Interior reflections of a priest

In June 1988 a group of church members, including me, went from St Faith’s Wandsworth to St Columba’s Woking for a retreat weekend led by Verena Tschudin. Verena provided us with a number of pictures from which we could choose one. She also gave us a series of questions to help us engage with the image.

This is what I wrote in my journal about the picture I chose and in response to the questions. I offer these journal thoughts from thirty-one years ago as a complementary insight to what was going on within me at the same time as I was writing my reflections about parish life and ministry in the previous blog:

I selected a picture of a man holding a candle cupped in his hands, facing the sea, head forward, his front illuminated by the candle, the rest in shadow. A single man, bearing in his hands a light; the bearer of light for himself and others; a light he holds cupped, tenderly, held by him, but slightly away from him. There is light, warmth, and intimacy, a bright, warm glow. But there is also shadow, darkness, emptiness, void, the vast expanse of ocean, an unknowable, unseen beach or land behind. It is the expanse of ocean void that is faced.

What is the picture saying to me?

That I am a single person, on my own, in an inner place of solitude. That I bear within myself a light, personal illumination, a light I am able to share with and shed on other people. A light that I don’t feel is very well internalised and that illuminates only a part of me. I stand with my obvious aloneness though I am often very busy, often with groups and individuals, often craving the warm company of a James or an Ian or a Michael. I do a lot of holding. I have to carry. I choose to extend my hands and arms and hold and sustain. I like much/some of what I see there. The presence. The wistful sea-shore distance longing – the bearer of warm, gentle light.

What is God saying to me?

I shine on you; close to you; not invading you; yet light within; not engulfing, yet warming. You carry me. You bear me with you. You are a holder of light for others. You are lonely. You have chosen to stand on the sea shore, at the water’s edge. But it may not always be so. You are close to me. I am close to you. Be my agent. Stand for me at the lakeside. Hold warmth, light, truth. Let it shine, and let it reflect in yourself and other people. I draw you to places of solitude and silent presence. Allow yourself to be drawn by me, because it is my invitation which calls you, my presence which draws you. There is a seriousness about you, a taughtness and tenseness, as if you have to hold and carry. Can you allow yourself to let go of the responsibility? Just let go of it. Hold it less tensely. Just hold. It won’t fall. Let go into me.

What am I saying to God?

Are you there? You are there. Is this light that I carry really you? I have been chosen to carry the light and I have chosen to carry the light and I choose to carry the light. But don’t let me stand here alone all my life. Rescue me from the lonely place of the sea shore. Unite me with you; with my inner self. Unite me with love; and with a lover. I feel very lonely, sometimes, standing on the edge of the sea gazing out. I bear not just your light but my own wounds. I feel pensive, thoughtful, sad. I question. I question the candle I hold in my hand, interrogate it, seeking truth, answer, solution. Sometimes I want to throw the light away.

I have been chosen and I am free to choose. But choosing the path which is in tune with my own being is not easy. The world and the church and friends and all sorts of people have other ideas. So it becomes so difficult to be true to myself, and as difficult to be true to you. Your presence is increasingly personal, and yet so vulnerable to the vicissitudes of life and of my own emotions. And yet I am myself, and myself alone, the experience and conveyor of your presence. Why have I become so reluctant to rise early and rest in your presence? Rule; discipline; narrow; constricting; lifeless words. Gift of self in silence; Gift to self of presence; Space and peace; Inner warmth, truth, conviction.