Tag Archive: spirituality


Something understood

George Herbert lived at the turn of the 16th/17th centuries during the reigns of Elizabeth I, James I (by English reckoning) and Charles I. He is chiefly remembered for his poetry and for his faithfulness as a pastor during one of the many periods of religious turbulence in England. I don’t find his poems an easy read – some of that is down to the distance of years where words and turns of phrase have shifted in meaning or, more often, simply unfamiliar. This one “Prayer (1)” piles on the metaphors and similes for prayer, most of which takes some time and effort to digest. It is a poem to read more than once.

For myself, one message is that prayer is not just so many words said, sung, written or signed. There is something else going on inside us. Prayer could be accompanied by this notice: “Warning! Holy Spirit at work!”. Although I more or less stumbled upon this poem, I found that I recognised some of the phrases such as “heaven in ordinary” and “something understood” which writers and also friends of mine have quoted. I would like to draw attention to “the soul in paraphrase”, “heart in pilgrimage”, “reversed thunder”, and  “church-bells beyond the stars heard”. Each phrase would repay turning over in the mind in meditation. Alternatively, they could be the titles of four books in a series of fiction. I wonder who the main characters might be?

Prayer (1)

Prayer the church’s banquet, angel’s age,
God’s breath in man returning to his birth,
The soul in paraphrase, heart in pilgrimage,
The Christian plummet sounding heav’n and earth
Engine against th’ Almighty, sinner’s tow’r,
Reversed thunder, Christ-side-piercing spear,
The six-days world transposing in an hour,
A kind of tune, which all things hear and fear;
Softness, and peace, and joy, and love, and bliss,
Exalted manna, gladness of the best,
Heaven in ordinary, man well drest,
The milky way, the bird of Paradise,
Church-bells beyond the stars heard, the soul’s blood,
The land of spices; something understood.

George Herbert (1593-1633)

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Twice Mine

There are not many stories that I know off by heart but “Twice Mine” is one of them. I remember hearing it told by a lady who explained that it was one of her own children’s favourites. On the face of it this is a straight-forward story for children about loss and recovery. You can also hear it as a parable of God’s love for us as our Creator and our Redeemer.

There are a number of versions on the web, this is just one of them.

When I told the story at church recently someone asked a pertinent question: what did the little boy do after he had recovered his boat? Did he put it on a stand in his bedroom to admire it and to keep it safe? Or did he take it sailing again?

A prayer

Heavenly Father, we thank you that you made us and that you save us. May we always know that you are with us both in stormy times and calm times. Help us to share your love and peace in the world around us. We ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Nada te turbe

Let nothing disturb you,
Let nothing frighten you,
All things are passing away:
God never changes.
Patience obtains all things
Whoever has God lacks nothing;
God alone suffices.

— St. Teresa of Avila

… or “charismatic introvert” I suppose. Alongside Susan Cain’s work (“Quiet” – see here for my review) Mark Tanner challenges some of the assumptions and prejudices, that society in general and parts of the Christian church hold, in his book, “The Introvert Charismatic: the gift of introversion in a noisy church” (published by Monarch, 2015). His context is the “Charismatic” church which is generally understood to be where the work and person of the Holy Spirit is given more prominence and there is more emphasis on special, “supernatural” gifts. Worship tends to be busy, loud and overtly joyful and large gatherings are the norm. The settings and activities are ones where extroverts thrive and where introverts struggle – though perhaps not obviously so at first.

Incidentally, I put the word “supernatural” in inverted commas because I would say that any gift from God is arguably ‘supernatural” and that includes gifts and talents which we regard as ‘natural’. I am not making any particular judgement about speaking in tongues or healing or words of knowledge or preaching or administration – all of which are gifts from God, all of which are intended for the benefit of the whole Christian community and all of which need to be exercised and practised with humility and care.

Helpfully Mark Tanner’s book is written for the benefit of both those who would regard themselves as extrovert and those who are introvert. Drawing on Susan Cain’s book he dispels some myths: introverts do like people, they do go to parties, they do speak to large groups of people, they do lead. Where they are different from extroverts is that they find those social encounters draining, whereas  extroverts thrive on them and are energised by them. You may not be able to tell who is an extrovert or introvert at a party but in the car on the way home the one is still talking and the other has gone quiet. He usefully points out that in the Bible there is both extroversion and introversion among God’s leaders – the point is not that one is better than the other but that both are needed if a church is to be healthy.

I was intrigued that he suggested that liturgy, such as Anglican liturgy, can be regarded and used as charismatic worship for introverts. He makes other observations and suggestions too as well as reminding introverts that they need their extrovert brothers and sisters as much as they need them.

Among the resources for introvert charismatics is a website www.introvertcharismatics.org which is a work in progress. I will be interested in seeing how it develops.

Overall four stars or 8 out of 10. This is not a book I expect to re-read or to keep – but there are a few people I would do well to lend it to!

Deus Meus et Omnia

The Franciscan motto: “My God – and all things.”

“‘Spirituality’, in itself and apart from others, without service and concrete love, often leads people to immense ego inflation and delusion”

“The great irony of faith is that authentic God experience does indeed make you know you are quite special, favourite, and chosen – but you realise others are too!” Richard Rohr

“Eager to Love. The Alternative Way of Francis of Assisi,” by Richard Rohr, p14

Nine days of Prayer

On the one hand, this idea might seem superfluous. I guess that while some of us pray every day, the rest do not feel the need to at all. So, if someone comes up with a suggestion for nine days of prayer, some of us may say “but I pray anyway” and to the rest the suggestion is irrelevant.

Even so, I think it does help sometimes to have something that helps focus the mind. And there is something to be said for praying with others – either at the same time, same place or with the same intention – it gives us a sense of solidarity (or “fellowship” or “catholicity” depending on your tradition).

Anyway, I was intrigued to read that Premier Christian Radio (broadly Evangelical) was inviting us to join in a novena of prayer. A novena is firmly rooted in the Catholic tradition but the basic idea is quite straight forward. Nine days are set aside to pray with a particular intention in mind. On those days we make an extra effort and are reminded to take prayer seriously – it is too easy to end up just “going through the motions” (or “vain repetition” as the gospel puts it).

On this occasion the nine days take us from Ascension Day to Pentecost Sunday which mirrors the period of prayer and waiting that Jesus’ disciples undertook. After Jesus went back home to heaven the disciples prayed together until the day, 50 days after Easter, the Holy Spirit came upon them in a new, powerful and inspiring way – see the first chapter of the book of Acts. There is a tradition, therefore, in some churches to regard these days as being particularly appropriate to pray especially for the coming and/or renewing of the Holy Spirit in our world and in our lives.

I think I shall give this novena a try, and see how the days go. You can sign up for resources (see link here) or simply include the suggested topics among your own prayers.

Novena 2015
Day 1: Friday 15th May
Prayer for the elderly
Day 2: Saturday 16th May
Prayer for men
Day 3: Sunday 17th May
Prayer for the marginalised
Day 4: Monday 18th May
Prayer for young people
Day 5: Tuesday 19th May
Prayer for women
Day 6: Wednesday 20th May
Prayer for those suffering from mental health issues
Day 7: Thursday 21st May
Prayer for singles
Day 8: Friday 22nd May
Prayer for leaders
Day 9: Saturday 23rd May
Prayer for children

It may well be you’re thinking that you would not have chosen all these particular topics – you are at liberty to choose your own, of course.

This week some churches will be remembering Julian of Norwich. She lived in the 14th century in the city of Norwich. Little is known about her background. Her name, Julian, is taken from St Julian which is the name of the church she lived next to – we don’t know the name her family would have known her by. Most of what we do know about her comes from her writings, “Revelations of Divine Love” which is the earliest example of women’s writing in English that we have. (There may have been others but they are lost in the mists of time.)

She wrote about her experiences of suffering a severe, life-threatening illness. As she recovered she had a series of vision, or “Showings”, about God, the Trinity, the world, suffering and love. The book is a record of what happened and include her reflections about the meaning of her visions. Typically she would say what she saw and felt and then continue with what she had learnt or understood from that particular experience.

“Revelations of Divine Love” is a classic of English spirituality and is well worth a read – but not at one sitting!

You might think that Julian is obscure but you might recognise this quote: “All shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well”.

This is another: “Our Lord never said, ‘You shall not be tempest-tossed, you shall not be work-weary, you shall not be discomforted’. But he does say, ‘You shall not be overcome’.”

And then, in one vision, she sees the whole creation the size of a nut being held in the palm of God’s hand. “He’s got the whole world in his hand” comes to mind.

A prayer for St Julian of Norwich’s day (8th May)

Almighty and most merciful God, you hold the whole universe together and sustain it with your love. As we recall the revelation of divine love to your servant Lady Julian, give us wisdom to learn knowledge of your truth both in suffering and in joy. We make our prayer in the name of Jesus Christ your Son our Saviour, who lives and reign with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

… and thank you to Mandy who made it. It is fair to say that I am fairly fussy about what fudge I eat (not keen on the glucose syrup which is often used in commercial types and which I think ruins the texture). However, this particular homemade fudge with its unusual ingredient, beetroot, worked well both in taste and texture. Had I not been told, I would never have guessed that there was any vegetable in it.

Unfortunately, I do not have the recipe to share with you.

Epic – certificate U

We saw a snippet of this film on “Blue Peter” (BBC TV children’s programme) and thought we might like to go to the cinema and see more. So off we went to see “Epic”, an animation set in a forest in the Northern hemisphere probably in the USA.

The premise of the film was that living in the forest were some tiny, fast-living creatures whose swiftness deceived the eye. You might catch a glimpse of them but could never be sure that they were there. Enter our hero, a teenage girl, visiting her widowed father. He has been on the trail of these creatures for years – no proof but some tantalising evidence. The plot takes our hero into the Leaf Men’s world and her adventure begins. It was a familiar hero-quest plot.

The animations were well done with some humourous touches. In fact, these days it is easy to take for granted good quality animations that out do the ground breaking work of Disney, Dream Works, Pixar and the like. The characters were reasonably well drawn and the actors did a fine job. However…

…however, there were three things that let the film down. Firstly, the plot did not seem very strong. I suppose if you were a young child, then familiarity with plot devices would not be a problem; and a predictable plot-line is not necessarily a bad thing if it is done well. For instance, I know that after 45 minutes of one of my favourite TV whodunnits we shall get the denouement and part of the pleasure is second-guessing how we get there. Unfortunately, too little time was spent on developing either the human or the little folks’ characters. To be fair, this is understandable for a film meant for young children and that brings me to the second point. At least two families in the cinema did not stay the course. It was apparent that the young children (I guess round about 3 or 4 years of age) found it either too noisy or too frightening. One child was very audibly upset. There was other movement among families with young children but that was more to do with not being able to wait for the toilet methinks.

My third gripe is that it did not make scientific sense. Yes, I know, this was a fantasy film with more in common with fairies at the bottom of the garden than with a galaxy far away. Near the beginning, one of the main characters talked about the forces of life and decay needing to be in balance – the battle was about making sure decay and rottenness did not get the upper hand. Except that the story was about defeating decay. Well, hang on a minute: rotting decay is part of the life process of a forest – recycling nutrients and all that. I could cope with Dad’s unusual gadgets and the innovative equipment of the Leaf Men – suspension of disbelief and all that – but the story didn’t even cohere with its own stated premise!

There was also no spiritual dimension to this movie. I didn’t expect an explicit or even an implicit Christian message but I did expect there to be more moral depth. It can be done: Jungle Book, Aristocats, Shaun the Sheep to name but three animations – and the latter only lasts 7 minutes an episode!

I left the cinema prepared to give 6 out of 10 but the more I have thought about it, the less I am impressed with “Epic”. Perhaps I’ll try “Despicable Me” instead. To be completely fair, while the adults in our party were not impressed, our younger companion gave the film a higher mark.

  • quality of animation: 8/10
  • acting: 7/10
  • narrative: 4/10
  • content: 2/10
  • suitability: 6-12 years

Overall 5 out of 10 or two stars.

Thank God for …

… libraries. Especially public libraries. There is only so much room in our house and any way, it is possible to get pleasure from something without having to own it. In fact, thinking about it, my possessions are really on a kind of long-term loan: I won’t be taking them with me.

One of the awkward things about public libraries is that someone else choses the books and they may not always be to my taste. One of the good things about libraries is that someone else chooses the books and I may discover a surprise or two that I come to enjoy. While I’m on the subject of gratitude for libraries, thank you to the many and various librarians who have helped me navigate the catalogue, suggested lines of enquiry and generally aided my studies as well as my leisure reading over the years. If we close too many libraries we run the risk of losing those professional guides and guardians. The internet has blessed us with more information and books and articles than we could fit into a single library: the forest has grown immensely and we need wise guides to help us distinguish the wood from the trees.

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