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:
It was six o’clock in the morning. I could hear the wind whistling outside and rattling against the windows. I got out of bed and pulled back the curtains. There was the moon, but it was the moonlight dancing on the waves of Lee Bay that drew me like a magnet.
It shook me. I was filled with wonder. I was enchanted. I opened the window and felt the cold wind on my face. I heard the wild owl call. It was a gift. Something inside me stretched and woke up. I felt drunk with the glory of it. The part of me not domesticated by double glazing, street lights and central heating thrilled with the wonder of the transcendent trail of light. I walked on the water with my eyes.
I was on a retreat at Lee Abbey in Devon leading on the Mindful Christian retreat. The Lee Abbey estate is set within Exmoor National Park, designated a Dark Sky Reserve. The only light I could see was the light of the moon, and that light was dancing in the dark.
I was delighted the next day to see what looked like Lee Abbey’s star-gazing bench…
Mindfulness is a natural capacity we have, a capacity to be fully aware, to completely dwell within our senses, our experiential self. It is there, very often, that we find rapture as we consider the night sky above. It can also help us access the transcendent and spiritual. Lee Abbey is a ‘thin place’ to the transcendent.
I have just uploaded a new video on Mindful Relationships: our relationship with our own self; our relationship with others, creation and God. You can find it on You Tube and here is the link:
I am sitting in Abbey House, the Diocesan Retreat Centre for Bath & Wells, overlooking the ancient ruins of Glastonbury Abbey,that look like something from Tolkien’s imagination.
This afternoon in the space and time set aside for practising the presence of God, I walked up to Glastonbury Tor, for the panoramic view of Somerset. As I write this someone is walking in the grounds of the Abbey ringing a bell as it is closing time.
It reminds me why I am here teaching on mindfulness of God. The first time I came across the phrase mindfulness of God in the writings of 5th century Greek Bishop, Diadochus of Photike – the words rang me like a bell. But not a bell to leave but a bell calling me into the exploration of ‘mindfulness of God.’
The presence of God magnetically calls to my senses, to our senses as human beings. As an analogy we can talk about the way we are called magnetically to other people. At the top of Glastonbury Tor, by the tower, there is a helpful little map that points in the direction of different towns.
Twenty two miles in one direction is the city of Bath, where my son is studying at the university.
Fourteen miles in another direction is Yeovil, near where my parents live. I could feel the magnetic pull in these directions – so close to them and wanting to go and see them, but unable to. I could physically feel the tug on my heart.
Prayer remagnetises us to the pull of God. That’s why I’ve come away. As we become remagnetised to the presence of God, so we become more attentive to others, to creation, to our own self…we feel the relational pull – the interconnectedness of our lives with all that is around us. But so often we live in an unaware state. Stress and busyness demagnetise us.
As we are remagnetised we begin to live life in all its fullness. And our senses become once again instruments of grace.
Do book on my retreat at Lee Abbey 14-18 November 2016!
I have just led a retreat at Worth Abbey based on my new book ‘Putting On the Wakeful One: attuning to the Spirit of Jesus through Watchfulness.’ We have a capacity to slow down, to move from doing to being, but most of the time that capacity is as overgrown as this park bench. We don’t cultivate this natural capacity to come to our senses, to re-inhabit our bodies. But when we do we find a place of energy and peace and renewed purpose.
I shared with the group a picture by Kurt Jackson of a stream, where he says of it ‘I can just hear the robin above the roar of the stream.’
I shared that I felt that it could be a picture of life: that something very noisy and difficult can dominate, drowning out all other voices – but that when we slow down we can suddenly hear again the song of the robin in our own life – another more hopeful narrative in play.
I recently bought a Fitbit watch in part to see if my heartbeat slows down when I pray. As I looked at it I realised that just as we can slow down our heart beat, so we can slow down the beats of our mind. We cannot empty our mind, but we can stop it racing with thoughts, feelings and bodily sensations. As these ‘beats’ slow down we can move from rational critical thinking to awareness, we can hear the song of the robin, and many other songs as well, including the song God is singing over us.
The Worth Abbey church is a beautiful open space, that expands your mind as you sit within its big silence. We too have a space like this in our cognitive architecture, that lets in the Light – it is called awareness and attention.
The link for booking is below:
The retreat is based on my new book ‘Putting On the Wakeful One: attuning to the Spirit of Jesus through Watchfulness’, published April 24th, available for pre order on Amozon…