Tag Archives: Religion and Spirituality

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?

We Need To Get Out More!

Break Out!

Do not be frightened or dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go – Joshua 1:9

Talking to a bright, shiny new ordinand the other day*, I listened as he told me all the wonderful things he’d been up to over the summer break. He’d spent a couple of weeks overseas working with Youth for Christ…. He’d visited his prospective parish and been welcomed during the Sunday services…He’d spent a long weekend at Greenbelt taking part in many worship events and engaging with interesting discussion sessions …. he’d met regularly with his ‘cell’ group and his only regret was that he hadn’t been able to organise a trip to Taizé. Blimey I thought, you’ve managed to pack a lot into your ‘leisure’ time, but I wonder how much time he’d spent just being ‘ordinary’

“If you spend too long in prison you can become institutionalised, and it can be difficult to make that leap of faith over the wall to freedom. This applies to being caught up in church culture too”  Milton Jones ’10 Second Sermons’

Now this wasn’t meant to be a criticism, because dedicating your life to your faith is a noble and sacred thing, but our ministerial and social skills also need to be honed in the ‘real world’ as well. As Christians we can spend a lot of our time being reluctant and occasionally downright scared to talk about our faith with our ‘non-Christian’ friends and acquaintances for fear of being thought obsessive, fanatical and maybe even a little bit weird. We worry that we’ll suddenly become a pariah in the workplace or family.

Greenbelt 2013

Greenbelt 2013

So when opportunities come up to join together with like-minded people, we often jump at the chance to spend more and more time in their company. These are the type of people who will understand us, to whom we feel we can speak openly, whom we are sure will make us feel good.

Of course it’s vital that we do get together to learn and equip ourselves.  It’s great to build each other up by sharing knowledge and wisdom, as it helps us become more able to share that with others; people who may be unaware of what makes us tick or who may be beginning to search for meaning in their lives… or asking what is it all about. In addition we also need to engage more with those who appear to have no intention of listening to our ‘news’ however good we present it. We even need to be prepared to engage with outright hostility

The great thing is that all these engagements can often be achieved without the need for words or at least very few words. One of the turning points in my faith journey was the conscious decision to speak openly about my faith to whoever asked. Note the ‘asked’ not ‘I’ll slip the Jesus word in whether it’s appropriate or not’. Not simply to pontificate on the state of their souls,  but  to say that actually  last Sunday I was in church; to talk about the perceived  ‘absurd’  politics of church organisations; to let people know the underlying reasons why I think what I do

‘Preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary use words’ St Francis of Assisi

I’m pretty certain that I’ve never ‘converted’ anybody in my whole life…in fact I wouldn’t want to claim that at all. What I do hope I’ve done along the way is spoken honestly, acted compassionately and served humbly to enable others to catch a glimpse of why I believe what I believe and maybe then explore it for themselves – if not immediately then at some point in their lives.

Spending a lot of time practicing can make us an ‘expert’ in our subject, but it can also make us very one-dimensional. Of course I can choose to participate in lots of extra-curricular activities like roaring from the terraces of Twickenham, rocking at a Coldplay concert or simply going out for meals with ex-work colleagues. However, the simplest thing is to engage in ordinary conversation with whomever I happen to meet – about the weather; what they’re up to at the moment; what’s important to them right now. This exchange of information gives me an insight into other people’s lives and them an insight into mine

As part of bringing about God’s kingdom our task is to come alongside people – that is ALL people – not just that lovely group of fellow Christians who make us feel warm and fuzzy – but the ones who makes us feel prickly and uncomfortable too. Sometimes we just need to get out more!

*To my fellow trainees at Cuddesdon – he is not one of you!

Holy Hogwarts!… An Induction!

/View, Ripon College, Cuddesdon

Window View, Ripon College, Cuddesdon

Saturday, September the 14th 2013 dawned with a glorious sunrise in what would soon become the 34°C shimmering heat of Seville Airport. The evening would find me in a cooler 11°C, singing a beautiful service of Compline.

What happened inbetween involved a plane, a car, a traffic jam, a large group of strangers and a few reams of paper.

This was to be the official start of my training as an Ordinand and it was exciting – despite even the traffic jam!

The Induction Weekend had arrived….

When I consulted the dictionary it actually gave me five senses in which the verb ‘to induct’ could be used [Other dictionaries are available and may give more]. Did they all apply to this rite of passage?

1. To officially give someone a new job or position

I think we all arrived feeling a little aware that we would no longer be the ‘ordinary’ people who worshipped in our local churches, worked in our everyday jobs, were husbands, wives, mums, dads etc.  We were now to be officially know by the title ‘Ordinand’ – each one of us a candidate for ordination. Even so, I still felt quite ordinary because that future occasion, the Ceremony of Induction, when a new Parish Priest is formally presented to their parish was still just a hazy marker somewhere in the distance.

2. To accept people into an exclusive society or group

walls blogLooking around my surroundings there was a perception that here was a place that had produced and nurtured a great many worthy theologians, with its mellow brick walls and quaint passages and stairways. At the same time there was a real sense of modernity and purpose. It may very well be an academic institution but this was to be no vicar sausage factory. ‘Holy Hogwarts‘, as Ripon College, Cuddesdon is affectionately known, demonstrated almost immediately the inclusivity it prides itself on by welcoming such a diverse group of people who will each be individually transformed over the next few years to serve in the Anglican church.

3. To admit as a member; to officially accept someone into a group

Perhaps this was to be the most important part of the induction process. Having arrived late I was unsure how I would fit in – the introductions and icebreaker moments having passed. Plonking down my overnight bag and then being whisked to see one tutor, then straight into a seminar that had already started, I literally only had time to remember to keep breathing! However, the overwhelming friendship shown during our refreshment break and over the rest of the weekend, was enough to make me feel blessed that here were a group of strangers that over our time together would become good companions on the journey

4. To teach someone about something

This is the scary bit! I was never very good at school… either in temperament or academically. I was intelligent, but never really discovered any reason to demonstrate that intelligence in the form of exam results! Now I am about to undertake a Masters Degree in Ministry. The reams of handouts pointed me towards the different modules or topics I could choose. There were options to learn Greek and Hebrew and opportunities for attending additional lectures. I hope that I am mature enough now to apply myself to this form of learning; but I also believe that alongside all I will be learning about ministry, I will also be learning a lot about myself over the next two years. Our formation will come about not only through our capacity to learn but through our ability to be broken open and fulfil the potential God has set aside for us.

5. To produce an electric current by electrostatic or magnetic processes

The Edward King Chapel, Cuddesdon

The Bishop Edward King Chapel, Cuddesdon

This fifth and final sense then is the most exciting! I am saving the interior shots from inside the Bishop Edward King Chapel, a modern architectural miracle, for another blog; suffice to say our Sunday morning Eucharist was electrified by being in such an innovative and uplifting worship space.

Our small congregation, including family and supporters sang and it was as if they had become a multitude. There was a palpable sense of the Holy Spirit moving among us.

The next stage of the journey has begun…..Alleluia!

For more information about the Bishop Edward King Chapel and why it is up for the RIBA Stirling Prize follow this link