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

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.

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



Last week was a typical one in the life an anglican clergyman.

On Monday I travelled to Ilkley for a residential meeting as we began the work of setting up Jesus Shaped People as a charity.  There was a tremendous amount of good work done in a short time as the Board thought a lot about vision and future tasks.

I then had twenty four hours, so the obvious thing was to walk to Wetherby.  I climbed onto Ilkley Moor and spent the afternoon exploring it


You will be relieved to know that I remembered my hat.

I climbed back down into Wharfdale, crossing the river at those exciting, slippery, water covered stepping stones I posted a picture of last week.  I arrived at my Camp – read about the special morning encounter here.


A swift morning’s walk (five hours) got me to my destination, Wood Hall Carmel.  Monastic hospitality meant a shower, a very large meal, and a lie down on a comfortable bed.  I am happy as I look forward to my Wales Pilgrimage that my fitness for this walk, carrying a full pack, was reasonable.

In the evening I spoke with the sisters, giving a paper on how the insights of St Teresa and St John are feeding my parish work, especially with people on the edge, and receiving their insights.

Another morning meant another journey.  After Mass, a lift to Wetherby, the bus to Leeds and a train to London to Lambeth Palace for the first meeting of the Church of England Working Group on Estates Evangelism.  Again, this was extremely positive – lots of energy and solid planning to bring as much wisdom, resources and good and creative practice to play on this context as possible.  I’m looking forward to seeing how this works out over the next years – please keep it in your prayers.  (For background on this, click on Estates Ministry in the subject cloud on the left margin of this blog).

And then home.  Good to be back and to have a rest.  And good to be back at St Bede’s for a more normal week of stability.

easter journey: enkindling love

There are lots of very good things coming together on this blog this Easter.

Here is an article by Gillian Ahlgren on how Teresa of Avila’s The Interior Castle has impacted on her over the years.

I am looking forward to continuing work with Gillian as the fruits of the Christian mystical tradition inform and feed work with those on the margins of our society, and work with those on the margins transforms and deepens our understandings of the traditions.

Gillian’s new book Enkindling Love: The Legacy of Teresa of Avila and John of the Cross will be published in the UK next month.



sabbatical dreaming

Bishop David has granted me a Sabbatical.  It’s a little way off – September, October and November 2016 – but it is wonderfully refreshing to know that it is there.

I am planning to spend that time doing two things.  I’ll have time and space to take the research and reflection that I am doing on St Teresa of Avila and St John of the Cross and how I see their teaching and life underpinning the sort of ministry I do deeper.  Maybe an article or two.  Maybe the outlines of something larger.

And a long walking pilgrimage.  This blog began in 2009 as a way of letting me share my experiences on the Camino de Levante in Spain with people at home.  This time I am hoping to walk the Cistercian Way, a route that circles round Wales for 650 miles or so, visiting the sites of the Cistercian Abbeys there.

Here’s a rough map of the route:


Details of the route can be found here.  It’s definitely going to be a different challenge to Spain.  There won’t be much that is flat.  In fact, I’ve found this elevation chart of the route:


but it won’t be as hot.  There won’t be all the pilgrim infrastructure.  I’ll be carrying a tent and am planning to camp or bivi quite a bit.  I would like to finish at Penrys.  As I have written here, Our Lady of Penrhys has a particular importance for those of us of catholic tradition who minister and live in outer estate places.  It seems absolutely right to end the pilgrimage here.  This means I will probably start at Margam or Neath.

I’ve got the luxury of plenty of time now to reflect and think and plan and dream all this.  One of the things I will be doing is researching the route.  If any Welsh friends, or people who live in Wales or know about it, have ideas of places to visit on the way round – especially pilgrim places – I would be grateful to know about them. Also any offers of places to sleep on the floor will be gratefully accepted! – or if anyone wants to walk a day or two with me (although I want to make sure that I walk alone for some of the time too).  I should be walking for six or seven weeks in September and October 2016.

advent journey – john of the cross day

San Juan De La Cruz

As you will know, the Spanish Carmelite Mystics are a profound influence on my path.  John of the Cross is celebrated on December 14th (or the next day when this is a Sunday).  Here is a good little article on John and Advent by Gregory Houck that speaks to a lot of the themes I have been reflecting on these past weeks.

This article, John of the Cross for Carpenters by Dennis Read is one I go back to as I think and pray.  It is good to read as we come close to Christmas.

I am off for a much needed Quiet Day where I hope to find some space for prayer and reflection amidst all the busyness.  I will pray for you.