Update Blogging Break


This wild goose is taking a blogging break.

I'll be back online around 17th June.

Blessings to all and may the Holy Spirit keep you safe.

A trinity of parting gifts to keep you occupied...

First, below is an extract from a transcript of a brilliant interview between Benedictine monk, Dom Mark Patrick Hederman Abbot of Glenstal Abbey, near Limerick, Ireland and Shirley Ward.

I have featured Mark Patrick Hederman several times on my blog..... 
Click here for the full interview.

 Q. Shirley Ward.....There are many who feel completely betrayed, and have left the institutional church and are seeking their own spirituality elsewhere. Do you have a message for them?
Mark Patrick -This is a difficult question which I can only answer for myself. I was born into the Catholic Church and I have had the good fortune of being able to study theology and the history of that Church for many years. I do believe that this Church, whatever human beings may do to it, especially those who see themselves as in charge of it, contains everything we need for allowing us to be disciples of Jesus Christ, whom I believe to be the Son of God, the Second Person of the Trinity come on earth.

 He gave us His Holy Spirit and promised that this Holy Spirit would be with us forever until the end of time, and that not even the gates of Hell should prevail against us. That is all that matters to me.

 I have the Holy Spirit in my heart and that Person will never desert me. The food and drink, which I need for the journey through life, is the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ which he gave to us in the Eucharist at the Last Supper. ‘Do this in memory of me,’ he said. It is a deed that we do, not a dogma, or a book, or a set of concepts. 

Wherever this deed is done, indeed, wherever two or three of us are gathered in His name, He is there with us. We eat his body and drink his blood to give ourselves the blood transfusion which we need to swop our kind of loving for His kind of loving, to transfer from our own human energy to His Divine Energy. 

And this can be done in many ways. It matters little how we do it; what matters is that the deed is done in memory of Him and that we participate actively as often as we want to have the deepest communion with Him.

All the rest is secondary: what clothes we wear, what rules we obey, what forms of government and structures of community we adopt. If the whole world were to betray us the Holy Spirit would never do so. 

We need to cultivate direct relationship with the Persons of the Holy Trinity, first person singular, present tense. 

There should be no intermediaries, no third person, no go-between. Christ gave us the life and love of the Three Persons of the Trinity flowing in our own hearts, we only have to drop down there to bathe ourselves in this supernatural splendour. 

We don’t need anyone else or anything else to access this privilege which is our birthright since the time we were baptised. 

Of course it is a pity beyond all telling that we have been so betrayed by human institutions, but God never relied on any of these to speak directly to His chosen people. All we have to do is answer the phone.

Shirley- But you live in a Catholic environment…..

Mark Patrick -I accept that being a male and a monk in the monastery of Glenstal Abbey make it easier for me to find a satisfactory life within the Roman Catholic tradition; and I can see very easily how so many others are feeling alienated by the present structures of this institution. 

However, I believe that everything can change, and should change if necessary, except one thing which is the love of God made present to us in Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit.

It is up to us to insist on such changes, but for my part, I do not want to invent a new Church, nor do I feel the need to abandon this one. 

 And this one, for me, means recognising that Judeochristianity is one religion stemming from the revelation of the one God; that the break between Judaism and Christianity is similar to that between Protestantism and Catholicism, namely a family quarrel; that Jews and Christians belong to the Catholicism which stems from the God of Abraham, also recognised by Moslems, and Isaac and Jacob, which in our view reaches its culmination and fulfilment of revelation in Jesus Christ, the Messiah that Judaism has announced through its prophets, who is God incarnate. 

The Church, the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic, must as an organisation, embody the Holy Spirit of Christ. Until it does so, it remains human, fallible and faulty, not yet having reached its full potential.

I believe in God and I believe that the Holy Spirit is gradually improving the mechanisms which might change the Church from being the fragmented, self- opinionated, thick-headed, sexist, male dominated organisation that cultural forces in our patriarchal world have allowed it to become, so that it may eventually struggle towards being the transparent image of the God it was meant to be serving.

 I shall work as hard as I can to remove such dross and clean these windows, so that all manner of things may be well, and that all may be one, without that meaning uniform. 

There are many ways of being Christian and our union is one of love, not of domination.

Shirley -I’m sure many agree with you on this. We spoke early about Glenstal, what do you believe the future of Glenstal to be in your vision of the future of the Church?

Mark Patrick-This monastery of ours, Glenstal Abbey in Limerick, is being offered first refusal – and everything always depends upon the willingness of those who are approached – on establishing a three-ringed Community of the Holy Spirit in and around the present structure of the community here as it now exists. 

The outer rim of the community will comprise professional people, some married, some not, men and women who are interested in living the liturgical life of the core community and some who will be involved in the active life and professional engagements of the Abbey as a whole. 

The inmost circle forms the contemplative liturgical core; those who undertake to live the full schedule of Trinitarian life here on earth.

In between these two there will be accommodation and space for a third party who might want to live with us for a certain time, at their own rhythm and to the extent that they find appropriate. 

This last group might be artists, business people, consultants, doctors, entertainers, families, general practitioners, historians, iconographers, journalists, knights of the road, liturgists, musicians, novelists, OAP’s, painters, quantum physicists, ramblers, scientists, teenagers, university students, visitors, writers  – all whose interest in being in such an environment might be temporary and even sometimes quite tangential to the purpose of the whole.

Shirley-What would they do here? What help would they be given?

Mark Patrick -Glenstal would establish a spiritual centre which would offer initiation into a way of life which aligns the whole person, body, mind and spirit, with the universe as a whole, with those who are in it, and with the Three Persons of the Trinity who have invited each one of us to share in their life. 

Taking our cue from Cluny, Glenstal can provide many people with an element and an atmosphere allowing them to breathe spiritually. Again poetry describes this:
If you came this way in may time, you would find the hedges
White again, in May, with voluptuary sweetness.
There are other places
Which are also the world’s end, some at the sea jaws,
Or over a dark lake, in a desert or a city-
But this is the nearest, in place and time.
There are other places, of course. But the Spirit seems to be saying that at this moment and as things are, Glenstal is the nearest in place and time. 

We do have one of the most beautiful places in the world imbued with the mysterious time of liturgy.

Shirley -And people coming here would become marinated in this beauty.
Mark Patrick-Most people educated in the 20th century are blind and deaf to the symbolism of liturgy, the ‘divine beauty’ of nature, the language of art. 

Western European civilisation has long ago sold its birth right for a mess of pottage. 

Our birth right is the mystery of life hidden in the symbols from the beginning of time: the mess of pottage is a world constructed by scientific technology. Not that science and technology are not wonderful and essential but without the other dimension they are ‘a dry weary land without water’.

Monks should provide for a world that has become blind, deaf and dumb to the language of symbolism, the meaning of life. 

We should be able to pour that trickle of water on the palm of the hand which allowed Anne Sullivan, imaginative, patient and inspired educator, to teach Helen Keller, born blind, deaf and dumb, how to retrieve her sensibility, her humanity, her personality, her spirituality.

Shirley-What point are you making from their story?

Mark Patrick -On 3rd March 1887, Anne arrived at the house in Tuscumbia and for the first time met Helen Keller. Anne immediately started teaching Helen to finger spell. Although Helen could repeat these finger movements she could not quite understand what they meant. Anne and Helen moved into a small cottage on the land of the main house. After a month of Anne’s teaching, what the people of the time called a ‘miracle’ happened. Helen had until now not yet fully understood the meaning of words.

 When Anne led her to the water pump on 5th April 1887, all that was about to change. As Anne pumped the water over Helen’s hand, Anne spelled out the word water in the girl’s free hand. Something about this explained the meaning of the words within Helen, and Anne could immediately see in her face that she finally understood.  

Helen later explained that she experienced a thrill of returning thought and somehow the mystery of language was revealed to her.
Shirley-How does this fit into a monk’s life?

Mark Patrick-Monks must first of all learn for themselves the language of symbolism, the language of liturgy, the language of the saving mysteries of Jesus Christ, made real for us on a daily basis through the power of the Holy Spirit. 

The digitus Dei, or finger of God, as the Holy Spirit is named, spells out ‘the word’ for us as the water of life is poured on the other hand. 

The Holy Spirit writes on our hands, as blind, deaf and dumb people, also through the medium of sound. ‘I was dumb, silent and still..  He put a new song into my mouth’ which is from Psalm 38  v3; and 39 v4.

Shirley-And people would learn this new way?

Mark Patrick-Yes. Gifts of place, time and culture have been given to us as providential sources from which to provide ‘the running streams’ for which many, if not every soul is gasping. 

And once we ourselves have learned and are living from this mystery, we too can provide ‘small cottages on the land of the main house’ which will allow many people as possible to have, or to gain, access to these mysteries. 

This means initiating people, starting with ourselves, to a new culture, a new alphabet, which is really the very old culture, the very ancient language of liturgy. 

This would be a language and a culture which help us to become fully alive, with that fullness of life which the Trinity always wished to share with us; resurrected life, the life of love with God.

Shirley-Would this mean a new type of community?

Mark Patrick-Glenstal would become like Clonmacnoise in Seamus Heaney’s poem. This is a place where the abbot and community help the artist to anchor the altar.

 The monastery becomes a place where artists can hope to tie whatever kite they happen to be flying to a firm and stable anchor. 

The monastery as silent hub of that fireworks display which art and culture need to scatter with reckless flamboyancy into the night.

Such revelation is possible only from the ambience and tranquillity of a monastery where, to quote Alexander Solzhenitsyn; people have the time, the atmosphere and the opportunity ‘to survey, as from a great height, the whole tortuous flow of history; and yet at the same time, like people completely immersed in it, they can see every pebble in its depths.’ (Solzenitsyn 1971:358). 

Providentially, it seems to me, the Holy Spirit has gathered together in this very beautiful place, the people and the competences, the genius and the generosity, which could allow us to provide a well-organised and effective oasis in an over-expanding spiritual desert.

Shirley - I was in Glenstal some weeks back with our students of psychotherapy – there were over 200 visitors that day including another psychotherapy group, a creative writing group, a retreat day for ladies plus the overseas tourists. What brings people to Glenstal? What are they seeking?

Mark Patrick -I think you managed to hit the day of peak population! But, you are right in saying that very many people like coming to Glenstal Abbey for various reasons. 

This ranges from people who like the grounds and the garden, a place to go for an afternoon walk, to those who are interested in finding out how monks live. Such an interest can be passing or it can be serious.

 It can be similar to people who visit the zoo to see how monkeys live, or it can be a genuine curiosity about an alternative lifestyle from the one most people adopt. It can also be a prompting from God to someone to go somewhere that God is more obviously present than elsewhere. 

Most people have a desire to live with God in some way and have a secret part of themselves that would choose to be a monk.

Shirley-For you the Holy Spirit has a great deal to do with it! How can people recognise this invisible force in their lives whatever they choose to call it?

Mark Patrick-There is a place in every person where God touches us and where we are constantly in contact with God. If I can reach this place I can touch God.

 The Bible gives this interior place the name ‘heart.’ At a given moment a great withdrawal of all other faculties must take place, a sort of fast must be imposed on them. We try to rest before God in reverent and loving attention, while our interior faculties remain empty. 

We must work to create this emptiness, this space within. This does not normally happen quickly. Perseverance, humility and patience are needed. If I can arrive at a point where I can free myself from every other reality and bring the gaze of my spirit to bear on this point exclusively, I can meet God. 

 Our desire for God leads us toward that reality in ourselves which is the deepest and most divine part of our being. That place where God dwells in me is also the place of prayer.

Shirley -How do we recognise this place of prayer?

Mark Patrick-Long before I am aware of it or before I take an interest in it, this prayer is going on ceaselessly within me. It is important to insist on this: prayer has already begun before I do anything – Prayer is there; it abides there; it comes before any of my efforts, any of the techniques I may learn. 

At the deepest level I live in a state of prayer. At the beginning this prayer is entirely unconscious – so all my efforts will consist in letting the prayer flow out and spill over into my consciousness. It’s nothing more than that. 

From being unconscious, this prayer must become conscious. I must allow it to take me over from within, so that I can become united with it, and take direction from it, while allowing myself to be borne up by it.

I hope that all this makes it clear that when we pray we are not ‘doing’ anything, we are not starting from scratch and building something, or throwing out some kind of lines of communication as a fisherman might cast flies onto a river.

 On the contrary, we are trying to slow down, stop all our active faculties from racing around madly trying to achieve something, and allowing ourselves to sink back slowly into that cave within our hearts where the prayer of the three persons of the Trinity is already flowing through us like a murmuring stream. 

We have to incline the ear of our heart to hear what they are saying to each other and to me who has been invited to be part of their communion as the greatest honour and privilege that can be imagined. 

So, rather than saying anything or doing anything, I have to stop doing anything, stop saying things, and allow myself to enter the diving-bell of prayer which will carry me to the depths of myself where I can freely enter this conversation.

Shirley-What sort of image would you give this?

Mark Patrick-An image which I find useful is this: How do you get seaweed lying on a beach, hard, brittle and sundried and crackling under foot, to become lithe, supple, flowing, velvet? 

Not by crushing it, kicking it, stamping on it, lifting it up; rather by putting it back in the water and holding it there until the ocean seeps through it and after a while caresses it into its underwater softness, so much more natural to it than its hard, wrinkled, tetchiness on the shore.



Shirley-How do we melt the anger in us that trauma in life has caused us to experience?

Mark Patrick- You are asking, how do we achieve a similar softness in ourselves, causing the heart of stone to become a heart of flesh by allowing it to be bathed in its natural element of prayer? 

The answer is that we do whatever is necessary for us to sink daily into this element which beckons to us, as the waters of the ocean beckon to the holiday makers on the shore. 

Every advertised exercise of prayer: yoga, transcendental meditation, rosaries, which are digital labyrinths to hypnotise the fleeting mind, are simply tried and tested ways of holding us down in the area of the heart where the agitated body and even more agitated mind won’t carry us off into other areas of distraction.

 None of these are foolproof or guaranteed to achieve their purpose. Their only goal is to push you into position so that the Holy Spirit can pray for you and through you to the Father and you can be aware of that breath of life moving through you.

There is really only one prayer: that taught by God come among us when he was asked to teach us how to pray: Our Father.

 This prayer contains everything we need to know and everything we need to say. But, as we go about our business and as we live through each day we can teach ourselves some shorthand version, some prayer of the heart which then continues to murmur through us even while we are sleeping: Come Lord Jesus, Maranatha, The Spirit and the Bride say Come – you choose your own and, more often, your heart chooses for you. 

These days, when I am out walking in the beautiful sunshine in the splendour of nature, I bless myself and say Father, Son and Holy Spirit, or I say a prayer that came to me in the Icon Chapel at Glenstal in front of the Healing Icon of Christ: ‘Drive away the darkness which surrounds me, shed around me the mantle of your light; help me to know your will and give me the courage to do it.’

Shirley-All of us need this light and guidance, and may be struggling to find ways to find this light. Have you some last words for our readers?

Mark Patrick-I think we all need certain times and special places to help us reach this cave of the heart each day. But this place can be the car as we drive to work; and the icon which reminds us of our place in the depths of the heart of the Trinity can be a stone, a picture, a piece of music, a prayer. 

None of these are vitally important in themselves, but any one of them can become for us the element which allows us at any moment and in any circumstance to change ourselves, like the seaweed, into the body and blood of Christ. 

This allows the Holy Spirit of God to breathe through us and become the source of everything that we do or say. This morning [Sunday 25th July, 2010] the Gospel at Mass provided the answer [The Holy Spirit] Luke 11, 9-13:
 ”So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.  ”Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”
Shirley-  Mark Patrick, thank you so much for sharing your life journey with us. I hear your message of hope coming from your deep convictions which is inspiring in the present climate. There is so much more we could share – but I thank you for your generosity of time, words of wisdom and your vision of hope for the future.

Mark Patrick Hederman is Abbot of Glenstal Abbey. Formerly, headmaster of the school, he has lectured in philosophy and literature in America and Nigeria, as well as in Ireland. A founding editor of the cultural journal The Crane Bag, he is also author of a number of books including The Haunted Inkwell, Kissing the Dark, Symbolism and the recent best seller Underground Cathedrals.

The second is from John O'Donohue for the traveler in all of us, whether you are on an imaginary or a real journey or perhaps both...............

For the Traveler

Every time you leave home,
Another road takes you
Into a world you were never in.

New strangers on other paths await.
New places that have never seen you
Will startle a little at your entry.
Old places that know you well
Will pretend nothing
Changed since your last visit.

When you travel, you find yourself
Alone in a different way,
More attentive now
To the self you bring along,
Your more subtle eye watching
You abroad; and how what meets you
Touches that part of the heart
That lies low at home:

How you unexpectedly attune
To the timbre in some voice,
Opening in conversation
You want to take in
To where your longing
Has pressed hard enough
Inward, on some unsaid dark,
To create a crystal of insight
You could not have known
You needed
To illuminate
Your way.

When you travel,
A new silence
Goes with you,
And if you listen,
You will hear
What your heart would
Love to say.

A journey can become a sacred thing:
Make sure, before you go,
To take the time
To bless your going forth,
To free your heart of ballast
So that the compass of your soul
Might direct you toward
The territories of spirit
Where you will discover
More of your hidden life,
And the urgencies
That deserve to claim you.

May you travel in an awakened way,
Gathered wisely into your inner ground;
That you may not waste the invitations
Which wait along the way to transform you.

May you travel safely, arrive refreshed,
And live your time away to its fullest;
Return home more enriched, and free
To balance the gift of days which call you.

~ John O'Donohue ~
(To Bless the Space Between Us)

            and finally a lovely song I have not listened to for many years 
                The Travelling People by The Dubliners

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1 comment:

Suem said...

I hope you enjoy your break:)