Tag Archives: Cuddesdon

Be Still (And Listen To The Birds)

“Let the water teem with living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the vault of the sky.” Genesis 1:20

“Let the water teem with living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the vault of the sky.” Genesis 1:20

When I wake up in college at Cuddesdon I can usually hear the odd shuffle and creak as the college comes to life. However, the other morning, whilst the room was still in darkness, through the solid walls and closed windows I could distinctly hear the sound of birds. Drawing back one of the curtains, I carefully opened the window and stood to listen. The day was at that point of darkness breaking with streaks of yellow and blue on the horizon.

I remember reading an article recently about the effects of birdsong on people’s wellbeing; how it relaxes people physically but stimulates then cognitively, as Julian Treasure, of The Sound Agency puts it “body relaxed, mind alert.”

Regardless of its health or educational benefits it is always good to take a few moments to simply ‘be still’. Enjoy!

Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns,
and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Matthew 6:26

(Please excuse the shuffling sounds at the beginning and towards to end. It’s not always easy holding your phone out of a second storey window)

Freedom of the Morning

Bluebells, Cuddesdon

Bluebells, Cuddesdon

There are not many occasions when you are literally stopped in your tracks by something that catches your eye. This stopping is even harder when you are driving your car; but over the last couple of weeks there have been two sights that did just that.  Luckily they occurred on country lanes that meant that with a quick glance in the rear view mirror I was able to pull over to investigate a bit further

Hare study by Nolan Stacey

Hare Study*

The first happened early in the morning as I drove past an open field of spring wheat. A movement caught my eye, which I mistook at first for a fox or rabbit breaking cover, but as I halted I realised it was a large male hare. This buck was paused, motionless; raised up on his hind legs as if checking out the terrain, before bounding away, too fast for me to grab my camera to capture the moment.

The second occasion was a few days later on my way home from college. This time it was blur of intense blue that made me step on the brakes. The woodland on my right seemed impenetrable with nettles and brambles, but by slowly reversing I could see a gap where the grass looked trodden down. It seemed a natural footpath led beneath the trees and I picked my way carefully over it to be met by a vista of bluebells in patchy sunlight under the newly budded green trees. Ahead of me stretched a path, made not by humans but an animal track, perfect as a byway for the resident woodland creatures and a perfect stimulus to imagination.

The following poem is a result of both encounters

Freedom of the Morning

Into the field of rippling wheat
bounds a wild creature of the wood.
Stopping abruptly; briefly silhouetted
against the emergent morning sun,
the buck raises himself on his hind legs,
his large ears attuned to nature’s rhythm.
Sensing no danger, he punches the air,
as if boxing the breeze; then lopes away,
quickly disappearing into the green sea

Above the hare’s wake, a lone gull
lazily flaps across the dark trees.
Disturbed, the rookery rises
in a dark chorus of harsh condemnation;
‘kaah-kaah-kaah’ echoes into the valley,
answered by mist muffled church bells
sounding the hour, and whose spire
stands sentinel over the slumbering town,
undisturbed by either fleeting interruption

Deep in the woodland, snuffling sounds;
as a black snout emerges from the ground,
followed by myopic eyes in monochrome skull.
The earlier rain has showered the undergrowth,
leaving the air cool and fresh, its sweetness
appreciated after a night underground.
Hunger draws the brock out further from his sett,
as he moves with assured gait along a trail,
his silvery-grey pelt camouflaged by twisting birch

This confidence is justified within his coppice kingdom,
There will be no challengers this morning;
His canine adversaries are confined to kennel;
Their baying silenced for lack of scent.
Yet, as he tramples a track through
the cerulean carpet of bluebells
a heady perfume sweetens his path,
and dappled sunlight dances for joy
as creation rejoices in the freedom of the morning

A path through the bluebells, Cuddesdon

A path through the bluebells, Cuddesdon

Brock = This is a descriptive noun for a badger and comes from Old English and Middle English. Its origins lie in an Irish-Gaelic word ‘broc’ which means badger

*This beautiful pencil sketch of a hare is taken from a greeting card I recently purchased. The artist, Nolon Stacey, is self-taught, specialising in drawings of British wildlife, rural scenery, and farm animals. He currently lives in the Yorkshire Dales and gains inspiration from the picturesque surroundings and varied wildlife. More examples of his work, including items for sale can be found  at nolanstacey.com

Fear Of Failure

Compline - A quiet end to the day

Compline – A quiet end to the day

This week I had to do something really frightening. The sort of thing that makes your heart race and your knees tremble. It wasn’t quite the fear I feel when I am at a great height and not in control of my balance; nor was it the fear generated by an unseen but threatening presence – the sort that made me hide behind the sofa whilst watching Dr Who as a child. No, this was the fear of failure.

The cause of this fear? Well, you could say it was self-inflicted; but for various reasons I had offered to be one of the ordinands that ‘sang’ Compline in the college chapel!

Compline is the final service or ‘office’ at the end of the day. This quiet and peaceful worship, stills the mind and allows you to hand over to God all of those things that have happened during the day before retiring for the night. At Cuddesdon, the practice is then to maintain silence until the next morning

The service is taken from the Book of Common Prayer, and can be said, but is more often than not sung. However, this ‘singing’ is done in Plainsong – a sort of medieval chanting style. The notes are written on a stave [a set of five parallel lines on any one or between any adjacent two of which a note is written to indicate its pitch] in the form of dots (see picture below)

Compline is sung in plainsong

Compline is sung in plainsong

And there’s the rub – the fact that I had to google what the name of those lines were called tells you that my musical knowledge is limited. I understand that each note has a different sound depending on where it sits on those lines, I even know the names of some of the notes in those positions; but my problem is that I can not link in my head the name of the note with the sound that is supposed to come out of my mouth! Still, I wanted to give it a go.

I’ve written previously about having the courage to do something in Getting Out Of The Boat but inherent in all of these types of challenges is the fear of failure; that you’ll make a mess of it; that people will laugh; that you’ll feel a fool. So probably best not to do it…

As the time got nearer, the natural introvert in me kept questioning why I had ever thought it was a good idea and what had possessed me to volunteer. However, I knew that I’d been pushing myself lately to do things that stretched me; that exhausted me, but which were beginning to give me more confidence

I have to admit that even after a brief lunch-time rehearsal, right up to the moment that I sat in the chapel itself, that I wanted so much to say ‘I’m sorry, I really can’t do this’, hoping that like Zechariah I’d be struck dumb and have a legitimate excuse to save face; but a quick arrow prayer to say ‘Here goes God’ and the barely audible note hummed by my wonderful fellow ordinand, Jane*, sitting right next to me, found me launching into the first versicle

Did I sing like Katherine Jenkins? – No!

Did I hit a few ‘bum’ notes? – Yes!

Did I worship the Lord in word and song – Yes!

God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control
2 Timothy 1:7

Having done it I can’t say that I won’t feel that nervousness again, but if we attempt to do things in good faith the Holy Spirit  will invariably pitch in there with us [musical pun intended]

So don’t fear failure, and don’t let fear stop you from giving things a go. As it says in one of my favourite prayers:

Lord help me to remember
that nothing is going

to happen today that
you and I together
can’t Handle

*Huge thanks must go to Jane Winter, whose infinite patience and kind encouragement played a large part in enabling me to not give in to my fears and for the support of all my fellow Ordinands who sang the responses impeccably and who didn’t laugh but gave me silent hugs afterwards!

The Public Face of Christian Conflict

Heart blog

‘Love at the heart of faith is visible’

On Monday (20th January 2014) I came up to Ripon College, Cuddesdon to hear Christopher Landau speak on “Who cares what the church is saying? Christian disagreement and the credibility of public theology.”  Christopher is a former student of the college and is presently a curate at St Luke’s, West Kilburn. This interesting lecture was part of the OxCEPT series and gave me pause to reflect further. The following is based on some of the points and ideas that Christopher put forward

Sometimes it’s hard being a Christian. Not because of my beliefs or the way we are called to live our lives (although I so often fall short in many ways). Not because it can feel that what I understand as basic common standards of respect for self and others appear to be being been gradually eroded in our society. Not because I expect anyone to listen to me and instantly recognise that I have all the answers – I don’t!

What is really hard is the ‘face’ of Christianity that the general public gets to see nowadays

By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another
John 13:35

If, as a voice in the public domain, we are to be more and more portrayed as nonsensical, irrelevant fools, then maybe we need to consider not only what is being said, but how it is being said. How many times do we cringe when the press pick up the views of individuals with ‘extreme’ theologies and opinions; when they misquote or home in on the more sensational expressions of people’s religion, ignoring the mundane yet essential work carried out by millions of Christians each day in the name of their faith? Yet our own worst enemies may just be ourselves.

I think I should make it clear from the start that we should always be prepared to speak out loudly and clearly against injustices; that we have a duty to expose falsehoods and to stand firm on undeniable principles, but the tone and the way in which we do so needs to come from a deep-rooted love and regard for all those involved – to exercise ‘gracious restraint’ as advocated by the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams.

Where better then, to start showing that respect and restraint, but among fellow Christians. I am sure we have all come across situations in our churches where the love of God seems to have been divorced from hearts and minds; being swept aside by petty arguments and disagreements; where it appears acceptable to snipe and carp against our brothers and sisters in Christ; to turn a deaf ear to anything that doesn’t resonate with our personal views. If this is what the outside world sees is happening, then why should they think we have anything relevant to say?

‘Gracious restraint’ should mean that we must not only be prepared to share our own views with each other, but that we should also be prepared to listen; though certainly not to remain silent so that we give the impression that we unquestionably concur, yet all the while dismissing the other as misguided. We need to find arenas where these conversations can take place; to provide room for mutual disagreement; for them to be undertaken using gentleness in speech and manner and to leave space for the Holy Spirit to guide us.

As Christopher pointed out, if we can achieve this at personal and parish levels then we can create a ‘trickle up’ effect and honestly speak as the body of Christ. Perhaps then our words and actions will become more relevant and our public theology more engaging and news-worthy. In this way we will also ensure that ‘love at the heart of faith is visible’

Christian Conflict

Christian Conflict

Oh For A Quiet Day!

Psalm 46:10

Psalm 46:10

Most of us long for a few moments of quiet in our lives, when the constant noisy demands of work and family fade away into the background and we can fall into silence; silence that may last for a few minutes or a few hours if we are lucky; silence in which we can hear ourselves think.

This might not be at a time we choose; it might just be a few snatched moments. It might not even be a true silence, as our thoughts whirr and chatter away in our head still. So what might it be like to voluntarily place ourselves into silence for a longer period of time – say a whole day – the whole 24 hours?

For some that could be scary and unsettling. What are we not going to say? Who are we not going to talk to? Why would we want to spend a whole day with our own thoughts?

Last week the college at Cuddesdon ran a quiet day, which was a day to momentarily put aside our studies, and spend time in rest and reflection, under the guidance of the college chaplain, Father Raymond Tomkinson. For some this was a very new unknown experience, for others a real chance to take time to recharge the batteries. No doubt all who took part got a lot out of having a day like this in many different ways, and these are just my reflections on some of the inputs that we were given to consider

Falling into silence

David J Evans’ hymn ‘Be Still For The Presence of the Lord’ contains the lines “How awesome is the sight – our radiant King of light!”. As a writer, I am always searching for just the right words to describe things, but the awesomeness of God somehow eventually leaves us clutching a redundant thesaurus and we can do nothing but lapse into silence thereby allowing ourselves to be fully in the presence of God

Listening with our hearts

Without living in a complete vacuum, it is almost impossible to place yourself in complete and utter silence. Yet by slowing and becoming aware of our breathing; by acknowledging the sounds that still intrude – the click of a door shutting, the rhythmic ticking of a clock, the muted sounds outside our windows – and putting them to one side, we can concentrate on allowing ourselves to listen with our hearts.

Incline your ear, and hear the words of the wise,
    and apply your heart to my knowledge,
                                                      Proverbs 22:17

Where God is concerned, our hearts and not our minds are to be the centre of our listening.

With sighs too deep for words

For we do not know how to pray as we ought,
but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.
Romans 8:26

If a picture paints a thousand words, then a sigh ‘speaks’ more words than are contained in God’s Encylopædia Cosmou! We do not always have to approach God with words, and it may not be through words that God speaks to us. He knows what is on our hearts and minds, he is aware of what we long for and he will provide answers for us. I cannot say what shape or form those answers might take, but I do know that any time spent getting to know God a little bit more, just as he knows you, can only be worthwhile.

Perhaps twenty four hours is a luxury that some of us cannot manage to set aside, but I would urge everyone to just try and break away from their busy lives to make more time for silence – and if you think you’ve never spent any reasonable amount of time in silence, as Father Raymond pointed out, you spent the first nine months of your existence in relative silence, being formed and created to then come kicking and screaming into the world!


As a post script to this blog – what does a silent community do when the fire alarm goes off whilst you are at breakfast? it would appear that you sit quite still for a time, looking at each other and wondering if it actually is a fire alarm. Then when the bell doesn’t stop, you all very calmly pick up the important things to hand that you wish to save from the imagined inferno – namely your cup of tea or piece of toast and calmly leave the building in complete silence by the nearest exit, gathering in a light drizzle outside (without your coat obviously!) and hoping that by the time you are let back in that your sausages and egg won’t have gone too cold. Maybe someone could keep an eye on the toaster timer next time?

Sacred Space

Bishop Edward King Chapel, Cuddesdon

Bishop Edward King Chapel, Cuddesdon

In my experience, there are often places that you come across that give you an inexplicable sense of holiness. Whether it is on a wind-swept hermit’s island off of Lindisfarne or a grandiose cathedral with its intricate arches and gilded altars. These are places that faithful people over many years have gathered and worshipped in. These are sacred spaces.

Often these places resonate with something deep within our souls. The Celtic people would have identified them as ‘thin places’ – where you could imagine the thinnest of veils between heaven and earth. Where connections could be felt most keenly between God and his people

During my recent ‘Worship Weekend’ at Cuddesdon, when we learnt amongst other things about worship, liturgy and church paraphernalia, our worship itself was held in the Bishop Edward King Chapel. This building is new. Its footfall so far light in numbers, its interior still pristine and its audacious appearance still startling on entry. Yet it feels immediately like a sacred place

The Chapel Interior, BEK Chapel,Cuddesdon

The Chapel Interior

The architect of this incredible building, Niall McLaughlin, talks about creating something from an image of a buoyant, tethered boat, with its elliptical shape resembling the nave of a boat with “Jesus asleep resting on a cushion in the prow… and the community gathering within mirroring the expectant disciples’ or of ‘ people collecting together around a hollow in ground [there is a natural hollow on the site of the chapel] ‘This hollow would represent the still place of origin. The tethered boat above would float above it, pulling up as if at sea…. you are drawn upwards yet your feet pull down to ground you. It is this dual motion of cleaving to the earth and being lifted that we want the building to communicate.”

Exterior View of the Chapel

Exterior View of the Chapel

And communicate it did… celebrating Communion, as rainbow patterns chase each other across the nave floor and flickering sunlight bounces off the walls, as the trees that surround the chapel move in rhythm of hymns and breeze, leaves you feeling that God is not only filling this space with his presence, but that the space the building occupies has become part of his creation

The Natural Lights of the Chapel

The Natural Lights of the Chapel

“As the priests were leaving the Temple, it was suddenly filled with a cloud shining with the dazzling light of the Lord’s presence” 2 Chronicles 5:13-14

Hopefully, the pictures give you some sense of the college and architect’s vision, but if you do every get a chance to visit maybe you will discover it for yourself

God cannot be contained in one place….. but containers can be a place to meet him!

The Chapel's Soaring Beams

The Chapel’s Soaring Beams

Follow this link to find out more about the Bishop Edward King Chapel and the vision behind it http://www.rcc.ac.uk/downloads/Edward%20King%20Chapel%20Description.pdf

A Place to Study!

Cuddesdon Library

Cuddesdon Library

‘But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.  All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.’ 2Timothy 3:14-17

I LOVE LIBRARIES!… Shh….. Sorry, I think I said that a bit loud! I’ve mentioned before about how much I love books – so a room (or rooms) that are stacked from floor to ceiling with them is equally as exciting. There’s that unique smell of printed paper and leather; the burnished gold lettering on some of the oldest books and the fact that the books on the top shelves, whose titles you can’t quite make out, could be reached by climbing up the librarian’s special step ladder!

A cosy study corner

A cosy study corner

Added to all that is the fact that I get to set up my own little workspace right there in the room itself – I have officially died and gone to bibliotheque heaven!

Knowing that I simply have to walk over and pick the book I need off of the shelf makes studying so much easier – it’s all there at my fingertips, although to be honest it wasn’t that easy the first time……I went in, clutching my list of suggested books and tried to find out where they might be.  I was quite familiar with the Dewey system that most libraries use, but then this system covers vast ranges of topics.

Here, it is more specialised – broken down into various religious and theological categories. Each of these categories is labelled A-Z and then further broken down into even more specific grouping before being alphabetised by author. No wonder I was confused. Added to that is the fact that Cuddesdon library is also not just in one room, or indeed several rooms, but is also on various levels – involving walking along corridors and climbing different flights of stairs!

Cuddesdon library skylight

Cuddesdon library skylight

But when you got this as one of the skylights it doesn’t seem such a problem!

Thank goodness for the librarian whose kindness and patience got me started and pointed in the right direction, because no doubt in the future this will become a haven into which I can tuck myself away as essay deadlines loom.

What I am very much aware of is just how lucky I am to be in this situation and I certainly don’t want to take it for granted. There are many millions of children and adults around the world who not only don’t have access to libraries, but who don’t even have the facilities or the option to an education.

As Malala Yousafzai pointed out in her speech to the United Nations, books and pens are the most powerful weapons we can equip people with, they are the basic tools of education that can begin to eradicate poverty and provide opportunities for better job prospects and life goals.

Perhaps I will do well to remember that, especially when I’m feeling a little stressed and anxious about how I’m doing, and instead look to the fact that part of what my training will be about doing whatever is in my power to seek relative fairness and social justice for those in need. Therefore, when I stop for a moment and glance out of the window it will be a good reminder not to be complacent, because there’s a whole other world out there beyond the tranquil fields, hungry for knowledge and education as well

Tranquil views from Cuddesdon library

Tranquil views from Cuddesdon library