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…


A minute or so of Richard Rohr…

Tonight in our houegroup we are going to listen to Richard ROHRRRRRR.

(Get it?)

He does not roar though- there is a gentleness about him which I like.

He follows in the tradition of a kind of spirituality of vulnerability, brokenness and woundedness.

And any other kind of spirituality too quickly gets caught up in power- of the earthly kind.

The bench…

I started a new thing today.

I love the beginning of new adventures- the chance to allow new things to unfold.

This one involves a commitment to meet with my friend Paul on a regular basis, and spend some time doing some deliberately spiritual practices, and writing about them. The idea is that we take a few hours and walk into the wilderness, talk, think and meditate.

On a bench.

This was today’s bench, in the hills above Dunoon…

Today we used one of my favourite psalms-

1God, I’m not trying to rule the roost, I don’t want to be king of the mountain.
I haven’t meddled where I have no business
or fantasized grandiose plans.

2 I’ve kept my feet on the ground,
I’ve cultivated a quiet heart.
Like a baby content in its mother’s arms,
my soul is a baby content.

3 Wait, Israel, for God. Wait with hope.
Hope now; hope always!

Psalm 131 (The Message)

As I reflect on these ancient words, I am concious of a soul that is not content, and a heart that is unquiet.

I am puzzled too as to what things David was writing about that were ‘too great’ for him (at least in the un massaged version.) He was a king after all- but perhaps a king all too aware of his failings.

And I wonder whether I really want to stop dreaming grandiose plans- it is part of who I am. I kind of believe that our dreams should lie just beyond our grasp- just outside our comfort zones…

But in all of this, I am so aware that I need to hold on to hope.

Hope for life lived in communion with good friends.

Hope for life that is rich and deep and saturated with the things of God.

Hope for life that measures it’s meaning not by a kind of success that rots the soul.

Hope for life that is life-giving to others.

And in awareness that in this life there are no guarantees- no easy short cuts. But there are moments when what has been grey can become saturated with new colour.

Like today, on this bench…

The bearing of burdens…

Our housegroup met tonight- as we do every Tuesday.  A smaller group than usual, just 7 of us. We have been reading through the Gospel of Mark and talking and debating the meaning of these wonderful stories. Encountering again the words of Jesus, recorded by someone who was right there to hear them spoken…

I needed to be there tonight more than usual. I was tired and weary, with a familiar weight on my soul that I feel like a band around my chest. Nothing dramatic- nothing unexpected, just the old black dog reasserting himself and shadowing me again for a while. A window given by a combination of circumstance and vulnerabilities that never quite go away.

Before we began to read, we spent some time in a simple meditation. We sat around a table on which were stones and rocks brought in from the garden, a small cross and a jug of water and glasses to drink from.  Audrey read these familliar words from Matthew 11-

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.

We were then invited to take a stone and consider the burdens we were carrying. And to deliberately lay them down at the foot of the cross.

Next, it was suggested that we drink in water, as a sign of God’s promise to bring life and refreshment- to fill us with living water.

But I rebelled a little. I did not want to lay down my stone. The more I looked at it, the more fascinated I was by the shape in it- which was entirely natural- cracks revealed as the stone was eroded by the action of waves on the beach we picked it up on.

What was I looking at?

Initially it looked as though I was looking at a man- and I wondered if this somehow symbolised a person.

But then I realised that the markings on the rock actually looked like a man with his arms and legs wrapped around a huge burden- and that in fact, they were carrying this burden.

Almost like they had taken on the weight of others…

It seemed to me that there was a message here of promise- or perhaps a reminder of a promise. My burden is being carried- not by me, although I easily labour under the weight of it. Rather the burden is being borne by someone else. Leaving me with the possibility of lightness and freedom. Because he is gentle and humble in heart…

This life of faith is wrapped up in mystery and doubt, or at least it is for me. But today I hold in my hand a solid sermon in stone.

And for those of us who look for doubt- we will find it.

But we should also consider this. At some point, we picked up a few stones on a beach, and left them in our garden amongst a rockery. There are thousands of stones there. Michaela gathered a few, and as part of a meditation, at a time of need, I picked up this very one…



Or- a God who seeks after us, despite everything?

Praying with maltesers…

Michaela meets with a few friends to pray and chat about once a week. They sit round a table and make art whist they pray. Women are so much better at these things than we blokes I think.

Of course, being women, chocolate is involved.Today they sat round a big bag of maltesers. I am not sure what exact spiritual role the sweeties played.

Perhaps a kind of woman’s communion celebration?

One prayer, three maltesers.

One answered prayer, a bar of dairy milk.

They keep this lovely book of things they have made- pictures and crafts. It is such a beautiful thing- like a living prayer

I got (grudging) permission to take some photos of the pages that are not personal. I hope you enjoy them, it is like an invitation into another world.

Where chocolate is freely available…

Lessons on mindfulness from early French photographers…

I was listening to Johnathan Miller talking about early photography on Radio 4’s Front Row programme this evening.

Apparently, photographers struggled to convey the idea of movement.

In fact, because of the long exposures needed by photo chromatic material available, photographs of street scenes were eerily empty when developed. Movement rendered people invisible- blurred into oblivion.

It was only people who were still whose image could be captured.

So- to all you preachy types, I give you this as a sermon illustration.

Something to do with the need to find stillness- to linger and to be fully present. To learn the art of mindfulness and openness to God and others.

Otherwise we become caught up in a lesser life- lived in a fast pace, here, then gone.

Becoming the beloved…

We watched a DVD in housegroup this evening, borrowed from Michaela Kast (Thanks Michaela!) of Henri Nouwen, great catholic writer, friend and companion of Jean Vanier and standing a great tradition of writers and Spiritual thinkers who are influenced by liberation theology.

Here is a clip from the DVD I discovered on you tube-

There were two more talks on the DVD, and we watched them all.

The second one talked about communion- how the breaking of the bread was an image for how we were to live our lives.

TAKEN- Chosen so that we might see the chosen-ness in others.

BLESSED- but blessed most through our encounter with the other- in learning how to give blessing, not through seeking to receive for our own sake. Speaking well of one another- not looking for evidence for the prosecution…

BROKEN- being aware of our own brokenness, but not living in fear of it- rather placing it under the blessing.

GIVING- our life finds real purpose when we practice active loving of others

The third one focussed on the discipline of becoming the beloved- and had three elements-

LISTENING to God- time aside to be alone.

COMMUNITY- not the dependent, mutually needy but friction related community, but rather a community of people who are aware of being the Beloved…

And finally- MINISTRY- which is the practical out pouring of the two above.

I will post some more about this some time later, as it is a central theme for me at the moment…

I first discovered Nouwen through our friend and former pastor Judith Warren, who was helping me through some counselling at the time. I was struggling to ever believe that I could be the Beloved of anyone- let along God. It is a struggle that continues in me at times still.

And it was not until I listened to Nouwen again this evening that I realised how much these teachings have become central to the way I understand God, and the life of faith. Not because I think these things are now sorted and OK in me- but rather because contained within the hope love and joy of these words is something ineffably GOOD and right.

It is a return again to simple things, running deep.

The beloved who are free to love.

Nouwen died in 2006, of a sudden heart attack.

It is perhaps worth noting that he struggled with clinical depression. His book ‘Wounded Healer‘ written in 1969, speaks of a way of reaching out to others through connecting with our own brokenness and pain.

His life and ministry is another reason that I am grateful for the Catholic tradition.