in soul pursuit

in soul pursuit

Thursday, 1 June 2017

Come Holy Spirit!


 ‘Suddenly from Heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind and it filled the entire house’

Acts 2:2

Thoughts from India

Dear All,

It is good to be back from India where I had a wonderful time thanks to the kindness of my friends there. Here are some thoughts to prepare us for the great Feast of Pentecost inspired by my time there.

 

 

The ashram where I was staying in the Himalayas had been started by Vandana Mataji, a co-worker of the French Benedictine, Henri Le Saux. Born in 1910 to a poor Breton family, Le Saux had a long interest in India and Indian spirituality joining at an early age the minor seminary at Châteaugiron in 1921 before entering the Benedictine order at the Abbey of Sainte-Anne de Kergonan in 1929. In 1948 he sailed to India to begin a monastic community with his fellow French priest, Jules Monchanin, their aim being to live the ancient Western monastic life within the frame and ambit of classical Indian ideas, philosophy and spiritual practice. The monastery they founded, normally called Shantivanam (The Forest of Peace), survived their passing and today flourishes, however while they both lived there it largely remained (as both priests liked it) a quiet and empty hermitage. Both priests began wearing the kavi of the Hindu renouncer in the 1950s at which time Henri le Saux took the name Abishikteśvarānda (throughout this article I have used the normal English version of his name, Swami Abhishiktananda, omitting the diacritics). In 1968, Swami Abhishiktananda decided to head north to the source of the Ganges where he spent the final years of his life alternating between a small hermitage he had built there and seeking to convey his message to a new generation of seekers to India.

          Still controversial today after his death in 1973 there are elements in his life and writings that pre-empt our twenty-first century concerns in a prophetic fashion. A few days after my return to England we suffered the horrendous attack on the Manchester Arena. Watching the groups of mourning, distressed and disconsolate folk in that proud city I was reminded once again of the Swami’s message: that we must open up to the new possibilities that are now arising. Accordingly in this article I would like to concentrate on a key aspect of the Swami’s teaching: that we are now being called by the Risen Christ to a new awakening and the instrument for that call will, certainly, be the ‘vent de l’esprit’.

 

The Trinitarian Nature of Christian Prayer

In her wisdom the Church presents us with a wonderful series of mysteries to contemplate week by week as we proceed through the church year, beginning with the Annunciation, passing through the mysteries of the Incarnation, the call to Christ’s ministry and suffering leading to his Crucifixion and Resurrection. Now we are led at this climax of Easter to the Ascension and the Descent of the Holy Spirit. All this culminates in the great feast of the Trinity which we celebrate shortly. For, as the church reminds us, we cannot think of Christian life, Christian vocation, Christian action or indeed Christian prayer outside the Trinitarian perspective. As St Paul puts it in the Letter to the Romans (8: 26 – 29):

 

The spirit participates in our weakness for we do not know how to pray as we should,

But that very Spirit supplicates on our behalf with unutterable groanings.

 

And the Father who searches the heart knows the mind of the Spirit,

Because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to God.

 

We know that in all things God works for good for those who love God

And they are called according to God’s purpose.

 

And for those whom he knew long ago

He also destined that they be conformed to the Ikon of his Son

 

So that He would be the first-born of a large family.

 

The passage is truly wonderful as we realise that our Christian prayer is caught up in the ‘conversation’ between the Father and Son by the Spirit, even if we have no idea what our ‘groanings’ are going to accomplish. The inevitable consequence of being caught up in this conversation is that we are initiated into ‘the large family’, the Church, to which we are destined by virtue of our baptism. Thus, for Abhishiktananda ‘the Church is essentially a spiritual reality and the Christian religion is, first of all, a living experience in the Spirit’ (Renewal of the Indian Church: 1). Therefore, he continues, Christian life must be lived at the level of the Spirit, if we do not allow the Spirit into our prayers and lives we are not really acting as Christians. The Gospel writers talk of Christ as the lodestone of the psyche (or soul) that leads to the Spirit – the pneuma. Christ, as it were, produces, an ethical field that surrounds our thoughts and souls, so that the psyche now has a moral or ethical life. By focussing our lives on Christ, they suggest, we will be led to the Spirit. Contemplation in the Christian tradition is thus not something that focuses on attaining esoteric inner states through self-absorption, but rather it is the process that leads the soul (the psyche) to the Spirit – the pneuma: ‘Those who try to make their psyche secure will lose it, but those who lose their psyche will keep it’ (Lk 17.33 see also Matt 16.25, Mk 8.35 and Lk 9.24).

          This then colours how we view contemplation in the Christian tradition. As Abhishiktananda puts it: ‘by contemplation we do not refer simply to a life of habitual separation from the world and its lawful activities, that is to the acosmic life of the monk or hermit’ (Renewal of the Indian Church: 5). Christian contemplation is not a withdrawal from the world but a call to re-engage with the world, but, and here is the rub, with the Spirit at the centre of our activity. What St Ignatius called ‘becoming a contemplative in action’. In a letter to Antonio Brandao written in 1551outlining how he saw the balance of prayer and work in the life of his Jesuit scholastics, he gave a list of practical activities wherein they can find God, concluding the letter by stating that: ‘this kind of meditation – finding God our Lord in everything – is easier than lifting ourselves up and laboriously making ourselves present to abstract divine realities. Moreover, by making us properly disposed, this excellent exercise will bring great visitations of our Lord even in short prayers’ (Letters of St Ignatius in Ganss: 353). As this passage reveals, action and contemplation are for Ignatius two sides of the same coin and one cannot develop mystical pieties without at the same time developing a life of Christian action in the world. Over-emphasis on the latter has sometimes led to downplaying the former.

So therefore as we contemplate these great mysteries of Pentecost let us remember that the descent of the Spirit reminds us of our essential Trinitarian nature: rooted in Christ we look both to the Father in Heaven as well as to our fellow suffering humans on earth. We all live in what Abhishiktananda called ‘the cave of the heart’ but we also extend our hand of service to suffering humanity in the tears and bloodshed of bombs, death and civil strife. For contemplation is ‘the constant attention to the mystery which we are, by nature and grace, in the deepest recesses of our own spirit’ (Renewal of the Indian Church p.6). Edith Stein, the great Carmelite martyr of Auschwitz, reminded us that we sit with the ‘God-man’, Jesus Christ, on the axis of the infinite spirit and finite suffering flesh. Let us remember this constantly in the coming days of what the Orthodox call ‘The Bright Week’ – recalling our birth-rite in the Spirit and our duty to our fellow suffering humanity.

 

Come Holy Spirit!

Bringing from Heaven

The radiance of your light.

 

Come Father of the Poor

Come giver of all gifts

Come light of our hearts!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

Sods and Clods




A new book - a new allotment! As I start writing the new book on mindfulness and Christian contemplation I turn the first soil on my newly acquired allotment in South London. Let's see what grows!

Peter

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

Contemplation to Give Love - Mindful Contemplation for Easter




Happy Easter!

I am presently working on a series of meditations that combine mindfulness with the Christian contemplative tradition. Here is the 'Contemplation to Give Love' which I hope you might enjoy exercising over the Easter period.

God Bless

Peter


St Ignatius of Loyola ends his Spiritual Exercises with an ecstatic ‘Contemplation to Attain Love’. Here is a part of it:


I recall the gifts I have received, my creation, redemption and other gifts particular to myself , I will ponder with deep affection how much God our Lord has done for me, and how much he has given me...

I see how God dwells in all creatures, in the elements, giving them being, in the plants, in the animals – feeling in them, in humans giving them to understanding and so in me, giving me being, animating me, giving me feeling  and understanding...

I will speak as one making an offering with deep affection: ‘Take, Lord, and receive, all my liberty, my memory, my understanding and all my will – all that I have and possess... Give me only your love and your grace that is sufficient for me. (Exx 234 - 235)

In a similar spirit I usually end a retreat or set of exercises with a group with a ‘Contemplation to Give Love’. Here it is:


Again, take the usual time to prepare yourself for the exercise. Make yourself comfortable – feet on the ground, bottom on the seat/floor, back straight. As before spend some time with the breathing and body exercises we have already done. Now, as in a previous exercise move your awareness to the heart centre. As before notice the feeling there and invite Jesus to bring his healing touch there. Feel the warm hand of Christ on your heart giving you the love you need at this moment. When you are ready I now want you to transfer that love to those around you. It may be people in your house or the room or it may be a close friend or family member. Picture that person in your mind’s eye and give them the love and healing touch that you have received from Christ. Wish them all good things and that they will find the peace they are looking for. Now I want you to extend that love and warm energy to all your family and friends. Bring each of them in turn into your mind’s eye and transfer that love energy to them, wishing them all the best for their journey through life. Now I want you to give that love energy to all your work colleagues, to those who live near you and those you may have met today. Again, picture them before you – whether you actually like them or not – and transfer this loving-kindness to them. Pray that they may prosper and have a good and fulfilling life. If at this point you recall someone to whom you have difficulty transferring this love stay with them a while and if necessary ask Jesus to come and help you.

          Now I want you to transfer this love energy to all in your city, town or region. Again contemplate all these people – some being born today, some dying, some ill and sick, some just married or newly engaged. Those in happiness, those in despair – equally alike transfer this loving-kindness to them, this heart-energy that they will find the peace they are looking for.

          Now I want you to transfer this love across the world. In particular bring before your mind all those trouble-spots in the world that you hear about on the TV and radio. Bring those who are at war, who suffer in conflict, who have lost loved ones into your loving-kindness. Bring the leaders – religious and civic – into your concentration as you give your loving heart energy to them. Again, evoke the name of Jesus to be with them now in their hour of difficulty.

          Now transfer the energy to all the animals and plants that surround you at this moment – the birds, insects, creatures and animals in your neighbourhood. Like St Ignatius thank God for their being and transfer to them all loving-kindness for their peace and contentment.

          Finally, like the saint, transfer this love to all the created elements around you. Thank God for the mystery of this fragile planet and pass the loving-kindness to the greater mysteries of God’s love dwelling in all created elements.

          Finish the exercise with a short prayer of thanksgiving before opening your eyes again.
 
 
 

Wednesday, 29 March 2017

Lent Day of Reflection: 'Living with the Mystics - St Ignatius of Loyola', St Nicholas Church, Guildford, Saturday 1st April

Dear All,

I am delighted to be visiting Guildford this Saturday to lead a day of Lent reflection with the World Community for Christian Meditation looking at the life and writings of St Ignatius Loyola. All welcome!

Peter



 
 


 



A Study Day to explore



Peter is Professor of Pastoral Theology and Spirituality at St Mary's University, Twickenham, a UKCP registered psychotherapist, and Director of St Mary's research centre InSpiRe. His books cover many subjects including psychotherapy and spiritual direction, Christian spirituality and the mystical tradition.

St Ignatius of Loyola (1491-1556) was a Spanish priest and theologian, who founded the religious order called the Society of Jesus (Jesuits). Often viewed as the military genius behind the Jesuits, recent research has revealed the mystical side of Inigo Lopez de Loyola, better known as St Ignatius of Loyola. In our day together we shall draw upon this research to understand the mystical dimension of Ignatian spirituality.

'Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty, memory,
understanding, and my entire will. To Thee, O Lord, I
return it... Give me Thy love and Thy grace,
for this is sufficient for me.'



*     Open to all

*     Bring your own lunch - tea & coffee provided from 10am

*     No charge - suggested donation £10

For more information

please call Ray or Vicky Lamb on 01252 705064
or contact St Nicolas' Parish Office (
parishoffice@saintnics.com) 01483 564 526

Friday, 17 March 2017

A Little Celtic Gift for St Patrick's Day...



Happy St Patrick's Day! Especially to all my Irish and Celtic descendent readers. Attached an extract from my new book about the great Celtic gift to the world - Confession!

Love

Peter
 
 
 
From the 6th century onwards, for reasons which commentators find hard to explain, in the Celtic lands of Britain and Ireland a new form of penance and confession arose.[1] Various commentators have presented theories as to why from this period onwards individual personalised confession and absolution took hold amongst these peoples. As Dallen points out, however, there were significant differences between monastic confession as it arose in the British Isles during these early centuries and what would later be accepted by the Western Church at the Fourth Lateran Council as the universal practice of personal confession. Both held in common that there was a ‘tariff’ by which the ‘amount of sin’ could be measured out and penance given. However the Celts had no ritual in their system to mark the penitent’s return to grace within the church (Dallen 1991:103). For Dallen, the Celts and Anglo-Saxons had ‘a fear and anxiety regarding the supernatural’ which ‘expressed itself in a preoccupation with demons and fairies and the like’ (Dallen 1991:103). Which, to this (Celtic origin) reader at least, seems a bit far-fetched. A little more convincing, as Dallen concurs, is the suggestion of the influence of the desert tradition of spiritual direction, which we examined in the previous chapter, on the practices and shape of the Celtic church.

          Accepting that the Celtic church was focussed largely upon monastic foundations and that the desert form of individual spiritual direction was prevalent there it is accordingly not so difficult to explain the origins of this form of confession as an outgrowth of spiritual direction as practised amongst these monastic communities. The clear links between the Celtic and Eastern churches, not least geographical through shared sea routes, and the ongoing tradition of the East to allow Christian leaders other than Bishops, in some cases lay-people and monks, to give forgiveness to sins (See Rahner 1969: 394), suggests that something of this Eastern spirit was clearly abroad in the Celtic church. This new Celtic form of forgiveness of sins, or absolution, was not confined to one specific occasion, or indeed one specific season such as Lent, and could be uttered by a priest or monk using a simple verbal formula (Rahner 1983:14). By the eighth century it is clear that this new form of ‘private’ confession with its accompanying tariff of penances had spread throughout the whole of Western Europe slowly replacing the more public penances of the older tradition.



[1] Within a generation of Augustine’s death St Patrick will write an influential confessio, thus attesting to the early love of the form in the Celtic lands. I am indebted to Bernard McGinn to drawing this to my attention.

Monday, 30 January 2017

The Tristan Wound and the Crisis of the West




Dear All,

First of all, apologies for not posting on here for some time now. I have been busy completing my new book for Bloomsbury: 'Confession - The Healing of the Soul' which has not left much time for anything else. However as I was revising this chapter today I couldn't help but think of our present 'crisis' in the West through the 'Tristan' lens so thought it might be worth posting.

Kind regards

Peter




The first thing to note from the Tristan myth is that we modern souls are orphans. Our good Christian parents have died and we are born alone in the world. As Robert Johnson writes:


          Tristan is the new child, born in the Middle Ages, who grew up over a       millennium to be modern Western man. His mother and father,         Blanchefleur and King Rivalin, symbolise the old order, the ancient mind         of Europe. They die, but they give birth to a child and that child is the   modern mind of the West. He is Tristan, the New Man. (Johnson 1987:    16-17)

 

For Johnson, from his Jungian perspective, the death of the old order is the death of the feminine: ‘she (Blanchefleur) personifies the inner feminine soul of Western man, the feminine values that once lived in our culture. Her death records that sad day in our history when our patriarchal mentality finally drove the feminine completely out of our culture and out of our individual lives’ (Johnson 1987:17). Whereas I admire much in Johnson’s analysis I am not so drawn to his perspective of the birth of Tristan as the death of the feminine. Rather, from the perspective of this book I see the birth of Tristan as the death of the transcendent perspective at the birth of secular culture. In this respect I agree with Johnson when he characterises us moderns as ‘the children of sadness’, we are, he says:

 

          Children of inner poverty, though outwardly we have everything.     Probably no other people in history have been so lonely, so alienated, so   confused over values, so neurotic. We have dominated our environment     with sledge-hammer force and electronic precision. We amass riches on    unprecedented scale. But few of us, very few indeed, are at peace with           ourselves... Most of us cry out for meaning in life, for values we can live     by, for love and relationship. (Johnson 1987:21)

 

As I stated at the beginning of this book, week after week, I see the children of sadness who live in the West. Shorn of meaning we live the life of ‘triste’. And as Johnson points out, this alienation, this ‘cut-off-ness’, extends to all elements of our dealing with reality, especially the environment. In his ground-breaking encyclical, Laudato Si’, Pope Francis characterised this tendency as our present ‘throwaway culture’ and our worship of ‘rapidification’ (LS: 18). Like Saint John Paul II, he critically analyses ‘progress and our human abilities’ (LS: 19) and the unholy ‘alliance between the economy and technology’ which ‘ends up sidelining anything unrelated to its immediate interests’ (LS: 54). Within this critique (always of course within the spirit of dialogue and respect) there is even a critique of the scientific method itself  (‘ a method of control’) which should not be allowed to assume the divine right to have the last word on every matter. For, in contrast to the mechanising objectification of the scientific-economic gaze, the Pope advocates a vision of each creature that respects its creatureliness. ‘Each creature,’ he states ‘has its own purpose’ and in this he echoes the ancient church tradition which goes back to the desert elders of God being found in the ‘book of creation’ which we read by engaging in contemplation (‘God has written a precious book,’ LS: 85). This precious book of creation is therefore not just for aesthetic consideration but contains the full biodiversity of all creatures, the loss of which, as with all the other events cited, affects us all (LS 32-4).

          Thus, the ‘child of woe’ is born into a world torn apart – alienated from itself and the sources of creation around it. The young Tristan must first engage in ‘the study of books and language’ (p.68) which is for him ‘the beginning of cares’ for:

 

          In the blossoming years, when the ecstasy of his springtime was about to   unfold and he was just entering with joy into his prime, his best life was        over; just when he was beginning to burgeon with delight the frost of care (which ravages many young people) descended on him and    withered the blossoms of his gladness.[1]

 

Where has childhood gone? In the frost of care our young ecstasy is quenched by the technocratic society within which we live, for ‘he was learning the whole time, today one thing, tomorrow another, this year well, next year better’ (p.69). Our technocratic society demands this constant 24 hour learning made worse by the demands of the internet to which the young psyche is now glued. 

          Unfortunately, a psyche such as ours, unhinged from its transcendent moorings, is more susceptible to corruption, distraction and ruin and in the next stage of the saga we hear that the young Tristan preoccupies himself with all the distractions available to the medieval lad – peregrines, games, fine silks and the hunt. Again our technologically obsessed age has brought all the distractions one could possibly imagine into the heart of our lives. Twitter, Facebook, social media and computer games could fill up our whole day should we allow them.

          During this period of adolescent distraction (we are told he is 14 years old) the first of many strange incidents connected with the sea occurs to Tristan. At the mention of the sea a psychologist’s ears prick up. ‘The sea that brings all chances’ is almost a character in itself during the Tristan saga. Granted that the saga originates from the Atlantic isles surrounded by the constant ebb and flow of the sea and in the flickering uncertain light of the coast, yet the sea itself seems to fulfil a deeper function within the story. Johnson, following Jung, takes it as a symbol for the unconscious, ‘our nostalgia for the mysterious, unexplored depths of our own psyches, for the hidden potentialities within our own souls: for what we have never known, never lived, never dared’ (Johnson 1987:25). Thus, as in the Parzifal legend (See Tyler 2013), we have in the legend a record of our first adolescent encounter with the unconscious, at the age set by the Lateran Council ‘as the beginning of discernment’, normally understood as 14. As with Parzifal’s encounter with the transcendent at that age, so Tristan must come to terms with the unconscious. But like his fellow seeker, Parzifal, he also makes a mess of it.

          What happens?  One morning a bright merchant’s ship arrives in Brittany from Norway. Tristan, his guardian Foitenant and his tutor, Curvenal, are invited onto the ship where Tristan is distracted by a beautiful chess board. Distracted as any youngster today would be by a game-boy or computer console he challenges the Norwegians to a game and becomes completely absorbed by it. Like that other story, the Sleeping Beauty, where the adolescent cannot focus on the task before her but falls into a hundred-year sleep, so the boy Tristan denies what is happening and observes only the game before him. Two things now occur, his guardian, the Marshall, gets bored with the adolescent game and leaves the ship whilst the Norwegians look on the boy and realise ‘they have never set eyes on any young person with so many talents’ (p.71). Eyeing the boy for potential exploitation they abduct him by letting slip the anchor so the ship sails off with the boy and his tutor. So engaged are they in the game that they fail to notice what is happening until it is too late. So, Tristan’s first encounter with the ocean/unconscious is a disaster – he is carried off into a very dangerous and hostile situation. With our present-day heightened awareness of child abuse, especially of teenagers, Tristan’s fate seems eerily prescient. Fortunately for the boy a storm is now raised in the ocean/unconscious. The deeper forces of the unconscious have been roused and for eight days it rolls the ship, so much so that the Norwegians, terrified, agree to land the boy on the nearest shore that beckoned: Cornwall.

 

... To be continued!

 



[1]In seiner ersten Freiheit, wurde all seine Freiheit vernichtet.’ Tristan, p..68, 2075 – 2080


 

Monday, 16 January 2017

Book Review: 'Contemplative Prayer', Dom David Foster


Book Review – Peter Tyler

 


Contemplative Prayer: A New Framework

Author: David Foster

Date: 2015

Publisher: Bloomsbury

ISBN: 978-1-4081-8710-4

pp 216  pbk, £12.99

 

 

Dom David Foster, a monk of Downside Abbey, begins his book with a somewhat alarming experience for a Benedictine monk – a sense of having ‘lost God’ in his student days and how he subsequently had to build up a new relationship with God coming from this place of comparative darkness. From this starting point he constructs an analysis of prayer from what he terms the ‘philosophical point of view’. To this end he references his account of prayer from the perspective of many 19th and 20th Century, mainly European, philosophers including Ludwig Wittgenstein, Martin Heidegger, Friedrich Nietzsche and William James. If these names put you off then this is not a book for you for Foster loves his philosophy and his philosophers and brings his wide acquaintance with their theories to bear on his experiences of prayer. If, on the other hand, these philosophical discussions appeal then you will find the book of great interest and fascination. Particularly well done are the sections on the apophatic or Dionysian perspectives on prayer and how they relate to the current ‘postmodern’ or what he sometimes terms ‘nihilist’ culture within which we currently reside (in the West at least). His supposition throughout, supported in his argument by writers such as Wittgenstein and Heidegger, is that ‘contemplative prayer springs from the roots of our human being’, which for him, using Heidegger’s phraseology, is a case of being related to our ‘underlying structure of our experience of being.’ The problem, I always feel, when constructing a philosophical analysis from various thinkers who often contradict each other is what do we do with the discrepancies and rough edges between the various viewpoints – either we must face them head on, avoid them or smooth them over. Foster goes for the last position and so we find Wittgenstein’s linguistic analyses, Heidegger’s philosophy of being (or should that be ‘Being’?) and the Nietzschian ‘transvaluation of values’ all brought together in a great synthesis around the Christian experience of ‘contemplative prayer’. As I have said, for those of a philosophical bent this may well prove attractive. For those without that particular affliction I hope the book will still appeal as it does at least induce a dialogue between our strange postmodern times and the older narratives of Christian contemplative prayer for, as the author states, this search ‘has taken people to the frontiers of experience, where we need to recognize the limitations of reason and conceptual thinking.’ If, as Wittgenstein suggested, our philosophical speculation acts as a finger pointing to that ‘whereof we cannot speak’ then it has probably done as much as it can in the present times. Dom David concludes by hoping that contemplative prayer will ultimately lead us beyond philosophy to the place where we ‘have life and have it in abundance’.