Sunday, May 22, 2016

Faithful Readers,

First of all, I apologise for my silence. I have been going through a creative wasteland. At some point I will come out the other side and resume this blog, but I can't say when.

Secondly, I apologise for anyone affected by the hack that sent more hacks to everyone on my private email list. If you opened it, be sure to change your password, check your trash (online gmail page) for missed emails, and under "settings" check for added filters/blocked email instructions and delete them.

May you be enfolded in the love of the blessed Trinity, whose feast we keep today.

PS If you were affected by the hack, your email may be going to the trash due to a filter that the hacker put on your settings. Here is the fix:

1. Log into your gmail account.
2. Go to “settings” which is in the menu that has the picture of the mechanical thingy (a cog? a nut?)
3. Go to “blocked accounts and filters”—it’s a tab at the top of the page
4. Each of these lists will have a tick box for any filters or blocked addresses. If there are any items you haven’t put in either of these lists then tick the box and to the right you will see a delete button. You probably have a filter that says “send all mail to trash”. Delete it.
5. Check the trash to see if you have missing email and if so move to inbox.
6. Change your password again.

Hope this helps

Monday, March 21, 2016

Review of "Silence: A User's Guide" by Louis Weil

Anglican Theological Review pp. 215-216, Vol. 98, No. 1, Winter 2016

Silence: A User’s Guide. Volume I: Process. By Maggie Ross. Eugene, Ore.: Cascade Books, 2014. xiii + 233 pp. [NB Published in the UK by Darton,Longman, Todd]

Rowan Williams’s foreword to this book refers to it as “the work of one of the most independent and ruthlessly realistic religious writers of our time.” Williams writes of “the current vocabulary of contemplative practice which can lure us into thinking that we are undertaking a set of tactics that will deliver commodities called spiritual experience” (p. ix). This book confronts much of what we have come to think of as Christian spirituality.

Regrettably, in recent years I have noted that even in theological bookstores the texts on spirituality generally embody an approach to spirituality which is rather like tending a hot-house plant, and of little value in shaping an authentic Christian spirituality grounded in the Incarnation. Maggie Ross’s new book is a radical response to such self-obsessed nonsense.

The sheer scope of Ross’s work gives the reviewer a challenging task: to adequately explore its riches would require another book. I must be content to point to its extraordinary significance. The book’s chapters range widely over the fundamental dimensions of Christian faith and practice through an intense focus on the recovery of an authentic spirituality in the context of the disintegrating world in which we live. The destructive bypath into which the human race has moved is leading us to annihilation; as the author writes, “The human race is sleepwalking into extinction” (p. 9).

The abrasive character of this phrase characterizes much of what Maggie Ross places before her readers, but it is intentionally abrasive in order to awaken us to the destructive aspects which she documents as the shaping forces in our world. From that, she calls us to the transformative power of “deep silence” as the ground of an authentic spirituality.

It is important to note that this is the first volume of what will be a two-volume work. The author writes: “To make this work affordable, we have split it into two volumes” (p. 8). But reader, beware! This one volume has more substance than most books twice its size, and its substance is profoundly challenging. I regret its lack of an index—at the very least an index of authors. It includes, however, a valuable bibliography, often of books that one does not generally find in publications on spirituality. The text develops around numerous and substantial quotations that contribute significantly to the development of the author’s purpose. At the heart of this complex book is the author’s central goal: “If we are to recover our balance—and our humanity—we need to unblock the flow of communication between the limited world of our self-consciousness that is linear, finite, two-dimensional, static, and dead, and our core silence—our deep mind—that is global, infinite, dynamic, and multi-dimensional” (pp. 13-14).

After a discussion in chapter 1 of how “deep silence” has been lost through developments in the church’s life, in the second chapter Ross [216] presents an analysis of what is, precisely, this “work of silence.” This is complemented later in the fourth chapter as the author speaks of the “two ways of knowing”: the linear way identified with the philosopher René Descartes, which she sees as having come to dominate Western society, and the way of knowing which is the work of “the deep mind.” Ross writes convincingly of the danger of overwhelming reliance upon only the Cartesian way of knowing. “The work of silence restores free exchange and mutual interdependence between the two ways of knowing, between the self-conscious mind and the deep mind” (p. 101). Silence offers access to the non-linear, deep mind and is thus a corrective to the “one-eyed view” that Ross believes “has a distorted theology, religion, and so-called spirituality, and worst of all, has given us the meaningless and voyeuristic word, mysticism” (p. 104).

The third chapter—“Language about Silence”—merits particular attention. It could well be published as a separate document on the vocabulary of spirituality. It offers a corrective to what Ross demonstrates as a consistently misleading use of terms in writings about the spiritual life. This chapter looks “at some of the words in circulation that are currently used and misused to discuss the texts frequently cited in the contemporary fashion for the study of so-called spirituality, for in the light of the two-ways-of-knowing model, these words take on very different nuances” (p. 67).

The final three chapters discuss how Western culture, and specifically Western Christianity, came to be trapped in the linear mind. These chapters round off the author’s challenging re-visioning of Christian spirituality, and lead readers to the threshold of her further exploration of the work of silence in the primary documents of the Christian tradition, which will be the content of the second volume.

Tuesday, January 05, 2016

Three Month Retreat

Gentle Readers,

In a day or two I leave for Scotland for another three-month retreat. I will be completely incommunicado, without access to the internet.

May you all have a blessed winter and early spring; I will return after Easter.


Monday, December 21, 2015

Velvet Shoes

Velvet Shoes

Let us walk in the white snow 
          In a soundless space; 
With footsteps quiet and slow, 
          At a tranquil pace, 
          Under veils of white lace.

I shall go shod in silk, 
          And you in wool, 
White as white cow's milk, 
          More beautiful 
          Than the breast of a gull.

We shall walk through the still town 
          In a windless peace; 
We shall step upon white down, 
          Upon silver fleece, 
          Upon softer than these.

We shall walk in velvet shoes: 
          Wherever we go 
Silence will fall like dews 
          On white silence below. 
          We shall walk in the snow. 

Elinor Wylie

May every blessing and joy be yours this Christmas

and throughout the New Year.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Don't Get Taken In by MacKeeper

If you get a popup alert (and you may get it even if you have a block on popups) from MacKeeper about a virus called Tapsnake, don't get taken in. I just wasted two-and-a-half hours with them and it's just a nightmare. Even for someone as suspicious as I am the pitch is very clever. First you can't get rid of the damn thing; then they keep upping the ante and wanting more money. Fortunately I was able to face them down and I'm getting a refund but I also called my credit card company and put a stop payment on. I probably shouldn't say more than this for legal reasons, but don't get taken in. Restart your computer if you can't get rid of the popups.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

St Lucy's Day

A Nocturnal upon St. Lucy's Day

'Tis the year's midnight, and it is the day's, 
Lucy's, who scarce seven hours herself unmasks; 
         The sun is spent, and now his flasks 
         Send forth light squibs, no constant rays; 
                The world's whole sap is sunk; 
The general balm th' hydroptic earth hath drunk, 
Whither, as to the bed's feet, life is shrunk, 
Dead and interr'd; yet all these seem to laugh, 
Compar'd with me, who am their epitaph. 

Study me then, you who shall lovers be 
At the next world, that is, at the next spring; 
         For I am every dead thing, 
         In whom Love wrought new alchemy. 
                For his art did express 
A quintessence even from nothingness, 
From dull privations, and lean emptiness; 
He ruin'd me, and I am re-begot 
Of absence, darkness, death: things which are not. 

All others, from all things, draw all that's good, 
Life, soul, form, spirit, whence they being have; 
         I, by Love's limbec, am the grave 
         Of all that's nothing. Oft a flood 
                Have we two wept, and so 
Drown'd the whole world, us two; oft did we grow 
To be two chaoses, when we did show 
Care to aught else; and often absences 
Withdrew our souls, and made us carcasses. 

But I am by her death (which word wrongs her) 
Of the first nothing the elixir grown; 
         Were I a man, that I were one 
         I needs must know; I should prefer, 
                If I were any beast, 
Some ends, some means; yea plants, yea stones detest, 
And love; all, all some properties invest; 
If I an ordinary nothing were, 
As shadow, a light and body must be here. 

But I am none; nor will my sun renew. 
You lovers, for whose sake the lesser sun 
         At this time to the Goat is run 
         To fetch new lust, and give it you, 
                Enjoy your summer all; 
Since she enjoys her long night's festival, 
Let me prepare towards her, and let me call 
This hour her vigil, and her eve, since this 
Both the year's, and the day's deep midnight is.

[Note: in John Donne's  Day, the 13th of December fell on the Winter Solstice.]
[from the sublime to the ridiculous, see David Mitchell's article on Donald Trump in today's Guardian.]

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Advent Sunday

And so we begin again, end again, collapse time and space into a single point that lasts for the four weeks of Advent.

Nothing could be further from the orgiastic celebrations of consumerism and overindulgence that lead up to Christmas these days. One promising note this year is that so-called Black Friday was a complete flop as far as the high street shops were concerned—the chaotic and horrifying scenes from last year were not repeated in the UK. Even if the shopping went ahead online, there is something positive in people’s rejection of the sort of degrading behaviour that went on last year.

This morning I went to the Eucharist at St Benet’s. It wasn’t just the foul weather that made me reluctant to walk all the way to Christ Church. Rather, it was a longing for the inherent silence that is the heart of the energy that animates Benedictine liturgy, and that, it is devoutly to be wished, should animate every Eucharist, no matter how joyous and celebratory.

Advent is the night office within the night office, as it were. There is the long liturgical arc that begins with All Saints day on November 1, and ends with Purification on February 2 that lights us through the darkness of winter. But within that arc is another: the four eschatological weeks that end with the coming of the light after the solstice. The solstice used to fall on St Lucy’s day, but with the change in calendar from the Julian to the Gregorian, beginning in the 16th century, St Lucy arrives ten or eleven days earlier than the solstice, and Christmas comes hard on its heels.

In Scandinavia—in addition to its famous celebrations of St Lucy—there is a lovely custom of having lighted candles attached to windows during the darkest days of the year. To walk down the street of a strange city far to the north where the nights begin to draw in as early as mid-afternoon is to experience a quiet sense of welcome from those  one will never otherwise meet.

Light and silence: may these be ours this Advent and Christmastide.

*          *          *

Some words of Rowan Williams (thank you, Matthew):

Our problem in prayer is 99 times out of 100 it is not the absence of God but the absence of me. I am anywhere and everywhere but here. God, as it were, sits patiently in my here while I’m there.
George Herbert – ‘God is more there than thou’
St Augustine – ‘We have a home that does not fall down when we are away.’

Contemplation is less an activity we get better at – we never get better at prayer – it’s a place we are invited to which is always there.