Hornsey PAs Blog

Hornsey PAs blog

Do this in memory of me…

Today [December 1st] the church, leastways the Anglican part of it, celebrates what one might call its archetypal failure, Blessed Charles de Foucald. One of the very few saints who would be rather delighted to be sharing his day with HIV awareness day, I feel. Charles de Foucald was a minor French aristocrat born in 1858. He joined the cavalry and led a thoroughly dissipated life and frittered away his fortune. In 1883 he was sent on an expedition to Morocco and fell in love with North Africa. Four years later he returned to the faith of his childhood and after a pilgrimage to the Holy Land he became a Trappist monk in 1890. But he sought a more austere life and in 1897 he left to become the servant of the Poor Clares in Jerusalem and Nazareth, living in their stable. He was eventually ordained priest in 1901 and went to live as a hermit in Algeria, ending up at Tamanrasset, the centre of the Tauregs, a war-like tribe and a place that has recorded some of the hottest temperatures on earth. He learned the local language and his care and concern for the local people made him accepted and then much loved, though he never sought converts. He composed rules for brothers and sisters though no-one ever joined him. He was killed ninety four years ago today, by the Tauregs, in the news at the moment for their depredations in Mali to the south, people whom he had befriended. It seems the killing was undoubtedly a mistake, somehow someone thought he was a spy. It was an unfortunate accident rather than a cold-blooded assassination.

Inspired by his rule the little sisters of the Sacred Heart were founded in 1933 and similarly inspired, Rene Voillaume and others started the Little Brothers of Jesus in 1945, during Charles’ life and until then there was nothing. When he celebrated Mass he used to consecrate hundreds of hosts and then go and plant them in the sand around his hermitage. I think you will have to wait to ask him why he did it. Archbishop Kallistos Ware said that one of the least inadequate reasons for the Church to exist is to celebrate the Eucharist. And there must be times in every priest’s life when as they look at those inside the church and think of those outside they wonder whether that is what they are doing, planting hosts in the desert.

Mercifully we have no idea of what God is doing through us; but no worry, it is still and increasingly the privilege and the wonder of the Eucharist that never ceases to feed and to enthral.

When I was most beautifully prepared for confirmation, it was generally assumed that truth that we would make our Communion about once a month. In truth that was about as often as the very small school could get a priest to come. Our school chapel was the converted stable of the old house, the great loose box at one end was the sanctuary and the stalls were where we sat. The stable was next to the carpenter’s shop and our prayers were often accompanied by the whirr of the lathe. And communion was once a month. We were given the most comprehensive scheme of preparation and thanksgiving. We began our preparation for communion a fortnight before the Sunday we were to make our communion, and we ended our thanksgiving a week after. Then we had a week off and then started the whole cycle again. We prepared the readings and searched our consciences and beat our breasts beforehand and wept copiously in joy afterwards, with daily prayers and duties. I wasn’t of an age that queried these things, but when I found I wanted to make my communion every week – pretty daring in the ‘50s in a very Anglican school where Pope St Pius xth was not often read – it became obvious that this system would not work and it was even more difficult when I was able to go to Mass every day – except that I could never make my communion on a Sunday, because the 11 am Solemn High Mass on a Sunday was non-communicating and that was when we had a lie-in. What I have always tried to do, is to remember at the beginning of Mass when I last went to Mass and then before I leave church to make myself aware of when I will next go to Mass. To make that chain of prayer through Mass complete as it were. Above all this helps me to bring all of myself to Mass: the good bits, the bad bits, the well thought through bits and the work in progress bits, the wondrous relationship bits and the total mess bits; the good news and the bad news; me in fact.

And then the second vital thing, is meditating on, turning over in ones mind constantly some part of the Mass. For example: Jesus took, blessed, broke and shared bread and wine, those four actions are at the very centre of what we are doing. The new liturgies make these four actions very obvious, whereas in some old liturgies I’d be pushed to work out which was what.

But Jesus blessed: I have always understood that the whole of the Eucharistic prayer was the prayer of blessing, that is to say that this is the prayer that sets the bread and the wine that we have taken aside, makes them holy, makes them the body and blood of Christ. I tread carefully deliberately. Yet we genuflect in the middle of it. I think that it only stems from the Schoolmen, from the middle ages, from the twelfth / thirteenth century. And the question that they had been posed was what happens if the priest drops dead having said the words over the bread and before he reaches the words for the wine. Is the bread Christ? and so priests started elevating and genuflecting to show the answer yes, but is it still necessary to do this? In my present parishes in three I don’t in one I do. Perhaps that is an indication of my ambivalence. I have been turning this over in my mind for six years already, that is part of the wonder of constantly meditating on parts of the Eucharist, there is so much time to do it. There are no deadlines to meet.

And then someone like Richard Giles comes along and writes a book like ‘At heaven’s gate – reflections on leading worship’ and suddenly you have to go back and think everything through again. It is so exciting; I cannot think a better word. Exciting.

For the Eucharist is the very centre of all our prayer. And just as I rejoiced that the original uses of the building that became my school chapel made so many connections with the Gospel so I rejoice in all the connections that there are between the Eucharist and daily living.

Richard Giles suggests seven building blocks of good worship – [1] good leadership; [2] building community; [3] creating assembly – by which he means making sure that your community knows what it is doing – that it is indeed the Body of Christ, called to exercise a priesthood within its community; [4] including children; [5] turning to the sun, that is being expectant that you will meet God; [6] making space for your worship; and [7] going counter cultural – that it challenging the world. But all these points are actually what is or should be happening in our homes as we build our own human family. I have been totally fascinated by the process of getting to know our sons-in-law and helping them to become part of our family, helping them to understand our family story and even to laugh at family jokes. And our daughters have gone through the same process as they have been assimilated into their new in-laws. And in our family preparations for Christmas, we have no problems about expectation, but we do have serious conversations about how we time things. The youngest at our table will be eighteen months old, the oldest is just six months short of her century. And perhaps these family celebrations are counter cultural too because, they are just a time of being. And it is not just great celebrations such as Christmas that lead us into the Eucharist. Every meal tells us something. Why do we choose to share our meals with some but not others? Why do some meals seem totally blessed? What is the difference between cosy candlelit dinners for two and noisy, rambunctious, joyous parties and what does this tell us about the Eucharist? We, as Christians, see ourselves as people of the Book, as members of a human family we are members at least of an oral tradition and to be members of the human family we must know that oral tradition to be part of it. The connections between our family meals and the Eucharist are legion.

Finally, for our attendance at the Eucharist, our Bible reading, for our conversation with the world, we need a rule of life. It is exactly the same as the rule that any athlete needs and has and as an athletes rule one really does need a personal trainer or guru or soul friend or whatever. And exactly like an athlete belongs to a gym, it is well worth being associated with a religious community but that depends entirely on your particular needs. I was first an Oblate of the Community of the Resurrection, until I committed the sin of matrimony and now I am an Oblate of Alton Abbey – a Benedictine foundation – Benedictine spirituality is very Anglican or rather Anglicanism was formed by Benedictine spirituality. It suits me and Alton Abbey for me is a thin place, a place where I find God easily.

And what is this rule, well it does depend where you are in your life – what sort of athlete you want to be. One of our daughters, who is, among other things, a tri-athlete, an exponent of an Iron Man, swimming five miles, cycling 100 miles and then running a marathon, monitors everything from her eating and sleeping through to exactly how much she does anything every day. At a saner level, my rule of life is about saying the office, going to mass, interceding, confession, fasting, alms-giving. It is also in a slight state of flux at the moment as I try to retire from full time ministry. A rule may take time to devise, but once it is in place it needs to be firmly fixed, like the yoke on an oxen, that if it is tight and well-fitting allows the oxen to do its best.

But having said all that: when Jane Frances de Chantal was newly widowed, aged thirty-one, she met for the first time Francis de Sales. He used to visit her father’s house and then hers where she lived with her widowed father-in-law and four children. On one of these visits one of the servants stopped him and complained about madam. It is impossible to do our work said the servant, every time we start doing anything, madam has the bell rung and we all have to go off to pray. Francis said to Jane that there was no need to say all these offices rather she should pray all the time, pray constantly. Of course there should be times when we go to our holy place and shut out the world and give all of our attention to God, but what we are aiming for is to live our lives and say our prayers knowing that he is constantly by our side, seeing and understanding everything we do and constantly guiding us and helping us and empowering us, if only we listen to him.

Here I am: ready to do your will. Speak to me.

Newspapers and Bibles

I think that it was Rowan Williams who said that the new Archbishop of Canterbury needed to face the world with a newspaper in one hand and a Bible in the other. Making the connection our prayer and the newspaper – the world – is often very much easier than making the connection between the Bible and our prayer or perhaps more vitally between the Bible and the world.

At Theological College we were told that once ordained one should always have three books on the go, a substantial tome of Theology, an important work of literature, preferably by someone who has won the Nobel Prize for something, or failing all else Dostoevsky and finally some serious Biblical commentary. The problem with Biblical commentaries is that they are all written by people who make their money by writing books for people who also write books. What they write must be new or controversial. Books that say ‘I totally agree with all that has been said so far’, don’t get published, let alone do they sell. It is a sort of vicious circle which often seems out of touch with the world and it is totally cyclical. In the nineteen sixties it was rather avant-garde to suggest that maybe the person who wrote the Gospel according to St Luke also wrote the Acts of the Apostles, then it suddenly became a fact that everyone who wasn’t half dead knew; now, I hear from our new parish deacon, fresh out of college that the pendulum has swung and people are suggesting that maybe there were two different authors for the two differing books. And it all pivots on an irregular aorist on, would you believe it, no less than two different occasions. [I made that bit up.] When I took my exams it was surmised the Paul in fact had written four letters to the Corinthians which were then conflated into the two we know. And then I could have given you chapter and verse and cross-referenced it all with Acts. I have just bought a new commentary which says that in the intervening years theorists suggested that there were in fact as many as sixteen letters to the Corinthians conflated into two. My new commentary tells me that there are just two letters and the historical order is as you will find them in any Bible.

Nonetheless, commentaries are important, but they do not necessarily drive us to pray. I find two things helpful. First, and this works especially well with the gospels, picture yourself there. This morning’s gospel is a wonderful example. [Matthew ch 4 vv 18-22] Picture the scene. We do not have to have been to Lake Galilee to do that. The picture we get might be an amalgam of several ghastly pious films, but picture the scene, cast yourself into the scene. Try to imagine it through the eyes of Jesus, or Peter and Andrew, James and John, or one of the other fishermen who were most probably there – and we have left the commentaries way behind us now, so if your want to have a detachment of Roman soldiers in the back ground, anything goes, we are in our imaginations. Then when we are firmly in the picture we can run it again and again, looking and listening from different viewpoints. I said that this works especially well with the Gospels, with imagination this can be done with any part of the Bible. Walter Brugermann has constructed an extraordinary weekend, with perhaps thirty people, imagining the church in Corinth that caused Paul to write I Corinthians ch 11 vv 17-34, or take your parish away for the weekend so you can learn to dance Psalm 107, or use Psalm 22 to re-enact the veneration of the Cross.

So that is one way into the Bible, physically climbing into it, which may include acting it out and then asking each other what it meant to them, try doing that with the four young men bringing their paralytic friend to Jesus and lowering him through the roof. You will almost certainly find that the voices that are loudest have nothing to do with how to bring others to faith but they are the householders complaining bitterly that their houses have been destroyed and the paralytics saying – don’t forget our faith, don’t just assume that because we do not go to church that we are atheists.

And that exercise leads me on to the second way of getting into the Bible, and that is listening to what the world says about it. So when we talk blithely about mission we need to remember that if we increase our congregation by even one, the congregation will change and that can be quite hard for the old congregation – the householders and their precious house. And when we go out into the highways and byways to bring in those who are outside we need to be sensitive to their faith, they may not express it in words that we recognise, they may believe things that we think anathema, their ethics might be abominable, but that doesn’t allow us to strap them to a stretcher and bring them to Jesus. And so much of the pain in the Church in Africa comes because our well meaning Victorian ancestors did just that.

But listening to the world, again this morning’s reading. I remember a very holy old lady – who was all but housebound – telling me how guilty that Gospel reading, and the average sermon on it, made her feel, because she said ‘at my age and in my state of health I can do nothing. Where is my vocation? How am I following Christ?’ Morning and evening she said her prayers; she had a comfortable chair in her bed-room, a holy place set apart. And if you knew anything about her, you would know that when a particular light was on in her flat, she was in her holy place, praying. And I told her, which was perfectly true, that I walked past her flat at least twice a day and certainly every morning and early evening her light was on and I knew that she was saying her prayers, and that gave me enormous encouragement in my rushing around. Her rushing around days were over and now in her extreme old age her vocation was to pray. That conversation allowed the two of us to see this morning’s gospel in a totally different light.

But central to our connecting the world with the Bible and ourselves through the Bible to God are the Psalms. What is it that makes the Psalms so special? Every other book in the Bible talks about God. Whether it is through History or the Law or Prophecy or Wisdom, God is revealed to us. In the book of Psalms we may have the same revelation but it is humankind talking to and about God. The Psalms developed from humankind’s reaction to God, within the context of liturgy. Many of them developed from an oral tradition, in other words they were used as hymns or entreaties or thanksgivings and polished over the years into the forms that we know them now. And since they started as oral traditions they can be quite mixed so that a hymn of praise may turn into an entreaty and then into thanksgiving. Because the Psalms are humankind’s response to God they run the gamut of human emotion. They explore and expose lust and sloth and anger and wrath and pride and gluttony and envy as well as all our virtues and particularly faith and hope and love. Tragically there are some who like to cut out the nasty bits, but for us mere mortals, even if we are never tempted by most of the seven deadly sins it is actually extremely challenging, and good for us, to be faced with those sins that do tempt us. It also teaches us to be more compassionate towards those who are tempted and succumb to sins that either we have grown out of or just, mercifully do not touch us. And if you doubt this try flying across the Atlantic with a screaming baby in the seat next door to you; Psalm 137 will seem like good advice.

The Psalm-form or perhaps more properly poetry is not confined to the Book of Psalms or even the Old Testament. In fact it is most familiar to us, probably, in the Magnificat, the Nunc Dimittis and the Benedictus. Here it is Our Lady, Simeon and Zechariah responding to the wonder of God, true paeans of praise. Another New Testament favourite is Philippians ch 2 vv 6-11, where Paul quotes what was almost certainly an early Christian hymn or creedal statement.

And for me, the importance of the Bible can be summed up in Psalm 119 v 130: ‘The opening of your word gives light: it gives understanding to the simple.’ Psalm 119 used to be the bedrock of the Monastic office and was recited, all 176 verses if not every day, every week. Jonathan Graham, sometime Superior of the Community of the Resurrection described it thus:

“Psalm 119 is a love song, not a passionate love song, nor the song of love at first sight, nor the bitter sweet of emotion and desire. It is the song of a happy married life. It breathes all the way through the charmed monotony of life vowed to another….. It repeats with endless variety and sweet restraint the simple inexpressible truth that can never grow weary or stale. ‘I love you with my whole heart’”

And verse 130 gives us all the reason we need to read the Psalms and to find the Word among us. ‘The opening of your word gives light: it gives understanding to the simple.’ For me it is the pearl of great price that is worth repeating every time that we open the Bible. We may be given great insight through sermons and homilies and commentaries, but it is familiarising ourselves with the Bible itself that is most important and reading it with the anticipation that we are going to find good things, above all light. One of the wonders of the Bible for me is that way that it illuminates all that is happening all around me. We need to read it with this expectation. ‘The opening of your word gives light: it gives understanding to the simple.’

Making connections

Probably the greatest ever American College basketball coach was a man called John Wooden. After a great playing career he was for twenty-seven years head coach of the UCLA – the University of California Los Angeles – basket ball team and in a period of twelve years he won the National Collegiate Athletic Association championship ten times, seven of them consecutively. Over his life-time he won every basketball honour possible. He is a member of the Basketball Hall of Fame, both as a player and a coach and was finally awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

The first coaching session of each new school year was the same every time. He gathered together all the players and all his assistant coaches. And he arranged them so that the assistant coaches and the seniors were at the front and then ranged in seniority back to the freshers. Then he took a pair of basketball boots and a set of laces and showed them all how to lace up the boot, put it on and tie it. The freshers were flabbergasted not only by the behaviour of this legendary coach, but also by the behaviour of the assistant coaches and their seniors, who were both watching and obeying and not only watching and obeying, but deeply concentrating as they followed the instructions. They thought that they were the butt of some joke, but it was deadly serious.

At a purely practical level it meant the John Wooden never lost a game because one of his players lost a boot, they didn’t; and equally he never lost a player because they got injured because their boots didn’t fit or weren’t tied correctly or they tripped themselves up. But more important it reminded everyone that it was the most basic things that were important and that needed to be returned to time and time again.

Michael Ramsey when Archbishop of Canterbury was asked by a cub reporter from one of the Canterbury papers, how long he prayed each day. And the Archbishop replied about two or three minutes. The heart of the cub reporter leapt he thought that he has a scoop on his hands, the headlines flashed across his eyes, but the Archbishop went on, but it takes me a couple of hours to prepare for those two or three minutes. So last night was not just a ruse to get you to relax and turn off your electronic machines, it was what needs to happen every time we settle down to pray. Rowan Williams said ‘my body is my hermitage and when I return to my hermitage I find God.’ If you go to the Hazy Moon website – it is a strange Californian Zen web-site – don’t even both to ask how I found it, it will teach you how to meditate in five minutes and the whole five minutes is taken up with being shown how to get comfortable and get in touch with your breathing. Much of doing this will happen rather more speedily than it happened last night we will have, we ought to have, a place that is holy to us that is comfortable to us, whereby just in getting to the place the process has started. All the information that our senses are receiving is so familiar to us that we can easily turn it off. We just need to have that space that we can get to every day and there might, of course, be other places that we can only get to occasionally, places that George McCloud, the founder of the Iona Community, called ‘thin places’ places, where God seems very close, Iona itself, here [Walsingham] perhaps.

But the hermitage which is my body: I saw a billboard in America last month which said prayer is not giving instructions to Go: it is saying to God, here I am ready: ready principally to receive information and we need to remember that we receive and transmit information in each one of our senses, just in the same way that we receive and transmit information – we communicate with each other – with all our senses, you know, or you will soon find out that a touch, a hug, might well be the only thing that we can do with someone who is newly bereaved, or who has just received horrendous news or just needs affirming: try going with a gay friend or a friend of a different ethnic grouping into a football crowd and you could well smell fear, if you have never smelt it before: and bitterness has a very definite taste. In fact many is the occasion where words are just totally inadequate – we can only communicate with others via other senses. So as we communicate with each other with all our senses we must expect that communication both to and from God uses all our senses. It is fascinating how when we enter a church where there is still the smell of incense or votive candles flickering that our noses and our eyes tell us that here is a place where prayer has happened or is happening. And the corollary, no smells, no candles, no pictures on the wall or in the windows makes us pause and wonder whether we are in the right place. There are two almost identical churches, built in some architectural competition just after the Second World War in what was then West Berlin, one Lutheran, one Roman Catholic, both quite dark in the twilight, but one smelling of beeswax polish and the other of incense. Not hard to work out which was which. And in our preparation to say that we are here, ready, we very often have to turn off our senses, one by one, by identifying what it is that they are telling us and just putting it by. The easiest sense is probably our hearing because that is the one we have to turn off most often; silence is seldom to be found and even in the quietest places, we need to start by listening for the background noise and identifying it and putting it by, the sounds of wind and waves and birds, the rain on the roof or against the window, the wonders of creation. Some senses are impossible to turn off, frying bacon for example when you are hungry. And sometimes as soon as one settles one goes to sleep. Theresa of Avila saw this as a great blessing; it could of course be that God is telling us to look after ourselves, rather more carefully.

And then, prepared, what do we do? I have been sorely tempted to write a long list of wondrous books on prayer. It wouldn’t be hard, and most priests’ libraries are full of them. But, first, prayer is above all something we have to do, not read about. The great expert is not the one who has worn out the seat of their trousers sitting down reading books, but the one who has worn out the knees of their trousers actually praying. Books do feed the doing, what is most important is do not struggle on with any of the great classics. If they don’t help, or they don’t seem to mean anything fairly quickly, don’t bother. Maybe in ten or twenty years, they will reflect exactly where you will be then – maybe they are where you were five years ago. There is no magic ladder up which all of us travel in orderly procession, God meets us where we are and takes us where he wants. And if we are ever asked to walk beside another on this pilgrimage of prayer we might well find that we cannot help because we are on different roads altogether, at that moment. It is not a higher road, or a lower road, or a better road, it is a different road, because we are all different.

I have just been looking at my own treasured spiritual classics that I need close to hand always and apart from Anthony de Melo, the Song of the Bird and Dag Hammarskjold’s Markings, I notice both the Constance Spry cookery book and a complete set of Elizabeth David have crept onto the shelf. I am surprised that they have not been joined by a novel or two, because although for me, cookery books and cooking are a great aid to prayer, it is novels that have always taught me my pastoral theology and illuminated my intercessions, in the most unexpected ways. It started with a novel I read when I was about 17 was a book called the Woman of Rome, by the great Italian novelist, Alberto Moravia. I read it for entirely the wrong reasons. It had been banned by the Pope. I thought that it had been banned because it was pornographic – hence my desire to read it – there wasn’t much around in the sixties it was even before Lady Chatterley’s lover – actually it had been banned because its doctrine of sacramental confession was deficient – a weakness that didn’t exactly spring to my mind at the time. Much of the dialogue in the book was between the woman and her confessor, and he asked her too many questions, that was the error. All this was lost on me, but the conversations were fascinating and at one point, the woman, who was, of course a prostitute, said she could only pursue her trade, because every person in the world has something attractive about them and you just look for that attractive something and work on it. The novel was a book of ideas and if you are going to be a parish priest, that is an extraordinary thought, that has saved me on countless occasions when I have been faced with parishioners, who seem to have nothing to commend them, there must be something about them, some tiny hint of the God in whose image they were created, if only I could see it. Even when I find it, they might not end up best friends ever, but at least they become tolerable to live with and on occasion, your relationship with them and your prayers will transform them beyond recognition. Before I was ordained, I worked for a year in the Bristol University Settlement. One of the works there was with old people and we had an enormous number of activities for them and over eight hundred of them on our books. One of them who came every day was Miss Bodycote. And Miss Bodycote was a sad unpleasant woman. She had no friends, a tongue like a razor and sadness and loneliness and disappointment and frustration were deeply etched on her unlovely face. She was so unpleasant that the Members’ Committee wanted to throw her out of the Club. This had never been done before and it felt totally wrong, totally against the ethos of what had been a Quaker foundation. So we decided that instead of expelling her we would love her. But we needed a reason to love her – and we found it in her lemon drizzle cake. It was divine, but it was still very hard to turn the memory of that taste into the reality of love. Even smiling warmly when she entered the room or when we met her in the street needed positive, not to say determined effort. But it gradually grew easier because she changed. Probably for the first time in her life she felt accepted, loved. And as she changed, the unpleasant externals gently faded away. Her eyes became warm and even occasionally sparkled. The line of her jaw became softer. Her whole body language altered. And when I called her ‘Gertie’ for the first time – at her invitation – she wept, because no-one had called her that – probably no one had known that that was her name – since her mother had died sixty years before. And when she herself died the Church was packed for the funeral. Dear Gertie Bodycote, living on in my heart, and if that can happen to her, just because her lemon drizzle cake was divine, what an advertisement for love.

So actually making connections between what we are reading and prayer is not to confine our reading to spiritual classics but rather to expect everything we read and everyone we meet to increase our wonder at the greatness of God. We feed our prayer of course with spiritual classics, but more often with novels and magazines and the newspapers all of them showing what is happening in God’s world and how people behave with each other. And we can read and re-read, or if it is film or television watch and re-watch. And all of the time we are being challenged to find where God is expecting us to be ready to be his hands and his feet and his ears and his voice in his world. All he needs to do is to point us in the right direction. We are probably not being called to solve the problems of Syria, we pray that someone will come forward who is called, but we ourselves respond to that prayer by being more considerate more like peacemakers in our own patch.

And it is not only words and sights that feed us. Personally I find music also overwhelms me. Not only its beauty but also its pain: listen to – but no music is so very personal and you must find your own, just don’t be surprised when the third act of La Boheme drives you to prayer or Judy Collins – ask your father – drives you to penance, maybe for you its Back to black anyway. But every single way that humankind has found to express itself in art and culture is also a way that can show us God and enrich our prayer. All we have to do is to make the connections.

In the beginning…

We started our Retreat with the opportunity to write down on a piece of paper anything or anyone we had brought with us on the Retreat, which or who was liable to interrupt this time. It could have been about a relationship or vocation or a family member in trouble or whatever. The piece of paper was then sealed in an envelope and left with God for the time of the Retreat. At the end retreatants were invited to take the envelopes back or leave them to be destroyed.

We then spent some time getting comfortable but alert. Feet flat on the ground, ideally upper legs parallel with the ground, backs and heads straight, hands resting naturally on our thighs.

We then travelled, mentally, up our bodies from our toes, up our legs, through our vital organs, out to our finger tips, up into our brains and faces, down our necks to our hearts. It was as it we were just checking that everything was there and thus becoming totally aware of our bodies.

We then became aware of our senses, what were they telling us? gradually we turned them off so that we became still.

In that silence we could become aware of our breathing, trying to breathe in by pulling down our diaphragms, so that we took a really deep slow breath and breathing out in the same slow way. This would be something that we ought to be aware of every day: counting in for say four beats, holding our breath for four beats, breathing out for four and then holding one’s breath for another four. The awareness and the control would grow.

We then followed the air down into our lungs and imagined the vital oxygen being taken up in the haemoglobin and setting off round the body in our blood, through our hearts and then out to the tips of our fingers and toes, up to the top of our skulls, through our vital organs, bringing oxygen and collecting impurities, and finally arriving back in the lungs to release the carbon dioxide, which was then exhaled.

Finally we imagined that we were inhaling God and allowing him into every part of our bodies and our lives. Filling ourselves with his goodness and exhaling all that is unworthy of him.

There was silence.