Posts Tagged ‘Book of Common Prayer’

Keep you mind in hell and despair not

Saturday, May 2nd, 2020

The modern orthodox saint Silouan received the words, “Keep you mind in hell and despair not” directly from God. He understood this primarily as a call to humility as, if we lift ourselves out of hell, we become self reliant rather than God reliant. It’s the understanding of the 12 Step programme that there are times when we need to turn to something beyond us, a higher power, and avoid the addictive draw of despair. Silouan’s words apply to our time of lockdown.

In this context, hell may be understood as our current context. The fear, isolation and helplessness of these weeks. When lockdown started it was easy to work around this new context: Zoom kept meetings going; social media broke down isolation; news kept me in touch; new prayers gave me purpose. I soon realised that I had more Zoom meetings than previous physical meetings; social media kept me buzzing; news was forever streamed into my mind; and busyness in prayers kept me from God. My mind was not in hell but exhaustion was leading to despair, always doing and not being.

Now I try to stay in hell and despair not. My prayer life is sustainable and I give thanks for the simple repetitiveness of the Prayer Book office; newly rediscovered. As a parish priest I still offer intercession and Mass for the parish and its institutions but with rhythm and without despair, just holding before God. I periodically look at both the social media and the news avoiding the seduction of every “ping” on the phone. Allowing isolation to be a reality, but also ensuring that isolation leads to reflective solitude rather than crippling loneliness.

Sometimes, despair knocks at the door. Especially when I wonder if our Host Cafe will again be viable or consider the precariousness of jobs and vibrancy in the City. However, for now I am as stable as the Benedictine I once was. The Desert Father Abba Moses said, “Stay in your cell and your cell will teach you everything.” We may not choose to remain in our house, flat or cell but we can choose to remain with the source of all wisdom.

Hampshire Chronicle Post on my Wedding Anniversary

Monday, August 3rd, 2015

In The Marriage the priest poet RS Thomas describes, with a devastating beauty, the pathos of a 50 year marriage: love’s moment/in a world/in servitude to time. This column is submitted on my 25th wedding anniversary and it’s hard to believe our own servitude to time: where did those years go?

The early church writer, Tertullian, describes marriage as the “seminary of the human race”, so equating the married life to a college where priests are trained. It’s a wonderful image suggesting that a life lived with a partner is a life that gives space, generosity and encouragement to reflect upon the purpose of life and our relationship with God.

That is not to suggest that those who are married are always closer to God. Often it seems that the opposite would be true, the demanding immediacy of family life seems to squeeze out the eternal. Those who are single may more easily find time to pray or don’t have to squeeze in both rugby and church on a Sunday morning. The dedication of many single parents often seems closer to the God, who is love, than their married counterparts.

However, it is the married life which has deeply shaped my understanding of God, my life as a priest and my relationship with my children. I have been blest and continue to be blest by the close relationship and friendship that now goes back more than 25 years.

There is a contemporary debate within the church over the nature of marriage: does it have to be the union of a woman and a man or is the gender unimportant? Our traditional Book of Common Prayer says of marriage that, “First, It was ordained for the procreation of children”. However, in our contemporary service marriage is first described as the place where we “grow together in love and trust” and even places the birth of children in optional brackets. The drifting emphasis away from procreation and modern society’s affirming of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) recognition and rights, means that gender takes a secondary role in civil marriage and is being debated in church marriage. Personally, I support equal marriage and would want to enable more to experience the blessings of a married life, regardless of gender. Our traditional marriage service says we can be “like brute beasts that have no understanding”, let’s open the civilising effect of marriage to more people.

There is a cost to loving and so often that cost is grief. All marriages will one day end, either by separation or death, and we must never forget those who mourn the loss of their partner. RS Thomas’ poem concludes: And she/who in life/had done everything/with a bird’s grace,/opened her bill now/for the shedding/of one sigh no/heavier than a feather. It’s a shattering description of a deathbed scene and recalls the support and care we need to offer those who are grieving.