in soul pursuit

in soul pursuit

Sunday, 17 July 2016

Mystical Theology - Reconciling with the Earth. St John's College, Durham, 7th - 9th September 2016

Dear All

Please find below details of our next InSpiRe event - the sequel to our wonderful mystical theology conference held at Durham in 2014. This year we shall be looking at issues of the environment, climate change, Laudato Si, Franciscan and Celtic spirituality with a stellar line up of speakers.
I hope to see many of you at it!

Kind regards

Peter

 

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.

 

Peter

 

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

Peter
 

 
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.

 

Peter
 

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.

Tuesday, 31 May 2016

Retreat Association Summer Event, Royal Foundation of St Katharine, Monday 6th June

As promised, here are the details of the Retreat Association Summer Event

Kind regards

Peter


Retreat Association Summer Event



The Royal Foundation of St Katharine, London

6 June 2016, 9:30am - 4:00pm

The day includes:

·         Guest speaker Professor Peter Tyler will be exploring the possibility of mindfulness in the Christian context.

·         Patrons Fr Christopher Jamison OSB and Rev Graham Sparkes will give their reflections. Liturgist Emily Walker will lead us in song.

·         Chair of Trustees Rev Ian Green and Executive Director Alison MacTier will outline the work of the Charity.

·         Sandwich lunch, morning coffee and afternoon tea.

Join us for a day of talks, discussions and opportunities to network.

A draft programme for the day is also available. Ticket price £48.

Fuengsin Trafford (1936 - 1995) - Pioneer of Buddhist-Christian Dialogue


 

 
Dear Friends

 

Next Monday I will be speaking at the Retreat Association Summer Event at The Royal Foundation of St Katharine (web link: http://www.retreats.org.uk/summer-event.html   I shall also put up a separate posting on this). The theme is ‘Christian Mindfulness?’ and as I was preparing for it over the last few weeks I had a pleasant surprise. Paul Trafford, the son of my first Buddhist teacher, Fuengsin Trafford, has published his account of her life and teachings: Thursday’s Lotus – The Life and Work of Fuengsin Trafford (available on Amazon). The book has been a complete joy for me. Not only has Paul captured the life and spirit of Fuengsin, it is doubly enjoyable for me as it took me back to the Worcestershire of my childhood in the 60s and 70s where Fuengsin and I both lived.

 

Fuengsin Trafford (Fuengsilapa Sarayutpitag) was a remarkable Thai lay Buddhist teacher. Born in 1936 in Thailand she moved to England in the early 1960s to take up a UNESCO fellowship programme at the Institute of Education in London (she was a very skilful teacher) where she met and married Tony Trafford, a Roman Catholic who worked for HM Customs and Revenue. As Paul Trafford writes:

 

‘Brought up as a practising Buddhist, at around the age of 20 she investigated many temples in and around Bangkok for a meditation teacher. After much searching, she found a suitable teacher named Ajahn Gaew, who taught her the practice of Dhammakaya meditation. A few years later, on the day of her departure to a land far away, a large band of monks, as well as friends and colleagues, gathered at Donmuang Airport. In her tribute to Ajahn Gaew, a contribution to a memorial of his life, she relates how he informed her that she would spread the Dhamma in the West. She found this hard to believe, but she was soon gaining experiences in Hampshire and 10 to 15 years later there were developments that made her reflect that the prediction might come true after all…’

 

As a pioneer in the UK she helped create the contemporary Buddhist scene by establishing and helping to form Buddhist groups across the country. As a lay-woman she was always diffident about her ability to teach the Dhamma, however several Abbots and teachers in Thailand gave her special permission to convey the Dhamma which she duly did before her untimely death in 1995 of cancer. Paul Trafford again:

 

'Particularly during her later years, Fuengsin was very actively involved in Inter-Faith Dialogue. She was part of the Multi-Faith Centre, based at Harborne Hall in Birmingham, under the direction of Sister Dr Mary Hall. This centre has been a pioneer in dialogue with a team of representatives from the six major Faiths – Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Sikhism and Buddhism – travelling around and sharing aspects of their spiritual journeys. A highlight of their work was a series of lectures in North America, including some at the UN building in New York – Fuengsin was a member of this delegation. Fuengsin worked at a number of other centres, including King Edward’s Sixth Form College in Stourbridge and the federation of colleges in Selly Oak.'

 


In this, the first biography of her, we find out about the range and ability of this remarkable woman. Buddhism, like Christianity (or psychotherapy for that matter) is sometimes riven with disagreements and arguments between the different schools or ‘vehicles’. One of Fuengsin’s most endearing qualities was her ability to transcend these divisions. For her the Buddha (and Buddhism) was greater than any particular sect and in her teachings she often went to the heart of the matter. Here are some quotes of hers from an interview she gave to the County Express and which Paul has placed on his Fuengsin website http://fuengsin.org

 

“Buddhism is all about trying your best – it’s not necessary to crave for perfection, because if you try too hard for anything you don’t achieve it.

“Your behaviour is only a reflection of your mind.

“When you meditate you become single-minded – that doesn’t mean narrow-minded, merely that your mind is opening up and you are more capable of appreciating and understanding things.

“The key words are compassion, kindness and love.

“Buddhism can change your life if you follow it – it has certainly given me strength to cope with things over the years. Based on the four [noble] truths of Buddha, life certainly becomes richer.”

 

In his book Paul also relates an extraordinary incident which affected the course of my life. As a Jesuit novice in Birmingham our enlightened novice master allowed us to attend the Interfaith Course at Harborne Hall mentioned above. The highlight of the course for me was Fuengsin’s teaching. I had had an on-off relationship with Buddhism for many years and as well as reading widely around the subject I had visited Buddhist viharas such as the Friends of the Western Buddhist Order (now Triratna) in Bethnal Green. Fuengsin, however, was the first Eastern Buddhist I had encountered at close quarters who was able to answer (or at least try to answer) some of the many questions I had had about Buddhism. She dealt with my (what were probably very stupid) questions admirably. But we also struck up a deal. For my private Buddhist tuition I would teach her Western philosophy which I had studied at Oxford University. I was very happy to do this and we found all sorts of resonances between philosophers such as Kant, Hume and Wittgenstein and the teachings of Lord Buddha. Our conversations continued for over 2 years, at the end of which I decided that the Jesuit life was not for me (here I was helped by the sage words of Fr Gerry Hughes SJ, an appreciation of whom I have posted on another part of this blog). However, even after I had left the Order, Fuengsin and I continued to meet and debate. During this difficult part of my life she was a great pastoral help as well as an intellectual help. I remember very vividly when during this time I asked her if I should consider taking refuge as a Buddhist. Her reply, quick as a flash, was pure Fuengsin: Best way for you to be Buddhist is to be good Roman Catholic. Wow! Here was a woman ‘sent to the West’ to spread the Dhamma urging me to remain a Roman Catholic! She was of course right as the subsequent 20 years have shown. I think what I sought in Buddhism then – especially mindfulness, contemplation and the way of peace– can be found equally upon the Christian path. Consequently when the Retreat Association asked me to give the address next week I was delighted to accept and perhaps tease out again some of those wonderful synergies between Buddhism and Christianity that Fuengsin has first revealed to me. In the words of Francis Vineeth CMI ( see other blog post on him),  Lord Jesus remains my ‘sat-guru’ – my highest guru. However, I have enormous respect also for the teachings of Lord Buddha who offers extraordinary insights into the human condition. Let us continue to work then for dialogue and harmony between our two wonderful religions, very much in the loving spirit of Fuengsin – a remarkable and much missed pioneer of Buddhist-Christian Dialogue.