reflections on silence (pt1 … maybe)

DSC_1194I quite like silence … to many who know me that probably comes as a bit of a surprise, mainly because I can be a bit of a loud, annoying and nosey bugger … but silence has become, for me, a place of refreshment and rejuvenation. With certain people it also seems to be a place of real valuable place of meaningful communication and connection.

I have noticed that, for me, silence has become an important nourishing ingredient of my diet … so maybe those people that labelled me ‘introvert’ a few years back really did know what they were talking about.

For some background, I joined the sisters of St Francis at St Alphege for a week. Although they are not a silent order, they respected the fact that I wished top be in an attitude of silence for my 7 days with them … conversations were had at meal times as I feel a meal is supposed to be a social thing …. but outside those times I observed silence.

I have done a few bouts of 3 day silences, and I have often found those difficult to enter into. Surprisingly for me, this time, it was not entering the silence, but leaving the silence, which proved to be a challenge. Do you understand that feeling you get at the end of something where you want to leave, you know you should leave, things are pulling you to leave …. and yet … there is something like a trickle of a desire to simply stay …. to continue to experience the space a short while longer … well that was my experience this time. I knew it was time to go … but something within me wanted to stay.

Leaving silence and re-entering the real world, that I had only ‘left’ 7 days before was a challenge. I seemed to be hyper sensitive to the penetration of noise that seemed to bombard from everywhere. I remember looking quizzically at people with a ‘what the fuck are you even talking about that for?’ question screaming from my brain. That reaction was a complete, and quite shocking, observation for me to perceive.

In this seven day silence of reflection I seem to have become painfully conscious of how some, maybe the whole of our society, but particularly me (as I am only really qualified to talk about myself here … and I’m unique so it could just be me that feels like this .. because we are all unique…) uses the curtain of noise to wrap ourselves in and hide from reality.

When there is noise, rambling, music, words, …. I can listen to that and do not need to listen to myself. If i don’t listen to myself I can fool myself about the reality of things. If I don’t face reality it’s easy to act. Then life is played out on a stage … often with an audience of one!

I wonder whether it is true for many that they avoid silence, avoid that meeting with themself, with no one else around …. their simple, bare, open, honest self …. because they are afraid, really afraid, of what they may find.

In my poem in my last post I wrote

to freeze from running
and face who I may be
uncovering the past aches
that could reveal
                 …………… anything

That last word, ‘anything’, has in reality become a pretty scary word.
I was surprised by what some of the silence has revealed. I have been surprised by some of the stuff that I had ‘forgotten’.
That’s not strictly true … stuff had not been forgotten but so covered, squeezed, rolled and compressed into places where, for years, I did not have to think about them.

Silence gives opportunity to uncover, unsqueeze, unroll and decompress ….. and I will be honest …. that means some of the stuff is going to be quite painful to continue to uncover … but … it also means the uncovering and bearing really does leave me feeling less burdened with a much lighter, sunnier, outlook.

So ….. I move forward ……

(to be continued ….)

returning from silence

DSC_1189aI have been back from retreat for a little while.
It can be difficult coming back from a silent haven in the centre of London to the real life of the 21st Century.It felt almost like silence was the norm … and that the world was odd ….

Anyway …. I will write more about the experience over the next few days ….. first I am sharing a poem I wrote while in the silence …

returning from silence

my friend
my refuge
my radiance
a smudged looking glass
still pure enough to unfold
a …. or is that … the … reality
that ordinarily
is too painful to face
in the back yard
of my ordinary day

choosing to hide
so i may be found
ceasing to talk
so I may be heard
tearing at fibrous shielded wounds
so I may be healed

in the silence

the silence of this place
in the well seasoned utterances
of ordinary everyday saints
seems to understand
to chime
with the masked identity
of the essence of my being

a knowledges that embraces
welcomes almost
an unshockable urgency
for me to be here
to freeze from running
and face who I may be
uncovering the past aches
that could reveal
                 …………… anything

I present
I kneel
open yet wary
to bare
what needs to be bared
and accept
the discovery

this silence
my silence
the silence
will hold me today
so i may rest
i may tentatively  hope
i may nervously dream

my light
my space
my ally

in silence


For a little while I am retreating.

120723070835-weymouth-beach-horizontal-galleryFirst I am going to catch up with family and friends in the wonderful home town of Weymouth. It’s shocking that it has been a couple of years since I have visited for any length of time.

The library/ guest roomFollowing that I will be joining the Franciscans at St Alphege in Southwark for a week. Here i will join the Franciscans in their normal everyday routine.

so … SHP has been fairly quiet …. that may continue for the next couple of weeks or so …. see you on the other side!

we are all cracked …

crackvase_litex3I have now been blogging for 10 years. I’ve checked and I started (again) on May 12 2004 after a few failed attempts … but SHP seems to have kept going … sometimes regularly, sometimes not, but always kept going with something.

I started this as a reflective exercise … and in the main that is what SHP still is for me … a tool for reflection and to invite reflection / comment from others. Engaging with other people and hearing of others experiences around ‘stuff’ that matters to me is and continues to be an energising and often challenging experience.  An unexpected and incredibly positive sideline is that the presence of this blog has enabled me to find new friends, some of whom I have met, and some who are encouraging and thought provoking from a distance … some even on different sides of oceans!

One such friend who I nearly met while in Yorkshire on holiday is Graham, a Methodist minister, who blogs over at Digging a Lot. His posts regularly inspire me … and today his words cause me to simply acknowledge with a slightly tearful nod of agreement. Before saying more, as Graham says, first you need to listen to this song … or at least the opening couple of minutes if Leonard Cohen is not your style ..

I seem to hang out, get on, and prefer to be with those who know they are cracked and broken. I am totally at home in one place I visit simply because the people there know they are broken. They don’t hide it, they don’t pretend but simply acknowledge it as being part of who they are. Interestingly many of these people would say that having me listening helps them personally …. but being with these broken cracked people has caused me to admit increasingly that I, too, am cracked and broken. In this particular setting, and with certain particular people that I hang out with there, this also has not been hidden and has been totally accepted. I believe honesty is kind of necessary for community to grow …

It is as if we journey together with our cracks in a brokenness that we understand, acknowledge, accept … but also hope that as we travel and encounter God in a new way .. that some form of healing or restoration will occur. BUT … and this is a BIG but … I am not sure I want my cracks to disappear completely, nor am I sure I wish to be totally restored … and maybe I don’t even believe total restoration can happen this side of eternity …because if I don’t have cracks and breaks … how do people see God shining through … and how can I ‘let the light in’? If I am restored and fixed how can I possibly relate meaningfully to broken people in a fucked up world?

To make a difference in a broken world …. I wonder …. do you first need to be broken … not broken and restored … but simply broken … aware of that brokenness … embracing it as part of life … and believing it will change … but probably not fully until Christ returns … 

A few years ago I loved this poster from Christian Aid. ‘I believe in Life before Death’ is still a mantra I hold close to in my understanding of Christianity. I don’t think ‘being broken’ means we are not living. Actually … I wonder if admitting to brokenness … and so embracing our vulnerability actually means we are then able to live a fuller life (John 10:10 and all that jazz!)

The thing about brokenness, I guess, is the healthy gritty reality that accompanies it … so thank you Graham for inspiring me today …. and I shamelessly end with your words …

often I have been in tears
by the light
coming from people who say
‘I am not much
nothing special’

in my  limited experience … it is those who really are
the special, valuable, precious ones

going where you fit

Last night I was involved in the last teaching session for this years MSM course which we ran in the Bluewater Management Suite.

The group have been great to work with and the last session always has a lot about reflection on what we have learnt and looking forward, and being commissioned, for the future.

msm learnI was encouraged last night with stuff that the students shared. You can read from the image what this years students felt were some of the important things that they learned.

I love reading them all … but I am particularly struck and challenged by the last comment on that flip chart … ‘going where you fit’.

For me … that kind of sums up Christian life and mission. Rather than trying to engineer or manipulate things … mission, and by that I mean ‘serving and loving people Jesus Style’, can only happen out of a context where one feels ‘at home’. By that I mean a place where you feel accepted, where you can see you are growing to love the people that inhabit that space and where you are welcomed by those that already make up that community.

Sometimes that acceptance can take a little while to appear, and I remember it took around 6 – 8 months to start to feel accepted in Wetherspoons at the start of my curacy. Before this acceptance, however, it was clear to me that I resonated with these people in some way. For a time that was enough. The same has been true of the locations and spaces I inhabit now.

So …. I often get asked by others starting or changing their ministry ‘how do I discern my calling?’, or ‘how do I know what God wants me to do in this town?’ …. my answer has now been simplified by these inspired words ….

simply go where you fit

I’m happy with that!


red poppies and hopeful children

poppies copyToday, as chaplain at Oasis Academy Skinner Street I got to plant poppies at Mid Kent College with some children. The walk to Mid Kent and back again involved me in interesting conversations with these Year 4 children.

They were really excited about planing poppies, not simply because they were doing something different, but because they could sense the importance of sacrifice and hope that is associated with such an act.

As Chaplain I shared something about the symbolism of poppies. I drew out the symbolism of opium being  pain killer to dull the pain of war, as well as being a flower that spreads and returns each year, and so being a symbol of hope to the soldiers. (I used stuff from a sermon I preached at the cathedral on Remembrance Sunday a few years ago) The children seemed to understand that. We ended with some words I had prepared where we committed to work for peace and help for our fellow human.

I enjoyed today …. today I was struck by children filled with hope as they carried out a simply activity. Today has been a day where I feel I have helped.

Bible believing???

bibleI like to be challenged … no … really I do. I love a great discussion. One thing I particularly enjoy is pub theo (which happens tonight, 7.45pm at the Dog and Bone with great curry – shameless plug!!!) because people come to talk, are generally open to listening to each other which sometimes results in people changing an opinion.

Over the last few weeks, though, I seem to have come across quite a fair bit of cliche conversation stoppers … such as “well … I’m a Bible believing Christian’ … or … ‘You can’t pick and choose .. you have to believe ALL the Bible’. I have come to see these as conversation stoppers because they have been used that way … to stop me in my tracks with the expectation that the discussion should not stop … dead … there and then! Sorted! One way and all that!

Faith Interrupted writes well about this today.  I love Brian McLaren’s words that are quoted …

The Bible is too good and too important to be left to those who won’t think critically about it. And frankly, it’s too dangerous! 


One place to do some of that critical stuff is pub theo now and again … it’s important … it’s fun … don’t close the conversation … open it … lets challenge each other!