The Annunciation Trust

to help you discover the God you already know

Roy’s Christmas Reflection

I first met Roy Gregory many years ago as a fellow member of the ‘Soul Space’ team offering spiritual direction at Greenbelt.  We got on well from the off, despite supporting rival football teams, and our friendship has blossomed over the intervening years. It was Roy who one day at Greenbelt was kind enough to tell me that he thought it was a pity that ‘Approaches to Prayer’, a book I’d helped put together, was now out of print.  ‘Wouldn’t it be a good idea to make it available on-line?’  he asked.  I thought that was a lovely idea but I had neither the time or the skill to make that possible, and couldn’t see how it might be achieved. ‘Leave it with me’ said Roy.

As well as being the leader of a lively free evangelical church in St Albans, Roy also lectured in engineering at Hatfield University, where he had a friend who was skilled in web design. This friend said that he’d willingly put the book online and said what he would charge to do so. When Roy relayed this back to me I said that I couldn’t afford that. Roy went back to his friend, who was an atheist, and told him what I’d said, and was stunned to hear his friend say that his wife, a Christian, had told him that as the book was about prayer, he ought to do the work for nothing, and so he would.  Cheekily I then asked if he might be willing to create an Annunciation Trust web-site, which would include the book, but would also allow us to put other things on it as well? Again, he agreed, and that is how this web-site came to be.

Roy became a much loved and valued member of the group of us who work under the umbrella of The Annunciation Trust and looked after the web-site once it was up and running, and so our friendship continued on after we had each left Soul Space.  Five years ago Roy suffered a stroke, and lost the use of his left side, but with the devoted care of Christine his wife, their family and friends, and a range of skilled professionals, he has learnt to adapt and manage pretty well, although mostly confined to a wheel-chair. When I’m down in London from Worcestershire where we live, I go and visit him and Christine and we continue the stimulating conversations we began together many years ago.

All of this is by way of a very long preamble to a letter I received today, dictated by Roy and written by Christine, enclosing a ‘Christmas Reflection’ that Roy was ‘given’ this Christmas, and which with his permission I’d like to share with you here:


Christmas Reflection


God sent down His Angels to Earth

To show how much His creatures are worth.


He came to them and shook them to the core

And changed their life for evermore.


All sorts of people in the midst of life,

Shepherds and kings and a carpenter’s wife.


The Angel said to Mary

“I am sorry this is scary”

You will have a baby one day

In a very different way”.


Mary was humbly obedient

Although it was inconvenient.


The shepherds saw Angels in the sky

It changed them in a blink of an eye.


Of this they had no choosing

Unkind friends said they’d been boozing.


The star led the kings and they were able

To find the Baby in the stable.


In awe they put aside their self-promotion

And fell on their knees in humble devotion.


These events people know they cannot prove

By faith they can see God was on the move.

In praise of Christmas cards

We shall soon be taking down out Christmas cards.  I send a lot of Christmas cards, and we receive a lot too.  We noticed this year that most of the cards we received and just about all the cards we sent had an explicitly Biblical reference.  Visiting other homes during the season and seeing other peoples’ cards we became aware that our experience is untypical: the majority of Christmas cards make no reference to the Biblical story.  Some of our cards contained circular letters, and some friends sent circular letters by email explaining that they were not sending cards this Christmas but were giving a donation to charity instead. I confess that I only skim read circular letters.  I also confess that I shall feel sad to be taking our Christmas cards down, our home will seem empty without them.


I remember being very moved by all the cards wishing me well that I received around the time of my cancer operation and as I was beginning my course of chemotherapy, getting on for two years ago. They were, for me, powerful symbols of the web of love and prayer with which I was being held. There were eventually too many for them all to be displayed at once, so like a large art gallery I began to rotate them, with some of display and others temporarily in store.  Together they incarnated the love of God which was holding me through a difficult time.


I recently read somewhere that a friendship between two people who have a shared faith and who take prayer seriously is much stronger and deeper than one between two people who don’t, and I sense that there is truth in that.


Christmas cards that remind us of the Christmas story are very important. The sending of them is a reminder of a shared faith which deepens the friendship between sender and receiver, it anchors that friendship within the loving activity of a Love greater than ours, and it celebrates and witnesses to that loving activity.  I know that they are not cheap to buy and that posting them in any number is a costly business, but faith is sometimes a costly business, and the sharing of it with friends to our mutual benefit, and the witnessing of it to others, is always likely to come at some cost.  I don’t see it as an alternative to charitable giving at Christmas. Its not an ‘either or’ but a ‘both and’.  If we seriously want to keep Christmas as Christ’s birthday, and to avoid it becoming overwhelmingly  secularised, then the sending of Christmas cards produced by a charity of our choice, that tell the Christmas story, with a ‘religious’ stamp on the envelope, is vitally important.

Consciousness 3

I met with my friend some weeks ago and was telling him what a rich summer I’d had: time to be with family and time to pray, read, think, explore and mull. I felt greatly blessed, not least in all the movement and activity in my soul. I’d had a series of meaningful dreams, and bursts of intuitive knowing as a result of which some significant progress felt as if it had been made in my soul’s journey.


He wrote to me a little while later to say that he’d never previously paid much attention to his dreams, indeed was hardly aware that he’d had any, but subsequent to our meeting he’d wanted to take his dreams more seriously and had been surprised to find that he then had a number which he remembered on waking and which he’d found meaningful


I replied that “One of the funny things in life, in my experience, is the way that if you open your mind to something [in this case dreams] then you quickly become conscious of their presence. It’s as if we have to turn a ‘welcome’ sign on first”.


I’ve often noticed this with people who are contemplating a significant change of direction in their lives. Such a change usually feels very daunting and scary and they are rightly apprehensive of the risks and dangers they might encounter. They fear that they might even come to realise that they’ve made a mistake!


I recall the story of the Buddhist monk fleeing Tibet after the Chinese invasion and crossing the mighty Himalayan mountains to safety in India. On his arrival he was asked how he had managed such an incredible and dangerous journey alone? He replied: “One step at a time”.


At times of change, my instinct is to take one small, maybe symbolic, step in what feels like the right direction and then to wait. It is surprising how often what is needed next will then come and find you: you don’t have to find it yourself, but rather wait for it to pass your way and for you to recognise and seize it. You will often then experience what I call a ‘following wind’ which will carry you onwards on your journey.


But it won’t last long.  As with all religious experience, it will flourish for a while and then fade, and the temptation is to give up, assuming that you’ve made a mistake. Better, to see the fading as an invitation to continue to trust your experience despite the lack of current supporting evidence, and to be aware that you aren’t in control of what you have experienced.  Very likely it will come again at a time not of your choosing.


I am chuckling as I write this. I have just written two pieces about ‘Consciousness’ and sense that they are incomplete, but am not sure how to complete them! Suddenly I see that what I have written here has provided me with the clue I need.


The 3D material world doesn’t come with any meaning supplied: we are not born into this world with a set of instructions entitled ‘The meaning of life’, clutched in our fists. If we want meaning, and we are ‘meaning seeking’ creatures, then we will have to seek it ourselves. The means of doing so are available to us, through our basic need for relationship with others and the Other; and through using our imagination. The responsibility for utilising these means rests with each of us.


I can’t remember who said: “Your mind is free to interpret the world any way it wants.”  But they were right.  We can use whatever lies on the spectrum of consciousness as the lens[es] through which we will make our interpretation of the world, through which we choose to seek meaning.  Our soul, the part of us that seeks meaning and purpose, is like a garden, we need to nourish there what we judge to be good, and weed out what we judge will harm us. If we neglect our garden soul it will become a wilderness, and life will seem meaningless.


We have great power if we choose to use it: we can access all manner of ‘other worlds’, like the world of our dreams, if we choose to do so. We have the power to shape who we are; how we see the world; how and where we will seek meaning and purpose. Not all the possibilities on the spectrum of consciousness will necessarily open for us, but some certainly will, and probably more than we expect: instance my friend and his dreams.


And we have particular God given gifts and guides in our ‘Memories of Home’, and in Jesus in all of His guises, human model, resurrected Lord and personal friend, and Cosmic Christ Who meets us in blessing everywhere and in everyone and everything.



Consciousness 2

There seems to be agreement that there is a spectrum of consciousness in our minds, and that all parts of the spectrum are ‘hard wired’ into the human brain, are part of what we’re given, and are therefore both available and, in principle, trustworthy.


The spectrum of consciousness includes the following:

[1]      Problem solving orientated thought using information from the 5 senses

[2]      Feelings and relationships

[3]      Use of the imagination

[4]      Waking dreams and visions

[5]      Dreaming

[6]      Intuitions

[7]      Revelations of the unconscious

[8]      Spiritual experience

[9]      Silent contemplative being


Different societies place value and trust in different areas of the spectrum. Western, secular society places great emphasis, for example on problem orientated thought using the five senses. Other societies have given more credence to visions and religious experience.


Moreover, there will often be a variance between what people acknowledge publicly and what they practise in their private personal lives. For example, leaders of the past have often made major public decisions on the basis of dreams and visions.  Any political leader today announcing that a decision had been made on that basis would be publicly ridiculed. But many people, myself included, regularly make decisions that affect their private lives on that basis.


Every society assumes that its own pattern of trust and distrust across the spectrum, is normative and therefore ‘correct’, and may ridicule and even persecute alternatives. But there is no obvious reason for accepting that the assumptions of any one society are ‘correct’, or even ‘better’ than those of another. They are simply different.  It might be more fruitful to ask: ‘Do the assumptions we as a society and I as an individual take for granted, serve us well?’ Do they make our lives meaningful and richer?’   To do that we, need to cultivate a degree of self-awareness and detachment.


The ideal scenario would be to have equal access across the spectrum, and to be sufficiently self-aware as to know which part of the spectrum to go to and when. So, for example and put very crudely, if you want to catch a train to see a friend you need to use [1]; if you are deciding who you want as a life partner you’ll go to [2] and maybe [6]; and if you want to achieve inner peace you’ll learn to meditate by activating [9].


Few decisions are in fact made using only one part of the spectrum, but one part may drive the decision.  I remember when we were looking for a house to buy we had a series of ‘tick boxes’ drawn up using [1]: the house we bought met some but not all of those criteria, for they were overridden as soon as we walked into the house we eventually chose as we ‘knew’ [6] that it ‘felt’ [2] right. We’ve not regretted our decision, and are not unusual in having made it in this way.


The worst scenario is to be so exclusively wedded to one part of the spectrum as to be blind and dismissive of the others and the wisdom they access. Not least because if our brains give us the whole range its reasonable to assume that we need all of it. My hunch [6] is that we all use most of the range more than we realise; and that if there are parts of it that we don’t use, then we could train our minds to do so. My experience is that most parts of the spectrum will usually grow with practice.


The spectrum divides basically into three areas: firstly, the rational thinking side of the mind located in [1] which deals mainly with verifiable information; secondly the feeling, side of the mind mainly located in [2] which deals with our relationships with others; and thirdly, the imaginative side of the mind mainly located in [3-9] which deals primarily with acquiring meaning in life.


Each area deals with a different aspect of human living, so that to function well we actually need access to all of them, but many of us will feel more comfortable dealing with one area over the others. The solution is for everybody to trust the expertise of others in their respective specialist fields, and to a degree we do that.


Our society rather specialises in facts and information. We have the technology to give us instant access to as much information and more, than we might need. And we expect, in a rather fundamentalist manner, that everything will do ‘exactly what it says on the tin’. It’s in our feelings and relationships with others/Other that we seek meaning in our lives. We use our imaginations in leisure pursuits like gaming and reading, but we’ve largely lost the assumption that our imaginations might be valuable guides to questions of meaning, like those I raised in my previous post.  I think they are in fact very reliable guides, and that our loss of trust in them leaves us much impoverished.

Consciousness 1

Who am I?  I can answer that by giving you my name, age and nationality. I could supply my contact details and let you have a photograph. You could follow me round and see where I sleep and eat; with whom I spend my time; the clothes I wear and how I look; you could observe what I do and where I do it. And you’d think that you’d end up with a pretty good idea of who I am.   But the person whom you will have watched, is not who I think of as being the real me: it’s not whom I consciously know myself to be.


Unless I look in a mirror I never see the person you’ve been watching, and I have a limited idea of how I might have come over to you.  The person I think of as the ‘real’ me, is the inner life, the activity of my conscious mind: the person who was feeling, thinking, reacting in my head, while you were watching me. You could watch and have very little idea of what was going on in my conscious mind. You could end up none the wiser as to who I know myself to be.


With the help of GPS you could say exactly where I am at any given time. You could weigh and measure me, and be precise about my size. But I’d be hard pressed to say where and what my conscious mind is, for it has no position in space. I tend to think of it as behind my eyes, because that’s where I am aware of it, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that’s where it actually is. And if I close my eyes I’m not at all sure where it is.  The human brain can be dissected on a table, my mind can’t be.


Neither is it easy to place it in time for it seems to have a rhythm and pace of its own. Something that happened years ago may be more really present to my mind than what happened a few minutes ago. My memory can put my inner self in a place I haven’t physically visited for many years, and my hopes can place me well into the future. And as to where and when my dreams take me, I often have no idea. And yet this is who I know to be the real me.


This raises all manner of interesting questions about consciousness, about which there is currently much fascination, but little hard information and agreement. That’s not such a bad state to be in: fascination with interesting questions is much to be preferred to answers.


[1]      I am very aware that I have only a limited control over my mind, my inner life often seems to have a ‘mind of its own’. Why does a memory suddenly pop up in my mind when there has been no conscious trigger for it to do so?  Why do I get these occasional ‘eureka’ moments, often on waking in the middle of the night, when what was an insolvable problem, is suddenly abundantly clear?  Where does a seemingly original and creative idea come from?


[2]      It is possible to make a conscious decision to try and be more aware of what is going on in my mind: to become more self-aware.  Some people find this easier to do then others, some seem to have a positive gift for it, others shy well away from it. Does it matter?  I think that it does.  Knowing oneself is surely key to accepting oneself, becoming oneself, and achieving some degree of inner contentment.


[3]      Discovering which of the voices and choices that influence how I feel and behave are mine and which are other peoples which I have unconsciously absorbed, and which are those of the culture in which I’ve grown up, is essential to that process.  I can deliberately choose which of those voices to heed and encourage and which to send packing. I can set out to change and shape who I am, if I wish.  If I do so, I am likely to discover that this inner self is on an interior, often lonely, but potentially deeply rewarding, journey, through life, to which I am invited to wake up and trust. I’m also free to ignore it, but the journey will go on anyway.


[4]      Does consciousness only exist within my body?  Recent studies on after death experiences, near death experiences, out of body experiences, religious experiences, visionary experiences seem at the very least to suggest the possibility that consciousness can and sometimes does.


[5]      Does consciousness exist just within me, or does it relate to, belong to, or is a part of, something beyond itself?  That might seem a silly question, but a child coming across a television or radio for the first time is likely to think that the pictures and sounds are produced by the equipment they see in front of them. Whereas we know that the television and radio will be picking up signals from elsewhere, possibly a very long way away.  Might our minds be able to pick up signals coming from outside itself?  And if so from where or what or whom?  And how does it do so?  Can it ‘tune itself’ in if it chooses?


[6]      Being present at the birth of my children left me full of awe and wonder at creation. Understanding something of the biology didn’t seem to remotely do justice to the experience. Where did this gift of life come from?

Death poses the same question. I’ve seen someone die, and the reality of their dead body after death, and I know that something has gone out of it. The life force, the energy, the consciousness of the person is no longer there. But where has it gone?

Where does consciousness come from and where does it go to?  Is it the part of us that survives death?  Does it pre-exist our birth?


[7]      Our minds seem to have a powerful need to relate to other minds. We want to share what we think, and feel; to communicate our loves and hates, when we are hurt, and when we are joyful; what we hope for and our deepest desires. It is important for us to have what’s going on inside us acknowledged and affirmed by others.  Meeting someone who seems to understand and relate to who we consciously know we are is a source of huge delight and can unite us most profoundly. Its also a source of great anger if we subsequently feel ourselves betrayed.

How can we reveal our inner lives that others might know them? Unless we have some self-awareness how likely is that to happen?  Are we willing to take the necessary risks involved in doing so?

And how do we learn to read the inner lives of others? Is it through the voice, what they say and how they say it, or the eyes?  Do they express it through their body? Or the way they dress?  By the choices they make?  Or is there something indefinable that we recognise but would find difficult to put into words, and can we trust it?


I find these questions fascinating. But to what extent are they answerable?


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