Saturday, 19 May 2018

London and Oxford

On Thursday and Friday, I had two free days to be a tourist. So on Thursday morning (and with a view to getting in some training for the Camino Levante) I set off on foot to walk from Islington to the British Museum. Not too far - about a 45 minute walk.

I navigated my way thanks to the helpful direction posts with maps that the City of London has erected at various strategic points, and arrived at Russell Square just near the Museum. It is filled with magnificent plane trees, and so this picture is for Pat - our junior (relatively speaking) plane tree in Bruce.

The Museum itself is a little overwhelming - you could spend weeks there, I imagine, and not see everything. I decided I wanted to continue walking so had a shortish visit to a gallery showing a snapshot of artefacts collected (stolen?) from the 17th to the 19th centuries - shelves full of Greek pottery, Egyptian hieroglyphs and artefacts from the Pacific and Australia, among many other things.

Next stop was lunch and then a wander through Fitzrovia and on to Marylebone - past this gorgeous church (whose name escapes me) and this self-effacing shop...

I was in search of Daunt's Bookshop - said to be the most beautiful bookshop in England! Indeed, it was lovely - stained glass windows, beautiful wooden book shelves and a vast and incredibly enticing collection of books arranged by country of author or subject. I bought just one, for the plane journey home!

I then continued on foot back along Oxford St, down Regent St (in full colours for the Royal Wedding) and on to Trafalgar Square.

There I had a little wander in the church of St Martin in the Fields (how's that for an entrance?).

And checked out the wildlife.

I then walked back through Covent Garden, and all the way home to Islington, past King's Cross-St Pancras looking more like a castle than a train station.

All in all, a lovely London day, and a good training walk!

On Friday, I headed up to Oxford to visit a friend who is studying and working as Assistant Chaplain at New College, and also to revisit some old haunts. It was just lovely to see some of my favourite places again and to enjoy Oxford in the spring - the wisteria in full bloom, Christchurch meadow full of flowers and ducklings, and a splendid Ploughman's lunch at The Lamb and Flag.

This is Worcester College (it has it's own lake!).

A gorgeous day culminated with a visit to the garden of Holywell Manor - the graduate accommodation I lived in for a year.

And Evensong at New College, led by Susan and the New College choir, followed by a very splendid dinner at high table.

When Mum and Dad visited me in Oxford in 1991, Dad took a photo of Mum and me in the New College cloister. Here's the 'after' shot!

Today I had my last 'gig' in England - Silence in the City at the Westminster Cathedral Hall. It felt like a really good day - a real depth of listening in those present, and I feel as though all that I've been doing and the deepening of meditation practice bore fruit in the spaces between us today. It's been an extraordinary privilege to participate in the various retreats and events over the past 3 or so weeks, and a really enriching time. Tomorrow morning, early, I head off to Heathrow to join Neil in Toledo - for a week of adventure on the Camino!

Our joint venture will be posted on Neil's blog - Turn to Wonder - if you'd like to follow along!


Wednesday, 16 May 2018

London early morning

I have woken in good time for the 7am morning meditation (hasn't been the case the last couple of mornings!) so I am enjoying a cuppa beforehand, sitting at my desk.

I must say, I love this desk and its outlook through a paned glass window straight into the canopy of the tree outside - there's something really soothing and conducive to writing about the gentle stirring of the leaves in the breeze. This morning looks a finer day than yesterday - blue sky at least, even if still cool.

I am thinking of our community of Benedictus as I prepare to meditate this morning.

With love and blessing,

Derby, Brighton, London

It's been a full few days on my English 'tour' - with much to enjoy and think about.

On Friday, I caught the train up to Derby for a combined conference of the UK national community and Meditatio Seminar on the theme of Contemplative Christianity. The main speaker was Professor Bernard McGinn from the University of Chicago. He is a well-known and extraordinarily learned scholar of the mystical or contemplative tradition in Western Christianity, and his talks were rich and yet evidently grounded in the lived experience of prayer. Unfortunately, I have no photographs of this part of the trip, since I was inside a conference centre for most of it!

I gave two workshops on the Saturday on the theme of Being a Contemplative Church, and was able to share in some detail about our life at Benedictus and what we are learning about the vocation of a contemplative church. People were very interested and engaged - lots of questions and wonderings about the possibility of developing like communities in different ecclesial settings, and so that was encouraging and thought provoking.

I returned to London on Sunday afternoon, and then on Monday caught the train to Brighton on the southern coast. Here's the sea-front merry-go-round just off the rather grey shingle beach!

I came to visit Rev. Philip Roderick who is the founder of another contemplative group called Contemplative Fire - established under the auspices of the Anglican church's Fresh Expressions movement in the UK about 15 years ago. Contemplative Fire describes itself as a 'dispersed community of Christ at the edge, inviting us into transformative awareness', and it runs events and services in conjunction with churches (I think mostly Anglican) throughout the UK. We arranged to meet to talk about the whole notion of contemplative Christianity and had a great conversation and sharing of perspectives.

Afterwards, I met with a friend and member of the WCCM who lives in Brighton and who showed me some of the sights, including the famous Brighton Pavilion - built by the Prince Regent (later George IV) in the 18th century as a kind of folly for himself and his court.

The outside looks Mogul influenced - apparently the inside is more Chinese inspired!

We wandered a bit in the Brighton lanes, where there are lots of jewellery and antique shops, as well as an over the top (perhaps inspired by the Prince Regent) chocolate shop. These, would you believe, are highly decorated chocolate cakes - with a rather improbably tropical seaside theme - octopus, mermaid and flamingos!

After that, came a walk along the promenade,

with views of an extensive windfarm out to sea,

and of course, the appetising looking Brighton beach itself!

Back in London last night was the Meditatio event called One in Christ: Why do LGBTQI people feel rejected by the churches, at which I spoke with James Alison. It was a great evening and a privilege to share the event with him. Here we are afterwards.

My time here is nearing its end - I've got one more major event to do - Silence in the City at Westminster Cathedral Hall on Saturday - and before that on Friday, I go up to Oxford to visit some old haunts. I'll keep you posted!

One last link - a picture of me walking on Hadrian's Wall 10 days ago, taken by Father Laurence and featured on the WCCM Daily Wisdom page recently!


Thursday, 10 May 2018

London and Bath

I've been staying in London at Meditatio House - where are small community of two oblates with the Christian Meditation community lives permanently and hosts guests and visitors (like me) who visit from time to time. We're in Cloudesley Square - a lovely quiet spot in north London, in which the wisteria is trailing over door-frames and it's been possible to sit out in the garden in some lovely warm spring weather. I'm with Elba, from Colombia, and Henriette, from Holland, is taking the photo.

I've spent most of my time inside at my desk, wrestling somewhat with the talk that I'll be giving next week in London, at an event with James Alison. It has been a bit of a wrestle, but I think it's finally coming!

Then yesterday I travelled to Bath on the train and gave a talk at an evening organised by the meditation community there. I walked from the station up the edge of the lovely River Avon.

To my surprise, about 100 people came to the talk. My topic was 'Contemplative Christianity for the World Today' with significant reference to the experience of Benedictus! There were lots of questions and interest, and it was great to have the chance to articulate some of what we are learning and what it might mean for churches in the future.

This morning, I got to sightsee a little in Bath - and what a beautiful city it is. This pub was across the road from where I was staying - I took the shot in honour of Neil on Camino, trudging through Moorish Spain!

Next stop was Bath Abbey - originally a Benedictine foundation from the 8th century.

On the facade by the main door was something I've never seen before on a cathedral - a depiction of Jacob's ladder, and the 'angels ascending and descending' (though mostly they seemed to be ascending!).

Lots of memorial inscriptions on the walls and the floor (under which the 'remains' lie) - this one took my fancy particularly.

Inside, there was the most glorious fan vaulted ceiling.

And then, of course, I was off to take the waters - the Roman baths.

A small amount of Jane Austen nostalgia ensued - a visit to the Pump Room, the Assembly Rooms and the famous Circle of beautiful Georgian townhouses!

I'm now safely back in London - and tomorrow head up to Derby - where there's a weekend seminar on Christian mysticism, at which again I'm giving a workshop on our experience of being a contemplative church.

I send my warm greetings to you all for this coming weekend, and much love.


Sunday, 6 May 2018

The North

Ten days into my UK foray, this is a belated first blog post! I've been travelling around with intermittent wifi, and I've also had trouble with my camera battery. In fact, I thought it had died and it's meant I haven't been able to take as many scenic photos as I otherwise would have wanted to share. However, that problem now seems solved, so I'm hoping I'll be able to share more of the next part of the trip.

But let me backtrack a bit!  I arrived in London to chilly spring weather. I am staying at Meditatio House where a small oblate community of the World Community for Christian Meditation is resident. There is meditation three times a day in the lovely meditation room overlooking the garden.

The hanging on the wall in the meditation room was a gift from the Dalai Lama to the community - it depicts a beautiful nativity scene in Eastern idiom - and is a sign of the Dalai Lama's friendship with Father Laurence and our fellowship in contemplation.

The next day I was on a train up to Penrith in Cumbria (the Lakes district) - though I got to see a little of the beautiful gardens in Regents Park on the way to the station.

The countryside in the Lakes District was extraordinarily beautiful, and I MUCH regretted my malfunctioning camera. But a couple of glimpses were had.

The retreat day I led in Windermere went well, and then I repeated the same talks the next day in Northumbria on the other side of the Pennines. In both places, I was beautifully looked after by the meditators in those areas and it is wonderful to make these connections and feel we're embarked on the same work.

Next stop was also in Northumberland - the retreat centre of Minsteracres - where I was helping Father Laurence with an intensive eight day silent retreat for about 30 people. This is an international retreat for meditators, and involved eight meditation periods per day as well as contemplative walking and short spiritual direction sessions with each participant. The way the quality of the silence deepened over the week was very noticeable and I found it personally really renewing and helpful.

The retreat finished yesterday afternoon, and Father Laurence took me and a couple of other 'foreigners' to visit Hadrian's Wall before we left the north. That was a lovely experience (and the weather has finally warmed up) - though a little confusing. There were so many dry stone walls in the sheep paddocks that we couldn't work out which wall we were supposed to be admiring! (we did figure it out eventually!)

I'm now back in Meditatio House in London, and doing some work towards the next round of engagements.

I have been mindful of the Benedictus community gathering this Saturday and holding you in my heart. I send my love to you all and blessings for this coming week.