Pentecost - 18th May 2024

I felt I wanted to speak to you this afternoon, on the eve of Pentecost, but it is so hard to find words for all we’ve been through in recent weeks, and indeed over the last year. I am exhausted and empty and I think not alone in feeling that way. At a time like this we need to hear the message of Pentecost, of the coming of the Paraclete, the comforter. We celebrate the outpouring of the Spirit on the disciples of Jesus and the gift of that same Spirit in our own lives, a Spirit that brings strength and life.

To be alive means to embrace death, our own and of those we love. There can be no life without death and the constant cycles of decay and regeneration in the natural world of which we are part. But it is hard to lose someone we love and to hold to a hope of new life beyond death. I still can’t quite believe that Sr Mary John is now buried six feet down in our graveyard, that she’s not about to walk into the room fit and well. We have had to let go conversations we may have hoped to have with her, questions we wanted to ask. Death cuts off the possibility of resolution and leaves us with loose ends that can never be tidied up. We have to live with unfinished business.

As Christians we acknowledge this brokenness of the world but also know that eternal life is ours in the here and now, not just somewhere in the future. The gift of the Holy Spirit enables us to embrace all that life throws at us, to be present to what is happening and to allow God’s healing touch to transform the situation. Outwardly nothing may change but inwardly we can feel the assurance that ‘All shall be well’. The message of the death and resurrection of Jesus is that the abundant life to which God calls us is found in the midst of the pain and mess. It is the contemplative awareness of which Richard Carter writes so eloquently in his ‘Letters from Nazareth’ that we are called to develop, that opens our eyes to God’s presence in all things and situations, however hard and painful.

In my conversations with Sr Mary John I have become very aware that the word ‘contemplative’ does not sit comfortably with many in this community, or at least it did not with her. But my impression is that this arises from the idea that contemplative awareness is an esoteric gift for the special few and not something that us ordinary folks should aspire to. Clearly there are mystical gifts that seem to be given to some in a special way but there is the simple sense of God’s presence that is a gift for all the baptised. We have only to open our hearts to the Holy Spirit to know this gift and the transformation of awareness that this brings.

But how? There are as many ways as there are people who pray! And we can make it horribly complicated. But the Eastern Orthodox teaching on prayer of the heart I find very powerful in the way it calls me back to simplicity. ‘Put your mind in your heart’ is the way they teach for coming to a felt sense of the presence of the Holy Spirit. And this is not just a metaphor but is taught as a practice which is physically embodied. Theophan the Recluse and others write that we should place our awareness in our chest, in the area of the heart, as the place from which we pray to God and from which we come to see the world. So simple yet utterly transformative, at least in my own experience. The ‘cave of the heart’ has become for me a safe and solid place deep within that gives me the ability to hold firm to God’s love in the midst of all that is happening. The ‘Epistle of Privy Counsel’, another favourite of mine, also takes us into this territory, of simply resting in the sense that ‘God is my being’.

We are about to enter into a week of retreat, with time to slow down, be still and silent. Allow yourself to be carried by the rhythm of our life, the praying of the offices, time in the garden or working on practical tasks, times of silent prayer. A rhythm which is the particular gift of our Benedictine life.

I pray that it will be a time for each one of us to open to the Spirit in our own way and be led into that precious sense of God’s presence within. The Spirit teaches and guides us, brings healing in our broken places and leads us into abundant life.

I pray for all of us:

Come, Strengthener and Advocate,
Awaited gift of God most high,
The springing well, the fount of life,
The soul’s anointing, fire of love.

Amen.

Mother Anne - 18th May 2024