Posts Tagged ‘Christianity’

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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)

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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

 

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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

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Atheism and religion – the church has nothing to say to the world until it throws better parties.

May 22, 2010

‘Ultimately our gift to the world around us is hope. Not blind hope that pretends everything is fine and refuses to acknowledge how things are. But the kind of hope that comes from staring pain and suffering right in the eyes and refusing to believe that this is all there is. It is what we all need – hope that comes not from going around suffering but from going through it. I am learning that the church has nothing to say to the world until it throws better parties. By this I don’t necessarily mean balloons and confetti and clowns who paint faces. I mean backyards and basements and porches. It is in the flow of real life, in the places we live and move with the people we’re on the journey with, that we are reminded it is God’s world and we’re going to be okay.’

Central to reclaiming creation and being a resurrection community is the affirmation that when God made the world, God said it was “good”. And it still is.

Food and music and art and friends and stories and rivers and lakes and oceans and laughter and…did I mention food? God has given us life, and God’s desire is that we live it.’

Velvet Elvis, Rob Bell, page 170, 171

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Friday night!

Actually, Saturday morning…

Nearly 1 am and I’m sat at my desk with my laptop and the diffuse light of my desk lamp creating a cosy corner in the dark, still room, contemplating the world and how it should be…at least how I believe it should be. I have an interview on Monday for an inspiring role at a church and I’m thinking about what to say. I have been asked to make a short presentation to the interview panel on how I would host a group of people who are unfamiliar with the church and possibly, somewhat skeptical of its value and  ‘good intentions’. It’s a good task to set candidates. I feel challenged and enthused, but I ask myself – Can I really answer that question faithfully?

Faithfully, in two ways. Two different motivations and yet not entirely unrelated.

One, first and foremost, being faithful to the good people I know and love who, in my eyes are quite entitled to doubt  the existence of God in the Universe. Moreover, who question the Church’s sometimes dubious achievements in representing God and/or Jesus to the world. Skeptical, even antagonistic atheists have in many ways made a powerful case for arguing that progress in human rights, freedom, civilisation and democracy have often come from sources outside the religious establishment. Even worse than this, such reforms have often been actively opposed by the Church. I struggle within the keenness of such arguments, but I recognise their basis in fact and history, and my need, I believe, to accept those criticisms face on as bitter, yet necessary medicine.

Two, I want to be faithful to my God, my saviour Jesus of Nazareth. According to the ancient documents we call the Gospels, Jesus was a historical figure of passionate, religious fervour. Few would doubt this. Yet, at the same time his zeal for high ethical and moral standards was balanced by a wide and embracing grace and forgiveness for those who aspire and try to live a moral life, but fail. Jesus cared for those who found themselves tripping and falling on the very, lofty steps they had set themselves to climb. When I use the word climb, I am not suggesting that Christians believe people have to somehow climb up to God, by their own efforts.  Rather, Christianity teaches that God in the man, Jesus, descended from heaven to us, to earth. Jesus lived our life and lived with us – Emmanuel –  which means – God with us. When I refer to climbing, I am imagining our human predicament. The personal daily, neverending, trial of endeavouring to climb our own standards. The challenge of living an ethical and good life, authentic to ourselves and caring for our fellow human beings and creatures, inhabitants of this world. Jesus somehow held this balance and paradoxical tension lightly. High moral ethical standards in our individual and common lives, but mercy and generosity, not judgement for those who failed to meet those standards. Probably this was because Jesus himself, as a young man had grown up in the brutish hardship of ancient Palestinian life, and was aware of how frail, as well as how galant, the human frame and soul could be. Mercy, not judgement, he lived and preached.

So how might one answer the interview question faithfully, both to skeptics outside or on the margins of the religious frame of reference and to the source of religion itself – God and his/her teachings.

Firstly, listen. Listen, to the antagonists and iconoclasts who decry the self-serving delusions of religion.

There are a number of good, thoughtful voices who express eloquently these viewpoints in popular literature and media. A.C. Grayling, love him or hate him, has put forward a strong case to argue that much of  the freedoms, rights and privileges, as well as modern, technological breakthrough we take for granted, both religious and atheists, have originated in developments from the atheistic philosophical and scientific revolution of the Enlightenment. He is an atheist and his arguments, are not always waterproof. Yet, in a real way, I believe, he is right. Much of the benefits of modern society have been hard-won for humanity by non-believing pioneers working in science, philosophy, politics and social welfare.

To argue this, as Grayling does ably and articulately, is not in itself proof against the existence of God. However, it does present a healthy and sober challenge to the claims of institutional religion and personal religious conviction to represent a benevolent deity that has humanity’s best interests at heart. It also pours cold water, on religious confidence – I am thinking of Christianity in particular – that faith in God represents purely a revolutionary force for social justice and human welfare. Grayling and popular authors, such as Philip Pullman (See his recently published – The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ), argue that in fact religion and Christianity, in particular, has often been an anti-progressive force in history.

Ok… point taken. A sharp incision is made in the bubble of  benevolent, religious self-illusion by these intelligent and thoughtful authors.

Secondly, embrace. Embrace the refreshing source of  original ethical behaviour in religious terms – God himself, the Ultimate, the Eternal Spirit. And do so by remembering your history. Return to the stories of old. Rediscover, the lives of the great figures of the past, who did act faithfully – true to the incandescent, dynamic divine message of love. Love one another, love your neighbour, care for the oppressed, even love your enemy.

 It is true that looking back in history there have been great social reformers, philanthropists, artists and benefactors who have been inspired and passionate Christians – William Wilberforce, Joseph Rowntree, John Cadbury, Sir Titus Salt, Thomas John Barnado, Florence Nightingale, Chad Varah, Martin Luther King Jr, Van Gogh, Rembrandt, Charles Dickens. These figures and many others have made seismic shifts in society by improving the quality of life for poor, disadvantaged and marginalised people. 

It can be a depressing place to be standing face to face with the critics of religion. It is, I believe, a healthy practice to remember the good which many religious followers have accomplished by practically serving others. A lifestyle many of them claimed to be at the call of God. Both believers and non-believers can find inspiration and encouragement at the selfless, kind and noble acts of others who took faith in God as a vocation to help others.

So, we do two things. We listen to our critics and we embrace the stories of heroines and heroes of the faith of old. We don’t deny the voices of either. But how can we reconcile these two opposing accounts of history and the nature of the world and universe? Well, here I return to the original quote by Rob Bell. Perhaps, at one level the purely rational there is no easy or even adequate answer to these contradictory histories, to affirm one is to suppress the other, to silence another’s view, is to diminish the strength and authenticity of one’s own assertion. Perhaps, rather than operating purely rationally, as if in battle at the debating hall, we might meet over the dinner table. Rather than fighting to assert one’s case and defeat our opponents we could raise our glasses to life in all it’s fullness and variety. We could toast and celebrate our company, as long-lost friends, fellow travellers on the journey of life, in the search for truth, wisdom, companionship, belonging and love.

There will still be ample time to discuss and listen to our differences, but at another level we might just find more in common with each other than we previously expected. We are all subject to the same plethora of difficulties and troubles. Most of us still delight in the same joys and hidden exultancies of life. Music, food, drink, dancing, crying and laughing…Maybe this way as Rob bell so eloquently puts it in his book Velvet Elvis:

‘I am learning that the church has nothing to say to the world until it throws better parties.  By this I don’t necessarily mean balloons and confetti and clowns who paint faces. I mean backyards and basements and porches. It is in the flow of real life, in the places we live and move with the people we’re on the journey with, that we are reminded it is God’s world and we’re going to be okay…Food and music and art and friends and stories and rivers and lakes and oceans and laughter and…did I mention food? God has given us life, and God’s desire is that we live it.’

 

 

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‘We simply went out looking for the lost and the dying’ – Spiritual Temperaments (6 of 9): Caring for the poor and marginalised

April 23, 2010

“Caregivers serve God by serving others. They often claim to see Christ in the poor and needy, and their faith is built up by interacting with other people. Such (people) may find the devotional lives of contemplatives and enthusiasts as selfish. Whereas caring for others might wear many of us down, this recharges a caregiver’s batteries.”

Sacred Pathways, Gary Thomas, Page 27

I have been wondering about how to write this section on spiritual temperaments as I personally struggle with giving physical care to others in need, although I find prayer, contemplation, sensuous worship and being out in nature, natural, spiritual responses for me. I do care about the poor and needy though and when I can, I attempt to chat and listen to homeless people who are selling magazines such as The Big Issue ( a magazine started in the late 80s/early 90s in Britain to help homeless people provide for themselves). Still such random, small acts of humanity seem like crumbs compared to the banquets real care-givers provide for the weak, poor and marginalised.

Since being a teenager, I have always liked the earthy, salty and fiery common sense teachings of the writer of the Book of James in the New Testament. I always love the following phrase which is set in the context of not just listening to the ‘word’ (or new teaching of Jesus), but doing it. James seems to encapsulate the heart of the Christian message, as do so many caregivers:

26If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless. 27Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.

James 1:26-27

Those words inspire me:

27Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress…

Oh yes, let it be so!

Thomas uses the example of Mother Teresa in his book – a supreme model of self-giving and caring for the oppressed and poverty-stricken ordinary people of India, whose example has led to the setting up of convents and missionary works to minister to the poor across the globe. An extraordinary woman and an extraordinary Christian, whose work today is carried out by many more beautiful and humble servants of God and of suffering people.

 

However, the people who come to my mind are still alive today and have established an amazing ministry in Mozambique, with influence across the world. They have experienced many signs, wonders, visions and miracles while working with some of the poorest most unfortunate and weakest of society – abandoned children and orphans – in a country which was and still is, I believe, one of the poorest in the whole world.

How have they done it? Well, to be honest I really don’t know how to describe their work adequately in words, but you can read more about their mission and work in Mozambique at the following web-address:

http://www.irismin.org/p/background.php

I also wholeheartedly commend the book There is Always Enough The Story of Rolland and Heidi Baker’s miraculous ministry among the poor by Rolland and Heidi Baker, Sovereign World Ltd. I think it may have been republished simply as Always Enough.

http://www.amazon.co.uk/There-Always-Enough-Miraculous-Mozambique/dp/1852402873/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1272051122&sr=1-1

The Bakers’ story is heartbreaking and awe inspiring in the wonderful progress they have made and continue to make with the poor children and people of Mozambique. A lot of it is difficult to believe that such good things could be done by ‘ordinary’ human beings with the help of God. The testimonies, however, are breathtaking and heart warming as the weak are touched in the kindest ways by the  love of God, are healed and transformed. It’s a wonderful read and a wonderful example of what practical caring for the poor, as well as powerful intimacy and worship of God through Jesus can do in this broken, but beautiful world.

I would like to finish with just a few quotations from Always Enough :

‘There still wasn’t much at Chihango (this was the state orphanage taken over temporarily by the Bakers on arriving in Mozambique) for the children. Their rooms were bare, picked clean by thieves. They slept on the cement floor with no sheets, pillows or even mats. There was absolutely nothing in their rooms. They had no extra clothes other than those on their backs. They had no possessions of any kind. Many of them needed medical attention. Some were missing limbs from land mine explosions.

I bought the children their first cups and plates. For years they had eaten out of troughs and drunk under faucets. we brought toothbrushes. We repaired a bakery that had been built years ago at Chihango and started baking seven hundred loaves a day, for us and for sale in town. We cleaned the septic tanks, installed wiring and painted walls. We hauled beans and rice from South Africa in a used army trailer. We assumed total responsibility for the centre’s administration and funding. It had been treated as a correctional institution for problem street children, but we turned it into a gospel centre for desperate and unwanted children of any kind. We simply went out looking for the lost and the dying.’

There is Always Enough, Rolland and Heidi Baker, page 41

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Spiritual Temperaments – The Ascetic (4 of 9)

April 18, 2010

Saint Anthony the Great (c.251-356)

Asceticism has usually been associated with the harsh discipline of religious monks from various traditions or denominations, and also with pioneering religious figures such as John the Baptist or Elijah the Prophet (often portrayed together in Eastern Orthodoxy iconography). Of course, ascetic practice – that is the practice of denying the body pleasures and comforts – is not just limited to the religious domain, many athletes and military personnel also practice self-denial to aid them in the achievement of their goals. Perhaps, where religious asceticism differs is that the physical denial is intended to go hand-in-hand with a growing spiritual development, away from the love of self toward the love of others be they God or one’s neighbour or even one’s enemy.

A wonderful, if sometimes eccentric compendium of stories about human beings taking upon themselves extreme asceticism can be found  in the Penguin Classic book translated and introduced by Sister Benedicta Ward – The Desert Fathers – Sayings of the Early Christian Monks. The work collects many tales, sayings and anecdotes about the lives of the Christian monks who lived in the Egyptian desert in the third, fourth and fifth centuries of the Common Era.

The stories of the Desert Fathers are sources of inspiration, humour and awe. The men (and women) who practiced such extreme asceticism, living lives of incredible simplicity and purity in the harsh conditions of the Egyptian desert offers us written verbal icons of what the human spirit and body is capable of in devotion to God and to one another. The monks often ate very little, limiting their diet to simple soup, bread and salt water. In one story a monk overcomes his desire to eat a cucumber by hanging it above him in his cell! At the same time, the monks often practiced night prayer  and vigils by staying awake most of the night in worship and prayer to God. Most of us today would find such practices unbearable and yet, if we are to believe the ancient stories of the Desert Fathers and Mothers, these people developed a whole new ascetic form of life and community through making routine such behaviour.

Perhaps, for me as someone who admittedly struggles with asceticism, there are wonderful tales within the compendium that talk of the older monks helping the younger monks to gain an insight into the importance of not judging one another, mercy and grace. In such examples, the extreme austerity of the desert disciples’ lives is mixed with a deep awareness of their own shortcomings and struggles with sin, and therefore an attitude of great compassion with those who also battle with personal failings, spiritual attacks and worldly temptation.

One such story follows:

 

A brother who was hurt by another brother went to the Theban Sisois and said, “I want to get back at a brother who has hurt me.”

The hermit begged him, “Don’t do that, my son, leave vengeance in the hands of God.”

But he said, ” I can’t rest till I get my own back.”

 The hermit said, “My brother, let us pray.” He stood and said, “O God, we have no further need of you, for we can  take vengeance by ourselves.”

The brother heard it and fell at the hermit’s feet, saying, “I won’t quarrel with my brother any longer; I beg you to forgive me.”

Page 173, The Desert Fathers – Sayings of the Early Christian Monks 

Asceticism attracts and empowers many people to simplify their lives and set aside time and energy to worship God in a life without external distractions. For most of us a degree of asceticism will help us to overcome selfish habits and free us to make the most of the good gifts we have received in life, often which we can overlook when we become deeply involved with worldly fashions, trends and pressures to conform to society’s (and Church’s) expectations of the ‘good life’. Aceticism offers a pathway to liberation through simplicity and  physical self-denial. Bishop Kalistos Ware wrote in his book The Orthodox Way, that the ancient Christians talked about denying the ‘flesh’ – that is the fallen, selfish, inward directed craving of the soul out of harmony with God – in order to win a ‘body’ the good, wonderful, created, physical gift to people, which God always intended us to be free to enjoy.

The ascetic’s mantra might well be  – “Deny the flesh, to gain a body.”

 

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Spiritual Temperaments- Traditionalism (3 of 9)

April 15, 2010

He took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, "This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me." Luke 22:19

In his helpful book on nine different kinds of spiritual temperament – Sacred Pathways, Christian author Gary Thomas describes a third category of people whom he calls: Traditionalists. He writes: 

‘Traditionalists are fed by…the historic dimensions of faith: rituals, symbols, sacraments, and sacrifice. These people tend to have a disciplined life of faith. Some may be seen by others as legalists, defining their faith largely by matters of conduct…Traditionalists have a need for ritual and structure. The contemplative’s unstructured “prayer of the quiet” would be confusing and fairly un-fulfilling to them.’ (Page 24) 

Thomas identifies 3 distinct aspects to the traditionalist way of life: 

  1. Ritual (or liturgical pattern)
  2. Symbol (or significant image)
  3. Sacrifice

The three different facets of the traditionalist approach are physical ways of representing spiritual realities. (Page 73) 

A resurgence of interest in traditionalist spirituality can be found in the recent popularity of Celtic spirituality, New Monasticism and the Rule of Benedict. The Northumbria Community are one example of a contemporary community that practices and encourages associate members to regularly pray the Office during the day. They divide each day by stopping, recollecting and praying at specific times – morning (matins), noon, evening and Compline. These prayer times are practised together at their community house in Northumbria, but associates also follow this rule, wherever they may be in the world by using the Northumbria Community’s Prayer Book and guided readings – Celtic Daily Prayer. 

The Rule of Benedict , is a  medieval book written by Saint Benedict of thoughts and guidance on the monastic life that has influenced most religious orders in Western Europe. It has received popular interest due to the 2005 television programme The Monastery, which followed three nonreligious men in their thirties and one older retired man experiencing a month long retreat at the Benedictine monastery Worth Abbey in England. 

A helpful book inspired by the Abbot of Worth Abbey’s experiences with guiding nonreligious people through retreat at the monastery is Finding Sanctuary – Monastic Steps for Everyday Life. Abbot Christopher Jamison refers to many modern peoples’ frustration and disasitisfaction at their lives being so busy. He then sets out seven monastic steps based on the Rule of Benedict which he believes can help the modern person remedy the busy distraction of their contemporary lives. They are: 

  1. Silence
  2. Contemplation
  3. Obedience
  4. Humility
  5. Community
  6. Spirituality
  7. Hope 

  

Thomas in his book provides helpful questions to discern whether you are a traditionalist. Giving yourself a grade between 5 and 1 for each question – five being very true and one being not true at all.

  1. I sense God most intimately when I take part in a style of worship that returns me to childhood memories. Traditions and rituals touch my soul more than anything else.
  2. I believe that an emphasis on individual self-expression within the church can be detrimental to peoples’ spiritual well-being. Christianity is about being part of a community and therefore our faith should be expressed as corporate worship.
  3. Tradition and history are both words that appeal to me.
  4. I would enjoy taking part in a formal liturgy or prayer-book service. I like to remind myself of my beliefs and spiritual loyalties by placing symbols in my car, house and workplace. I also feel that the religious calendar is important for me and my family. I like to follow the different seasons and celebrations of my faith throughout the year.
  5. A book such as Celtic Daily Prayer would interest me.
  6. I enjoy developing my own personal daily rituals for prayer, meditation, study, and spending time alone or with friends.

  

Once again the higher the score the more your temperament fits the traditionalist description.  

(Sacred Pathways, page 92-3) 

http://www.cloistersonline.com 

http://www.northumbriacommunity.org/ 

http://www.findingsanctuary.org/index.htm 

http://www.worthabbey.net/bbc/