Rioting in Tottenham

It was a shock to awake to scenes of violence in London. Somehow, the sight of Tottenham out of control delivered a wound to the psyche. We are not accustomed to seeing such naked anger and wanton destruction here in England. We are aware, in the usual cerebral way of those who dwell in the Shires, that the police are not universally trusted or, sadly, trustworthy; that drug crime is intimately connected with gang violence; that racial tensions continue to simmer beneath the surface of our national life; but seeing the night sky lit up with flames and young men throwing petrol bombs and looting shops brings home the reality of the riot in Tottenham.

Over the next few days, the causes of that riot will be picked over. Those caught up in the violence will give their account of what happened; those who were injured or who lost property will begin to count the cost as the official investigations get under way. There will be accusations and counter-accusations. A great deal of money will be spent; a great deal of tidying up will be done. But what is likely to be the net result? Would it be cynical to say, insurance premiums will go up, property prices will go down and confrontation will become more common?

Tottenham is home to many churches and Christian organizations. I expect that the priests and pastors will be doing their bit to try to bring calm to a volatile situation. We too must do our bit and pray for peace on the streets of London. More than that, we must be peace-makers wherever we are, for we cannot pray for others to become what we ourselves have no desire to be. We too must renounce every form of violence.

 

Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail

The Transfiguration

The Praying Christ by D. Werburg Welch
The Praying Christ by D. Werburg Welch, © Stanbrook Abbey

The Transfiguration is one of the most luminous of feasts. Whatever happened at Tabor, whether at night as many suppose, or during the day, something of Jesus’ glory as God was revealed to Peter, James and John. No wonder the Cluniacs made this feast peculiarly their own: it breathes a very Benedictine sense of the divine glory being in everyone and everything.

That is very far from pantheism or a lovely warm fuzzy glow about the essential niceness of everything. It is instead a call to action, to a way of being. The Transfiguration reminds us of the glory of being human as well as Jesus’ glory as Son of God. When we really take that on board, we cannot go on acting as we once did, using (and possibly abusing) others for our own ends. We cannot be rude or impatient or scornful. Or rather, we can, but if we are any of those things, it is a sign that we have not yet allowed the grace of God full scope in our lives.

Earlier this week I was involved in a series of emails with people who claimed to be Christian but were the reverse of courteous. The correspondence demonstrated something I have often remarked upon: unless we treat our online communications as seriously as our offline communications and observe the same standards of truthfulness and courtesy, those of us who claim to be Christian are doing a tremendous disservice to our Faith. The internet/email/social media are as much a sacred space as any other. Here, too, we must allow the glory of God to shine through, for the Transfiguration is here and now as well as in eternity.

A note on the illustration
The illustration comes from a reprinting of the card D. Werburg Welch designed for the Abbé Couturier’s movement for Christian Unity before World War II. It was originally issued in several languages with a prayer he had composed. When I was printer at Stanbrook, it was reissued both on handmade paper and in a commercial edition.

Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail

Financial Meltdown

Fears about the U.S. economy and European debt are fuelling fears of another financial meltdown. The major banks are in a less healthy position than they were a couple of years ago, and once the August holiday season is over, we can probably expect more equity sell-offs. Even gold prices have fallen, which is contrary to the trend we have seen in recent months. What does this mean for the Churches? I don’t know, but less income and increased need in society for the kind of services the Churches offer the poor and  struggling are a piquant mix.

Prayer, fasting and almsgiving are not just for Lent. They are a way of preparing for difficult tasks at any time of year. Perhaps we all need to think about our response to the challenge of the times we live in and prepare ourselves for what may be to come. The certainties of yesteryear are gone forever. We must learn to live by the mercy of God.

Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail

The Googlification of Research

We often receive requests for help with research projects. Whenever we can, we try to respond positively although doing so can take a sizeable chunk out of the day (some might say, a disproportionate amount of time, given the size of the community, but helping others is an aspect of hospitality so we do our best). I am beginning to be concerned, however, by the number of requests which suggest that the very nature of research is changing. Asking for leads, a few specific questions after the background reading has been done, discussion of a point that has arisen when looking again at the source material: all these are fine by me. I am less happy with the kind of research which consists in endless questions that a very little work by the researcher could have answered.

Let me give some examples. Frequently, we’ll receive long lists of questions about nuns/monastic life, whether we blog or engage with social media, etc, etc. Usually, these are already answered on our community web site or are pretty self-evident. (If you made contact with us via these pages, presumably you would realise that one of us blogs, wouldn’t you?) Then there are the lists of questions about other communities or organizations, e.g. Anglican sisters, about which we are not qualified to speak; there are also what I call the speculative lists, which ask questions along the lines of ‘do you think that the Church (who She?) is doing (a) a good job, (b) a bad job or (c) an indifferent job of . . .?’ Who cares what we think, and anyway, how are we to assess what two billion Catholics are doing? (People often forget that the Church is universal when conducting their surveys.) TV companies, novelists, journalists looking for a feature article, people doing dissertations, all send their little lists and hope for an answer by return.

I think Google is to blame. We have become accustomed to tapping in a few search terms and coming up with pages of resources; so why should people be any different? Send a list of questions and back will come the answers. Turn them into a few nice- looking charts (so easy with the software available today), add a few sentences of interpretation containing all the most fashionable buzz words (do another Google search to find them) and, hey presto, we have the dissertation nailed, the report ready. I exaggerate, of course, but underneath the exaggeration is a belief that the quantification of thought is no substitute for thought itself, that research is precisely that: a systematic investigation to establish facts and reach new conclusions. There are no short-cuts to research, just as there are no short-cuts in the most exciting search of all, the search for God.

Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail

Digitalnun’s Story

Sadly, Odyssey Networks decided to change their policy about letting people they have interviewed embed the resulting video on their web site or blog. So, if you didn’t catch it in the first twenty-four hours, you will either have to buy the Call on Faith app, available from the iTunes store at 99cents (there is also an Android version) or view the lo-res version of the Call on Faith video on our main web site here.

If you do have the app, the video will be found here: http://m.4gotv.tv/cof/stf.xhtml?videoID=184965. The Call on Faith app comes highly recommended.

Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail

Five Loaves, Two Fish and a Lonely Place

Yesterday’s gospel (Matthew 14. 13 to 21) describes the feeding of the five thousand as occurring in a ‘lonely place’ to which Jesus and his disciples had retired ‘in order to be by themselves’. For those for whom the week-end is as busy as, if not busier than, ordinary week-days, it is worth pausing over that reference to a ‘lonely place’ and ‘being by themselves’. It is a reminder that finding time for prayer and meditation is not a selfish act but absolutely necessary for a truly Christian life.

For most of us, the lonely places have to be interior; and although we don’t necessarily expect them to be invaded by clamouring crowds, we mustn’t be surprised if they are. Paradoxically, it is where we expect least that we often receive most. If yesterday was too busy then today, on the ‘bus or the train into work perhaps, we might try to find a little time to be by ourselves with God. How else shall we have anything of value to share with others?

Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail

SS Mary, Martha and Lazarus

Our monastic calendar commemorates the household of Bethany today, not just St Martha. It is a feast of friendship and hospitality which reminds us of the different elements in monastic life: work, prayer, living a completely new life in Christ, one so clearly focused on him that it can be welcoming to others.

Most of us could probably talk about our ‘Martha’ days, when we seem to run ourselves ragged doing things; our ‘Mary’ days, when we seem just to rest in the Lord for a few precious moments; but what about our ‘Lazarus’ days? How often do we advert to the fact that our baptism has made a difference to our lives, that we live now ‘not I but Christ in me’? And if it is Christ living in us, shouldn’t our lives be more luminous, more gracious than often they are?

RSS Feed for www.benedictinenuns.org.uk
We have finally got round to burning a feed for our main community web site at www.benedictinenuns.org.uk so that you can read updated content in any Reader, should you wish. At the moment, the feed icon displays only on the home page, but as we update the site in August, we’ll add a link to the footer so you can subscribe from anywhere. For a simple introduction to RSS, try http://www.whatisrss.com/.

Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail

Summer Colds

Summer colds are annoying, both to the one with the cold and those without. They tend to spread a pall of gloom over everything. No prizes for guessing that the snuffle season is upon us here at Hendred. We shall do the wise thing: announce a short blogcation, turn off Twitter, flip the switch on Facebook, ignore Google+ and retire to a life of indignant meditation until we regain our usual sunny disposition. (Some hope. Ed.)

Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail

Love of Solitude

As a community we are happy about using the internet to share something of our monastic life with others. Our use of Facebook, Twitter, Google + and so on isn’t random (though it may sometimes appear so): we are doing our best to exercise the traditional hospitality of Benedictines in all the ways open to us. So why am I writing about solitude, and more precisely, love of solitude? For the simple reason that our online engagement presupposes an even greater degree of engagement with God and the things of God in silence and seclusion. Love of solitude is an important element of monastic life that no amount of ‘connectedness’ can or should obscure, but I think it may be something those not called to live the monastic life might gain from thinking about.

One of the problems contemporary culture confronts us with is that of discerning how much of ourselves to share with others, especially online. Do we ‘do’ social media, and if so, what limits do we need to observe? Are professional/semi-professional networks like Linkedin or BranchOut as necessary as having a business card once was, or do they blur the distinction between public and private? During the last few months there has been an explosion of interest in the use of social media by the Churches and some very acute observations have been made. I particularly commend anything written by P. M. Philips (Methodist) or Antonio Spadaro (Catholic). However, I’m not sure that we have yet covered all necessary aspects. Worrying about our personal safety, the security of our online data, or the longevity of some of our sillier postings/comments on blogs and so on, is essentially self-regarding. As Christians, we are called to look beyond ourselves, to God and others; and that’s where it all becomes a little complicated. Is all this online buzz really good for anyone? What part does solitude play in our lives?

Solitude, as we all know, can be good or bad: it can be selfish or selfless, creative or destructive. A lot depends on our attitude and intention. That is why I emphasize the need for a love of solitude. Some people are afraid of silence, of being alone; yet we all need to experience what it is like to do nothing in particular, to spend time being receptive rather than assertive, otherwise whatever we  say or do, online or offline, will be shallow or vapid. A solitude which is not loneliness or emptiness is not achieved without some sacrifice, but in a world where we are endlessly available to others via the internet/smartphones/whatever, solitude seems to me increasingly necessary.

Prayers please
We heard this morning that our founder and Ordinary, Bishop Crispian Hollis of Portsmouth, has bowel cancer. Please keep him in your prayers.

Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail

In Praise of Grandparents

The feast of SS Joachim and Anne, (traditional names given to the parents of Our Lady and hence the maternal grandparents of Our Lord Jesus Christ), is an apt day on which to sing the praises of grandparents. You see them today doing the school run, providing out-of-hours childcare, often more engaged with the children than the children’s parents. It wasn’t always so. The grandparents of today are usually healthier, wealthier and more leisured than their own grandparents were. They are Baby Boomers turned Baby Buddies and have a very special place in their grandchildren’s hearts.

Because that is the point about grandparents, isn’t it? They can be so much less complicated about the love they have for their grandchildren, and grandchildren instinctively recognize the fact. Grandparents don’t have the 24/7 responsibility of parents; they can be indulgent; they can enjoy their grandchildren’s company in ways and at times that parents can’t. Their influence can be huge, and it is always the influence of love. Thank God for grandparents, living and dead.

Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail