The Annunciation Trust

to help you discover the God you already know

Retreat Day: Lent in lockdown

Photo by Irina Iriser from Pexels

If the lost word is lost, if the spent word is spent
If the unheard, unspoken
Word is unspoken, unheard;
Still is the unspoken word, the Word unheard,
The Word without a word, the Word within
The world and for the world;
And the light shone in darkness and
Against the Word the unstilled world still whirled
About the centre of the silent Word.

TS Eliot, Ash Wednesday V

In lockdown, we are not allowed to go ‘out’: how may we allow ourselves to go ‘in’?

How can lockdown be an opportunity to enter more deeply into Lent?

How may we hear the silent Word at the centre of our unstilled world?

I am offering a day of prayer and reflection as we enter the journey of Lent.

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Stimulating Questions

Last summer I was reminded that the autumn would mark the 50th Anniversary of my ordination, and that prodded me to think about whether I should mark it and if so how.  A personal review seemed like an obvious thing to do, but I reckoned that might benefit from some outside questioning. So I wrote to people who’ve known me over the years in a variety of different contexts, explaining what I hoped to do, and asking if they’d “be willing to help me by offering a thought provoking question? Any question they liked.”  I ended up with a very stimulating set of questions. I mulled them through the autumn, wrote a considered response in early December, and shared it with all who’d helped me. Their reactions encouraged me to then publish what I’d written on this web-site. That in turn has led to quite a few comments, either posted on the web-site, or expressed to me personally. Some people have found that particular things that I wrote resonated with them, others have been prompted to consider a similar review of their own callings.  With the latter particularly in mind it seemed that it might be useful if I published the questions, hoping they might stimulate others as they did me.. So here they are, in the order in which I received them. Please bear in mind that they were offered with respect to my ordination, so if your calling is other, you’ll probably need to adapt them.

1

1] The Picture / Piece of music / Poem / Novel / Book / Man /Woman / Holy Place /Foreign Country that has influenced you most.   Are there links between them?

2] Why do you always ask questions….the difficult questions?

Have your early questions been answered?

What questions remain?

3] Why celebrate the 50th anniversary of ordination in 1970?  Rather than an anniversary of your actual felt call [in the early1960s]?  Isn’t the 50th anniversary one to the institutional church? Didn’t you leave that when you founded The Annunciation Trust [1993], and again when you returned your Permission to Officiate [2018]?

4] ‘You can’t change the direction of the wind. But you can adjust your sails to always reach your destination.’  Have you had to, and what is your destination?

5] What have been the gifts to you of your ministry in Europe?

2

Where do you find meaning in your life  

What has life taught you?  

3

I’ve just been struck by this observation by Rachel Mann about the priesthood in this week’s Church Times:   ‘For priests are God’s repertory artists, rehearsing God’s story that all may be fed.’ 

So, my question is: what do you make of that, and how does it resonate with you?

4

I think my question(s) would be to ask you to reflect on the changing nature of priesthood over the last 50 years both from the external and the internal perspectives.  Externally, there has been significant evolution of our national culture, the church itself and society’s appreciation of the value of personal and corporate spiritual life. Internally there will have been developments in your instinct and understanding of yourself, God and of priesthood. In the light of both of these reflections, how do you want to approach the future task of ministering in the wisdom and insights you have gained during your priesthood and what might you need to help you in that task?

5

I think that Mechtild of Magdeburg once said that in life we are given to drink from two chalices: the chalice of the white wine of joy and the chalice of the red wine of suffering. She also said that we haven’t lived fully until we drink to the bottom from each of these chalices. In the light of her wisdom, I would like you to reflect on the following question: What was the white wine and the red wine of your life as a priest?

6

Rowan Williams spoke at a clergy conference that:

A priest needs to be a poet.   They need to bring imagination to the task of communicating the gospel and interpreting it for others.

A priest needs to be a historian.  Someone who holds the story for a community or individual and helps them reflect upon it.

A priest needs to be a contemplative.  When asked what this might mean Rowan remarkably simply said “someone who simply enjoys life to the full. ( abundant life)” and a priest should help others do the same. (where is the gift?!!)

I wonder which of these if any resonate with your experience of the last 50 years?  

7

What has being ordained done to you?

What have you made of it, and what has it made of you?

How did leaving parish ministry change your understanding of your work as a priest?

What has your experience shown you to be the single most important message to communicate about the nature and purpose of God?    

8

1) If you were to have looked forward into your priesthood through a kaleidoscope 50 years ago, what patterns and colours might you have expected to see, and how might you have interpreted those patterns and colours as you saw priesthood in those early days.

2) If you were to look back through that same kaleidoscope today, what patterns and colours can you see, and what might they say to you?

9

If you found out that ordained ministry was not part of God’s master plan (either personally or more generally), though not necessarily deleterious to it, how would it colour your view of the last fifty years?

10

Did you ever truly find it possible to forgive those who have hurt or hindered you?  

11

1] How do you trace your transfiguration and participation in the Divine life throughout the 50 years and how do you experience that now?  

2] What response might this divine exchange call forth from you in the present?  Is there another step in giving of all you are?

12

I wondered how insights gained through other cultures/faiths have affected you.  

13

To what kind of vocation does your priesthood now call you in these eschatological times, with the (probable) fast-approaching collapse of societal, political, economic, ecclesial, ecological and even civilisation-al norms as we have come to know them?”

14

What are the ways in which your vocation (as ordained priest) sustained (or not) your relationship with God?”

15

Do you see you and your faith as “one”, or is there a “me” and “my faith” as separate entities?

– When you are confronted (even from afar) with violations of human rights or quite simply with antisocial acts, does your reaction as an “ordinary individual” sometimes differ from the reaction that you “have to” espouse as an ordained priest?

– How much has your faith inspired your actions, and (or?) how much have your actions served to underpin your faith?

– Is faith a prerequisite for perseverance?

– What initiatives – however modest, however individualised – that you have taken do you see as having had the greatest effect over time – for an individual or on a wider plane?  

And, I suppose, the very obvious ones:

– If you have ever doubted your faith, what caused you to do so and how did you retrieve it?

– If you have never doubted your faith, is that because you have seen no cause to do so or because, for example, you have never wanted to go that far?

16

Is being/having a friend the most important thing in human relationships?   How have friendships shaped your understanding of priesthood?

17

Perhaps you could cover ‘Magic Moments’ for you and what has surprised you in your Ministry, either pleasant or not!  

Perhaps you might also consider any amusing incidents, there must be lots.  

Perhaps you might consider a reflection on your Greenbelt/Soul Space work that impacted many people.

18

I remember that Mahatma Gandhi’s autobiography was titled ‘The Story of My Experiments With Truth’.  Confession time: I have never read it, but I wonder if you might like to use the title as the basis for a little introspective reviewing of your own experience and experiments?

19

How do you see honesty or truthfulness in relation with your real deep down human nature or personality manifest in your career as priest? 

This might be a question of how to deal with doubts or failures etc. 

20

How has the contrast between being a priest licensed to a parish, to being a priest who is not, shaped your understanding of priesthood?

21

You felt called to ordination, now after 50 years, has the call in essence remained the same?

22

What do you think God is seeing when he/she looks upon your life as a priest?

What are you most happy about when you look back on your life as a priest? and what are you hoping for for the coming years?

23

If the Church of England Selection process had not accepted you for ordination training what would you have done? 

24

What is your God given name, name in the large, holistic biblical sense, the name which has continued to form, to be revealed to you over the years, maybe especially since the day your calling took shape deep down within you?’

25

Why did you give up your Permission to Officiate?

26

With the Road to Emmaus story in mind…. When you look back on your 50 years of priesthood what has been the most fundamental pattern of that journey, and at which points, looking back, has your heart most burned within you?

LETTER TO A PASSING YEAR

After William Shakespeare, John Mason
and John Cage’s musical composition 4’33”

I loved your silence, your sun;
as birdsong bathed the stillness
I dreamt that blazing star could
purge by fire unimaginable pain
seared by your reign of terror
pulsating through
every tribe and caste.

I loved your silence


your air that was good to breathe more freely
disguised too thinly your murderous
poison sliming through flesh and soul
stifling livelihoods,
masking truth, demeaning hope,
stealing touch from human kin
and dislocated lovers;
a smoke raised with the fumes of sighs.

I loved your silence



it made a home in me; a nest
where I could curl and brood
the warmth of human love
enriching shadowed lives.
A sea nourished with loving tears.
Farewell dear year,
a madness most discreet,
a choking gall,
yet a preserving sweet
has marked your almanac.
Let dust in dust and silence lie

I loved your silence




I loved your silence


Journey into priesthood

When I first sensed a call to ordination, I naively thought it would mean that ‘I shall have paid time to walk in the woods to wonder about the big questions of the existence of God and the meaning of life, and that I will find myself in conversation with others about these questions.’   Being brought up as an Anglican in a Christian culture, priesthood seemed the obvious means of exploring this vocation. Had I been born into a Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Animist or atheist culture then the means of exploration would have been different but I assume that the exploration would have been similar.

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Praying together

a review and an invitation

Stand of trees
Photo by Annette Kaye

Breakup

In September 2010, I started on an 8-week, mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) class. My father had died on Easter Day, I was struggling to hold it together as a hospital chaplain, and, though I was blind to it then, my marriage was about to end. I had long wanted to do one of these courses since dipping into Jon Kabat-Zinn’s book, Full Catastrophe Living, but when I signed up for it two months earlier, I had not anticipated that this course would frame the nexus of disintegration that brought 2010 to an end.

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A Humorous Prayer

I met Roy Gregory many years ago when we were both members of a group of spiritual directors in Soul Space at Greenbelt. He was the Pastor of Ashley Church in St Albans. We became good friends. He was responsible for setting up The Annunciation Trust web-site, and became our web master.  It was his idea that led to he and I editing “The God you already know”.    We’ve stayed in regular contact ever since.

The other day I received an email from him, which I’d like to share:

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Revelation

I recently came across a quotation of John Henry Newman, a Roman Catholic Cardinal, which I recognised as having truth in it. He wrote:

No revelation can be complete and systematic, [because of] the weakness of the human intellect; so far as it is not such, it is mysterious … The religious truth is neither light nor darkness, but both together; it is like the dim view of a country seen in the twilight, which forms half extricated from the darkness, with broken lines and isolated masses. Revelation, in this way of considering it, is not a revealed system, but consists of a number of detached and incomplete truths belonging to a vast system unrevealed.

I like his image of revelation as “the dim view of a country seen in the twilight……consisting of a number of detached & incomplete truths belonging to a vast system unrevealed” very much.   We only see little bits of the bigger picture, yet they are enough to evoke trust, and to give us a sense of what we don’t see.

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Mulling

Yesterday morning was a busy one, and after lunch I was looking forward to relaxing in my shed with a pipe and the chance to finish a novel. But once my pipe was lit I had a change of heart: reading wasn’t right. I played some music and instead sat and mulled.  It’s a favourite occupation of mine. It’s definitely not thinking, rather it’s allowing my mind to wander freely wherever it will, a sort of intuitive wandering.  Sometimes nothing very much happens, often seemingly nothing at all. But yesterday to my surprise, I found myself mulling about my funeral service.  I feel in good health, there’s no sense of urgency, but family members have been encouraging me for some time, to write something down as a guide for when it’s necessary. I’ve put it off, had no idea what to write, but yesterday unexpectedly, and quite out of the blue it became clear to me and a first draft was on the page in no time at all.  I have no rational explanation for why it happened thus. The moment just seemed right, and the ideas flowed freely. 

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Light on Dark Matter ?

I’m going to wander well outside my areas of competence here, armed only with my curiosity and intuition. I’m going to do so because there are several areas of enquiry that have been engaging me, some of them for some time, and I’m beginning to wonder whether they might be connected.

Astrophysicists suggest that around 5% of the universe’s mass is made up of ‘baryonic matter’, matter we can touch with our hands & witness with our eyes & instruments; a little over 68% is presumed to be made of ‘dark energy’ an enigmatic force that seems to be accelerating the ongoing expansion of the cosmos; the remaining 27% is thought to be made up of ‘dark matter’, the particles of which wholly refuse to interact with baryonic matter, so we have no means of detecting it save through its perceived gravitational influence. It emits no light or energy, but is fundamental to everything in the universe, anchoring all structures together. Without it galaxies, planets, our earth and us humans would not exist, yet we know nothing about it. The particles thought most likely to be the constituent of dark matter traverse our livers, skulls and guts in their trillions each second. Its thought that they were created in sufficiently vast quantities in the seconds after the birth of the universe to account for the missing mass. Scientists reckon that to prove and decipher the existence of dark matter, would require us to acquire a whole new way of knowing everything.

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