Forty years ago today I was ordained a priest by Bishop Mervyn Stockwood in Southwark cathedral. I have never marked the anniversary of my priesting before. This year I’ve become acutely aware that I am unable to mark the anniversary in the traditional way. What does it mean for me to be a priest now - a priest unable to preach, lead worship or preside at communion?
In Liturgy Coming to Life published in 1960 John Robinson said the Communion should be an event of revolutionary fervour, “social dynamite, if we really take seriously the pattern of community known at the altar. Robinson imagined Holy Communion as the event where matter is redeemed, recharged and revalued as the carrier of God’s new life to men and women. The power of Christ in any person’s life will depend on the dynamic of the Christian community of which they are members. This work of radical transformation requires vision, courage, relationship skills, creative skills, and freedom from the patrolling presence of the gatekeepers.
Today I return to two themes which are fundamental to my vision. The first is the centrality of the contemplative/apophatic tradition and the second is the how question – how does transformation take place in the Church of England (or perhaps better put in the negative – why has the church lost the gift of radical transformation?). In three Church Times articles, the authors offer an interpretation of past events and current times, seeing the potential for a transformation of Christian life and witness. Each of them gets so far, but fails to communicate how this might become a reality in practical terms. Very few have the conviction necessary to turn such ideas into reality. Voices crying in the wilderness and grain falling on stony ground are the images that come to mind.
I’ve compiled a list of the key essentials for the contemplative life which keep coming to me when I meditate. Elements that are important to me are usually missing from other people’s writings. These include the importance of the body (implicit in the incarnation) and of emotional and physical experience, and the importance of actively teaching people how to become aware of their intuitive contemplative self and nurture that self in ways that are so simple that people find it difficult to believe they really work – until they try.