Thursday, 31 January 2013

Varying Prayer Experiences

Varying Prayer Experiences

Prayer is not about magic words or formulas (though words can play a role in the process of the opening up of our consciousness). Prayer is about desiring to better see what is in you and in front of you; it is about connecting to what IS.  

In the various aspects of this sabbatical thus far - from Cupids, to Salisbury Cathedral, Salisbury Priory, Stonehenge, to Mucknell - I have been aware of the different prayer experiences in each place.

Greenland beach, Cupids

In Cupids I was aware not only of my body and mind telling me of its need for rest and solitude, but of the prayerful awareness of Divine Presence Loving me and caring for me and re-creating me.

Salisbury Cathedral
In Salisbury Cathedral I was prayerfully aware of the beauty and magnificence of the building and of all of the human labour and creativity that has gone into it; of the beauty of the liturgy and the glorious music of the choir; I was aware of being spiritually connected with the souls that have prayed in that very same place for over 700 years.

The Priory Monks, Salisbury
At the Salisbury Priory, I was prayerfully aware that the humble prayer offered by seasoned and elderly men in their tiny chapel was as filled with God as was the Cathedral worship offered just across the street.

At Stonehenge I had a strong sense of being connected with the people who used and who have passed through that sacred place more than 3000 years ago.

And now here at Mucknell Monastery, in the middle of the farmlands of Worcester, England, I am experiencing another kind of prayer: the prayer that chants the psalms simply and joyfully; the prayer that connects Divine Life in the silence that the community and visitors share; in the humble and loving welcome of all who come through their doors. 

The Oratory at Mucknell Monastery

Prayer is about connecting, of becoming aware of being united with the Love that is within everyone of us, of being united with the Love that is about everyone of us.

Arrival at Mucknell Abbey

Mucknell Abbey, Wednesday, 30 January

After mass on Wednesday morning at the cathedral, and having said good bye to the monks of St.Benedict’s Priory, Dom Bruce dropped me off at the station for a 9am train to Worcester.  Three hours later, with a half hour delay on route, I arrived at Worcester train station. With a 10 minute walk to the bus station, I was on my way to Mucknell abbey. As the bus moved out into farm land, I was lucky that one of the ladies next to me knew what stop to get off for the abbey. Having gotten off the bus in the middle of nowhere, and no sign on the road indicating “Abby Lane,” I began the 1 mile walk down a lonely road to what I hoped was the abbey. 

The lonely road from the bus stop to the abbey
Mucknell Abbey is located in the middle of farm land. As I look out my bedroom window, I hear the wind howl, and see nothing but farmland. 

View from my room

This is indeed a place of quiet and solitude. And as I join with the monks and nuns in the rhythm of their community life, I am confident this will be a God-filled time of blessing.

The entrance to Mucknell Abbey

The Oratory

The inner courtyard

Tuesday, 29 January 2013



As a young person I remember seeing pictures of very ancient and large stones standing in a particular formation and wondering what it was about. When preparing for my sabbatical, and indicating that I would be visiting Salisbury, one of my parishioners mentioned how close Stonehenge was and that I should try to take it in. I am so glad that they mentioned it. 

It is absolutely amazing to stand in a place with stones and structure that go back at least 3000 years. Not only to wonder at what it meant for the people that used it, or how they built it. But to have that sense of spiritual connectedness with the people, who, thousands of years ago walked and lived upon that very same ground.

The Hebrew scriptures tell us that we are from Adam, or in Hebrew “adamah,” which means made from the earth. Those same scriptures tell us God breathed his Spirit, his Life  into “Adamah.” We are made from the earth and given the Breath of God. The same earth that every human being walks upon. The same Divine Breath that every human being breaths.

While at Stonehenge, I was aware of being “connected” or “at one with” with those who lived there 3000 years ago. It is indeed a sacred place. 



Salisbury Cathedral

Salisbury Cathedral
My wife Valerie and I read Ken Follett’s book “The Pillars of the Earth” some years ago and really enjoyed it - not only for Ken Follett’s historical fiction ability, but also because of my own interest in the history of the church in England. Part of Ken Follett’s inspiration for this book was Salisbury Cathedral: a 13th century gothic structure equalling Westminster Abbey in magnificence and history. 

The Madonna
In the TV Series “Pillars of the Earth,” one of the props for the revival of the building of the cathedral was a “weeping Madonna.” The wooden carving of the Madonna used in the TV series was modeled after the actual wooden statue in place at the Cathedral.

A wide angle picture of the cathedral
Pilgrims are attracted to the cathedral today not because of superstition. There are tourists are attracted to this place simply because of historical significance, architectural beauty and medieval achievement. And there are Christian pilgrims who come to this place to pray and to be inspired and to wonder about the glory of God.

A zoom picture of the tower

I for one appreciated the beauty and awe of the place. And as I participated in the quiet masses in the mornings, and the glorious choral evensongs, I was so aware of being connected to the people who have offered prayer and praises to God within these very stone walls for over 700 years.

Looking down into the nave

The Gothic design ceilings

Looking up over the high Gothic arches

The nave looking up towards the choir

Such human made glory is in stark contrast to what I experienced at Stonehenge.




St.Benedict's Priory, Salisbury

I was looking forward to my visit to Salisbury for two reasons: first of all, to visit my Benedictine community of oblation (who have recently moved from Newbury to Salisbury); and to see the magnificent Cathedral of Salisbury, recently made more popular by the book and TV mini series, Pillars of the Earth.

St.Benedict’s Priory, Salisbury
The monastic community of St.Benedict’s Priory, Salisbury, has had more than a hundred year history since the revival of monasticism in the Church of England near the end of the 19th century. They have resided at Nashdom, Elmore (where I became an  novice in 1997), 

The former Elmore Abbey, Newbury

Sarum College on the left, the newly moved into priory house in Salisbury on the right

The garden in front of the priory house with the cathedral to the right

and now Salisbury.

With only four monks left to the community, they now live in a small priory house next to Sarum College (an Anglican theological college), and within the 13th century cathedral close of Salisbury. I first visited these Benedictine monks (with my wife and three children - who to this day still speak positively about that visit), and became a novice in 1997, became an oblate in 1998, and have retreated to Elmore almost every year since. I am happy to see the remaining four monks settled away in a smaller priory house in Salisbury, and it has been an absolute joy to see my Benedictine brothers and to share with them in prayers and fellowship. In addition to the daily offices in the priory house, they also participate in mass in the morning chapel of the cathedral every morning at 7:30, midday prayer at Sarum College at 12:15, and choral evensong in the choir of the cathedral.

Cupids and the beginning of a Sabbatical

Cupids (January 7-26, 2013)

For a parish priest, with the day in and day out, 24 and 7 responsibilities of caring for and leading a community, the recommended sabbatical every 5 to 7 years is something I don’t have to be told twice about!

With the approval and blessing of the parish vestry, I began a 6 week sabbatical on January 7. I used the first three weeks of my sabbatical (January 7-26) to rest, read and reflect in the solitude of my home in Cupids. Being tired spiritually, mentally and physically, I simply wanted some time to rest, and to begin the process of detaching from the responsibilities of parish and agenda. 

A small winter river in Burnt Head


Greenland Beach

Richard Rohr’s books on spirituality and community living have been my focus during that period of time, in addition to the fresh air, quiet and solitude of Burnt Head.