Tuesday, 19 July 2011

The Big Silence

Recently I spent a week in North Wales on an Individiually Guided Silent Retreat.  I went to St. Beuno's, near Rhyl/St. Asaph.  Apart from being very close to a major road (the A55), it is a beautiful rural location, with plenty of opportunity for walking - as well as silence and prayer.  St. Beuno's is run by the Jesuits and so uses an Ignatian methodology which I found very helpful.

I wondered what it would feel like to be in silence for seven days, a new experience for me, but one that I found extremely helpful in centring myself for the next phase of ministry.

I met with Richard, my retreat director, for 20/30 minutes each morning and we were able to talk things over and Richard suggested Scripture passages that I might use as a basis for prayer and reflection.  Meals were together but with background music and no talking - and the idea was not to do any other reading.  There was a daily Eucharist and a shared time of silent prayer (half an hour).  Otherwise the time was for each retreatant to use on prayer, reflection and, as you wished, walking and/or enjoying the beautiful and extensive grounds. 

This method worked for me - it might not for everyone - and it reminded how crucial it is to give space to God.

St. Beuno's was featured in the BBC television series 'The Big Silence'.

Monday, 18 July 2011

Adding the Power of Heaven

I have been reading D. Peter Burrows' book JONAH, the reluctant missionary (Gracewing, 2008) in which he explores the book of Jonah, but does so by offering a wide range of Biblical links.  He links the story to many other parts of the Bible in a fascinating way. 

I was particularly struck by a little comment about Moses in which he uses what happened to Moses, when he was called and empowered to do God's work, as a definition of a sacrament.  He is pointing out that what matters is the difference that God makes.

Thus, he writes (p. 103/4) - "This reliance upon God rather than upon self is called 'faith' and Moses has no signs of power - he is a weakling.  God clearly likes this about Moses and says in effect: 'You supply the staff, your right arm and a little water; I will add the power.'  The staff becomes a serpent, the right arm becomes leprous and the water turns to blood.  Moses supplies the little things of his life; God adds the power.  What better definition of a Christian sacrament?  'You bring what you have and offer it to me; I will add the power of heaven.'"

God doesn't need our strength, just our weakness.

Monday, 4 July 2011

God comes from Essex

On Saturday I was able to participate in the Bradwell pilgrimage 2011. Each year Christians, mainly from Essex and east London gather in large numbers at St Thomas's Church Bradwell-on-Sea on the first Saturday in July. After a brief service we walk 'on pilgrimage' to the little St Peter's Chapel near to the beach, remembering that this was where St Cedd first brought Christianity to our part of England. We then have a service there and various activities. This year I was glad to have the opportunity to lead the service near to the beach and to introduce our two speakers.

As it is the 400th anniversary of the publication of the King James Version of the Bible in 2011, we were focussing on the Bible and invited Bishop Stephen Cottrell, new Anglican Bishop of Chelmsford since the autumn, and Bishop Thomas McMahon, about to retire as Roman Catholic Bishop of Brentwood after 31 years, to each share a Bible passage that had really meant something to them. Bishop Thomas spoke of the power of the resurrection story and the words 'He is risen'. Bishop Stephen 'cheated' by mentioning several passages, but began with a reference to the young people's custom of using the word 'well' instead of 'very'. Something isn't very good or very important or very trendy - it is well good or well important or well trendy. Bishop Stephen commented that Essex people used this form of expression before it became popular. However, God got in first, said Bishop Stephen, referring to the story of Jesus' baptism - and God's saying: this is my beloved Son, with whom I am WELL pleased. So God comes from Basildon, Essex.

And that's the point- he does. God comes from your place and mine, and so he understands where we come from, and can be with us in what we are doing.