Following a rich learning experience put on by St Paul’s Cathedral Forum, I have been really struck by the Prologue to the Rule of St Benedict:
Listen carefully, my child, to your master’s precepts, and incline the ear of your heart (Prov 4:20). Receive willingly and carry out effectively your loving father’s advice, that by the labour of obedience you may return to God from whom you have departed by the sloth of disobedience.
In essence Benedict is opening up the idea that Christianity is about a way of life. This is an important corrective to the reformation which puts the emphasis of belief on thinking. Benedict’s Rule is an attempt to help people grow a distinctive Christian faith which is less ‘What should I believe’ and more ‘How should I live’ which is a crucial question then and now. How do we LIVE the Christian life which is about prayerful action.
The opening sentence of Benedict’s Prologue make this very simple, that involves four elements:
1. Listen – to the masters instructions who calls us daughter and sons.
2. Receive – the grace of receiving the love of God that brings health and transends defensiveness and encourages honest loving vulnerability.
3. Labour – put what you have heard and received from God into practice in the way you live. Prayer must lead to action.
4. Return – that even though we stuff up a lot, God always receives us back.
These four are one of simplest but most profound summary of what discipleship is all about. Benedict was trying to ensure that monasteries focused on Christian discipleship.
The prologue also emphasises urgency, the need to get on with it. ‘Run while you have the light of life, lest the darkness of death overtake you.’
But with the full assurance of the love of God: ‘What can be sweeter to us, dear ones, that this voice of the Lord inviting us? Behold in God’s loving kindness the Lord shows us the way of life.’
This is incredibly beautiful. TO see the whole of the prologue for yourself click here
To see more writing and info by Ian Mobsby click here
Today, the 9th April, the Church remembers Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Lutheran Pastor, Martyr and Father of New Monasticism. From a Nazi prison cell, in a letter to his brother in 1935 he said this:
‘the restoration of the church will surely come only from a new type of monasticism which has nothing in common with the old but a complete lack of compromise in a life lived in accordance with the Sermon on the Mount in the discipleship of Christ. I think it is time to gather people together to do this..’
‘The expansion of Christianity and the increasing secularisation of church caused the awareness of costly grace to be gradually lost … But the Roman church did keep a remnant of that original awareness. It was decisive that monasticism did not separate from the church and that the church had good sense to tolerate monasticism. Here, on the boundary of the church, was the place where the awareness that grace is costly and that grace includes discipleship was preserved… Monastic life thus became a living protest against the secularisation of Christianity, against the cheapening of grace’ (Cost of Discipleship P46)
He was born in 1906 into an academic family, Ordained in the Lutheran Church, his theology was influenced by Karl Barth and he became a lecturer: in Spain, the USA and in 1931, back in Berlin. Opposed to the philosophy of Nazism, he was one of the leaders of the Confessing Church, movement which broke away form the Nazi-dominated Lutherans of 1934. Banned from teaching, and harassed by Hitler’s regime, he bravely returned to Germany at the outbreak of war in 1939, despite being on a lecture tour in the USA at the time. His defiant opposition to the Nazis led him to set up a number of new monastic communities defined by generosity to the Jews, Gay people and Roma peoples with a radical rule of life defined by political resistance. He was arrested for this in 1943. His experiences led him to propose a more radical theology in his later works, which have been influential among post-war theologians. He was excited by the Nazi police in Flossenburg concentration camp on this day in 1945.
We remember his life and witness to the faith of Jesus Christ in the most difficult of circumstances.
Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent, a season of 40 days for personal reflection, prayer, and spiritual exploration. It mirrors the time Jesus spent in the desert, seeking God and the true meaning of his life.
The service has been a regular feature of the church’s calendar since the very beginning, and it involves burning the previous year’s Palm Crosses, forming a paste, and marking this on the foreheads of those committing to the season.
The service will last for 30 minutes and will be followed by the Stressed in the City meditation group. All are welcome.
The schedule for the evening is as follows:
Ash Wednesday Service: 5.30 – 6.30pm
Meditation group: 6.30 – 7.30pm
Mark Vernon, Companion to the Moot Community, published this piece in the Church Times, thinking about the report on spirituality from the RSA. Exploration of Spirituality can break down religious barriers.
SPIRITUALITY is back, if ever it went away. Sam Harris, one of the leading advocates of the new atheism, published a “guide to spirituality”, Waking Up, last year. Then there is Sanderson Jones, co-founder of the highly successful Sunday Assembly, who argues that one of its main tasks is developing a language for spirituality. He describes himself as a “humanist mystic”, and feels a “spirit in life” which transcends the everyday. To read more click here ….
Ian Mobsby, the Priest in Charge & Missioner of the Moot Community was invited to give a short address at the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Academic Examination Day on Thursday 9th of October, in the Chapel of Lambeth Palace. The Archbishop has from the middle ages, the right to award post graduate qualifications including PhDs, a practice that was revised in the 19th and 20th Centuries.
The addresses began with a paper from Fr Thomas of the Anglican Benedictine Community of Mirfield drawing on the PhD he has just finished. Ian Mobsby was invited to give a response drawing on a new monastic perspective.
To read the address click here: A New Monastic Response, Ian Mobsby
On 25th July Jules Evans interviewed the Bishop of London addressing the basis and history of the Contemplative tradition within Christianity. Bp Richard speaks with eloquence and insight into the strengths and weaknesses concerning the authentic spiritual journey into prayer. Rightly he talks of this being a dangerous journey if not joined up to the Christian community, and the danger of a more secular individualist consumptive approach which can be a journey into the shadow and false self. To read the full article click here.
A great article in the New Statesman, starting with Rowan Williams
The Christianity I was originally formed in was not very ritual-minded: it was both intellectually alert and emotionally intense – the best of a style of Welsh Nonconformity now almost extinct – but tended to look down on physical expression of belief (other than singing, which I suspect was regarded as not really physical). Only when the family joined the Anglican Church when I was in my early teens, after we’d moved to another town, did I discover a sense of worship as a physical art, involving gesture, movement and colour. I still have a vivid memory of my first experience of a solemn Mass with procession at Easter, when I was, I suppose, about 12 – the awareness of a deliberate strategy of involving the senses at many levels.
The mild High Church atmosphere of those years was, for me, an environment that made strong imaginative and emotional sense, and indeed is still the kind of setting where I feel most instinctively at home, rather than in more simply word-oriented styles, or in the heated atmosphere of “charismatic” worship, repetitive song and unstructured prayer – although I’ve learned to be nourished by that, too, in many circumstances. But the ritual that is most significant for me apart from the routines of public worship and the daily recitation of the fixed words of morning and evening prayer owes more to non-Anglican sources.
Readers of Salinger’s Franny and Zooey will recall the somewhat unexpected appearance there of an account of the traditional Greek and Russian discipline of meditative repetition of the “Jesus Prayer” (“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon me, a sinner”). Practically every Eastern Orthodox writer on prayer will describe this, and many in the tradition also describe some of the physical disciplines that may be used to support it – being aware of your breathing, sitting in a certain way, focusing attention on your chest: “bringing the mind into the heart”, as the books characterise it.
The interest in uniting words with posture and breath is, of course, typical of non-Christian practices also; and over the years increasing exposure to and engagement with the Buddhist world in particular has made me aware of practices not unlike the “Jesus Prayer” and introduced me to disciplines that further enforce the stillness and physical focus that the prayer entails. Walking meditation, pacing very slowly and co-ordinating each step with an out-breath, is something I have found increasingly important as a preparation for a longer time of silence.
So: the regular ritual to begin the day when I’m in the house is a matter of an early rise and a brief walking meditation or sometimes a few slow prostrations, before squatting for 30 or 40 minutes (a low stool to support the thighs and reduce the weight on the lower legs) with the “Jesus Prayer”: repeating (usually silently) the words as I breathe out, leaving a moment between repetitions to notice the beating of the heart, which will slow down steadily over the period.
The prayer isn’t any kind of magical invocation or auto-suggestion – simply a vehicle to detach you slowly from distracted, wandering images and thoughts. These will happen, but you simply go on repeating the words and gently bringing attention back to them. If it is proceeding as it should, there is something like an indistinct picture or sensation of the inside of the body as a sort of hollow, a cave, in which breath comes and goes, with an underlying pulse. If you want to speak theologically about it, it’s a time when you are aware of your body as simply a place where life happens and where, therefore, God “happens”: a life lived in you.
So the day begins with a physically concrete and specific reminder that your own individual existence is breathed through by a life that isn’t your possession; and at moments of tension or anxiety during the day, deliberately breathing in and out a few times with the words of the prayer in mind connects you with this life that isn’t yours, immersing the anxiety and dispersing the tension – even if it doesn’t simply take away pain or doubt, solve problems or create some kind of spiritual bliss. The point is just to be connected again.
The mature practitioner (not me) will discover a steady clarity in the vision of self and world, and, in “advanced” states, an awareness of unbroken inner light, with the strong sense of an action going on within that is quite independent of your individual will – the prayer “praying itself”, not just human words but a connection between God transcendent and God present and within. Ritual anchors, ritual aligns, harmonises, relates. And what happens in the “Jesus Prayer” is just the way an individual can make real what is constantly going on in the larger-scale worship of the sacraments. The pity is that a lot of western Christianity these days finds all this increasingly alien. But I don’t think any one of us can begin to discover again what religion might mean unless we are prepared to expose ourselves to new ways of being in our bodies. But that’s a long story.
This week is Passion Week which is the last week of Lent where we prepare to enter the drama, liturgy and emotion of Holy Week (Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday). In this week Christian pilgrims are encouraged to remember the story of Christ’spassion as the story from the joy of Palm Sunday through to the desolation of Good Friday and then the shock and joy of Easter Sunday. So if you get anytime to yourself this week, try to reflect on preparation for the next Sunday to Sunday.