Friday, 27 June 2008

Third Prize!

My drawing of my compost bin, see previous blogs, won Third Prize (adult) section) in Farmer Phil's Painting Competition run by wiggly wigglers


'This neglect of our human nature has led to the tragedy we face today: most people are alienated from their vital individuality - their souls - and humanity as a whole is largely alienated from the natural world that evolved us and sustains us. Soul has been demoted to a New Age spiritual fantasy or a missionary's booty, and Nature has been treated, at best, as a postcard or a vacation backdrop or, more commonly, as a hardware store or refuse heap. Too many of us lack intimacy with the natural world and with our souls, and consequently we are doing untold damage to both.'
(Bill Plotkin, Reviews, Resurgence Magazine, May/June 2008, No. 248)


'Never let us approach another believer to ask him to become "one of us" but approach him with respect as one who is already "one of His", who is, and from whose invariable beauty all contingent being depends!

This, surely, emphasises the kinship of wisdom and compassion. This is The Way of Love, the understanding that Love is, which is to say that Love is the essence of being. And it therefore seems to me that if we wish to find the Truth we need to follow
this path, for Love is both the pathway and that to which the path will lead us. It is the Quest and the Grail. It is the Underlying Religion'
(David Cadman, Reviews, Resurgence Magazine, May/June 2008, No. 248)

Friday, 20 June 2008

Adventure and Passion

My notes from a 'Wild at Heart' group - on how to be a man! (A Christianity based course at church)

How long have you lived? Not in years in actually living? In actually experiencing life. When did your passions come alive? Does God use your passions for Him? What makes you come alive?

What is your adventure? it involves risk - it involves faith. Adventure is a spiritual longing within man. It is about how much control I want over my life. Do I want control over everything? Do I play it safe? If so, am I saying I don't trust God?

What do you really want to do? Step out into your adventure and go down the rapids.

Walking with God takes risks. I am in the frontier - that was what I was made for. The world needs men that have come alive, that are true to their core. What is written on your heart?

Then there is the 'evangelism' question: e.g. sport vs Jesus - passion... Should be God's warrior (yuk) - what am I called to do?

Casual adventures: weekend golf, walks, white water rafting etc
Crucial adventures: loving wife, entering daughter's world, changing jobs
Critical adventures: big risk, will work if God shows up, evangelism, fight for that, will god come through for me (hmm, something vaguely like that... must check the book)

What story am I writing for my life? Are you the centre of your adventure or is God? What risks have I taken? The risk takers inherit the Kingdom (I think that is people who are willing to step out for Jesus...)

I drew a picture of a man holding stone and saying "What is your adventure?"

* * * * * * * * * *

Why have I never really been inspired by the Bible? Why doesn't God's spirit instill in me a passion for it? Why is my spiritual journey now giving me inspiration and passion?

* * * * * * * * * *

This was the first real time on the course that I had really bonded with something that I could identify with. My spiritual adventure has been huge, and I believe it was (oh, bother what's the word...) ratified/acknowledged/honoured (?) by the above. My personal plunge into the adventure of belief/faith has been a huge risk and a huge challenge, but I feel it has been 'what I am all about' - it is about who and what I am. Only other people make me feel disillusioned about it.

I like adventure. Well sometimes, not always. I like stability, I like security but I will do new things. I have done a bungee jump!

Tuesday, 17 June 2008

First Strawberries

These are the first strawberries form the garden. Some things in the garden are doing well such as potatoes, lettuces, the greenhouse tomatoes and slugs; whilst others seem very slow such as the runner beans, outdoor tomatoes and carrots. The nights have still been quite cool, cold even, and that must be slowing things down. Here we are in mid-June and it still doesn't feel summerish at times. The basil I planted outside weeks ago, mainly because I ran out of room in the greenhouse, has grown about 1 cm! Some spare Nicontiana (tobacco) plants I got from Luton Hoo are still the same size as when I planted them - they have grown a bit, and yet have lost a bit though being eaten.

Here I am, talking about the weather as if I could 'wish' it to be something else. When I am sitting in a stuffy office all day I have to almost forget about what's going on outside. I love the weather - just accepting it for what it is (on the whole) and enjoying being outdoors when ever I can.

Back to the garden. After an excess of activity in the spring, I seem to have left the garden to its own devices and just let it get on with allowing plants to do what they do best - grow! I think that managing small space can be hard work. I keep seeing odd bits in the media about encouraging people to grow vegetables. It isn't as easy as it sounds. It takes preparation, thought, planning and care. But it is very rewarding when things do survive and grow. Even I forget to keep the slugs and snails under proper control and as a result have lost sunflowers, runner beans and trays of lettuce seedlings.

The strawberries were fine, just added a bit of sugar as we don't keep a stock of cream in the house. Some warm sunshine I am sure would have increased their flavour. Lots more to come by the looks of things.


Notes made a few days ago whilst sitting by a farm road and stewarding for cars at Luton Hoo Walled Garden open day:

Sitting on the grass verge
under a sycamore tree rustling in the breeze.
Hot and sunny,
A Chaffinch sings in a tree,
Sparrows chattering in nearby gardens,
Slightly hazy clear blue sky,
Touching to coolness of Dock leaves,
The hardness of the gravel,
The warmth of the breeze,
The heat of the sun
The waving of the grass in the field,
A gentle buzz of a fly,
The cooing of a dove,
Sitting on the cool grass,
The damp earth,
Soft refreshing earth,
The constant chatter of a high skylark
Up in the heat haze - unseen,
Translucent dock leaves,
Tall slender grasses,
The warm smell of the tarmac road,
The humid sense of the undergrowth -
Nettles and things,
Beetles and spiders -
on the road, on my hand,
Other odd insects dancing by
almost unseen, like a glimpsed shadow,
White clovers and a tall pink vetch.

Talk to me dear landscape
What can I learn from you today?
Challenge me today I pray
Challenge my soul and call my dreams
to be aware of all things.

Wednesday, 11 June 2008

On Prayer

If you pray, things may happen, or they may not;
If you don't pray, things may happen anyway, or they may not...

Introduction and First Questions
God in the Mystery of Belief
People Finding Prayer
Writing Prayers
Jesus and Prayer
Grounding in Truth and Prayer
Prayer and Reality

Introduction and First Questions
At a recent Urban Saints staff conference I joined a session on the subject of prayer and how would it be possible to raise the prayer life of staff within the organisation. Some of the key points that stood out for me, or that I thought about, were:
  • What am I grounded in? (me: bible, nature....)

  • How much can you really change things through prayer?

  • How do/ you maintain momentum?

  • Does stuff just come in seasons (me: cf nature)?

  • What is your sacrifice when we are all so busy?

  • Can some things only be shifted by prayer?

  • Prayer reaches places we cannot know about

  • Is people's reluctance to pray actually because they don't have a personal philosophy/revelation of what prayer is? They may know it all, but somehow it just isn't a day to day reality to them that is grounded in their faith

  • Perhaps people are frightened to pray - when some very strange stories are told about what can happen when you do pray - spooky/supernatural or whatever (I know I do because it is outside of my daily experience of what I can understand). We may be conditioned to be scared of the 'supernatural' as it then comes close to being perceived as 'occultic' - and how do we deal with that?

  • "Pray to Jesus". Yes. "Pray to Nature". No. But... if you have the perspective that God is embodied/emspirited within Nature, then, if that is where you connect with God, you could have a slight problem (in general Christian circles) unless you can produce a convincing argument to back up your possibly perceived liberal and way off ideas....

God in the Mystery of Belief

Much spiritual literature and prayer around the world tells us that we can find God deep within the world and even with ourselves. Christians call this the mystery of incarnation; spirit and matter as one thing. ... Environmentalists and visionaries today face a similar task: to return spirituality to the Earth, grounding our spirituality and spiritualising our ground." ('Pray to Gaia' by Thomas Moore, Resurgence March/April 2008 No.247)

I have been surprised at how much "prayer" (talking to God, Divine connection or what ever you call it) happens in other religions, amongst pagans etc. now that I have become more aware of other ways of viewing the God. I do not want to say that a Christian's prayer IS the same as a Druid's invocation (or whatever you may call it) but a Holoist would probably argue that the difference is just cosmetic.

"In a tradition such as Druidry, the spell is a prayer: a respectful invocation that opens the soul and presents to to the gods and spirits of a situation's environment a request for inspiration, so that a solution can be found." (Orr, 'Living Druidry')

As it is perfectly possible for Druids to have a belief based the idea of a monotheistic God, I have no hesitation to draw some of their ideas into my writings. I have mentioned before that I rather like the idea of a Christian Druid though I might hesitate to actually call myself one - it does though bring me interest from other people searching the internet on the subject. Anyway, I am probably digressing, but this is my blog and I'm allowed to!

When I go to church and end up encouraged to worship Jesus, but then hear of a friend holding a women's drumming evening in her garden to drum for Tibet or some other big world issue, I wonder where I would rather be... Is "Being with God" actually what God would want from me or is being with people "praying" for suffering and injustice the place I should be... Who is right? Eeee, it's tricky stuff! Both are. Sort of. I think I am getting a bit bogged down again, so let's get back on track.

Prayer is...
Here are some quotes from John Odonohue about prayer (in Eternal Echoes):

  • Prayer should always develop the habit of delight.

  • Prayer should be the wild dance of the heart.

  • Prayer is an ancient longing, it has a special hunger and energy.

  • Prayer is an attempt to enter into harmony with the deeper rhythm of life.

  • Prayer issues from the threshold where soul and life interflow; it is the conversation between desire and reality.

  • Prayer awakens the soul and opens doors of possibility.

  • Prayer always brings transformation.

  • The unknown is our closest companion, it walks beside us every step of our journey. The unknown is also the place where each of us has come from. Prayer helps us build an inner shelter there.

  • Mystical prayer teaches us a rhythm of seeing that is dynamic and free and full of hospitality.

  • Each individual expresses and incarnates a different dimension of divinity. Each of us comes from a different place in the circle of the Divine. Consequently each of us prays out a different inner world and each one of us prays to a different place in the Divine circle. This is the place we left to come here. This is the empty nest in the Divine where the secrets of our origin, experience and destiny are stored. When we pray, we pray to that space in the Divine presence which absolutely knows us.

  • The magical thing about prayer is that it creates spiritual space. In spiritual space there is no distance.

  • It is a beautiful gift to draw someone into the shelter of your circle of prayer.

  • Prayer is the voice of longing; it reaches outwards and inwards to unearth our ancient belonging. Prayer is the bridge between longing and belonging.

  • I had written these out a couple of years ago and re-typing them here just lifted my soul. Here is, for me anyway, a way of seeing prayer that goes far beyond the "Jesus heal my cold" sort of thing. I am alsohappy to leave the strong intercessory and warrior-like prayers to other people - previous blogs have talked about my thoughts on the perception of a Warrior God. For me, prayer is almost like tuning into the essence of life. The whole attitude with which you face your existence in connection with the Divine is almost a constant prayer. You tune into intuition and a connection with everything around you. I like a language of poetry in prayer, the language that John Odonohue used in his writings touches many people following many different paths. It adds mystery to prayer and one's relationship with God. When some people seem to be so in tune with God you can feel utterly left out, bewildered and frustrated - because you don't connect at that level and yet it is 'expected' that you should. I'm not thinking of anyone in particular either. It is just the way that some people genuinely do things. If, one day, I reach that point, then I may be able to look back and see where I went wrong. Today, I can only do what I can do, within the parameters of my perspective. I can only pray with honesty and truthfulness that way. Anything else is just posing. I just feel I connect differently.

    People Finding Prayer
    So, how do you motivate people to pray? Perhaps modern society isn't designed for us to pray in. For the past 20 years or so I have heard the same messages about Christian prayer. Does anything change? Do we somehow need to step away from distractions of work, tv, family, eating, the internet etc. and seek time to be alone with God. Is it about sacrifice? Is it about getting the grounding right?

    "Prayer is a bridge between longing and belonging" John Odonohue

    People need to know who they are. They need to have a framework in which they can place their "God". They then need to build a bridge to help connect them and their God. Bridges need foundations, strength, a direction, ends and, of course, something to cross over. Prayer needs to be a bridge.

    Writing Prayers
    I really like to write prayers. You create them into existence and then they have permanence; a voice or whisper does not have that enduring quality. A prayer written in a book lasts long after it has been written. I believe it continues to have 'power' for as long as required. I was also wondering about poetry and wondering whether there was a deeper link between poetry and prayer - are they the same?

    A couple of years ago when I was facing redundancy I wrote a prayer on a small piece of canvas and placed it amongst some trees in a wood not far from home. I liked the idea of prayer flags, and this was my 'prayer flag' - offering a prayer to the wind that could sort of reach out into the world seemed a good idea to try. In my sketchoo/journal I often write small prayers or try pictorial/drawn prayers.

    Jesus and Prayer
    I wondered if Matthew Fox had anything to say about Jesus and prayer:

    Jesus is also lover and pray-er of nature. Mountains, deserts, parks, lakes welcomed him for days at a time as he suffered his fame and his loneliness and his beauty and his decision-making in all these sacred temples. His biggest and most innovative decision was the manner in which he chose to preach. He chose the way and the life of the story teller, the parable maker who fashions a new creation out of the holy materials of the only creation we all share in common: the birds, the lilies of the field, the fishes caught, the fig tree in bloom, the sheep verses the goats, the leven in the bread, the mustard seeds of the world, the rains that fall on unjust and just alike. His reverence for nature was so great that the creatures of nature were indeed his teachers, his professors, who he recognized instinctively were looking "on him with affectionate looks and with truth to tell.

    In his prayer he learns to pray to a creator God as "Abba", or "Papa" thus personalizing as no religion ever had the intimate bond between creature and Creator. His panentheistic Father/Mother God is forever a personal God".
    ('Original Blessing', Matthew Fox)

    Grounding in Truth and Prayer
    I like the previous quote and Fox touches on a point that will be the basis of some further blog study by me: how can Nature be a teacher? I come across the idea many times in my readings but would like to explore it further. Can Christian Truth be found in nature? I was asked about the idea of fundamental Truth a couple of years ago and didn't really have an answer. Perhaps it's out there... in the trees... in the soil that Jesus walked on... in the things that inspired Him... This goes back to the subject of grounding - in what am I grounded? Prayer should be part of the outworking of your grounding.

    Prayer as Reality
    Prayer can be dull, hard work, unrewarding and sometimes seemingly pointless. And anyway, how do you decide what thoughts are prayer, and which are just, well, daily thoughts that our minds present us with every minute of our woken day? If I spend a few minutes thinking about a particular situation that needs 'prayer', does it have any less value than offering it as a particular prayer in a set 'prayer time'? If my life is truly a sacred experience in walking with God in all I do, does that mean I don't have to pray specifically?

    Prayer should be a reality. A connection with the seen and the unseen. It should embrace mystery and the unknown. It should build love, compassion, trust, respect and passion for life. It should seek to bring inspiration and understanding to situations. It should be accepting of uncertainty, but it should have direction, meaning and the energy to expect change. It should be a reaching out to the unknown, an attempt to reach the source of our longing for meaning and existence.

    Prayer should "Be". It should be there, be around you, be amongst you, be within you, be in your doing, be in your resting. Not always just the calm, chilled out "Be", but a strong dynamic, purposeful "Be" too.

    Does it work? Well, do you need to ask the question? Does it matter if it does or not? As long as you are building a bridge you are building a connection between soul, spirit and the Divine.

    Do I practice this? I feel I have a long way to go...

    Thursday, 5 June 2008

    Compost Bin

    Here is a picture of my compost bin. I drew it one evening a couple of days ago. It's actually for a competition being run by wiggly wigglers - you had to draw a picture of something in your garden, but you had to actually go outside to do it. We've had so much rain recently that the garden is overrun with slugs and snails so I thought this would be an appropriate picture to draw. Took me about an hour.

    Sunday, 1 June 2008

    Rain, Cycling, Birdsong and Creation

    Last Sunday it rained. The beginning of almost four days of rain. I got up early and went for a walk up on Telegraph Hill. I had forgotten how un-waterproof my Barbour coat was. It rained hard. I got drenched. I love cow parsley and paths overgrown with grass, but when it is almost waist high and wet, I might just as well have waded through a river!

    Despite the pouring rain, I was amazed at how many hares I saw out on the farmland, they seemed everywhere.

    I stood for a while in a patch of woodland just listening to the rain in the trees. I could have stayed there for hours, but as I was cold and wet through I had to head home. I was going to take a photo of the woods inj the rain for this blog, but somehow I didn't think it would convey the whole sensory experience.

    Today I was up there again, this time on my bike having just done a decent bike ride. It was mid afternooon, overcast but with just a vague hint of warmth. Whether the wind was in a funny direction, or the clouds where absorbing all the distant plane/traffic noise, but it was so quiet. Apart from the birdsong in the woods. It almost sounded like a dawn chorus, though not quite as intense.

    The countryside is full of smells of field beans, barley and I am sure something else but I can't remember what. Everywhere is wet and I am sure the damp, warm sort of humid conditions bring out interesting smells. The oilseed rape and bluebells have passed over and the elderflower is just coming out. Wild roses are out in the hedgerows.

    Went along to church today for about the first time this year to a different style of service they were experimenting with. I give them ten out of ten for trying something new and getting everyone to sit on the floor in the auditorium. There was a "creation" room with some cute wildlife pics, videos and a basic questionnnaire for kids to fill in. I had been asked if I would contribute and at first I wished that I had done so, but the room was small and a bit cramped and in the end, what with so much going on in other rooms about different things, I was probably glad not to have done. I should have made a creation mural for people to write/draw on; some quotes or text about how we should be looking after creation; something about how man is destroying God's creation; some sort of vision for the future; something about how creation is all around us.... the list goes on. Remind me to say yes next time I am asked! It is a matter though of balancing out preparation time with 'appreciation/participation' time.

    Thank you for this day, for the freshness of the countryside, the fragrances of the landscape, the beauty of the wild roses and the abundance of growth in the garden. Inspire me this week as I journey, work and meet people. Thankyou for E and J.