Holy Week in Taize

Happy Easter, Christ is risen!

First of all a little update on community members: We are five again with the Walker family and James. However, in addition to us all, our little group of pilgrims to Taize included another lady who will be moving in soon.

The family programme in Olinda this year is very good, as always, and tells the story of Moses and the people in captivity. The Bible introductions were excellent and created a real interest in Exodus. The themes (slavery, freedom, God who sees the people’s suffering and does not give up on them, sense and liberation out of chaos) fit so well together with the readings in church for Holy Week and Easter. On Easter Sunday very early the church was first dark and then there was an ocean of light as the light from the Easter candle was passed on to the little candles everyone was holding. The joyful Easter greeting echoed in dozens of languages. I am still very happy almost a week after getting home; if only the joy would last as long as the season of Easter!

We travelled by coach and I had time to dive into the life of young Thomas Merton as he describes it in the Seven Storey Mountain. What an amazing memory and skilled story telling! I’m only a third of the way through but my favourite so far is the funny part where he tells of the (very) English school chaplain who preached a rather poor sermon on 1 Corinthians 13 and in the boys’ minds ‘love’ was replaced with ‘gentlemanliness’. “And now these three remain: faith, hope and gentlemanliness. But the greatest of these is gentlemanliness.”

Don’t miss the Weekend of Reflection at Lunesdale Community 15-17 June where we will be studying the Letter from Taize for 2018: Inexhaustible Joy.

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Hello from James

James Denley joined the community in June 2017 and introduces himself:

I went to study outdoor education over at the University of Derby in 2012 and continued with my passion for outdoor pursuits. After this I somehow ended up working in the care industry and now have a job working with young people in the outdoors. As part of this job I needed to move out of Sheffield to be closer to work and Lancaster seemed like a good fit for me. I came across the community while looking online and just phoned and asked to visit. So I came down for the weekend and we all went to a progressive rock concert together. It was a great night and really nice weekend getting to know the Walkers.

 
on a walk

Not so long after I moved in in June, Jordan and Judith moved in as well and then it started to feel like a large family. It is very nice to be part of somethings that is just starting to take off and hopefully will flourish into something truly wonderful. People are made for community and I feel that everybody is seeking this within their daily life.

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Banned Music Night

We were excited to start the “banned” series with the young people with an evening exploring controversial music and controversy itself a little bit. It turned out to be really interesting. We started with Jesus Christ Superstar and picked our way through some classical music, birth of rock ‘n’ roll and jazz and the peace movement to some songs that the BBC censors still today. Did you know that “I am Sailing” was withdrawn from the playlists on radio at one point? Can you guess the reason? Now you’ll have to go and find out!

As usual, we enjoyed cakes and hot chocolate at the start. We had seven young people and hope that we might get just a few more. We’ll be moving on to The Shack for the rest of this autumn’s sessions. I’m reading it for the second time, and it’s a really good read. Obviously not as gripping as on the first reading, but so full of fresh thoughts on God and faith that I know I’ll be picking it up again after a couple of years.Shack

 

And why is The Shack controversial or banned? Because certain influential people regard it as unbiblical. Should you be reading books that suggest that God doesn’t care very much about religion but is especially fond of every human being? Without exception. Is it heretical to be messing around with religious stereotypes, or dangerous to describe God as a black woman with a great sense of humour? I think we’ll enjoy discussing these and other questions!

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Hospitality IV

This is the final post in the Hospitality series. I can hardly wait to tell you the news: three new members are living with us. The next post will introduce them.

Living generously

Being available to others is one of the principles we want to focus on in the community and I see it as an expression of generosity in common life. In the long run it is also important to look after oneself and spend time apart charging one’s batteries. God’s generosity is always available to us in His presence, but we cannot practically offer our every waking moment. Thankfully in a community it is easier at any given time to find someone who is free to give of their time.

These are still early days for us and we expect the first members to move into Lunesdale Community in the summer 2017. Already now we have implemented many details and routines in daily life which are preparing the way for a generous way of life in which giving your time counts: opening up, being present, serving others and valuing each moment and conversation. Since the beginning we have tried to create a pattern of life where these concepts exist naturally as part of common and private life. Stability, commitment and the support of the community can help us with being faithful to these aims.

picnic in June 2017

Sunday walk to Crook O’Lune:
enjoying each other’s company 
and celebrating a summer’s day
at a picnic.

Spiritual gifts to share

The Rule of Taizé mentions spiritual generosity, which means sharing your own discoveries. One of the main ideas of Lunesdale Community is seeking spiritual and personal growth and also sharing these fruits with others. We hope to extend this as wide as possible in the future and organise open events where the themes of growth are discussed.

Many guests come through our door and some are not Christians while others are the cornerstones of their congregations. Many of them are for ever trying to arrange space in their lives to pause regularly in front of God. At Lunesdale Community everyone is invited to stop twice a day for half an hour for the common prayer. The evening prayer is also open to people in the village. We sing songs from Taizé, read a short Bible passage and spend a long period in silence. This tried and tested format helps both newcomers and those familiar with it to calm down and offer the time to God.

A friend says that if you make time and space for God in your life, he will never be outdone in generosity. What I would like to communicate to others is that through nurturing the spiritual life it becomes possible to find some clarity, wisdom and courage to make one’s own choices which are directed by seeking one’s own vocation and God’s will and recognising one’s gifts. In our community, in regular times of prayer we offer the space for becoming aware of God’s whispers in the silence of the heart and the time to let a response mature. The common prayer is perhaps the most valuable thing we have to offer. It is an essential part of the generous way of life in which we open our lives to our neighbours.

Anna

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Hospitality III

Breaking bread

When Jesus visited Martha and Mary, Martha was aware that the body isn’t nourished by the Spirit alone and that ‘someone here has got to do the cooking’ for the hungry travellers. Unfortunately, it isn’t enjoyable to stay with a resentful and tired hostess. My solution would probably have been to divide the tasks between everybody or invite them to talk around the hearth, so that the cook would feel like they are at the centre of events. Perhaps I would have invited the neighbours round to hear Jesus teach, but asked them to bring a dish each to share. I like to invite people to visit at mealtimes, and I don’t let the lack of advance preparations stop me.

Vallechiara table

 

Sunday lunch in Vallechiara,
a monastery which we visited
in Italy in 2007.

 

 

At the Lunesdale Community we arrange potluck dinners with the ecumenical study group, because breaking bread together brings people closer together and makes the occasion more special. Another reason of a more practical nature is that rustling up a meal when rushing in from work would be difficult. Whenever several people gather like this, a festive meal is brought into being. The value of the occasion lies possibly in the encounter, a moment of beauty which is made more special perhaps by the lighting of candles, saying grace and lingering at the table. That means staying still and immersing oneself in the conversation, even if that results in forgetting to offer any coffee after.

dogs in BathHow difficult it seems to clear space in life (and make compromises) for lingering! All sorts of projects on top of paid work take up time – not to mention the children, the dogs and the poor husband who often gets neglected.

 

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Hospitality II

Morbacka winter

Main house in Morbacka

Beautiful memories from Morbacka Retreat Home came back while I looked through old photos for this post. All the pictures were taken in January 2007. I hope one day we will hold annual young adults’ pilgrimage weekends at Lunesdale Community; that was so significant to my formation. Thank you to everyone who played a part in them! Here is the second bit of the article I promised.

Experiences from communities

Our large house acts as a reminder of how much we have been given. All good things come from God, and I think they are meant to be shared with others. Many times I have come to notice that sharing something doesn’t mean that I lose somehow, but rather it makes it more special.

We are ultimately looking for long-term members, and although someone might come to stay only a little while with us, the purpose is not just offering accommodation. This has lead to a change in my attitude to receiving guests. We would like to promote equality among members and avoid the host-guest hierarchy. Hospitality means including people in our everyday life and tasks, and this can hopefully make them feel “part of us”. Work and play continue, while gardening, doing the laundry or setting the table belongs to everybody. Guests have indeed done their best to participate in the activities, and after sharing some of the mundane as well as the extraordinary times of life, have moved on. My hope is that they take away an experience of being accepted and included.

Anyone staying with the community also plays a part in offering hospitality. The one doing the dishes today is also tomorrow’s host through their participation and service. Anyone can be at the giving or receiving end as part of the greater whole, and all tasks can be seen to serve the common good. Serving others in everyday gestures give life meaning regardless of talent or qualifications.

I meMorbacka tableasure many community-related aspects in terms of the Morbacka Community in Finland, where I used to visit for young adults’ weekends and retreats. I don’t care much for extravagance or pretentiousness, but homeliness and the sharing of simple pleasures make an impression on me. In the experience of hospitality which Morbacka Morbacka readingprovided, the most important things were the place being so cosy and steeped in love and there being time for un-rushed conversations. A perfect addition was coming into the unreserved presence of God in the daily prayers.Morbacka map

Pilgrimage weekend programme

Pilgrimage weekend programme

 

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Hospitality

The next few blog posts are a translation of an article which was originally written by myself in Finnish for a publication of Hiljaisuuden Ystävät (Friends of Silence) in February 2017. It feels appropriate to speak about this topic on the day of returning home from the Birmingham Taizé event where we were hosted by a lovely family in a parish.

Birgitta reading at St Martin’s in the evening prayer

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

HOSPITALITY AS AN AIM IN COMMUNITY

In the midst of cautionary tales about making friends with people on the internet, we have shown to our children that you can allow strangers close to you. Over the years we have accommodated numerous people through networks called Hospitality Club and Couch Surfing, and had fascinating conversations at the breakfast table. We have also benefited from people’s hospitality through these links in different countries around Europe. In these systems people offer hospitality without compensation or reciprocity; however, there is a hope of one day being at the receiving end while travelling. The people within these networks give the impression of living according to the golden rule: in showing hospitality I treat others as I wish myself to be treated.

I notice that when an atmosphere of love and peace is cherished in the home, there is plenty to go around and to be shared. Similarly, when my second child was born, I learned that there was enough love to show both children: love doubled instead of being halved. That’s what God’s love is like which surrounds us. When God pours his love on us, there is no space for favouritism, comparison or debt of gratitude. At this feast there is room for everyone, and I don’t need to worry whether I get the best seat at the table.

Taizé’s concept of the pilgrimage of trust is something I try to live out. That includes being hospitable to everyone and accepting differences. The most important things are letting other people close and opening your home, giving your time and true encounter. You can always bring out more chairs to add to the table and offer at least a glass of water or a cup of tea.

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Christ is risen!

I tried to dedicate Lent to pondering the question ‘why did Jesus have to die’. Or, maybe more accurately, questioning the question. My Lenten reading was the Stature of Waiting (W.H. Vanstone, 1982) alongside our house group book The Things He Did (Stephen Cottrell, 2016). I’d really recommend all of Cottrell’s books where he paints imaginative pictures of Biblical events or characters. The former book was hard work because I’m not a big friend of wordiness, as my husband would tell you, but it was worth it in the end. Vanstone’s point is that God allowed Himself to be handed over in the passion, and Jesus had to wait as a recipient for people’s decision on how to react to His invitation. His glory was revealed in the waiting in Gethsemane perhaps better than in the cross. When we think of man as created in the image of God, it doesn’t mean that only our activity and creativity reflect how we are meant to live, but there is value also in being done unto, receiving, in waiting. This raises interesting questions about the people who need the help and service of others.

Why did Jesus have to die? There is a familiar and neat corner in my Nordic Protestant soul which accommodates all the off-the-shelf answers and to which I can retreat when I feel worthless (yet loved) and sinful. However, in the last 20 years I’ve grown uncomfortable with many of the quick Christian answers. As I’ve journeyed towards Easter, I’ve become to realise that the real question to me is ‘why did Jesus have to rise from the dead?’ My faith is resurrection faith. It’s the LIFE in Jesus, the streams of living water flowing from Him, and His resurrection which give depth to His message. The resurrection mobilised the disciples and gives hope, even today. It brings an understanding of a living God, accessible throughout the ages. It tells about the importance of LIFE, and draws our attention to Jesus’ life, through which God showed what His love is really like.

Easter picture

Lord, you broke bread with Judas and lovingly washed his feet
knowing he was just about to betray you.
Help me believe in my heart that there is no space for guilt or shame in love.
As your loving gaze rests upon me, 
teach me to see others through the same eyes of love.
Amen.

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Light in the darkness

Early winter’s morning
a single flame shines a little light.
It brings the whole room to life
shadows of angel chimes in the ceiling.
The contrast makes darkness visible.

Your light
in every living thing.

Lord, in your presence
our shortcomings are so apparent.
But you only long to draw us to yourself
to melt away our shame and confusion
in the warmth of your love.

Your love
in every living thing.

I am drawn at Advent to God
who chooses to come as a helpless baby
in contrast with power and force and law and fear.
Come, Prince of Peace, Morning Star.
Your Kingdom come.

Your truth
in all our hearts.

~Anna

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Breathing in the Divine

Did you know that your very first and your last breath in this life are prayer? I came across this thought in a video where Richard Rohr spoke about the Yahweh prayer. Apparently the letters of the Hebrew word Yahweh are pronounced without using the lips or tongue, and whispering them sounds like breathing in and out. No matter what religion, ideology or culture, people still constantly breathe the name of their Creator. That image describes quite well my feelings regarding the intimateness of my relationship with God.

I like the awareness of breathing in prayer, and the simpler the better. I’d like to share with you now my own prayer which draws together what I’ve learned of Pilates breathing exercises, the Jesus prayer and Celtic circling prayer. Circling prayer is drawing a circle around you pointing at the ground with a finger while turning a circle. It is to keep you safe, and you pray about things that you would like to keep inside and outside the circle. The words for circling prayer might be:

through-wire

 

Circle me O Lord,
keep hope within,
keep despair out.

 
Pilates teaches a breathing technique and I often use it to regain better posture and to relieve tension in the upper body and especially my neck which causes problems. The Jesus prayer is used especially in the Eastern Church tradition, and the aim in simple terms is to become still and humble before God. It can be prayed by breathing in during the words “Jesus Christ Son of God” and breathing out for “have mercy on me, a sinner”. Some people adopt shorter forms.

My prayer is a combination of these. When breathing in, I think of something which I would like to prevail in my life, and breathing out, I think of something I want to get rid of. So I might pray about belief – unbelief (as the man who said to Jesus: “Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief.”). Examples of other good pairs of opposites are peace – restlessness, calm – nervousness, trust – fear, joy – sadness, love – hatred, forgiveness – bitterness, life – death and so on.

There are three stanzas, and I stay with each one repeating it for a while to the rhythm of my breathing, only moving onto the next once I’m fully confident with the first one, once I fully own what I’m saying. I breathe in God’s divine quality and breathe out my own failing. The choice of the word depends on what I’m feeling or in need of at that time. I might sit already in prayer, lie down while practising pelvic floor muscles or stand waiting for the bus! The breathing flows in and out slowly, with a break in between.

riverside-picnic

 

In you there is peace – in me there is restlessness.
Your peace – my restlessness.
Peace – restlessness.

 

 

 

I find this really helpful when I’m stressed or worried or if my mind wonders when I’d like to focus in prayer. It can also help with being mindful/living in the moment and de-cluttering my mind from the nonsense that fills it. What do you struggle with at the moment, and what would be a good opposite to pray with? Let me know if you find this helpful.

Anna

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