Why Me? Lenten Talk by Gill Rowe given at St John the Baptist on Sunday 12 March 2017
Why Me? Lenten Talk by Gill Rowe given at St John the Baptist on Sunday 12 March 2017
First of all, a thank you to Father Peter, in his absence, for inviting me to participate in this series of Lent talks. I confess to being slightly intimidated. I am all too aware of the high standard set by previous speakers and it is quite a challenge first to examine and then to talk about one’s spiritual journey. But here, for what it’s worth, is the story of mine, so far.
I have had it easy. I haven’t wrestled with demons or experienced the dark depths of existential anxt. described by many pilgrims on the way. I was a child of loving and devoted parents to whom the Christian faith was absolutely fundamental and I have been blessed with a happy marriage, children, grandchildren and an optimistic glass half-full disposition.
My father was a schoolmaster, but his father and many of his forebears were clergy, and the school where he taught, St Edward’s in Oxford, was a Church of England foundation with an ordained priest as a Warden. When my father became a housemaster we moved into a boys’ boarding house in the main quadrangle, diagonally across from the chapel where the boys, and my father, attended services twice daily and we went as a family on Sundays. In the holidays we attended the local parish church.
So for me and my sister churchgoing was part of the fabric of life. We were brought up with Christian values and we were encouraged to be dutiful. My parents were good role models; my father was dedicated, fair-minded, and self-deprecating, my mother generous-hearted and endlessly hospitable. The house seemed always full of people and we were part of a friendly and supportive community.
Most family holidays were spent with my grandparents in the Lake District
my grandfather, in his retirement, ministered at a tiny whitewashed church in the
tranquil and unspoilt Newlands Valley, near Derwentwater. The beauty of the
Lakes is deep in my soul and I have an
abiding love of mountains. Some of my earliest memories are of Newlands and of
my grandfather, who as a child I think I probably mixed up with God, in the
pulpit in his white surplice.
I continued to go to church regularly throughout my teens. At boarding school we attended the local parish church every Sunday and the vicar prepared me for Confirmation, which I took very seriously. I devoured C.S. Lewis and I remember grappling, not very successfully, with Thomas a Kempis.
Church attendance had, therefore, always been part of life, though from where I am now, it looks more like conditioning than conviction, habit rather than zeal. I liked church. I liked singing hymns and certainly I believed in God. But I don’t think I was convinced that Jesus lived in me and I in him, whatever the words of the liturgy said and at university, and the years immediately thereafter, my church going lapsed. I didn’t lose my belief in God, nor the conviction, which I hold to this day, that in the long run good will come out of what we perceive to be bad, but I simply turned away. I was too busy with exciting new experiences.
I had turned my back on God, but of course He was always there and called me back through love; love of my husband, Clive, and my three children, of beauty, of music, of nature. We discovered Christ Church, in Victoria Road which had a thriving Sunday School, and we became part of a vibrant church community. Regular church going has been important ever since, for the last 20 years at St George’s, in Gloucestershire, and latterly, from time to time here at St. John’s.
In 1992 I had a very serious car crash on the M40. I was hit hard from behind and sent careering across the motorway and back. Had I been in any other car but a Volvo I should probably have been killed. I was certainly sure I was going to be as I headed at speed towards a steep bank. It is true that your life flashes by in a nanosecond. I was very surprised to find myself still alive, though upside down, as the car did a complete somersault, eventually landing right way up, facing back the way I had come. But the point is I had absolutely no fear of dying; it would have been fine to have been there, whatever and wherever there is, rather than here. Years later I had another near death experience which confirmed that we should have no fear of dying. This knowledge, like faith, is a precious gift.
With hind-sight the car crash was a godsend; it forced me to stop and change direction. I no longer drove hundreds of miles, I stopped sitting as a chairman in the Family Court. I had time to read. I explored the writings of Thomas Merton I discovered St Theresa of Avila. I read poetry. I started to paint, and to write again. Later I did a counselling course at the Westminster Pastoral Foundation. In the long process of recovery I met some wonderful caring, spiritual people and I also learned what it is like to be incapacitated and dependent on others. It was a humbling time.
But despite all this I would say that my spiritual journey had hardly begun. It was during a week of prayer at St George’s, initiated by Father Michael Fuller, that there came a real epiphany. For an hour each day you were assigned to a spiritual director, in my case Kim Nataraja, whose direction was enlightening, and the daily homework, to ponder an assigned line of Scripture, brought many insights and revelations. One morning, I was suddenly overwhelmed by a powerful presence, like a physical force. In awe I knew Jesus to be there. ‘I am with you always’. I was enveloped by and infused with a profound and loving peace. It was an extraordinary and joyful dawning.
Kim introduced me to Christian Meditation, an ancient form of silent contemplative prayer which dates back to the Desert Fathers. The essence of meditation, so familiar in eastern religions, is stillness, silence and the repetition of a mantra. The World Council for Christian Meditation suggests an Aramaic word Maranatha meaning Come Lord. John Main, a Benedictine monk who wrote extensively about this form of contemplative prayer explains; ‘The important aim in Christian meditation is to allow God’s mysterious and silent presence within us to become more and more not only a reality, but the reality which gives meaning, shape and purpose to everything we do, everything we are. Our meditation is the outward expression of our inward commitment to the presence of that Spirit of God, dwelling in our hearts’.
Meditation is now an integral part of my life. Whenever possible, I attend the weekly group at St George’s, and try to do a meditation twice daily. And as I tread this path, which is centuries old but new each time, there continue to be epiphanies, the ‘Oh I SEE moments’. Familiar words take on new depths of meaning. The Cloud of Unknowing resonates. One is given glimpses of what the great mystics are talking about if ‘through a glass (very) darkly’,
At the same time, during the week of prayer, I first experienced what I can only describe as a calling. Healing presented itself, first in one of the prayer sessions following my hour with Kim, next as a result of a sermon and thirdly in a ‘chance’ encounter with an old friend of mine who is a healer and psychotherapist. Healing kept ‘coming up’ and I am bound to say that at first I dismissed it as fanciful. But it persisted so, with encouragement, I trained with the National Federation for Spiritual Healing, now part of the Healing Trust, and what a revelation that was! We were a mixed crowd, of all religious faiths and none, some very New Age, but we had all been drawn to healing. We all practised some form of Meditation; we all wanted to help people. We learned how to channel the energy from our source, which of course I, along with many healers, believe to be Divine, to people open to receive it.
Healing is not curing, though physical symptoms may disappear, but rather an easing of strain. The healer is merely a channel for the energy of love which enables the person, at some deep level, to let go of tension and so allow their own healing potential to kick in. The parallel with meditation is obvious. As John Main puts it; ‘What we discover in meditation is the power-source that enables us to live without the anxiety of having to protect ourself. It is established right at the centre of our own being, in our own heart. ‘God is the centre of my soul’. People often leave a healing session in much the same peaceful state as we meditators leaving the group. I give healing sessions when asked to, sometimes in the most unlikely circumstances, and it is both a privilege and a joy to do so.
It was also about this time, and I cannot believe that it is a coincidence, that I started to write poetry and to paint more seriously. I have published five books of poetry. Some of the poems are light-hearted, others more profound. Meditation has been the inspiration for several of these. I should like to end with one. It is called Tacet. On Meditation.
That dwells within
Lies deep beneath the skin
It can’t be seen, mapped, measured, touched.
I can’t express,
Though fully I confess,
The munificence of this gift;
The rush, the fret!
No wonder we forget
To stop, seek, listen, contemplate
This enterprise. Be still.
Allow yourself to meditate.
You do, why then
In time, and time again
You’ll find in truth the deepest peace.
‘Meditation is a way of coming to your own centre, coming to the foundation of your own being and remaining there – still, silent attentive’. Word into silence. Jan 2
‘silence releases the glory of God in our heart.
Neither l can separate me from the love of God.
‘a journey of faith, of expanding capacity to love and be loved ThePresent Christ Jan6
Cassian in the 4th century, one of the most influential teachers of the spiritual life in the west and the inspiration for St Benedict /Word Into Silence Jan 8
In meditation we are focused beyond ourselves through the working of th Holy Spirit our spirit is expanding. We discover the power-source that enables us to live without the anxiety of having to protect ourselves; it is established right at our centre of our own being, in our own hearts. God is the centre of my soul
The purpose of Meditation is that we come to our own centre. There is only one centre Feb 6 The Heart of Creation Jan 19I
It is the mystery of this journey that sit makes us grow in our sensitivity to the presence of God and the goodness of his working in many unexpected areas of our lives Letters from the heart Jan 20
Meditation is a learning process where we enter ever more deeply, ever more richly into the mystery. God is Spirit. God is the breath of life. God is presence and he is present deep within our being, in hearts. The Heart of Creation Feb 20
Meditation frees us from being trapped within ourselves. The way forward is oneness with God, in Jesus through the spirit The Door to Silence Jan 21
In Meditation, in concentrating on our our mantra we let go of all our preoccupations, our worries, our thoughts and plans, our self consciousness. This giving up of self enables us to enter into communion with the Other and with others at a deep level of reality In the silence of our own heart we enter into the deep harony that reveals to us our oneness with all. The Door to Silence Feb 14`1
In emptying of self we are filled with the power of God and with the knowledge that we are one with God because lovable and loved. We abandon all our thoughts, imagaination, insights and above all our own prayers. Word Made Flesh Feb 18.
Meditation is entry into the freedom of God In the beginning Mar 1
Meditation is sometimes known as a pilgrimage, or journey. It is the journey away from self into the mystery of God. Word made flesh Mar 15
Total openness to the Spirit so that in the whole of our life we yes to God
In God we are and we know ourselves to be lovable and loved It is established in our hearts if only we will be open to it. the Way of Unknowing Mar 29
Meditation is experientially concerned with two important things; the presence of God, and becoming attentive to that presence. The Way of Unknowing Apr 25
The reality of God’s Spirit dwelling within us does not depend on our thinking about it. Indeed it only becomes a personal reality for us when we stop thinking about it and when we enter into the living experience of it, in silence The Door t silence a pril 5
Meditation revbeals our real being asa state of open hearted receptivity to the Spirit of Jesus who dwells in our hearts Word into Silence April 8
In prayer we do not take the initiative.we are not talking to God. We are listening to his word within us. We are not looking for Him it its he who has found us. Word into silence May 4Meditation requites absolute trust. We lay ourselves on the lin. We offer ourselves to God abacdoning everything that we are and we simply say our mantr. That is both the challeng of t and ower of it. Being on the Way May 30
Two imnportant sayings of JHesus Little child and leave self behind The Heart of Creation June 24
The practice of meditation is simply the way to be open to this presence, to this energy, to this harmony and to be open to it ever more profoundly In the Beginnin July 15
As John Main put it He has been with me from the beginning, he always will be with me and he is the way to our universal Father.