in soul pursuit

in soul pursuit

Monday, 10 October 2016

The Pursuit of the Soul: Oxford University 19th November 2016

Dear All,

Please find below details of our next 'soul day' at Rewley House, Oxford on 19th November. Everyone is welcome!

Best wishes



Friday, 23 September 2016

Book Review: Taboo or To Do? Ross Clifford and Philip Johnson

Book Review – Peter Tyler


Taboo or to do? Is Christianity complementary with yoga, martial arts, Hallowe’en, mindfulness and other alternative practices?

Authors: Ross Clifford and Philip Johnson

Date: 2016

Publisher: Darton, Longman and Todd

ISBN: 978-0-232-53253-1

pp 224  pbk


Successive waves of non-Christian belief and practice have been hitting the shores of Christianity in the past few decades. Following in the footsteps of the Beatles, the ‘West’ has become fascinated with, successively, Transcendental Meditation (TM – remember that?), yoga, Tai Chi, and latterly, mindfulness. Each in its way has held up the promise of spiritual and emotional wellbeing, usually through the pursuance of certain programmes, courses, and nowadays, apps or online interaction. The authors of this new book – two Australian Baptists – round up all these with many of the usual suspects in the battle to keep Christianity untainted by such distractions: astrology, tarot, and even aromatherapy, crystals and angels. The result is an interesting and diverting book, not least in the insights it throws on the unease these practices have caused in some quarters of Christendom. From a Catholic perspective, and to give the authors their due they respect this, this of course is nothing new. We are reminded (p.206) that during the re-evangelisation of Britain by St Mellitus he was advised by Pope St Gregory the Great not to destroy pagan temples but to ritually purify them and re-consecrate them back to Christ. This is largely the position the authors adopt in their survey. Taking each practice in turn they examine the case for and against the adoption of the practice and offer what they call ‘case studies’ for discernment of each. I get the sense that this will be enormously helpful for the readership to which the book is intended (probably not this reviewer) and will help many Christians who are unacquainted with such practices to feel less threatened by them. The weakness in the book lies in the potted biographies of each practice. For a book of this size one cannot expect in-depth academic analysis however some of the summaries do appear on the facile side and any practitioner of Buddhism, Hinduism or Taoism reading the book would probably be shocked by some of the trite generalisations made. Not to mention the Roman Catholic reader – one of the few RC’s mentioned, Dom Bede Griffiths OSB, is considered ‘out there’ and the text has several odd statements such as suggesting All Saints’ Day might be celebrated in a church the evening before (isn’t that the whole point of All Hallows Eve?) and the even more startling: ‘we know of churches where angels are taboo’! That said I applaud the open-mindedness of the authors which is probably not so easy considering the milieu from which they are operating. However the authors might profitably have learnt more from Christians living in societies such as India who have had to deal with these interactions for millennia and have made a fine art of sifting the helpful from the unhelpful amongst the spiritual practices within which they find themselves immersed. Generally the presentation is fine, apart from some annoying typos and the continuing DLT trend not to include an index – which really should be curtailed – and in this instance no bibliography either. Douglas Adams is quoted on p.208 and to quote the master again, in the view of the authors the practices discussed are ‘mostly harmless’. However in expressing ‘the need for the Christian community to show maturity and take a lead’, to accept that we live in ‘a syncretistic world’ and realise that we must carefully discern how to ‘exercise Christ-honouring discipleship without “demonizing” other ways of approaching life’ the authors are to be commended. 





Peter Tyler

September 2016


Tuesday, 20 September 2016

Swami Sadanand and Swami Abhishiktananda

Dear All,
I have recently submitted two articles to be published by the 'Pastoral Review' and 'Vinayasadhana' concerning these two giants of contemporary Indian spirituality: Swami Abhishiktananda (Henri de Saux) and Swami Sadanand. I had the great privilege to meet the latter earlier this year shortly before he died in April and the encounter made a lasting impression. These articles are part of the fruit of that encounter and I am sure there will be much more to come. I reproduce parts from both here.
I am grateful to conversations with, inter alia, Fr Kurian Perumpallikunnel CMI, Fr Jose Nandhikkara CMI, Fr Anto Vattakuzhy CMI, Fr Saju Chackalackal CMI and Cecilia von Bertrab to help formulate some of the ideas contained here. For more information on Swamiji's life and work see and
The articles are dedicated to his memory:
‘The wellbeing of all creatures is the joy of God; everything in the universe is the gift of God, proclaiming his presence; everything I offer at your feet at every moment; O my God your will is my will’ (Swami Sadanand).



Swami Abhishiktananda

From an early stage of his time in India, Abhishiktananda asked the question: ‘Does Hindu sannyāsa really have an equivalent in Christianity?’ (Diary entry, 7.1.1954, p.88)[1] and it was in exploring this end that much of the rest of his life in India was dedicated (he never returned to his native France). For him, especially after spending time on the sacred mountain of Arunachāla in Southern India, the heart of sannyāsa became a complete stripping, a complete emptying which for him was centred upon silence, solitude and poverty:


          Sannyāsa involves not only withdrawal from society, from the social and    religious framework, from social and religious obligations etc. but also a         fundamental commitment beyond the intellectual framework of one’s          life. (Diary 7.1.54, p.88)


We could argue that Abhishiktananda’s sannyāsa was even more extreme than the Hindu version (certainly more so that Tagore’s). The Hindu tradition involves a ritualised stripping away prescribed for certain castes (and indeed gender) only. What Abhishiktananda was advocating was something far more radical – it was a ‘sannyāsa beyond sannyāsa’ – a stripping away that also included the stripping away of all (what he saw) as unnecessary religion accoutrements. In 1954 he wrote in his Diary that ‘Sannyāsa, in its total renunciation and its total liberation, is incompatible with ecclesial Christianity, which does not admit the possibility of itself being transcended’ (7.1.54, p.88).  In 1954 it was the transcendence of Christianity that preoccupied him. Twenty years later in his last written essay, on sannyāsa, he prescribes it as the ‘renunciation of renunciation’ – it would for him ultimately go beyond every religious form, including Hinduism. The Hindu attempt to make  sannyāsa the fourth stage of life was, he felt, ‘an attempt of Hindu society to win back, and at least to some extent, to reintegrate with itself those who had renounced everything’ (The Further Shore: p.17).[2] No doubt this attitude was inspired by the wild (and possibly psychotic) swamis he met on the banks of the Ganges in his own final period of renunciation. At this stage there is no theology or learning left, such a person has become what he calls a ‘fire sannyasi’ (The Further Shore, p.22) who ‘becomes indifferent, on that very day he should go forth and roam’ (The Further Shore p.22).

          Despite his desire to live this extreme lifestyle this was to prove impossible for him. He had difficulty living in isolation at Gyansu, his little hut on the banks of the Ganges, and spent half the year there and the other half teaching and travelling in the Plains. After his own heart attack in July 1973 he realised he would never live in his ‘cave’ again and died later that year in a nursing home at Indore.


The Possibility of Christian Sannyāsa?

If then the traditional practice was too much for a spiritual titan such as Henri le Saux is the practice one that is defensible or indeed legitimate for Christians? As is often the case, Tagore suggests a possible compromise solution. As a young man, writing in 1892 in his early thirties, he made an interesting remark with reference to sannyāsa:


If by nature I were a sanyasi (sic), then I would have spent my life pondering life’s transcience, and no day would have gone by without a solemn rite to the glory of God. But I am not, and my mind is preoccupied instead by the beauty that disappears from my life each day; I feel I do not appreciate it properly. [3]


And a year later:


There are two aspects to India: the householder and the sanyasi. The first refuses to leave his home hearth, the second is utterly homeless. Inside me both aspects are to be found. [4]


And I think it is in such a ‘creative unity’ as Tagore expressed it that we can find the ‘coincidence of opposites’ that I think could best characterize the ‘Christian sannyāsi’.

          In the Indian tradition the sannyāsi ‘owns no place and no person and has to be by definition a solitary wanderer’ (Thottakara p.561). The Christian, in contrast, by virtue of their consecration to Christ, remains in service to the world even though they do not identify with the world’s goals and aims.[5] Yet, in spite of the differences between the extreme Hindu version of sannyāsa (as attempted to be practised by Abhishiktananda) and the Christian versions of active holiness it is possible to see both Indian sannyāsa and Christian spiritual life as two aspects of the final encounter and relationship with the ultimate goal of human life – our encounter with the limit of human mortality and the embrace of Sister Death. Thottakara calls it ‘the Yoga mind’ that integrates apparently bi-polar realities and he mentions Fr Francis Vineeth CMI, founder of the Vidyavanam ashram near Bangalore, as an example of a modern sadhu ‘who tries to awaken the religious-spiritual consciousness of the sadhakas and develop in them a soul culture that is deeply rooted in the age old principles of Indian spirituality and in the immensely rich Christian spiritual traditions without at the same time negating the positive values of matter, body and this world’ (p.558). At heart what Indian sannyāsa and Christian spiritual life have in common is that for both renunciation, whether of the world or the ego, must be connected with love and surrender to the creator.[6] In this way both Indian and Christian traditions embrace on the threshold of the infinite.

          Nowhere is this better illustrated than in the rich life of Swami Sadanand, a Christian sannyāsi, who died earlier this year. Swamiji, as he was popularly known, had spent his whole life since taking the robe of a sannyāsi, pursuing justice and truth for the poorest and most alienated in India whilst also practising the deep ascetic and meditational life of a sadhu. He famously befriended the murderer of a Catholic nun, Sr Rani Maria, whilst he served his time in prison so that when he was released, and repented his crimes, he was accepted into the late nun’s family. Such was the fame of this reconciliation that Pope Francis invited Swamiji, the nun’s murderer and family to Rome in 2014. I had the great good fortune to meet Swamiji shortly before his death earlier this year and, perhaps more than any argument in this short article, his presence and life are a convincing testimony to the possibility of Christian sannyāsa. To experience his smile, won despite a lifetime of hardship and suffering, was to experience the loving blessing of the Saviour. In loving tribute I dedicate this article to his memory.




[1] Edited by R. Panikkar and published as:  Ascent to the Depth of the Heart: The Spiritual Diary (1948 – 1973) of Swami Abhishiktananda (Dom H. le Saux). Trans. D. Fleming and J. Stuart. Delhi: ISPCK, 1998. Hereafter ‘Diary’.
[2] The Further Shore, Abhishiktananda. New Delhi: ISPCK, 1975.
[3] Letter to his nephew, 15th June 1892 from Shelidah, reprinted in Glimpses of Bengal: Selected Letters by Rabindranath Tagore, ed K. Dutta and A. Robinson, London: Macmillan, 1991.
[4] Letter to his nephew, 7th February 1893, ibid.
[5] Although, as Thottakara notes, in recent years Buddhists, Hindus and Jains have all taken to more communitarian models of sannyāsa imitating in many ways Christian monastic models of service to the world, the poor and downtrodden (p.562).
[6] It is interesting that the entry to the final stage of sannyāsa in Indian tradition is accompanied by a renunciation ceremony. The Christian tradition of consecrated life has no such ‘vow’ or ‘ceremony’ to mark this final phase – perhaps it might be something that should be developed?

Thursday, 15 September 2016

PhD Scholarship at St Mary's University Twickenham - Spirituality and Reconciliation

Dear All,

Please find below an advert for a new PhD scholarship at St Mary's. Please feel free to circulate to anyone you think may be interested.

All good wishes



Friday, 15 July 2016

Pope Francis, Brexit and ‘The Third World War in Pieces’

Pope Francis, Brexit and ‘The Third World War in Pieces’


When Jesus* saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. 2Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:

3 ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

4 ‘Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

5 ‘Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

6 ‘Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

7 ‘Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.

8 ‘Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

9 ‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

10 ‘Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

11 ‘Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely* on my account. 12Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

The horrific events in Nice on Bastille Day focus our attention away from Brexit to the wider context in which these events are taking place. Drawing a breath after the chaos of the last few weeks I find myself drawn (as usual) to the visionary words of Pope Francis. Over the past 12 months (repeated at the private audience we attended with him in Rome last November) he has spoken repeatedly that we are now in ‘una terza guerra combattatua a pezzi’ – literally ‘a third world war being fought in episodes (or pieces)’. Well I don’t think it is too far-fetched to see the events in the United Kingdom over the past few weeks as our response to this new heightened international situation. The Brexit vote can be seen largely as a response to the same incidents that caused the Pope’s words: the rise of international terrorism (as evidenced once again in Nice), the largest refugee crisis since 1945 and the economic crisis of the West. I am not the only one to compare events here over the past few weeks to the 1930s. In response to these events the British people have almost done the opposite of what they did in the 1930s. Faced with our international obligations and responsibilities we have decided to turn our backs on our European allies and look inwards. We shall only henceforth (and the new Cabinet reveals this) be concerned with our own economic interests. We will show little interest in coming to the help of our European allies, unless we gain some economic benefits. The contrast with other European nations, such as Germany, couldn’t be greater – however faced with the persistent onslaughts of these wider global events who knows how these other electorates may react in the future. If nothing else, we have learnt in the past few weeks that in these weird times previous voting patterns can no longer be taken for granted.

What is to be the Christian response to these events?

As we hear in Christ’s words in the Beatitudes, as His followers we are called to be ‘signs of contradiction’. What is valued by ‘the world’ will not necessarily be our priority. I would like to suggest that as the people of the UK choose their position for this time of international global crisis (and make no mistake, friends reading this from US and the rest of Europe – what has happened in the UK today will be happening in your countries tomorrow), Christians must now take the path of the Beatitudes, the path of contradiction. If our country continues along this road of national isolationism it will be beholden upon us to remember that our obligation is to all humanity, especially to the weakest and most suffering. What is for sure is that as the situation deteriorates there will be a concomitant increase in the vocation to the spiritual. We must all be prepared now to listen, help and educate those who will re-find the word of God again in these troubling times.

What should we do then at this time?

First, as I said before we must be penitent and make confession for our own narrow-mindedness and deafness to the calls of our fellow human beings. Also be aware of how our own actions have contributed to the deteriorating situation in which we find ourselves.

Secondly, we must be vigilant, in all our language and actions. We must be careful not to fuel the flames of hatred arising in our societies. We must be careful of building walls – whether they are national walls or walls in our hearts - another theme reiterated by Pope Francis in recent months.

Finally, we must remember that our true home and source lies in Christ. All kingdoms, all powers, all passports will pass away.

And, of course, beauty, truth and love will not pass away no matter how much humanity seeks to destroy it. I end with the words of that great European Brit, W.H.Auden, who knew a thing or two about confronting ignorance and prejudice in times of international strife.

Let us continue to pray for each other in these troubled times.




Moon Landing

It’s natural the Boys should whoop it up for
so huge a phallic triumph, an adventure
    it would not have occurred to women
    to think worth while, made possible only

because we like huddling in gangs and knowing
the exact time: yes, our sex may in fairness
    hurrah the deed, although the motives
    that primed it were somewhat less than menschlich.

A grand gesture. But what does it period?
What does it osse? We were always adroiter
    with objects than lives, and more facile
    at courage than kindness: from the moment

the first flint was flaked this landing was merely
a matter of time. But our selves, like Adam’s,
    still don’t fit us exactly, modern
    only in this – our lack of decorum.

Homer’s heroes were certainly no braver
than our Trio, but more fortunate: Hector
    was excused the insult of having
    his valor covered by television.

Worth going to see? I can well believe it.
Worth seeing? Mneh! I once rode through a desert
    and was not charmed: give me a watered
    lively garden, remote from blatherers

about the New, the von Brauns and their ilk, where
on August mornings I can count the morning
    glories, where to die has a meaning,
    and no engine can shift my perspective.

Unsmudged, thank God, my Moon still queens the Heavens
as She ebbs and fulls, a Presence to glop at,
    Her Old Man, made of grit not protein,
    still visits my Austrian several

with His old detachment, and the old warnings
still have power to scare me: Hybris comes to
    an ugly finish, Irreverence
    is a greater oaf than Superstition.

Our apparatniks will continue making
the usual squalid mess called History:
    all we can pray for is that artists,
    chefs and saints may still appear to blithe it.

August 1969



Tuesday, 28 June 2016

Pastoral Letter in a Time of Brexit

Dear Friends

In response to some of the troubling conversations I have had this week please see below a Pastoral Letter.

Much love


A Pastoral Letter to a Friend in a Time of ‘Brexit’


‘In this you rejoice, even though now for a little while you have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials, so that the genuineness of your faith – being more precious than gold which, though perishable, is refined through fire – may be found to result in the praise and glory and honour of the revelation of Jesus Christ.’ I Peter 1: 6-7


My dear friend,

You wrote this morning about how frightened you feel about what is happening in our continent at this time. First of all, let me reassure you that you are not alone. Like all people of heart and sensitivity you are distressed to see unscrupulous people exploiting human weaknesses, that we all have, for personal gain. In this, we are all suffering humanity and prey to the same dark forces of the unconscious. Within our own minds lie the racists, torturers and murderers of the short twentieth century – this much we should have all learnt by now. First and foremost, in reaction to recent events we are all called to repentance. We must all examine our consciences very carefully and acknowledge the part that we have played in contributing to the madness presently engulfing our countries.

Secondly, you are right – this is a time of trial. As St Peter reminds us, our faith must be tested. For years now we Christians have bemoaned the ebbing tide of faith on this continent. Well, God may have answered our prayers – but not quite in the way we were expecting. He is, after all, ‘the God of surprises’ and, well, he has surprised us again! In the coming days, weeks and months we shall all be tested at the deepest possible levels: mind, body, heart and, above all, spirit. As the Apostle warns us, this will be a refining and purifying fire and much will have to be burnt away. Sadly we are living at a time of appalling spiritual ignorance. The result of years of hollowing away of our collective spiritual literacy means that we are ill-equipped to survive the trial we are being summoned to. We believe there are only two things that, ultimately, can help us (as the church has always taught): the overwhelming love of Christ and the support of each other (the church on earth). Please be assured of my deepest prayers and support at this time and I ask for yours, dear friend, too. Together we shall support each other. We are being called to account – perhaps sooner than we might have expected. God help us all.

Finally, and probably least importantly, you enquire about the political situation. Tempting though it is to indulge in party politics I shall refrain from doing so. The facts are these: for the first time in our life-times our British parliamentary democracy is being tested in a way it has not been before. I have great faith in the wisdom, common-sense and good humour of my fellow countrymen and women and I feel confident that we shall find a way forward through this madness. However, we must also prepare for the worst. The poison of nationalism and racism has been injected into the veins of the Body Politic at a time of heightened terrorist activity. It is a dangerous drug and history teaches that once a people has tasted its artificial sweetness it becomes dependent upon it. Racism, and its concomitant dehumanising violence, must be resisted  at every level – otherwise we stare into the abyss.

In summary, then, dark forces are at work dear friend, however, when was that not the case! As Christians we live in the pale light of the Easter Dawn. In such light even the cruelty and barbarity of the cross is transfigured. What is for sure is that we all have a choice. We can run away or ignore it – yet how far, ultimately, will that get us? St Peter, fleeing persecution, encountered the Risen Lord walking determinedly back towards those very same horrors. ‘Quo Vadis Domine?’, he famously asked, ‘Where are you going to Lord?’ Now we must each ask our Lord the same question all over again. As the prophet says:


‘And this is the writing that was inscribed: Mene, Mene, Tekel and Parsin.

This is the interpretation of the matter:

MENE – God has numbered the days of your kingdom and brought it to an end.

TEKEL – You have been weighed in the balance and found wanting.

PARSIN – Your kingdom is divided and given to the Medes and Persians.’

(Daniel 5: 25-31)


Our kingdom is divided. May God give us all strength to come through this time of trial.


Yours in solidarity with our fellow suffering humanity.



Saturday, 25 June 2016

Brexit - a Europe of the Spirit

A Europe of the Spirit


On hearing the Brexit news last week the Catholic Bishops of England and Wales prayed the prayer of the late Cardinal Martini invoking the call for a ‘Europe of the Spirit’ – the Europe of saints and philosophers, artists and reformers. How fragile and vulnerable that spirit seems today. We have witnessed a volte face in the past few days. One correspondent noted that ‘nothing has changed’. She was right, nothing has changed. Yet, as Wittgenstein once said, ‘nothing has changed – yet everything has changed’. The facts have not changed. The fact of widespread, crippling and endemic unemployment has not changed. The fact of the greatest refugee crisis facing Europe since 1945 has not changed. The fact of brutalised people wanting to slaughter innocent citizens has not changed. The facts have not changed. What has changed is our attitude. We have let the genie out of the bottle, and history teaches that once this is done it is harder to squeeze it back in. We have released the toxic dialectic of race into our discourse. The electorate has proposed a racial solution to the facts. We shall resolve these problems through racial lenses – an English solution for an English people. We shall pull up our drawbridge and deal with these problems on our own terms. So be it. However for Christians this is troubling. First and foremost, our Christian response should be, not what we can grab from the EU, but what can we give to the EU. The UK is amongst one of the richest nations on earth, we must be prepared to shoulder our burden for the common good.
Amongst our European saints and philosophers is one who witnessed at first hand the last time these ‘solutions’ were tried out on European soil. Edith Stein (St Teresa Benedicta a Cruce) was a Jewess, atheist, German, Catholic and Carmelite nun. For her, labels are meaningless. Yet during the gravest crisis that Europe faced in the 1930s she recognised that at the heart of human existence was our intimate, fragile and mysterious relationship with the Divine. She also recognised that once that secret relationship was distorted and maimed by unscrupulous voices nothing can stop humans from entering the abyss. Now more than ever do we need her intercession. I have been praying to her constantly since last week. Not to protect us from our outside forces but to protect us from ourselves. We must heed the call to repentance. We must ask ourselves what part our own prejudice and ignorance is playing in the events that are unfolding with terrifying rapidity around us. How have we allowed our own racist fears to creep into our interpretation of the facts? How have we brutalised ourselves from the cries of our fellow human beings drowning and weeping on the shores of Europe? How have we ignored the gentle promptings of the Holy Spirit in our dealings with our fellow human beings? Like Edith, we all must now face these difficult questions today, at this hour, if greater catastrophes are to be averted...


As Matthew Parris has detailed in the Times last Saturday, this is not a fait accompli. What we have now is a constitutional mess. Two forms of democracy have clashed and the one that has worked more or less successfully for around 500 years (representational democracy) has been trumped by the third experiment  in direct democracy for the whole country in the history of the United Kingdom. The displeasure (and in some cases nausea) of our elected representatives to enact a vaguely kneejerk direct mandate is apparent – as Parris with his inside knowledge of parliament and the Tory party makes clear. It is clear that we must have another general election to secure this new mandate and this will happen within the next 12 months. This is the only way a Brexit mandate could be secured and enacted. The 60 million dollar question is – will the British electorate support such a mandate? This election will be a Brexit Election, it will be the only issue on the table. It is highly likely that such a mandate can be rejected – especially as seems now likely that we have entered into six months of unremitting economic and political chaos. So, now, for all who value freedom and the Europe of the Spirit (especially the young) the way forward is clear. We must prepare ourselves mentally, spiritually and physically for the struggle of the election to come. This will be the only issue we can fight and we must support all candidates who oppose the Brexit. At the same we must be extremely vigilant about our thoughts, actions and reactions.

Edith Stein, St Teresa Benedicta a Cruce, Pray for the United Kingdom, Pray for Europe, Pray for All Suffering Humanity. Amen.