The previous link did not work so am re-posting one that I hope will. Thanks to Michael Marsh who first posted this though. Some of you will obviously get this through twice!
The above is particularly meaningful for me; as my experiences over the last 10 months have embedded this truth to a degree where human doubt and the illusion of separation have receded into a faint distant memory as if they had never been. Some of you may have noticed that I have been very quiet for many months. This is not an accident. In May this year after 56 years of robust health [which my consultants described as ‘disgustingly rude health’] with no medications, out of the blue one day, a day like any other…an emergency overtook me and within hours I had been rushed into hospital where I would stay for a week, running the usual gauntlet of tests and some more of a more invasive kind. I was not in the least perturbed, my robust health would see me through, I had no worries. Result after result came back, fine, fine, excellent, really good, excellent…until the final result came 7 days later diagnosed cancer of the lining of the womb.
To say your life flashes in front of you was not exactly my experience, I would describe it more like being run over by an express locomotive in slow motion…because we never think it will happen to us. Especially not the healthy us. Not now, not with so much to live for. Even the consultant had the grace to look shocked. And then the miracles began. If the random emergency had not happened, he assured me…this would never have been picked up. No test would have diagnosed this. It was the earliest possible stage. The cancer was well contained…in a “most beautiful position”…An operation could be all that was needed.
From that point for 24 hours I shook, wobbled, howled and was filled with an animal type fear in a very human way. I had to tell my husband [who at 20 years old had lost his own father to bowel cancer;] and see the horror and pain in his eyes. I had to tell my 5 children who would then tell my grandchildren. I had to tell my elderly parents, 88 and 92…also in robust health who would swap places with me like a shot…if only they could. And I had to really decide things that I had not had to decide upon before. How now did I want to handle this, what did I want to do…how could I travel this journey. There was no escape hatch, no way out, I could not bargain, plead or do anything right now to get out of this. I had to go through the middle of it. This is a very individual journey accompanied by those who love and surround us.
After the first 24 hours a divine strength filled me to overflowing. It was as if the Higher power had infused me utterly and was the strength that I was not. It cushioned and supported me, gave me clear thinking and courage and hope. I did not assume everything would be physically all right, far from it. But I knew that whatever happened, I was alright. I did not need to plead, or bargain or do anything except be and hug that Love. I knew that the Divine Love we name God loved me and was reaching right down and cradling me, supporting me, hugging me…and walking alongside me. I never felt alone, there was a complete tangible presence with me at all times, so near I could almost reach out and touch it, smell it, feel it. The ‘worlds’ were colliding, there was no space in between, no distance…just Love. Any outcome was guaranteed to be Love. It was not for me to reason or understand, it was completely beyond all that.
6 weeks later I had the operation. I was surrounded from the start by loving caring [and spiritually aware] professionals, and embraced and cushioned by the Divine Presence throughout. In the anaesthetic room, which is quite small and filled with equipment, the whole operating staff came through to see me, have a chat, reassure me and generally touch base with me. The atmosphere was relaxed, unhurried, peaceful and felt safe. As they left I could actually feel my parents, my grandparents, my husband, my sister… I could tell you where they were standing and how they were smiling at me…I could literally feel them as if they were physically there with me…at one point the room seemed somewhat overcrowded to say the least! And then, I was away…in their expert hands.
I woke after 4 and a half hours in theatre…exhilarated [I am told it is the opium high!]…and listened to the rain on the windows and the Sea King helicopter revving up outside our beautiful Highland hospital, its crew dedicated to saving life in whatever conditions the weather throws at them. That was an awesome 8 hours before daylight broke, just resting in and breathing in the most rarefied atmosphere of Divine Presence, giving constant thanks in that breathing in and out for being alive, for coming through the operation, for my children, husband, life…for living in a country where medicine makes this possible whether we have money or not, for our medical ability in this country, our being able to have the drugs and anaesthetics’ and specialist equipment that makes all this possible at all….there is always so much to be grateful for. The following day I came home to the sheltering love of my husband, and over the next few days and weeks my daughters came and stayed for a few days at a time, each bringing their own unique gifts of character and colourful personality which all combined, produced a loving healing space. A week later the biopsy results came through. Clear…no need for further treatment. No chemo, no radiotherapy. There was a gift in the earliest of diagnosis’s.
For 10 months I have not blogged. I have simply been present and accepting of life in each moment. And there have been casualties and deaths. Deaths of unhealthy ‘friendships’ that masked hidden agendas of treachery behind their seemingly friendly faces as they sat in our social circles. For that we are most grateful. These things have no place to exist in the home of Divine Love. Deaths of situations that were no longer desired or healthy. And there have been births… in Divine gifts of the arrival of the new, and the restored. Much more than cancer was cut out. And much more has been given back to us than just life.
For 10 months I have been happily sitting in the silence, breathing and drinking it in. What next? was not a thing I was prepared to hurry myself into answering in any way. What would be would be. If there was nothing to come for me to do, that was fine. If there was something for me to share that too was fine. Love is always the answer to the question. It is who we are.
Love is its own constant answer to its own eternal question…and Love is the Silence and the Never-Ending Conversation.
I read somewhere once that a Pilgrimage is as much about the journey within as it is the geographical journey we make. In my own experience this is very true. There is something very spiritual that occurs in this space between spaces, this journey we take where we think we know what our destination is and the reason why we wish to go there, that morphs into something very different to what we expected. It can take months and even years to fully absorb the changes that take place within us, culminating from that experience. It is almost a year since I stayed at Walsingham. I had not really intended to go there. I was actually en route to my family in Norfolk and had decided to stay in the Cotswolds, to see for the first ever time some of my family history on the ground, visit the places where my ancestors had lived and wanted to visit Gloucester Cathedral which one of my early ancestors founded. I flew down to Bristol, picked up my hire car and drove down to a B&B I had booked which sounded lovely at the time…and hated it! The atmosphere was all wrong, it was a beautiful property but I ended up confined to my room at 7pm by the landlady who made it quite clear she did not appreciate her guests being out after about 5pm, or sharing any part of the house other than the bedroom they were allocated. So, no sitting room, no walk in the garden and so on. As I sat in my cold draughty room, all the memories of being at boarding school and at countless residential care assignments came flooding back and I felt lost, lonely, abandoned and wondered why I had come at all. So this is the start of the pilgrimage, the journey to Walsingham when I had not even thought of going. Because I was booked for Gloucester. Best laid plans and all that!!
The next day I escaped very early to Gloucester Cathedral and loved it. I took around 300 photos and was lost in the beauty of its space and stained glass and history. Pushing aside any thoughts of returning to my gloomy attic room at the B&B which I had booked for 4 nights, I just enjoyed Gloucester utterly. Here are some photos of that visit.
For about 70 years after King Edward 11 death, this became a site of pilgrimage. The shrine was richly jewelled, royal family members sent precious stones, jewellery, a gold ear and heart, all of which probably hung from the shrine. King Edward 111 sent a model ship, made of gold which may have sat on the plinth at the front of the tomb. It is comforting to meditate upon what this pilgrimage meant to so many of them back then and to in a sense join with them as travellers through time, kneeling on the cold stone just as they did nearly 700 years ago. We human beings share all the same trials and troubles that our earlier ancestors did, pain, ill-health, worry about family members or work, war, hunger, love, death…their petitions would not have been so different from our own. In 1378 Edward’s great-grandson King Richard 11 held Parliament here at Gloucester Cathedral; in those days Parliament moved around the country and was held where the King called it, rather than being in one fixed place.
For those early visitors to Gloucester what a sense of awe and wonder they would have encountered as they entered such a space and light filled building, which contrasted so starkly to their own dark dingy homes filled with wood smoke and with no glass in their windows to reflect any light. This building in contrast would have been literally flooded with brilliant light. Cathedrals had acres of glass… The journey to a building such as this would have made them feel that they had a nearly reached heaven itself, that the monks and priests had somehow managed to touch God and win his approval, to be living in such a magnificent place as this. These men must be truly blessed by God. The sense of profound awe and indeed magic would have been overwhelming, with the smells of incense and chanting of the monks and their belief would grow that miracle cures could be gained, that their lives and families lives could be improved, that transformation of the humblest to the highest could be had through the mysterious knowledge and conversation between priest and God on their behalf. Very often their own local priests were ill educated themselves, but these men, these monks here in these magnificent places must have seemed like a whole world apart from their own reality. Their senses were flooded just like mine when I went into the Vatican; colour was everywhere. The walls were painted in bright reds, oranges, blues, greens and medieval people loved colour. Their own clothes were far more colourful than our own nowadays. The ritual was theatre that drew them in, it was a stage where one could be a part of it if one knew those chants and routines, the ritual almost invites you, pulls you into wanting to be on the inner circle of its magic. It is a bridge inviting, charming you to cross it, or stay outside of it, forever slightly on the outside if you do not.
Pilgrims all had one overriding goal in mind as they made their journeys; the remission of sins. The penitential pilgrimage as a remission for sins began in the 6th century, it was unknown to the early church where the perpetual sinner was simply excluded and could only gain readmittance on promising to lead an almost monastic existence for the rest of his days. The whole notion of penance was transformed by the Irish missionaries. Pilgrimage was much favoured by the Irish as a spiritual exercise. Public penance which often meant pilgrimage was imposed for public sins with overtones of scandal, notably sexual offenses by clergy. Rayond of Penaforte, a canonist wrote that penance was a useful punishment for” those scandalous and notorious sins which set the whole town talking”, when they were committed by layman the penance was described as ‘solemn’, when by clergy as ‘public’. Going on your pilgrimage was also a penance for sinning openly. In the province of Cologne a synod in 1279 recommended pilgrimages in cases involving any self-indulgence of any sort.
For those whose sins were well concealed or venial, the penitential pilgrimage remained an act of personal piety, voluntarily undertaken. After the end of the 10th century growing numbers of the humble as well as the mighty performed distant pilgrimages to expiate crimes that weighed on their consciences. The times were changing. From the end of the 10th century penitents were usually absolved and reconciled with the Church immediately after confession. Thus arose the new distinction between sin and punishment. Sin was now expunged by confession, punishment was to remain to be suffered in Purgatory. So pilgrimage was seen as an act that could lessen by good works, the amount of time to be spent in Purgatory.
And we can see these differences between what became the penitential pilgrim and the earlier Celtic wanderers of an earlier age who simply had a certain destination in mind, travelled there and returned home to resume a normal life. Now pilgrimage became a serious business of atonement with flogging along the way, and dragging of heavy burdens, fasting, lack of care for the physical body and so on. Indeed I was surprised to find through family history research that many of my own ancestors died whilst on long pilgrimages to or from Jerusalem, attempting to atone presumably for their perceived sins. Pilgrimages for some of these souls became a development of the penalty of judicial exile, never staying more than one night in a place, destined to eternally wander. In the words of the Penitential of St Columban he was to be ‘like Cain a wanderer and a fugitive on the face of the earth, never to return to his native land.’
Well for me, it was not that dire. I still had to return to the landlady from Hades tonight, but I could at least visit the last two family history places I wanted to touch base with, Rodborough and Painswick beforehand; and then I could plan my escape.
Photographs (C) Stephanie 2012
It is about a year ago that I took myself off on a “pilgrimage”, albeit an unintentional one. I had to visit Norfolk, where my elderly parents still live, as well as children and grandchildren. It is almost 600 miles away. The journey is not so much the destination in some senses, as the experiences of the process of the journey and to fully immerse oneself into that is to take a pilgrimage. Over the next posts I am going to explore pilgrimage to a much greater depth, both historically and socially and will use some of the many photographs I have taken to illustrate the various places I have been a pilgrim too. There are many I still wish to travel to, and many I have visited and wish to visit again. But for me, just as my mysticism is best described as Living In A Monastery Without Walls; so life can be described as a pilgrimage, this journey we take each day of our lives. Some places though do hold a special sacred attraction, and have done for hundreds of years. These communal spaces are ones which I will focus on to start with. Perhaps my first “Oh Wow” encounter took place when I was 13 and my parents took me on the “European Tour”. We covered about 8 countries over 2 weeks and the highlights were the Church of St Francis of Assisi, the artistic work of Giotto, Venice and Rome and the Vatican which utterly blew my socks off! Coming from a small rural village, near the city of Norwich which did not even have an art gallery, my brain was literally blown off with the artwork and architecture that I was witnessing. There I met for the first time, the works of Michelangelo, De Vinci, Botticelli, Donatello, Raphael, and Fra Angelico. Nothing could compare with the Sistine Chapel for this young child/woman mystic…and I was to be totally hooked on Art and History for the rest of my natural life! So I would now like to bring some of this into my blog, influences that have enlarged me, expanded my appreciation of the sublime, given me aids to meditate and reflect upon and built tiny steps that aid us as we clamber to the heights of the passionate beauty of the Divine.
The first book written in English [we are taught, although this is not strictly true] was The Canterbury Tales, which all A level English Literature students here in the UK have had to study in part. It’s almost a rite of passage! When I studied it, we looked at “The Wife of Bath’s Tale.” The Canterbury Tales is a collection of stories written in Middle English by Geoffrey Chaucer at the end of the 14th century. The tales are presented as part of a story-telling contest by a group of pilgrims as they travel together on a journey from Southwark to the shrine of Saint Thomas Becket at Canterbury Cathedral. The prize for this contest is a free meal at the Tabard Inn at Southwark on their return.
When we first come across studying this book nowadays, it is completely inaccessible to the modern mind and reader. The language itself is a major barrier, it is not easily read or understood. Then there is the whole concept of the medieval mind as to what pilgrimage meant for them in context, what they were doing, and what their religious beliefs were. Then, perhaps finally, set against todays growing secular society and especially to the average 16-18 year old, why on earth would these people want to do this anyway? In this way this work of literature matches the experience of pilgrimage itself strangely, as pilgrimage is itself, difficult to enter and absorb, and certainly to explain, it is as much an interior process as it is an exterior journey and one has to go deeper, to fully enter its hidden revelations. Pilgrimage never does what it says its going to, it never acquiesces to just conforming to “what’s on the label”. It is much more complex than that.
No other work prior to Chaucer’s is known to have set a collection of tales within the framework of pilgrims on a pilgrimage. It is obvious, however, that Chaucer borrowed portions, sometimes very large portions, of his stories from earlier stories, and that his work was influenced by the general state of the literary world in which he lived. Storytelling was the main entertainment in England at the time, and storytelling contests had been around for hundreds of years. In 14th-century England the English Pui was a group with an appointed leader who would judge the songs of the group. The winner received a crown and as with the winner of the Canterbury Tales, a free dinner. It was common for pilgrims on a pilgrimage to have a chosen “master of ceremonies” to guide them and organize the journey. The Decameron by Giovanni Boccaccio contains more parallels to the Canterbury Tales than any other work. Like the Tales, it features a number of narrators who tell stories along a journey they have undertaken (to flee from the Black Plague).
While the structure of the Tales is largely linear, with one story following another, it is also much more than that. In the General Prologue, Chaucer describes, not the tales to be told, but the people who will tell them, making it clear that structure will depend on the characters rather than a general theme or moral. This idea is reinforced when the Miller interrupts to tell his tale after the Knight has finished his. Having the Knight go first, gives one the idea that all will tell their stories by class, with the Knight going first, followed by the Monk, but the Miller’s interruption makes it clear that this structure will be abandoned in favour of a free and open exchange of stories among all classes present. General themes and points of view arise as tales are told which are responded to by other characters in their own tales, sometimes after a long lapse in which the theme has not been addressed. This again mimics the experience of pilgrimage. It is the people who one journeys with or meets, that are the key to the individual’s experience. It is this that ignites and opens one to the wholeness of it. On pilgrimage, people meet in a small fracture of time, and enter an almost womb like atmospheric consensus together, where secrets are told, tales recounted, in absolute anonymity. It is almost the ultimate sharing. Lastly, Chaucer does not pay much attention to the progress of the trip, to the time passing as the pilgrims travel, or specific locations along the way to Canterbury. His writing of the story seems focused primarily on the stories being told, and not on the pilgrimage itself. And it is these stories and journey and sharing which still today, make pilgrimage so rewarding and rich.
Before modern-day travel or allotted holiday time off work around the world became accessible and possible for the masses, pilgrimage played a part in ordinary people’s lives for the quite simple process and desire to “get away from it all”, have “a change of scene”, and “have a break” from the routine. When days off from work were rare, to say you were going on pilgrimage was one of the only acceptable methods of gaining time off from your boss. So it had an appeal in quite simply getting away from the daily grind. It was accepted by all that pilgrimage to a site of relics or saints was a very good and necessary thing to do. Not everyone that went off on a pilgrimage held a deep religious conviction for going, for some it was quite simply…a holiday. Some went for healing, some to hope that a particular saint could help them with a problem, or help bolster their own faith, fulfil a vow, or gain a blessing.
The world of the medieval pilgrim was for the most part isolated, quite oppressive and ruled by monotonous regularity and overpowering conventions. Certainly before the black Death changed the social and cultural landscape of England, people belonged in a very real sense to their church and all life was lived out under its shadow. An individual was baptised, married and buried in that church of his village. He was not allowed to take the sacraments at any other church. No strangers were allowed to be buried in that church. It was not unknown for those who died outside their own parishes to be exhumed and brought back to their own churchyards. In 1215, the Lateran Council reinforced this bond to the church by making every layman confess his sins once a year to his parish priest and no-one else. Only permitted travellers and those in danger of death were permitted to confess to a strange priest. And so, pilgrimage gave the only opportunity to step outside the norm and see something and somewhere different.
So, to return to the dear old Wife of Bath, whose tale I struggled with so valiantly at college. She was rude and raucous, had a strong voice for a woman of those times as they were depicted, had seen off some three husbands and made it quite clear that she dominated both the household and the bedroom. Rather a character to say the least! At 17 years old I had not the faintest idea of what she was talking about! But we are told that before taking the road to Canterbury,
“thries hadde she been at Jerusalem;
She hadde passed many a straunge strem;
At Rome she haddeth been, and at Boloigne,
In Glaice at Seint Jame, and at Coloigne.
She koude muchel of wandrynge by the way.”
She was therefore an extremely well-travelled international pilgrim, who in addition to visiting the three major shrines, [The Holy Land, Rome and St James de Compostela] had venerated the Virgin Mary at Boulogne and the Three Magi in Cologne Cathedral. Many English men and women will have shared at least some of her journeys. But the long haul pilgrimage to an overseas site was the exception rather than the norm, and for most folk, pilgrimage would have made to places within a week or so walking of where they lived for a major one, for example Canterbury, and much more regularly to places near to where they lived and could access within a couple of days or so. A few daring freedom seeking souls were on almost permanent pilgrimage and could hardly be distinguished from the vagabonds.
So I intend to start tomorrow with the Tale of my Pilgrimage to The Shrine of Our Lady at Walsingham, a shrine which is known internationally and was one that was right on my doorstep as I grew up. I will also cover Glastonbury, Iona, Rosslyn [of De Vinci code recent fame], St Julian’s Cell in Norwich and some others that I have visited and photographed and I hope you will enjoy. The photo in this blog was taken at The Bull Inn at Walsingham, a place where pilgrims have perhaps stayed for hundreds of years, and which I spent a wonderful few nights in. It is a wall painting in the upstairs dining room by a very talented former owner. I hope that this series on pilgrimage encourages or reminds you of its joys and tempts you to decide to go on one again yourself…sometime soon!
Photograph (C) Stephanie 2012
Normally the Church would celebrate the Feast of the Annunciation today here in the UK. But because this is also Holy Week, the date is put forward to Monday April 8th, the day after Divine Mercy Sunday, which is the Sunday after Easter Sunday.
However, I have some thoughts on the celebration of the Annunciation, which I would like to share, which I feel are also apt to our preparations leading up to Easter; which involve one of the messages of the heart of Easter; our willingness to serve, to be ready, and our willingness to be transformed, so I will post this today anyway.
As the Christian Church holds, the Annunciation is when the angel Gabriel visited Mary, and told her that she had been chosen amongst women to bear the Christ child. Now it is easy for us to think in terms of this being long in the past, we know she agreed to this, we forget just what a huge “ask” this was of her, how inconvenient, how difficult it would be for her to be pregnant and single, how hard for Joseph to come to terms with the fact that his fiancée is telling him she is pregnant….by God no less. We can only imagine what must have been going through his mind! We of course know that all turns out well, Joseph sticks by her, they have the baby and that baby is unique for the whole world.
But for me, there is another message in this account. Mary had choice. She could have said no. She said yes. She had to make a choice, to say yes to God and to be willing, not only to carry this through but also to be transformed by it herself. One of the meditation cards by the Northumbrian Community is this:
I say ‘Yes, my Lord’ in all the good times through all the bad times.
Thomas Keating In his book entitled “Invitation to Love”, the Trappist monk and founder of Contemplative Outreach, details four consents. He says that the spiritual journey is a training in consent in God’s presence and to all reality and that at each major stage of that development God asks us to make an appropriate consent. In childhood, he says, God asks us to consent to the basic goodness of our nature with all its parts. In early adolescence, God asks us to accept the full development of our being by activating our talents and creative energies. The consent asked of us in early adulthood is to accept the fact of our non-being and the diminution of self that occur through illness, old age and death. And finally, the fourth consent that is asked of us is the consent to be transformed. He further says that we do not make these consents as ends in themselves, but rather to the will of God present in all these things. We consent to God and to his will both in the enjoyment and in the surrender of his gifts.
When we see suffering in others, we react with their pain ourselves too. It is possible to lose sight of who Jesus was and what God did at these points. We are not asked to simply have faith in an unknown intangible or love a remote God however. Jesus entered our world as fully human. Clothed in a human body, growing up in a human family, experiencing physical and emotional pain he lived his life alongside us. He died a cruel and lingering death, nailed to a cross, whilst also innocent, as innocent as the children massacred in Sandy Hook. He was not guilty as charged. He said “Yes” to us before He asked us to say “Yes” to him. He said yes to incarnating, yes to living with us and experiencing all that we experience in order to really feel and know intimately what it is to be fully human. He said yes to what was intended to be an ignoble death, and said yes to following his Fathers will to the grave and beyond in his blessed resurrection. He said yes in good times and through all the bad times. I believe that with his power, he could have saved himself, said no to death. He could have chosen to justify that by being able to spend more time here on earth, teaching, healing, and sharing with us. Yet he said yes, quite simply because he was in full union with his Father in Heaven and wanted us to know him too, to draw us closer to the Father through his own example in his life, his death and his resurrection. In this sacrificial act, and subsequent resurrection we are no longer asked to worship a remote God, but to walk confidently knowing our Father loves us and all creation. We are promised that we will meet him, and that he knows every hair on our heads, as well as our cares and concerns before we have even voiced them. This being so, it indicates that our Father is intimately connected with even the smallest detail of our lives and that they matter to him. Jesus brings us a loving Father, who knows his creation and yearns for it to know him. Jesus showed us in his actions both his availability to God and his intentional vulnerability. We too are invited to do accept that invitation, the same invitation that is the Annunciation.
I say “Yes, my Lord” calls us to intimate attentiveness of being. It calls us to raise our awareness of the pending call to action, at any time, in any encounter, ‘anytime, anyplace, anywhere’ as the song goes. We are asked to be mindful to God, to listen carefully, to be fully engaged in our consciousness and use our faculties; not numb them with substances or situations that lower our sense of Divine Presence. Our bodies are temples for the Spirit of the Lord; temples which if attended properly may yield his presence to us. Our temple can be a welcoming and inviting place of encounter, fit to meet our Lord if we tend it mindfully. It can be a pleasing place to the Lord. Within this temple lies the secret of secrets, the place where Lover and Beloved meet, beyond time and space, in encounters that may never find adequate expression in mere words, but whose witnessing is the very food of life itself and joy as well as solace to the Soul.
Yet our covenant with our Lord is also timeless when we say “Yes”. It is ongoing and asks of us a certain way of choosing, a certain way of living. It is not just a covenant of the mind and spoken word. It is a covenant of the heart; which asks of us that we live according to the ways we were taught by Jesus when he walked among us. We are to love each other as he loved us. We are to offer the other cheek when someone offends us. We are to give what is due to Caesar as well as give to God what is due to God, and not confuse the two. We are to be the Good Samaritan. We are to honour the Ten Commandments handed down through Moses. We are to store up our treasure in heaven and not on earth. And we are to pray as he taught us. We are to share our bread and our wine in remembrance of him, to share our common possessions and not covert what others have. We are asked to forgive each other as we are forgiven by our Father in heaven. We are asked to become as children, to be as wise as serpents and harmless as doves, [Matthew 10:16] because he sends us out amongst wolves. We must retain our innocence as children of God, whilst not being fools. Further, we must not worry about where our next meal will come from, or how we shall clothe ourselves, for our Father knows of our needs before we do. Apart from the Ten Commandments, these are guides of behaviour, not rules and Thomas Keating reminds us that God gave us only Ten Commandments urging us as humans not to be so willing to create more that we must tie ourselves up with in our daily spiritual practises!
I say “Yes, my Lord” in all the good times and through all the bad times. I have faith that you are leading me and I follow with all my heart and soul. Stay close by me and guide me, drawing me ever closer to your presence, that I may see you face to face once again. Amen. Below is a painting of the Annunciation as imagined by Fra Angelico, simply one of my most favourite artists ever!
The world has a new Pope, Francis 1st who in choosing his name has chosen his path of humility, poverty and service. May we all choose to walk the same path of service to others; remaining constant in our silent prayer and quiet presence, as well as our offerings of thanks and gratitude to where they are due. Let us not lay store by things temporal, but in recognising all as created by our Heavenly Divine Creator; whose power and reason we can have little comprehension of whilst in human form, we become filled with true worth, and true service to others. Amen. Stephanie.
So following on from yesterday’s post entitled Laughing Out Loud. My visions started when I was 3 years old. I have said that at that time no received input had been fed into me via family or society , so how would this happen? How could it happen? I am not utterly sure to this day really. It still baffles me. But as an adult I know it did.
And how would I know who it was that I was seeing? A usual argument used by those who cannot accept that these things still happen and that ongoing experience is not something confined to the olden days and dusty manuscripts.
Well, firstly, and I am recounting from how I knew as a very young child, I would say that when you see Christ, you know him. Absolutely, totally you recognise him. There is absolutely no mistaking him. On a human level…well yes I guess it feeds through to that level and embeds there, but it is [in my opinion] our soul that leaps and knows him before our conscious human level does. There are two main things that are so recognisable. The eyes. And this incredible indescribable feeling that goes with it, that is utterly unlike anything else we experience, and that is a love that cradles us so completely, so utterly that we are completely enveloped in it, and nothing is left wanting. The eyes are utterly unforgettable. They contain all that is, all that ever was and perhaps in a way all that will be…but when they gaze upon you they are filled with a love so great that you are swallowed up by them, and absorbed. As a young child I revelled in those eyes and was open, unafraid, completely at ease. When, I saw them again at 12 years old, I was almost the same, but a few misdemeanours and fibs had blunted the innocence, but by the time I was 32 and had lived a little more, got a bit grubby and frayed round the edges with things done that were not wholly exemplary my feeling was different, the unerring gaze of love made me aware of a grubbiness within me, that was in sharp contrast to such purity and caused me real pain when highlighted by such pure love. The immensity of love by then made my own failings and indiscretions feel very tatty in comparison, and I wanted to cry, to howl out loud with the contrast and the realisation of my loss of innocence. Because that’s what the human living and failures do to us, the price extracted for physical form, is that it diminishes our natural state of innocence. But as a young child there was nothing but purity that met that gaze and held it. Young children are still close to that place of heaven that they came from so recently, still close to the Heart of God. How wonderful that was, and how far life took me away from that purity of being. Maybe we get back to that state when we die. I hope so. I know so really. Being washed clean again. Travellers get very grubby…going home is great at he end of the journey.
The teachings went on for many years, night after night in words that were beyond words, now how do I describe that? How do I put into words that which is beyond words? It is like when you see something that jerks you at all levels at the same time, it makes you feel a jolt in your stomach, react with your heart, realise with your mind, suddenly comprehend on all levels the wider meanings and connect the dots…? maybe that is the nearest I can get. It’s the “Ahh!” moment. The “Eureka” moment. During this time, Christ was my friend put quite simply, if I wanted to know something I would ask and he would tell me. And he would teach me about things I had not asked about, things that were beyond my imagination or knowing to ask. He would laugh, and take obvious pleasure, delight even, in who I was. It was fun. There was a lot of laughter as well as a lot of seriousness.
One night towards the end of the timeframe when he visited, he came to me and showed me his wounds. Wounds, that were not bleeding, but dried blood was present and as a child I was horrified. I am sorry this is explained so simply, but it was simple back then, vast theological questions on my part had not entered my repertoire, nor made me grubby! I had not yet started to waste time trying to pass time in these vast abstract arguments of theological and philosophical issues. As I stared at these wounds I felt hurt in my stomach, my heart. I bent and kissed his wounds on his hands, wrists and on his brow. A simple childish solution nothing more, but a solution given from the heart. If I hurt myself my parents would “kiss it better”. So I did the same. I was “kissing my friend better”. But interestingly I do remember saying as I did so, “let me serve you Jesus”, and maybe then at that pont in time something beyond space and time was sealed. A free will decision was made, one which I have reaffirmed several times throughout my life voluntarily. He explained to me the crucifixion, the resurrection, why it happened…and it did happen…and what it was supposed to show us, how we were supposed to understand it for what it was. No sin was mentioned. But the promise of eternal life was. The fact that only the physical dies was. The fact that the physical is not the sum of who we are was.
Here I am aged 7 when he left, telling me that although I would see him again, now he must withdraw visually so that I could get on and live out my life. He told me there would be joy and tears, lovers and disappointments ahead of me, and he also assured me that he was always with me, and that whenever I needed him, just to call him and he was always there. Closer than a heartbeat was how he described his presence.
By this time, I was at school and had learned the Lords Prayer, was having the morning assemblies, being taught the ‘now’ proscribed Christian religion. I was going to church. For two years I had been able to cross reference, check out what I was being told by others with Jesus himself. Now that was about to cease and I would have to make my own way, my own decisions, but based on a very unusual headstart. Why such an unusual start? I have no idea to this day. I know that it has made it virtually impossible for me to ‘fit in’, I know that it has been as much of a hinderance as a help when I have wanted to join in with others alongside their worship in a formal setting. I have tried. A relatively solitary life was perhaps going to have to be my norm, because few priests wanted to acknowledge this kind of occurrence, [although some very special ones have with me and I thank God for them]; except in past history where it does not threaten the established order of things because it can be explained away as not desirable [for people now in the present-no definitely not!!] but a rare occurrence that does not happen anymore. And it did upset the order back then too when it was happening ! Only history has made these people acceptable well after they have died and can’t be physically heard anymore. Julian of Norwich and many others whilst alive were seriously in danger, Julian was nearly excommunicated…and could have been put to death for having visions, for saying she saw no sin and so on. This is dangerous to say, even now…because the established Church doctrine is based around this fundamental core of us all being sinners. This is powerful stuff. What happens when you take this misinterpreted “sin” out of the picture? Do we then look at power with the people as opposed to power over? Is that where we are actually heading whether we like it or not? Isn’t that where we began 2000 years ago? Celebrating, breaking bread, remembering? Will people joyously return to churches when we are truly just sharing our knowing of all being God’s children and equal and such service becomes an open celebration of that fact and not a sermon about our wrongdoing and failings and hellish outcomes? Many priests have this light within them and do this.
‘For I am the Lord of the dance said he, and I’ll lead you all, wherever you may be, and I’ll lead you all in the dance said he’.
But you can only go so far with withholding your own experience and keeping your peace when you are hearing things being taught and stated as truth that are so different to what you know in your heart and they do not wish to allow your voice, your sharing. All that is ok, it is when they challenge and confront you and your truth and tell you authoritatively that you are wrong, or sinful, or misguided in your truth so many times that you long to scream from the rafters and upset the status quo. Best not too though. Turn the other cheek. And we must all accept that each is led a different way, a different path for a reason we cannot possibly comprehend at this point in time. Horses for courses. So tolerance is a great grace, non-judgement is a grace, and having the confidence to follow the path that the Lord lays out before you, once you know it is of the Lord’s is unmanageable without his support to lean on heavily. The litmus test of that? A sincere humble heart, and the feeling of love that accompanies us when we take one step at a time in the right direction, led always by Christ. Lets not limit His wonderous ways. God works beyond space, beyond time. It is God that invites us to know him, without that we are unable to reach Him, so let us not be afraid to answer His invitation when it comes, because others have told us He would not invite us personally.
These are 3 photos I took in Gloucester Cathedral earlier this year. For me these are glorious, a celebration of resurrection, and a whole story of endurance, suffering and ultimate resurrection, a resurrection that we are invited to partake in each day within our own lives and our choices of how we choose to live them and be who we were created to be, which finalizes with our own glorious resurrection assured. And this matches with my own early vision.