Pilgrimpace's Blog


walking the cistercian way – on becoming a (more) broken pilgrim, part 2
December 1, 2016, 8:40 pm
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A (More) Broken Pilgrim

 This part of the article is, much more than the other parts, work in progress.  I will either revise this or write it in another form after a period of time.

And so began a pilgrimage I hadn’t expected – an armchair pilgrimage as I sat in my chair with my foot up, a spiritual journey as I explored what this all meant, a journey towards healing.  It is obviously possible to be on a journey, on a pilgrimage, even if you are forced to be still.  This quote from the Sufi Mystic Hafiz brought me some comfort.

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There is also a saying from the Desert Fathers, “You need a spiritual pilgrimage. Begin by closing your mouth.

It was obviously a tough time.  In practical terms, I got home and went straight to the doctor.  An X-Ray was clear, so I was told to rest and elevate my leg.  If the pain eased after a couple of weeks, I could very gently start short walks and build them up.  If there was no adverse reaction, I might be able to start the walking pilgrimage again in a month.  As it happened, everything worked out and I did start walking after a month.  But until a few days before that, I really did not know if I would be able to do any more walking this year.

As well as the pain, there was a coming to terms with not being able to do something I had been really looking forward to.  There were some dark times, but within all this there was a feeling of being on a journey, of some movement going on, although not knowing at the moment exactly what this is.

There is something important, and not necessarily easy, in saying ‘Yes’ to God in whatever experiences come to us, of bringing the basic pilgrim attitudes of thankfulness and gratefulness to bear when we have a pile of something nasty set before us.  Again, there is that thing of such importance, that it is much easier to talk about than to do – learning to trust, not to worry.  Fr Gildas on Caldey gave me a little card that said, “If we are on a Pilgrimage, God too is on a Pilgrimage to us.”  A wise Carmelite Nun, sent me a message including the words, “The Lord is hard at work on you.”  The support and love of others was of vital importance to me at this time.  As if I didn’t know it already, it is impossible to do something like this on your own.

This pilgrimage time has allowed space for me to be present to God in a special way.  I am sure I will learn what the benefits of this will be as time unfolds (seven years ago, as I was approaching Santiago, someone from St Bede’s, my Church, sent me a wonderful message – “You will learn the benefits of this over the next decades” – patience!).

I have been made to explore deeply some places I would choose not to go, but honest exploration of stuff around weakness, vulnerability, humility, brokenness, smallness and fragility can never be wasted.  It is of vital importance for ministry and life and it is right at the heart of the Gospel.  This is at the heart of the human pilgrimage.

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While I was on Caldey, a lot of the Office Readings were from Corinthians with Paul’s reflecting on dying and rising in and with Christ.  This has spoken to me a lot while I have plodded and then sat.  Lots of connections between this, discipleship, life and my ministry to tease out. I want to spend some time reading St Elizabeth of the Trinity and her teaching, from the heart of the crucible, about suffering and self-forgetfulness.

to be continued ….



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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advent journey – light in the darkness

We are reeling from the terrible news from Peshawar yesterday. 141 people, mostly children, slaughtered in an attack on a school.  Things don’t seem to have changed much since the massacre of the Holy Innocents in Bethlehem which the Church remembers each year on December 28th.  It is bleak and dark.  We are shocked, we doubt, we lament, we cry, we light candles.

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As the news of this started to come through yesterday, I was in amongst it in one of those busy pre-Christmas days.  I spent the early afternoon helping at the Learning Disabilities Chaplaincy Christmas Service.  This is up the road at Monyhull.  This is special for many reasons.  There are strong links.  When St Bede’s were rebuilding after the fire, our congregation were welcomed in by the church made up of folk with learning disabilities and their carers and, for a few years, the two congregations were one.  My Grandad spent his life as Head Porter in a similar place.  It is wonderful to be with this Church and I have such a lot to learn there.  It was good to be joined by Bishop David who cemented his reputation there as the man who lies down in services.

The current austerity and attack on the NHS is in evidence though.  There were far fewer residents present than usual.  Many of the homes are now run by private companies, making it very hard for the Chaplaincy to work in a coherent way; staffing is cut to the bone; there are not enough staff to enable everyone who wants to to attend.  After Mass and carols we ate mince pies together.  I’m not sure if J. broke his record for eating them.

I was then kindly by Councillor Barry Henley to accompany Bishop David and Sior, the Chaplain, to Barry’s house where we joined in the lighting of the first candle of Hanukkah.  It was moving to reflect together on the meaning of this miracle against the background of the school massacre.  Light shone in the darkness; oppression is faced by justice and righteousness.  Some of these thoughts should be broadcast soon on Radio WM.

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In the evening I went to Woodthorpe Junior and Infant School for their Christmas Concert.  It’s been wonderful to have a link with this school for many years.  I sat in a hall full of parents and grandparents as the children sang wonderfully Christmas songs.  This excitement and joy is a response to the darkness of terrorism.  Children and schools acting in the way they should so that children grow and flourish, learning practically to respect other people and value life.

The light shines in the darkness.



questions
January 10, 2014, 1:03 pm
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“Rivers became aware that he was gripping the edge of the parapet and consciously relaxed his hands.  Whenever he spent any time with Burns, he found himself plagued with questions that in Cambridge, in peacetime, he might have wanted to pursue, but which in wartime, in an overcrowded hospital, were no use to him at all.  Worse than useless, since they drained him of energy that rightly belonged to his patients.”

Pat Barker Regeneration

I find this paragraph fascinating.  Are there times when we should stop asking the difficult and troubling questions that arise from encounters with suffering?  Is it even possible to do this?  But also the recognition that this can often be draining.



night

reading a paragraph

I sometimes know

from instincts much deeper than my intellect

that this is of utter importance

(and for some reason this usually concerns the Carmelite Mystics

who mean so much in this noisy urban place).

 

If night first tells us that there is somewhere to go, it also announces that we cannot get there on our own.  ‘Night’ presents suffering, not as the only place, but as the privileged place of God’s inflow.  In it, love not only comes; love also opens a space for coming.  That is the God-content of pain: it has power to unlock us at the point where we cannot unlock ourselves … Healing comes particularly in situations that take us out of our own control, in the kind of pain that is bewildering.

– Iain Matthew The Impact of God



a cry is heard in ramah

Here is my sermon for today, pondering Advent love in the light of the massacre of the children in America.  It could have done with some more hours of thinking time, but people found it helpful. 

Sermon preached on the Third Sunday of Advent, 2012 at St Gabriel, Weoley Castle and St Bede, Brandwood.

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We come together with shock and sadness at the massacre of the children in America.  The murder of children is terrible at any time, but there is a particular starkness about it just before Christmas when we are celebrating the birth of a baby and the joy of small children singing carols or starring in Nativity Plays is very much before us.  As we try to make some sense of, to come to terms with this latest horror, something that for many of us will be echoing a brokenness in our own lives, we might well be asking where God is in this.

 

As I’m sure you all know, there are no easy answers we can give at a time like this.  The world is clearly not the way it should be.  We might be able to look at our own suffering and say it has done us some good, helped us to grow and mature in some way (although we know there is suffering we can do without) but we cannot say this for anyone else.  We might rightly be asking questions like what exactly God is up to in this.  Reflecting on this, I think of the raw anger of fathers at the funerals of their babies.

 

And the Christmas story includes this.  We remember the story of the Nativity from Matthew’s Gospel with the Massacre of the Innocents and those chilling words from earlier massacres in Israel.  A cry is heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation: Rachel weeps for her children.  She refuses to be comforted, for they are no more.  There is nothing new under the sun.

 

We know that we can’t escape from suffering.  Where is God in all this?  Well, one thing we can be certain of is that God enters into it.  This is what we are celebrating at Christmas, what we are preparing for in Advent.  God coming into the world as a human baby, helpless, born in poverty and precariousness, needing our love in order to survive.  Behind me is the Cross.  God does not escape from suffering but enters into it fully so that we might live.  People recognised the Risen Lord by his wounds.  The marks of suffering are still there in the Resurrection.  God is in the suffering, taking it on, sharing it with us.  There are beautiful lines in Timothy Rees’ hymn ‘God is Love Let Heaven Adore Him’:

 

And when human hearts are breaking under sorrow’s iron rod

Then we find that self-same aching deep within the heart of God.

 

What are we doing here this morning?  We have just lit the third of our Advent Candles.  In amongst the gloominess of the short winter days, a light shines out that cheers us and gives us hope to carry on, clarity of vision.  There is always an ongoing challenge to embrace this and carry on.  To work determinedly at hope.  To work at making the world into the sort of place we want it to be.  We might not have easy satisfying answers to why there is suffering, to why innocent children are killed, but we can become a community of care and love which answers suffering by showing love and hope and life and light in the way that we live.

 

In our Gospel reading this morning, we meet again the strange and fierce figure of John the Baptist.  John who goes out into the desert, lives a life of great simplicity and integrity.  John who preaches repentance.  People flock to him because deep within themselves they know they want to change, they want to be different, to start afresh, just as they want the world to be different.  This is a very real and natural human longing.  When you have some quiet moments of reflection, do you feel this?  Would you like to be washed clean and made new as John washes the people clean in the Jordan?

 

People come to John and they are changed, they are transformed.  This is an invitation for us to.  How do we want to be transformed?  What do we want to be set free from?  What will help us to flourish, to live fully as we want the world and all its people to be fully alive?

 

Advent gives us an opportunity to ask and think about the big questions.  As we survey the world this morning, we know that questions need to be asked and that things need to be done to change things.  An answer that we can give in the face of evil is to live lives that put love into the world.  What can you, what can we do this Advent, this Christmas, to make a difference, to show God’s love in practical, real ways?

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The Mass continued.  After people had received Communion, there was a symbolic acting out of the lives of love and joy that we claim for all people.  At St Bede’s, we assembled the Crib.  At St Gabriel’s, we re-staged the Pop-up Nativity Scene that we did yesterday morning in Weoley Castle Square.

 



journey – holy week – saturday

The rabbit stopped shrieking when the stooped over it, either from exhaustion, or in some last extremity of fear. Thibault held the teeth of the trap apart, and Abelard gathered up the little creature in his hands. It lay for a moment breathing quickly, then in some blind recognition of the kindness that had met it at the last, the small head thrust and nestled against his arm, and it died.

It was that last confiding thrust that broke Abelard’s heart. He looked down at the little draggled body, his mouth shaking. ‘Thibault,’ he said, ‘do you think there is a God at all? Whatever has come to me, I earned it. But what did this one do?’

Thibault nodded.
‘I know,’ he said, “Only, I think God is in it too.’

Abelard look sharply.
‘In it? Do you mean that it makes him suffer, the way it does us?’

Thibault nodded.
‘Then why doesn’t he stop it?’

‘I don’t know,’ said Thibault. ‘Unless it’s like the prodigal son. I suppose the father could have kept him at home against his will. But what would have been the use? All this,’ he stroked the limp body, ‘is because of us. But all the time God suffers. More than we do.’

Abelard looked at him, perplexed. ‘Thibault, do you mean Calvary?’

Thibault shook his head. ‘That was only a piece of it – the piece that we say- in time. Like that.’ He pointed to a fallen tree beside them, sawn through the middle. ‘That dark ring there, it foes hp and down the whole length of the tree. But you only see it where it is cut across. That is what Christ’s life was; the bit of God that we saw. And we think God is like that, because was like that, kind and forgiving sins and healing people. We think God is like that for ever, because it happened once, with Christ. But not the pain. Not the agony at the last. We think that stopped.’

Abelard looked at him, the blunt nose and the wide mouth, the honest troubled eyes. He could have knelt before him.

‘Then, Thibault,’ he said slowly, ‘you think that all of this,’ he looked down at the little quiet body in his arms, ‘all the pain of the world, was Christ’s cross?’

‘God’s cross,’ said Thibault, ‘And it goes one.

– From Peter Abelard by Helen Waddell