Contemplative Prayer

I think it needs to be made clear that the views and opinions expressed on my blog are my own views and not that of the congregation I serve, neither the wider Church in which I minister.
I feel the need to write this explanation now my readership grows and people within my own community wonder if the blog is a barometer of my own thoughts and feelings for them. There are no ‘hidden messages’ but if one wishes to read the postings as one might a horoscope than I’m sure there will be some truth found. The blog is neither a barometer nor is it a place to vent about what may, or may not be happening at the time. That would be out of place.
I write a lot. I read a lot. I reflect a lot. There are different blogs and paper journals for a whole variety of notes and thoughts. This blog happens to be about a guy who happens to be a priest and happens to live in Germany. Other blogs are about a guy who enjoys poetry, or a guy who likes short-stories.
So let’s finish with all of that and get on with things.
I have for, many years, practiced Centering Prayer. The key word is practiced.
It is a private thing which sometimes gives life and sometimes feels like just sitting around. I’m not an expert, nor do I feel any good at it. I won’t try and discribe it but link resources here for those interested.
Prayer is both public and private.
Years ago I underwent a mandatory ministry review. It was standardised and I see the importance of doing such reviews periodically in ones life. In my first formal review, one of the reviewers was a man who clearly had not read the instructions on the form. Or maybe he did read them and he made a point in sending me the final copy of his paperwork as well as sending it to my immediate superior and my bishop. The whole form was filled out in detail, even the parts that were left for me to contribute and my reviewer to take notes about my written material and my interview. What upset me the most from this blooper was that it gave someone who was very upset with me (I wanted as nonbiased a report as possible) because I didn’t come to a party to which I never knew I was invited. At the time it felt like someone had taken this opportunity for development and manipulated it into chance to take some revenge.
The portion of the form that I was to fill out about my own personal prayer life and prayer practice was completed by the reviewer. Apparently, and in the impressions of the reviewer, in the secret of my heart and home the opinion was that I was the worst person of prayer, that I was unable to connect with God, and that all I did was sit around staring at the tops of my knees.
How true.
It hurt. It hurt that someone would think that of me. It also hurt because it can be true. The mainline connection to God does have poor reception at times. I say this openly not that I feel this way at all now, but that it does happen. We shame people into thinking they must always be super Christians with a nice personal chat with God at the offer like having the red phone on the desk of some head of state.
At the moment, I am feeling really chuffed about my prayer life and my ongoing relationship with God. If one can admit to such a thing.  I become a squirrel to stash these thoughts away for the winter so I’ve got something to live off of for those barren times which do and will come.
I have come to expect that God comes and goes – well in truth that better describes me – like a thief in the night and a bridegroom early to the party. One practice that sustains me in the highs and lows is centering prayer. And today, praying in the church of St Martin the impact was powerful. Outside the church doors there is the Freiburg Christmas Market that has started and with it: the ‎people, the noise, the joyous chaos and the anxious signs warning of pick-pockets. All these things blend away behind the silent heavy doors of the church as they close. The innerior of the church this time of year has the old wooden doors of the altar opened up to show a biblical story carved out of wood. The contrasts are palatable.
To sit for 20 minutes in silence in that space makes praying come easier. At every level of experience it is like God takes the rough wood as well as the gold foil that represents the person I am, and in such, God is able to create moments of surprise and delight. To fashion these things and to rest and know that all shall be well.  To reflect on the present and the past and see that God guilds all things, like slithers of gold, as the John Bell song says.
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To Loiter with Intent

I cannot remember who it was that gave me this piece of advice as I started off in my journey of priestly ministry, but I have a suspicion that it was the bishop who ordained me to the priesthood.

No matter who it was, it has been advice that has stuck with me, and as such, has presented many unique opportunities to reach beyond the walls of the parish church.  A friend recently asked me why I write this blog.  I had to think about this, as I believe, my initial intentions for the blog have changed and developed overtime – an excellent time to reflect.

Many in the english speaking world will be familiar with George Herbert, a Church of England priest famous for just about everything under the sun, from poetry, The Country Parson, the look, feel and presence of an Anglican clergyman.  George is a favourite image of what a great many people hold as the stereotypical Church of England vicar.  I’ve had a rough go with the image that George portrays, and that stereotype, but I do admire his writing abilities.  Perhaps, the gentle idyllic reflections were what I initially hoped to capture for the blogging audience.

The world, and the purpose of my blog, are ever changing things, so much so that I do find it difficult to set time aside for any creative input.  Schedules, demands of an active parish, the loneliness of being geographically distant from neighbouring Anglican clergy, and even, the busy family demands, are completely foreign to the life of George Herbert, who in a sense, rented out the parish to other clergy so that he had the time to write and bumble along.

In 2009 I picked up a copy of a book with the exciting title: If you meet George Herbert on the road, kill him, by Justin Lewis-Anthony.  The book proved to be a worthwhile read in that it helped to disprove the myth of the man, George Herbert, and of the myth of the  clergy role which many still hold on to and envision as the gold standard for all other forms of ministry.  If you want a taste of what the book is like, the Guardian article written by Lewis-Anthony summarizes it all very nicely. 9780826424204

As much as I have a dislike for the attitude set by many inside and outside the church with this fascination with George Herbert, I must say that some of what I feel to be my most creative ministry experiences are when I just bumble along as I imagine good old George having done.

Which brings me back to loitering with intent.  Occasionally…well, frequently…I found myself preparing sermons in different neighbourhood pubs.  Maybe the pint of beer helped with the creativity of the sermon writing process.  I’d almost always sit at the bar because it was uncomfortable.  Uncomfortable in that you really didn’t want to stay too long like you would if you had that nice seat at a table that was tucked away close to the wood fire on a cold winter day.  Uncomfortable also because it is usually the lonely people, or the ones with issues and great needs that sat at the bar.  So loiter with intent meant that in my clergy shirt, with a notepad and an open bible I would sit with one hand on the pint glass, and the other clutching a pen as I made my initial notes on the upcoming Sunday’s bible readings.

The man in black clericals at the end of the bar was to many people like a shiny fishing lure to the trout.  “I just gotta ask…”, or “My friends and I were curious…”, were the typical ‘pick-up lines’ of what would turn out to be some curious, and lonely people.

The best people, as I may have mentioned before in another post, were the bartenders themselves.  While there isn’t (to my knowledge) a book that is the bartenders equivalent to the clergy’s George Herbert; it is the standard belief that as people fill themselves with alcohol, they will eventually pour themselves out to the bartender.  So loitering with intent meant to avoid the easy joking conversation of a small clutch of tourists, or hardcore drinkers, that were at one end of the bar, and sit alone and wait for the bartender to unload the problems of the world in the sacred moment with the highly polished wood bar top, and brass taps separating us like the dutifully polished screen of the confessional in a Roman Catholic church.

In many ways, bumbling does not reproduce fantastic results in a culture – a church culture – that wishes to see the pews fill-up with new members.  However, the ministry always felt creative, vital and in some ways, maybe a little bit like a golden piece of poetry in amongst the commonness of ordinary life.

Looking back over time at what has been creative ministry, and in the case of this blog, some creative writing, it is on one-hand, an outlet, and on the other hand, a way that I, and others, may reflect on what I do, and how God is present – be it in Canada, or in Germany; be it in a church, or at the end of the bar.  While I highly doubt that my writing, either the content or the style, will ever be compared to George Herbert’s poetic prose, at least like the Country Parson I’ve got the name that fits the role.

 

via Daily Prompt: Bumble