Archive for the 'Spirituality' Category

Holy Isle

A few years ago, with members of two local parishes, I joined a pilgrimage to Holy Island, Lindisfarne. It is a significant place of pilgrimage still, as it has been for nearly a millennium and a half, when St Aidan came from that other famous holy island Iona, to found the new monastery in AD634.

Click to download the 17Mb pdf photobook

Holy Island Pilgrimage 2008 – click to download the book

A chance to re-visit recently reminded me of my previous experience, and I looked out some old photos, and a book of the journey, which some may be interested in glancing at.

St Aidan and St Cuthbert have been important characters on my northern horizon, particularly since my ordaining bishop David Lunn was a great fan of ‘our long established British christian saints, here spreading the gospel long before Augustine or any of those other johnny-come-lately Romans’.

The Celtic Cristian saints used to speak of ‘thin places’ where heaven comes very close to touching earth.

Lindisfarne, Holy Island, is one of those.

A glimpse of a castle

A glimpse of a castle – 2014

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The Annunciation

It’s 275 days to Christmas – or thanks to Irenaus who’s quick ‘nine months counting back from Christmas’ calculation called the 25 March The Feast of the Annunciation.

Annunciation by ZVestovanie

Annunciation by ZVestovanie

The fact that it regularly chimes with Passiontide does not go unnoticed, creating interesting theological resonances at this time of year. However, it does mean that at times, clashing with Holy Week, the feast gets ‘bounced’, as it has this year, on to the 8 April. It does not stop me at least remembering the feast today, especially as –

I was inducted as vicar to my first incumbency on the Feast of The Annunciation, and it remains a profoundly formational season for me. The great call delivered by Gabriel to Mary, and her response of Lord, I am your servant – let it be to me according to your will seems entirely appropriate for anyone launching in to a new ministry, which I was 17 year ago today – and again, as I will be starting another new ministry shortly after the ‘transferred date’ for the Annunciation this year too.

In Holy Week, many clergy re-affirm their call to ministry at the Chrism Service, and to have I am your servant – let it be to me according to your will in the forefront of our minds can’t but help sustain ministry, whether ordained or not.

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On the Lord’s Prayer

Lord's Prayer

Prayers inspired by the Lord’s Prayer

I recently had to collect some prayers based around the Lord’s Prayer; some I sourced elsewhere, some I wrote myself. They are gathered together under the stanzas of the Prayer.

Our Father, who art in heaven

A Prayer to God our Father
Lord God, Jesus taught us to call you Father. Help us to grow in our understanding of you, that we may better each day learn to trust you, and to love you.

Remind us of the thrill a toddler feels when being swept up securely in a father’s arms; help us share in the glee of a child playing pranks with a parent.

As we feel the lifting angst of the teenager taking insoluble homework problems to a parent who can unlock answers; and the adrenaline rush of the learner driver discovering new skills with dad, so may we feel our relationship with you broadening, enriching and deepening.

Father God, may your love for us be reflected back in our love for you. Amen.

A Father’s Prayer
Lord, I need your special care. Like your earthly father, Joseph, I want to do God’s will, even if I may not always understand. Make me gentle and self less in the care of my family and children; help me guide them in the toils and troubles, the happiness and wonders of this life.

Like my father in heaven, Continue reading ‘On the Lord’s Prayer’

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Spirit of Christmas – past?

Lectionary and church diary purists hate it: that ‘Christmas nowadays appears to start in about October, and be over by Christmas Eve’, or certainly by Boxing Day. That’s not Christmas – clergy are heard muttering – that’s Advent… However, maintaining the cry that ‘the Christmas season starts on Christmas Day and carries on until the feast of Epiphany’ is about as useful as King Canute commanding the halt of the incoming tide; despite the popularity of the carol ‘The 12 Days of Christmas’.

However, one multinational still upholds tradition – the Apple iTunes Appstore!

iTunes 12 Dyas of Christmas App

iTunes 12 Dyas of Christmas App

The App Store provides a 12 free gifts over the traditional Christmas period, with a variety of music, videos and apps for iPhones, iPads and Mac computers. The variety is deliberately diverse – meaning that some items you might find excruciating – but you will probably find several you like. If you have appropriate Apple devices, try out the 12 days app. You probably wont find ‘5 Gold Rings’ – but you might have some fun, sing along with the carol, and celebrate the Christmas Season in it’s traditional position. And keep some grumpy liturgists happy.

12 Days App

12 Days App

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Christianity under persecution?

Christianity being discriminated against‘ has been one of the reported concerns in both the Christian and national media. However, to extend that concern in to calling it ‘Christianity under persecution in the UK‘, seems to me to be exaggerating the claim somewhat beyond the realms of what real persecution is.

This was the thesis behind Easter Sunday evening’s BBC documentary ‘Are Christians being persecuted?’ with Nicky Campbell. Of course some of the secular groups were not convinced by it; and even commentators like Ecclesia were not wholly in favour either. Ed Sturton’s excellent documentary on Iraq’s Forgotten Conflict was much more about real persecution (and not just Christian either).

However, the ‘is Christianity being persecuted‘ debate did get me thinking about how the Christian coverage in the media was going over the Holy Week/Easter period. In the end, I was positively surprised at both the quality and the quantity of the stories in both the print and broadcast media.

Not all the stories were quite what the various press offices would have Continue reading ‘Christianity under persecution?’

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Leaps of Christ

Jumping in the sunset

The Leaps of Christ - credit thriol

The ‘Leaps of Christ’ was part of the theme taken by Bishop John Hind at the Chichester Diocesan Synod recently. I had heard of this Old English poem, but on being re-introduced to it, it led me to explore some of the wonderful Advent and Christmas within it.

The section on the Leaps of Christ comes within the part known as Christ II, or sometimes Christ B, within the Exeter Book. The first book deals primarily with Advent, book two with the Ascension, and the third Continue reading ‘Leaps of Christ’

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Priests’ Blessing

Our local clergy chapter were meeting this week, and I was ‘hosting’. Usually, part of hosting involves preparing some prayers and worship. As we were also ‘RememberingSt Martin of Tours, I had a few things up my sleeve, including a fine shell remembering the pilgrims that stopped at St Martin’s shrine in Tours on the Way of St James.

New Zealand Paua - credit ReedWade

New Zealand Paua - credit ReedWade

Actually the shell was in my pocket, rather than up my sleeve; and paua were not really the sorts of shells that pilgrims on the way to Compostela normally wore (they were usually scallops… But these paua are exquisite. We have brought back dozens from NZ over the years.

Back to prayers and blessings. I have dabbled a bit in Celtic Spirituality over the years, and recently acquired a copy of a couple of John O’Donohue’s books. Continue reading ‘Priests’ Blessing’

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Amazing Persistence, Liberating Grace

Watching the William Wilberforce/John Newton film Amazing Grace at a home group around the day the church remembers William Wilberforce (30 July) encouraged New Zealand vicar Michael Berry to use some of the themes in the Sunday sermon at church at St Heliers, Auckland, on Sunday 2 August 2009.

Hearing him prompted me to look back at some ‘John Newton’ photos I took a while back.

Robin Meredith Jones, actor & friend, has for many years been doing a show base on John Newton, also (inevitably) called ‘Amazing Grace’. On the 200 anniversary of John Newton’s ‘promotion to glory’ on 21 December 1807, Robin and his wife Christine Way did a version of the show in the London City church of St Mary’s Woolnoth, where John Newton was vicar for 28 years.

Robin Meredith Jones as John Newton, in his original pulpit

Robin Meredith Jones as John Newton, in his original pulpit

Most people know that Newton was involved in the slave trade – though not all are aware that Newton was himself a white slave briefly early on, after an altercation with a the captain of a slave ship he was crewing on.

What is well documented is John Newton’s conversion to the Christian faith, and his penning of the famous hymn ‘Amazing Grace’.
Continue reading ‘Amazing Persistence, Liberating Grace’

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Fathers’ Day

There have been a couple of posts on Father’s Day recently. John Inge, Bishop of Worcester, started the roll, and Dave Walker has a number of other links here on the Church Times blog.

I retain a little scepticism at this new-found festival. Not that I have anything against fathers – I have an excellent father, and indeed I have been one myself for nearly 2 decades. It’s just that Fathers’ Day seems to have arrived somewhat out of the blue in the early 20 century (dare one say it, from the States) as a complementary celebration to Mothering Sunday. Well it must be for real now that the Church of England have prayers for it. And actually I quite like the What Dads Add link site, so perhaps I am just being churlish.

In 2008, Michael Colclough, previously my Team Rector in Uxbridge, moved from a subsequent position as Bishop of Kensington, to be a residentiary canon at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London. Michael promptly started calling in favours from many of his previous contacts, including a number of the previous team clergy, inviting people to preach at the cathedral on the weeks Michael was ‘canon in residence’. It was a surprise and a joy to be asked to preach at St. Paul’s in June 2008, on what transpired to be Fathers’ Day, and also one of the church’s newer ‘saints’ Evelyn Underhill, remembered on 15 June, which happens to be being commemorated today, exactly a year later.

Outside St. Pauls Catheral, London

Outside St. Paul's Catheral, London

St. Pauls Cathedral Service Order 15-28 June 2008

St. Paul's Cathedral Service Order 15-28 June 2008

Preaching at St. Paul’s is a unique experience – never have I been ‘wanded’ by a wandsman to my place in church, or had to climbing so many stairs to a pulpit, or measure each spoken phrase so carefully as to allow the natural reverberation of the building to subside. I think it added about 10-15% additional time to the sermon delivery time (making me slightly over-run my allotted time!).

For the 5 years I was at Uxbridge, St Paul’s was ‘my’ cathedral, and it was always awe inspiring to gather with fellow clergy for the ‘blessing of the oils service’ in Holy Week under the majestic dome. So I loved the opportunity of being there – chances like that don’t come very often. And thanks particularly to Bishop Michael for sharing that with me, another example of the generosity of the man I typically experienced as a colleague in his team. Incidentally, the service order above also mentioned that the preacher the following Sunday at evensong was one of my other colleagues from Uxbridge days with +Michael, Carolyn Headley, for whom I had to be ‘priests hands’ for a while, until she was ordained priest herself. The preacher on the morning I was there was Andrew Watson, who very shortly after, was announced as Bishop of Aston.

You can click on the page below to download the sermon, or follow it in the full sermon text further down. I found some nice bits from Mark Twain, and some from Evelyn Underhill – and even manged to gently question this transatlantic infiltrator of a festival, without offending too many of the American cousins in the congregation.

Fathers Day 2008 Evensong Sermon at St Pauls

Father's Day 2008 Evensong Sermon at St Paul's

You can also find the original article on my ‘Papers‘ page.

The full text follows:

Evensong Sermon – St Paul’s Cathedral – 15 June 2008

In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.

A number of years ago, before Bishop Michael was Canon Pastor; before his episcopal, or even archidiaconal responsibilities, when he was a humble Team Rector, I was a junior part of that Team. So all these years later it was a privilege and a joy to be invited by him to speak at his new pad. Or at least that was what I thought until I saw the readings for Evening Prayer set for the day, and I quickly cottoned on to why he was so generously inviting me on this occasion… As one who usually starts with the scriptures in preaching, on the basis that at least where I am not theologically sound, at least the Bible is, I struggled a bit with these passages: Beelzebub in the NT; and in the OT, King Achish says “Look at the man! He is insane! Why bring him to me? Am I so short of madmen that you have to bring this fellow here to carry on like this in front of me?”. Frightening words for any visiting preacher to hear in a reading!

Had this been a Eucharistic service, I am sure I could have worked on some interesting reflections picking up on King David’s request for ‘five loaves of bread’, even if he did not mention fish. But this is not a Eucharist. So I started to explore other possible themes.

My home parish is Copthorne, near Gatwick airport, just into Sussex if you were on your way down to Brighton from here. One of my congregation reminded me that I ought not to lose sight of the fact that Magna Carta was signed on 15 June in 1215.

King John, who as AA Milne reminds us, was ‘not a good man’, had a run-in with the church. About how the Crown appoints bishops.

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose”. How things change (!)
However King John forgot that if you are having a row, it is risky to have it with those who write the history books. Those monks were not called “clerks” in holy orders for nothing – and perhaps that was the start of his losing his reputation, becoming known as ‘not a good man’.
Magna Carta however enshrined a number of rights that remain in the law of the land even today. Not only the ‘almost late lamented’ habeus corpus if we are to understand David Davis, but also some pertinent Church law too. I brought a copy with me. Apparently there were many copies made – it is probably the sort of thing St Paul’s has an original copy of, in a drawer downstairs somewhere:

    Clause I says: FIRST, We have granted to God, and by this our present Charter have confirmed, for Us and our Heirs for ever, that the Church of England shall be free, and shall have all her whole Rights and Liberties inviolable.

The freedoms of the Church of England were at one point from the constraints of a monarch; but were later used against as a protection from those across the Tiber too. No point in letting a good law go to waste.

There are perhaps some other themes around today we may pick up on. Our American brothers and sisters have brought us many good gifts, but I am sometimes a little dubious about some of imports that have made it across ‘the pond’. Not all of them fit easily into British Culture as perhaps rock & roll, or McDonald’s have been able to. Take trick or treat, for example – or, for today, Father’s Day. They have the reputation of being rather tacky, commercial enterprises, with little substance.

I paused to think over fatherhood a little though. I have two teenage girls, who keep me from becoming too complacent about my place in the world. They greeted the news of my being at St Paul’s this evening with the degree of indifference only teenagers can. One said she was working, attempting to earn some money to offset the looming Student Loan; – or to buy another pair of shoes – I forget which. The other decided to – er – stay at home. Probably watching ‘Scrubs’.

One American certainly knew where my teenage children were coming from was Mark Twain. Even if he later changed his opinion, he famously said of his father:
“When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around.
But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years.”

In our family we have been privileged to have some excellent role-models of fatherhood, though I am aware that for some individuals that is not the case. It is interesting to observe for example that though Twain made a joke about his father, in reality his father died of pneumonia when Mark Twain was 11 years old. For some, fathers have been absent, for others they have been abusive – which gives us such great difficulty when trying to bring to people the prayer that Jesus taught us. Our Father.

That leads us to perhaps another echo for today. A local saint. – Well almost local, and almost a saint.

Almost a saint, because Evelyn Underhill the Anglican writer on mysticism & worship, who lived between 1875-1941, is commemorated on 15 June in the Common Worship lectionary.

And almost local, because she was educated at King’s College for Women, London, where she read history and botany; and later elected a Fellow.

She was in her thirties before she began to explore religion. At first, she wrote on the mystics, most notably in her book Mysticism, published in 1911. Her spiritual journey took her from the Church of England, through the Roman Catholic Church, and brought her in 1921 back to the Church of England, in which she had been baptized and confirmed.
From the mid-1920s, she became highly-regarded as a retreat conductor and an influential spiritual director. Of her many books, Worship, published in 1936, embodied her approach to what she saw as the mystery of faith.
To quote from one of her meditations, possibly a retreat script:

From Abba – a treatise on The Lord’s Prayer
In those rare glimpses of Christ’s own life of prayer,
which the Gospels vouchsafe to us,
we always notice the perpetual reference to the unseen Father;
so much more vividly present to Him [Christ] than anything that is seen.
Behind that daily life into which He entered so generously,
filled, as it was, with constant appeals to His practical pity and help,
there is ever the sense of that strong and tranquil Presence,
ordering all things
and bringing them to their appointed end;
not with a rigid and mechanical precision,
but with the freedom of a living, creative, cherishing thought and love.


Throughout His life,
the secret,
utterly obedient conversation of Jesus with His Father goes on.
He always snatches opportunities for it,
and at every crisis He returns to it
as the unique source of confidence and strength;
the right and reasonable relation between the soul and its Source.

I’m not very good with word’s – though here Underhill has done well to capture my imagination too. I often use graphic images in my home territory, projected on to a screen that subtly appears, and can then disappear, whilst I am preaching – though I understand that practice has got some clergy into deep trouble.

The image I think I would be projecting now, had I had the opportunity here, would be Rembrandt’s Loving Father or Prodigal Son.
Painted in his old age, Rembrandt’s portrayal is of one who has discovered that ‘the old man has learned a lot’, – as has his son. Here is a father, an abused and ignored father, who still reaches out to caress his wayward offspring, welcoming the prodigal home again.

So on this – Father’s Day – let us reflect on our God and our Father

    Of the Son’s relationship with the Father
    Of the prodigal son’s relationship with his father
    Of our relationship with our own human father, if we knew them
    For those who are fathers, of our relationship with our children
    For single parents who have had to be both mother and father to their children
    Let us remember the pain of strained or broken parental relationships
    Let us seek ways to enhance the status and quality of fatherhood in our families, communities, and churches
    Let us remember our Heavenly Father’s desire to welcome and to forgive

We return to Evelyn Underhill, in her meditation called Abba, the word Jesus used to speak to God, the word sometimes respectfully translated as Daddy:
Our inheritance IS God, our Father and Home.
We recognize Him,
[Underhill, referring to St. John of the Cross, quotes]
because we already carry in our hearts a rough sketch of the beloved countenance.
Looking into those deeps,
as into a quiet pool in the dark forest,
we there find looking back at us the Face we implicitly long for and already know. [The Spiritual Canticle. 2nd Version, stanza . 17]
It is set in another world, another light:
yet it is here.
As we realize this, our prayer widens,
until it embraces the extremes of awe­struck adoration and confident love
and fuses them in one.


Let us pray:

    A Collect for Evelyn Underhill
    O God, Origin, Sustainer, and End of all your creatures:
    Grant that your Church, taught by your servant Evelyn Underhill,
    guarded evermore by your power,
    and guided by your Spirit into the light of truth,
    may continually offer to you all glory and thanksgiving,
    and attain with your saints to the blessed hope of everlasting life,
    which you have promised us by our Savior Jesus Christ;
    who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God,
    now and for ever. Amen.

The Rev’d Alastair Cutting, Vicar of Copthorne
15 June 2008

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Following Celtic footsteps

In May 2008 I joined a handful of others on 5-day pilgrimage. I had been to Iona several times, but only ever seen LindisfarneHoly Island – from the train window. A year later, reminiscing our little pilgrimage to the North East, I thought I would put some photos etc. up.

Lindisfarne Island from Cuthbert's 'Cuddy' Island

Lindisfarne Island from Cuthbert's 'Cuddys' Island

Today (26 May) may be the feast of St. Augustine of Canterbury, but I am reminded of comments by a previous Geordie Bishop of Sheffield, who over 20 years ago spoke to a group of us young curates of the diocese: his faith was built on the foundations laid by the British Christian Saints such as Cuthbert, Aidan, and Hilda, and he had little time for “those Johnny-come-lately Romans such as Augustine”. If memory serves correctly, it was these saints that adorned the stained-glass windows of the Woodlands parish, where I was then curate.

Cuthbert’s base in Lindisfarne became a key launchpad for Celtic Christianity in North-East England in the 7th Century. The island, still cut off from the mainland by the tide twice a day, is traditionally approached by pilgrims wading barefoot across the causeway. (We cheated, went by bus, and then walked the causeway at leisure a day or two later.)

Pilgrims Feet

Pilgrim's Feet

Being on Lindisfarne – in blustery May – was surprisingly idyllic. I can still hear the skylark’s singing in the sky above the meadows near Lindisfarne castle. Far from the physical extremes of weather, distance and austerity that drew Cuthbert and the early settlers there. We were a bit ‘fair-weather’ pilgrims; but the feeling of being in a ‘thin place‘, as the Celtic Christians called such holy places, where heaven and earth are somehow much closer, was still very evident to us. A short, but very inspiring and refreshing and spiritual few days.

Some of the photos from our time are in this online Lindisfarne photo gallery; and we made a short photo journal book, which can be downloded in pdf format from the link below.

Lindisfarne Pilgrimage photobook - click for 16Mb pdf download

Lindisfarne Pilgrimage photobook

Oh, and here’s another panoramic photo, also in my Flickr panoramic set. I probably have way to many photos – it could have beeen more! – per page on this blog, which probably makes it load very slowly; but they are fun…

Lindisfarne Panorama - links to original on Flickr

Lindisfarne Panorama

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