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Scargill House, mindfulness, hospitality and the renewal of Christian communities

I have just spent a few days leading a retreat on mindfulness of God at Scargill House. Based in the Yorkshire Dales it is a Christian community that leads holidays, conferences and retreats with hospitality at its heart.

It reminds me at a spiritual level of the Bishop’s Garden in Wells Cathedral where springs bubble up, a metaphor for the welling up of the Holy Spirit. The wells here are community, creation, hospitality, silence and solitude.

It has been a joy working with the community on the retreat as they lead worship, provide a rhythm of prayer, a pastoral care and prayer team as well as a hospitality team. They also offer walks, and workshops and conversation as well as of course lots of food!

There are gardens to sit in, including a beautiful walled garden and 90 acres of estates. As you sit in a lounge area you overlook the dales.

And pheasants, and woodpeckers come to the bird feeders in front of the window, along with many other birds.

At communion in the chapel on the last night there were deer outside feeding as we took the bread and the wine. The estate is run with a deep ecological understanding and desire to care for creation. The community is all ages, different nationalities and with many young people.

Community and contemplation is at the heart of the gospel and the kingdom and the leading edge of mission if only we had the courage to grasp it. My prayer is that many other intentional communities will spring up.

Of course community is not easy. At the Warden’s suggestion I have been reading some Jean Vanier, a famous founder of communities. I was particularly struck with a phrase of his: ‘Many want community and a feeling of being together, but they refuse the demands of community life.’ This is true in the local church as well.

I was also struck by another simple truth of Vanier’s: ‘People enter community to be happy. They stay when they find happiness comes in making others happy.’

My prayer is that there will be a renewal of Christian community life in the UK, for I believe it is the right (kairos) moment for it.

Do check out the Scargill website:

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Sri Lanka – birdwatching and contemplative awareness #mindful

Contemplative awareness and prayer is like being a birdwatchers says Roman Williams (and many others). You watch patiently and then ‘something extraordinary bursts into view.’ ((Being Disciples, chapter One)

Sometimes in birdwatching as with contemplative awareness you might have to wait a long time. I am not an expert ornithologist but I do love birdwatching and was recently given a new pair of binoculars.

I have been using them in Sri Lanka which is a birdwatching paradise. Sitting on the balcony of my room at the Cinnamon Citadel hotel in Kandy I am overlooking the Mahaweli river.

You don’t have to wait long here for something extraordinary to burst into view! Kingfishers, fish eagles, flying foxes, ibis, storks, herons, parakeets, orioles…It is a great encouragement for a beginner.

I think the process is the same for contemplative prayer and birdwatching, if perhaps in a different order. In birdwatching I am just looking at the river and the sky with open awareness, able to hold it in panoramic view. And then every few minutes a bird bursts into my awareness. I can then follow it with focused attention through the lenses of my binoculars.

With contemplative prayer we normally have to begin with focused attention before we can find a place of open awareness. But once we find that place we might find a sign of the kingdom beating its wings across our awareness.

Here in Sri Lanka it has been an awareness of the sheer creativity of God as Creator.

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