Pilgrimpace's Blog


choice
March 23, 2016, 9:38 am
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We have a choice.

In this week of all weeks

my heart is full

and full with bombings and agony.

We have a choice

not to escape suffering

with walls of sufficiency.

We have a choice

in our response.

Let us love.

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a larger, complicated thing

Love is the smallest sliver of a so much larger, more complicated thing

-Julie Myerson

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This quote is helping today’s reflections

remembering a friend I buried recently; working to make the presence of the Church in outer social housing estates as good and fruitful as possible; wondering about the possibilities from an extraordinary day in British politics; thinking through tomorrow’s Annual Meeting at St Bede’s, that chance to take stock of where we are, to look forward, to see what we might do better, to say thank you, for all to have their say and be included (and not forgetting to have a good dinner together); entering the Pilgrimage of Holy Week, walking with Christ in the Way of the Cross as best we can and praying to meet him in the Resurrection; making sense of what all this might mean in this broken, beautiful world.

Love is the smallest sliver of a so much larger, more complicated thing



love is what carries you
March 18, 2016, 8:16 pm
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Love is what carries you,
for it is always there,
even in the dark,
or most in the dark

– Wendell Berry



valentine’s day
February 14, 2016, 9:47 am
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Here’s my script for Radio WM’s Thought for the Day this morning. I must be more famous for grand romantic gestures than I thought.

12516381_10208285693760354_1366775042_nIt’s Valentines Day, a time when we celebrate love and romance.  Sellers of champagne, roses and candlelit dinners for two will do well.

Valentines reminds me of this passage from Captain Correlli’s Mandolin by Louis de Bernieres in which Iannis, an elderly Greek doctor, is warning his daughter:

And another thing.  Love is a temporary madness, it erupts like volcanoes and then subsides.  And when it subsides you have to make a decision.  You have to work out whether your roots have so entwined together that it is inconceivable that you should ever part.  Because that is what love is.  Love is not breathlessness, it is not excitement, it is not the promulgation of promises of eternal passion … That is just being “in love”; any fool can fall in love.  Love itself is what is left over when being in love has burned away … It is finding that you have roots which have grown towards each other underground and that you are one tree and not two.

This reminds us that love is about hard work as well as beautiful excitement.  It  helps us look beyond our immediate circumstances; it raises our eyes to the horizons.

To paraphrase bel hooks, “Love is a piece of work, not a state of mind”.  What does long-term, hard-working, tough love have to tell us about a world where people are homeless, hungry, cold, lonely (insert today’s topical news reference)?

How can this love help us to practically overcome the barriers between us so that we can make a real difference to those who need us most?

Champagne and roses and chocolates can ease the way to this. Happy Valentines.



given

Our hearts are broken this week by the massacres in Paris over the weekend – and of course those in other parts of the world we hear less about in the western media.

I am thinking and praying hard about this at the moment as I will have to preach about it on Sunday.

I know I will want to be saying things about the need to carry on living; to overcome fear; to live together with our neighbours in this city and world; for solidarity; and something about the very hard things Jesus says about the need to forgive and the duty to pray for and love our enemies.

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As I pause and pray and light candles and wrestle with darkness, I go back to this remarkable document written nearly twenty years by Dom Christian de Cherge, Abbot of the Cistercian Monastery in Tibhirine in Algeria, as he lived in the face of martyrdom there.

My brothers and sisters, let’s pray for this world and let’s work to make it a place worth living for everyone.

Testament of Dom Christian de Chergé

                                                                    (opened on Pentecost Sunday, May 26, 1996)

Facing a GOODBYE…. 
If it should happen one day – and it could be today –
that I become a victim of the terrorism which now seems ready to engulf
all the foreigners living in Algeria,
I would like my community, my Church and my family
to remember that my life was GIVEN to God and to this country.
I ask them to accept the fact that the One Master of all life
was not a stranger to this brutal departure.
I would ask them to pray for me:
for how could I be found worthy of such an offering?
I ask them to associate this death with so many other equally violent ones
which are forgotten through indifference or anonymity.
My life has no more value than any other.
Nor any less value.
In any case, it has not the innocence of childhood.
I have lived long enough to know that I am an accomplice in the evil
which seems to prevail so terribly in the world,
even in the evil which might blindly strike me down.
I should like, when the time comes, to have a moment of spiritual clarity
which would allow me to beg forgiveness of God
and of my fellow human beings,
and at the same time forgive with all my heart the one who would strike me down.
I could not desire such a death.
It seems to me important to state this.
I do not see, in fact, how I could rejoice
if the people I love were indiscriminately accused of my murder.
It would be too high a price to pay
for what will perhaps be called, the “grace of martyrdom”
to owe it to an Algerian, whoever he might be,
especially if he says he is acting in fidelity to what he believes to be Islam.
I am aware of the scorn which can be heaped on the Algerians indiscriminately.
I am also aware of the caricatures of Islam which a certain Islamism fosters.
It is too easy to soothe one’s conscience
by identifying this religious way with the fundamentalist ideology of its extremists.
For me, Algeria and Islam are something different: it is a body and a soul.
I have proclaimed this often enough, I think, in the light of what I have received from it.
I so often find there that true strand of the Gospel
which I learned at my mother’s knee, my very first Church,
precisely in Algeria, and already inspired with respect for Muslim believers.
Obviously, my death will appear to confirm
those who hastily judged me naïve or idealistic:
“Let him tell us now what he thinks of his ideals!”
But these persons should know that finally my most avid curiosity will be set free.
This is what I shall be able to do, God willing:
immerse my gaze in that of the Father
to contemplate with him His children of Islam
just as He sees them, all shining with the glory of Christ,
the fruit of His Passion, filled with the Gift of the Spirit
whose secret joy will always be to establish communion
and restore the likeness, playing with the differences.
For this life lost, totally mine and totally theirs,
I thank God, who seems to have willed it entirely
for the sake of that JOY in everything and in spite of everything.
In this THANK YOU, which is said for everything in my life from now on,
I certainly include you, friends of yesterday and today,
and you, my friends of this place,
along with my mother and father, my sisters and brothers and their families,
You are the hundredfold granted as was promised!
And also you, my last-minute friend, who will not have known what you were doing:
Yes, I want this THANK YOU and this GOODBYE to be a “GOD-BLESS” for you, too,
because in God’s face I see yours.
May we meet again as happy thieves in Paradise, if it please God, the Father of us both.

AMEN !   INCHALLAH !  

Algiers, 1st December 1993 
Tibhirine, 1st January 1994 

Christian



advent journey – gaze
December 12, 2014, 1:33 pm
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'Jesus on the Soup Line'. Mural at the Catholic Worker House in Los Angeles by Gary Palmentier

‘Jesus on the Soup Line’. Mural at the Catholic Worker House in Los Angeles by Gary Palmentier

Advent is a season that deals with tough things.  It would be easy and tempting to avert our gaze and hurry on to the joys of Christmas.

But it is important to keep our nerve and to keep our gaze steady.

In the last days we have seen a major report on food poverty in Britain.  It is clear from the report and from living here and knowing those around me, that food poverty has increased massively over the past years.  In short, people are hungry.  Many of these are in work but paid very low wages.

The Churches and many others have stepped in with massive generosity, setting up a raft of formal and informal foodbanks.  Such spirit should be encouraged.  However, as a basic point of justice and human decency, no one should go hungry or have to depend on charity to eat.  Structures need to be changed.  Let’s get on with this too.  Let’s all be hungry for justice.

It is all too easy to avert our gaze from people or situations which disturb us.  An Advent challenge is to pay attention, to give time and energy, even when it might be hopeless.  A good friend near to here as given a great amount of hope to us this Advent by becoming righteously angry about someone being made homeless.  It has tested him to the limit, but he has succeeded in keeping the person housed.

Winter, for me, often means entering into journeys with those who are very ill and their families and loved ones.  If you pray, could you pray for several people here who are very ill and those who care for them.  And for me that I may have the resources, grace and energy.

Let’s keep looking for love, for hope in the darkness.  Let’s keep looking for what we are required to do.  And let’s get on with it.



night

I’m enjoying a little space this early evening mulling over preaching during the services of the next few days.  I’m thinking quite a bit about night, darkness, love, justice.  Tomorrow morning I will walk to Birmingham Cathedral along the canal or the River Rea to reach the Chrism Mass, being fed in all sorts of ways before feeding others.

Thinking of those at the End Hunger Fast Vigil in London this evening, those who will go to bed hungry this evening, those with the power to do something about this.

Two poems below.  The last section of Thomas Merton’s Hagia Sophia, then some John of the Cross:

The shadows fall. The stars appear. The birds begin to sleep.
Night embraces the silent half of the earth. A vagrant, a destitute
wanderer with dusty feet, finds his way down a new road. A 
homeless God, lost in the night, without papers, without 
identifications, without even a number, a frail expendable exile
lies down in desolation under the sweet stars of the world and 
entrusts Himself to sleep.

The Dark Night of the Soul

St John Of the Cross

On a dark night, 
Kindled in love with yearnings–oh, happy chance!–
I went forth without being observed, 
My house being now at rest.

In darkness and secure, 
By the secret ladder, disguised–oh, happy chance!–
In darkness and in concealment, 
My house being now at rest.

In the happy night, 
In secret, when none saw me,
Nor I beheld aught, 
Without light or guide, save that which burned in my 
heart.

This light guided me 
More surely than the light of noonday
To the place where he (well I knew who!) was awaiting me–
A place where none appeared.

Oh, night that guided me, 
Oh, night more lovely than the dawn,
Oh, night that joined Beloved with lover, 
Lover transformed in the Beloved!

Upon my flowery breast, 
Kept wholly for himself alone,
There he stayed sleeping, and I caressed him, 
And the fanning of the cedars made a breeze.

The breeze blew from the turret 
As I parted his locks;
With his gentle hand he wounded my neck 
And caused all my senses to be suspended.

I remained, lost in oblivion; 
My face I reclined on the Beloved.
All ceased and I abandoned myself, 
Leaving my cares forgotten among the lilies.

 



camino retreat – interval

Wednesday 5th February, our second day of walking, was a day of hard showers and interludes.

After breakfast  – when Mike and I sought to disprove Rebekah’s assertion that Spanish doughnuts are no good (they fuelled the walking, but I’d go for porridge to maximise this) –  we began with our morning reflection.

George Herbert’s Love was a good place to start, God’s grace gently summoning us back to him, and the theme of love happening through meals and hospitality – something that fits so well with what we receive on the camino, but also in each of the lives of the four of us (see the previous post on End Hunger Fast for how this fits in my life and ministry at the moment).

Love bade me welcome, yet my soul drew back,
        Guilty of dust and sin.
But quick-ey’d Love, observing me grow slack
        From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning
        If I lack’d anything.

“A guest,” I answer’d, “worthy to be here”;
        Love said, “You shall be he.”
“I, the unkind, the ungrateful? ah my dear,
        I cannot look on thee.”
Love took my hand and smiling did reply,
        “Who made the eyes but I?”

“Truth, Lord, but I have marr’d them; let my shame
        Go where it doth deserve.”
“And know you not,” says Love, “who bore the blame?”
        “My dear, then I will serve.”
“You must sit down,” says Love, “and taste my meat.”
        So I did sit and eat. 

We thought about Jesus’ call to follow him, about how we can tell we are close to him through our growing compassion for others.  This quote from St Athanasius’ Life of Antony, perhaps counter-intuitively for those on pilgrimage, spoke to us:

Some leave home and cross the seas in order to gain an education, but there is no need for us to go away on account of the Kingdom of God nor need we cross the sea in search of virtue. For the Lord has told us, “The Kingdom of God is within you.” All that is needed for goodness is that which is within, the human heart.

There is after all the job of returning home and living there.  Pilgrimage is an interlude which can make things clearer.

In the early morning, the rain stopped and something beautiful happened

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The sun – those of us who live in Europe had not seen it since Christmas.  Even Kathy, coming out of Californian drought was missing it.  The fields around, full of water, were lit up.  A rainbow – heralding the next rains – arced across a quarry.  We stopped and I took out my notebook and read RS Thomas’ The Bright Field (you can read it here).

The weather made the walking much more comfortable.  We were able to pause more, to look around.  We passed some wonderful homemade sculptures.

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We rested rather than sheltered in bars as we drank a coffee or a claro, we were able to sit next to a forest path to eat bocadillo.

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We walked the long straight path into Sigueiro and celebrated with beer.  As the accommodation there has declined, we had arranged to stay a few kilometres outside at the Hotel Vicente.  Ignatio picked us up.  Again, we found that we were the first pilgrims through this year.  We had a good dinner of what the kitchen had – welcome warm caldo, fish, tarta santiago.  Being with Rebekah meant we had good knowledge of the local wines.  Good conversation, and then to bed to listen to the next storm beating the highway …



rooted

When I’m preaching at a wedding or a renewal of marriage vows like I am this afternoon, I often quote this passage from Captain Correlli’s Mandolin by Louis de Bernieres in which Iannis, an elderly Greek doctor, is warning his daughter Pelagia of the dangers of love:

And another thing.  Love is a temporary madness, it erupts like volcanoes and then subsides.  And when it subsides you have to make a decision.  You have to work out whether your roots have so entwined together that it is inconceivable that you should ever part.  Because that is what love is.  Love is not breathlessness, it is not excitement, it is not the promulgation of promises of eternal passion … That is just being “in love”; any fool can fall in love.  Love itself is what is left over when being in love has burned away … It is finding that you have roots which have grown towards each other underground and that you are one tree and not two.

And quoting this here raises a whole range of questions.  What does this long-term focussed love mean?  What does it mean when it is focussed not just on one other person or family, but on a community or city or country or world?  What are the social and political consequences of such love?  What does long-term love in a relationship of whatever sort teach us about the nature of political love and commitment?

 

 



lenten journey – six
March 8, 2012, 1:54 pm
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“I don’t think a loving parent would educate by fear.”  “I hope this is not what you teach your parishioners.”   “Oh, I don’t teach them.  They teach me.”

It’s odd, thought Father Quixote, how sharing a sense of doubt can bring people together perhaps even more than sharing a faith.  The believer will fight another believer over a shade of difference: the doubter fights only with himself.

Why is it that the hate of man dies with his death, and yet love, the love which he had begun to feel for Father Quixote, seemed now to live and grow in spite of the final separation and the final silence – for how long was it possible for that love of his to continue? And to what end?

– Graham Greene, Monsignor Quixote