Colin Heber-Percy is a Writer and Priest and a very good friend of mine.
He wrote this brief reflection and has given permission for me to share it…
I hope it offers some goodness, Gary
I have a feeling the Psalms are going to come into their own over the coming weeks and months, resonating in our hearts with a fresh and poignant relevancy. Suddenly, their deeply personal, sometimes agonised, calls on God for His mercy and healing and steadfast love will sound like our own deepest thoughts and feelings given voice.
Yesterday, saying Psalm 22 in an empty village church was – for me – one of those moments when you feel scripture speaking absolutely directly to you.
Be not far from me, O Lord;
you are my strength; hasten to help me. (19)
At times of crisis, either personal or national or global, we long for, and take comfort in the presence of God, seemingly by a sort of ‘homing instinct’. And the most natural way to come into that presence, to come home – is prayer. Put simply, prayer is ‘the practice of the presence of God’.
The recollections and writings of Brother Lawrence, a seventeenth century Carmelite lay brother, is called The Practice of the Presence of God. I strongly commend his little book to you as a work of profound and practical wisdom. Something to consider reading (or re-reading) over the next few weeks?
Brother Lawrence’s life was simple; self-isolated, you might even say. As our lives, for the time being, become stiller, smaller, constrained by a closing down of our working and social lives, we will inevitably be confronted by the small things, the minutiae of our own daily routines. This, you might imagine, could get boring, stifling. But Brother Lawrence suggests it could be, should be the opposite – an opportunity for us to practice the presence of God. Not confronted by the small things, but encountering God through the small things.
We ought not to be weary of doing little things for the love of God, Who regards not the greatness of the work, but the love with which it is performed.Brother Lawrence, The Practice of the Presence of God
I turn the cake that is frying on the pan for love of Him, and that done, if there is nothing else to call me, I prostrate myself in worship before Him, who has given me grace to work; afterwards I rise happier than a king. It is enough for me to pick up but a straw from the ground for the love of God.
Over these difficult weeks, let’s try to perform everything we do – with love. Bless you all,
Be not far from us now, draw close in the small things;
help us find You in the fleeting moments and minutiae of our lives,
to see the tasks before us as chances to express our love for You,
and for our neighbour.
Give us the grace, Lord, to pray through all we do,
and to do everything through prayer.
Grant Bayliss is the Diocesan Canon Precentor, based at Christ Church in Oxford. He was also my (long-suffering) tutor at Cuddesdon.
Here he writes movingly about being isolated from participating in the Eucharist, the very heart of our ecclesial life.
Spiritual Communion for Anglicans
I don’t know about you but I’m shut in – cloistered in the Cloisters since Tuesday, doing a not very good impression of a human shield for my lovely wife, Chris. Never in our wildest dreams did we think four months battling cancer wouldn’t be the scariest part of getting up each day.
All my life I’ve found hope in the darkness by going to church. I’ve been to evangelical ones and Anglo-Catholic ones, Quaker meeting houses rich in silence, Orthodox churches bright with icons, vast cavernous Cathedrals (not Christ Church obviously!) and chapels with barely room for two or three. And everywhere I’ve met people and met God.
At the heart of that has been the eucharist – a reliable moment of grace, a tangible encounter that I can touch, taste, smell, as God’s presence is made known through the very matter of creation. Many of my old students will remember me going on (and on, and on) in Sacraments classes that ‘matter matters’, and, to misquote Thomas Aquinas, that ‘we can’t hope to understand anything with our minds that we haven’t grasped with our physical senses first’.
So what do I do when the matter has been taken away? When I can’t touch the blessed bread or taste the wine?
Well, this Sunday, I’ll be making a ‘spiritual communion’. It’s an old idea that was important in the medieval Church and has often got a little lost or confused. But even when the Reformers rewrote our service books to bring back all the tasting and the touching, restoring the breaking of real bread and the sharing of a common cup to the people, it found a home in the new Anglican theology of Cranmer’s 1549 Prayer Book. At the end of his service for ‘the Order for Visitation of the Sick and the Communion of the Same’, he wrote:
But yf any man eyther by reason of extremitie of sickenesse, or for lacke of warnyng geven in due tyme, to the curate, or by any other just impedimente, doe not receyne the sacramente of Christes bodye and bloud then the curate shall instruct hym, that yf he doe truely repent hym of his sinnes and stedfastly beleve that Jesus Christ hath suffered death upon the crosse for hym, and shed his bloud for his redempcion, earnestly remembring the benefites he hath therby, and geving hym hertie thankes therfore; he doeth eate and drynke spiritually the bodye and bloud of our savioure Christe, profitably to his soules helth, although he doe not receyve the sacrament with his mouth.
And there it has stayed through all the editions ever since. A little disclaimer – or small print, if you like – that, even as the main Communion service put a renewed and powerful emphasis on eating and drinking, on God coming close through the chosen things of his creation, he was never limited. God chooses sacraments like the eucharist to meet us but he never said he would only meet us there, only love us if we physically ate, only bless us if we literally drank.
Cloistered up in Cloister House as a precautionary measure to protect my wife, I can’t claim ‘extremitie of sicknesse’ but there is another ‘just impedimente’ that means not just I but almost all of us cannot receive the sacrament of Christ’s body and blood. So on Sunday at 10am I’ll be watching Facebook to see Bishop Steven celebrate the eucharist I know so well – he’ll only be a hundred metres away, yet it may as well be miles for all I can’t be with him.
But I will watch and I will pray. I will repent me of my sins and steadfastly believe that Jesus Christ has suffered death upon the cross for me, for you, for the whole world. I will remember Christ’s benefits to me and give hearty thanks.
And as Bishop Steven lifts up the bread and holds the cup, I will cross myself and pray like St Thomas, ‘My Lord and my God!’. And be reassured by the Prayer Book and the testimony of Christians throughout the ages that I am eating and drinking spiritually the body and blood of our Saviour Christ, profitably to my soul’s health, although I do not receive the sacrament with my mouth.
Wherever you are this Sunday and whatever you do, while our churches are shut and so many self-isolating, may you know God’s love, his presence and his peace.
Canon Dr Grant Bayliss, written Thursday, March 19, 2020
This Homily was given during the final Deanery Chapter communion, St Patricks Day, before the churches were shut due to COVID19
Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. When they saw him, they worshipped him; but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’ (Matthew 28)
I’ve been searching over the last few days for a word to sum up the feeling in the air and the feeling inside our bodies, the feeling beyond words of the time we are in. And as I’ve reflected I’ve gravitated towards the word ‘Ache.’ Ache speaks of longing, fear, anxiety hope, desire, doubt, kindness and com/passion. It’s a good Lenten word.
And ‘Ache’ is where we are now… facing the end of certainties.. somewhere holding, poised, hanging, waiting. Its an in/between space, uncertain, liminal, a place of risk and danger – yet a place of discovery too. Absnc/Prsnc. A place of dis/orientation.*
As a church, we may share the anxiety of our communities; where love (for our closest ones) can easily become fear (of others); and yet (if we dare to be open, undefended), we may find a love that overcomes fear… an unlikely grace.
And we might wonder what to say? What response to give…?
And the answer might be that there is no answer, no words, no explanation, no distance, no perspective, no splendid isolation in which ‘to know the mind of God’. No position to speak from at all other than the position alongside others; the courageous and the scared, the vulnerable and the strong, the hopeless, the dying.
Because we are tasked to simply be with our communities. And in the coming weeks we may have to find ways to listen and share and give voice to all those things.. to lament and hope, and maybe that’s our role; ‘how beautiful the feet of those’ who walk alongside people, who slow the pace and offer the space to listen and be heard. It’s what St Patrick’s desire and all ‘mission’ endeavors should be about… being alongside, sharing stories, breaking down the borders and barriers.. the ‘us and them’, and instead sharing the fullness of humanity..
And, in that, we are living – not speaking – this story of life longing and aching in which the Spirit of God both affirms us and haunts us: Affirms us in the moments of love and holy human compassion which will inevitably arise; and will haunt us as we face the spectre of Gethsemane’s silence which may greet the fevered prayers of us all.
This is not going to be an easy time..
So touching then that in the gospel reading, ‘When they saw him, they worshipped him; but some doubted.’ (Matt 28.17). These were not vilified or exiled, but given the same mission; the doubters and the worshippers alike – both giving a voice to faith; both orientating to ‘the Immanuel’, the God who is with us; the God who weaves through the depths of our longing, the God who shares the ache of love, and whose hope emerges in the most unlikely of places.
GS Collins St Patrick’s Day 17 March 2020
Because music and art become so woven into my thinking and practice, you may be encouraged to know that this homily has it’s own (long) accompanying playlist on spotify.
I warn you now, it’s not fun party anthems; it’s pretty sparse, some might say bleak!.. but it offers a sense of solidarity, and a shape to that ache i’ve described. I’d love to hear your thoughts.
When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
from New Collected Poems (Counterpoint, 2012)
Chosen by Gary
At this time of great uncertainty, fear and apprehensioon about the future this gentle and elegant poemm by Wendell Berry remind us of the bigger story of nature, life, and the grace of stillness. It’s a poem which reaches out beyond the page and speaks to the heart.
Copyright (c) 2012 by Wendell Berry, reproduced by permission of Counterpoint