Practical Mysticism

 12th October 2017 at St Thomas, Brampton

with Bishop Jan McFarlane, Bishop of Repton

and Bishop Jack Nicholls

Sometimes you go on a course – or a day’s workshop – or to a talk – and find that it is just what you need to hear. It resonates and reverberates at a profound level. It confirms that the way ahead might where you thought and hoped it would be.

Morley Day was such a day, not only on a personal level for myself, but I suspect, talking in breaks and over lunch, for many other people. Bishop Jan shared her passion for Evelyn Underhill, her writings, her spirituality and what she has to say to our twentieth first century church. Underhill lived from 1875 – 1941 and studied at King’s College for Women in London, reading an unlikely combination of History and Botany (this was at a time when it was most unusual for women to have a university education) converting to Christianity in 1907 the year she married. Until that point, she was an atheist but ‘Gradually the net closed in on me and I was driven nearer and nearer to Christianity, half of me wishing it was true and half resisting violently all the time’. Underhill went on to become a prolific writer on spirituality and one of 20th century’s foremost writers on Christian mysticism. She was also the first woman to lecture to the all-male clergy within the Church of England. Had she lived today, said Bishop Jan, she would have made a most amazing priest – or even a bishop.

Underhill’s most well-known work - ‘Practical Mysticism’ – A Little Book for Normal People’ asks the question - ‘What lies at the heart of an authentic spiritual life?’ Now the good thing about this day – and of Underhill’s teachings is that this doesn’t have to be a difficult question. You don’t need to have a degree in theology or wear a dog collar to have half a chance of answering it. Basically, Underhill says, we need to turn away from ourselves and be in touch with God who is Reality with a capital ‘R’. Neither do we need to attend church several times a day and faithfully say the Daily Office (although these are encouraged). Indeed, Underhill herself confessed to not being very good at intercessions. We just need to put ourselves in a place where we can receive from God – which means giving ourselves time to pray – or just be. She recognised that sometimes we may go through long periods of doubt – and that’s fine. At such times we need spiritual guides and people to talk to.

Sometimes, says Underhill, prayer can feel like hard work or a duty. Rest, she says. You are tired. Look after yourself. Eat well. Sleep.  What use are you to anyone else if you are worn out? Relax about your prayer life and about your spirituality. Have a ‘reasonable bit of quiet every day’.

If I had read these words in a new Christian publication, I would have thought that at last, someone was giving Christians permission not to be bound by rules and regulations, by requirements that because you call yourself Christian, you have to behave in a certain way. Someone was saying that it’s okay to rest in a relationship with God instead of asking us to jump through hoops and tick boxes. And yet she was writing this a hundred years ago. Her teachings feel as fresh and relevant to exhausted people, inside and outside the church, as they were in the early twentieth century.

Over ninety years ago, in 1926, Underhill wrote of the Church - ‘We are all grievously burdened with problems of administration’. And although this needs to be attended to, this will not transform the Church. Only the Reality of God, changing us and through us, the world will do that. And this can only happen through prayer.

Bishop Jan asked - ‘Do we think that people are not interested in God – inoculated as they are against the Church with all its infighting over issues such as same sex marriage and woman bishops?’ If you wander into any branch of W H Smith’s and look at the books on mindfulness you will see a vast array of colouring books and hints and tips on how to mindfully make a cup of tea. What is this if not prayer? This is searching for God! We are missing a trick here and need to make our churches places where people can find what they are looking for instead of reaching for a colouring book and some felt-tips.

So how do we do this? How do we reach those people who would never dream of walking into a church but would happily browse the shelves in Smith’s? Underhill’s response was that we must make time to pray in our own churches as much as we possibly can. We must free up our priests to pray. We must open our local churches so people can wander in and find God.

Now we are fortunate in the Cathedral in that we have a building which is open all the time - ‘The doors are open to all’ is our motto and is just as it should be. As one member of our congregation put it so eloquently in the plenary session ‘anybody and everybody can come in from the street and find a place to pray’. This is our gift to the city and to the diocese – to offer a place which is known to be open and where those seeking rest, or comfort, or quiet or reassurance can come in and find something of God.

But Underhill’s vision was that all churches all over the land should offer this. What if every church was open – all the time - offering a space where people would know they could find what they were looking for? Or as Bishop Jan said ‘They don’t need colouring books, they need Jesus’. Isn’t that the way the twentieth first century church should be heading? Okay – there are myriad reasons why people say it shouldn’t be done and it wouldn’t work – but buildings are after all, just buildings and people matter more.

‘What churches are like is going to depend on your secret life of prayer – on your steady orientation towards the reality of God…’ wrote Underhill. What she has to teach us is that it is prayer and only prayer that will make a difference.  She wanted every Christian to have this practical spirituality and so be transformative in the world - ‘Being tuned in and transmitting that to those around us.’ Or as Bishop Jan said, ‘Be prayer rather than do prayer.’

It was an inspiring day. A big thank-you must go to Bishop Jan for such an encouraging and enjoyable day which has helped many of us in our own lives of prayer and given us hope for the way ahead for the Church, and to Bishop Jack for leading us in worship and for his wise and humorous compering of the day. The last, fitting words go to him, quoting his favourite saint – St Seraphim of Sarov:

‘Have peace in your heart and thousands around you will be saved’.

Eirene Palmer

 

 For more information / booking please contact Sister Diana (Assistant Provincial)

Phone: 01332 671716 (ext. 6)

Email: assistantprovincialchn@yahoo.co.uk

Convent of the Holy Name

 Morley Road

 Oakwood

 Derby

 DE21 4TB

Website: www.comholyname.org

Facebook Page: Community of the Holy Name

Saturday 12th May        STUDY DAY – Women in the Bible

(the cause of all evil/ the wily seductress/

the obedient wife?)

(Sister Clara)

Fri 22nd – Sun 24th June    VOCATIONS RETREAT

(Sister Catherine)

Fri 21st – Sun 23rd Sept    AUTUMN RETREAT

(Sister Pauline Margaret)

Fr1 26th – Sun 28th Oct    Exploring the Religious Life Retreat

(Sister Catherine)



 

 

Have you the urge to put pen to paper? Is there something burning inside you that you would like to express in writing? If so, Café Writers could be for you. We are a group of writers of many genres and all levels from absolute beginner to published author. We meet together every two months on a Saturday morning in the Sir Richard Morris Lounge at the Cathedral Café.  

Writers come in all shapes and sizes. Your interests may be to write poetry or prayers. You may enjoy journalling, producing short stories and articles, or a have ideas for a book. Or do you want to start a blog or write your life story for your family? You may be a complete novice or a published author. Whatever your preference and your level of expertise, writing can be a lonely business and this is where a group can help.

The aim of this group, which is affiliated to the Association of Christian Writers, is to provide a safe space where we can meet and network with others who share an interest in writing. The key element is to gain some encouragement, inspiration and motivation from one another to get moving (or keep going!)

If you would like to find out more about our ongoing series of talks and meetings or join our mailing list, please contact Richard and Eirene Palmer on 07592 303048 or drop us an email at derbychrwriters@gmail.com

Many people, lay and ordained, now recognise that it can be helpful to have someone alongside them on their pilgrimage, someone who has the gift of listening creatively to others and who offers a safe place of acceptance and encouragement.

Sometimes this need grows out of a fruitful experience on retreat. Often it can be at a time of crisis, when old patterns are disturbed or when we feel an urge to take seriously our quest for meaning in life and we want to go deeper into our journey of faith. Maybe we want help with our prayer life or to test a particular calling. Maybe we are finding it difficult to deal with events or relationships in our life. This can be a chance to reflect on what has been happening and to put things in perspective.  

This is called ‘Spiritual Direction’ or ‘Spiritual Companionship’, but other terms such as ‘Soul Friend’ (from the Celtic tradition) are used. It is available to all who wish to see more clearly where God is at work in their lives.

 What happens?

 Most people see their Spiritual Companion once every four to twelve weeks. It may be a long-term relationship or for a limited period. There are no rules about this. The meeting has a sacramental nature, for God uses it as a channel for grace. It calls for a sense of trust, confidentiality and for openness from both, in the knowledge that the meeting takes place in the presence of God.

 The purpose is to allow the Holy Spirit to reveal the direction. Suggestions may be offered of ways to pray, ideas for helpful reading, as well as practical suggestions relating to life choices, but the final decisions are always left in the hands of the person seeking guidance.

 How do you find someone?

In Derby Diocese we have a list of people of different traditions and backgrounds who offer this service and two Portfolio Holders in Spiritual Direction who will help you to find the right person. The choice of a companion is likely to have important consequences in your life. For this reason you might be invited to come for an informal meeting with one of them, so that they could talk with you about your expectations and ‘get a feel’ for the sort of person you would hope for.

The Portfolio Holders in Spiritual Direction are

 

Rev’d Canon Nigel Johnson

 frn.johnson@me.com

Eirene Palmer

eirene.palmer@googlemail.com    

 

 

You can contact either of these people to set up an initial meeting to discuss finding the right person to accompany you. Nigel works from Bakewell and Eirene lives in Ripley so that may be helpful in your planning.

Spirituality is probably one of the most overworked and misunderstood words in present day religious vocabulary. In the context of our life and mission in the Diocese of Derby we are particularly concerned with Christian Spirituality which is deeply embedded in the life and history of the Church.

 

In these days many people are taking their own journey into God far more seriously. There is a real thirst within the Church as well as in the world for the things of God.

 

To try to address this, our Christian Spirituality Group tries to provide people who can accompany others on this journey as listeners and spiritual directors. We also provide courses, quiet days and retreats. Details of all these things will appear from time to time on this website and in other places.

 

We hope that we will be able to offer something to assist those who feel themselves to be beginners on the journey as well those who are ready to take a further step on a journey maybe started many years ago.

 

One thing is certain, none of us have arrived and all are in need of the support, prayer and assistance of our brothers and sisters in Christ. The Christian Spirituality Group is there as one way of enabling this to happen within our Diocese.

 

 

Chair of Diocesan Spirituality Group

 

The Rt Rev'd Jack Nicholls,

01298 812462, jnseraphim@gmx.com 

The Diocese of Derby

Contact Us

Derby Church House

Full Street, Derby DE1 3DR

01332 388650 (reception)

Church House reception: 

enquiries@derby.anglican.org