Monthly Archives: March 2015

Friday 20th March          

Contentedness

Isaiah: 47:1
The Lord called me before I was born,
from my mother’s womb he pronounced my name.

“Be content, be content!
We are the Body of Christ!
We have found Him because He has sought us;
God has come to take up his abode in us.
There is nothing further to do except to turn to Him completely,
where He is already present.
Be quiet and see that He is God.”
– Thomas Merton

God is with us in every moment of every day.
Let’s be content, let’s be content.
………………………………………………….
My Dad is one of the most contented people I have ever met.
I have never known him to be phased in life by any changing circumstances.
He has the capacity to be content in whatever life sends his way.
When I was a child he was content in his life working on a farm as a shepherd.
He was content to go out in all weathers at all times of the day,
and do what needed to be done in the caring of his sheep.
Later when he was suddenly made redundant and could not find any farm work,
he went to work in the cold store of a factory.
For a man who had worked in the outdoors all his life this was a massive change,
but he took it in his stride, adapted, and was content.
In his retirement he was content in his garden and doing some gardening for others.
Now his health is failing him and he can no longer work his garden,
he is content with a less active and more confined life.

When I was a teenager I could not understand his contentedness:
How could anyone be content to be trapped in the same village all their lives?
Why would he not want something different, something more?
Now in my mid 50’s I have come to understand and yearn for his gift of contentedness,
and, looking back, I can see how rich his life has been just living whatever came his way.
I am so grateful for what he has taught me.
We can spend our lives seeking out and searching for the Pearl of Great Price;
or we can truly open our eyes look at what we have,
realise that we already have what we seek…….
and recognise God’s presence in this moment and be content.

Thursday 19th March              

Centering

Ephesians 3:16
This is my prayer for you:
May the Father in his infinite glory
give you power through his Spirit
for your hidden self to grow strong.

“Beneath all our feelings, beneath our reasoning,
beneath all our limitations, there is a deep centre;
the centre and ground of our being.
And we can pass through that centre into the very centre of God.
Indeed the two centres are one, constituting the very centre of all that is.”

– Basil Pennington.

Take time to be still and to make contact with your deepest self.
…………………………………………
I speak and write a lot about our Spiritual Journey. What is the journey? Where is to?
For me it is a journey to the centre; to the centre of who we are.
All the spiritual values that we are exploring this Lent are part of that journey;
each value is a spoke in the wheel that takes us to the centre.
It is a journey to our soul, which in turn is the journey to God –
“the centre and ground of our being.”
Of all the journey’s we will ever make in life, this journey is the most important.
And yet, in a strange way, it is not a journey that we make at all;
we do not find the centre, the centre finds us.
Through our spiritual practise we are drawn into it, like a whirlpool,
and our job is merely to learn how to surrender to its current
and allow ourselves to be carried by these holy tides.

We can over think our journey into God;
sometimes what we have to do is simply let go of the thinking
and allow God’s presence to draw us into itself.
That is what prayer is about. It is not about us seeking God and reeling God in.
It is, in fact, the other way around.
In prayer we have to allow God to seek us and reel us in.
It is not so much about us bringing God into our situation,
but of becoming aware that God is already there
and allowing that holy presence to draw us to our centre, to carry us home.

The joys, the pains, the pleasures and the sorrows of life
are the means God uses to reel us in.
Instead of getting caught up in whether or not we want or like each situation,
let us just open ourselves to God’s whirlpool and trust where it takes us.

Wednesday 18th March          

Humility

Micah 6:8
For what else is required of us but to do justice, to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with our God?

“When we can laugh at our own foolishness,
then we will have made a start on the first wrung of the ladder of humility.
– Christopher Jamison

Humility is not about seeing ourselves as worthless,
nor seeing ourselves as wonderful.
It is simply about seeing ourselves as we are,
without judging ourselves good or bad.
Considering ourselves worthless or wonderful is foolish.
Today let’s laugh at our foolishness!
…………………………………………………….
What does it mean to be humble?
There is a story about a former Bishop interviewing a young ordinand.
He reminded the young man
that one of the necessary qualities needed for ordained ministry was that of humility.
“Without humility” the Bishop told him, “you can never truly serve God.”
The young man was very moved by what the Bishop said
and asked him if he could recommend a good book on humility.
“As a matter of fact I can” said the Bishop. “Mine!”

I think we often make the mistake of equating humility with putting ourselves down.
For example, we can’t acknowledge our gifts
because to say that we are good at something is pride.
Or we can’t accept compliments gracefully, because that’s not being humble either.

This is not what humility is about.
Humility is simply seeing ourselves as we are.
Not being afraid to own our faults and inadequacies,
but neither being afraid to own our gifts and strengths.
If the Bishop in the story had not told the young ordinand of his book on humility,
it would not have been an act of humility, simply an act of foolishness.

Humility is being willing to own all aspects of who we are;
the good bits, the not so good bits.
It’s about being able to accept gracefully both praise and criticism.
And, most importantly, being able to laugh at our own foolishness.

 

Tuesday 17th March

Sacrifice

2 Corinthians 3:18
We are called to be like mirrors,
reflecting the brightness of the Lord;
growing brighter and brighter
until we are turned into the image that we reflect.

“Be prepared at any moment to sacrifice what you are,
for what you can become”
– David Gemmell

Life requires sacrifice.
If we are for ever looking back, we are prevented from moving forward.
If we continually hold on to life as we think it should be,
we can miss out on the wonder of how it is.
What do you need to let go of this lent? What grasping is holding you back?
………………………………………………………………………………..
Sacrifice is not a particularly popular word today.
When it is used it tends to have negative connotations.
Sacrifice is often associated with depriving ourselves of things
that we did not really want to give up; depriving ourselves of the joys in life.
But in its deepest sense sacrifice is not about being deprived of joy,
but about making space for true joy to unfold in our lives.
Often, by hanging on to things we need to let of, by clinging on to the old,
we are merely depriving ourselves of new things that are waiting to open in our lives.
At its deepest level sacrifice means to “make sacred”;
it is an offering that we make to God to allow God to give it new purpose.

During Lent many give up some of their pleasures in life for a short period.
This is not merely to deprive ourselves and make Lent miserable,
but to offer these things to God, that God may make them holy.
When we receive them back at the end of Lent we receive them back in a new way.
We have made space for God to work in our lives
and we receive back what we have sacrificed as a gift.
By receiving it back as a gift from God we can experience it in a whole new way;
we have released our control and clinging,
and allowed God to gift us a new relationship with it.

What are we afraid to let go of through fear of losing joy?
Maybe if we let go and allow God to “make them sacred”
we can open the door to joy, without the worry of losing it.

Monday 16th March              

Seeing

1 Corinthians 2:9
Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart conceived,
what God has prepared for those who love him.

“So much depends on how we see things.
There are many things we never notice because of the way we see.
The graced eye can glimpse beauty anywhere,
for beauty does not reserve itself for special elite moments,
it is secretly present in everything.”
– John O’Donohue

Take time today to really see God’s beauty around you.
Look with a “graced” eye.
………………………………………
For me, perhaps the most important spiritual practise
is to learn to see holiness where it is not immediately apparent,
where it is not easy to recognise.
To learn to see beauty and holiness in people we find difficult;
to learn to see beauty and holiness in situations we find uncomfortable;
to learn to see beauty and holiness in experiences that we much rather not be having;
to learn to see beauty and holiness
in places we would not normally think to look for them;
to learn to see beauty and holiness in moments we would rather just passed.

You see our inability to see beauty and holiness does not mean that it is not there;
only that we have not yet taken the time to open our inner eyes,
the eyes of our soul, and see it.
For to look through the eye of the soul is to look,
as John O’Donohue reminds us, with a graced eye.
To look through the eyes of the soul, to look with a graced eye,
is to learn to see things as God sees them.
What greater spiritual practise could there be than that?
…………………….
This day, may God take our eyes and see through them,
May God take our lips and speak through them,
May God take our hands and serve through them,
May God take our hearts and love through them. Amen.

Saturday 14th March            

Delighting

Psalm 37:4
Take delight in the Lord,
and he will give you the desires of your heart.

“To enter into the presence of another human being
is to enter into the presence of God in a new and different way.
We should encounter others with a sense of gratitude and delight,
for here is a new and fresh expression of God’s creation.”
– Steven Carter

Let us delight in all we encounter today,
each moment and each person is a fresh expression of God.
……………………………………………
There is an old Hindu story of a master who sent his monks to the village market
to see an amazing spiritual event taking place.
They returned after an hour and said he must be mistaken for they had seen nothing.
What did you see? He asked them.
“Just people selling goods at the stalls” they answered, “others buying them;
children playing; the poor begging; a musician playing a lute.”

“Good, good. Go look again” the master said.
They went again and everywhere for this amazing spiritual event but saw nothing
and they returned puzzled saying they had just seen the same.
“Tell me again what you saw” said the master.
“as we have said” they answered, “the same as before
just people selling goods at the stalls, others buying them
children playing; the poor begging; a musician playing a lute.”

“Good, good,” said the master, “Go look again.”
They went and came back 10 times, with the same story,
and each time the master saying Good, good, go look again.”

Eventually the penny dropped and they came back with their faces glowing.
“What did you see?” the master asked.
“We saw God selling goods at the stalls; and also buying them” they answered.
“we saw God playing in the streets, begging on the corners, and playing the lute.”

“Good, good” said the master,
“Now go and serve him there; be served by him there;
and delight in his presence there”
………………………………………………
Let us delight in all we encounter today,
each moment and each person is a fresh expression of God.

 

 

Friday 13th March              

Perseverance

2 Timothy 1:13
Continue to follow the sound teaching you have been given
in faith and love, and guard the truth entrusted to you.

“Few of us would regret the years it takes
to complete an education or master a crucial skill,
so why complain about the perseverance needed to become
a well-balanced and truly compassionate human being?”
– Mathieu Ricard

Is this Lent the time for us to recommit ourselves
to deepening our spiritual lives?
……………………………………………………..
I often teach people to meditate. I have meditated myself for many years now,
I was taught how to in my late teens by a Buddhist monk in Bethnal Green.
It was a form of prayer I took to like a duck to water,
it made sense for me to pray in this way.
He taught me to pick a mantra or a prayer word from my own Christian tradition.
It could be a verse from a Psalm such as: “In you, O God, I take refuge”,
or it could be as simple as saying the name “Jesus” over and over again…. Slowly, reflectively.

I chose my mantra and he told me to say it in my head slowly, in rhythm with my breathing.
And that I should aim to mediate this way twice a day for 20 minutes.
Like I said, I took to it naturally and loved my meditation sessions,
until after while I hit a wall.
I found it more difficult to find the time.
I found it more difficult to stay focused on my mantra.
My mind began to wander all over the place. 20 minutes began to feel like an hour.
My meditation practice
no longer brought the peace and sense of God’s presence that it first did.

I went back to my Buddhist monk and told him I must be doing something wrong,
because meditating now was beginning to feel like an ordeal and a waste of time.
He smiled at me and said
“oh, I forgot to tell you about the most important bit! Perseverance.”
He taught me that you had to stick at your spiritual practise through thick and thin,
and not give up.

For the last 25 years or so I have tried to follow that advice,
and it’s been hard work at times. It still is hard work at times!
But I know my life is richer because I have persevered.
If I have ever got out of the habit of my daily meditation the day has not flowed the same
and I am aware of something vital being missing from my life.
Spiritual practise is never easy and is often a struggle to maintain;
but it deepens with time, often without us being aware of that deepening.

I often think back to that Buddhist monk and his emphasis on perseverance.
Perseverance is an invaluable spiritual tool,
and helps us our practise to take roots in our lives.

Thursday 12th March

Reflectiveness

Philippians 4:8
Finally, whatever is true, whatever is honourable,
whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious,
think about these things; and the God of peace will be with you.

“Try a little experiment. Close your eyes and say:
“I wonder what my next thought will be?” Be like a cat watching a mouse hole.
What thought is going to come out of the mouse hole?
While you are in a state of intense presence, you are free of thought.
You are still and alert.”
– Thich Nhat Hanh

Take a little time today to sit and watch your thoughts.
But more importantly, to enjoy the gap between thoughts
……………………………………………
There is an old story of a fisherman,
who was sat by his boat relaxing in the midday sun;
Just enjoying the peace and reflecting on how beautiful the world was.
His reflection was broken by a businessman whose brain, as always,
was working overtime.
“I’ve been watching you” says the businessman
“and I was wondering why you were just sitting here
when you could be out there catching fish and making the most of the good weather?”
“I’ve caught all the fish I need today” says the fisherman,
“and have just returned from the market.
Now I intend to relax, enjoy the sun and contemplate.”

“But I don’t understand”, said the anxious looking businessman,
“There’s hours of daylight left, why don’t you go back out and catch more fish?”
“I have caught enough for one day,” the fisherman answered,
“why would I want to catch more?”
The businessman looked incredulous “Why? Well you could double your profits!”
“What would be the point of that?” asked the fisherman.
“You’re not much of a businessman are you? If you double your profits
you could eventually buy a bigger boat and catch more fish.
You could build a strong business and become very wealthy.”
“Why would I want to become wealthy?” asked the fisherman.
“Isn’t it obvious? Once you have made your fortune
you could relax, sit in the midday sun, and contemplate to your heart’s content!”

The fisherman just smiled and put his feet up.

We don’t have to be rich to find time for a little thoughtful reflection;
But we may find we are richer for it.

 

Wednesday 11th March            
Discipline

Luke 12:31
Seek first the kingdom of God,
and all these things shall be yours also.

“Learn and obey the rules very well,
so you will know how to break them properly.”
– The Dalai Lama

By learning to keep rules and being disciplined on our chosen path,
we learn the wisdom necessary to break rules at appropriate times and be free of them.
Discipline is not about being rigid.
It is about being committed to a path without being a slave to it.
What are the things you need to be more disciplined about?
What do you need to be less rigid about?
…………………

Huston Smith is an American spiritual writer, now in his 90’s,
who has studied and written about all the major spiritual traditions.
Not only has he studied them from the outside,
he has practiced them from the inside.
He says you never really grasp a religion until you become a practitioner of it.
In order to get a fuller and deeper understanding of Zen Buddhism
he undertook and month long Zen retreat in one of its strictest monasteries.
He was warned that the Zen Master was something of a disciplinarian
who gave little slack and pushed retreatants to their limits and sometimes beyond.

Huston Smith found this to be true.
There was long periods of meditation and if anyone fell asleep or moved position,
He would strike them with a stick.
Alcohol, caffeine, cigarettes, mobiles, tv’s, newspapers, lap tops etc
where all banned, and no contact was allowed with the outside world.
Food was simple and minimalistic
and everyone was expected to attend each session.
A limited amount of sleep was allowed and only essential talking.
Huston Smith said he almost left on many occasions
but somehow made it through to the end of the retreat.
And by the end he saw the value of it
and was in many ways sad when it was time to go.
He had begun to realise how much modern life got in the way
of discovering the true self and began to see the true value of no booze, coffee, tv. etc.

Just before he left the Zen Master asked him to visit his small house in the monastery.
This surprised because for a month all he had done was shout at him
and tell him to try harder and stop complaining.
So it was with some trepidation that he called on the Zen Master.
It was a simple sparse little house. But Huston was greeted warmly by the Master.

“This is where I live” he said smiling.
“This is where I cook” he said, showing him a tiny kitchen with little in it.
“This is where I sleep” he said showing him another tiny room,
with just a blanket on the floor.
He then took him into another small room and said: “This is where I relax”
He then opened a cabinet to reveal a small television and said:
“This where I watch Sumo wrestling twice a week”,
and opening another box he said
“this is where I keep the beer and cigarettes I enjoy while I watch it.”

Huston Smith was speechless. When he finally found his voice he said:
But you have made life uncomfortable for everyone over the last month;
deprived us of comforts, while sneaking off twice a week to drink, smoke and watch tv.
Then with a twinkle in his eye the Zen Master said:
“Once you have learned not to be a slave to such things, you are free to enjoy them.”

May we know the value of discipline and rules.
May we also learn not to be shackled by them.

…………………………………
 

Tuesday 10th March

Selflessness

Ephesians 3:17

May Christ dwell in your hearts,
and, being rooted and grounded in love,
may you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

A famous violinist, when asked how he managed to play a Beethoven concerto so beautifully
said: “I have a splendid instrument, splendid music, a splendid bow.
All I have to do is bring them together and get out of the way.”

How often do I allow me to get in the way of God’s beautiful flow in life?
……………………………………………………
One of my spiritual heroes, the 17th Century French priest, Jean Pierre de Caussade wrote
that when we see ourselves as instruments in the hand of God we learn to
act quietly, without anxiety and without hurry.
He also said that we are not uneasy about the future or concerned about the past.
In other words. We get out of the way.
Things are always a lot harder when we are concerned with how we are seen by others,
when our egos are overly involved.
We become overly concerned about results. We become afraid of failure.
We have an image to maintain, we want to look good. How tiring that is!
Jean Pierre de Caussade reminds us to just get out of the way;
to do whatever we do to the best of our ability and leave the rest with God.