h1

Come, Holy Spirit

September 9, 2010

An Invocation to the Holy Spirit

Come, true light.

Come, life eternal.

Come, hidden mystery.

Come, treasure without name.

Come, reality beyond all words.

Come, person beyond all understanding.

Come, rejoicing without end.

Come, light that knows no evening.

Come, unfailing expectation of the saved.

Come, raising of the fallen.

Come, resurrection of the dead.

Come, all-powerful, for unceasingly you create, refashion and change all things by your will alone.

Come, invisible whom none may touch and handle.

Come, for you continue always unmoved, yet at every instant you are wholly in movement; you draw near to us who lie in hell, yet you remain higher than the heavens.

Come, for your name fills our hearts with longing and is ever on our lips; yet who you are and what your nature is, we cannot say or know.

Come, Alone to the alone.

Come, for you are yourself the desire that is within me.

Come, my breath and my life.

Come, the consolation of my humble soul.

Come, my joy, my glory, my endless delight.

St Symeon the New Theologian

(Quoted in The Orthodox Way, by Bishop Kallistos Ware, Pg.136-7)

h1

Greenbelt Festival – August Bank Holiday Weekend, 2010

August 31, 2010
Welcome to Greenbelt 2010

  

I have just returned from an inspiring and really encouraging weekend at this year’s Greenbelt festival at Cheltenham racecourse. It’s been for me a truly wonderful time, for a number of reasons. Firstly, I love Greenbelt because there’s the chance for just a few days of the year to be able to soak up the eclectic carnival atmosphere of thousands and thousands of people from  many different traditions and viewpoints gathering together for a celebration of art, music, poetry, politics and God in one large event. The shere variety of people from dribbling and chortling babies to children, to adolescents and young adults, to the worldly worn middle-aged and the open-minded mature and elderly – the sections of society represented at Greenbelt don’t fit the picture of normal church congregations – here is a much more varied and encouragingly multicoloured spectrum of people.   

Beauty in arts, craft and good conversation

Secondly, there’s the great opportunity to meet new people and make new friends or to catch up with family, old friends and colleagues in a uniquely open-minded, open-hearted, open spirited and celebratory environment. I have met numerous people this year – particular leaders who made a lastingly good impression on you at a time of growth and exploration in your life and faith; good friends you once worked closely  with on experimental projects who you have since lost contact with after you and they have moved to different parts of the country. There have also been those serendipitous meetings with people who were complete strangers, but over the course of the weekend and several coffees, wine and beer in disposable paper cups and some great conversations have become like soul friends and kindred spirits. As a Christian, an event like Greenbelt is so stimulating because there are so many possibilities – opportunities for gift, grace, humour, heart-felt emotion, tears and laughter. 

Colourful flags decorate the Cheltenham race course grandstand

A rainbow coloured celebration - people from all walks of life participate in Greenbelt

Perhaps, equally important to all the opportunities to catch up with old friends and meet new ones, and if not more significant than seeing the wide variety of people who find help, grace and a sense of deep belonging through relationship with God and Jesus, are the occasions of divine ‘eruption’ that break into our ordinary lives through great speakers and artistic, musical events centred on giving worth and valuing God. For me personally, there were a number of occasions where I felt I met not just with a well crafted and intelligent, thoughtful talk, but experienced an encounter with  the Living God – the Divine power, presence and personalities that created the whole of our awe-inspiring and breathtaking universe.   

At 9am on saturday morning, bleary eyed and un-caffienated I managed to drag myself from my tent to find an unoccupied space of green grass in the  Big Top to listen to the harmonious vocals and melodic acoustic guitars of Andy Flanagan and friends leading singing and worship of God.   

I wonder if someone who isn’t a Christian, or a believer in some kind of God, can understand the special moments that take place when beautiful, aesthetically pleasing music combines with an internal knowledge and realisation that you are singing not just into the air and expressing the deep-seated feelings and aspirations of one’s soul, but also communicating – intimately, gently, in a kind of perfect child-like innocence with a Divine Presence that is Love. I know from before I was a Christian that good music and art can bring people to such emotional heights as an artist expresses great truth or beauty in an aesthetic medium that does not bypass reason, but transcends it a brings a person into the realm of the sublime. But somehow…true worship…good worship is MORE than this. It is all of the above, yet it is also unadulterated, raw communication with the Holy teased out and enwrapped in the tenderest perfect love. One experiences not just the deep-seated longing and desires for a true and just and forgiving life and universe. One experiences, a simple, quiet, gentle voice whispering love songs back to you. Affirming in the deepest most emotionally tangible way and yet physically and visibly illusive a voice saying, “Yes, you are loved. All of you. Even with those parts of you that you feel you cannot show the rest of the world – you are loved…and yes, those hopes you had as a child to be a princess in a happy ending fairy tale or those dreams you longed to fulfil to be a knight in shinning armour defeating the enemies of justice and oppressors of the poor, and rescuing the beautiful damsel in distress….They were NOT fantasy. They were REAL. They were You and they were Me trying to teach you…help you to understand your role in all of this in language and images you – a child – could understand. I AFFIRM your desires for love, for justice, for peace, for acceptance, for forgiveness. I AFFIRM YOU, whatever the world or church or christians or priests or ministers or congregations think of you. I…GOD…affirm YOU. YOU ARE LOVED.”   

It’s difficult to explain, but that’s how worship can feel – like a beautiful, intimate, tender dialogue – simplified perhaps as God saying: “You are loved.”   

I had that experience participating in the worship on saturday morning as Andy Flanagan, a small group of musicians and a talented young actress brought together a superb musical and dramatised journey through the story of Mary of Bethany’s love of Jesus, loss of her brother Lazarus and gratitude to Jesus for bringing him back to life. A very touching experience.   

Vibrant colours and flags flowing in the wind of the Spirit represent the variety of humanity and the movement of God's Spirit at Greenbelt

Mark Yaconelli – Our Desires, the Prodigal Son and a God of Compassion

Listening to mature and wise writers and speakers like Richard Rohr, Simon Parke and Lawrence Freeman speak on matters from the importance of holistic worldview to the tortured lives of mystical geniuses such as Van Gogh, Leo Tolstoy and Meister Eckart or on how to practise contemplative prayer were among the highlights of this year’s festival for me. However, the great spiritual breakthroughs for me this weekend came hearing North American author and youth specialist Mark Yaconelli speak on the true nature of our ‘desires’ and on the nature of God in Jesus of Nazareth as a God of weakness and vulnerability, rather than conceived of as an abstract all-powerful, all-controlling and dictatorial Deity ‘up’ in heaven.   

  

 I have never heard Mark speak before, yet listening to him this weekend communicate so passionately and inspirationally the Love of God for human beings – all people – represented for me, two of the highlights of my religious journey and human life. Some of the ideas I had encountered before, yet others were original and new to me. However, what struck me in particular was the bringing together of the ideas with moving real life, true stories. One idea that I had never met before was the notion that the Father in the Prodigal Son story approves generously of the prodigal son’s ‘desire’ to escape the Father’s House and find himself/express himself in the world. I had always thought that the Father (and therefore by implication God) only reluctantly and regretfully releases his younger child into the big, open world. Mark turned this action of releasing around, into a Father who longs to see his child venture out, experiment and express their desires for creativity and self-fulfilment in the wider world. For me this was a new and poignant revelation, made all the more moving by the personal testimonies Mark told which made us laugh out loud and quietly cry at the irony of the passions of adolescent and young people’s desires managing to find expression in spite of the stifling repression in traditional and conservative religion. Thanks Mark, for all your patient work with young people and for not losing hope in a God who is vulnerable and weak, a God who rejoices, not resents when people discover their true desires in their hearts and have the courage to live them out. Thanks also for believing in the God who can redeem and heal all of us. Both those people, like the Prodigal, who are themselves wounded and living in an injured world fall into the trap of abusing their desires and hurting others in the process AND those who out of a desire to do the right thing bury their feelings and passions and end up trapped in dutiful lives, feeling unappreciated and unloved by parental figures and God and feel resentful toward their wasteful and self-indulgent peers.   

Mark Yaconelli’s talks can be bought and downloaded from the Greenbelt website.  

  

More flags at Greenbelt, Bank Holiday Weekend August 2010

 

h1

A Night Sky Poem

August 23, 2010

There Will Be Stars

A poem by Paul Field

 

Watch the sky tonight

there will be stars

there are always stars

Sometimes hidden

by clouds

illusion

confusion

darkness

 

but there will always be stars

 

Sometimes one will fall

shoot across the timeless sky

and in an eternal split second burn brighter and shine

if we glimpse it we are blessed

 

It will scatter the diamonds of heaven around our feet and guide our

footsteps

for a few precious seconds of our journey

through clouds

illusion

confusion

darkness

 

The stars that remain can burn on brighter from it’s loss

become more radiant through having shared

it’s power

energy

joy

grace

it’s beautiful, priceless, irreplaceable verse in the eternal song

 

There will always be stars

when we glimpse one on its fragile, fleeting journey and touch its light

we have been truly blessed

Watch the sky tonight

there will be stars

 

 

Words copyright of Paul Field. Taken from the album Rites of Passage  by Paul Field and Dan Wheeler, available from www.elevationmusic.com

h1

Sunlight through a kitchen window…

August 23, 2010

The simple, yet exquisite beauty of natural light falling through a kitchen window at sunset

  

 Thoughts. Observations. Reflections on summer 2010. 

It’s been a lonely walk the last month or two. Feeling aware that something was missing I have turned again to my much neglected blog and decided that I needed to return my mind, hands and body to the tap-tap-tap of the laptop key-board. 

Life has been good, but hard in a subtly abrasive way, like the feeling of stumbling into a concrete wall, whatever our needs or feelings – the concrete does not shift. It stays resolutely hard and it is our bodies, feelings and souls that must compress and change shape to adjust to the solidity of the obstacle we encounter. A concrete wall – plain, grey, cold, hard or in this case the circumstances of life, even in a ‘promised’ land remain unforgiving and unmoved. 

As a man who sees himself as taking part in a spiritual journey, one might think that I have extra resources from which to find comfort in such hard and dull circumstances…and you’d be right. I do have access to spiritual traditions, disciplines and wonders that are usually able to shine light on life during a period of struggle or difficulty. Yet, once again this summer when religious resources have been widely available, I find myself saturated by their sweetness. Somehow they taste too sweet. They do not satisfy. Christian conferences, church attendance and activities, Christian books they seem to contribute to the sense of alienation, not alleviate it. 

So, what does one do in such circumstances? 

In my case I think I take care and time to appreciate the ‘details’ of life. The subtle, easily ignored, particles of beauty, splendour that permeate even the most ‘ordinary’ circumstances. There is beauty everywhere, if you have eyes to see. Just like the Kingdom the ancient Jewish man Jesus of Nazareth spoke about – it is within us or near us, if only we have eyes to see and ears to hear. 

I took the picture above because the  translucent and shadowy scene in my humble rented accommodation struck me as special in a unique way. I sensed that it may not last or that I may never see such a scene of earthly beauty quite like it gain. I chose to pay attention to the details of my physical life in those moments, and paradoxically what was revealed was a kind of  spiritual epiphany. 

In my experience it is rare to hear a Christian seminar on discovering the beauty of God through the precise falling of particles of light through a kitchen window, across a sink full of cups and plates and cutlery ready to be washed. Rather, we rush ahead see if we can harness the spiritual powers of the Bible or in the name of the God of the Bible to accelerate the growth of ‘our’ church. In the back of our minds are targets and financial goals and plans, we lose sight of the graces of each day – light, shadow, thin curtains flowing in the breezes. 

I wonder if true spirituality will take place on earth if we set down our plans and just praise the God of Creation for the wonder of the Universe and thank the God of History for the chance to be alive…and free…and fed…and watered…with clothes and shelter, that we might be still for a moment and notice, watch the changes in light across a first floor flats rooms. Maybe in these transient whispers of the material world are the trails of glory from the other heavenly world.

Summer breeze moves the voile curtains and evening sun lights up the kitchen window

h1

Tread Softly…

July 14, 2010
 

He Wishes For The Cloths Of Heaven

by William Butler Yeats

 
Had I the heavens’ embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half-light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.
 
………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..
 
Two weeks into a new leadership role in a new church, it feels like the circumstances of life are combining together to exorcise some of the poisonous spiritual ‘puss’ of my life…and it is quite a humbling, yet necessary process. A series of events, most of them minor, yet seemingly carrying significant spiritual freight have come to undermine my sense of ‘self’ assured-ness in my ‘own’ holiness. I now feel quite in need of spiritual favour from God.
  1. First of all, there has been the momentous transition to living in a totally new and different part of the country. It is a move that I am very happy with and generally have really enjoyed, yet it is also destabilising and disorienting as the conditions and people of a new environment swirl around you. Even positive and enjoyable experiences can become intoxicating if gulped down all at once.
  2. Secondly, there has been the breaking of my spectacles – an achiles heal like weakness that can bring down even the most sturdy of giants. I am reminded so powerfully as I try to live with slightly out of focus vision, how frail human life really is. Our health can be taken away from us in a moment – mind or body. Good health is certainly an unearned gift, rarely appreciated until it is taken away in some form, no matter how slight it might be, like a couple of days without glasses.
  3. Thirdly, the breaking of my glasses provided the ‘sharp shard of broken glass’ in my mind to awaken me to the danger of using people as instruments for one’s own pleasure or plans and how subtle, but powerful a temptation this can be when you are a single person living alone. Perhaps, to protect the soul from experiencing the full weight of existential angst the mind plays little tricks with us, small, seemingly innocuous self-agrandising delusions that cushion us from feeling our true isolated state. Yesterday, I became freshly aware of my need for companionship – a loving and faithful spouse with whom we might shelter each other from the full brunt of the cold bitter winds while sailing single-handed the turbulent ocean of existence on this planet. For a Christian, indeed many religious believers would say that God himself/herself is with the individual soul on their travels across the sea of life, and I would certainly agree. Yet, even God must allow us to brave the existential winds alone sometimes, lest we become convinced that the securities of civilisation, money, pleasure, food and drink are more solidly eternal than fleetingly ephemeral. I remembered yesterday of how blessed I am and how God’s good gifts are not to be taken for granted as part of a self-centred hedonism (even if it be a spiritual or religious hedonism), but rather are kind mercies to help us remember that life could be much harder and indeed for many on this planet it IS much harder. Therefore, we should live soberly, thankfully and reverently. Yes, each day, even each breath is a gift. Thank you God for your kindness to us. Help me to live kindly to others too.
 
And hence, ultimately, the quotation from Keats – “Tread softly…”
 
Oh yes.
Yes, Lord, may it be so in my life!
May I tread gently on the dreams of others.
 May these tender and sacred sentiments expressed in verse be my prayer too.
  
 
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.
 
 
h1

Being spiritual, yet remembering to be physical

July 13, 2010

It’s been weeks since I have posted on Dark Nights White Soul, mostly because I have had been given the great opportunity to start a new job  – namely, working as a leader in a small Fresh Expression of church in the East Midlands of England. I have suddenly – almost over night – been given the job of my hopes, prayers and dreams the chance to encourage others to grow in their spiritual journey with God (or without God some might argue). It’s an amazing privilege. One that has been hard-won over many years of frustration with institutional church; mostly in that I have felt institutional religion has often frustrated the Church’s mission to help ordinary people experience the love and forgiveness of God. All of a sudden, I have been given a formative role within a relatively young church, less than twenty years old. It feels like all my birthdays have come at once! It is a refreshing change to the bleakness of desert and night spirituality.

Ok, so understandably as a new church leader much of my role is to be a spiritual conduit to others, in this case, to be a channel of God’s love and wisdom to a vibrant, yet in some ways tender young Christian community. So why the need to ‘remember to be physical’? Aren’t we always physical any way? Don’t we need to forget our physicality and become more spiritual? more prayerful?

It’s perhaps a contradiction, but in the Christian and Judaic tradition spirituality or prayer and engagement with Holiness is not so much an escape from physicality, but rather a heightening of one’s appreciation of the physical worth of creation. Unlike some Eastern traditions or the western mediterranean cult of gnosticism Judaism and Christianity were intended to be deeply rooted in the earth, the soil of matter, the materiality of nature. For Judaism in particular, but also reflected in Orthodox Christianity, men and women were kings and queens of the created order – importantly there were also priests, priestesses in a sacramental tradition that described God as entrusting to humanity – men and women – the role of representing God to nature and nature to God. According to Judaism and Christianity humanity was therefore an intermediary (for Jews, the people of Israel were exquisitely so) between the material world of planet Earth and the esoteric spiritual God of the Heavens.

In spite of a rich religio-cultural tradition in Judaism especially, but also in the Gospels of people being encouraged by the writers of Scripture to deeply value Creation, there has always been a tendency at least in Western Christendom to drift away from sanctifying nature and the material world through prayer and Godly intention to trying to escape the limits and confines of the physical world to enter into some premature experience of spiritual bliss. Church history is certainly repleet with examples of where this has happened overtly or subtly and detrimentally to personal, societal and environmental health.

I think in recent days I have found myself slipping into this inconspicuous trap. I think the real danger is that religion, in my case the Christian faith, becomes a shortcut and highway to personal or corporate success (even if this success is defined in  spiritual terms). Perniciously religion then becomes a container of programmes or principles for new churches and for conventional religious establishments, rules and regulations, classes and classifications. In short, religion loses sight of the people and the planet it is meant to represent one moment at a time, one person at a time, one face at a time. That  is to say, it loses that engaged relationship with the material other, who happens to be our sister or brother – animal or human, plant or flesh and blood. With the intention of rapidly reaching spiritual highs of personal feelings or popular acclaim, we loosen the tie to humanity, to nature, to the elements – water, fire, wind, earth.

I caught myself doing that today. Forgetting that the people I meet are human – physical and yes, spiritual, but part of a physical history of place, persons and stories. Each prone to feelings of hurt, vulnerability, pain. Everyone needing regular food and drink, fresh air and clothes, physical touch and affection, gentle encouragement and kind humour. I forgot that each person I encounter every day of my life is a masterpiece, perhaps a flawed work of art, yes, but nevertheless a mystery of eternal as well as earthly proportions. I’m sorry people that I didn’t treat you right. I should have shown you more care, a little more awareness to your story and background, as well as your physical needs. I’ll try to be better next time, so help me God, I pray.

Don’t forget we are physical too. We’re only human even if we can sometimes appear to be almost angelic, we are a mixture of earth and breath. It’s unwise to separate the two.

h1

Falling into the everlasting arms of God …

June 10, 2010

I have been pretty quiet for the last couple of weeks due to some personal news that has kind of ‘rocked my world’, but thankfully, actually in a good way! About a month ago I made an application to a church in the East Midlands to work as a member of the community’s leadership team. Although the whole application and interview  process couldn’t have been done in a more friendly and civilised manner, I have to admit it was a bit of a nerve-wracking experience. Perhaps, you can imagine my surprise, elation and disbelief when after a second interview I was offered the job two weeks ago today! I was certainly pretty stunned…and honestly, overjoyed!

Since then I have been making plans to move out of Sheffield area to near Leicester and have been involved in all the throes of decisions and preparations such a life change entails. I have hopefully found accommodation for which I am making a formal written application. It’s really all good – a new start, a new church community, new friends and a new job. I’m really thrilled about it, although I still catch myself thinking is this for real and then saying, “Yes, this the real thing. It’s actually happening!”

Regarding Dark Nights White Soul, I have had to pause to think about what happens next. Dark Nights White Soul was conceived, carried and born during a period of feeling an intense sense of God’s absence in my life and enduring a real period of alienation from established Christian religion. Now suddenly I have reached the end of the proverbial black tunnel to walk out into the light of day. It is a welcome release. The warmth of God’s light and life is penetrating me deeply through the loving welcome and embrace of this new Christian church and community. It’s a wonderful sensation and touching experience.

So, is this the end of Dark Nights White Soul?

I think not. Dark Nights White Soul is my personal blog and my hope is to reach out to those in whatever circumstances of life that find themselves relating to or fully submerged in the experience of a Dark Night of the Soul. My experience has taught me, that however you feel  – God is actually still with you, in the darkness and in the pain, even if practically speaking it seems that you are completely alone…you are not. It is when you feel absolutely abandoned and isolated from all comfort and consolation that you are actually closest to the love of God, although paradoxically it seems that you are experiencing the opposite. Hold on tight, don’t let go of your hope. Even if you do let go of some of the circumstances around you. I know when my ex-wife left me, I literally felt like the ground beneath me might give way and I would fall through the core of the earth out into space and into a bottomless abyss. I felt like I was falling…and I guess in a way I was falling…falling out of and through the shattered fragments of my previous life, with no firm place or solid fixtures of a new life to hold onto. A wise and godly friend told me at the time that although I felt like I was falling, actually beneath me were the ever lasting arms of God. At the time I listened and somewhat cynically dismissed such sweetly,sentimental and contrived pseudo-spiritual teaching. I was so overwhelmed by the circumstances and how I experienced them as effecting me. Yet, looking back, my kind and gentle friend was right…the everlasting arms were beneath me…and eventually when I hit bottom they caught me.

Two and a half years later through a long journey of meeting new people and trying different ways to forge my own new success programme… and repeatedly failing…the Grace of God has put me back on solid ground with a new life, a new horizon, a new task and a new hope. I am so excited…and thankyou God and to everyone one who has helped me in both small and big ways over recent years, I am so grateful. Am I allowed the chance to express myself a little in the colloquial language of Christian sub-culture? I think I am. I’m going to give myself chance to celebrate too. Hallelujah! Amen! Thank you God, thank you family, friends and acquaintances I have met and passed like ‘ships in the night’…Halelujah! Amen! God is Good…even when it hurts and the world seems covered in the blackness of night. Even especially during those times. Thank you so much for the lesson, I hope and pray I might be able to help and comfort others going through their own desert and dark.

David