Wednesday, 30 December 2020

Talk on praying help and guidance in the pandemic at St Wilfrid, Haywards Heath streamed eucharist on Wednesday in Christmas Octave 30.12.20

As a pensioner I take a good interest in the Christmastide readings which featured elderly Simeon yesterday and 84 year old Anna today engaging with the Lord. 

Anna ‘never left the temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day’. As Jesus was presented and blessed by Simeon ‘she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem’. 

This elderly lady was immersed in prayer. She was therefore open to the prompting of the Holy Spirit. There she was as our Lord and Saviour comes to his Temple with Mary his mother and Saint Joseph.

As we read Luke’s Gospel Chapter 2 we sense afresh what it means to be open to the Holy Spirit. It means being available to God in worship and prayer, attentive to the scriptures and to the service of others. Anna is called a prophetess which underlines her openness to the Holy Spirit. On that day, like Simeon, she was led to recognise the unique event of the coming of the Child Jesus to the Temple. Anna goes on to ‘[speak] of the child to all who looked forward to the deliverance of Jerusalem’.

I don’t know if like me you have had similar experiences of being in the right place at the right time with unique consequences. You and I may not be prophets in the sense of Anna and Simeon but through our baptism we share in a prophetic gifting. By our immersion in prayer we make ourselves open to the Holy Spirit’s leading and this can have remarkable consequences in our daily lives. May this be so for us especially today as so many in our circle are impacted by COVID-19.

I think of many lost opportunities to serve the Lord through my lack of watchfulness, day by day, hour by hour, for doors he has opened for me to enter. Yes, there are days when I am especially prayerful and watchful and have a sense of being used by God. Other days, when I slip my discipline of prayer and attentiveness to others, I look back in the evening with less satisfaction.

The Christmas stories remind us how eternity intersects with time in Jesus Christ and his followers. By the Holy Spirit the eternal God entered time through Our Lady. By the same Spirit he intersects with us, as at this eucharist through the scriptures and the breaking of the Bread. 

Just as prayerful Anna was in the right place at the right time, so, by the discipline of worship and prayer, we too position ourselves in life to enter possibilities of God beyond our imagining. 

It is a matter of devotion to God as God of the world and Lord of time and expectancy upon him to use us as he wishes. 

Wherever we are the Holy Spirit is present and when we meet others he is especially present. In this season of lockdown old and young are primarily in one place yet we retain a variety of means to engage with others. 

Like Anna let us look up generously to God, immersing ourselves in prayer and praise, expecting the Holy Spirit to make us his instruments. 

It’s a privilege and a responsibility to live close to Jesus Emmanuel, God with us. 

God take us and use us through this eucharist making us responsive to the Holy Spirit as we leave worship to live life with the eternal perspective Christmas opens up for us. May the Lord use our prayer, listening to and action on behalf of others today as the COVID-19 pandemic accelerates.

Sunday, 27 December 2020

St John the Evangelist, Burgess Hill Patronal Festival 27 Dec 2020

Our patron Saint John is a timely figure for his gifts of contemplation and discernment. He ranks among the Twelve Apostles and Four Evangelists but is alongside Our Lady, Saint Peter and Saint Paul as foundational to the Church.

Whereas Our Lady, by her maternity, St Peter by Our Lord’s charge and St Paul by the Damascus Road commission are noted for action St John, is on the record rather for being with Our Lord, the beloved disciple, contemplating, discerning and sharing his contemplation with us through the inspired writings that take pride of place in the New Testament. 

As our patron St John invites us to make use of quieter time after Christmas Day to be with the Lord as his beloved disciples, to contemplate and seek the gift of discernment as we look forward to a new year. 

How do we see St John? Today’s feast is of St John, Apostle and Evangelist and the Collect reminds us how we are ‘enlightened by [the Apostle’s] teaching so we may [see and] walk in the light of God’s truth’. The consequence of welcoming Christ, John the Evangelist teaches is to ‘attain to the light of everlasting life’. No writing in scripture puts the invitation of the risen Lord Jesus Christ more plainly than that of St John in his Gospel, his letters, and his association with the Book of Revelation.

Today’s entrance antiphon summarises our patron: ‘This is John, who reclined on the Lord’s breast at supper, the blessed Apostle, to whom celestial secrets were revealed and who spread the words of life through all the world’.

Over my years I have been privileged to visit places traditionally associated with St John. Galilee where the Lord called him from his work as a fisherman. Mount Thabor where he was privileged to see Jesus in glory. Jerusalem’s Mount Calvary where he stood with Mary under the Cross as represented here above us. Ephesus where he lived with Mary whom Jesus entrusted to John until her passing to heaven. Lastly Patmos where one Lord’s Day he received the text of the Book of Revelation which ends our Bibles.

Textual critics find evidence of a variety of styles in the three sections of John’s writings, the Fourth Gospel, the three letters of St John and the Revelation to John. This variety evidences the so-called Johannine school which worked with the Apostle to secure his copious grasp of the things of Christ got into print. I have here an icon (show) I bought on the Greek Island of Patmos which shows this process. You might be able to see John’s head in contemplation inclined to our left where lines descend from above symbolising his discernment of the book of Revelation. The text of this book he is relaying to the scribe on the right who puts his words onto scrolls copies of which have descended to us. These scrolls were made part of the 1600 year old Codex Sinaiticus in the British Museum, the earliest Christian Bible, a text from which this morning’s passages from Exodus 33, Psalm 117, 1 John 1 and John 21 were read out.

The last two of these four passages link directly to the contemplation and discernment of our Patron who describes his closeness to Jesus: ‘We declare to you... what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life - this life was revealed, and we have seen it and testify to it, and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us’.

In these quieter days after the Christmas Feast, what we call the Octave or eight days of Christmas, we have an invitation to see Jesus with St John, to look to the Lord, to touch him in the Bread of Communion and to welcome what he has to say to us as ‘the word of life’. As our Patron leaned on the Lord physically at the Last Supper we should have an expectation that we too can set apart some time in the days before the New Year to lean upon the Lord, now risen and present not just to the original apostles but to all who will so welcome him by his Spirit.

Holman Hunt captured the force of this invitation the Lord gives us in his painting of The Light of the World (show). It illustrates one of his most powerful invitations in scripture mediated through the Revelation to John with the words from Chapter 3 verse 20 at the bottom. They capture the nearness of the Lord to each one of us which we recall at this season:

‘Behold I stand at the door and knock. If any man hear my voice and open the door I will come in to him and will sup with him and he with me.’

To contemplate Jesus we need faith that he is always at the door of our soul. He is looking towards us. We need to pull off the ivy, so to speak, over the door of our heart, and open up by being quiet so we can come close to him in contemplation. We recall, as today’s collect reminds us, the Lord who ‘casts bright beams of light upon us’ scattering all darkness of heart and mind. 

‘I am the Light of the World’ Jesus says through John; ‘he who follows Me will not walk in darkness, but will have the Light of life’. 

So be it as we contemplate the Lord in these privileged days and grow the fruit of that contemplation in our lives. 

May such fruit be gathered from us by those who engage with St John’s Church family in the coming year as so many have benefited from the contemplation and writings of St John the Evangelist whose prayers we entreat on this our patronal feast. 

Friday, 25 December 2020

Christmas 2020 St Richard’s Midnight Mass & Presentation Christmas Day

Christmas 2020 focus of joy and sorrow the world over. 

These two human realities are merged into our celebration tonight/today just as Jupiter and Saturn have been brought into conjunction in the heavens.

In his orchestral suite The Planets Gustav Holst presents Jupiter as jollity and Saturn as bringer of weariness. Compared with the buoyant music for Jupiter, familiar to us as tune for ‘I vow to me my country’ Holst’s music for Saturn is slow and unsettling.

Weather permitting you may have seen the conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn in the night sky this week. It happens every 20 years but this year’s has been their closest approach since 1623 and closest observable since 1226. There is talk of the grandest conjunction being the source of the immense light appearing as a guide ‘when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the King’ (Matthew 2:1,2)

The events of that night bring joy and sorrow to godly focus in such a way as to inflame the faith, hope and love that burn in our hearts tonight/this morning.

Of this focussing Thomas Merton wrote: ‘As a magnifying glass concentrates the rays of the sun into a little burning knot of heat that can set fire to a dry leaf or a piece of paper, so the mystery of Christ in the Gospel concentrates the rays of God's light and fire to a point to set fire to the human spirit’.

The movement of Jupiter and Saturn to conjunction lifts our physical eyes into the sky at night. The conjunction of God and the world in Jesus Christ, true God and true Man, sets fire to our spiritual perception building faith, hope and love in the face of the sorrows of 2020.

We find faith in a God who, having made us and put us at risk in the cosmos, brings knowledge of his love for us and for all things to light by taking flesh from the Blessed Virgin Mary. The Child Jesus builds our faith as ‘he concentrates the rays of God’s light and fire to a point to set fire to the human spirit’. ‘He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it’.

We find hope in the Christmas Feast and not just for 2021. If, as the psalmist writes, ‘this is the day that the Lord has made’ so is tomorrow. Tomorrow also is God’s, and ‘tomorrow, and tomorrow unto the last syllable of recorded time’. Many ask where we find hope at this season. Others say the pandemic has underlined the value of religion as keeper of the flame of hope. 

It’s not a matter of where there is life there is hope but where there is hope there is life, life worth living, life with fullness beyond fullness of years. People with hope, especially those caring for others this year against the odds and at risk to themselves, bring to focus what matters ultimately.

We find faith, hope and thirdly love, which is of ultimate significance, kindled tonight/today. As Jupiter and Saturn draw close in the sky, joy and sorrow are united in the humble Crib of Bethlehem - God is made one with us.

To see this we must take the step of receiving and believing invited at the start of John’s Gospel: ‘God in Christ was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God’.

I can set forth arguments for the existence of a God who is love but arguments will only go so far. The story of Jesus in the Gospels is accepted as historical by scholars in a way that is impressive compared to the qualifications they make about the historical claims of non-Christian religions. Even Christ’s resurrection is said by non-believers to have an enigmatic ring of truth. To move from the ring of truth to entering truth, living in faith, hope and love, is a matter of ‘receiving him… believing in Christ’s name… and welcoming power to become children of God.

One of our leading theologians, Rowan Williams, said last week that believers who strive to make rational arguments for the faith in conversation with secularists should have more modest aspirations. Our humble role is to keep a “foot in the door” until a saint comes along. Williams offered the example of Malcolm Muggeridge, a celebrated British journalist and satirist who was attracted to Communism in his youth and later converted to Christianity under the influence of St. Teresa of Calcutta. I quote, ‘it was not argument, but seeing something fleshed out that did it, but Muggeridge wouldn’t have committed without steady engagement over the years with the arguments’.

Christmas 2020 is the focus of joy and sorrow across the world. The conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn in the sky symbolises the bringing to himself God desires for every human being. Our role as believers in advancing this is advanced as our faith, hope and love are refreshed into overflow tonight/today.  

God bless each one of us as we set forth to our circle the argument for Christ and pray for them to embrace what he brings – belonging for the isolated, purpose for the lost, empowerment for the overwhelmed, forgiveness for sinners and direction for those who’re feeling lost. ‘And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father's only son, full of grace and truth’.

Tuesday, 22 December 2020

Talk on self-awareness at St Wilfrid, Haywards Heath streamed eucharist 23.12.20

God has chosen each one of us. Here is a fingerprint to remind us as if we were in any doubt.

God has chosen us. We are special to him. He counts the very hairs on our head.

How much we are grateful for that is shown by our attitude to the others He has chosen too!

I have a story which reminds us of the importance of detachment when it comes to the faults of others.

A visitor to a psychiatric hospital found one of the residents rocking back and forth in a chair cooing repeatedly in a soft contented manner, "Lulu, Lulu...".

"What's this man's problem?" he asked the doctor.

"Lulu. She was the woman who jilted him," was the doctor's reply.

As they proceeded on the tour, they came to a padded cell whose occupant was banging his head repeatedly against the wall and moaning, "Lulu, Lulu..."

"Is Lulu this man's problem too?" asked the visitor.

"Yes," said the doctor. "He's the one Lulu finally married."

We all have our "Lulus" be they in families or in Churches. And we too, have you thought, we or rather, you, may be someone else's "Lulu". You may be an aid to the uprooting of self love in your husband or wife, your Churchwarden even!

As we approach an extended time with family, qualified by Covid, we will enjoy their company and may also be challenged out of our comfort zone.  Families are generated biologically and so there is pressure to hang on together. Churches by contrast are voluntary associations whose strength of association depends utterly on how much of the love that came down at Christmas is actually among us, wanting the best for one another and prepared to give the benefit of the doubt.

Such love in both families and Churches provides cohesion with love covering a multitude of sins.

Loving our brother and sister Christians can be all the harder since we have not chosen them - the Lord has - and we have to run with his choices if we are to do what he says and build his kingdom in Haywards Heath. We all have our own thoughts about what it is to be the Church. We also need to complement those thoughts with some understanding and tolerance of how others see things.

For example there is the 'noble art of getting things done' in the church. There is also the noble art of leaving things undone. Here is an amusing story on that subject from Fr. Tony De Mello:

According to the newspapers, a heat wave was causing fainting spells, so a young lady was not surprised to see the middle-aged man next to her in Church slump down toward the floor. Quickly she knelt down beside him, placed a firm hand on his head, and pushed it between his knees.

"Keep your head down," she whispered urgently. "You'll feel better if you get the blood into your head."

The man's wife looked on convulsed with laughter and did nothing to help her husband or the young lady. She must be quite heartless the young lady decided.

Then, to her dismay, the man managed to break loose from her muscular hold and hissed, "What are you up to, you meddling fool? I'm trying to retrieve my hat from under the bench!"


We've all - if we were honest - been "meddling fools" on occasion, or we wouldn't be human. The fingerprint shows me a great truth (show) - I'm special. There is no one like me. God loves me with a special love unique to me. The other truth the Christian religion shows me is that I am an ass and we are all asses, if you will excuse me saying it. "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" to use the biblical version.

We are precious to God but we are also asses. Holding to both truths is a receipe for constructive living and it is taught us supremely here at the eucharist.

Wednesday, 16 December 2020

Talk on Confession at St Wilfrid, Haywards Heath streamed eucharist 16.12.20


When I was an undergraduate I stumbled into a church in Oxford with a  rather inspiring priest called Fr John. In those days evangelism was less by Alpha and more by tea parties but food was the same draw! I remember being invited to tea with the priest one Sunday. At length he asked me if I’d ever considered going to Confession. I had no good answer! Somehow the spiritual force of the man hit me – I had to go to Confession, Jesus Christ was in him and appealing to me. 

If the church could produce more such priests our pews wouldn’t be so empty. We don’t feel the need to confess our sins unless we know them - and we won’t know them without close encounter with the Lord however that can be inspired. I was blessed to discover early on in my Christian journey the need for penitence as being inseparable from the aspiration to be God’s instrument for good in the world.

Michael Ramsey knew this when he, an Anglican Archbishop, was bold enough to announce that ‘the foundations of the kingdom of God are laid in the confessionals of Christendom’. What a strange comment? What do you make of that as an Anglican? 

It’s a good thought for Advent, whether confession of sin is something private for you or something accompanied by the gift of absolution, one to one. You may know the Anglican saying about going to confession – all may, none must, some should. Where do you fit into that?! 

Let’s trace something of the history of the sacrament of confession, also known as the sacrament of absolution or reconciliation

If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them Jesus said to the apostles. For twenty centuries this ministry of freeing from sin has continued in his church particularly through the ordained ministry. Jesus died that we might be forgiven but we have to receive that forgiveness. 

Why seek forgiveness? To deal with our sins because they drag us down. 

How? Confess your sins one to another… that you may be healed James says in his letter. We need healing from guilt, the feeling that our sins aren’t forgiven. We also need our church membership renewing when we sin and let the side down. 

The ministry of forgiveness can be a sacramental ministry. There’s a bible-based sign in which individuals are given a welcome home to God and his church through the minister. This ministry complements the assurance of forgiveness given to all Christians through prayer and the promises of scripture. 

Why go to a minister and not directly to God? It’s not either-or. When the lost son felt sorrow for his sins he said I will arise and go to my father and say to him ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. Imagine his coming home to a note on the table ‘all is forgiven’ rather than to a loving embrace? Sacramental confession helps many Christians to get that embrace and know that when God says they are forgiven they are forgiven! It can help to confess specific sins to the pastor and have a welcome signifying God’s welcome to you individually.

Christians disagree about the ways you can receive God’s forgiveness. They all agree church members should make themselves accountable both to God and to their church. Some are happy to use the minister as an instrument of this. Others see this as introducing a go-between that could subtract from Christ. 

Christ gave authority for his disciples to pronounce absolution on Easter Day. From that day the risen Christ though invisible has made himself present through signs - water, bread and wine, oil, touch – we call sacraments. Whilst the sacraments of baptism and eucharist have Christ’s clear authority the other sacraments are valued in the church, including the ministry of forgiveness.

As we approach Christmas Day a good few Anglicans will be making a booking with a priest to meet in Church and kneel at the altar rail. I’ve got my booking and some of you may want to do the same. All may, none must, some should.

Saturday, 12 December 2020

St Wilfrid & Presentation Advent 3 Second Coming 13th December 2020

He shall come again in glorious majesty to judge the living and the dead that we may rise to the life immortal

What difference does this Cinderella of Christian truth make to us.

I say Cinderella because the doctrine of the Second Coming must be about the most neglected of doctrines. It gets eclipsed by Christmas, which now covers Advent and beyond, and is tinged with such sentimentality that many preachers get scared off attending to the four last things: death, judgement, heaven and hell.

The first benefit of the doctrine of the Second Coming is it puts us in our place!

What you are before God - that is what you are and no more.  The doctrine that He shall come again in glorious majesty to judge us warns us to avoid the error of valuing ourselves overmuch by what others say about us.

No one can take away or enhance who we are before God.

This is a very difficult truth to take on board and get into our hearts of hearts. The blame or praise of any other human being is of no matter compared to God's praise or blame. If what we find others think of us inflates or deflates us overmuch we’re not fully centred on the Lord.

Fear God and there’ll be no one or nothing else to fear!

The second benefit of the doctrine of the Second Coming is the reminder it gives that once we accept the love of Christ there will be no need to fear his  judgement. 

As St Paul writes to the Romans,'There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus' (Romans 8.1).

The universe will be ended by Jesus Christ and he is the one who first came to reveal the Love that moves the sun and the stars in Dante's immortal phrase.

If all through our Christian lives we have been looking to Jesus his appearing 'in glorious majesty to judge the living and the dead' will be consummation not condemnation.

Tom Wright, former Bishop of Durham, writes about the Second Coming in his book Simply Christian. There he encourages us to see the Lord’s return as less about our being snatched up into heaven than about the New Jerusalem coming down in which Jesus will reappear as King of Heaven. 

Bishop Tom sees Jesus now as present, I quote, hidden behind that invisible veil that keeps heaven and earth apart, and which we pierce in those moments such as prayer, the sacraments, the reading of scripture and our work with the poor, where the veil seems particularly day that veil will be lifted; earth and heaven will be one; Jesus will be personally present, and every knee shall bow at his name; creation will be renewed; the dead will be raised; and God’s new world will at last be in place.

If the first benefit of the doctrine of Christ's Second Coming is to put us in our place and the second is to remind us that place is one of being loved, the third benefit is to open up a vision of the purpose of all things so as to spur us on.

This world isn't just here! It’s God's world made for God’s purpose! The kingdom of this world is to become the kingdom of our God and of Christ, his Son.

He shall come again in glorious majesty to judge the living and the dead that we may rise to the life immortal.

God’s a personal God who’s created a world where personal beings who bear his image stand not at the centre but, in Teilhard de Chardin's phrase, as the 'structural keystone’ of the universe. 

Almighty God made the universe to put in the centre of it his Son, Jesus Christ.

The first Coming of Jesus was into the womb of a holy woman, the Blessed Virgin Mary, demonstrating that we human beings are no mere compartment of the animal kingdom but are capable of union with God.

His Second Coming will occur when human beings, drawn to Christ and his Church in the Spirit, have completed the divine plan 'to bring all things together in Christ'. (Ephesians 1.10)

Many are pessimists when they look at how the world is going. Christians though see in world events a forward movement. As Christ waited for the holy woman to be his Mother he now awaits a holy people to be his Bride so that as heavenly Bridegroom he can one day embrace his church so that we may rise to the life immortal.

Christ awaits the purification of his church for this consummation just as he had to await a woman for his conception. The purification of the church is inseparably bound up with the evolution of the created world that moves forward in history engaging through Christian mission with the good news as it spreads from pole to pole, news of the salvation which is God's gift in his Son Jesus Christ.

I could go on - what riches there are behind the doctrine of the Second Coming - but we need to land this exalted vision this morning into more down to earth reflection and practicalities.

The message to hand on is that it is a benefit and not a bane to know there is judgement. Many unbelievers may be unbelievers because they resent deep down the idea of a God who sees all they do and to whom they will one day have to give account. We should not resent it - and if we do we should repent of our pride!

In Advent season the church calls us to deepen repentance, our sense of need for God. In conjunction with the national month of prayer I have been giving a series of talks on the spiritual life on Wednesdays during an online eucharist. This Wednesday I will be saying something about the Sacrament of Confession as used by Anglicans. A few of us use this Sacrament, especially before Christmas, and I feel I speak for all our clergy in that we are ready to be made available with social distancing for this ministry.

In a variety of ways, not least in our own individual prayer and bible study, we can engage with the wonder of Advent season as it speaks to us of the love and judgement of God in Christ and his purpose for the church and the world.

The Lord is concerned with our lives and with all we are about and his concern is one of pure love! As Christians we are in the words of St Gregory the Great one in him who is everywhere. That union in the Holy Spirit is to be manifested when the world reaches its consummation and God is all in all in perfect love with the saints.

It is a glorious truth that no one can take away or enhance who we are before God - the love he has for us is will be everlasting! 

As we welcome that love in Holy Communion this morning let’s hold in our hearts those we in our acquaintance who know not the Lord Jesus praying they too will open their hearts to him and experience the love of the Lord!

So to God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, be ascribed as is most justly due, all might, majesty, dominion and power, henceforth and for evermore. Amen.

Friday, 11 December 2020

St Wilfrid’s talk on contemplation 9.12.20

Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Matthew 11:28

Taking up that invitation is what Christianity is all about - the regular putting aside of worldly concerns to contemplate the Lord Jesus Christ and enter his rest.

The task of prayer and contemplation is one of heart and will. The mind with its reason and language can take us to God but only the heart can drink of him – by love he is holden not by thought as a medieval writer puts it.

Contemplation, like prayer as a whole, has few absolute rules other than truthfulness. As C.S.Lewis wrote: The prayer preceding all prayers is “May it be the real I who speaks.  May it be the real Thou that I speak to”. Any yearning for contemplative prayer is inseparable from the openness to God we express in penitence for sin and also the readiness to allow all our images of God to give way before the sense of his Presence, a sort of ‘iconoclasm’.  

Spiritual guidance is important in all of this. Talk to a priest if you want help finding a spiritual director locally

Contemplation links to the whole of life. Thomas Merton wrote his great book Seeds of Contemplation show book which I deeply recommend. He was also a passionate advocate against the Vietnam War, nuclear arms and racism.

Activism and prayer are essential to our Faith, though many recognise it is the neglect of the latter, transcendent element that most weakens the church in our day. It is significant that meditation and medicine are words with the same root – we need healing of spirit as well as healing of body and mind.

The Italian writer, Carlo Carretto, inspired by the spirituality of Charles De Foucauld wrote: The closer you come to God as you ascend the slopes of contemplation, the greater grows your craving to love human beings on the level of action.

Much of what I have said about contemplation refers to prayer of all kinds – we are bound to confess, thank and intercede as well as to contemplate – and some of us are bound to the liturgical office.

Now a little advice on the nitty gritty of the prayer of contemplation.

We need a place that is quiet – not too quiet, some say, since a little amount of noise around us helps balance the inner noise we all suffer inside of us!

We need agreement from our family, unless we live alone, for a set time apart from them. 

We need some form of preparation before we sit or kneel to pray. There are various what I call ‘springboards’ to dive off towards the Lord.

We can prepare something to read from scripture or a passage or prayer that has struck us from our spiritual reading – you can’t be a contemplative without living close to scripture and the writings of Christians through the ages.

Some find being before the Reserved Sacrament in Church a helpful aid, or the time immediately after say a quiet weekday Eucharist when they can dwell on Christ in us the hope of glory Colossians 1:27b. Icons, similarly, can serve as a springboard for contemplation.

It is possible to contemplate springing off from natural beauty, even on what I call a ‘prayer walk’ though spiritual writers recommend a constant posture of the body, straight back etc. as a helpful basis for the spiritual exercise involved.  Walking at a constant pace on a known route can serve.

A decision about which means to use as a basis for contemplation is important before you arrive at the place of prayer.  Sometimes, very often, we pick up on where we left off the day before, which is the value of a spiritual journal show.  It helps to pen a couple of lines after your daily prayer to help monitor your work of prayer.

When we finally sit down or kneel there is value in an act of offering of the time to God and an invocation of the Holy Spirit to anoint our contemplation.  Some of us will want to fit self-examination, thanksgiving, intercession and the Office alongside the higher prayer of contemplation into our major daily prayer offering.

Relaxation exercises for the body which help prepare for prayer are well dealt with in Tony De Mello’s writings, especially Sadhana and Praying Body and Soul show.

The choice and use of a  mantra or holy phrase to settle the mind is another feature that may need attending to before we get going in our prayer. I use the Jesus Prayer for this - Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner. Show book

Then we contemplate. Distractions will assail us. We stick at a set posture and duration, resisting the natural desire to quit or change direction unless there is a clear lead from God to do so.

Michael Ramsey when asked how long he prayed for each day was said to answer ‘a couple of minutes’. He added that it usually took half an hour to get there! In many ways the duration of time and the discipline to stick with it is pivotal to a life of contemplation. God bless us all in our response to the invitation in today’s Gospel: 

Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.