unrelated.

Adopting the philosophy of Winnie-the-Pooh (not forgetting his erstwhile companion, AA Milne), taking time to just sit is in many ways representative of the mindfulness approach. To be ‘in the moment’. We spend a lot of lives worrying or having anxious thoughts based on the past and on the future. The basic principle of mindfulness is to focus on the present.

Commonly acknowledged having its roots in Buddhism, mindfulness has been adopted and adapted by people of other faiths and those of none. It’s an approach which works for some and not for others.

The same is true of different approaches to prayer. Some thrive with the structured liturgy used for centuries by the church (itself adapted and adopted in different ways). Others find their approach to prayer is one that is free-flowing and extemporary. Some may use objects like a candle or an icon to aid their intercessions. The comedian Frank Skinner, in his excellent and somewhat quirky A Comedian’s Prayer Book reflected on his use of the Rosary alongside what he calls his ‘freeform chats’: ‘The Rosary is a tighter structure, so I guess that will operate like a supporting rhythm, while these prayers are like the improvised solo: some bum notes but some exhilarating discoveries.’

In the approach taken by Benedictines and one I explore a little in my own book, Life with St Benedict, the method of lectio divina can be very helpful. Lectio divina (sacred reading) is not Bible study but is about pondering on the word to enable prayer. Stages comprise reading just a verse or a short passage two or three times (lectio); then meditation, taking a particular word or phrase that ‘spoke to you’ and ruminating upon it (meditatio); leading into prayer, open, honest conversation with God (oratio); and then resting in God, the silent prayer of contemplation (contemplatio).

This same four stage approach can also be used in the slightly less well-known visio divina (sacred seeing)  using an image instead of words. Like with lectio, visio divina is not about studying the image as if it was a piece of art. But about using the image to encounter God more deeply: a window for prayer perhaps.

I’ve written about Rublev’s Trinity elsewhere. In using that particular image, an icon in this case, one can enter in to the scene before us: perhaps sitting at the space at the table. Encountering Father, Son and Holy Spirit and letting that encounter take us in to deeper prayer.

In recent days I have put some images on to Instagram and Pinterest for using with visio divina. Let me share a couple of them now with some thoughts on how they might be used.

windows for prayerThese seats are just up the road from where I live. I find they say ‘Come, sit with me.’ As if Jesus was making the invitation. We might be reminded of how Mary of Bethany sat with Jesus (albeit while her sister Martha was getting hot in the kitchen).

So just sit. Dwell upon the image. How might your prayer develop?

windows for prayerThis more abstract photo may make us reflect on the cracks and the weeds in our own life. Maybe we can bring those in prayer to God too. A verse from Psalm 25 comes to mind: ‘To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul. O my God, in you I trust’. A reminder of God’s faithfulness and healing. Just sit.

We can come to God in many different ways. We can see God in many different ways also.

 

 

Thank you for reading this post – please do share it with others, subscribe and contribute your thoughts at the WorkRestPray Facebook Group. And please take a look at the images on Instagram and Pinterest.

Do you remember…

… when the FA Cup Final started at 3 o’clock? When there was a piece of card in a Bounty bar? When the BBC used to play a hymn on Ascension Day?

Life is always changing, isn’t it? And in this coming week we see more changes as lockdown restrictions are eased further. Alongside the possibility of going to the theatre and concerts again, we can enter restaurants and pubs. And not least, have the joy of being hugged (cautiously, of course). Indeed, cautious remains a watchword and many will remain anxious too – not least those whose businesses reopen after so many months without the closeness of customers.

These continue to be unsettling and uncertain times.

The one thing that’s certain about change is that change is certain – and over the years I’ve written a number of posts which look at this unsettling companion.

You’ll have your own stories of change and how you managed or have not managed to find stability within them, I’m sure. (I’d love to hear those stories and include them in a new book I’m working on – do please click here to contribute).

On this Ascension Day we remember how the disciples watched as Jesus ascended in to heaven. The Bible tells us about many unusual, perhaps unbelievable events which took place and the Ascension is one of them. To our 21st century rational minds, to speak of someone going up in a cloud is beyond our comprehension. It simply couldn’t happen. It’s impossible.

In essence, the ascension of Jesus represents a significant truth… the physical presence of Christ departs from earth to be replaced by the spiritual presence in the form of the Holy Spirit whose coming we will celebrate in a few days’ time at Pentecost.

So on that day, the disciples, and probably others including many of the faithful women, stand gazing upwards. Perhaps talking about what had happened in those three years that Jesus was with them. ‘Do you remember when he did that…?’ ‘Yeah, that was wicked, man.’

They looked back because the weren’t certain what the future held. They would have found some stability in their memories of Jesus yet the challenge was for their faith to see them in to the future.

The fact is that they, like us, can’t just stand there looking up or looking back.

Some words from Helen Mallicoat…

‘I was regretting the past and fearing the future. Suddenly my Lord was speaking:

“My name is I AM.” He paused. I waited.

He continued.

“When you live in the past with its mistakes and regrets, it is hard. I am not there. My name is not I Was.

“When you live in the future with its problems and fears, it is hard. I am not there. My name is not I Will Be.

“When you live in this moment it is not hard. I am here. My name is I AM.”’

 

 

 

Thank you for reading this post – please do share it with others, subscribe and contribute your thoughts at the WorkRestPray Facebook Group. There are also short films about Ascension and Pentecost for you to watch.

The Grace of Renewal

‘Hello. We are expecting you.’

The words on arriving for a long overdue retreat were both welcome and unexpected. For me, retreats are often for taking a break. To get away from it all – whatever ‘it all’ means. The pandemic had already put paid to three and the last one was way back in August. Much too long a gap. Vicarage life is one that can’t be escaped from, of course. Over 50 online services edited. Other events led and preached at. Let alone family demands – and that’s without mentioning the dog.

‘Hello. We are expecting you.’

I’d gone expecting to be renewed and refreshed. Expecting to meet God in a deeper way. Alongside a book by Simon Ponsonby and a PD James murder mystery, I’d brought the icon that was especially written (painted) by a Benedictine monk when I moved on from paid employment. The Icon of the Holy Trinity. Father, Son and Holy Spirit sat at table – a space left for a guest. But these words of welcome changed things. Surely not God expecting me? ‘I the unkind, ungrateful?’ as George Herbert put it.

‘Hello. We are expecting you.’

And it didn’t end there… funny how God always knows just what we need and how that fact often surprises us, isn’t it? Evening Prayer with the Sheldon Community recites Malcolm Guite’s poem reflecting on Psalm 18:

My strength my rock my buckler and my shield!
You came to rescue me, I saw you ride
The wind’s swift wings, I saw the waters yield
To you, as you reached down to lift me out

‘Hello. We are expecting you.’

And later that evening, another Psalm, 4 verse 3: ‘But know that the Lord has shown me his marvellous kindness; when I call upon the Lord, he will hear me.’… The next day, Psalm 66:4 ‘How wonderful he is in his dealings with humankind.’

‘Hello. We are expecting you.’

It all made sense of something that former Abbot Erik Varden said in a recent TV programme: ‘Every day is an opportunity to begin again. There are times of growth. Times of fatigue. There may even be a time of dying. But we must always aspire to be at least receptive to the grace of renewal.’

‘You must sit down, says Love…
So I did sit and eat.’

 

 

 

Thank you for reading this post – please do share it with others or subscribe to receive new ones.

Communication & Gentleness

The bride gave a speech. The two best men sang. The groom ate a marmalade sandwich during the signing of the registers and the 300-strong congregation ate cake and drank wine in church.

It was the wedding of the year. At least it was from our perspective. Thirty years ago, Jane and I were married on a cold winter’s day, the previous week’s heavy snow (a rarity in Devon) having only just moved on in time. It was the first wedding in a newly refurbished church after a devastating fire a few months previously. It was a different sort of wedding day – partly because I was and had been quite unwell for the previous 18 months but mainly because we wanted it that way. We’ve often done things a bit differently from what other people expect…

In the years since then, we have had two wonderful children and many happy times. Jane has moved on from teacher and pastor of school children to teacher and pastor within a Church of England Team Ministry. I from a fulfilling career to a rewarding next stage of life (via Buckingham Palace). There have also been many difficult times. The loss of three of our parents in the space of 12 months and a misjudged house move to the other side of the country, to name just two. Many other events have enabled us to love and to cherish, and taken us through sickness and health, for better and for worse, for richer and for poorer.

Throughout all the years, our constant by-words have been communication and gentleness.

We have ‘failed’ in both on many occasions but they remain firm handles to hold on to when the storm is strong.

Back on Saturday 16 February 1991, we were two ordinary people (in, yes, a perhaps slightly extraordinary setting) making a lifetime commitment in the same way many millions of others had done so before and since.

We, like you reading this, like many others, are all ordinary people who encounter an extraordinary God. When Jane was ordained in 2015, she told the somewhat smaller gathering who met afterwards: ‘There are three people in our marriage: and the third person is God.’ Words that echoed those of St Augustine perhaps: ‘love means someone loving and something loved with love. There you are with three, the lover, what is being loved, and love.’

A God who is faithful and strong. A God who steadies the boat when the storm is strong. A God of the ordinary and a God of the extraordinary. A God of love – a love which is at times is very different from what other people expect or experience. The love that the disciple John knew all to well.

Recently, we have both been struck by some words of another great Saint, Teresa of Avila which provide another set of handles to hold to:

Think little, love much, do whatever awakens love.

 

 

Thank you for reading this post. Due to the amount of spam being received the comment facility on this site has been removed. If you would like to comment or offer your thoughts or experiences then please go to the new Work Rest Pray Facebook group.

Click here if you would like to have some material to reflect on during Lent &/or do join Jane and I for a Lent Course based on A Story to Tell.