Rohr on the relationship between silence and compassion…

It is raining today (here at least) and so you can’t be in the garden. The cricket and tennis are rained off and there is no point watching replays. So instead, take some time to listen to Richard Rohr speaking about how silence equips us to find the ways of justice.

I went on an 8 day silent retreat at the beginning of the year. I am still working out its impact in my life, but silence remains a hard thing to find in this age of information overload.

Rohr- silence/compassion

Reflecting on silence…

st beauno's in the snow

So here I am, sitting on a lovely Virgin train leaning its way around the corners that lead me back to home. Just the place to reflect on the 8 days now past- spent in silence at St Beuno’s Ignatian Retreat Centre near St Asaph, North Wales.

I went with as few expectations as my over active imagination could avoid, just hungry to make a new spiritual journey towards God.

The experience was not about fireworks, emotional and spiritual highs, but it was every much a spiritual journey for all that- full of humour, grace and peace. You may also be surprised to hear that 8 days spent in silence, with little reading even, was rarely boring! I thought the best way to describe it was to share some excerpts from my journal, so here we go;

Friday (on arrival.)

(St Beuno’s) is a place that feels comfortable, in a rather staid way. Because of its Jesuit ethos of silent contemplation, people do not speak to one another- rather they walk past one another and do not as much as nod. To someone schooled in the primacy of communication, it seems somehow alien. I can not decide whether it is a relief not to have to make small talk with all these strangers, or slightly missing the overt hospitality.

(I wrote down some prayers;)

Free me from performance and the need to impress

Free me from the need to be liked

Free me from the need to compete in order to feel of worth

Let me be me

So you can be you

Saturday

After a snooze I went to the Eucharist service. The out-of-placeness returned. Strange liturgy, ritual I did not understand and sung elements I did not know. I decided not to take communion as this seems to be a hot issue in the Catholic church at the moment.

I sat looking through the song book- lots of unfamiliar hymns and songs, but lots of familiar ones too. I came across this one and it made me cry

My song is love unknown. My Savour’s love to me: love to the loveless shown that they might lovely be. O who am I that for my sake my Lord should take frail flesh and die?

Sunday

Brian (retreat guide) gave me a couple of pieces of scripture again- one from Isaiah and another from the Gospel of Mark…

I then sat in the summerhouse and read Isaiah 43 1-4- which is of course very familiar- it is the same passage that Mary and Andrew gave to us when we came up to Scotland. Hmmmm. The same mixed passage- about him being with us when we pass through fire and through waters. And then the bit about sending people from the north south, east and west. Did this happen? Is it just a co-incidence- it is a rather obvious bit of scripture to give to anyone who is feeling cut off from God I suppose? Let us just hold it there and see what happens next…

Interior, rock chapel, high contrast

Monday

(in the hills in the tiny rock chapel)

I intended to read some of the passages that Brian had given me, but before I did so I decided to listen to some music. I thumbed through the options of my Mp3 player and decided first on some choral music- that was enough to break open the floodgates, next I listened to black gospel, then Matt Redman- I was singing along and crying. Matt Redman had these constant references to breathing and breath, and each time I breathed there was a cloud of vapour mist. I spent nearly two hours in there in the end.

Tuesday

After lunch, a long walk- the sun is shining and I went over the other side of the main road, along some quiet lanes, and eventually up into the hills and forest, crunching the snow and putting up pheasants. I took no photographs, just put my head down and tramped. I think I must have walked around 6-7 miles.

On my return, after the bath, I was tired and a bit head achy and not feeling well. I did not go to the service.

If I go come home now, I would. Perhaps just as well that I can’t as who knows what the next few days will bring?

sheep, snow, hills

Wednesday

Time to go to the chapel and just be for a while.

…Back now after who knows how long- half and hour, and hour? I sat breathing out the words “Do not be afraid”, then the other translation “Peace be with you” words that Jesus seems to use a lot, and then I realised that I am not often at peace. I am usually either distracted (often with good things, but many times with trash) or slightly disturbed- chewing over things, picking at scars, hoping for things (particularly myself) to be better/more productive, more fulfilled…

…This afternoon and evening I did art. Lots of art! I am even sort of pleased with one of them… I am just back from the art space and it is nearly 11. I missed the service and everything.

Thursday

Went out to Labyrinth and sat in the hut to read Mark 4, 35-41 (Jesus Calms the storm) and Luke 12 12-32 (The rich fool and not worrying)

I liked this from the message; “…not to be so preoccupied with getting, so you can respond to God’s giving.”

There is the line too- “The father wants to give you the Kingdom itself!”

I went to the chapel for a while, then to the art space. Made a picture collage. Enjoyed it, and it more or less looks like I hoped it would. Needs a layer of PVA glue tomorrow. Also messed around with water colours- for the first time in years. Less pleased with those! I think I spent 7 hours in there- which went in a flash.

Friday

(with retreat guide)

We were talking too about reading the Bible, how a poetic reading of the Bible is different- no less truthful, but in poetry we read for a deeper truth. The words are just as precise, just as rich as any textbook, but they are set free to become active, even ambiguous. So it is that the words of God (as opposed the The Word) can come to lead us on and on and on. I suggested that I had often wished that the words of St Paul had been written as poems. “Or READ as poems” retorted Brian…

It is amazing how much we still communicate with others even in silence, or rather how much communication we perceive from others. You find yourself, after many silent days spent in the company of strangers, ascribing to them personalities based on clothes, body movement, smileyness and general demeanour. So there is one bloke who I have taken a dislike to as he stares malevolently at me, and seems to always push others out his direction of travel- particularly in the food queue. Then there is the shy woman who always scurries, and the self possessed at-ease-with-herself one. There is the man who wears expensive suits and exudes control and the nice bloke who I can only hold in the highest admiration for his willingness to fart at a silent retreat not once but three times- smiling benevolently throughout. I like him! What do they all make of me?

(after long journey in my head through Jesus death, theories of atonement…)

but this is enough for now. Pretty soon we are going to have a communion service, and I am going to take bread and wine.

Saturday

Met with Brian- told about yesterday- he gave me the death of Jesus again, then told be to be silent, and then read the resurrection! Followed by good old Thomas.

I was fairly lazy today- spent a slow morning in the bedroom reading the passages, then in the afternoon took a long walk on a loop round some roads, back into the fields, then a bath, and it was time to go out for a meal with Maggy.

Lovely meal, now just looking forward to coming home…

In reading through these fairly random excerpts, I am not sure that they fully communicate the richness of silence as a means to open up deep things of this world and the next. I was not always purposeful or fully engaged in my silence- I am a past master at going into my own skull and disappearing- part of the survival skills learnt in a troubled childhood. However, there was always a turn around, new thing to encounter. If ever things became ’empty’, I did something else- I headed for the hills, one of the chapels, or made some art.

Thanks to the lovely Brian McClorry there was also lots of humour to be had! He has an impish intelligence that often tripped over into glee with who God is.

If you are considering going on retreat- go for it. It is something you are unlikely to regret.

Labyrinth, St Beuno's, high contrast

 

I will posting a few more bits and pieces from my retreat over the next days…

Retreat weekend…

Forgive the commercial, but…

We are putting the finishing touches on our B and B/guest accommodation, and also planning the first of our retreat weekends up here in Scotland  (or the first of our ‘Recreate’ retreats anyway.)

If you are interested in starting out the next year with a period of reflection and retreat, this might be just the thing for you;

These weekends are intended to allow individuals and couples to set time aside to reflect, pray, meditate and share some evenings around a fireside. Our starting point for entering into meditation here is Christian spirituality- of a generous open kind.

The spaces at our house will allow for three double bedrooms, one twin, and one single, and it would be lovely to fill these.

We will divide our time into periods of silence – where guests are welcome to use prepared spaces in the house, the garden, or to take walks along the shore – and times of sharing.

There will be an opportunity to be part of morning and evening rituals, and to use clay and other art materials to aid reflection and meditation.

We have decided to offer a discount for this first retreat, and so the total cost for the weekend (including accommodation, all meals, craft materials, etc) will now be £140 per person, with discount for couples or those who are happy to share a room. We think this is great value, and hopefully makes it possible for people on modest incomes to benefit from time out.

If you are interested and want to know more, drop me a line here- chris@aoradh.org

 

Entering the big silence…

I have taken the plunge.

After talking about it for a while, I have finally booked myself to attend an 8 day silent retreat at St Beuno’s Ignatian Spirituality Centre. I will be going towards the end of January.

I feel keenly the pivot point of my life.

I am 45 years old, and not done with adventure. I carry within me the wounds of a troubled childhood and sometimes it seems as if I am still 17, but at the same time I am no longer a child. The man I have become stands on shaky ground, but I am not ready to find a safe corner and watch TV just yet.

Increasingly though, I am aware that adventure does not just take place in the physical environment- in fact if it is to have any real value it is always a spiritual quest.

I also feel strongly that spirituality of this sort can not have, as a primary aim, the promotion of ME. There is a kind of spirituality that seems to grow from secular ideas about self actualisation and personal growth. They make an idol out of self, and this is not really compatible with following Jesus. So, whilst I might hope for satisfaction as a by product, the aim is to connect with something deeper, something outside me, so that I am better equipped to be an Agent of the Kingdom of God. In this way the internal journey connects again with the journey outwards.

I have no idea what the outcome of spending days alone with myself and God might be.

And lest this all sounds a bit pompous and self important, I am a bit scared.

Quiet weekend- step away for a while…

We are just planning our first ‘quiet weekend’ using the new accommodation space at Sgath an Tighe. This will be from Friday evening the 11th of January to Sunday the 13th.

These weekends are intended to allow individuals and couples to set time aside to reflect, pray, meditate and share some evenings around a fireside. Our starting point for entering into meditation here is Christian spirituality- of a generous open kind.

The spaces at our house will allow for three double bedrooms, one twin, and one single, and it would be lovely to fill these.

Our first weekend will cost £200 per person, including accommodation, all meals and activities. (We cook simple but lovely wholemeal vegetarian food.)

We will divide our time into periods of silence – where guests are welcome to use prepared spaces in the house, the garden, or to take walks along the shore – and times of sharing.

There will be an opportunity to be part of morning and evening rituals, and to use clay and other art materials to aid reflection and meditation.

If you are interested, get in touch and we will send you a booking form.

Meditation is (not just) for kids…

So, it turns out that the slightly sceptical tone of my last piece about the potential for using Christian meditation/contemplation in schools was rather unjustified. An old friend (Rob) now in Australia pointed out that there have been well documented projects down under doing just that!

There is more in this Guardian article.

When an almost pathological “busyness” is the norm, valuing stillness and silence is counter-cultural. When our culture trains us to be winners, to compete and to consume, we all sense society’s imbalance, said Freeman. We need to give children an experience of another way of relating to themselves and to others.

Deputy director Christie agreed. If children are over-stimulated we rob them of something precious: being allowed to “just be” where children discover their own inner sense of who they are. Hijacked by a “doing” culture that measures everything by what we achieve or possess, meditation helps children access a deeper part of themselves – an inner sanctuary away from a world of incessant activity and noise. They learn to honour their own spiritual life.

I went googling and came across this, from New Zealand, which describes a simple process being followed there in the wake of the work mentioned by Rob;

The language used in this piece will be alien to some of us. We are used to all spirituality being mediated via head knowledge- treated as an opportunity to engage with  Biblical knowledge or theological proposition. The idea of creating an ‘open’ space in meditation would have been regarded as deeply suspicious within the Christian tradition I grew out of. We would have suggested that this laid us open to some kind of ‘Demonic attack’. I have no doubt that this closed us off to traditions and practices that are sources of deep strength and blessing.

What I like most about this piece is not just the possibilities for our children, but the greater possibility of us all becoming like children.

The man whose teaching is behind some of the work in Townsville, Queensland referred to by Rob and the DVD above is Father Lawrence Freeman. Here he is talking about the relationship between meditation and ‘sacred play’ which is a truly lovely idea;

A lot of the weblinks that relate to Lawrence Freeman appear to no longer work- links to resources and discussions about meditation with Children. I hope he has not fallen foul of the current conservative backlash in the Catholic Church, as I think he seems to me to be a source of light. There are a load of resources here however.

He has been one of the founders of Meditatio.

Benches…


Yesterday some of us spent a rather fraught few hours rushing along Dunoon’s sea front setting up meditation stuff on benches.

I walked the length of it all again today with William- it was a lovely day and lots of people were out along the seafront.

Some of the benches had already been vandalised sadly- in fact I had words with some 12 year old boys who were ripping things down as I watched. However, there is lots that is still untouched and I hope others are able to use it.

The final part is an installation in Morags Fairy Glen involving a fan of ribbons suspended high on a rope. It is simple and rather magical. It uses this poem as well (from Listing)

Against such there is no law…

 

Love is not against the law

Although in judicial circles

It is not encouraged

 

But where the Spirit of the Lord falls

Love is between us like oil on bearings

 

Joy is not forbidden

But wherever it breaks out

It is fragile

Like a bubble

In a pine forest

 

But where the Spirit of the Lord rests

Joy beats like a dancing drum in the middle of us

Calling us to dance

 

Peace is never prohibited

But like a dove above a shooting range

Its flight is fraught with danger

 

But where the Spirit of the Lord lives

The boundaries we keep are soft

And we are learning how

To forgive

 

Patience is permitted in most places

But only if you use it quickly

 

But where the Spirit of the Lord lingers

Patience is like the summer sun

Drawing out the sugars in the ripening fruit

Sweetening the harvest

 

Kindness is condoned even in the most unlikely places

But it will win you few contracts

And is not conducive to

Promotion

 

But where the Spirit of the Lord comes close

Kindness kind of follows after

 

Goodness will not result in a jail sentence

But neither will it pay its way

In the global village superstore

 

But when the Spirit of the Lord smiles

Goodness becomes the common currency

Gentleness is no crime

And in many places it is a clinical necessity

But it is easily overlooked

In the shadow of another conquest

 

But where the Spirit of the Lord draws near

Then hands all rough from hard works

Become softened to hold

And to heal

 

Faithfulness is never a traitor

Yet we live like weathervanes

Spun by the seasons

To face the prevailing winds

 

But when the Spirit of the Lord moves

Promises no longer require the threat

Of legal recourse

 

Self control is thundered from the pulpit

But just in case the message falls on deaf ears

We deploy the secret pew police

Rule books at the ready

Swinging their

Truncheons of truth

To crunch the knuckles

Of the apostate

 

But when the Spirit of the Lord comes amongst us

There is a perfect law called…

 

Freedom

Some photos here- click to enlarge;