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A Monastic Easter

Continuing my personal exploration of monasticism ……

My first Holy Week and Easter without any churches to look after!  What should I do?   I decided to journey through the 8 days from Palm Sunday to Easter Day with prayerful activities and reflection.  I kept a personal journal to record my thoughts and feelings – and they will stay private!  I also weighed up what the experience was telling me about the monastic vocation.

Semana Santa

This was the inspiration for my week-long observance.  Anyone who has visited Spain, especially southern Spain, knows about the processions and celebrations of Holy Week.

My visit to Malaga a couple of years ago introduced me to the high emotions of Holy Week as the days go by until the quieter observance and respect of Holy (Good) Friday and the Great Silence of Holy Saturday.  I was captivated by it all.  I experienced the desire to live the week in my own way back home.

Holy Week – Open House style

My usual rhythm of prayer, including lunchtime and teatime prayer (people are welcome to join me), was supplemented by evening reflections, conversations about the meaning of the Week, washing one another’s feet (as Jesus did with his friends), and a Passover-style meal in remembrance of Jesus’s Last Supper.

For Holy (Good) Friday I joined with my pioneer colleague and people gathered at the local food bank for a lament about the things that are wrong in society and the wider world.  Words representing these wrongs were nailed to a cross.  Open House was privileged to look after the cross for a little while and to hold in prayer those who suffer at the hands of others.  Holy Saturday was spent in continued prayer and reflection and ended with a service of light to greet the dawning of light amid the darkness.

I don’t do early morning!  But I was awake just after 6am on Easter Sunday so said my morning prayers in the early light.  After a happy day with family I rounded off the week with an evening reflection and a dedication to love, life and hope through the bread and wine of Communion.

So what more have I discovered about the monastic vocation?

The importance of showing up…… One important role of the monastic life is to follow the daily rhythm of life (with prayer as a central focus) and the seasonal pattern of the church year.  I do this whether anyone else joins me or not.  Obviously the format of what I do varies according to whether I have any companions at events, but I continue with the experiences even when I am on my own.  I guess it is the representative nature of the monastic vocation – to support the Church as a whole by maintaining the constant pattern of prayer and reflection and to help keep the faith story alive.

Once more I have reflected on the issue of status – see my previous blog – and the very human desire to be relevant, useful, and to have significance.  Yet monastic living goes on in unremarkable ways – often unnoticed and even undervalued.

And again the importance of ‘being’ in a world where people have become consumers   (“I shop / buy stuff….therefore I am”) and are intended to become producers or active agents too (“I make / do stuff ….therefore I am”).  Perhaps the monastic vocation is primarily to ‘be’ and to affirm other people in their prime identity of ‘being’ (“You are …… and you are loved”).

A basic monastic desire is to know yourself truly and deeply.  It is via this journey of self-knowledge within the love of God that I might discover wisdom and experience to share with others.  But I can never forget that I am just a very ordinary human being, as flawed as anyone else, and daring to believe that I may be as gifted as anyone else too.

Greetings to you for this continued Easter Season (another month to go yet!)

 

Monastic Journey

From the outset of my pioneer adventure I have known monasticism would be a significant feature.  Vividly inscribed in my mind is the moment of revelation.  Since then I have been attentive to developments in New Monasticism as well as to my experiences of traditional monasticism, chiefly through retreat experiences and reading.

I have been captivated by the life of the early Beguines.  I hear their story as feisty independent women serving their communities, eventually becoming a semi-monastic movement.  Their largely forgotten story is being rediscovered in present times.  I have felt a close affiliation to the earlier Franciscans – an Order which continues to this day and provides an obvious attraction for a pioneer aware of matters of poverty.  To my great surprise I have been grabbed by the Benedictine tradition.  Again, I could describe the moment.  Now I am trying to feel at home in an online community based on both Benedictine principles and the example of the Beguines.

New Monasticism has become a rather attractive development in recent years.  It seems to hold the promise of revamping Christian life in contrast to an often struggling inherited church.

However, does New Monasticism run the risk of losing or avoiding key disciplines?  What sort of Christian life is it advocating?

Let me share the latest fundamental truth to hit me:  monasticism is about losing one’s status.

On one level for me this is a practical consideration.  I am no longer a church minister. I do not have the status accorded by church communities to their ordained leader. (What that status might be today is probably less significant than it once was, but some status remains).  I no longer have a function as someone relating primarily to churches.  My colleagueship with other presbyters (ordained ministers) has changed because I do not share in certain meetings or the sense of common life.  At face value I am living as an ordinary person, in an ordinary house, in a particular neighbourhood, with very few local individual connections.

On another level this goes a lot deeper.  My ministry is small-scale; much of it is one-to-one spiritual accompaniment or pastoral conversations or neighbourly chat.  By its nature these encounters are not seen or widely known about.  I am not seeking to run projects or organise activities which could bring me recognition and approval from others.  I might hope to facilitate community engagement with and among others, but my role would be more an enabling, background one.  In all likelihood it would be one-to-one or small group scale.

I acknowledge that there is part of me that would love to be in the limelight.  I would love to have plenty of work to do, to feel fulfilled and actively make a difference to people’s lives.  I can easily crave the attention and approval that comes with doing something well.  I know that what society seems to value (and the church often colludes) is what a person produces or does.  Can it be evaluated?  Can it satisfy a funder’s need to see results?

And yet…….. Am I called to just be?  Am I called to accept my prime identity as one who is loved by God?  (Whoever or whatever “God” may be).  In my beingness am I called to value other people simply for who they are?  And does this come at the cost of the loss of whatever status I had or might envisage having?

It is a sobering thought to ponder.  I suspect that an authentic monastic journey cuts you down to size!

After much struggle I seem to have discovered a level of contentment (even joy?) as I try to accept this discovery.  The temptation will always remain to seek recognition for what I do (I am only human after all!).  So prayers and encouragement would be welcome……

Non-church Christmas

This year I haven’t been to church for any Christmas festivities.

For all my life I have been to at least 1 carol service a year in a church.  For most of my adult life I have attended or led a Christmas Morning service.  Christmas has been focused on churchgoing.

Of course, over the years I have joined in other Christmas-related concerts and carol sings.  Yet for me, the Church’s Christmas observance has been an integral part of mine.

This year I led 3 Advent services in churches (2 in Celtic Advent weeks – late November -, and 1 in mainstream Advent).  The nearest I got to a Christmas carol was “Joy to the World”.  I didn’t hear the traditional nativity story and associated Bible readings, I didn’t see any dramatic nativity productions, I didn’t experience any Christmassy reflections or sermons from preachers.

Instead my Christmas observance began with outdoor carol singing with a community choir in a picturesque village, followed by a communal fish and chip supper on the way home.  It continued with the concert of my usual community choir – admittedly held in a church and including many Christmas carols plus descants which I thought I’d left behind in my childhood Junior Choir years (Christmas is a challenge for sopranos!).  A couple of evenings in local pubs followed – singing all sorts of carols, especially Local Carols – sung with passion and real enjoyment.  There’s nothing quite like a pint of cider accompanying the basses’ favourite “Diadem” (aka “All Hail the power of Jesu’s name”) – an experience to relish.

Alongside this I continued my rhythm of prayer and focus on Advent themes: the longing for God to come alongside us and save us from destructive behaviour (whether to ourselves or to others) whilst knowing the already-in-place gift fulfilling that desire, the hope that we might realise God’s ways of living for ourselves and together in community, plus all the usual ones of light in the darkness, the coming of love and joy and peace…..

Finally the quiet and understated Christmas Eve communion in my conservatory chapel shared with my son.  Music, words of reflection, wafer and wine, silence, and watching the dark inky sky with the neighbour’s tree silhouetted against it in the street light.  The coming of the Christ Child greeted with a mother-son hug and shared appreciation of the moment.

And so Christmas finally arrived.  Following on the heels of a mindful Advent journey, anticipated in merriment and community, birthed in love. For me one of the most meaningful seasons of Advent & Christmas……

If you would like to read more, find other posts like this in my blog

Dare to Imagine…..

I’m looking forward to reading the latest book delivered through my letterbox.

John Philip Newell, in his book “The Rebirthing of God: Christianity’s Struggle for New Beginnings“, notes the main responses to the collapse of Christianity in the West.  From denial that a collapse is actually happening to the frantic attempt to shore up the basis of the old dispensation he moves to asking “what is trying to be born that requires a radical reorientation of our vision?”

This strikes me as a good question to ponder in this Advent period.  It is a season to acknowledge the decline of the old existence and to be prepared to leave it behind.  It is the time to look forward with hope and anticipation to the new possibilities waiting round the corner yet which are even happening now.

We need new eyes to see what is coming to pass lest we miss it.

I share the frustrations of those who yearn for the church to embrace “a radical reorientation”.  Too often we seem stuck in the task of trying to find new versions of old ways to keep the show on the road.  We massage our denominational statistics to seek a golden nugget in all the dross in order to convince ourselves that things aren’t too bad.

God is doing a new thing!  How often have I proclaimed that? Can we dare to feel excited about that in this moment?  A thrill of possibilities and adventure…… Or will we retreat into the supposed comfort of the familiar?

May we continue to look in anticipation for God’s newness as we await the birth of One regarded as the Saviour ….. who arrives not with sticking plasters but with healing salve and fresh vision.

Read more on our blog.

Sharing Peacemeal

peacemeal

Twice a month we share something called a ‘Peacemeal’ at Open House Sheffield.

In basic terms Peacemeal is a place of discussion and food but as we eat it gives us a chance to learn more about the world and to open us up to being moved to take action with others to make a difference.

Peacemeal is an international initiative based on the ancient idea of peace … meaning “wholeness, harmony, integratedness and wellbeing, throughout humanity and with wild nature.”

Peacemeal has the basic idea that peace in the world always begins with us.

Peacemeal is inspired by the meals Jesus had. He always seemed to enable changes as he ate.  The developers of peacemeal say that Jesus showed “that sharing food created space, where those wishing to follow him, as well as those of different faiths or no faith, were all equally welcomed, honoured and respected. A place to discuss, debate, listen and learn. Somewhere to laugh, sing and even dance sometimes; yet also to share concerns, to cry or be angry about things together. A focus for reflection, silence, meditation and prayer, each engaging with what is deep and true for us personally.”

Why not come along this Friday to our Peacemeal.  More details in our diary.