The Annunciation Trust

to help you discover the God you already know

Month: May 2019

More feral priesthood

We live quite near a river, and I can walk down a lane and across some fields to get to it in about 20 minutes. I often do so, for there is one particular spot that I recognise as a holy place, and I love to go there to sit, listen, look, and just be aware of what’s around me. I invariably come away feeling strangely blessed.

There isn’t usually much animal life to see, a swan or or two occasionally, some Canada geese flying by, and others who value the place as I do, say that they’ve seen a kingfisher but I haven’t been so lucky. Imagine my surprise then, when a month or two back I saw a small something moving on the opposite bank. Might it be a baby moorhen? Then it started out across the river in my direction at some speed and in a straight line. It reached the bank along from where I sat, but by that time I could see that it had a long dark body. Might it be an otter? My wild life recognition is of a low standard so I asked my wife when I got home and from my description she said that she thought that it was indeed an otter.

A week or two later, sat in the same spot, under an overhanging tree, I was gazing at the river when I saw not one otter but three. One playing in the water to my left, a second to my right who sat up and looked at me, and a third swimming across the river towards the others. I felt myself to be richly blessed. I’ve returned to the same spot regularly since, in hope, but without another sighting. Still, each time I say a prayer for the otters who in blessing seemed to be praying for me. A bond had been established between us.

Yesterday morning I went for my familiar silent walk down to the river. It was a beautiful day and I stopped to gaze at a solitary proud oak in a field, the light gleaming on distant fields, the varying shades of blue of the sky, all around me looked green and verdant. But when I arrived at my holy place by the river I was dismayed to find that the tree where I sat and saw the otters, had been cut down, the trunk and branches littered and left across the path and the area cleared. It felt like a senseless act of desecration and made me very angry. I wondered what had became of the otter family? I walked home feeling very depressed.

But then I slowly started to make connections. Two months ago when I was praying for the dead one Sunday morning I sensed that my Dad who was a Quaker, was suggesting that I attend a local Quaker meeting. The place had some previous for me as 30 years ago I’d visited and bought a subsequently much treasured Celtic drum from the then Warden of the place. Some weeks later I attended one Sunday morning, wondering why I was there, and left glad that I’d gone but none the wiser.

Walking back from the river feeling depressed I remembered that years ago, walking in the Surrey hills with my drum, I’d come across what felt like a vast tree graveyard, where the hurricane had laid waste a section of forest. Appalled by what I saw and felt, I was impelled to drum a funeral for these trees and did so, standing or sitting on each and every broken stump. It probably took some time, but felt quite out of time. Suddenly I knew what I now had to do.

Arriving home I got out my drum and cleaned and tended to it. This Sunday morning I woke soon after 5, got up, washed dressed, and drank a cup of tea. I collected my drum from my shed and set out for the river. I sensed that I was at one with the women setting out early on Easter morning to visit the tomb. It was cloudy with a light breeze, dawn colours were appearing over the horizon. It was quiet with no sight or sound of human activity. Horses in a field I passed looked at me, knowingly I thought. The walk there was beautiful. When I reached the scene I took my drum out of its bag, and walked slowly around the area drumming quietly. I sat on the fallen tree trunk and drummed there. Then I went & sat on the bank amidst the debris & drummed briefly before stopping and listening, and becoming aware. Nature seemed to be taking the devastation in its stride, as if to say, ‘well this is what happens, and we know how to deal with it.’ God was speaking in the wind through the trees, and the water moving gracefully down the river. All was calm. The early morning light wasn’t bright, there was no direct sunshine, it was more of a pastel shade. The birds were singing: I could hear a cuckoo across the river. Canada geese were honking in the background. There was no sign of the otters. I felt very relaxed & at peace sitting on the bank just above the water: something I could not have done before. I felt myself healed, and that the natural world was very capable of healing itself, and was already doing so. I stayed there for a while, before getting up & walking slowly home. There had been a dying and there was also a rising. I had done what I felt that I had needed to do, whatever that was: I didn’t need to know. The walk back was beautiful, the horses in the field all turned to look at me as I passed. There was rain in the air as I got home.

I made coffee that I took down to my shed, where I hung up my drum and reviewed what had happened. This is feral priesthood: it began with the otters, then Dad suggesting I go to the Quakers, with their link to my drum, then seeing the desecration and remembering my drumming a funeral for the trees years ago, then my decision to visit the grave early this morning, and my realisation that I was following in the footsteps of the women on Easter morning, with a not dissimilar result, I went to a place that I knew as a place of suffering and death, and found a place bursting with new life, and healing. Wonderful. Thank you.

The only 3 prayers you need

Too often prayer is presented as petition.
But the word ‘prayer’ is simply religious jargon for relationship with what we call God.
In truth there are only three prayers.

Prayer is properly not petition, but simply attention to God which is a form of love.

Iris Murdoch, On ‘God’ and ‘Good’ in Existentialists And Mystics

1. “Here I am.”

Inevitably, when I sit and pray in the morning I wish for a new, improved me. I lack kindness to myself. I try to think my way into becoming better. I try to think about how to sort out my life. I try to think about what to do. But thinking is not prayer.

Presence is prayer.

When I say, “Here I am,”
    I say it to myself,
    I say it to Life,
    I say it to the Universe,
    I say it to You,
        You who are always, inevitably present
        in and through and around…

When I say, “Here I am,” God, I mean,
    I don’t know what You are,
        and
    I don’t know what I am,
        but,
                nevertheless,
    “Here I am.”

This, I reckon, is enough.
Everything else is baroque.

This is presence.
    When all is said and done,
        “I just want to be with You.”

2. “Thank you.”

I guess I could be pretty pissed off about what happened to me… but it’s hard to stay mad, when there’s so much beauty in the world. Sometimes I feel like I’m seeing it all at once, and it’s too much, my heart fills up like a balloon that’s about to burst… And then I remember to relax, and stop trying to hold on to it, and then it flows through me like rain and I can’t feel anything but gratitude for every single moment of my stupid little life…

American Beauty

Gratitude is prayer.

I might not have lived.
I am held alive by conditions I do not control.
One day,
    when the conditions change,
        I will cease to live.
Inspire…
    When I am present I feel this in this body,
        this breath.
    When I breathe there is gratitude.
Expire…
“Thank You.”

there is still
somewhere deep within you
a beast shouting that the earth
is exactly what it wanted

Mary Oliver, Morning Poem, from Dream Work, p. 6

3. “Help me.”

I am so distant from the hope of myself.

Mary Oliver, When I am among the treesfrom Thirst

Kindness is prayer.

Notwithstanding,
I search outside myself for
    stimulation,
    satisfaction,
    solidity.
I am compromised,
    inordinately attached,
        addicted.
I lack integrity.
My heart is defended.
I cannot trust.
I fail to live.

Help me.
Please free me from
    all
that comes between me and You.


The point of prayer is not petition. It is the recognition of my need. When I am beyond redemption it (re)connects me with You.


Prayer is coming to God empty-handed, undefended, indigent – not that you are without worth, but your worth has nothing to do with you. Prayer involves vulnerability. We have to come as the glorious, fragile, messy, inadequate people we are. Needy. Unable to sort out our lives.

These three prayers help me to be present and connected even in my struggles. They are a kindness to myself. They require so little from me, which is a relief.

What is the prayer you need?

Follow this with:

[Syndicated from thisbody.info.]

Training day for spiritual directors

“Where is God in all this?”

I am running a training day for spiritual directors entitled, “Where is God in all this?” It is being hosted at the London Centre for Spiritual Direction, as part of their Developing Direction programme.

Here is the blurb:

“Where is God in all this?” is a question much-beloved of spiritual directors. However, if God is “in all things” then this question makes no sense. What is the purpose of this question? What are we really asking? What are better ways of addressing this? These questions get right to the heart of what spiritual direction is and what makes it different from other listening disciplines. This day will explore how we we might ask about God with those who come to talk with us.

The God we seek is here. As spiritual directors, our craft is to live this. On this day we will pray together, explore our notions of God, play with our craft, and seek courage to practise Presence.

Venue: The Church of St Edmund the King, Lombard Street, London EC3V 9EA
Date: 7 June 2019
Time: 11am–4pm
Booking: through the Centre’s website.

An affirming source (6): Empowered

[See Parts 1234inter-mission, & 5]

It’s about an authority that emerges from yielding not to an alien will but an affirming source … [We] are empowered, emancipated, to use the transforming energy we can exercise by acknowledging our dependence upon an unconditional source of affirmation.

Rowan Williams: Being Human, pp. 72–3

Spiritual direction relocates authority from out there to in here.

The language of much religion conveys the impression that God is a distinct and separate being out there. This image underlies the very way prayers are said in church, requests formed in the thoughts and spoken out into the space. Authority rests with a distant God, a set of scriptures, a leader, or the way we do things around here. Often these are power-and-control-games, and conflicts are set up between my own innate wisdom and these other authorities. I lose basic self-trust and self-confidence.

Spiritual direction offers the rediscovery (for you knew it once) of another authority, not in the person of the spiritual director – God forbid! – but your own, authentic voice. [author, authority, authentic – ed.]

There are two ways of thinking about this. In the first God is no longer imagined as out there, but in here. I begin to distinguish the authentic voice of this body from all the other voices clamouring for attention, and know that this voice is not separate from God. I may not be the author of my life but the authority that bodies me into being speaks in and through my being.

and there was a new voice
which you slowly recognised as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world

Mary Oliver, The Journey

In the second, I realise that all is God, that I am not separate from the world, that there is no inner and outer, and I recognise that there is no possibility of discontinuity from Divine nature. God is what I am, what everything is. I am the voice of the author speaking with authority as this little life.

Of course there is discernment to be done. Not every wish I have is Divine. The cacophony of voices echoes in the chambers of my head. But the true voice is not in the head; the head is merely an emissary. It is elsewhere in this body. Where in this body? Some say the heart. Others the belly. I urge you to listen. And take your time about it. [See “A beginner’s guide to this body”.] The authentic voice, the voice of God, is like a shy creature that needs you to be still and quiet before it can trust you enough to venture from its refuge.

I do not believe we can know the meaning of life. I do not believe we can know what our purpose is. What is a human for? What is the Universe about? The answers to these questions are above our pay-grade. How can a brain cell realise the meaning of mind, or a human person divine the purpose of the Cosmos?

So what can we know? We can know when our lives, our choices, our actions feel meaningful and purposeful. This is the purpose of discernment. We listen to our life, to each day, to the life of this body, and in this attention to ourselves we start to notice what challenges us into life, or joy, or contentment, or fulfilment. (Note: I do not mean complacency or inaction or freedom from anxiety.)

Don’t ask what the world needs.
Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it.
Because what the world needs is people who have come alive…

Howard Thurman

Being emancipated from the idea of an alien will, through yielding to the affirming source, and being freed into the authority of our own presence (which is God’s Presence), we are empowered for the life and work that is ours. We no longer have to ask, “What do You want me the do?” Rather we can say, “What do I most deeply want to do? What feels most true to me? What satisfies me most? When do I feel joy? When does life feel meaningful?” It may only be an inkling, a whisper, a frisson. Trust and follow this authority that is deep in your being. This is what spiritual direction is ultimately about.


I’ve come to the end of this series on “an affirming source”.

What do you think?
What have you found helpful?
What have you struggled with?
What would you like to hear more about?
When does your life feel meaningful?

I’d love to read your reactions to this. Please leave a comment.

[Syndicated from thisbody.info.]

© 2019 The Annunciation Trust Registered Charity 1017702

Theme by Anders NorénUp ↑

%d bloggers like this: