First day of lent…

In the unfolding year, it always seems surprisingly early, like snowdrops…

Our kitchen reeks of pancakes after last night- I think I must have cooked about 100, for family, friends and house group in order to mark the beginning of a time when we need to get serious, intentional and reflective as we move towards Easter. For some this is marked by doing without- fasting from a food, or an activity. For others, we mark this time by doing something extra- committing ourselves to some regular meditation or act of service for example. Marking these yearly rhythms is increasingly important to me, not least because of the influence of a friend.

Over the last few days we have had an old friend staying with us, Maggy Cooper, who is a retreat leader at St Beuno’s Abbey, a Jesuit spiritual centre in North Wales made famous by the BBC programme ‘The Big Silence‘. Some of it has found it’s way onto you tube if you missed it- and it really is worth watching for anyone who is at all interested in the power of ancient traditions (I have blogged about it previously here.)

When we meet with old friends, we find ourselves looking back over our shared journeys. All those years where we have been challenged, encouraged, and laughed together. Also all those more subtle ways in which we influenced one another- the convergence of ideas and opinions, and ideas that, once shared, take on a deeper significance in our lives.

Maggy is one of those people for us, and it was great to see her again…


Vodpod videos no longer available.

1st collector for Silence…
Follow my videos on vodpod

I have just watched this programme on the i player. I have been looking forward to it for some time, as our friend Maggie, who is a retreat director at St Beuno’s abbey in North Wales, had mentioned that some of the programme was filmed there.

It did not disappoint.

The format of the programme is simple- take a fairly random assortment of people and soak them in silence, led by Catholic monks who are able to guide them on the journey. It is reality TV that seems very real. Then end is not to make people Christian- rather to allow them to encounter themselves, and in doing so, to encounter God.

Here are a few things that hit me as I watched the programme-

Silence is a gateway to the soul, and the soul is the gateway to God.

Yet I find silence hard. For most of us, life is a process of constantly seeking distraction from- life.

It is a lifetimes work to find the silence that allows us to hear the voice of God.

Ah, well perhaps there is hope for me yet. How ever much life I have left…

Both the purpose and the means of the process is- purity of heart.

I know my heart a little- and it is not pure.

My spiritual encounters in the past have tended to revolve around repeatedly saying sorry for things that I know I will do again. As I became older, the pervasive guilt I felt as a young man trying to be Christian has ebbed away- which is good- but perhaps this might also mean that I am more comfortable with my impurity.

If you have not got a pure heart, you can not see God.

Is this true? How pure does it have to be? Or is it just something to do with desiring purity, and genuinely seeking to deal with all the things that get in the way?

The God of Surprises is going to give you some wonderful surprises.

I hope that this is true for these folk in the programme.

And I hope it is true for me, and you.

Because life without the surprise of God is half life, or no life.



Where are all the ‘Emerging’ Catholics?

We just had a lovely weekend catching up with our friend Maggy Cooper.

Maggy is originally from Australia, coming over to the UK to become a Nun, before moving into secular work with adults with learning disabilities. She currently works as a community leader of a L’Arche community.

Although she remains Catholic, Maggy began to attend the church we attended in England, Calvary Christian Fellowship in order to learn and share with others from a different Christian tradition. She has been a bridge into a new world for many of us over the last 10 years or so…

So through Maggy I heard about people like Jean Vanier and Henri Nouwen. And she opened up for me a whole new stream of contemplative understanding of the life of faith. Maggy has years of experience as a prayer guide, and in leading retreats- now most commonly at St Beuno’s in North Wales.

Talking to Maggy is always a blessing.

But perhaps the common language that she and I have most in common is that found in and around the ’emerging church conversation’. She reads more books than I do on the subject (some of my friends will find this difficult to beleive!) and  the excitment offered for the future by the ideas and thoughts coming out of the EC debate seems to fit naturally with her Catholic faith.

Indeed, it has been very noticable how much of the ’emerging’ movement has embraced older contemplative practices- in many ways this could be describing a healing of rifts formed by the Reformation- a bringing together of different Christian traditions.

Which kind of makes me ask again- where are all the other Emerging Catholics? I have met a few. Some of them are returnees to the church that they had previously rejected- like Vince down in Ayr. For him, the EC has made it possible to speak about things that previously had no words, or at very least were unmentionable.

This is particularly important here in Scotland, where sectarian division runs deep and toxic.

In this pluralistic world, movements still require leadership– and given the rather conservative stance the Pope takes on most matters Spiritual perhaps this is difficult thing to do within the Catholic Church.

One voice that will be increasingly familiar will be that of Fransiscan Preist Richard Rohr, and his Center for Action and Contemplation in New Mexico USA. He even gets a mention in ChristianityToday.

Here are a couple of clips of him speaking…

I am not interested in seeing us all the converge on a common form of faith. How boring and lifeless that would be! I am fascinated to see these common streams emerging in the different traditions however.

And at the heart of this has to be a kind of generosity to one another’s view points.

I would love to hear about Catholic movements that I have missed…