When things are unfinished…

Processed with VSCO with f2 presetIt was beautifully foggy as we made our way to Morning Prayer this morning. We are drawing to the end of the term I’ve been reflecting on how time quickly has gone. When I first started going through the vocational process, I was determined to get out there as quick as possible. After being here for almost two terms, I now think that I am happy to have my 3 years. Theres just so much you learn, both in quick ways and the things you learn over time.  A whole picture of a person being formed to be a priest in the service of God. When I think about it like that, I am not sure I will ever be ready. But hopefully by the grace of God I will be better formed leaving here then I was when I came in.

In our formational classes, formally known as ‘Life and Service’ we’ve been going through a module on preaching. Preaching is a big part of what a priest does in church, so it is only right that we have been trying to help each other become better preachers.  As a class we’ve been peer reviewing each others sermons which has lead to a great deal of bonding and encouragement. Processed with VSCOWe don’t often get the opportunity to hear people preach. Ordinands tend to preach on attachment and by default that means the rest of us are busy too. It has been such a blessing to hear the message that has been moving through other members of the community.  This week has also seen the first time I have preached at my attachment church. It’s been a little while since I last preached, and that time didn’t go very well so I was quite nervous. Preaching is also something that we experience often as ordinands. Just being in church services a lot means there is a lot of hearing people preach. This combined with a class of Ordinands talking about what makes a good or bad sermon means that I’ve become quite self conscious about how I preach. This I suppose can only be a good thing. I dare say that even once I am ordained (God willing) that I will still be working on my preaching technique.

This week has been a good mix of work and play. I made it to the ever-so-slightly daunting University Library this week. Being able to successfully navigate the endless corridors and stacks of books was a simple victory in the battle against the academic workload.   My Wednesday Dungeons and Dragons  game also reconvened to much silliness and joy. Screenshot_2016-03-01-21-53-16I now play DnD on two nights. On Mondays I play with a group of friends from my local board games club and we take it in turns to run  a series of sessions- commonly called GM’ing. (I begin my turn in  GM’ing on Monday.) On Wednesday I play DnD with a group of people from various places. We all know each other though our GM, and we use an online platform called Roll 20 to play our games. This group has been running since September, and after having a small break to try a different role play platform we have returned to our original campaign.  I don’t think I ever realised just how fun DnD is. I always saw it as the top level of nerdom, and that it was uncool. Thankfully shows like Critical Roll, Acquisitions Incorporated and Temple of the Lava Bears have shown that DnD is something that all can engage with.Its been such an important part of what has kept me sane this term, and I’m hoping to continue with these groups long into the future.


 

For some reason I always end up starting posts and then never finishing them!
Term has finished and the tridium has begun. I’m spending some time relaxing at home with the family enjoying the rest of Holy Week at my home church.

A very joyful easter to you when it comes.

 

Adventures in The Offices.

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When someone is ordained they make a canological obligation to pray daily. For most deacons and priests this takes the form of an Daily Office. Coming from the Jewish tradition of saying ones prayers at certain times of the day, it means that the life of a priest (or even a lay person) is embedded in prayer. This ensures some variety and seasonal change for those who are saying it. Ensuring that not only do they not get bored that hopefully they are also fed throughout  the liturgical year.Prayer is something that is difficult for anyone, but hopefully the offices are something that can sustain you in even the difficult times.

By living in community at theological college it is expected that we will attend Morning and Evening prayer within college during the weekdays. As many of the community know, I have really struggled with saying the Offices. This is not just in a ‘I can’t be bothered to go’ kinda way. But even if I am physically there, I cannot say the words. Its not that I have a problem with the words, but it’s hard to constantly find them spiritually nourishing. ABM_1395091188This isnt a unique feature of what we currently use (Common Worship) this is something I have found with all of the various forms of Daily Prayer that I have discovered. Through various stages of my Christian life I have encountered everything from the Franciscan Daily Office to the Catholic Divine Office. Thankfully though, most forms of Daily Office leave time for your own intercessions, so even if it feels as though the words are tough, you can add your own in. There’s a certain misery that comes from being in a room full of people whose heads are bowed in prayer when all you can think about is how this isnt working for you. It can almost feel as if you are broken, that you can’t ‘pray as well’ as the people around you. Prayer is something that is very personal and always in flux. Many people find that their prayer life goes in ‘seasons’, and in this current season my internal self is kicking against the structure of the offices. For whatever reason that may be, and I’m not sure that I need a reason.

It’s important to feel as though the offices are building for you, even if the structure isnt working. I got into the habit of spending time journalling in the chapel before evening prayer. That way I could both spend time with Jesus in a way that suited me, but I could also feel more engaged by the time the community joined me to pray. Processed with VSCO with f2 presetThis worked really well for me for a while, and then the boundaries between pre-evening prayer and evening prayer started to blur and I would use my journal in the offices. I used a form of doodling prayer that was introduced to me by my spiritual director called ‘Praying in Colour‘. For me it combined two of my great loves, prayer and creativity. It was a way to carry those people who I had brought with me into prayer, and pray for them in a way that I felt gave them the time and thought they deserve. This was my attempt at reclaiming the time that we give to the offices in a way that felt spiritually nourishing for me. Even if I wasn’t joining in with the same words as the people around me I was determined to keep going to the offices. I would take my Daily Office book, journal and pens and either ‘Pray in Colour’ or meditate on a line from one of the Psalms. This worked really well, but then I began to become self conscious that I would be distracting to those around me. A problem quickly solved by sitting at the very back of the chapel amongst the late comers, and those carrying small babies in slings. Although I was very happy to still be at prayer in this way, I still couldn’t decide why it didn’t feel quite right.

The thing that I hadn’t really clocked along this way is that community prayer is as much about prayer as it is about the community. A good friend of mine mentioned to me that actually half of the reason she gets out of bed in the morning is to be apart of this community of prayer. We are so blessed that we have the opportunity to be able to say our prayers in this way- it is the foundation of our lives here. I hadn’t even thought about it in this way before. I was so concerned that it was all about me and my relationship with God that I forgot about how the community functions. The good thing about the Daily Offices, is that even if you are physically alone in reciting them, that you can be sure there is a community of people praying the same words as you. The function of the offices is not always to leave us with a warm fuzzy Jesus feeling, but to serve as a platform to which we can explore all sides of our spirituality. In the same way that we go through Psalms of lament and  Psalms of thanksgiving, so do we go through those same seasons in our prayer.

It is silly to think that the Offices will always function for us in the same way, because for some of us it won’t. Whatever we are feeling towards the Offices -or even prayer in general, it is important to recognise those feelings and give them to God. Now in those mornings where I am particularly grumpy with the Offices I say a little prayer to God. ‘God, I’m here today and have dragged myself in ankles trailing. But my heart is eager to be found in you and I pray that you will accept this Office for what it is- a recognition of the fact that I need you.’ I need to pray because I need Jesus. And I need the Offices because even when I feel like I can’t pray there is a community of people who are doing it on my behalf, even if they don’t know it.

I can still be found in Morning Prayer doodling amongst the whispering chanting of the Psalms. Now I know that the people around me need me, and I them- and that we all need each other and Jesus. In this community of fellowship and prayer that even if I am not able to speak the words, that simply by being present I am engaging with something bigger than all of us.

Peace and Joy.

Back to bloom.

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I always find that the beginning of the year is a bit funny. Everyone goes back to work after Christmas and it feels like there isn’t much to look forward to. It becomes a bit of a struggle to get through the dark days without much in the way of signs of spring.

The community has been rocked slightly by departure of one of our number and I think the effects are really being felt. Processed with VSCO with f2 presetThere is weird sense of things just not being right. You can tell it when we say the offices. There is a lack of the community togetherness that we once had. And it’s hard to be a part of.

Living in community is hard anyway, so it is even harder when people just aren’t feeling it. This feeling of unsettlement hasn’t been helped by my own spiritual struggles.  Its nothing too drastic, but just enough to make everything seem hard. When your prayer life is a bit of a mess everything else just seems to be a struggle. It has really made me appreciate how much we will need to be fed by our prayer lives in our future ministries.

We are (as I type this on Shrove Tuesday) on the cusp of Lent. And honestly, I can’t wait. Lent is the opportunity to really dig deeper into ones relationship with God.  Not that we should be using Lent as an excuse to fix whatever we think is broken with our relationship with God. But the season of penitence really helps us to appreciate the Allelujah when it finally does come at Easter. I think that’s why I’m so eager to get into the messiness of Lent, because I know things will only get better. Once I am told that I am dust then it is only a matter of time before we celebrate the resurrection.

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From the reading that we heard at evening prayer today,  the stand out line was ‘He must increase, but I must decrease.’ John 3:30. In order for us to grow in a deeper relationship with God, we need to let go of the things that get in the way. Thats why we fast, so that we let go of the things that have become entwined with our being. Only then can our lives start to be filled with God. I’m excited for Lent to start because I’m unsettled and I need to begin emptying myself of these things that keep me from a fuller relationship with God.

Without the darkness we cannot appreciate the light. Without disruption we cannot begin to live in harmony again.
Without Lent we cannot call ourselves an Easter people.

 

Whatever your Lenten observation may it be a time that is filled with the spirit and helps you to deepen your relationship with Christ. See you at the Allelujah.

Peace and Joy.

Newness.

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I’ve always loved the balance between light and dark during a Sunset. There’s something so enchanting about all the colour that lies behind the silhouetted figures. Its also the promise of something new that I think is so reassuring. The sun will set and there will always be a new day.

As we’ve moved into a new calendar year, we have also moved into a new term at Westcott. Everything feels very settled now, and I’m glad to be back at college with my fellow ordinands. It seems that everyone has had a good restful break, and I’ve felt the immediate benefit of having the Chapel back in the normal routine.

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I arrived back in college a week before term. I had all sorts of placmenty things to do.  I’m still on ‘attachment’ at Little St Marys, which has been such a blessing.  Somehow I’ve managed to avoid serving during my first term on attachment, so this Sunday I found myself serving at both services.

I sat in awe of this years crib. (The photo doesn’t do it justice.) Well crafted, with it being situated infront of the Tabernacle. It spoke so much to me about the Incarnation. And these beautiful gold threads just hanging over the manger as if to give hints of how God’s presence would have hung in the air. It was just beautiful. As Advent finished and we’ve moved into Christmastide (?), its really got me thinking about the symbols and art we use. Especially because I did Advent Illustrated, its just made me think about my art and how that feeds me spiritually.

Starting a new journal (Which I did on the first) always ‘sets me back’ a little. I begin that whole process of allowing myself to use the new book. Processed with VSCO with f2 presetDespite this, I am really enjoying the new challenge I set myself of writing down something I am thankful for everyday. I had a really good time with my boardgames friends over the weekend, and I think I can sometimes take those things for granted. Sometimes we need to be reminded of what a blessing these things are. By being away from stuff, we learn to appreciate it all over again. Like starting again with my journal, it’s like a new chance to start over and appreciate the gifts it is giving me. This too is also true of the incarnation, each year we get to receive that gift all over again.

This doesn’t mean that we should just allow ourselves to fail just because we know we are covered by grace. Like looking after flowers, we get as much out of it as we put in. If we tenderly look after our relationship with God then we will be rewarded with the beauty of God springing up in our lives.

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by Rev Ally Barrett

Today was the feast of the Epiphany, were the Magi meet the incarnate God for the first time. I cant even imagine what it would have been like to come face to face with God in the form of a baby. It still amazes me that God came into the world as something so innocent and pure, and even those Magi with all of their wealth realised that meant nothing.

After mass this evening, where the Epiphany chalk was blessed, we gathered as ‘staircasemates’ and did the blessing together. It was dark so we couldn’t really see- someone got a torch, and none of us really knew what we were doing. It just felt like such a holy moment. There was laughter as we struggled to work out what needed to be written first, but God was there. He was there in the rededication of our ‘home’ and in each one of us as we have seen the face of God in a manager.

This season is all about ‘refinding’ our blessings, or even finding them for the first time. I hope that whatever those blessings are that we remain thankful and remembering the source of all of them. God who came to us as a babe, who even the Magi adored.

With prayers, peace and joy this Epiphany.

Advent Creative Lectio Divina.

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For a basic primer as to what Creative Lectio Divina is see my other blog post here


After much discussion with some of my Wescottian friends I decided I would try to run a Creative Lectio Divina group during Advent to just see how it would work.

The room was set up so that the tables were in a rectangle, and the chairs were all facing inward. (As close to a circle of tables you can get.) I originally had planned to have a centre table with things like candles, and fabrics in order to prompt people if they got stuck. However, I needed all the tables I could get and so I put a small tealight on each table, and a large candle on my table instead.

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Artwork by Matilda Tempest

I started by explaining what we were going to do. I was going to read the passage aloud once, and then say a few words in order to start the meditation process. Then another person would read the passage to everyone and I would say another few words. After the third person had read the passage I would say a few more words then play some music to begin the time of reflection/creation.

I had put some supplies out for people to borrow, but some people brought their own. I wanted the first session to be a ‘dry’ run. So nothing too serious like paints ect. I had a large mixture of magazine,tissue paper and other papers for collage which went down really well. As well as lots of markers, pastels and chalks. I also had different sizes and colours of paper, although some people created within their own sketchbooks. I decided to mix mediums, some people didn’t. That’s the beauty of doing this in a group is that its nice to reflect on your work and how different each persons is.

The group had never really done anything like this before (neither had I except on my own), although most of us had some experience of Lectio Divina. I decided to use the passage Isaiah 9:6-7.2015-12-17 10.53.45 1.jpg Partly for familiarity and partly to make it Advent themed. I had chosen  a slightly longer passage, but the ordinand who runs the Lectio Divina group within college said it was best cut to about 8 lines. I agree completely reflecting back on it. It meant that the words that connected with us really stood out and didn’t get lost.  I decided to print the scripture passage out not only so people had a copy infront of them, but also so that they could use it as a part of their artwork. Some of meditation lines in the beginning focus on finding the words that really speak to you, and so having the passage infront of you to underline ect I think really helped. Some people even cut lines or words from the passage and used it within their art!

The meditation lasted for around 40 minutes. During that time music played. I wanted people to feel that they could get up to get more/different supplies if they wanted to, so I did prewarn people at the beginning that this is okay. Although the atmosphere was quiet, I think people still felt able to ask for things if they needed. I gave people a ‘5 minute warning’ but the emphasis was not on finishing. The whole idea was to lead people into creating things based on the passage.

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Artwork by Harriet Neale

It wasn’t about how ‘good’ or ‘beautiful’ those works could be. It wasn’t even about trying to finish them. But to bring the group into a place where they could create art for the glory of God. I finished with some words to end the meditation and a prayer to give thanks to God for all the things we have created or started to create.  Then we packed up and off we went. As someone went around taking photos of the work we all shared the joy of each others art. I felt it was important to celebrate what we had did together, but also to give people the option of not sharing if they didn’t want to. I’ve always loved doing things like this by myself, but doing it in a group added a beautiful richness to it.

Random reflections:
-Someone kindly offered to make tea and bring cake for the beginning, which is now a needs must for every session!
-Setup/room atmosphere is essential. The room we had was perfect size for the group we had. Including big tables ect. A tealight on every table was perhaps a mistake. Someone noted that it was quite dangerous considering there was lots of tissue paper about!
-As the ‘leader’ I felt it was just as important that I took part. That was the whole reason I created the group in the first place!
-Having some kind of ‘neutral’ music was very useful. Wordless is perfect for creative stuff. I used the piano soundtrack from some Studio Ghibli films which worked a treat!
-‘Creative’ doesn’t have to mean paint. The mix of mediums was brilliant, someone even did some digital artwork. It also doesn’t have to be perfect either. Its up to the person creating that it represents for them what they think the scripture holds.

I must give a massive thank you to all of the ordinands who let me try it out on them! Everyone in the group said how much they enjoyed it. Hopefully this means that they will all be up for repeating it again!
Stay tuned for more Creative Lectio Divina adventures.

Peace and Joy

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Artwork by Ayla Lepine

The fruits of our Lectio Devina session (aswell as other wonderful stuff) can be seen on the Advent with Westcott blog.

 

Keeping Advent.

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Advent has to be one of the best times of the year. It is full of so much expectation as we wait for Jesus. I couldn’t wait and so I decided to make a seasonal section in my journal, which looks particularly charming under my new fairy lights.

This year I’m marking Advent in several different ways.  Processed with VSCO with a6 presetThe more traditional way being with an ‘homemade’ advent calender. Last year me and one of my sisters found these advent houses that you can decorate. So we each decorated one and then we filled the others with goodies for each day. Needless to say I think this is a tradition that will stick around for a little while. She has gone a little bit overboard this year (as you can see by the big crate of presents) But it makes a different to the usual chocolate advent calender. And the fact that it was put together by my sister (with a little help from mum) makes it even more special. I’m also looking forward to seeing how my sister reacts to all of the things that I put in her advent calender!

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Westcott has its own advent wreath, and it shone so brightly at last nights Compline. I do dabble in going to Compline at the Chapel, and we have a different setting for Advent. So I think I’m going to make it a goal to pick up Compline during Advent.

Its partly so I can enjoy the Advent wreath, and partly so that I can remember to be thankful at the end of each day. Which is something so easily lost in all the commercial gratification of Christmas.

I think we forget that Advent is also a penitential season like Lent, and although there isn’t as much emphasis on fasting or giving up things its a good time in which to try out new spiritual disciplines.

The last thing I am going to do is to be taking part in a Bible journalling challenge called ‘Advent Illustrated’. 2015-11-28 04.09.38 1.jpgThe basic premise is that there is a different prompt for each day and you allow the spirit to move you to illustrate that passage.
Bible journalling is quite a new concept, particularly in England. I have always been one to draw or highlight or make notes in my bible, so this whole thing isn’t unfamiliar. I usually fall down on those things which require a daily commitment, so it will be interesting to see if I can keep up! Thankfully there are ‘grace days’!  If you are interested there is some more information about Advent Illustrated here.

 

 

 

I hope that whatever you are doing this Advent that it would be a time of growth as we journey towards the coming of Christ.

Wishing you all a very blessed Advent,
Peace and Joy.

Changing of seasons.

Things have been in a very weird transition this week. We are in week 6 (I think!) and so the essays are really kicking in, but also is this sense of community and bonding.

We started this week by celebrating All Souls. We had an evening mass where we remembered by name the souls of our friends and loved ones. It was such a tangibly moving experience in a way that I don’t think I expected to feel. I’ve been to All Souls services before, but this one felt particularly moving. The fact that the whole community came together to bring on their hearts all those people who have touched their lives, its just so moving. Its not just about reading those names off of a list. Its about remembering all that those people were.

Unfortunately this past year saw the passing of my brother-in-law. Keith was such a huge part of our family that I don’t think the implications of his death really hit me until that moment in chapel when all the names were being read. He was one of the biggest supporters of me and my vocation, and he died just a few days before I went to BAP. Its not just him that I miss, but everything he was. The thing that got me the most in that moment was thinking about how he wont be at my ordination, and that he will never be able to take the mickey out of me for wearing a dog collar. But All Souls reminds us that we have this hope in God, a hope that will never be taken away from us. This constant hope is the hope that keeps us going, even in the face of adversity.

TIMGhis week also saw our College Festival. It was so good just to be able to sit and have a proper dinner with some of the other ordinands and just relax. The Festival fell on a Thursday which is a normal community day anyway but there was such a nice buzz about the place. Honestly, who doesn’t love an opportunity to dress up and have a nice dinner?

I feel like I probably say this every week, but I am just so thankful for my friends within college. Spontaneous walks that turn into evenings drinking gin and talking about all things theological are just what I need. With the fact that as a college we are so sunk into the liturgical season it can really take some getting used to. So the fact that I know a few 2nd and 3rd year ordinands really helps when I have silly questions.

It just seemed so strange to have this big celebration in the middle of a week where we are trying to be so still and remember. It also felt a bit weird to try and emotionally adjust to the different days, like the changing of the seasons. There is some talk about ‘Kingdomtide’ or whatever season we are in currently, and I think it probably just feels confusing to me when there is already Christmas things appearing in the shops. Perhaps I’m just trying to work out quite what this season means in the context of being an ordinand.

In the foyer of Westminster College they have this bible that is always laid open. On some of the pages it has typographic verses. This one caught my eye when I went in this week. Its the same words that my friend used for the blessings at his first mass this past summer. That verse reminds me so much of the summer just past and how radically different life is now. God just seems to be placing Himself in those little things, so that when I forget about what I’m here for he gives me a gentle nudge – like seeing that verse open in the Bible.

As Fr Robert said at mass this morning ‘Things never go in the way that we expect them too. But God is in control of it.’ He is there in our sorrow and remembrance of those who have passed before us. And He is there in our celebrations and fellowship with one another. In the same way that we remember not just the names of those souls, but all that they are- we also give thanks to God. We give thanks to God not just for who He is as our Lord and Saviour, but also as our Father, Friend and Guide. The best bit about it is that God is so vast and beyond our understanding that we will never stop learning about who He is. Just when we think that we have a grasp on what is going on, God does something to nudge us in a different direction and to take us to places we didn’t expect to go.

Peace and Joy.