Tuesday, March 12, 2019

A LETTER FROM EVELYN UNDERHILL TO DOM JOHN CHAPMAN


I came across these words of Underhill in a letter from her to Dom John Chapman dated June 1931 and found myself resonating with them:

9 June, 1931

I have been for years now a practising Anglo-Catholic … and solidly believe in the Catholic status of the Anglican Church., as to orders and sacraments, little as I appreciate many of the things done among us.  It seems to me a respectable suburb of the city of God – but all the same, part of “greater London.”  I appreciate the superior food, etc., to be had nearer the centre of things.  But the whole point to me is in the fact that our Lord has put me here, keeps on giving me more and more jobs to do for souls here, and has never given me orders to move.  In fact, when I had been inclined to think of this, something has always stopped me: and if I did it, it would be purely an act of spiritual self-interest ad self-will.  I know what the push of God is like, and should obey it if it came – at least I trust and believe so.

Tuesday, March 05, 2019

AUGUSTINE - Confessing my-self


‘If I would not confess to you, what could be hidden in me, O Lord, from you to whose eyes the deepest depths of man’s conscience lies bare?  I should only be hiding you from myself, not myself from you.  But now that my groaning is witness that I am displeasing to myself, you shine unto me and I delight in you and love you and yearn for you, so that I am ashamed of what I am and renounce myself and choose you and please neither you nor myself save in you.  To you then, Lord, I am laid bare for what I am … I will confess therefore what I know of myself and what I do not know; for what I know of myself I know through the shining of your light; and what I do not know of myself, I continue not to know until my darkness shall be made as noonday in your countenance.’ (Confessions, 10)

Wednesday, February 06, 2019

MINDFULNESS AND THE CONTEMPLATIVE HEART

According to much Christian teaching the heart is the centre of our being, the focus of our thoughts and feelings which is the locus of the soul.  This challenges a culture which has made the mind – the place of our reasoning faculties – the centre.  Much spiritual teaching has long been concerned with creating a ‘right – clean – heart’ for the heart can become corrupted and so needs to be re-fashioned, re-focussed.  I need to make sure that my heart is focused in God, the source of all goodness, and underlined the need to live a recollected life, a life where the heart, the habitation of the soul, comes alive. 

MINDFULNESS
The recent interest in ‘Mindfulness’, those practices which NHS online says can improve mental well-being, by ‘paying more attention to the present moment, to thoughts and feelings and to the world around you’, has connected with many people estranged from Faith.  Echoing Christian teaching ‘Mindfulness’ is the ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or over-whelmed by what’s going on around us. 

From its use in prisons and schools its benefits are becoming more widely realised.  Yet it draws on practices older than Christianity which, unfortunately, became generally forgotten at the Reformation.  Christianity has taught these practices as aspects of contemplative prayer, practices which encourage us to enter the caverns of the heart as we let go of our thoughts and feelings and descend to our soul.  Unfortunately, our Faith became caught by notions of ‘onwards and upwards’ rather than ‘stillness and descent’, yet the great mystics of the Church always knew that this was the better way.

This ‘prayer of the heart’ is one of the simplest ways in which we can open ourselves to that ‘ground of our being’ which lies beneath the surface of our lives.  It’s a way of praying which is intended to cultivate that interior silence which can calm the raging seas of life and we can overcome the fear of our own hidden depths.  It requires of us nothing more than developing a deep inner stillness and silence as we seek to focus into our desire for God.  At a time when people are beginning to waken to the importance of their inner world the Church needs to re-discover its treasury of contemplative prayer where we can find the most important ‘fresh expressions’ of our Faith which speak to the actual needs people have. 

St Paul recognised the importance of Mindfulness when he prayed that ‘with the eyes of your heart enlightened you may know what is the hope to which (God) has called you.’  The 3rd century Desert Mothers and Fathers taught that we need to focus into a word which we can gently repeat beneath our breath, which is often spoken of as Centring Prayer; Lectio Divina, taught by the Benedictines, allows words of scripture to enter the heart, and in the 17th century Brother Laurence taught the importance of living in the Present Moment.  In fact, these practices might be more rightly called ‘heartfulness’ for as St Theophan the Recluse, a 19th century Russian monk, reminds us:

‘To pray is to descend with the mind into the heart, and there to stand before the face of the Lord, ever present .. within you.’

That reflects a far older teaching that if we gaze deep within our heart, we shall find there the ladder that leads to heaven. (St Isaac the Syrian)

THE HEART OF CHRIST
This reminds us that we need to give far greater attention to the heart.  We need to re-discover the importance of the Heart of Christ, the Sacred Heart of Jesus for His Heart reveals what our heart might be like.  ‘The Lord is gracious and full of compassion, slow to anger and of great kindness’ says the psalmist (145.8) and reveals aspects of the Heart of God which it can be so hard to incarnate in our lives.  Can I be merciful, compassionate and kind?   If that’s the nature of God’s Heart, and if we were created in the image and likeness of God, then this helps to identify what being human is all about. 

We resonate to these human qualities which pierce beneath the shell that we can build around us and invite us to fix our heart upon them.  Yet they’re only emanations of the nature of the invisible and unknowable God whose nature must be greater than these describe.   To fix the heart on the Heart of God involves deepening our desire to reflect the Sacred Heart which doesn’t just call us to devotion to its physicality, any more than devotion to Christ is about tribal loyalty.  Rather, devotion to the Sacred Heart slowly opens us to the fullness of divine life.  I want my heart, my life, to be like His.  That’s what makes the saints so attractive, for they are people whose lives reveal something of the attractive beauty of God. 

God gently invites us to ‘fix our heart’ on His, to be awakened by and to Divine beauty.  To cleanse our heart that it might shine with the beauty in which it was created.   To recollect this call, hear its echoes and resonances.  This fixing of the heart means I’m being drawn out of my-self into the Sacred Heart.   Yet the heart can be distracted, can become enslaved to another who will lead me away from the Light of Love and needs cleansing, liberating and renewing in the image and likeness of the Sacred Heart.

THE HEART OF THE OTHER
This drawing into the Heart of Christ opens my heart to want to encounter the heart of the other.  In fact, what I have found, like so many others, is that encountering the heart of the other – of all Creation – I find my–self profoundly moved out of that ‘self’ as I gaze on the other.  From the simplest leaf, tiniest insect or most fragile butterfly, to the grandest mountain, vastness of ocean or celestial panoply my heart is moved and drawn more deeply into desiring at-oneness with that ‘other’.  And in allowing my heart to be moved in this way I notice how my own sense of humanity is nourished and affirmed.  I am more ‘me’ as I allow myself to be embraced by the Other.  This seems connected to the way the early Franciscan, St Bonaventure, noted that the very universe is a kind of ladder for ascending to God (cf. ‘The Soul’s Journey into God’) only this is a ladder which takes us into the wonder of the Divine.

BEING AND BELONGING
St Francis of Assisi knew that at heart, we are intimately connected with the heart of all that is.   He taught that we are sisters and brothers with the whole of creation.  The reverence I feel when contemplating the stars connects me to them, for I am made of the same stuff; the fact that I am moved in my depths when I gaze on the animal world should remind me to reverence it - and if it doesn’t, then there is something wrong with my humanity.   If I am not moved it suggests that my heart is closed and needs awakening so that it can be fixed on wonder, love and praise.  I find my sense of belonging widens from the particular (this family, place, nation) to a greater sense of belonging as a creature in creation.  This seems to be what Jesus recognised as he reached out beyond the confines of family (“who is my mother...”) and Paul taught (“circumcision is nothing ... what matters is a new creation”) and calls us to have a heart large enough to embrace the whole.  Slowly the heart needs to break free of its constraints so that it can sing the song of freedom. 

This is what being a Christian is all about - realising myself as a new creation whose heart is fixed on mercy, compassion and love for all things.  I need to be ‘mindful’ of this calling – to recollect this attention in the depths of my heart so that I’m not given to distraction.  And when – inevitably – I am, to collect my attention to its roots in the Heart of God.  This needs to be my well-spring.  And even though I may have a particular love, it is that Sacred Heart of Christ which is to enable all my loving.  As I gaze on His Heart so mine can be warmed.  It can also be challenged to grow beyond the limits of the self; challenged to be renewed (“a new heart create for me, O God...”) and refreshed. 

THE HEART AND DIVISION
This deep and often unconscious yearning for union – at-oneness – which is endemic to our being as a part of Creation will inevitably find the notion of separation a threat and a challenge and it’s experience deeply disturbing.  Yet, at a deeper level, our union cannot be broken – I remain your brother or sister and a brother or sister to the whole of creation whether that is recognised or not.  That recognition was the great gift of St Francis and other saints and their insights need to be recalled at times when we experience brokenness.  The eye of our heart needs to be fixed on the Heart of God which enfolds the whole of creation as we pray: “may you be well; may you be happy; may you know the compassion of Christ.”


MINDFULNESS AND MEDITATION

At a time when people are beginning to awaken to the importance of their inner world the Church needs to re-discover its treasury of contemplative prayer.  Here we can find the most important ‘fresh expressions’ of our Faith which speak to the actual needs people have.  If we want to re-connect with them then why not begin by organising a contemplative prayer group – call it ‘Mindfulness and Meditation’ if you like, but let’s do something!  

Sunday, December 16, 2018

WORSHIP


Worship lies at the heart of the Church, but what is it? Usually connected with what’s done in church, some consider worship can be measured by the extent to which our feelings are moved. I recall finding myself in floods of tears during Mass at the Shrine of St Francis for this man – the ‘Poverello of Assisi’ – speaks to me powerfully of Christ.
              But religion and emotion can be a heady mix, and our view of God will affect our worship. If God is considered a demanding judge that will affect our worship, as will the notion that God is all-loving and compassionate.
              Worship is about acknowledging and responding to another’s worth with one’s heart, soul and mind. It’s something we give; about directing attention to another; uniting each to the other. It’s the duty we owe to God, our sacrifice of thanks and praise which can be silent as well as vocal. As someone wrote to me:

              ‘I am prepared to stop what I am doing at least once a day, go into a quiet place and give 40 minutes to God. Those 40 minutes are His. It is my sacrifice to Him. It is sacred time. It is consecrated time. What I do during those 40 minutes and what I experience during those 40 minutes is not really the point. The point is that I give Him time and so make a statement of what He is worth to me. ‘

              As the years go by, I notice my feelings for my partner deepening as my love for him matures, but they’re no longer so obviously ‘emotional’. There are times when it’s just very ordinary – and when it’s very challenging. The same happens as our relationship with God matures. It can’t be measured by the way feelings are stirred – I now know a deeper desire to be given to the Other, to be abandoned to the One who is all-good; who is love and beauty, mystery and creativity. My relationship is moving beyond a youthful crush to a love which is more pervasive, expressed in my worship of God who is in all things. Worship becomes less about how I feel and more about who I am.

‘Lift up your heart to God with humble love:
and mean God himself and not what you can get out of him.’
(The Cloud of Unknowing, 3)

              Being human is about a being who worships and if someone doesn’t worship God, they’ll worship something else. To centre our heart on God opens us up to our God-like being, our ‘otherness’. Jesus gave himself to his Father and worshipped him in spirit and in truth (John 4.24). He worshipped in solitude, in the Temple where sacrifices were offered and in synagogues where scriptures were read and set psalms sung to simple melodies. That pattern was followed by the early Church and has given us the Daily/Divine Offices (Morning, Midday, Evening and Night Prayer).
              Whatever else we may do in church this pattern feeds us in a way nothing else can and prevents worship becoming dependent on mood. Rooted in practices with which Jesus would have been familiar, worship is the vehicle by which our heart and rational nature join – an inclination of the soul to its maker expressed throughout our lives. For worship doesn’t end when we leave the church. In the Concluding Address of the Anglo-Catholic Congress of 1923 Bp. Frank Weston said this:

              ‘If you are Christians then your Jesus is one and the same: Jesus on the Throne of his glory, Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, Jesus received into your hearts in Communion, Jesus with you mystically as you pray, and Jesus enthroned in the hearts and bodies of his brothers and sisters up and down this country. And it is folly—it is madness—to suppose that you can worship Jesus in the Sacraments and Jesus on the Throne of glory, when you are sweating him in the souls and bodies of his children. It cannot be done.’

+

‘Don't let your life give evidence against your tongue.
Sing with your voices... sing also with your conduct.’
St Augustine of Hippo

(an extract from 'Full of Grace - an introduction to Christian faith')

Saturday, November 10, 2018

A SINGING HEART



It’s easy to sink into gloom and moroseness, especially in the dark days at the end of the year. Yet we are surrounded (even in London Zone 4) with trees that sing for joy. Walking past the small, ancient meadow which clings to the slopes of the hill close to where we live I suddenly ‘saw’ the trees glowing with the yellowness of late autumn – and my heart sang for joy. The man walking in front of me had his eyes glued to his iPhone – maybe he was watching something that lightened his heart, but so often we simply don’t ‘see’ what creation offers to change our hearts.

The psalmist knows this and often tells of the way the whole world sings for joy:

Let the heavens rejoice and earth be glad;
let the sea and all within it thunder praise.
Let the land and all it bears rejoice.
Then will all the trees of the wood shout for joy
at the presence of the LORD. (Ps.96. 12f)

When I see the heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars which you arranged,
what is man that you should keep him in mind,
the son of man that you care for him? (Ps.8. 4f)


              It’s easy to let ourselves be drawn into despondency, sadness and despair yet we are surrounded by a world which cries out that beauty, wonder and mystery surround us. The Psalms, in particular, will direct our attention to the glory and majesty that is ours as part of a good creation, yet we can forget or ignore this source of well-being. The waters that feed our heart can be fresh or they can be brackish, pure or toxic. Just as we are becoming aware of the dangers to our bodies of feeding off unhealthy food, so we need to be aware that what we look at can nourish or poison us.


Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice,
    and let them say among the nations, “The Lord is king!”
Let the sea roar, and all that fills it;
    let the field exult, and everything in it.
Then shall the trees of the forest sing for joy
    before the Lord, for he comes to judge the earth.
O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
    for his steadfast love endures forever. (1 Chronicles 16. 31f)

Thursday, October 25, 2018

WISDOM OF THE SUFI

‘God created man not by a word, which comes from Divine Wisdom, which itself comes from Divine Power, but by hand-shaping, which comes from Divine Love. Into the clay shaped by His hands, God breathed His spirit (sic) and the new-created being, Adam (in Hebrew: earth-made), came into life. Through the breath of God something was planted deep within the clay: man’s soul and the seeds of his future awakening. Upon this hidden entry within, an imprint was impressed, a memory of that experience at the beginning of time, an experience of the closest intimacy between man and God, a memory of sheer fulfilment.’ 
(Sara Sviri, The Taste of Hidden Things, The Golden Sufi Center Publishing, 1997. p.199)

Go you, sweep out the dwelling-room of your heart, prepare it to be the abode and home of the Beloved: when you go out He will come in. Within you, when you are free from self, He will show His Beauty. (Mahmûd Shabistarî, quoted by Bhatnagar, p. 118.)

The Sufi Meditation of the Heart

‘Emptying the mind, we create an inner space where we can become aware of the presence of the Beloved. He is always here but the mind, the emotions, and the outer world veil us from Him. He is the silent emptiness, and in order to experience Him we need to become silent. In meditation we give ourself back to Him, returning from the world of forms to the limitless ocean of love within the heart.

He reveals Himself to those who love Him, and it is always an act of grace. The work of the lover is to be waiting, always listening for His call. "Catching the divine hint" is an important Sufi practice in which we learn to be continually attentive to our Beloved in order to serve Him. But only too easily does the clamour of the world deafen us and the noise of our own mind distract us. In order to hear the guidance that comes from within, we need to attune ourself to the frequency of the heart and be sensitive to the still, small voice of the Self. We need to learn to focus our attention on the inner world and cultivate stillness. Shiblî tells a story of going to see the Sufi master, Nûrî, and seeing him sitting in meditation so motionless that not even one hair moved. He asked Nûrî, "From whom did you learn such deep meditation?" Nûrî replied, "I learned it from a cat waiting by a mouse hole. The cat was much stiller than I."

Meditation both takes us into the onenesss of love and prepares us for this experience. T.S. Eliot wisely remarked, "human kind cannot bear very much reality," and the tremendous experience of the eternal emptiness that lies beyond the mind and the ego can be terrifying. We are conditioned by the basic belief that we exist as an individual, separate entity. The ego is the center of our conscious awareness. In meditation we begin to glimpse a deeper truth, that the ego is an illusion and the outer world as insubstantial as a dream. In Shakespeare's words, "We are such stuff as dreams are made on.”

Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee
(This article was published in the book: The Experience of Meditation ed. by Jonathan Shear, 2006)

Friday, August 10, 2018

FR BILL

The Rev.William John Ashley KIRKPATRICK (FR. BILL)
b. June 16th, 1927; d. January 4th, 2018
______________________________________


Fr. Bill’s life was a life of “being there” informed by Divine Compassion. 

Early years
He was born Campbell Durno in Calgary, Canada, the child of a liaison between his father and the housekeeper, and when a month old was placed in a private orphanage housing 50 other children. According to his own account, the Great Depression caused the Home to close and the Kirkpatrick family moved to Vancouver where they opened a home for elderly people. Bill stayed with the Kirkpatrick family, and at age 14 he changed his name to that of the family, but he was never formally fostered or adopted by them.  His early life, described in Mary Loudon’s book Revelations (1994), was extremely unhappy and that may explain his great empathy with those in need.
            Bill was dyslexic, at a time when the condition was unrecognised, and because of this he was deemed at various stages to be lazy or stupid and simply worked in the home, cooking, cleaning, caring, and was expected eventually to take on the running of the home At age 21  he came to England with the intention to study music, but not having any money,  he found work in Selfridges selling saucepans and then at Foyles bookshop before joining BOAC where he worked as cabin crew where his tall frame and rugged features must have made quite an impression within the small planes of the day. Once, on a stop-over in Calcutta, he was shocked by the raw poverty he encountered, and a seed was sown. So after two years he decided to train as a nurse and in 1957 went to St Charles’s Hospital in Ladbroke Grove, where he received the hos­pital gold medal, presented by the Queen Mother that year, and went on to specialise in psychiatric nursing.

Baptism and ordination
He was baptised and confirmed in 1965 and from 1967 to 1969 was a nursing officer at the Royal London Hospital where he helped to develop the Chemical Abuse Unit. This was the first such dedicated unit to the care of chemical dependent persons and their families. At some point he encountered a man who was both a psychiatrist and a priest and eventually offered himself for ordination. He began on the South­wark Ordination Course and then went on to Salisbury Theological College. He experienced difficulties and was first refused ordination as a deacon and later, as a priest, but in 1968 Trevor Huddleston CR, when bishop of Stepney, took the decision to ordain him deacon and, in 1970, to the priesthood.
            It was then that he became a worker-priest nurse at St. Clement's Hospital, Bow in east London. Bill was intent on following the model of the French worker-priests but whereas they immersed themselves in ‘secular’ work in factories and organisations, he found himself drawn to what he called ‘loitering with intent’.

Work with the homeless and life as a Franciscan
By 1970 Bill had become Coordinator of Centrepoint in Soho. The project, based in the clergy house of the bombed church of St Anne in Soho, London, had been started by the curate, Fr. Ken Leech, three years earlier to provide emergency shelter and care for the rising tide of homeless young people arriving in London. Fr. Ken also spoke of his ministry as a "loitering ministry" which included helping kids who'd taken drug overdoses, and caring for the hungry and homeless, ministries which appealed to Bill. It was staffed by Fr. Ken, Anton Wallich-Clifford of the Simon Community (another charity working with homeless people, which is influenced by the work of Dorothy Day and her Catholic Worker Movement in the USA. Bill was also inspired by Dorothy and a host of volunteers.
Bill lived in a tiny bed-sit in the clergy house and spent time in the chapel of St Anne’s: “This taught me how essential this is for me and for the ministry with the homeless, to be bathed in the sea of contemplative prayer, leading to contemplative action.”  He became a prophetic, contemplative-in-the-City who built on Fr. Ken’s work but with a growing sense that he needed to explore Franciscan religious life (three brothers of the Society of St Francis (SSF) had moved into another flat in the old clergy house) and, in 1975, began to test his vocation as a Franciscan at Hilfield Friary in Dorset. Hilfield was the main community of SSF and, at his novicing, Bill took the name of Aelred William – ‘Aelred’ after the great 12th c. Cistercian saint of Rievaulx whose classic work, On Spiritual Friendship, greatly appealed to Bill, and ‘William’ after the founder of Glasshampton monastery (Fr. William Sirr). William had been a contemplative and many saw his life and spirituality resembled that of St Charles de Foucauld whose life had inspired the Little Brothers and Sisters of Jesus. In 1977 Br. Aelred William N/SSF went to live at St Francis’ School, Hooke near Beaminster in Somerset. The school had been founded just after the Second World War to educate boys referred there by the courts but Bill found, by 1978, that the Franciscan religious life was not for him, left the Franciscans and moved back to London.

Earls Court – Reaching Out
By 1979 he was living in a basement flat in Earls Court Square and became an Honorary As­­sist­ant Curate at St Cuthbert’s, Phil­beach Gardens. From his flat he founded the ministry known as ‘Reaching Out’, a ‘hearing-through-listening’ service freely available to all. Bill described this as “a small cell of contemplative action within the Earls Court area … allowing for a ministry of sharing from within the sacredness of each other’s vulnerabilities and strengths where there is no ‘them’ and ‘us’.” He maintained that listening should be an active process done in respect for persons trying to express their pain and problems. Their words must not go in one ear and out of the other, but into one’s intellect and heart. His experience with end of life care made him particularly attuned to the needs of people who were dying and their bereaved friends and relatives. Bill understood not just the power of words and of silence, but also of touch, he knew that the warmth of one hand upon another can help to drive away a little of the chill of life’s darkest times. He was much moved by the stories in the Bible where Christ’s feet were washed by Mary, sister of Martha, and when Christ washed the feet of his disciples it was not just a practical act but also a gesture of profound humility and charity.
            Bishop Gerald Ellison of London gave his blessing and two Trusts of Sir Maurice Laing gave him a salary and rent for the flat. He often wondered what the strict evangelical Laing might have made of his work with rent boys. Bill walked the streets day and night, considered adopting some sort of religious habit akin to the Little Brothers of Jesus, and people in need came to his basement flat in Earls Court to talk.     
            Adjacent to the flat was the former coal cellar which he converted to a chapel. He would begin his day at dawn with a long period of contemplative prayer in this space beneath the pavement he had walked the previous night and reach out to his Lord as he had reached out to those in need.

Streetwise Youth
Bill and his partner Richie (his previous partner of 20 years had married sometime earlier) were aware of male prostitution and the problems which this trade involved (Richie had been concerned about male prostitution since his days living in a poor part of Liverpool) and both were particularly shocked by the murder of a fifteen-year-old boy who “worked" the area. So in 1985 they founded ‘Streetwise Youth’ to provide support, advice and care to young men, many aged 16-18 or even younger, selling or exchanging sex, mainly in the Earl's Court area. Streetwise worked in partnership with Barnardo’s and was also financed in part by another of the Laing Trusts. The project closed in 1993 but a new Management Committee was formed, a report produced by Kensington and Chelsea NHS Health Authority, and the organisation re-launched in December 1994. 

AIDS/HIV
It was during these years that AIDS and HIV had been diagnosed and in 1983 Bill realised that 75 per cent of his work was with people who were affected by this disease. People with AIDS then were widely considered to be literally untouchable. He was part of the Terrence Higgins Trust’s Interfaith group supporting other people of faith who were caring for people affected by AIDS and helping to inform and develop a faith-based response to the challenges of AIDS. As well as being able to refer people to sources of practical help where appropriate, he would spend hours holding people’s hand and listening as they cried out their grief, fear and anger. Bill joined the ‘Ministers’ Group’ which had been founded by Fr. Malcolm Johnson as an ecumenical support group that would also ar­­range Services of Healing, as well as lectures and talks by people such as Bishop William E. Swing of California who was one of the first to see that the co-factors were not promiscuity, irresponsible behaviour, or belonging to "risk-groups", but stigma, oppression, poverty and lack of sexual health education.
            Bill conducted hundreds of funerals of mostly young men, and some women, who died from AIDS. These were not solemn events but often a celebration that reflected lives full of colour cut short. He enabled a community weighed down by the horror of the epidemic and an endless river of deaths to give full expression to both its pain and its faith in the value and beauty of each and every life. Many of these were for people he had got to know and who were very dear to him.
            In these early fear-filled years of the epidemic his faith, experiences and profound understanding of the importance of the warmth of human contact was a beacon to people with HIV. It was also an inspiration for faith communities that sometimes struggled against doctrine and custom to respond with compassion and care to the people affected. Bill travelled widely, sharing his knowledge and experience, including a visit to South Africa in 1996 at the invitation of Archbishop Desmond Tutu to be the opening speaker at a conference on the ecumenical response to AIDS. He was one of the first to coin the term “AFRAIDS” – an irrational fear of AIDS – as he saw “the Church institution is very fearful of the HIV virus that is carried in its brothers and sisters. This fear leads to a judgmental and rejecting attitude as it continues to be unwilling to be alongside those who mirror its own weaknesses and its own vulnerability. It also highlights the fact that the Church seems to be living in fear of different sexual orientations, preventing it from recognising and acceding relationships which are co-creative of the pair, excluding them from the mystery of loving each other physically, mentally, socially and spiritually.”
            In those early 1980’s people from mainly Anglican and Roman Catholic Churches joined to challenge the ecclesiastical structural sin of AFRAIDS. Bill was one of the first priests to throw himself into visiting the sick and burying the dead, when no one else would. Bill, with Fr. David Randall, Br. Colin Wilfrid SSF, Fr. Malcolm Johnson, Fr. Richard Kirker, Sr. Eva Heymann SHCJ, Charles O’Byrne, Martin Prendergast and others, tried to show the churches how it was possible to live positively with HIV and AIDS. The needs of these men were very complex and Streetwise Youth responded with a professional team that provided medical care, accommodation referrals and counselling. In 1991 he was presented with the Childline/Telecom award for twenty years’ work with young people by the Duchess of Kent when she visited the project’s centre in Earl’s Court.
            Bill was later to offer an invaluable resource in his 1993 book, AIDS: Sharing the Pain.
Bill and the media
It was his ministry with the homeless, those living with HIV/AIDS and sex workers that brought Bill to the attention of the media and he was often interviewed by the press on TV and the radio. In an interview for ‘The Independent’ he said:
‘The church lays guilt on people to support its ongoing traditions. It has taken its view of homosexuality as wrong from the tradition of Pauline theology, and doesn't seem to have been able to take in the advances of psychology and psychoanalysis, which have helped us to understand the basis of people's behaviour.
            I deal quite a lot with people who are ashamed. But, as I see it, there is a place and a need for the sex industry, provided it's properly regulated.
            Initially, rent boys feel shame about their sexual behaviour: they have to get used to the idea of being a person who has sex with men. They try to turn their feelings off, because at first they think sex is disgusting; the only way they can cope is by becoming detached. Most manage to cope with it eventually, and, if they later lead ordinary lives, they block it all out. So shame doesn't necessarily enter into it. Not all rent boys are homosexual, only about half. Of the others, 30 per cent are heterosexual and the rest don't know. Some of the punters are very good to the boys. Some will have them to live in their homes and look after them for two or three years, partly because they want to care for someone. But, mostly, the sex industry is about passing encounters.      
            People with HIV don't feel shame if they've come to terms with who they are - but only a minority have. The majority of homosexual men I've been alongside have not shown shame unless so much has been laid upon them by their families that they can't shake it off. Families tell them, "We want grandchildren," and that makes a person very insecure.
            On the family's side, they feel shame because of what they may have done to their sons by rejecting them, or by not wanting other people to know that their son died with Aids.
            Everyone wants to be accepted when they're dying. When I conduct the funeral, the family may say, "Don't tell people my son died of Aids - say it was cancer." Other families can accept the remaining gay partner as a member of the family. But people often don't know how to handle one surviving member of a couple - it's as though half of them has disappeared.’
Bill’s spirituality
Bill’s compassionate spirituality might be described by his simple expression: “being there”. He estimated that he supported over 1300 men with AIDS (then untreatable) and was present with over 350 of those as they died, then taking their funerals and supporting their loved ones.  Bill had grown up gay in a straight world and his own early experiences were ones which left him with the messages that he did not fully belong, was not fully wanted - not really approved of. What he managed to achieve in the light of those messages was astonishing and few in our own time and country can match him for being a true active-contemplative, living out the gospel of the Beatitudes on the margins of society. His life provides an infinitely compelling reading of Christ’s Gospel and Bill brought himself, without adornment, to the energy the Church calls grace and the results have been significant and beautiful. In the most straightforward of ways he contemplated what the gospels say about the elusive Jesus and he sought to live that out in the costly way of giving himself to others. ‘Listening’ and ‘being there’ go a good way towards summing up Bill’s life and work, but only if heard beyond the language of cliché. The transformation of our psychic wounds into the unself-conscious business of loving and healing others is indeed the work of grace. And in this, Bill’s life and witness have been, and remain, of tremendous significance.
            Amongst those whose lives inspired him he acknowledged that Charles de Foucauld and Thomas Merton played a key role: “Both have died to live for God and through God for others. Both remained obedient to the mystery of Love and its ‘costing not less than everything’.” From his time at Centrepoint he had developed a close relationship with the Sisters of the Love of God at Fairacres, Oxford where Mother Mary Clare SLG had become his “soul friend”.
            Bill was an icon – a representation of things good and Godly, not in any self-conscious or showy way, but whilst (or because) he had been starved in his crucial early years of love and security he went on to become hugely loving in the most unsentimental and costly of ways. His life and work as a priest was in the shadows, self-effacing and concentrated on those beyond the reach of the church. What he grew into was a kind of ordinary holiness. He was also sometimes cheeky, playful and great fun. His own vulnerabilities and later psychiatric training enabled him to have great empathy for those with all sorts of practical, emotional and spiritual needs.

Conclusion
From his early training as a nurse through his time as Coordinator of Centrepoint, his time spent living as a Franciscan, his ‘reaching out’ with mercy to young men in Earls Court and to male prostitutes through ‘Streetwise Youth’ until, finally, he founded  ‘St Cuthberts', an open door drop-in centre for all marginalised, vulnerable people in Earl’s Court and the surrounding areas, it is compellingly obvious that it was compassion, as lived by Jesus and Francis, which informed his life, a life which reflected that of the Compassionate Samaritan. He was by nature and grace a contemplative and the dislocations in his early life had sensitised him to the sufferings of others.  He described himself as a “contemplative activator” and was prophetic in his vision of what it means to be human and how we might live in prayerful listening to God. He believed that we are “co-creators” of life, called to be spiritual rather than religious, truly catholic, knowing God to be above all traditions, a God of all peoples who acts in all and leaves his traces in all, wherever they may be found.
            His contemplative spirituality was deeply influenced by the agape-eros love of Aelred of Rievaulx, the love of Lady Poverty which inspired St Francis of Assisi, the compassionate love of Charles de Foucauld (St Charles of Jesus to whom he bore some physical resemblance) and the writings of Thomas Merton. He had close links with the Anglican Sisters of the Love of God at Fairacres, Oxford whose charism is inspired by the Carmelite contemplative tradition with its emphasis on the hidden love of God and he was especially close to Mother Mary Clare SLG who acted as his spiritual director for many years. All these informed Bill’s spirituality – his own means of living in and out of the love of God and the calling he had. His personal vocation of "being there" expressed a profoundly contemplative stance before “the Mystery”. People have said they hardly ever heard him talk of “God”, the “Almighty” or the “divine” – it was always simply falling down before “the Mystery” – and one became acutely aware of this when he prayed publicly, or celebrated Mass. As he said, being there “… puts me into deeper awareness of my innermost self, my contemplative self alongside my active self, my most vulnerable and valuable self, where I have been and still am faced with the ultimate questions about life and perhaps more importantly about dying and death.”

The final years
In 2007, Bill suffered a serious mental breakdown (psychosis), com­­pounded by dementia. He was hospitalised for nearly a year, and then moved to 3 Beatrice Place, a nursing home for people with severe de­­mentia. The staff lovingly cared for him and supported him until he died there.
            Bill was always interested in com­plementary medicine, the spirit­uality of care, and interfaith dialogue. His books included AIDS: Sharing the pain (1988), Cry Love, Cry Hope (ed. 1994), Going Forth: A practical and spiritual approach to dying and death (1997) and The Creativity of Listening: Being There, Reaching Out (2005)
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Quotations from: ‘A Contemplative in the City’, Fr. Bill Kirkpatrick, 1994, Journal of the Thomas Merton Society.
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With thanks to (amongst others): the Rev. Colin Coward, the Rev. Dr. Malcolm Johnson, Martin Pendergast and the Rev. Hugh Valentine.



Fr. John-Francis Friendship
February 9th, 2018

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

ABIDING IN CHRIST (1)



Listening to a directee talk of their recent pilgrimage to Walsingham and the way they were touched by the altar of the Annunciation and Holy House caused me to realise the way in which both of these speak powerfully of God’s invitation into an ever deepening relationship; with Him.
            The Annunciation reminds us that God is constantly and graciously calling us to say ‘yes’ to his invitation that we should give birth to the image of him within us. The movement, then, from that altar at Walsingham into the Holy House is a symbolic movement into the inner room where the Divine presence of Jesus and Mary dwell. The House is our Heart and we enter it through an ever-open door to give attention to him who is enthroned there. Teresa of Avila, of course, expounds this journey in her book The Interior Castle where she writes that the entrance into this ‘Castle’ or ‘Mansion’ is through interior prayer (meditation) and how the person who responds to God’s invitation into the Castle by needs to be cleansed of sin and practice humility. In the same way, the entrance into the Basilica of the Incarnation in Bethlehem is through a low door which requires the pilgrim to bend low in order to pass through. One moves further into the Castle through deepening prayer and a growth of loving desire for God, something of which the pilgrim seeking God in the Holy House will be deeply aware. There are further rooms which are accessed by an increase of this love until ‘betrothal’ occurs in the final room, or Mansion.
            All this is symbolic of the way the Heart is to be that Interior Castle in which God abides in Christ. If we give real attention to the Heart then that Divine Love will gradually melt our defences and draw us more deeply into union with the One who is always present to us. The Heart is, if you like, the locus of God’s hospitality.

‘O come to my Heart Lord Jesus, there is room in my Heart for Thee.’
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https://www.walsinghamanglican.org.uk/

Thursday, July 05, 2018

SOLITUDE AND SILENCE



There are times I've heard people say they crave being ‘left alone’ and long for ‘a bit of silence’. And that’s understandable.  But being left alone so that one can enjoy a bit of peace and quiet is only OK, for most people, for so long. Then it’s back to wanting a bit of distraction, especially when there’s nothing much to do. Which may be why the kind of solitude and silence of a monastery can be rather intimidating. Because, as brothers and sisters of the Society of St Francis or the monks and nuns of Mucknall, Burnham Abbey, Fairacres etc. can tell you, silence and solitude also provides the place to encounter self and to work towards that inner conversion – the ‘conversion of the heart’ – which lies at the centre of religious faith. Having helpful spiritual experiences is one thing but this way of conversion where the old ‘self’ can die and a new self be born is quite another!  
            Yet this ‘new birth’ is the essence of the Christian story. The trouble is we live in a society which has become overly-attracted by the sensual and gives little attention to the internal. So it’s hardly surprising that the church seems to be giving most of its attention to this external world: ‘growth’ movements often seem to be about numbers and ‘Church Planting’ can sometimes lack sensitivity. We may recognise the need to be 'reaching out' but are we 'reaching in'? Is the growth of violence among young people in part due to having ignored their spiritual needs? At the very time when western society is gradually awakening to the effects of excessive consumption and the need to develop a profoundly deeper awareness of the relationship between humanity and the planet many in the church are looking west and embracing some of the suspect forms of American evangelism rather than looking east and re-discovering the riches of Christian, Sufi and Buddhist spirituality. Jesus, the Buddha and all the great teachers of spiritual wisdom – Teresa of Avila, Aelred of Rievaulx, Julian of Norwich and all those who see and can speak into the heart – have realised the need for periods of solitude and inner silence. But does the church? Does it really? Because, if it did, it might put the same kind of resources into developing what people really, in their hearts, need.

Wednesday, July 04, 2018

GOD …. THE SACRED HEART OF BEING


A Woman Clothed with the Sun
- Julienne McLean
I was grateful to Julienne MacLean, the Jungian analyst and teacher of Carmelite spirituality, for introducing me today to the writings of Sara Sviri and, in particular, to a book she has written called Taste of Hidden Things: Images on the Sufi Path.  Sara is herself a Sufi and I was deeply touched by some of the things she wrote about the Sufi teaching concerning the ‘Oneness of Being’.
            I was immediately struck by the way this connects with our Christian understanding of God as a Union of Beings whom we refer to as ‘Father, Son and Holy Spirit’. But I found myself being drawn further and finding in that term, ‘Oneness of Being’, a way into an understanding of God as the Sacred Heart of Being. Whatever God ‘is’, and it is impossible to define God –  all we can do is to ‘stand-under’ rather than ‘understand’ the mystery – but we can and many are drawn to gaze upon, or contemplate, this mystery. That ‘oneness of Being’ is what gave ‘birth’ to the sun and moon and stars; from that oneness flows the whole of creation, which is why we are told that it is the image and likeness of God. Why Jesus could say that ‘whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me’ (Matthew 25:40, 45) and why  St Francis of Assisi realised that all things were inter-related and referred to earth and fire and water, the wolf and ass – even death itself – as our brother and sister. For if God is spoken of as our ‘Father’ then Francis realised Earth to be our ‘Mother’.  We are one with all things and all things have a common origin in the sacred mystery – the Heart – of Being.
            And so we belong together, find our identity and sense of being in relationship with each other and are enriched by sharing in the sacred work of creativity. For creativity, especially when connected with humanity, must be sacred. Whenever, them, we stand before aspects of creation – a vast land or sea-scape, range of mountains or tiny butterfly and really give it our attention ­we can be profoundly moved. Why insubstantial love, love which seeks to enfold us and invites us to reach out to another, is the greatest gift we have. Why profound music or great paintings, poetry and sculpture have a sacred quality to them. And why prayer is so important. For whilst we may have the occasional awareness of being taken out of ourselves into the Other the discipline of prayer – what is called contemplative prayer – works on our own inner being and will make it increasingly sensitive to the Sacredness of Being. Contemplation of the Other will draw us more deeply into the Heart of the Other, into the Sacred Heart of Being. This is what people like Teresa of Avila realised and addressed as the ‘Interior Castle’, what John of the Cross gave himself to because of the way he realised himself being drawn to journey into the mystery of love, and what the author of the great medieval work of English mysticism taught lay behind a ‘Cloud of Unknowing’. Countless women and men have found that themselves joining with others from different religious traditions where the one commonality is the notion of the Oneness of Being that delights in drawing us into union.
            And it is why the notion of fragmenting that union, of damaging it or destroying it, causes so many to despair and why compassion is to be found deep in that Sacred Heart of Being. Seeing brokenness the contemplative, or person of prayer, will seek to hold that fragmentation and place it before the Heart of Being, offering love as a means of healing the dis-ease of brokenness. The contemplative is also a channel of that healing by the simple fact of seeking to let their own heart stay still and focussed so that, deep within them, they are at-one with the Sacred Heart of Being. With God. 
John-Francis 04.07.18

Sunday, July 01, 2018

ABIDING IN SOLITUDE

In the late summer of 1975 Bill Kirkpatrick, later known as Br Aelred William N/SSF and then Fr Bill, began to test his vocation as a Franciscan at Hilfield Friary in Dorset, at that time the initial formation House of the Anglican Society of St Francis.  He had been born in Canada where, at the age of 18, he had worked with Fr Aelred Carlyle who had become Chaplain to the Nursing Home his mother ran. That Aelred had founded, in about 1895, the first Benedictine community for men in the Church of England and became Abbot of Caldey Island where they finally settled. But by the time they met Aelred had been released from his vows. Bill was a qualified nurse and, after ordination, had become Coordinator of the homeless charity, Centrepoint in Soho. At his novicing in 1976 Bill took the name of Aelred William – ‘Aelred’ after the great 12th c. Cistercian saint of Rievaulx whose classic work, On Spiritual Friendship, greatly appealed to him (and, possibly, connected him to Aelred Carlyle) whilst ‘William’ was not only his baptismal name but also the name of the founder of Glasshampton monastery (Fr. William Sirr SDC d.1937 – a contemplative whose life and spirituality many saw resembled that of St Charles de Foucauld. St Charles had inspired the Little Brothers and Sisters of Jesus whose charism would also influence Bill).  But he wasn’t destined for the Religious Life and, in 1978 left the Franciscans, settling in a small flat in Earls Court where he became an Honorary As­­sist­ant Curate at St Cuthbert’s, Phil­beach Gardens. From his flat he founded the ministry known as ‘Reaching Out’, a ‘hearing-through-listening’ service freely available to all. Bill described this as ‘a small cell of contemplative action within the Earls Court area … allowing for a ministry of sharing from within the sacredness of each other’s vulnerabilities and strengths where there is no ‘them’ and ‘us’. This ministry led to a vital yet to a large extent hidden ministry to the LGBT community in Earls Court, a ministry which helped shape his vocation and had its most profound effect when AIDS emerged in the 1980’s. Bill’s was a life of “being there” informed by Divine Compassion. 

In his book The Creativity of Listening Bill writes of the way he spent a month in 1975 with the RC Franciscans at San Damiano in Assisi and met, during the last two weeks of his stay, Raymond Lloyd.  ‘Raymond’s charismatic enthusiasm was infectious’ he wrote, ‘We laughed, sang, ran up and down hills and spent much time in prayer in the various chapels within the cathedral and  elsewhere in the area.’ In the same year that Bill left the Franciscans Raymond, another former nurse, would also go to test his vocation to the Franciscans. This description of the brief meeting of two souls who shared so much in common seems to illustrate a Principal of Franciscan life:

‘… the brothers and sisters, rejoicing in the Lord always (Phil 4.4) must show forth in their lives the grace and beauty of divine joy. They must remember that they follow the Son of Man, who came eating and drinking (Luke 7.34), who loved the birds and the flowers, who blessed little children, who was a friend of tax collectors and sinners (cf Mark 10.16), who sat at the tables alike of the rich and the poor. They will, therefore, put aside all gloom and moroseness, all undue aloofness from the common interests of people and delight in laughter and good fellowship. They will rejoice in God’s world and all its beauty and its living creatures, calling (nothing) profane or unclean. (Acts 10.28)

They will mingle freely with all kinds of people, seeking to banish sorrow and to bring good cheer into other lives. They will carry with them an inner secret of happiness and peace which all will feel, if they may not know its source.’ (Day 28)

They were not to meet again.


Raymond had grown up in the Welsh non-conformist tradition and had had a conversion experience when he was seven. He took part in many evangelistic missions and his utter love for Christ and the gospel drew him to pacifism. Later he became a Baptist pastor before being ordained as an Anglican priest before testing his vocation to the Franciscans. In 1979 Raymond was made a novice of the Society and took the name Ramon after the great 13th century Spanish Franciscan, Ramon Lull (or Llull). Lull had entered the Third Order of St Francis in 1263 shortly after a series of visions. Apart from probably writing the first major piece of literature in Catalan he also wrote mystical poetry and his greatest work was probably his ‘Book of the Lover and the Beloved’:

"Tell me, lover," said the beloved, "will you still be patient if I double your suffering?" "Yes, as long as you also double my love."

"If ye will have fire," the Lover cried, "O ye that love, come light your lanterns at my heart." This aphorism would have appealed to Ramon whose heart burned with a powerful love for God.
            I feel privileged to have known both men who, to me, mirror souls whose love of God is so powerful – or, perhaps I should say whose awareness of God’s love for them was so powerful – that it led each to a form of the solitary life. Not that either lived apart from others – Bill had his hermitage beneath a pavement in Earls Court Road in south west London where he would spend a significant period of time each morning in silent prayer, whilst most nights would be spent talking to people on the streets and bars of Earls Court. Ramon, on the other hand, never left the Franciscans but was permitted to spend long periods of time in a variety of hermitages in Dorset, North Wales and, finally, Glasshampton in Worcestershire. Yet what both experienced was the lure, the draw – the call – of silent, solitary contemplative prayer. Of that call Ramon wrote: ‘One of the most precious experiences of the time was to descend into the depths beyond my own individuality into a profound corporate sense of our common humanity with its pains and joys, and to find that the divine Love is in and through all, and will ultimately be manifested as ‘all in all.’ (Br. Ramon SSF, A Hidden Fire, Marshall Pickering, p.57). Bill, on the other hand, wrote profusely about the importance of listening in depth – of ‘being there’ for people and of the value of ‘co-creativity’.  That 'co-creativity' can only occur when the call of 'deep unto deep' is heard (Ps.42.7). As someone said: 'their disposition to allow God to pull them into their depths, in the grittiness of life without removing them from it, empowers them to be evermore immersed in human reality. Going beyond/below themselves and into that place where the Divine resides within, propels them into that fullness of life which exudes love, compassion and friendship to all.' (1)
            Bill and Ramon both found in Mother Mary Clare SLG 2woman whose wisdom they valued and who helped to guide them forward in their eremitical ways. (*Mother Mary Clare had written about solitude and prayer (Encountering the Depths, SLG Press, 1993). 
            They were also informed by the writings of people such as Thomas Merton; Bill had a paper published by the Thomas Merton Society, A Contemplative in the City’ (date unknown) in which he says: As I pray within and before the mystery of God for the world and for all God’s people, I can identify with Thomas Merton when he writes, ‘I am talking about a special dimension of inner discipline and experience, a certain integrity and fullness of personal development which are not compatible with action, with creative work, with dedicated love. On the contrary, all these go together’3.  Merton’s influence on Ramon can be explored in his book Soul Friends – a Journey with Thomas Merton. 4
            Both also wrote a series of books which in different ways concern this ‘listening to the Other’ and which continue to speak to people. And whilst both had their own, small physical hermitages it is clear that it was the ‘cell of the heart’ that mattered to them –that place deep within them where they encountered the One they sought. It was also their struggle with solitude and prayer which truly united them in that inner place.
Ramon died in June 2000 and Bill in January 2018 although his ministry had been curtailed in 2007 after a serious breakdown.
            People like Bill and Ramon do not often appear in the life of the Church but those three decades, from 1978 to 2007, they shone for a brief time like stars in the firmament and, if the Church of England had a process for recognising saints, would be clear candidates. We poorer for their passing but enriched through their lives.
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1  JMO’B
2 Mother Mary Clare SLG:
'Our life proves the reality of our prayer, and prayer which is the fruit of true conversion is an activity, an adventure - and sometimes a dangerous one - because it brings neither peace nor comfort, but always challenge, conflict and new responsibility.  We must try to understand the meaning of the age in which we are called to bear witness. We must accept the fact that this is an age in which the cloth is being unwoven. It is therefore no good trying to patch. We must, rather, set up the loom on which coming generations may weave new cloth according to the pattern God provides. We must learn to wait upon the Spirit of God. As he moves us, we are led into deeper purgation, drawn to greater self-sacrifice, and we come to know in the end the stillness, the awful stillness, in which we see the world from the height of Calvary.’ 
3  Merton, T. 1971, Contemplation in a World of Action, London, George Allen and Unwin.
4  Br Ramon SSF, Soul Friends – a Journey with Thomas Merton, Marshall Pickering, 1989