Pilgrimpace's Blog

john of the cross: carmel, desire, transformation
August 1, 2019, 10:01 am
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John of the Cross_A4 poster_july 19

into the depth

Perhaps Therese of Lisieux, patroness of all missions, was meant to live out a destiny in which her time was limited to a minimum, her actions were reduced to essentials, her heroism was indiscernible to those who looked for it, and the scope of her mission covered a mere few square meters, in order to teach us that the effectiveness of a mission is not always measurable by the hands of a clock, that actions are not always visible, that missions covering vast distances will be joined by missions that penetrate straight into the depth of the crowds of humanity.  In that abyss, these missions will make contact with the human spirit that questions the world, and oscillates between the mystery of a God who wants it to be small and stripped bare, and the mystery of a world that wants it to be great and powerful. 

from Ville Marxiste, Terre de Mission by Madeleine Delbrel

dragging it uphill
April 28, 2017, 11:08 am
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I’ve come across this rather good picture,

in English, from The Sayings of Light and Love by St John of the Cross:

The soul that journeys to God, but does not shake off its cares and quiet its appetites, is like one who drags a cart uphill.

or perhaps those of us who are walking pilgrims might think of the times we have carried too much in our rucksacks.

life in a hidden light

There is a very beautiful little film here of my friends the Carmelite Sisters at Wolverhampton.

Click here


the way to holiness

Again, trying to view this in a way that’s speaks to us both as individuals and as parts of wider groups and bodies:

“The way to holiness is not through dramatic renunciation, and holiness itself is not just for the ‘specialists’, clergy and religious.  Holiness cannot be struggled for and won – it can only be given, and all that is necessary is that we should ask.  As soon as we cease to strive for virtue, concentrating attention uselessly on ourselves, and instead recognise our weakness, our need, the way is open to encounter God and the holiness of Jesus which is His gift.”

– Ruth Burrows


standing unprotected

This is one of those passages that speaks to me deeply, that I want to spend a lot of time with.  The continuation of a journey into Lent.  

And the glimpses that this applies corporately as well as individually.


“The essential act of prayer is to stand unprotected before God.  What will God do?  He will take possession of us.  That he should do this is the whole purpose of life.  We know we belong to God; we know too, if we are honest, that almost despite ourselves, we keep a deathly hold on our own autonomy.  We are willing, in fact very ready, to pay God lip-service (just as we are ready to talk about prayer rather than to pray), because waving God as a banner keeps our conscience quiet.  But really to belong to God is another matter.  It means having nothing left for ourselves, always bound to the will of another, no sense of interior success to comfort us, living in the painful acknowledgement of being ‘unprofitable servants’.  It is a terrible thing to be a fallen creature, and for most of the time we busily push this truth out of our awareness.  But prayer places us helpless before the living God and we taste the full bitterness of what we are.

“Ask yourself: What do I really want when I pray?  Do you want to be possessed by God? Or to put the same question more honestly, do you want to want it?  Then you have it.  The one point Jesus stressed and repeated and brought up again is that: ‘Whatever you ask the Father he will grant it to you.’  his insistence on faith and perseverance are surely other ways of saying the same thing: you must really want, it must engross you.  When you set yourself down to pray, what do you want?  If you want God to take possession of you, then you are praying.  That is all prayer is.  There are no secrets, no shortcuts, no methods.  Prayer is the utter ruthless test of your sincerity.  It is the one place in the world in which there is nowhere to hide.  That is its utter bliss – and its torment.

“If you desire to stand surrendered before God, then you are standing there.  It needs absolutely nothing else.  Prayer is the last thing we should feel discouraged about.  It concerns nobody except God – always longing to give himself in love – and my own decision.  And that too is God’s ‘who works in us to will and effect’.  In a very true sense there is nothing more to say about prayer – ‘the simplest thing out’.  However two practical comments.  The first is that prayer must have time … Nobody goes through a day without the odd patch, a five minute break, a ten minute pause.  If you do truly want to pray, well then pray … The other practical point is: what shall I do during prayer?  (How eagerly people long to be told the answer!  For that would make me safe against God, well protected.  I would know what to do!)  But the answer is of the usual appalling simplicity: stand before God unprotected and you will know yourself what to do.”

– Ruth Burrows Ascent to Love: the spiritual teaching of St John of the Cross


all saints day journey

I have probably shared this before, but these Cistercian words speak very much to where I am after walking the Cistercian Way.  I am sure it will speak to others as well:

My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it. Therefore I will trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.


A good road to walk.

I made a physical journey today to the doctor’s surgery to get my knee checked over.  It is hurting much less now and – obviously – I was able to complete that last important week of walking.  Good news.  It is some wear to the cartilage.  Nothing to worry about or to stop me walking and cycling.  If I get another acute episode, I am to go back and they will MRI scan it.  It is healing.  This gives me confidence.

Today is All Saints Day.  I am reading a helpful and insightful book by Mark O’Keefe, The Way of Transformation: Saint Teresa of Avila on the Foundation and Fruit of Prayer.  This looks at Teresa’s teaching and spirituality through the integral lens of moral theology; it’s about how praying transforms our living, and how living well transforms our praying.  My insights are deepening.

As I walk on with all this, here is Santa Teresa striding out from The Encarnacion with her great and determined determination:


altar frontal

I visited Moseley Old Hall near Wolverhampton yesterday.  It was wonderful to discover a seventeenth century altar frontal made by Carmelite nuns in Sicily containing scenes from the life of St Teresa.  I was particularly struck by one panel depicting Ss Francis and Clare appearing to Teresa, a legend I have not come across before, but something that weaves together important strands of my own spirituality and journey.

It wasn’t possible or appropriate to take photographs of it, but there is one of the whole frontal here and one of the panel here


reading enkindling love

If you are in Birmingham, you might want to join this group reading Gillian Ahlgren’s excellent Enkindling Love:



This is the title of a new book on the legacy of Teresa of Avila and John of the Cross by Professor Gillian Ahlgren who recently spoke about it at All Saints Kings Heath. About it Alison Weber of the University of Virginia has written: …”This guide of Teresa and John’s major works reveals the Spanish mystics as passionate teachers and systematic theologians determined to share their transformative experience of God’s love. Gillian Ahlgren makes accessible their major insight: the inherent coherence between contemplation and loving action in the world.”

The book is in print and the cheapest deal seems to be just under £20 from the Book Depository. In one case the book came 7 days after an order was placed by email to:


The group meets from 12.30 to 13.30 on a Wednesday. Members often bring and eat sandwiches. Its first meeting is to be as usual at the Queen’s Foundation, Somerset Road, B15 2QH (for directions see their website) in the Samuel Marsden Room just off the dining room. The date is to be Wednesday June 22nd. It is a ten minutes walk from University railway station.

The next three meetings, on July 6th, 20th and August 3rd, will, because Queen’s term will have finished, be elsewhere, in a room at the church and centre complex of St Francis Bournville, B30 1JY, five minutes walk from Bournville railway station. All are welcome.

The book has four chapters and the intention would be to study one at each meeting.

Further details from: The Revd John Nightingale johnbnightingale@hushmail.com 07811 128831who will be glad to know the names of those intending to attend.

swifts and swallows
A full time recently.  Summer has seemed a long time coming.  Warmth arrived a few days ago and I was aching to see the swifts and swallows, jealous and impatient of those reporting them from further south.
On Sunday evening I walked to Yardley Wood Baptist Church to hear my friend Trevor Neill speak about his deep thinking on Baptist mission and ministry on outer housing estates.  This was a great evening.  It was good to see Trevor’s congregation react so warmly to his words and really helpful to me to get a perspective from a slightly different angle on my work.
I stepped out of the Church into the sunset and three swifts roared past low.
A walk in the warm sun through urban beauty and promise.
I had a Quiet Day yesterday at Carmel.  This was the first reflective time I’ve managed to carve out for a bit and it was one of those days of things coming together.  The weather has changed and almost feels like summer (despite today’s rain).  Through the window – past a tree that is in flower for such a short time each year – I watched swallows soar in the urban sky.
Enkindling Love, Gillian Ahlgren’s new book on John and Teresa has arrived and I was able to begin reading it.  It is what I had hoped for.  I’ll write more when I have read more.
During the day it struck me that the fundamental question or questions I am living with have changed from ‘What is the most important thing in your life?’ to ‘What do you most desire?‘ and ‘What do I most desire?’.  This is real gift and something I can hold as I journey on, and especially as I walk in the autumn.
My main task in the next few days (alongside funerals and teaching) is to write a draft of my recommendations to the Diocese on the way forward for estates ministry.  Please keep that in prayer.  You are all in my prayers

urban beauty – outer estates