by Rachel Inglis
Posted 1st May 2016
I meet all sorts of people when walking the dog that I don’t normally meet. Well, that’s mostly because I’m now up and out much earlier than I used to be during Life Before Dog.
Recently I bumped into someone I hadn’t seen for a while. After she’d admired my new puppy, she said she had to get on as she would be ‘late for meditation’. I was intrigued. She’d told me a long time ago that she wasn’t a person of faith and so definitely not interested in church. Yet she was going to meditation. Meditation has been practised by people of faith for centuries – not only by Buddhists, but by the Desert Mothers and Fathers back in the 2nd Century, as well as contemporary Christians including modern-day hermits and solitaries.
I had been approached recently by a staff member of a college campus nearby to ask if I would offer sessions on Mindfulness to students. The main reason was to help with their stress levels as exams approached, but I suggested that the practice might actually help with their ongoing life. Ordinarily my practice – retreats, quiet days, one-to-one spiritual direction – attracts people in the second half of life and those approaching retirement. So I’m delighted, if a bit nervous, to be connecting with young people under 30.
I’m not an expert on Mindfulness, however, I have been practising a Christian form of it for almost 15 years, ever since I first encountered Ignatian Spirituality. It’s what I would call a ‘prayer of stillness’. It is about becoming aware of our body, our breathing and our senses, all of which help us to stay in the present moment.
Whilst many people will practice meditation and mindfulness as a practical aid, for many it can be the start of connecting with a sense of Otherness, Mystery, Ground of Being – which I would call God. As an Ignatian, I believe that God can be (and is!) found in all things. I also believe that God is a God of infinite patience, and walks alongside us at our pace.
So I’m delighted that my local acquaintance - who wouldn’t walk into a church - is going to meditation. Who knows where this will lead her?
WHAT SHOULD I DO?
by Rachel Inglis
posted 4 March 2016
I’ve been thinking about getting a dog for months. Or more like swithering, actually. So the following quote in a newspaper resonated:
“My own heart tells me [one thing], and my head then works with the facts ….. pulling them towards my predetermined position.”
Oh, how true.
I’ve done heaps of research, spoken to dog-owners, and am doing the reading. Then recently I learnt that a litter had been born to reputable breeders, and suddenly it’s become a reality!
Time to stop swithering and make a decision. But what should I do?
I had an epiphany moment. What about using ‘discernment’?
You might feel that going through a ‘discernment process’ just to get a dog sounds a bit OTT, but it made sense to me. This will make a huge difference to my life, and it is a responsibility. It’s not a decision to be taken lightly, in other words.
The other thought lurking at the back of my mind was that either choice would be a good choice – there’s no obvious right or wrong here. For most of us, the choices we swither over are those where there is no obvious ‘right’ choice, and so how do we make the ‘best’ choice from two equally good ones?
What does Ignatian spirituality say about discernment?
Be ‘balanced’ for a start – or, to put it another way, aim for the state of heart where I am just as happy with either choice. So it first involves becoming aware of any ‘predetermined position’ of the heart and letting go of preference either way. In that way I am free to respond to the Spirit’s prompting.
If, when faced with a decision, we find ourselves swithering, as I did, the first suggestion is to make a list for and then one against. I first made a list against getting a dog, and then lived with that for a day, noticing how I felt. The following day I made a list for getting a dog, and then lived with that for a day, again noticing how I felt.
Writing the two lists helped to articulate what had just been vague feelings, and I was surprised by what I wrote. There was quite a qualitative difference in the two lists.
I noticed that the ‘for’ list had much more energy, life and consolation for me. I then spoke to a friend, who also noted that I sounded energised just talking about getting a dog.
Once I had made the decision, I noted again how I felt – did it still feel right, or was there an inner check? One thing is certain, the swithering has gone and I’m very content with my decision.
And, so, I hear you ask, have you got it yet? Well, no, but soon! A Westie, since you ask.
FROM THE HEART
by Rachel Inglis
posted 16 February 2016
In the book of daily prayers I use currently 1, there is a wonderful line about the coming day as a “gateway onto what has never been before.”
Sometimes my eyes just skip over that phrase, and my mind barely registers it. Other times, I’m arrested by it, and my heart is suddenly engaged with the wonder of the freshness and never-before-experiencedness of the coming day. It offers enticing opportunities of renewal and new gift.
We are at the start of Lent and - I don’t know about you - but I find it very easy to lose sight of the fact that this is a new, never-before-experienced Lent, one during which I can encounter and be surprised by God in infinite new ways.
One of my annual Lenten readings is ‘the heart’s time’ by Janet Morley 2. It’s a book that was recommended to me a few years’ ago, and I heartily recommend it on to you. It’s a poem a day for Lent through to Easter, followed by a short reflection by the author.
Today’s poem really grabbed me. It is a love poem entitled ‘Late have I loved you’ by St Augustine, which first appeared in his Confessions. I must have read it last year, but I don’t recall being so caught up by it.
At the end of the reflection, we’re invited to write our own ‘love letter’ to God. Usually that kind of invitation makes me curl up inside, and hastily turn the page. But this time I stopped and decided to accept the invitation, which felt more like a challenge initially.
Much to my surprise I found it easy, and the challenge was more about when to stop. I found it cathartic and insightful, in that it showed me what I felt was precious about God’s relationship with me and which I might not have articulated in another way.
And so, I extend the invitation to you. Write your own love letter to God, and surprise yourself by what emerges.
1 John Philip Newell. 2011. ‘Praying with the Earth: A Prayerbook for Peace’. Canterbury Press. ISBN 978-1-84825-049-9
2 Janet Morley. 2011. ‘the heart’s time’. SPCK. ISBN 978-0-281-06372-7
VERY ORDINARY TIME
by Rachel Inglis
Posted 3rd February, 2016
“At the beginning of the day
we seek your countenance among us, O God,
in the countless forms of creation all around us
in the sun’s rising glory
in the face of friend and stranger.” 1
Christmas is becoming a distant memory. Lent is almost upon us. At the moment we are in ‘Ordinary Time’. This is a liturgical term, denoting those times in the liturgical calendar when not much is happening (my definition!).
I like Ordinary Time.
Yes, during Advent we reflect on the wonder of the Incarnation. During Lent, we experience the painful journey Jesus makes to the Cross. At Easter, we experience afresh the joy of Resurrection, and Pentecost, the outpouring of the Spirit. During these times we might have a heightened sense of awareness of God with us.
But in Ordinary Time, we look for the presence of God in our ordinary, daily life. That can take faith, and a more sensitive attuning to God with us ‘in the countless forms of creation all around us’.
As you read this, stop and notice in what ways you can see God’s countenance around you. On this ordinary day. When not much is happening...... on the surface, at least.
1 quoted from: John Philip Newell, 2011. Praying with the Earth: A Prayerbook for Peace. Canterbury Press, Norwich. ISBN 978-1-84825-049-9.
OUR LADY OF THE WALL
by Elspeth Strachan
Posted 20 December 2015
Advent is a time of expectant waiting for the birth of Christ in us and in the world and this year the icon of Our Lady of the Wall has been haunting me since Advent began. She was painted on the Bethlehem Separation Barrier by local icon painter Ian Knowles in 2010 at the request of some local Franciscan sisters as a symbol of hope that one day the Wall would come down and the Israeli occupation end.
Every Friday without fail Franciscan, Benedictine and Melkite sisters and brothers, local Christians, visiting pilgrims - and the Ecumenical Accompaniers (EAs) who are in Bethlehem with the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI) - join one another for a prayer walk along part of the Wall, reciting Hail Mary and praying for peace.
As I reflect on my time in Bethlehem as an EA, I find myself irresistibly drawn to Our Lady of the Wall - despite having been brought up a Presbyterian where giving Mary any attention would have been unthinkable! She has risen above these fears and “printed an image in my heart as a mark that will never be erased from my soul” to quote a passage from the Song of Songs, used by Ian Knowles as an introduction to his Bethlehem Icon School website.
The image printed in my heart by this icon is of someone pointing to the Christ child growing in her. One hand rests on her womb and the other is on her brow in sorrow at what Bethlehem has become. Beneath her is a doorway into Jerusalem – the place that Palestinians from the West Bank can no longer go without a permit. To her left are three olive trees representing faith, hope and love. Her eyes look directly at us, challenging us to allow Christ to grow in us as he grows in her. As Rowan Williams says: “That is what any icon sets out to embody and transmit. We, watching and waiting for Christ to come more fully to birth in us, are waiting for our lives to become 'iconic', to show in their colour and line and movement, how God acts, Christlike in us."
The challenge for all Christians and particularly those in Palestine is to trust that Christ will indeed come more fully to birth in us and in our world, bringing light to the darkest places, even Bethlehem.
Elspeth Strachan was sent by Quaker Peace & Social Witness (QPSW) as an Ecumenical Accompanier serving on the World Council of Churches’ Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI). This blog expresses her personal views and experiences of her time there. She is a spiritual director and member of the Epiphany Group.