developing prayer

out_edited-1I had an amazing day yesterday at the ‘Developing a Contemplative Prayer Life’ day, facilitated amazingly by Julie Dunstan from the London Centre for Spirituality.

Essentially, this was a day of prayer … real engaging prayer! Often I have been to ‘prayer’ days when there has been a lot of talk about prayer, a lot of sharing of the struggles of prayer, a lot of looking at the bible to see how people of the past prayed, a lot of sharing of practices that we find helpful ….. but those days and events have never particularly had a lot of prayer in them.

This day was different.
We had loads of space to pray and practice …. and I guess this was my first real experience of ‘practicing’ prayer in a space with others and then having the opportunity afterwards to chat about how it felt, and what came up and so on. I had this thought, really, of how bizarre it is that in church we practice/rehearse music, we practice/rehearse drama and we will set up tables and chairs in preparation for some event … but we don’t really give people an opportunity to practice different types of prayer. We seem to say prayer is important and tyhen expect everyone to know how to do it!

Yesterday I spent a large part of the day practising how to pray, and then talking with people about it afterwards.

Julie took us through five different types of contemplative prayer, some of which I have used in the past, and some that were totally new to me.

I really loved the format of the day. Julie started each session with a poem and then a brief outline of the type of prayer. She would then lead us through that prayer for 20/25 minutes. We were then given a further 10 mins to reflect alone on that type of prayer and how we found it and what, if anything, that God brought up. We then shared with someone else what we were thinking. This was an amazingly relaxed yet deep way of progressing through the day.

We looked at prayer using our imagination with scripture, asking ourselves the question ‘where would I put myself in this story?’ Carl Jung said ‘the imagination is the bridge between the head and the heart’. I particularly resonated with this type of prayer. Whether that is due to myself finding myself leaning to the more creative sides of things (right brained thinker and all that) i don’t know, but straight away I was aware of an amazingly powerful connection with God.

We then prayed in a Lectio Divina style … chewing and turning over a particular phrase of word from Isaiah 55. This, again, was a rich fruitful experience.

After the lunch break Julie led us through a body prayer. Essentially this is what is says on the tin … we used our bodies to say the Lords Prayer. This was fun … although I admit to moving to the back of the church so no one could see me, ….. and although it was fun I did kind of agree with a friend who, in the feedback, expressed that he ‘felt a bit of a dick head!’ Although I did, I found some of the postures quite powerful in their allusions to vulnerability and, on a personal note, that is always a useful place to find myself in front of God.

For me, the hardest part of the prayer day was Christian meditation … but i think that is because it cam straight after lunch. I had a bit of a struggle to stay awake …. despite what people may say it’s not an age thing … just I had a full belly and was asked to make myself comfortable and sit silently repeating my meditation word. The word I use at home when I meditate is ‘maranatha’ … not because it is a particularly spiritual word, but more that it is a word that does not bring up any distracting images for me.

We finished the day using the Examen, which is a practice I use regularly. It’s a method of prayer that I love ending my day with as it helps me to look back over the day and identify where God was at work.

So … a great day … thanks Ian for organising this.


My Erised

Mirror24 men on retreat was a great time. I came away knowing I am very privileged and cared for by this great group of friends.

It was good to catch up with my (old) friends and have time together to reflect and time alone to pray. The convent in Nympsfield is one of those places where it is pretty impossible to be distracted. There is no wifi signal. There is no mobile phone signal. Well .. that’s not strictly true I did manage to get a signal by walking to the top of the hill, climbing up a tree and stretching my phone up in the air as far as I can. That gave me one bar of reception now and again.

Due to its relative remoteness I find silence is very easy to achieve here … and so I spent a lot of time in silence before God. I used the Jesus Prayer a lot; so as well as reading I spent a lot of time in silence before my Creator God. In that silence God seemed to transform some fears into hopes and some longings into dreams. Most of all I seemed to receive two things:
God seemed to remind me of promises and I had this great sense of God simply saying ‘trust me’.
God also reminded me that he called me as me and so a little bit of remembering who I am started to happen. It was nothing like a mirror but the best way of describing this feeling was like standing in front of God who was a mirror. maybe a better illustration would be the Mirror of Erised from Harry Potter. It seemed as well as reminding me who I am, that God was reminding me what I longed for most. Maybe I will share that at another time when I am happy to make myself a little more vulnerable and ‘feel’ the grace of my readers!

Trust seems so simple to do in theory .. and yet I find it so difficult when the world and stuff I have ‘learned’ (and maybe need to unlearn) crashes back in on my life.
But i guess trust is hard, gritty and involve pain … I don’t know … but to trust connects with my vulnerability writings earlier in the year. The other side of the trust coin is vulnerability, as we inevitably have to open up ourselves to be let down.

Anyway … a great few days where I was blessed by friendship and challenged by God…. thank you.

The mad dog walker!

20140131-100240.jpgI have come to realise that dog walking is seriously bad for your health! Not only do you have to get up early in the morning and go out late at night in all weathers and bump into all types of people and all types of dog, not only do you risk life and limb sliding up, or down, muddy banks as the dog smells rabbit, not only do you risk contracting various diseases by picking up dog crap in very thin little plastic bags which don’t always protect your hands (!) …. but it seems also that it opens you to the risk of seemingly talking aloud to yourself and giving the impression to others that you have an imaginary friend!

I realised this last night when another dog walker gave me an incredibly odd look as it dawned on me that the conversation I was having with God (ie prayer) that I thought was in my head was, quite obviously, being said aloud! At 1130pm, when decent people are inside their warm homes either asleep or drinking good whisky, and it is quiet and calm …. one lone voice can travel quite a long way!

I mean … if you saw a giant 6’2 bloke in black raincoat and wellies with a nearly as tall greyhound charging towards you while having a conversation with a seemingly invisible friend …. what would you do! An old WWJD bracelet I saw lying around made me think that Jesus’ response if coming across such a scene with his disciples may well have been to command someone or something to come out!!!

So … now I have a reputation of talking to myself while I walk the dog …. great!

But that’s not the real danger. The real danger is that this prayer stuff, while walking, while I seemingly lose myself in both walk and nature and prayer is flipping real stuff! I don’t mean my prayers are better then anyone else’s …. but what I am noticing is that for the first time in a little while my prayers are nakedly honest. With that naked honesty comes a certain vulnerability and revealing of brokenness which means that some stuff can be dealt with. The danger with honesty is that you need to step out from hiding, and stepping into the open in that way can be a dangerous thing to do.

So is this hard? Yes
Does it hurt? Yes
Is it backbreaking, crappy hard slog stuff! Yes
Does it help! Yes

I am relearning that it’s very easy to hide. I have remembered that journeys start or take a new direction only after someone steps out, but that stepping out is the quite often the mad and dangerous thing to do. It’s a high risk thing too as when you step out others don’t necessarily join you. So, it’s pretty mad on all fronts really.

Well …. I have never made any claim that I was sane have I?
Off to step out a little more … with and without the dog!

keeping in touch

wheresrob2Each year I re-new my support an mailing lists and this year I have decided to use Mail Chimp to look after my weekly prayer email and my termly newsletter. Recently a couple of people (actually only 2) have asked how they can keep in touch with what I am up to.

I produce two things … one fairly intense with a  big commitment, and one much less so.

First the intense option. (you may already wish to skip to the next paragraph!) At the moment I have around 30 amazing people who receive my weekly prayer email. Essentially this is copy of my diary and a few bits of stuff that people use to pray for me throughout the week. These people really are walking this road with me and pray for me on an incredibly regular basis – I am humbled and know very well that without them I would be floundering even more than I think I normally am. If you’d like to join this group in praying each day (it’s intense I know) then please sign up by clicking here.

I also produce something much less intense 2 or 3 times a year called ‘Tales of a Pioneer’ which is more of a newsletter type thing with stories, pictures and some general prayer ideas for a general week. A wider group of people receive this every 4/5 months. If you’d like to be kept informed of what’s happening through Tales of a Pioneer please sign up by clicking here.

Feel free to subscribe to one both or neither …. but thanks for reading!

I am doing a new thing …

I have come to draw significant strength and encouragement from the Daily Office over the last few years since being ordained. I tend to follow a pattern of using Morning Prayer from Common Worship in the morning and then something else for the evening … which could be COTA liturgy, or stuff from the Northumbria Community, or Moot and sometimes Common Worship again.

Morning Prayer for the next few weeks (called the season from All Saints Day until the day before the First Sunday of Advent ….. (why use one word can you can make up a whole sentence!!))

I know some people struggle with set prayers and saying the same wortds over and over again. I find, however, that as I say familiar words, or words set down, that God breaks in in some unexpected ways. I have been massively struck, challenged and resonated with the words of the canticle, A Song of the new Creation,  said each morning during this season:

1‘I am the Lord, your Holy One,
the Creator of Israel, your King.
2Thus says the Lord, who makes a way in the sea,
a path in the mighty waters,
3‘Remember not the former things,
nor consider the things of old.
4‘Behold, I am doing a new thing;
now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
5‘I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert,
to give drink to my chosen people,
6‘The people whom I formed for myself,
that they might declare my praise.’

As a pioneer this is a canticle that I have read, re-read, loved, hated, been inspired by and been frustrated by. But these words of God, that come from Isaiah 43, remind me that God is working, and that God is working in fresh new ways.

I received two very encouraging emails this morning and one spoke of a time spent in Jordan trying to look for Canaan as Moses did. This person shared how their view was obscured due to the dense pollution that is now there, and then went on to offer maybe we need to struggle through the pollution to see the promised land.

I believe that person to be very wise. Not just in my patch, but in most places, there is pollution, both obvious and more subtle, that we may well need to see through, or plough through, before we can start to see where it is God is taking us or what in fact God is doing.

One thing, however, I am sure of …. I may not yet quite perceive it …. but God is doing a new thing …..

I don’t know where I am going

Today has been a bit of a reflection day. It hit me that I have jumped from one world of the cathedral and Rochester, over to the world of Gillingham and the prison very quickly, and I have had no real time to think about how to change my practice, how to prepare myself to start again and how to actually go about that whole thing of starting again.

The geographical closeness of the 2 places along with my familiarity with the Gillingham that used to exist means the temptation to carry on and just do what I have done on a daily basis for the last few years is quite a powerful temptation.

It may be right to start again in exactly the same way …. and that is what I intended to do, but last night I realised I had not really thought or prayed much about this. So today has been pretty much a thought and prayer day.

Today, in particular, I have found this prayer of Thomas Merton to be both powerfully challenging and warmly comforting in some way. These words help me to accept where I am, and give me the permission to rest in the knowledge that although I have no real idea what is going to happen, that I can be comfortable in that ignorance. Too often we feel pressured into acting, or developing, or birthing something new quite quickly and often too soon. So now, as I enter this time of reflection and listening and uncertainty, I draw strength from knowing not only have I been here before, but so have many others before me:

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 that 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 will I 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. 

God and weed!

We’ve joked about the title of today’s post while wondering who such a title might attract and whether it was wise as I hope to continue to work in the diocese beyond September! The weeds refer, initially, to the weeds of the allotment while god refers to … well God!

Once a month chapter meets and on those mornings I stay at home and pray. A few years ago I went on retreat with the Northumbria Community for a week. They set me the task of weeding and planting potatoes as I prayed and listened to God. So … this week I have conducted my own mini retreat / quiet space on the allotment while weeding.

I have noticed in particular that having a fairly mindless and repetitive task to complete over an hour or two seems to free the mind from clutter and creates space to reflect. I felt a great symbolic sense that as I was clearing a patch of ground to reveal bare soil so I was clearing the weeds of thought and personal opinions that have allowed to develop and hide or disguise or prevent the development of new ideas.

While contemplating and weeding I developed a prayer:

As I clear this space
remove the clutter from my mind.
As I extract these weeds
unload those deep rooted thoughts and opinions
that are asphyxiating  growth and maturation.
As I expose fresh soil
return me to the naked space of creativity.
In this crisp original arena
propagate the unseasoned seeds of dreams.

I’m finding that weeding with God is a really valuable experience. if you’d like to try out a mini retreat in this space then get in touch – this could be easily arranged.