A walk of thanks and praise

Continuing with the theme of prayer in Advent. St Paul wrote to the Thessalonians:

‘Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in all circumstances.’

Take a walk of around half an hour outside.  As you start, take some deep breaths and ask God to be with you. Allow your five senses to show you some of the wonders that God has for you today.

Sight

Look around you and enjoy all that you can see. Revel in it all, the colours, the shapes, the textures, the movement, the stillness in everything around you. Look at the variety of sizes, and the balance of it all. Reflect how much sight has contributed to your life, the beauty and ugliness, also how you have been able to read and learn through reading. Recognise the gift of sight comes from God and give thanks. You may like to thank Him aloud or in silence.

Hearing

Stop for a few minutes. Listen even to the silence. Notice the sounds of the wind and/or rain, the birds, rustling, animals, humans moving or talking, what do you hear? Reflect on your hearing and how it can enhance your life. Realise that this too is gift from God and give thanks, aloud or silently, as you feel moved.

Touch

Consciously feel the air, the sun, wind, rain on your skin.  Put out your hands and touch plants, petals, leaves, grass, stones, wood, metal, whatever you come across. Notice hardness or softness, the grain, Touch materials, texture of clothing, and feel the awareness of gravity through pressure of ground under your feet. Reflect on the sense of touch in giving and receiving affection through a kiss, a hug, holding a hand, etc. You use touch to write, to play an instrument, play games, and more.  Reflect how this sense enhances your life and give thanks to God, aloud or in silence.

Taste

As you look maybe there is something you can taste: an edible plant, a sweet in your pocket or a drink. Savour and enjoy. Reflect too on the gift of taste and give thanks to God as before.

Smell

Stop again. Smell the air around you.  Continue your walk and smell the plants, flowers, as you go.  . . Notice any wafts of smells as you pass animals or where there is cooking.  Reflect again on the gift of smell and give God thanks for it.

End your prayer walk by expressing your thanks and praise to God for God’s marvelous creation and for our senses to enable us to enjoy it all.

Exploring a Rule of Life

Jesus said, “Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing. (John 15.5)

What is a rule of life?

Everyone lives by some kind of ‘rule’ – a set of practices or habits they return to each day, even if these have never been articulated as a ‘rule’. Indeed, without a rhythm and structure to daily life, it is hard to sustain a coherent sense of identity.

In recent years, there has been a recovery of the monastic tradition of a ‘rule of life’ for daily discipleship. In a world where speed, hurry and busyness threaten to overwhelm even the best intentions, we need to step back and think through how we are going to bear fruit as disciples of Jesus, in our frontline situations. Saint Benedict (487 – 547) has perhaps been the ‘patron saint’ of this recovery. He created a rule to enable initiates into his communities to discover the presence of God in daily life, and to find in the community as in a ‘school of love’. Fr. Christopher Jamieson, the former Abbot of Worth Abbey, recently brought the ancient practices of the Benedictine way to a wider audience. The Diocese of Winchester has recently dug into its own Benedictine past to offer a resource for parishes. And the new community of St. Anselm based at Lambeth Palace offers its residents a simple rule to live by.

This post is a ‘starter-for-10’ based on a practical workbook on creating a personal rule of life by the Japanese- Canadian church leader, Ken Shigematsu, called God in my Everything. His basic contention is that all followers of Christ can benefit from articulating and setting down a rule of life, and he goes on to offer a particular framework that many have found worth engaging with. He starts by suggesting that a helpful image for a rule of life is that of a trellis for a vine. Just as grapevines in the wild will seek out a structure – a tree or a rock – as a trellis, so we too all tend to seek out frameworks for living. But just as a vine needs pruning and supporting in order to grow upward and bear fruit, so our lives need pruning and supporting by a thought-out rule.

The trellis image comes of course from Jesus’ teaching about a fruitful vine in John’s Gospel. This is not of course an image which appears from nowhere. The language of growth and fruitfulness is deeply embedded in the Bible’s account of life with God. It’s obvious why. God is the source of all life and fruitfulness in the first place. And because we are made in the image of God, so we are called to be fruitful as God is: ‘Be fruitful, grow in number and fill the earth… ’Genesis 1.28 mandates us to build families, farms, communities and cultures…. The call of Israel is specifically understood in these terms, as a recovery of the fruitfulness lost through the Fall (Isaiah 5.1-5). So, in summary, as God’s people, we are meant to be fruitful, and the purpose of a rule or trellis is to enable that fruitfulness. Shigematsu’s suggested rule is based around picturing a trellis with vertical and horizontal staves. The vertical staves of the trellis which support the roots as well as keeping the whole thing together are the three key practices of Sabbath, Prayer and Hearing the Word (through ‘sacred reading’ of the Scriptures and reflection upon them). The three horizontal staves in ascending order are Relate, Restore and Reach Out, covering the elements of our lives. While a rule of life will be unique to each person, certain components will be common to all, as represented below.

Relate Restore Reach-Out
Friendship
Sexuality
Family
Body
Play
Money
Work
Justice
Witness

trellis

How to begin

Although this framework may add new practices to our lives, the point is not to clutter our life but to centre it in Christ. There are a number of guidelines to assist us in creating a realistic rhythm for daily life.
1. Start simply – which one area can I focus on at first?
2. Build slowly – beware of false resolutions!
3. Prune regularly – less is more. What needs to go?
4. ‘Go with the flow’ of our energy – when am I most attentive to God and others during the day?
5. Consider the season – of the year, and of your life
6. Be flexible – a rule is not an iron law but a means of God’s grace.
7. Remember fun – the chapter on play is particularly insightful!
8. Include others – spiritual growth is a communal task. It is best to share and regularly review your rule with another disciple.

The book offers a chapter on the three ‘root’ practices and a chapter on all nine components. It ends with a number of sample one-page ‘rules of life’, and it comes with the suggestion that we create our own simple rule, perhaps using an image to help. I commend it as a helpful framework for individuals and a useful resource for church leaders who are trying to offer practical options to enable people to build a resilient spiritual life, and to leave either the illusion of quick-fix faith or the cycle of overwork and burnout. Of course, there’s a big difference between shaping a personal rule of life, and engaging whole congregations in the process, but I’d be happy to chat with anyone thinking about how to get the message out in their ministry setting about the benefits of articulating a rule of life for discipleship.

Further reading

Finding Sanctuary: Monastic steps for Everyday Life – Christopher Jamieson
Spirituality Workbook: A Guide for Explorers, Pilgrims and Seekers – David Runcorn
Emotionally Healthy Spirituality – Peter Scazzero
God in my Everything – Ken Shigematsu
Diocese of Winchester – Rule of Life Framework
Community of St Anselm – Rule of Life

Article written by Revd Matt Prior
Discipleship, Vocation and Ministry Team
October 2016

If anyone is interested in joining a group to explore this further then contact Alan – reverend.alan@gmail.com

 

Getting in touch with our deepest desires

We are having a sermon series on prayer and so I thought it might be good to share some thoughts and prayers here on the blog to.

The first one is about our deepest desires. Saint Ignatius believed that God speaks to us through our deepest desires – it is in that place where we find God. He believed that we can trust our feelings because at heart our very deepest desire is to return to God’s. Here is an exercise to get in touch with our deepest desires:

When was the last time you asked yourself what you really want?

And how long did you entertain that longing? Thirty seconds? A couple of minutes?

What inner or outer voices suggested that, whatever it was, you ought not to be so foolish as to think it could be satisfied?

At some point, did you judge yourself to be willful or selfish?

Lest we Forget

“Lest we Forget” was one of the most moving and interesting events that I have ever been to. Jonathan Jones read poetry from the Great War, first from the perspective of the soldiers, and after the interval from the perspective of the women – wives, mothers and lovers left at home.

In between the poems Jonathan explained the context and I learned so much about such things as the origins of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, the tradition of wearing poppies and the tomb of The Unknown Warrior in Westminster Abbey.

We really must never forget the horror of the Great War and I am so grateful to Jonathan for introducing me to poems and history that I was completely unaware of. My favourite poem was “The Road to La Bassée” – so very human and down to earth. I was also struck by the poem “Christ in Flanders” by Lucy Whitmell.

Kathy Robertson did us proud with her team providing authentic WWI refreshments and then Margaret Emberson lead us in singing some WWI songs. Oh and £200 was raised for the “Emily the Organ” appeal.

Lesley Crawley