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.

touching the tent

Today I attended the annual Diocesan New Year service. THis is a service when Diocesan staff and cathedral staff get together, worship and hear from the Bishop. It’s quite a cool occasion and a chance to meet new people and catch up with friends.

This morning Bishop Brian preached. He told us he was going to preach about something that was important. Something that was universal. Something that lots of people admitting to doing in surveys, whether they were Christian or not. He was talking of prayer.

Bishop Brian spoke well and provoked discussion as we walked away from the church this morning. One description of prayer that particularly grabbed my attention was his description that prayer was ‘touching the tent.’

To put this in context he spoke a little about camping. He asked the question, ‘when it rains, what must you never do in a tent?’ The answer, of course, is that you must never touch the tent. If you do you make a connection that allows the water to come through and soon you have a very wet tent.

I like that gift of an image of prayer. Prayer is touching the tent to allow God to flow into an otherwise dry situation. Touching the tent makes a difference, a connection is made … what follows may be a drip, a trickle or a flood … but there is no doubt … the tent will have been touched!

to comfort all who mourn

This morning Jean led morning prayer.

I have grown to acknowledge this group of words as being words of value and sustenance.
Today’s liturgy included this canticle:

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The Spirit of the Lord is upon me
because he has anointed me.
He has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed,
to bind up the broken-hearted,
To proclaim liberty to the captives,
and the opening of the prison to those who are bound;
To proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour,
to comfort all who mourn,
To give them a garland instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness instead of mourning,
the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit,
That they may be called oaks of righteousness,
the planting of the Lord, that he may be glorified.
For as the earth puts forth her blossom,
and as seeds in the garden spring up,
So shall the Lord God make righteousness and praise
blossom before all the nations.
You shall be called priests of the Lord;
they shall speak of you as ministers of our God.

It’s a sobre reminder that in confusing and saddening times, that we are called to bring good news, to comfort the mourning ….. in short, to be helpful in thoughts, words and actions.

Following this Jean invited us to light candles which symbolised those who had been killed in Norway as we prayed for the bereaved, the survivors, the nation and those charged with bringing justice in this horrendous case.

We continue to hold the people of Norway in our thoughts and prayers


I have an interesting job.
On occasions I have chance encounters in which I think I touch the divine.
Yesterday I had one such encounter.
It just so happened that before this encounter I was reading The Irresistible Revolution.
My mentor thought it would be useful to read.
In a coffee shop I just finished the first chapter.
It ends with this Mother Teresa quote:
‘in the poor we meet Jesus in his most interesting disguises’.

I left the coffee shop and walked thought he cathedral on my way back to the office.
This is my normal routine.
Immediately the stewards directed me to the rear of the cathedral.
A man had come in who had been beaten, mugged, and hospitailised a few days ago.
The guy was clearly distressed and wanted to get home to London.
He had been discharged but had no resources to get home.
I think he was intending to walk home.

He was directed to the cathedral as a place that might help.
That thought brings a tear of joy to my eye.
Someone ‘out there’ thinks the cathedral is a place of help.

After a little chat I offered to walk to the station and buy a ticket for him.
He accepted happily and we walked together down the High Street.
We talked a lot and the guys life story was a privilege to hear.
He was an HIV counsellor who had lost his job due to funding cuts.
(the politics of cuts are for another post!)

As I walked with the man a verse from the Emmaus story in Luke 24 hit my heart.
‘We’re not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road…’

My heart burned
I was intrigued by this man’s presence.
As I handed over the ticket he shook my hand
He looked me in the eye
held my gaze
and said
‘I’ll pray for you’

Strange …
I was going to offer to pray for him

humbled ..
and a little watery eyed …
I waved goodbye ..
and returned along the High Street


‘my bowels …’

The morning tends to start for me in the cathedral at 8am with Morning Prayer from Common Worship. I have come to find the receptiveness and the rhythm to be a real support for me. My one complaint would be that there are a lot of words and loads of scripture, much of which can wash over me a lot of the time, but nevertheless the rhythm and the discipline is a powerful way for me to start off my day.

In the cathedral we have the privilege of being able to move around different parts of the cathedral to help us pray during different seasons. During Lent we pray in the starkness of the crypt – not the cosy Ithamar Chapel which many will know and where the gathering gets together … but in the larger body of the crypt. It tends to feel very wilderness-y and is sparse, bare, grey etc etc etc.

To mark the 400th anniversary of the King James version this Lent all the BIble readings during morning and evening prayer are from the KJV. It’s been a long time since I even looked at the KJV but I have to admit that there is something about the poetic language of the version which can give a whole different image or impression to think about.

This mornings reading brought a smile to our faces: Jeremiah 4: 19 – end. In our normal NRSV version the reading starts ‘my anguish, my anguish’. The King James starts …’my bowels, my bowels’  … which produced a snigger as well as getting us to engage with the reading in a fresh way … certainly expressive! Maybe there is something in this ‘older’ language after all ….

simply hanging out or prayer?

Normally on Mondays we have a staff meeting.
Yesterday was chapter which meets for the day once a month.

I’m not a member of chapter so on these Monday’s I have started to have a prayer morning. I have become conscious of the need to pray more in what I am doing – it’s quite strange how it seems since being ordained I have prayed less than when I worked with YFC … and that can’t be right, can it?!

Yesterday morning I prayed. There was silence, there was asking for guidance, there was praying for people from the gathering and the places I hang out.

I was hoping that God would give me some revelation.
I was hoping God may give me a picture, a verse, a vision … but
God was silent!
God said nothing!

I gave up a morning to pray …. and God was silent.

Silence …. but not nothing!
I came from the morning ‘refreshed’
ready to get on with things!

God was there, well God is always there … that’s obvious
But yesterday morning, in my simple action of slowing down to pray,
I became much more aware of God with me
God never said anything
But I felt I could hear God breathing
God listening
God waiting

Was I praying?
Or was I just hanging out with my creator?
Is there even a difference?