The gift of ambiguity…

Jonny Baker posted a batch of quotes from Walter Brueggermann, mostly from this book (which I promptly ordered.) They lit me up, as they would most people who write poetry. Here they are (thanks Jonny);

The overriding reality of the prophets is that they are characteristically poets. Poets have no advice to give people. They only want people to see differently to re-vision life.

Everything depends on the poem and the poet for our worlds come from our words. Our life is fed and shaped by our metaphors.

The enemies of the poem are the managers of the status quo.

The poets want us to re-experience the present world under a different set of metaphors and they want us to entertain and alternative world not yet visible.

These poets not only discerned the new actions of God that others did not discern but they wrought the new actions of God by the power of their imagination, their tongues, their words. New poetic imagination evoke new realities in the community.

We lose vitality in our ministry when our language of God is domesticated and our relation with God is made narrow and predictable… Predictable language is a measure of a deadened relationship in which address is reduced to slogan and cliché.

It is always a practice of prophetic poetry to break the conventions in which we habituate God.

Every centre of power fears poets because poets never fight fair… only a poem

I was also reading something on the blogosphere about the latest Mars Hill spat – Mark Driscoll throwing his weight around and playing power doctrine games. From the perspective of post post Christendom UK it all seems a but like a Tom and Jerry cartoon.

But this is a kind of muscular, dogmatic, controlling Christianity that exists here too. Some of the abusive manipulative religion mentioned here is sadly very familiar to me.

It is that truth thing again. All the effort put into right belief (as defined by our powerful leader.) I hate it because it is such a destructive, corrosive form of belief that may attract followers, but then tools them up with weapons of mass distraction.

Because it is all so un-Jesus like.

Jesus who taught in parables, so that people would find the kind of truth that sets us free, rather than chains our souls.

Who infuriated the religious leaders of his day because he broke all the rules – but broke them in relation to a higher, more loving way of being. Not rules, but principles. The greatest of all being LOVE.

Who constantly talked to people about some kind of mysterious ‘New Kingdom’.

All of which brings be back to poetry. Poetry as spiritual practice, as prayer, as celebration, as anger, as doubt, as mission, as worship and above all, as question.

At it’s best, poetry opens up, it does not close down. It wraps itself around questions, and rests within them, allowing the possibility of mystery, uncertainty and encounter.

So here are a couple more of Jonny’s quotes;

Poets speak porously. They use the kind of language that is not exhausted at first hearing. They leave many things open, ambiguous, still to be discerned after more reflection.

Very often people who hear poets want an explanation, which means to slot the words into categories already predetermined and controlled. Such an act however is the death of the poem… Good porous language does not permit itself to be so easily dismissed. It intends to violate and shatter the categories in which the listener operates.


Wilderness retreat trips, 2012…

Now that the New Year is with us, lots of us are looking forward into all sorts of busyness. It could be also that you are seeking to plan in some periods of retreat, and if so, you might like to consider this…

We are planning a new venture for this year- along with three of my friends from Aoradh, we are organising a series of ‘Wilderness Retreats’. These retreats form part of several micro enterprises that have grown out of what we do – a way of integrating faith with life which I am finding very exciting and hopeful. The ideas and activities have emerged from yearly retreats that we have been doing as a community for many years now – usually with invited ‘guests’ – and also from other forms of worship using wild locations that we have been experimenting with.

The retreats have been special experiences for us, for some of the following reasons-

  • The amazing locations- tiny Hebridean islands, part of a rich Celtic tradition of retreat
  • The ‘noisy’ silence- away from mobile signals, e mails, facebook
  • The wildlife- otters, eagles, seals, a thousand sea birds
  • The company- the lovely experience of sitting around a fire side and dreaming dreams together
  • And perhaps most of all the chance to find inner stillness

If the possibility of being part of something like this excites you, then please get in touch!

It might be possible to make this trip part of a bigger trip up to Scotland, or even part of a trip to the UK! If you want some advice as to options- again feel free to get in touch.

These retreats are not intended for hard core outdoor fitness types. You do not need to be ultra fit or prepared for the north face of the Eiger. If you can hop around rocks, and can cope with the possibility of being cold and wet with stoicism, then this is enough.

Here is some information from our publicity shot-

Do you love wild places?

Are you looking to find time to rest and reflect?

Are you hungry to make a deeper spiritual connection?

If so, we would like to invite you to come and be part of one of our wilderness retreats…

Wild places do something to the soul…

Here in Dunoon we are on the fringes of some of the most amazing wild places; lochs, mountains, forest, seascapes and small uninhabited islands. Opportunities for being immersed in wilderness – with all the glory and all the vulnerabilities of this – are everywhere.

Following an old Celtic tradition, we have been looking for ways to allow the shape of the landscape to become the means by which we might approach the divine; caves, rivers, mountain tops, small islands.

There is no better place to do this than here – the west coast of Scotland, and the small Argyll islands in particular, are marked everywhere by the passage of other pilgrims, for example the many monastic sites from the time of the missionary Celtic saints.

We invite you to journey with us into this generous tradition. All are welcome – from all faith backgrounds, or none.

There is information about some of our previous trips here-Jura, Eileach an Naoimh, Scarba, The McCormaig isles.

How does it work?

Our retreats typically take place over a long weekend – Saturday to Monday.  

They involve creating a small temporary community on one of the small uninhabited islands of the Inner Hebrides. These are stunningly beautiful places, rich in history, wildlife and the kind of peace that has to be experienced to be believed. All of our locations are well off the beaten track – they can only be reached by boat charter.

They are WILD places- exposed to the elements, with no amenities or comforts. Participants on these trips need to be prepared for this!  Please have a look at the kit list and general comments.

We will do the organisation, put together a programme and itinerary, charter a boat and provide spiritual exercises and activities to use together and alone. Each retreat will have at least two retreat leaders.

We will then lead you through the retreat, using a combination of times of sharing, times of silence and led meditations. Activities can be tailored to the needs and interests of the group- including varying degrees of challenge.

Retreat dates and costs

For the year ahead, we have two weekends fixed for retreats-

  • June the 22nd-25th  The Garvellachs. Cost £180 per person.
  • August the 17th-20th   The McCormaig Islands. Cost £150 per person.

(Deposit of £50 payable on booking. Full cost will be required if participant cancels later than four weeks prior to the event.)

If you are part of a group who are interested in another weekend, it may be possible to arrange a trip for you.

It is also possible to set up ‘mini expeditions’ for small groups/families. These would be typically for a day, or an evening. Contact us for details.

A place called wandering…

I have been thinking about our Greenbelt worship event- which will be entitled ‘Homesick’. One of the key themes emerges from a discussion about the nature of we humans- made a little lower than the angels, neither fully flesh nor completely spirit. An amalgam of both- or perhaps one on a journey to becoming the other.

It set me thinking about what it might mean for we Christians- how we live in the presence of the immanence- how our present is always lived in the belief that there is another reality- which Jesus described confusingly as ‘The Kingdom of God’.

I wonder if there is something in this life that will always be unfulfilled- always be tinged with nuance and compromise. This is no bad thing- it is the way of the pilgrim- how we learn through surprise encounters and hopeful longing as much as by certainty and knowing.

I came across this passage from the book of Genesis that says it as well as anything-

10 (C)Then the Lord said,
Why have you done this terrible thing? Your brother’s blood is crying out to me from the ground, like a voice calling for revenge.11 You are placed under a curse and can no longer farm the soil. It has soaked up your brother’s blood as if it had opened its mouth to receive it when you killed him.12 If you try to grow crops, the soil will not produce anything; you will be a homeless wanderer on the earth.

13 And Cain said to the Lord,
This punishment is too hard for me to bear.14 You are driving me off the land and away from your presence. I will be a homeless wanderer on the earth, and anyone who finds me will kill me.

15 But the Lord answered,
No. If anyone kills you, seven lives will be taken in revenge. So the Lord put a mark on Cain to warn anyone who met him not to kill him.16 And Cain went away from the Lord’s presence and lived in a land called
Wandering, which is east of Eden.

Does maturity always require suffering?

This was the question we discussed in house group this evening, after listening to Richard Rohr speaking about the spirituality of the second half of life.

He felt that the answer was yes (probably) and quoted a psychologist, who was asked the same question- to which he replied “It is entirely theoretically possible to achieve maturity in life without some degree of suffering, but it is just that in 30 years as a clinical psychologist, I have never seen it.”

It makes sense. A similar argument can be made about any change- it tends to require some kind of crisis. Sure you can decide to change- and make some lifestyle choices- throw in a bit of life coaching and counselling to discover your inner onion, but mostly we just end up indulging in a bit of wish fulfillment whilst we move the furniture about the same old rooms.

Whereas real change tends to come upon us by necessity, through crisis, and suffering.

Is that why Jesus said ‘Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall see God?”

The next question I suppose is- does suffering always lead to maturity? And the answer to this I think is- no. Suffering can lead to us constantly trying to rationalise it all- to the blame game and the guilt game. And so we become bitter and trapped in the shadow of the events that have befallen us.

Richard Rohr spoke about how suffering might contribute to maturity in a way that made some sense to me- about how we get beyond the need to know, to understand and to intellectually grasp the realities of God- and just begin to accept that

He is.

And we are.

Now- not yesterday or tomorrow.

Just now.

It is about being fully present, in the loving presence of God- and this being a place where the surface tension becomes less and less important in the awareness of all that deep green water below.

So am I mature? well- Not really. Does that mean that I might embrace the suffering that will surely come my way? Not likely. Rather I might hope that my dose of it is small- the odd tweaking of the scar tissue I already wear perhaps- rather than a screaming tunnel of hell that others experience and somehow still survive.

Blogging and spirituality…

I enjoyed an old piece of writing by TSK here recently- concerning how he felt that blogging worked as a spiritual discipline.

TSK felt that it worked something like this-

1. Praise (public acknowledgement) – “publish glad tidings daily”
2. Accountability. (Eph. 5: 21 “Submit yourselves to one another”, quote fromAthanasias)
3. Vulnerability (Daniel’s window)
4, Given-ness (Freely you have received, gift economyProv 11:24)
5. Creative Naming (Adam, Neighbors in Ruth)
6. Repentance (editing/deleting/changing our mind in new media)
7. Fellowship (hypertext linking, Koinonia)
8. Evangelism (storytelling, blogging from our lives)
9. Integrity (writing matches our speaking, design reflects reality)
10. Posterity. (store/guard what has been entrusted, writing history)
There was also another one: Watchfulness (“watch and pray”).

I think I would add a couple more-

11. Creativity- most writers would say that words shape us as we shape them.

12. Discipline and long term commitment- blogging output varies, but it demands mostly daily commitment over a long time to develop a voice.

But I think blogging should come with a little warning to introspective folk like me- it can be addictive, and it is not the only spiritual discipline- and should never become so in our lives.

There is also physical community…

Learning from space men…

I write this blog for many reasons. It is not a hardship really as I love to write- it is one of the things I do at rest.

But for me, it is also a deliberate spiritual practice. By this, I mean that it is a way of searching deeper into the mess of life, looking for what I can only describe as ‘God’.

And what you look for, as the good book says, you will surely find. In the most unlikely of places.

Today, for instance,  I was thinking about extra terrestrial life forms. I could be cruel and suggest that the meeting I spent several hours in left me feeling like an alien- or wondering whether I had been abducted by aliens from planet bureaucracy.

But I was reminded of The Drake Equation.

So- the argument goes something like this-

  • Around 7 new stars form even in our galaxy each year. There are thought to be more than 80 billion galaxies in the universe.
  • Around 40% of sun like stars have planets
  • Around 10% of stars systems in our galaxy may be hospitable to life- in terms of stability, having access to right mix of building blocks for life etc.
  • It is possible that two planets in our own star system may have actually developed life- Earth and Mars. Our star is one of 100 Billion stars in the Milky way.
  • But intelligent life? Drake guessed that of all planets with life, one in one hundred might go on to develop intelligent life. A controversial estimate. There are billions of life forms on earth- and only one regarded as ‘intelligent’.
  • But if they develop elsewhere, it does seem to be reasonable that they might seek to communicate.
  • Assuming, of course that they do not destroy themselves before they get round to it.

And there is the rub.

Unless you believe the conspiracy theorists and the UFO nuts, then we have to deal with the fact that no one has yet found any evidence of intelligent life beyond this planet. Even accepting the fact that the universe is very big, according to Drake’s equations we really would have expected to do so.

He thought that there would be around 10,000 communicating intelligent life forms just in our own Galaxy.

Drake could have got his numbers all wrong- after all, there are a LOT of wild speculative assumptions. Perhaps this planet is unique in all creation, as some Christians are quick to believe. This means that we humans are indeed the very centre of everything- the epicentre of all creation- that the whole universe is a giant cup cake, and we are the cherry.

The flat earth folk thought this too- before they failed to fall off the edge and discovered humans on the other side of our own planet much like themselves. We did not treat each other well- but that is a different story.

Another possibility was suggested by Enrico Fermi– who believed that technological civilisations tend to disappear very quickly. We either destroy ourselves, or we destroy others. Or perhaps there is always going to be a comet coming our way if we wait long enough.

And when you think about it, the durability of our civilisation in the vast timeline of the universe is rather untested.

What has this to do with spirituality?

Well- these thoughts occur to me-

  1. Whether or not we are alone, we are beautiful
  2. Whether or not we are alone, we are deadly and destructive- particularly towards those who are ‘other’
  3. We are ephemeral, and caught up in tiny matters of total insignificance
  4. And yet we are special- called to live in the image of the maker of all this majesty and mystery
  5. And the ripples we make on our universe will be dependent on the quality of our loving, not our invention and enterprise. Because without the former, the latter will end badly

What can I say- it was a very long meeting.


I have decided to change the word ‘advent’ into an adjective rather than a verb.

Then, rather than being merely a calendic description, it might become a spiritual practice.

Instead of being a commercial break before the main consumption, it might then become a period of reflective anticipation.

Instead of being something to rush headlong past towards a glittering destination, we might start to savour the journey.

So tomorrow, the first Sunday of Advent- always on or around St Andrews day- I am going to begin…