Archive for the ‘Prayer’ Category

Today, in my sermon at Cliftonville Moravian Church, ‘Embracing Vulnerability: Honesty in Prayer’, I explored the Prophet Jeremiah’s complex relationship with God.

With Jeremiah one can feel his honesty, expressed vividly by the language used, as he vents his frustrations with God directly to God.  In suffering persecution, mockery and public shame on account of his calling as a prophet, Jeremiah experiences emotional agitation that is, at times, much more than he fears he can bear.  Nevertheless, there are periods, amidst the tumult, where calm descends upon him and enables him to withstand the cruel criticism and soothes his suffering.  Jeremiah’s honesty with God is refreshing and at times almost brutal, and therein lies its importance.  As Michael Casey, the Australian Cistercian Monk and accomplished author has written of Jeremiah’s strongly worded complaints to God:

‘There is a sense in which the very act of addressing such a complaint to God is the beginning of its solution.  What we fear above all is the unnameable.  Being able to speak of a terror relativises it.  The possibility of reaching out to God from the depths of our affliction indicates that a skerrick of our faith survives.’

As Clement of Alexandria recognised: ‘Prayer is conversation with God’.  And as a conversation, it should be open and honest. As Jeremiah vigorously reminds us, we are at our most authentic when we come to God, just as we are; when we bow our heads in prayer and open our hearts unreservedly and unconditionally.  Yes, at times what we uncover is painful and perplexing, but it is at that point of realisation, where we experience an earnest communion with God, and sustain, as Martin Luther described it: ‘the fire of faith‘.

So pray with all your heart, and all your mind and all your soul; pray with a a purity of intention and an honesty that lays bare the tumult and turmoil.  Name the unnameable; explore the unexplored in the light and love of God’s presence.

Every blessing, Scott

 

 

 

Mirabilis Health is pleased to announce an exciting new course for those involved in ministry and pastoral care:

Self-Care for Pastoral Carers: A Specialist Workshop

Trainers: Rev. Dr. Scott PeddieDr. Volodimir Bezulowsky (Psychiatrist) & Dr. Paul Miller (Consultant Psychiatrist and Psychogeriatrician)

Date:  Thursday 26th February 2015 from 1-5pm (tea/coffee/biscuits available from 12.30pm)

Venue: Mirabilis Health, Holywood House, Holywood, BT18 9HF

Cost:   £45 per person (includes refreshments)

This interactive course is designed especially for Ministers/Priests/Pastors/Pastoral Carers and will comprise the following sessions:

  • Understanding, recognising and managing stress.
  • Exploring the implications of mental/physical well-being and good pastoral care.
  • Revisiting that Christian response: the interface between faith and self-care.

Here’s what people say about our courses:

  • ‘Excellent afternoon. Very helpful and informative. Both presenters’ (Scott & Volodimir) way of communicating and responding to us created the perfect atmosphere and modelled the kind of listening and attentive response they advocated’.
  • ‘Absolutely excellent. Very clear, helpful and relevant’.

Other courses that will be made available in the forthcoming year in our pastoral care series include: dementia, eating disorders, trauma, meaning-centred pastoral care and suicide awareness (You Must Ask).

I do hope that you can join us on the Self-Care for Pastoral Carers course! To book your place, or to find out more about our other courses, please e-mail me (scottpeddie@sky.com) at your earliest convenience.

With best wishes,

Scott

Rev. Dr. Scott Peddie (Mirabilis Health)

www.mirabilishealth.co.uk.

Thomas Merton.  Picture used with permission of the Merton Legacy Trust.

Thomas Merton. Picture used with permission of the Merton Legacy Trust.

At the end of the old year and the beginning of the new, I, like so many others, pray for peace.  In a world torn apart by conflict and war, peace is sorely needed.  And so I pray for peace in Syria, Iraq and South Sudan, as well as the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian Conflict.  And then there are those conflicts and insurgencies that we hear little about – the Mexican drug war, the Libyan civil war and the Kashmir conflict – I pray for peace there too.

Praying for peace is essential, but so too is listening to those wise words by that monk, spiritual writer and activist Thomas Merton, when he reminds us the genesis of war and peace takes place within our souls.  Thus he wrote:

Instead of hating the people you think are war-makers, hate the appetites and disorder in your own soul, which are the causes of war. If you love peace, then hate injustice, hate tyranny, hate greed – but hate these things in yourself, not in another.

That we need to first look inwards is obvious to Merton; may that seed planted in Merton’s mind be transposed into our souls in 2015 and beyond.  And so I wish you a peaceful and reflective New Year!

(P.S. Please do like the Merton Fellowship for Peace & Contemplative Living in Ireland’s facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/MertonIreland) or bookmark our website (www.mertonfellowship.wordpress.com)).

Merton Fellowship Title

To celebrate the 100th Anniversary of Thomas Merton’s Birth, The Viktor Frankl Institute of Ireland and Thomas Merton Fellowship Invite you to a One-Day Workshop:

‘EXPLORING MEANING WITH THOMAS MERTON AND VIKTOR FRANKL’

Facilitators:
Dr Stephen J. Costello, Director, Viktor Frankl Institute of Ireland
Rev. Dr. Scott Peddie, Thomas Merton Fellowship

Thomas Merton was much influenced by Viktor Frankl’s writings on meaning and often cited the latter’s Man’s Search for Meaning. This day will explore our spiritual search for meaning within a logotherapeutic perspective, relating it practically to our personal quest for purpose and values, through lectures, meditations, and reflective and experiential exercises.

Saturday January 31st: 11am-5pm, Bethlehem Abbey, Ballymena Rd., Portglenone, Co. Antrim (Cost: €55 or £50)

Note: this workshop will have different content to the ‘Meaning with Merton Workshop’ previously held in Dublin.

Bookings/Enquiries to scottpeddie@sky.com

Viktor Frankl Institute

About Thomas Merton (1915-1968): Trappist monk, poet, social activist and author of the spiritual classic, The Seven Storey Mountain.

Viktor Frankl (1905-1997): Neurologist, psychiatrist, philosopher, founder of logotherapy and existential analysis, concentration camp survivor and author of Man’s Search for Meaning.

As the Merton Fellowship for Peace and Contemplative Living met this weekend on a day retreat in All Souls Church in Belfast, I found myself reflecting on how far we have come in the four or so years we have been in existence.  Since the first tentative steps were taken in an initial meeting held in University Road Moravian Church, Belfast, we have met in a variety of locations across Ireland.  Indeed, we have found ourselves welcoming new and existing members in locations across Ireland that include the Tobar Mhuire Retreat Centre (Co. Down), Malin Presbyterian Church (Co. Donegal), the Avila Carmelite Centre (Co. Dublin), Drumalis Retreat Centre, Bethlehem Abbey, McQuiston Memorial Presbyterian Church and the Corrymeela Community (all Co. Antrim).

Photo courtesy of Tanya Jones.

Photo courtesy of Tanya Jones.

The topics for our retreats have been as diverse as the backgrounds of those who join us, whether on a regular basis or occasionally.  We have discussed meditation, contemplative prayer, the monastic life, non-violence, faith and meaning among an eclectic mix of people from a range of denominational backgrounds – Catholic, Moravian, Presbyterian, Methodist, Anglican and Non-Denominational.  In that sense our ecumenical journey reflects something of Merton’s thinking as explored in Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander:

 If I can unite in myself, in my own spiritual life, the thought of the East and the West, of the Greek and the Latin Fathers, I will create in myself a reunion of the divided Church, and from that unity in myself can come the exterior and visible unity of the Church. For, if we want to bring together East and West, we cannot do it by imposing one upon the other. We must contain both in ourselves and transcend them both in Christ.

The Merton Fellowship has also been blessed with the presence of friends from the Buddhist and Baha’i communities, all of whom have enhanced our understanding of Merton immeasurably. Together we have explored that false divide between faith and action, sacred and secular, and so much more.

Thomas Merton.  Picture used with permission of the Merton Legacy Trust.

Thomas Merton. Picture used with permission of the Merton Legacy Trust.

Our eclecticism has also been enhanced by the life experience of those we count as Merton Fellows: teachers, lecturers, a novelist, a poet, a neuropathologist, monks (Christian and Buddhist), businessmen & women, activists, ministers, priests, therapists, nurses, physicians, nuns and a plethora of others, have brought their unique life experiences to bear on our discussions and spiritual reflections.

A blessed community indeed……

“A fine line separates the weary recluse from the fearful hermit. Finer still is the line between hermit and bitter misanthrope.” So wrote Dean Koontz in Velocity.

Koontz’s words carry some weight, especially if they are read in the context of a complex social phenomenon in Japan, known as Hikikomori (meaning “pulling inward, being confined”) which has a disturbingly high prevalence.  Social, economic and educational factors have combined to produce the perfect storm of reclusive, withdrawn adolescents and young (mainly) men in their twenties and beyond. Driven by a desire to ‘escape’ from an increasingly complex and unforgiving society, swathes of highly talented individuals drop off the radar screen, perhaps to emerge later at an unspecified date…….or perhaps not – nobody can predict how each story will unfold.

So the modern-day secular hermit of Japanese culture is widely accepted to be a negative influence – on both the individual and society as a whole.  Youngsters, instead of being drawn towards something positive, are instead retreating from the negative, disengaging and becoming progressively more narcissistic; this introspection is very far removed from the healthy reflection we can all benefit from.

As I watched a documentary on the Hikikomori the other day, I was struck by the sheer desperation that was all-pervasive.  The eremitical life, as lived out in this almost nihilistic context, was certainly not a force for good.  But it got me thinking nonetheless.

These modern-day hermits are very far removed from the faith-driven hermits of Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism and Taoist among others. There is scant comparison between the Hikikomori and the Carthusian, Camaldolese, or some expressions of the Cistercian way of life for example.  That great Cistercian writer and one-time hermit Thomas Merton points towards a positive and constructive expression of solitary living; drawn towards a deeper, more authentic experience of the divine, Merton was a spiritual dynamo whose corpus of work has made an indelible impact on the life of Christians, as well as those of other faiths who understand the value of the contemplative life.

What seems clear, at least to me, is that wider society certainly does need to embrace the best aspects of the eremitical life – selflessness, solitude, reflection and contemplative prayer.  And it needn’t be that this approach to life is an all-or-nothing one; we can incorporate the contemplative in to our daily lives, no matter how hectic they may be.  So yes, we need to take one the mindset of the hermit, but not the Hikikomori.  A difficult task, but spiritually very rewarding nonetheless.

And I’ll leave you with some words from Merton himself, written in New Seeds of Contemplation: “Our vocation is not simply to be, but to work together with God in the creation of our own life, our own identity, our own destiny….To work out our identity in God.”   

Look at Etty Hillesum’s entry in Wikipedia and you’ll see that her occupation is listed as ‘writer’.  In actuality, she was so much more than that; anyone who has read her diaries, or secondary sources based on them, would be strongly inclined to bestow upon her the moniker of ‘mystic’ too.  Such mysticism was inextricably linked to her life-circumstances, which consisted of much adversity and ultimate disaster in the indescribable horror of Auscwhitz.

Prior to reading Patrick Woodhouse’s book ‘Etty Hillesum: A Life Transformed’ I had read only short extracts of Hillesum’s writings. What I had read impressed me as spiritually mature and a profound insight into an individual who had succeeded in transcending the appalling conditions Nazi Germany had imposed on the Jewish population of Amsterdam. And so I wanted to read more, but rather than immediately diving in to Hillesum’s translated diaries, I decided to try Woodhouse’s book first.

Etty Hillesum

Woodhouse painstakingly pieces together Hillesum’s life from a dysfunctional childhood, through integration and the emergence of some form of order out of chaos. As her personality developed, Hillesum embarked upon a spiritual journey; as she discovered her true self, she discovered God.   It was this relationship that carried her through a life beset with unimaginable difficulties and turmoil, ending with death in a Nazi concentration camp. It was through the grace of God, and a life of prayer, that Hillesum was able to transcend the despair and cruelty that threatened to engulf her. It was this relationship that taught her that hate was a ‘sickness of the soul’ and it should be put aside at all costs, even although the reasons to hate grew stronger and stronger each day.

Woodhouse succeeds in weaving together the strands of Etty’s life. And so we see her as a deeply spiritual, although not religious, person who connects profoundly with her inner-self and with God.  Here he quotes from her diaries:

“Quite suddenly I had the impression that I wasn’t alone, that there were two of us.  I felt as if I consisted of two people who were squashed tightly together and felt so good and so warm as a result.  I was in such close touch with myself, full of inner warmth, and felt utterly self-sufficient….I discovered with no small satisfaction that I got on very well with myself”.  

That Hillesum’s mysticism was grounded in the reality of everyday life with its struggles and disappointments speaks very directly to us in our modern age, and that is one of the reasons why Woodhouse’s book is so important.  Hillesum’s growing spiritual awareness was not grounded in any formal religion, although it had a distinct non-institutionalised Christian flavour; her faith was experiential rather than academic and as such it was possessed of an intensity that is difficult to fully describe.  Moreover, Hillesum’s journey of transformation is a reminder to the modern reader that a spiritual awakening is a transformative event (or events) and is a deeply personal experience.

‘Etty Hillesum: A Life Transformed’ was a pleasure to read; Woodhouse’s style is engaging and the end-result is a book that is touching, powerful and thought-provoking in equal measure. As such, it is one of those books that will benefit from multiple-reading; there is so much to discover and re-discover in its pages.

Orthodox Christianity has always fascinated me.  The continuity of beautiful liturgy and iconography makes for a unique expression of the Christian faith.

Nowhere is this continuity more evident than in Mount Athos in Greece. The holy peninsula reaches some 31 miles out into the Aegean Sea, and it is here that for over a thousand years vibrant communities of monks have lived out their vocations.  With no access to radio, television or newspapers, the monks live detached from the modern world; it is this detachment that allows them to commune more closely with God.  Theirs is a life of silence, prayer, chanting, reading and physical work and takes place in the Island’s 20 monasteries; each monk follows a unique path dependent on their talents and spiritual needs.

CBS recently produced a short documentary on the life of the Mount Athos monks which will give you a feel for this holy place. It’s certainly worth watching:

Portglenone Forest (Pic by Scott Peddie)

Portglenone Forest (Pic by Scott Peddie)

Walking in the forest today, I found my mind drifting, eventually settling on the words of Pablo Naruda’s beautiful poem, ‘Lost in the forest’. Although Neruda talks at one point of Autumn, the rest of the poem resonated with me. There is something so special about Portglenone Forest in Co. Antrim; it’s history of mature woodland cover since ancient times comes to life with colonies of Bluebell, Wood Anemone and the aromatic Wild Garlic. So much beauty.

Lost in the forest…

Lost in the forest, I broke off a dark twig
and lifted its whisper to my thirsty lips:
maybe it was the voice of the rain crying,
a cracked bell, or a torn heart.

Something from far off it seemed
deep and secret to me, hidden by the earth,
a shout muffled by huge autumns,
by the moist half-open darkness of the leaves.

Wakening from the dreaming forest there, the hazel-sprig
sang under my tongue, its drifting fragrance
climbed up through my conscious mind

as if suddenly the roots I had left behind
cried out to me, the land I had lost with my childhood—
and I stopped, wounded by the wandering scent. 

**************************************************
Portglenone Forest (pic by Scott Peddie)

Portglenone Forest (pic by Scott Peddie)

And then I found my mind settling on some words of Scripture that put all of that into what could be described as its ‘Cosmic Context’. Paul, in his letter to the Colossians, writes so movingly in Chapter 1, verses 16-17:

‘For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together’.

Portglenone Forest (pic by Scott Peddie)

Portglenone Forest (pic by Scott Peddie)

For many years, scientists have tried to test the power of prayer and positive thinking on health and well-being.  The results, it has to be said, have been mixed.

Now a group scientists are venturing onto new, and controversial terrotory. For example, University of Miami HIV/Aids researcher, Gail Ironson noticed that a number of HIV positive patients were seemingly never physically ill. In trying to understand why this was the case, Ironson discovered something unexpected: “If you ask people what’s kept you going so long, what keeps you healthy, often people would say spirituality,” she says. “It was something that just kept coming up in the interviews, and that’s why I decided to look at it.”

Ironson began to investigate the patient’s relationship with God in an attempt to predict the likely dynamics of the disease and their relative well-being. Interestingly, Ironson’s research found that those who turned to God after their diagnosis had a much lower viral load and maintained those powerful immune cells at a much higher rate than those who were not spiritual.

This NPR article shares more about her intriguing research and findings and is well worth a read: http://www.dailygood.org/more.php?n=5017