Friday photo – sacred places…North Shore

Blackberry Oct 2010 337

I am on Holy Island today, on our annual MCYM retreat. A place I first encountered twenty years ago and ever since it has had a very special place in my heart and mind. The picture is of North Shore – the destination of a walk round the island – big open spaces where the wind blows the sand across the beach in a way that reminds me of the work of the Holy Spirit. I am grateful for this oasis, this sacred place, seeped in prayer over many years, the hospitality of Marygate, the creativity of the Scriptorium, the memories of times at Open Gate, the 8am Eucharist that starts each day, the conversations, the friendships, the memories that give life and sustain.


Wondering Wednesdays – walking and talking


This week is one of my highlights of the year – the MCYM retreat to Holy Island. A part of the transition from one academic year to the next, the point after which I begin to look forward not back. It is a time for a lot of walking and talking – we don’t do a silent retreat – there are lots of places you can go for that. I love this quotation from Julia Cameron – it says something profound:Walking and talking humanize my life, draw it to an ancient, comforting scale.  We live as we move, a step at a time, and there is something in gentle walking that reminds me of how I must live if I am to savour this life that I have been given.  Savouring this life becomes an automatic and appropriate response the minute I dispense with velocity and pressure.

Julia Cameron. Walking in this World.  London, Rider: 2002:1.

Wondering Wednesdays – unexpected blessings

Blackberry Oct 2010 1599I love it when something really good happens that I wasn’t expecting.  I can be a little bit of a glass half empty person rather than half full and sometimes it feels that this isn’t very honouring of God. So today I want to express gratitude for some of those things but perhaps also that I have noticed them when some days they must just pass me by…

Yesterday our new car arrived – a three year old new car. The person who delivered the car was showing us where everything was and pointing out some of the things we may not have thought about. He searched absolutely everywhere for one thing and had to resort to the manual and then he had a moment of enlightenment – a car that usually only has an inflation kit actually had a spare tyre! We had given up even asking for a car with one as none of the models we looked at had one but with the number of miles we do not having one seemed to be a bit risky.

On Sunday we talked about our church retreat on Holy Island. I was rustling in a bag beside me trying to find the peanuts for the wine and nibbles bit of the evening and suddenly realised that the person next to me was talking to me – I thought she was explaining where the card was we all needed to sign! I was presented with the most gorgeous, generous gift of some glass representing Cuthbert’s island and the sea – it seemed so disproportionate to what I had done. It was such an unexpected blessing and I tried hard to be gracious in receipt as sometimes I find it hard to be the centre of attention and to accept appreciation of what I have done.

I went on a training course a couple of weeks ago and it helped me explore something which was just the right concept for a situation I faced on the retreat. I was prepared in advance for something that was going to occur and that was a blessing too.

Someone sent me an email with some information we discussed but quite unlinked made a comment about something I had done which was really encouraging – unsolicited blessing.

Saying the blessing is one of my favourite parts of the Eucharist, I want to reflect more about being a blessing and well as talking about blessing and how I can perhaps facilitate unexpected blessings to others.

Wondering Wednesdays – beach communion


Today I go on my pre-ordination retreat to Mirfield, when I return to Birmingham on Saturday I will be priested and then on Sunday preside at communion for the first time. As I write this my mind drifts back nearly a week when Paul was celebrating communion on the beach at Holy Island. The chalice in the picture comes from Assisi – perhaps the wood is from an olive tree that first began to grow when St Francis walked the streets of that beautiful Italian town. It is very apt to use a chalice that reminds us of St Francis as we sit on stones on the beach. Our singing is accompanied by the singing of the seals and the cry of the birds. As we read Psalm 121 we looked to the Northumbrian hills in the distance. We heard part of the story of St Cuthbert and then amazingly we saw a sea otter swimming in the water – legend has it these creatures kept Cuthbert warm as he spent the night praying. As we drew to a close we sang Be thou my vision, a song I had sung to myself as I walked the Pilgrims’ Way.

As I go off on retreat I take this memory with me, I wonder what it will feel like to celebrate communion on the beach but most of all I am looking forward to presiding for the first time as a priest on Sunday with my church family, friends and godchildren. We finished our communion with this blessing and I take it with me:
Holy God of Cuthbert and the saints go before us now.
God of the hills, God of the outposts, God of the margins, go before us now.
God of the streets, God of the people, go before us now…

Honest Christianity: giving God permission


Tomorrow I am going on retreat and pilgrimage to Holy Island, a time where I would expect to meet with God and to get recharged. The question I bring is this:

“Am I really open to God doing what God wants to do or say or do I bring conscious and subconscious restrictions? Could there be a danger of boxing or straight jacketing God?”

It seems a fusion of arrogance, naivety and delusion to give God permission, but I do find this intention and prayer a helpful one. I have a feeling that God would rather be invited in to our lives, even more that just knocking on the door. In a future blogs I want to explore what is God never like, for now I believe God is no bully. If we have a sense we would like to say something to someone, it is not always easy to know how to raise the issue. What about when they say to you, hi Paul, we have been chatting for a while now, is there anything you would like to say to me? I encourage this approach when those in ministry ask me how they can get the most out of their mentoring or discipling relationship. One of my first tips is to recommend to them to give permission to their mentor permission to speak into their lives.

Inviting God to come and do what God would want to do, seems like good business sense to me, to be up front, be clear in my intentions, and send clear signals to God as to what I would like.

There can always be a consequences with this approach, God might take me at my word. We will see what happens, but whatever happens God is trustworthy enough with this risk.
Oh dear what have I done?

Be still – reflecting from retreating

Newry and Mourne-20130305-00826

One of my shelters is going on retreat, a place to stop, still, search and gain sustenance for the next stage of the journey. I am enormously blessed to be able to be able to do this as part of my work and this week I went off with other colleagues from across the Centre for Youth Ministry to a Benedictine Monastery at Rostrevor in Ireland.  The hospitality was excellent and we experienced the rhythm of the monastic day with Lauds, Eucharist, None, Vespers and Vigil. These offices acted as marker posts in the days and offered the opportunity to join the community at prayer and worship.

The guide for retreatants had this encouragement:

Come on now little one, get away from your worldly occupation for a while, escape from your tumultuous thoughts.  Lay aside your burdensome cares and put off laborious exertions. Give yourself over to God for a little while, and rest for a while in God (St Anselm).  Words which for me were soothing and healing – I had permission to just be.

The first thing our retreat facilitator encouraged us to do was to go outside and reflect on the phrase:

Be still and know that I am God (Psalm 46.10).

I sat on the seat in the picture above and began to meditate on that phrase and this is what I felt God saying:

Be still and listen

Be still and find peace in your heart

Be still and love generously

Be still and see the mountaintop

Be still and smell the grass

Be still and hear the birds sing

Be still and be present in the moment

Be still and bask in my love

Be still, listen to the silence and let your soul find rest in me.

All these be stills connected with issues in my life that needed attention or revisiting and were a reminder of the danger of losing myself in the demands of every day and losing sight of what is really important.  I know that I don’t need to be on retreat to be still but I sometimes forget to just take that time, even if all I have is five minutes to stop and remember that just being is needed to balance out the doing.

This is a meditation I will keep returning to – what is it today that God wants me to hear, experience or do in the stillness…

Be still