Thursday, 31 January 2013

Spiritual direction - watch this space

Divine synchronicity or an equally divine kick up the posterior to get on with something I should have been working on for a while? My blog-friend Greenpatches has been posting about Spiritual Direction, here and (in response to one of the many interesting comments her post generated) here. Do read it... And have a look at ramtopsrac's post too.

In case you didn't know, Spiritual Direction is a ministry I've been involved in as a practitioner, trainer and supervisor for many years. And yes, I'm aware that even using such "professional"-sounding words runs counter to how some people perceive the ministry! My own "formation" has been in the Christian tradition and particularly in the spirituality of Ignatius Loyola. A while back I promised a colleague I'd write something about Spiritual Direction Ignatian-style... Thanks to Greenpatches' prompting I may now get round to it, and I hope to share the results in this blog, in case anyone out there is interested. This squally, blustery afternoon might just be the time to make a start... So watch this space.

Meanwhile, what about that icon? It's of St Menas, and his friendship with Christ - notice Christ's arm around Menas' shoulder. While I was training I heard this icon referred to as the "Spiritual Direction Icon." At the time, I assumed this meant that it represented the director and directee together - and maybe that's what the speaker intended. But now I see it differently. It's often said that an icon is only completed by the person who "reads" it and prays before it. So Christ is Christ in the icon, and his friend is the pilgrim - the directee. The director is the one who holds the sacred space open but isn't in the picture; who pays attention with prayerful awe but doesn't get in the way.

What do you think?
To be continued (some time!)

Sunday, 27 January 2013

Sunday Snippets - a change in the weather

Well, the daffodils have survived the snow and the birdbath no longer needs to be defrosted with kettles of hot water (in the photo it looks empty, but don't worry birds - it isn't). Today we've had a real variety of weather - sunshine, rain, wind, hail and an ever-changing animated cloudscape. In a week which will bring St Brigid's Day (or Imbolc if you prefer) and Candlemas, could it be that the year is turning?

Last night I couldn't sleep and felt I wanted some fresh air.  Rather than cause a disturbance by unlocking doors I settled for the bathroom window - flung it wide open and let the wind blow rain in my face; watched the trees waving and the clouds scudding over the Moon. It's been a while since it was not far too cold to do that.

So, this past week I've been musing about:

Linked with Sunday Snippets - A Catholic Carnival, once again hosted - thank you! - by RAnn

Wolf Moon

Urban fox
...the traditional name (or one of them) for the January Full Moon. The nearest we get where I live is the urban/suburban fox: I did have an elderly parishioner years ago who referred to them as wolves ("I saw another wolf outside the corner shop last night"). If you click on the caption you'll see that this isn't my own picture (I wish!) though we do have a regular visitor to our garden.

This last week it's been a treat to watch the snowy landscape from the train window (when the trains have been running!) and I've often seen the footprints of foxes alongside the tracks. In winter, when creatures are cold and hungry, our proximity to nature and wildness is more visible. It saddens and angers me when people seem to think this is something to fear or fight against: one of my favourite quotations is from David Abram (The Spell Of The Sensuous) - "we are only human in contact and conviviality with what is not human".  [LATE EDIT: after writing this I listened to Choral Evensong on the radio. The first reading was Exodus 8 vv.1-9 - now that's an example of contact with the non-human which might not have been quite so convivial. Ribbit!] One of the blessings of sharing my life with a dog is when I glimpse the wolf in his eyes and feel the wonder of a relationship with a creature of another species: a deep memory of Eden? A tiny foretaste of heaven?

It saddens and angers me too when people use the word "wild" (or indeed "feral") to mean evil or depraved. I believe wild is connected at root with will - that's to say (so I believe anyway) our deepest desire. So to be "wild" is to be truly who I am, without veneers or distortions. Carl Rogers would say this is to be in touch with my "actualising tendency" - that is, to seek the best for my self and in doing so to give the best of myself to others, the world and the universe. Ignatius would say it is to get in touch with God's unique dream for me, beneath the surface incongruities and "inordinate attachments".  In line with my word for the year, I'd say that both of these mean to remember that God is creating me each instant, and seeing me as GOOD - because God is good.  My prayer is that the beams of this Wolf Moon will light all that has the potential to be wild and true and good in me, and that God will give me grace to choose what fosters that wild goodness, which is God's.

In the words of Hopkins' poem Inversnaid:

Let them be left,
O let them be left, wildness and wet;        
Long live the weeds and the wilderness yet.

By the way, have you noticed my new Moon phase thingy at the side of this blog? I've wanted one for a while, and found the wherewithal at Rowan's blog Circle of the Year.  And welcome to my newest follower, Angela of Bright Star. Have a look at her wonderful wintry pictures before the snow is a distant memory!

Thursday, 24 January 2013

Ivy and slush

Ivy - symbol of faithfulness and tenacity, and of Mary the Mother of Jesus. Be strong, be who you are, says Ivy. Hold fast... Find consolation in winter and wait for spring. Let your soul magnify the Lord. God is good. All shall be well. Let it be.

Ivy beareth berries black
God grant us all his bliss; 
For there shall we nothing lack...
(From the Mediaeval Baebes' song Veni Coronaberis)

Oh, and a thought for the day from Ogden Nash:
Snow is snowy when it's snowing;
I'm sorry it's slushy when it's going.

Read the whole poem here.

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

All shall be well

Someone brought a bunch of daffodils in to the course I teach on today, and they touched my heart. Daffodils are favourite flowers of mine: they were our school flower, because the school's birthday fell at daffodil time and we were encouraged to bring in bunches from our gardens to decorate our classrooms. Several years ago, when I was going through a rather dark time (and it happened to be the depth of winter), I had a dream about masses of daffodils flowering in the cold and darkness - it proved to be a turning point, as hope began to return.

When I was taking the picture I found I was trying to avoid that piece of paper on the notice board where you might just be able to see the words Stretch and Panic. It's a reminder of our hope that on the course we'll all find courage to move out of our Comfort Zone (that's the bit in the middle that you perhaps can't read) and into our Stretch Zone - while not venturing too far or too often into our Panic Zone. I find that challenging! But maybe that's part of the message of daffodils pushing their way through the snow.

I'm reminded too of Sydney Carter's song about Julian of Norwich:
Love like a yellow daffodil is coming through the snow;
Love like a yellow daffodil is Lord of all I know.
Ring out, bells of Norwich, and let the winter come and go -
All shall be well again, I know.

I managed to find a version of the song on YouTube although, if these musicians will forgive me, I still think the best version is the one on the album of Carter's songs called Lovely In The Dances.  And I think the daffodils moved me so much today because they connect with my word for this year...

Sunday, 20 January 2013

Sunday Snippets - Snow!

Rosemary for remembrance - the statue is of St Dorothy, a patron of gardening 
It's been a busy week, and I've only managed two posts, one about choosing (or being chosen by) a word for the new(-ish!) year - you can read it here if you like - and a favourite bit of C S Lewis writing about Weather.

Because on Friday the snow came! If you're reading this outside Britain you'll need to know that here, when the snow starts to fall, public transport becomes very difficult. Yesterday I was meant to be teaching a workshop in an agreeable English Cathedral city, but the organisers decided that participants might not be able to get there - or not get home again - so the day has been postponed until April. Which meant, for me, the gift of a Saturday at home! A walk with the dog by the river, which was rushing along in full spate under snow-laden branches; it was one of those snowy days when the sky is darker than the ground. And then the treat of a bowl of pasta in our favourite local Italian restaurant - we decided to celebrate the fact that we were unexpectedly able to have lunch together.  And catching up on sleep...

Today it's snowing quite heavily again. Look at my poor early daffodil...

And here's St Francis in a more sheltered spot...

Linked with Sunday Snippets - A Catholic Carnival, hosted by RAnn.

I like weather

A fragment of dialogue from C S Lewis' That Hideous Strength:

We both like Weather. Not this or that kind of weather, but just Weather. It's a useful taste if one lives in England.' 'How ever did you learn to do that, Mr Denniston?' said Jane. 'I don't think I should ever learn to like rain or snow.' 'It's the other way round,' said Denniston. 'Everyone 
begins as a child by liking Weather. You learn the art of disliking it as you grow up. Haven't you ever noticed it on a snowy day? The grown-ups are all going about with long faces, but look at the children - and the dogs. They know what snow's made for.'

'I'm sure I hated wet days as a child,' said Jane. 'That's because the grown-ups kept you in,' said Camilla.  'Any child loves rain if it's allowed to go out and paddle in it.'

Doggy footprints heading for home!

 Dogs may know what snow's made for, but one of the few signs of Canis Minor's age (he was twelve on Christmas Day) is that he feels the cold more and is no longer quite so keen to walk or play in the snow - sadly, because I love long snowy walks, or an excuse to be in the garden. I love the feel of snowflakes and the creak of snow under my boots.

Prayer flags - prayers for those who have little reason to enjoy the snow, as well as thanks for wintry beauty.

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

A word

Porridge. Yes, there is a (tenuous) connection with the theme of this post.
Now, I'm well aware that where pondering and deciding are concerned I'm far more of a slow-cooker than a microwave. So it's not surprising that while a number of my fellow bloggers have chosen a "word" for the new year, and did so quite early on, I've only just accepted  the realisation of what mine is.

I enjoy words (like this chap) and part of the trouble is that I was hoping it would be a spectacular word - something like catasterism or epectasis - a word that would drop into my lap in a flash of lightning or a flutter of rose-scented wings (to borrow a phrase from Sara Maitland). But the word that's been patiently hovering at the back of my mind since the turn of the year is plain-and-simple good. Such an ordinary little word - since childhood we've all know about goodies and baddies (though, really, how do we define good?  Many have tried ever since Plato's day). Etymologically it means, well, good - though with some nuances which I hope to explore. 

Another thing is that I'm one of those weird people whose senses occasionally get muddled and I can sometimes taste words. Again, I was hoping for a word that might taste of champagne, or passion fruit, or a well-Tabasco'd Bloody Mary. "Good" tastes of porridge and honey - delicious and wholesome in its own way but not really all that exciting. 

But good it is.  I remember a time when someone was telling me about some trivial but happy thing and I replied (as one does) "Good!"   And suddenly I felt one of those impossible-to-describe moments - a flurry in the space-time continuum? A chink in the gates of heaven? For a second I glimpsed the hugeness of that word and all it encompasses. Wow. Something of the sense in which Richard Rohr (I think) writes of a benevolent universe. Disappointingly, it seems the root of the word "good" is not connected with "God". But in English and its Scandinavian and Germanic cousins (to my limited knowledge) the similarity must surely shine out. We, after all, say "goodbye" when we really mean "God be with you" - whether we think we do or not.

So that's my word for 2013. I'll be sharing how it connects and resonates for me as the weeks and months unfold, no doubt...

Have you found your word yet?

Sunday, 13 January 2013

Sunday Snippets - Baptism of The Lord

As soon as Jesus was baptised, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. (Matthew 3:16-17)

The Sun sings thy praises;
The Moon glorifies thee;
The stars supplicate before thee;
The light obeys thee;
The deeps are afraid at thy presence;
The fountains are thy servants.
Thou hast stretched out the heavens like a curtain;
Thou hast established the Earth upon the waters;
Thou hast walled about the sea with sand.
Thou hast poured forth the air that living things may breathe.
(Orthodox: Great Blessing of the Waters at Epiphany)

Just a couple of "snippets" from me this week, for the regular round-up hosted by RAnn:
An angel, a dream and a star, and
A last look at Epiphany

And not by me, but something I've been reading: a reflection on Christ's Baptism, here,  by Fr Christopher Colven, shared with us by the Marylebone Ordinariate Group.

Saturday, 12 January 2013

A last look at Epiphany

At this time of year, Christmas decorations are going cheap - and not just the robins (sorry, couldn't resist). We've a tradition of buying some sort of star decoration each Epiphany and this year I found this little glass angel (in case you can't see he is holding a star) from Belarus - half price!

So, a last look at Epiphany's gifts this year. On Sunday night we watched the Epiphany Mass from St Peter's Rome on EWTN. I was struck by many things in the liturgy - first by the "announcement of Easter" where all the forthcoming dates of moveable feasts were solemnly sung by the deacon: Ash Wednesday, Easter, Pentecost, right through to next Advent Sunday. A real sense of the new year unfolding - the path stretching out ahead: what will it bring? But God will be walking it with us.

During the Mass Pope Benedict ordained four new bishops, including his own private secretary Georg Gaenswein. it was incredibly moving to see the candidates lie prostrate on the floor as waves of the litany of the saints rolled over them. It reminded me that this is where all ministry begins: in the humility of our smallness and connectedness with the Earth, and utterly dependent on prayer and grace.

In his homily the Pope said this:  "If you live with Christ, bound to him anew... then you too will become wise men. Then you will become stars which go before men and women, pointing out to them the right path in life. All of us here are now praying for you, that the Lord may fill you with the light of faith and love. That the restlessness of God for man may seize you, so that all may experience his closeness and receive the gift of his joy." 

Something touched my heart in those words and I felt them (please understand me - I know I'm not called to be a bishop!) addressed directly to me. Ah, that's the grace I want and need in my ministry of teaching and spiritual direction. Wisdom - oh yes... And to be a star - in the old sense where the word meant planets too. I have no light of my own but long to reflect the light of Christ my Sun.

I know some of you, fellow bloggers, have been thinking about a "word" for the new year. I'm still pondering that for myself, but the image of that ordination is one I want to carry with me through the year. Wisdom and star; humility and outpoured grace.

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

An angel, a dream and a star

The dream of the Magi, from Autun. Thanks, as so often, to iBenedictines
I love the way that the King woken by the angel has opened his eyes. Epiphanies are all around us, but so often we need a divine touch to see.  My prayer this Epiphany season is to be able to say with e e cummings "now the ears of my ears awake and now the eyes of my eyes are opened". Only the touch of God's messenger can do that for me - and, of course, the messenger may not be what I expect.

Here's an Epiphany poem I'd like to share with you, by Ann Lewin: 


If it’s the thought that counts,
What were they thinking of,
To give him these, gold
Frankincense and myrrh?
Extraordinary gifts to give a child.

When Mary pondered, later, on these things,
I wonder if she thought that
These are given to all –
Gold: our potential, gifts that make us
Royal, each in our own domain;
Incense: our aspirations, prayers
And dreams, calling us on;
Myrrh: soothing healing for our pain.
Not gifts for children,
But, like, him, we’ll grow.

Sunday, 6 January 2013

Sunday Snippets - A Catholic Carnival

...And here I am making some more connections with fellow bloggers.  A very happy and blessed New Year to all you Catholic Carnivallers (is that a word?)

Some of my thoughts about New Year and Epiphany at the following posts:
Ignatius' prayer as the year turns
A saint and a prayer exercise for the New Year

And today I wrote about an ordinary, quiet Sunday afternoon as my entry in The Simple Woman's Daybook

May 2013 bring you many blessings!

A January Day

...that just happens to be Epiphany. Delighted to join in with A Simple Woman's Daybook - an invitation to share a glimpse of a day in your life.

I've enjoyed reading other people's entries in past months, but this is the first time I've taken part myself... So, here goes:
Outside my window...
A veil of grey cloud. The Sun already beginning to sink. Stillness. Neighbours talking; children laughing. A robin singing. Shoots of new life in the garden. Cold. Mud.
I am thinking...
Of everything in the diary in the coming days and weeks: great stuff, but I'm thinking too of how much I need time simply to be.
I am thankful...
For a quiet Sunday afternoon. Choral Evensong on the radio.
In the kitchen...
A chicken ready to go in the oven, flavoured with lemon, rosemary and bay. A big pan of freshly-made roast tomato and rosemary soup, with stellette pasta for the Epiphany. A basil and patchouli candle. A fridge magnet that says "We can't both look good - it's either me or the house".
I am wearing...
A cosy knitted tunic - indigo, with vaguely Scandinavian embroidery. Ancient and well-loved jeans. Stripy socks bought at the seaside.
I am creating...
A workshop for spiritual directors nearing the end of their training, on how to make good use of supervision. I want to make use of imagination, colours, imagery, etc. I met this group last year and look forward to seeing how they've grown.
I am going...
Nowhere today. Bliss.
I am wondering...
Where the Star of Epiphany will lead me this year.
I am reading...
How Rude: Modern Manners Defined introduced by Lynne Truss (a Christmas present). Very funny and bitingly accurate.
I am hoping...
That the new term will go well. That I will discover new gifts in myself and others.
I am looking forward to...
Seeing the Pre-Raphaelites at Tate Britain.
I am learning...
That the days are lengthening.
Around the house...
Amiable clutter - all with memories attached. New calendars. Clocks ticking. My case from our week away, waiting to be unpacked.
I am pondering...
The journey of the Magi. God revealed in the humility of a child. A new year unfolding...
A favourite quote for today...
Beauty is like "small tears in the surface of the world that pull us through to a vaster space". (Simone Weil)
One of my favorite things...
Walking through puddles in my wellies.
A few plans for the rest of the week:
Plough Monday tomorrow - I wrote about it here last year. Back to work! And a trip to the Pre-Raphaelite exhibition at the Tate! And enough time to rest in there somewhere...
A peek into my day...

And out...

Thursday, 3 January 2013

A saint and a star

Thanks to Cloister and Silvana for the idea of choosing a patron saint for the New Year - from this Saint's Name Generator. (Not to be confused with a different name generator that I wrote about before Christmas.)  When I asked it to choose a saint for me it gave me St Nicholas of Tolentino. Well, I'll confess here and now that I knew nothing about him.  He was, apparently, a 13th century Augustinian and is the patron saint of (among others) animals, babies, boatmen and souls in Purgatory. Hmm, maybe some connections there... But the image on the site to which the link took me, and which I've reproduced above, did catch my attention. It's that star on his breast. As a small child I was captivated by images of suns, moons and stars with faces, and I still am.

And it's nearly Epiphany. St Nicholas's star reminds me of a body-prayer exercise from the practice of the late Fr Herbert Slade ssje, which I've found good to do at this time of year. If you'd like to try it, here's my remembered version:

Stand, and look up... Imagine way above you a beautiful bright star shining in the night sky. Reach up, stretch as high as you can and - because anything is possible in imagination - touch the star; take hold of it. Slowly bring the star down before you. Look at its beauty and radiance - see the light shining out between your fingers... Slowly, slowly bring the star to your heart and let it rest there.  Hold your hand against your chest and feel the star's presence there. Imagine its radiance within you. Jesus, Emmanuel, born in the Bethlehem of your heart....

Perhaps St Nicholas's patronage and prayers will help me to remember and give thanks this year for the stars which have led me, by so many routes, to find God Incarnate - who calls me to come home to myself.

We're back in Suffolk with so much beauty to gaze at in the New Year night sky. For the last few evenings I've been watching Orion and Sirius, Aldebaran, the Pleiades and Hyades treading the "Great Dance" [yes, C S Lewis was going to be in here somewhere!] together, in the company of Jupiter and a bright waning gibbous Moon. Archdruid Eileen invited us all to go out and look last night, and The Urban Astronomer tells us about more celestial treats in store, for those lucky enough to be in the right place and have clear skies.  "Star(s) of wonder, star(s) of light..."  Have a happy Epiphany!

Tuesday, 1 January 2013

Take and receive

Ignatius' Suscipe prayer - a bridge between the Spiritual Exercises and the rest of one's life. And, for me, the best prayer as one year ends and another begins:
Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty: my memory, my understanding and my entire will. All that I have and call my own. You have given it all to me; to you, Lord, I return it. Everything is yours, do with it according to your will. Give me only the love of you, and your grace: that is enough for me.

I found this picture by chance on the Wells Cathedral website. It seemed appropriate... (I think I've seen it before but no artist's name was given so I do apologise for not crediting it.)