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!
I have recently been reading again [did not manage to finish it the first time] a delightful book entitled The Mysteries of the Jesus Prayer. The majority of my husband’s and my prayer practise revolves around this ever-deepening prayer, only 12 words long. It is a transformative ever evolving and deepening experience. I have posted several times on this Prayer of the Heart which is the one prayer monks and nuns of all traditions, and especially the Orthodox branch of the Christian Faith use silently throughout the day. I digress….
Towards the end of the book I came across something I had not known and wonder if many of you do…there is a church at the South Pole! Run by the Russian Orthodox Church it is a delightful church and I have found a small clip about it on Youtube.
Am sharing this wonderful article as well as the website link for the Northumbria Community. Stephanie.
An article by Trevor Miller
One foundational aspect of prayer taught by the Church Fathers is so basic that it can easily become a case of ‘familiarity breeding contempt’. It is this: in seeking to understand prayer the spiritual masters were more interested in the state of the heart before God rather than the techniques used and so would summarise it something like this: By far the most important thing for us, if we want to pray, is to seriously undertake to become the kind of people who can pray, who have room in their lives for a God to whom they can pray; then “pray as you can, not as you can’t.”
This well used maxim from the ‘Spiritual letters of Dom John Chapman’ is a great example of the kind of authentic prayer expression encouraged in the Northumbria Community. Henri Nouwen in his L’Arche journal ‘The Road to Daybreak’ gives a really helpful example of this by quoting a summarised version of ‘The Three Hermits’ story written by Leo Tolstoy in the 19th century, that for me gets to the very heart of prayer.
“Three Russian monks lived on a faraway island. Nobody ever went there, but one day their bishop decided to make a pastoral visit. When he arrived, he discovered that the monks didn’t even know the Lord’s Prayer. So he spent all his time and energy teaching them the “Our Father” and then left, satisfied with his pastoral work. But when his ship had left the island and was back in the open sea, he suddenly noticed the three hermits walking on the water – in fact, they were running after the ship! When they reached it, they cried, “Dear Father, we have forgotten the prayer you taught us.” The bishop overwhelmed by what he was seeing and hearing, said, “But, dear brothers, how then do you pray?” They answered, “Well, we just say, ‘Dear God, there are three of us and there are three of you, have mercy on us!’” The bishop, awestruck by their sanctity and simplicity, said, “Go back to your land and be at peace.”
In other words, “There’s a difference between learning prayers and prayerfulness.” That Christlikeness and spiritual growth does not depend on our ability to learn and recite facts, even facts about God and prayer. In Tolstoy’s story, it is the monks who live and pray from the heart, and the bishop who recognises their sanctity and prayerfulness, despite their ignorance of the Lord’s Prayer. Speaking metaphorically, why be concerned about not being able to remember much, if you can walk on water!
This story is a great summary of what our Community is all about in encouraging its own prayer life and ministry. Authenticity – which, as well as the ‘pray as you can not as you can’t’ wisdom of Dom John Chapman, is the ‘what you have to be is what you are’ of Thomas Merton; the ‘finding the heart’s true home’ of Richard Foster; the ‘inner heart’ of Catherine Doherty’s Poustinia. Over time our individual daily use of specific prayers like the Lord’s Prayer and the Jesus prayer become prayerfulness, making us more aware of God around us and within us. This awareness makes possible the apostle Paul’s call to “pray without ceasing”.
Prayer as a living relationship with God is at the heart of the Northumbria Community. Our Rule of life and daily Office are the skeleton that makes the living relationship able to live, move and have it’s being. For us, prayer is life, life is prayer and this is why (early in 2002) we made some minor revisions to our Rule of life. One important modification was to acknowledge many forms of prayer as equally valid. Under Availability to God and Others, we changed the one-word title of ‘Intercession’ to ‘Praying and Interceding’ to better represent this understanding. We realised that not all are called to be intercessors but all are called to pray. Further that the significant quote from the Monk of Patmos ‘Those who lean on Jesus’ breast feel the heart-beat of God’ was more about contemplative prayer than intercession.
Though prayer may take as many forms as there are pray-ers, as a Community we have tended to emphasise three types of prayer expression.
a) Liturgical Prayer – the daily use of the Divine Office (Celtic Daily Prayer). This is how our Rule puts it, “A daily discipline of prayer is important. It is often inconvenient and may be dry, but gives stability to our life, making prayer its foundation, and allowing God to teach us inwardly. The Office is there to serve us in this capacity, and it is recommended that Companions in Community use this as an expression of our common life in God.”
b) Intercessory Prayer – In our Community there are some who meet regularly to share Principles of Intercession taken from Joy Dawson’s YWAM book – ‘Intercession, Thrilling and Fulfilling’, and in so doing continue a practice used since the earliest days of Northumbria Community with its emphasis on intercession as prophetic listening and healing prayer.
However, for most of us it is simply praying for others whose lives we touch day by day and doing so in very ordinary ways. For example at the Nether Springs we use the Prayer net for specific intercessions, the prayer basket with names of Companions and Friends drawn out for silent prayer twice each day, along with relevant written prayer requests. We also have the informative Prayer Guide to help us. You may have similar helps to prayer and intercession where you live.
c) Contemplative Prayer – This is being ‘unbusy’ with God instead of being busy with other things. It is learning to relax into not having to do anything useful or productive when centred in the presence of God. It reminds me of a much-quoted sentence from Thomas Merton in the early formation of our Community, that is, “The monk is not defined by his task, his usefulness. In a certain sense he is supposed to be ‘useless’ because his mission is not to do this or that job but to be a man of God”.
Of course, this sense of ‘intentional uselessness’ had to be lived in creative tension with the real world. In the every day of our lives there are endless opportunities to pack our minds and hearts with countless things to do, to look at, listen to, read about; numerous people to visit, email, talk to, and worry about. With all of this going on around us and within us, a life without a quiet centre easily becomes delusional.
If the world around us is asserting that “if you are not making good use of your time, you are useless” then we need to remind ourselves that Jesus urges us to “come and spend some useless time with me; come and waste time with God.’ This is the practice of contemplative prayer, the prayer of quiet.
We live in mystery. Each of us experiences a reality that others can’t see. We mustn’t presume to know too much. What we do know is that there are different experiences of prayer. They are as unique as the individuals who live them, and it follows that if prayer is to nourish and sustain us, it cannot be imposed. Rather, prayer has to be desired, longed for and then, experienced. It is both a gift, and a lifelong adventure, requiring quality time, humility, and perseverance – like any loving relationship.
We also know that God’s nature is love. He does not love us any more when we do everything right and he does not love us any less when we do everything wrong. He just loves us; that’s who he is. Prayer is keeping company with the God who loves us.
I have just re-read The Spiral Staircase by Karen, and of course I have read her book, The History of God. She and I sing from the same great root. So I am delighted to tease you towards this lady’s work; if you have not already come across her, with this short clip on Youtube. Her work is profound and in this day and age, perhaps more important than ever.
Firstly a heartfelt welcome to all of you new ‘followers’ who pressed the follow button of late. Thank you for pressing the button, and I hope you find the time to browse and enjoy the rich storehouse of archived posts. You will find posts inspired from all faith traditions, all celebrating our Divine Source. They are as varied as each one of us human beings is unique. Together we make one big human family. Regardless of culture, faith, nationality, or colour we are all Gods children, created equal and equally loved. In our variety we can choose to weave a beautiful blanket of love to wrap around our world. Let none divide us.
In the frenzy of everyday life many become overwhelmed, and stress is a modern day epidemic. For all those of you who juggle life’s many and varied demands and challenges, and struggle to find time for your cell to sit within, or who yet have to discover their own cell to explore…this is for you. May it bring peace and a stilling of your Soul within. May it strengthen you and re-balance you so that you may re-enter your homes and workplaces, refreshed and balanced.
For those of us whom God has called to:
“Go, sit in a cell, and your cell will teach you everything.”
— Abba Moses (4th century)
This post and the one that follows uphold and honour my own perspectives as a mystic of our real hope and mission of Love whilst in physical form here on Earth. We are all created in Loves image, for Loves purpose and in our own daily lives we may strive to open ourselves to this Love that we may serve others by recognising it in others and responding to it. By constantly opening ourselves to this Love in every activity we do, in being mindful of ourselves, we invite Love to enter, and in doing so, get the opportunity which constantly renews to serve each other better. By laying our weapons of judgement and harshness down, we enable compassion and grace to fill our hearts and minds instead. We become more gentle with others and start to enable Loves great transformation of ourselves and of our world experience. Yet Love is also passionate, how passionate our Creator must have been to create such diversity and such beauty. How much fun and happiness is included in this beautiful Creation, each smile, each belly hearted laugh and joy, each hop, skip and jump is of our Creator. This post also encapsulates what my blog has been putting out into the general world since it began. A monastery without walls. Its philosophy is also my whole 56 years of experience with God who walks forever beside me, throughout eternity… before I came here, whilst I am here and after I lay down my physical form. I remain with God at all times and in all places and thus what I choose to do with this time of incarnation, my purpose is Love…to my very best ability.
I have started my morning by feeding the friendly robin, who bops and dances to draw my attention to his hungry plight as the snow lays thickly on the ground today here in the Highlands of Scotland. He is a joyful splash of colour, set against the stark whiteness, a cheerful chappy always guaranteed to get fed when he comes to the French windows that lead out of our kitchen to the garden beyond…and he knows it! Alfie our Persian cat stares sulkily through the glass at him, weighing up the cold wet snow and the sport of chasing robin; quickly deciding that he also enjoys many benefits from hanging around us humans with regards to his own comforts and settles back to stretch lazily and purr, almost teasing the robin from his own cosy warm mat.
During my first few weeks of recovery following major surgery, I spent a blissfully indulgent time laying on my bed, resting and reading. Reading is always a delicious treat for me, and I usually have half a dozen books lined up and waiting by the time I get the chance to put down the pen and pick up the book. Shortly after my operation I came across a gem of a lady whose four books I then searched for and managed to purchase secondhand and to describe her work as gourmet reading hardly does Mother Mary Agnes credit! My husband and I have an almost insatiable desire to live somewhere really remote, off grid if possible, to be almost complete hermits really…and I think he found the property below on a search and sent me a link. I started eagerly exploring and found Mother Mary Agnes and SOLI. Perhaps one of you readers will buy it…if so may we have an invite please? Or maybe you will visit, or even read her marvellous books like I did and derive great inspiration from her life and work.
Mother Mary Agnes, of the diocese of Aberdeen and Orkney, was born in Nottingham and grew up in a small mining town. At an early age she was influenced by the life of St Francis of Assisi and also by the Celtic Church. An introduction to Scotland added a touch of magic. After more than 20 years as an Anglican Franciscan sister in Devon, she began a new religious life as a solitary on the remote island of Fetlar in Shetland. She she was joined by other women seeking the same solitary lifestyle and subsequently formed the Society of Our Lady of the Isles. [SOLI.]
Her four autobiographical books are, A Tide That Sings, The Song of the Lark, Island Song and For Love Alone. Mother Mary still lives on Fetlar but it is thought that she will soon move to the neighboring island of Yell or Unst where there are more facilities to help her as she is now in her late 80’s. The books are the most amazing tale of vocation, mission, the twists and turns of the path that God leads us along in order to get us to where he wants us to be; and the joys, laughter and worries and questions that saying yes to God entail. So human, so evocative, these books transported me to a tiny remote island where the gale force winds whip around the eaves of a small sanctuary filled with prayer and candlelight, where ferry trips of hours are endured to get the most basic of provisions and medical care…the challenges and the rewards of living in such a place. The interaction with islanders and the establishment of her small community with her ever present cats by her side…this lady is a huge human being, a woman with a vibrant, warm beating heart that includes all she comes across and weaves all into her seamless Celtic stream of life and love of God. Here is a small excerpt from her first book A Tide That Sings…
‘Sea pinks nodded from the crevices of rock and carpeted the banks above, along with the wild violet and scabius. Soon the varieties of orchid would be out too, and all manner of other wild species of flowers. One was afraid, almost, to walk across the machair at this time of year, for fear of crushing such beauty. few people of course ever found their way here. Visitors went to the obvious beauty spots,and the islanders were far too busy, or had other lovlier beaches nearer to hand to enjoy. Anyway, this one today was all mine…
Something pushed against me, and a furry ball curled into my side. I spoke to him and he flexed his paw and purred. A ewe nearby nuzzled two sleepy lambs and moved them up on the hill. ‘Lovest thou Me?’ The Lord had asked Simon Peter, and then had said, ‘Feed my lambs…’ and, ‘Feed my sheep…’ That had been Peter’s commission. I opened the breviary I had brought along with me. I would say the Second Vespers of Easter there on the shore…
Almighty God, who through Thine only begotten Son Jesus Christ hast overcome death, and opened unto us the gate of everlasting life; we humbly beseech Thee, that as by Thy special grace preventing us Thou dost put into the minds good desires; so by Thy continual help we may bring the same to good effect. ‘
The community is now selling one of the small houses on Fetlar complete with chapel…and more details of the community and the house are here: Happy hunting!