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Readers of this website will know that feral spirituality is being explored mostly as a corrective to the domesticating effects of conventional believing. It is not used to denote ferocity or savagery. The thesis is simple: the practice of religious observance within a corresponding religious ideology can have the unintended effect of an opiate. Click "Read More"
Happy Christmas. I sense gloom and despondency in the air. Partly it’s directed at our government which seems burnt out and out of control, busy making the mess it’s created worse. Partly it’s despair at the situation in Gaza and Israel, where two sides each with a legitimate cause, their ownership of their land, seem intent in trying to destroy each rather than seeking a peaceful compromise. Partly it’s despair at the continuing situation in the Ukraine. Of course, we feel helpless to do much about any of these, hence the gloom and despondency. ‘Where is God in all this? Why doesn’t He do something about it?’ (Click the 'read more' link)
By Keith Griffin
Around twenty years ago, someone in our small, rural Yorkshire parish suggested staging a Christmas Tree Festival. It was a modest success and so it was repeated. Then came the idea of holding a different sort of Christmas event. What if the theme was The Twelve Days of Christmas? Instead of trees, we’ll see what kind of displays and exhibits everyone comes up with! Two decades later and these Christmas exhibitions are still going.....
By Sister Regula
What a wonderful invitation of Jesus to his disciples as they come back to him from an exciting and also tiring mission. They need time to share their experience with one another and with Jesus, and also to take some rest, quiet and reflection away from the hustle and bustle of life.
The Christian story reflected in fiction.
Earlier this summer I read that Alice Oswald had been elected as the next Professor of Poetry at Oxford University. I recognised her name but wasn’t familiar with her poetry, so on a whim I went to BBC Sounds and on entering her name came upon a programme in which she had been interviewed. I listened to it, was attracted to her poetry, but fascinated by what she said about the business of writing poetry. I think I’m quoting her accurately: she said that “The poem is not necessarily coming from inside you but is already out there and you’ve just got to listen & find it.” It’s “A voice that is simply there and speaking and that I listen to.” In order to do this, she has to concentrate very hard. And “When I write a poem, I try not to be aware of what I think, I don’t know if the poem thinks that.” I recognise the process she describes.... (click 'read more')
Tooting Festival of the Dead is now in its second year. The programme is packed with vibrant, community events — artistic, spiritual and those harder to categorise. We took this opportunity to talk to local priest, professor and musician June Boyce-Tillman about her involvement in the festival and why we all need rituals around death and dying.
Henry writes: My friend Pete has been telling me about a project that his local church in Horsforth has helped to facilitate, and with his permission I share excerpts from a report that he wrote about it. In so many ways it reads to me like a fine example of feral spirituality.
“In 1955, mainly parishioners and local volunteers built the Scout and Guides Headquarters in the grounds of St James’ Parish Church. It flourished, serving the needs of the groups but as years passed numbers dwindled and essential maintenance was neglected. By 2010, it was no longer suitable for purpose and was in such a poor state of repair that demolition was suggested as the only option.
In 2019 myself and a colleague (both former Design and Technology teachers) approached the Parish Church to which I belong and who own the building. We asked permission to renovate the building and convert it into a community workshop. The P.C.C. fully supported the idea and not only agreed to allow us to use the building rent free but also provided a gift of £10,000 to enable work to start. They could clearly see the value of this project to serve the needs of the local community. As work progressed, not only did our team of volunteers grow but so did our vision for how it could serve the local community. We wanted a facility that was accessible to all, that met the standards set for school children, and provided a social space for chatting over a mug of tea. A phrase was coined, “it’s not just about making things, but for making relationships”....
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Henry writes: The Church has a tendency to make simple things difficult, like prayer and faith, both of which are simple in principle but challenging in practice. Society has a tendency to trivialise important things like miracles and angels. I’ve written about 'Everyday Miracles’, so now I’m going to write 'In defence of Angels'.
I remember, many years ago reading a poem by David Whyte entitled ‘Faith’:
I want to write about faith
About the way the moon rises
Over cold snow, night after night.
Faithful even as it fades from fullness
Slowly becoming that last curving and impossible
Sliver of light before the final darkness.
But I have no faith myself
I refuse it the smallest entry.
Let this then, my small poem
Like a new moon, slender and barely open
Be the first prayer that opens me to faith.
I remember it because it links faith with faithfulness such that it makes clear that faith is the same as trust. It also makes it clear that faith/trust is a gift. Some people seem to be more naturally gifted with it than others. But you can ask God for it, and you can nurture it and encourage it to grow in you.
When the Gospel writers talk about faith, and in particular about having faith in Jesus, this is what they mean. It’s about trusting Jesus. Trusting is often difficult, especially when the object of your faith is no longer tangible, as in Whyte’s poem, but our faith journey is primarily about learning to trust.
Too often, people talk about faith as if it’s a statement of belief and having faith as a matter of believing in certain doctrinal statements. This is not the Biblical position. Jesus’ Good News is that God offers us a relationship not a contractual arrangement, and a relationship requires trust if it’s going to flourish. Nowhere in the Gospels does Jesus require a statement of belief from someone before He will help them. It is enough that they have faith in Him, that they simply trust Him.
I was in conversation with a friend recently and, in passing, she said of me “You’ve left the church”, and I was taken aback and immediately said to myself “No I haven’t”, but quickly responded “But I can see why she might think that. I rarely attend worship in church, I’ve returned my ‘Permission to Officiate’ to the Bishop so I am no longer authorised to lead worship in church, and I’ve gone ‘feral’. But I still don’t think that I’ve “left the church”. So why not?
The answer is that my Christian journey has led me into a much bigger vision of what ‘church’ is. Some years ago my friend Roy Gregory and I edited a book entitled ‘The God you already know’ based on the premise that we all have some experience of God. Today I’d entitle it ‘The God whom every created thing knows’.
For on the one hand I have been led to understand that every human comes from God at their birth, is born to incarnate something of the God they already know when they express divine attributes like, love, kindness, compassion, hospitality, creativity etc, and in doing so become whom they are created to be, before returning to God at their death.
And on the other that God is present in all creation, and every created thing gives worship and glory to God simply by being, worship in which we join when we are whom God has created us to be.
In this sense, “God’s Church” is everywhere all the time and includes everything. It isn’t somewhere I can choose to go to or to leave, it's always where I am. Henry
Helen Loder, priest-sister SSM, writes: There seems to be a post-covid panic in the church's hierarchy that as our congregations diminish (except for the offspring of Holy Trinity Brompton of course) so the church is being pushed to one side, regarded as irrelevant, and abandoned to the margins of society.
However, it begs the question: is losing so much power and prestige such a disaster? Was it more of a disaster in the 4th century when Constantine ended official persecution and made Christianity the established religion of the empire? From then on were we in danger of losing clear teaching on issues of greed, powerlessness, non-violence, non-control and simplicity?
Could it be that when we, the church, find ourselves today pushed to the edge of society, on its margins, we might find that all is not lost? For is this, perhaps, the place where Jesus has always stood and where he is calling us today? Didn't he say, "where two or three" (and not two or three hundred) "are gathered in my name, I am there among them." Will this open up a new way of being church, nearer to the Gospels, better able to identify with the marginalised, the oppressed and, dare I say it, the elderly?
Who knows? But I pray it may be so.
Helen Loder SSM
Paul Booth writes: I find myself in hospital, in a 4-bed bay. In the bed opposite is Sardar Ali, an 81-year-old Moslem gentleman from Pakistan. He has few words of English. His son tells me he is in Huddersfield visiting his son and family; he visits them twice a year. His son visits his father in hospital twice a day – on his own at lunchtime, and with his wife and young son Esa in the evening.
On his second visit, Esa plucks up courage to come over to me and press the buttons to make my bed go up and down. He chuckles, and we become firm friends, chatting about colours and toys and friends. When the family leaves, Esa comes across and gives me a big hug and a kiss.
The love between the son and his father is beautiful to see, and indeed between the whole family. Together they bring the light of God into the room. Sardar himself is such a humble, gentle man who exudes the peace and presence of God. He has a wonderful smile, and a gracious, honouring wave of the hand.
Tonight Sardar has been discharged, and his son has taken him home. I will miss him.
Sometimes the presence of God is palpable. This has been so for me these past three days.
Henry Morgan writes: I have never found the idea of Jesus’s death being a sacrifice a meaningful one. Quite the contrary. What sort of God needs to sacrifice his child in order to be at peace with what He has created? That sounds barbaric to me. I can understand why the first Jewish Christians understood Jesus death in those terms. They knew that His death, and more especially God’s raising Him from the dead, changed everything; they knew that it happened when lambs were being sacrificed in the Temple; they had been taught that God needed to be propitiated regularly for their sins, and that offering sacrifices was the means to do that. It must have been natural to them to think of Jesus’s death as the sacrifice that had changed everything....
A year or so ago a young woman whom I had known as a child and a teenager re-emerged in my orbit of friends. She had had a traumatic, abusive life and had recently been diagnosed with terminal cancer. She was 45 now. She has been back in touch with a couple of her several estranged sons. She had recently converted to Islam. She was living in a loving, caring community housed in a number of simple terraced houses in a small street in Bradford. ‘Our TLC’ offers residential care for learning difficulties, mental health and substance abuse. God breathes through the pores of ‘Our TLC’!
Henry Morgan, 1 May 2023
One of the benefits of being feral is that I feel freer than before to think creatively about my faith. I’ve done that with my thinking about Jesus’ death, and through Holy Week and Easter this year I’ve found myself wondering about Judas, whom I fancy may have had a raw deal from the Church....
The ‘feralspirituality’ web-site began life last autumn, and this Lent, among other things, I’ve found myself mulling on what its existence has meant for me personally. To my surprise, I realise that it's opened my eyes in a number of ways.
Firstly, simply by naming ‘feral spirituality’ publicly, has meant that I now see it everywhere. That’s a common experience, I think. I remember years ago when I bought a Skoda car. I’d never really noticed Skoda cars, but now driving one I was aware of lots of them on the road. Naming something often allows a greater awareness of the thing named. So it was for me with feral spirituality. (Click on read more...)
One of the blessings for me of going feral is that it releases me from the obligation of joining in the church’s activities around the major Christian festivals. There is a downside to that of course, but there’s an upside too. Advent for example has come alive for me because I have both the time and the energy to explore it myself in a way that was never possible as a parish priest when I was primarily focused on the needs and expectations of others. With that in mind, I offer some ways in which Lent and Holy Week might be marked by those of a feral disposition.
Lent marks the 40 days that Jesus spent in the wilderness reflecting on His sense of God’s call following His baptism. I aim to use Lent similarly, both to reflect on my calling and to nourish it: and by doing so to deepen my relationship with God and God’s Creation. Last year I mulled on what signs I could discern pointing to where God might be calling me in the coming year. This year I’m re-reading the blogs I’ve written over the past ten years, looking for themes and& developments that God has led me to explore during that period, and wondering what has happened to them.
I’m also hoping to nourish my relationship with God in a number of ways. The Visual Commentary on Scripture offers a series of Lenten reflections drawn from a range of works of art. They won’t all speak to me, but some already have. I was overwhelmed by the recent Cézanne exhibition at Tate Modern in London, and I’m spending time each day looking at reproductions of a number of his paintings. I’m dipping into a collection of poems by Louise Gluck, some of which are just wonderful. And I’m making sure that I listen to music every day. None of these activities might seem especially Lenten when the focus is more usually on self-denial, but I remember that Jesus spent time opening the eyes of the blind and the ears of the deaf, and the arts do that for me, and thus nourish my soul, which is the God-spark within me.
It's traditional to use Holy Week to reflect on Jesus bearing His cross. Jesus called His followers to follow Him and that in part involved taking up their own crosses. Now we need to be careful here. He didn’t call them to find as many crosses as they could and get their backs under them. Neither did He expect them to carry His cross. Indeed, he didn’t literally carry a cross until the very end of His life, but His response to God’s call led Him to choose some metaphorical crosses, such as leaving home, being homeless and poor etc, and following Him must have led to his followers to choose likewise. Increasingly, I find myself drawn to reflect on the crosses that I’m called to bear, and to draw insight from the way that Jesus bore His cross as to how I might bear mine. I see Holy Week less as a time to ponder on what Jesus’ suffering did for me, rather as a time to reflect on what I can learn from Him in handling mine. That in turn may well sharpen my awareness of those around who are also carrying crosses [i.e. just about everybody] and impel me to support them in whatever ways we can.
The other issue that I struggle with at this time, is a fact that I’ve rarely heard preached about. Namely, that it was the religious authorities of His day that connived at Jesus’ crucifixion, and they did so from a concern for the preservation of the religious structures of which they were a part. ‘Better that one man die than the religious institutions perish.’ Now, religious institutions are a fact of life, and there is much good in them. But they do seem inevitably to end up being more concerned with their own preservation than with the aims and teaching of their founders. I don’t see how it can be otherwise, and that’s a problem.
The danger for me in the services and activities that churches facilitate during Lent and Holy Week is that they tend to focus on the past rather than the present: they tell the story and tend to neglect what the story might be calling us to be and do in the present. The story of ‘The Man who invented fire’ makes this point [see ‘The risk of religion taming the untamed God’ in our ‘Open Forum’.
Henry writes: I’ve been blessed with two very good spiritual directors over the years, but I struggled when the last one died. It was probably not a bad idea to have a break for a while, but finding a new one, someone who would encourage, stimulate and challenge me spiritually, proved depressingly difficult....
Henry writes: One of the joys of being feral is the freedom to think and explore. These thoughts have been buzzing round in my head recently. There’s nothing new about them. Others have been articulating them far better than me for centuries. But only now have they fallen into place for me. I find them to be simple but profound. They change everything. Here they are:
In exploring feral spirituality my intuition is a trusty guide. It led me to ask for a Christmas gift of Louise Gluck’s Poems 1962-2020, which I duly received....
Henry writes: A couple of years ago I read and enthused about a book 'A Boy, a Mole, a Fox and a Horse’ by Charlie Mackesy, and gave copies to friends as Christmas presents. This Christmas there was a film version of the story on BBC 1, and an audio version on BBC Sounds. Even if you’ve read the book I commend both the film and the audio.
There was also a documentary on BBC 2 about the author, and the making of both the book and the film that I watched. There was something about Charlie Mackesy that fascinated and intrigued me, while not being able to put a finger on quite what: he somehow felt a tad feral to me.
I looked him up on the internet, and found, slightly to my surprise, that he’s a Christian. I say surprised because he had in no way alluded to that fact in the documentary, although I had sensed that he was a man with a deep spirituality, and that it undergirded his story.
What is more, there was a video of him talking about his faith at Holy Trinity Brompton, and in a way that both delighted me & also challenged my assumptions about HTB.
If you like to see the video, you can find it here.
Mike writes: This weekend will be the first anniversary of my retirement from full time parish ministry. This Christmas has been very different from the last 30 or so years. I needed Christ to be very present to me in order to ward off a sense of being in the wilderness. To some extent, I have felt separated from everything familiar. I have been unable to reach out and touch what is familiar because it no longer is.
At times during this year I have felt that I cannot know Christ other than when one knows on entering a room that someone has just left it. The absence leaves a sense of presence (very R S Thomas, I know!). But that has been my experience.
Retirement, for me, has been a kind of dying in the hope that I may be born again. A period, still ongoing, of laying down what was in order to gather anew a sense of self. To use an image of Christmas, there has been some unwrapping so that more of my true self may be revealed - a 'nakedness' before Christ and with Christ. A sense of his Spirit dissolving layers of the old ways of being in order that the new may reveal itself even in this latter part of my life.
The Christmas story is full of journeys made and I sense we are all journeying for different reasons and and different ways. The Christmas season invites us to briefly turn aside in awe and wonder and pay homage to the One who travels with us, sometimes recognised, sometimes hidden, sometimes unknown. There is a warmth and wildness to this journey, which I have been particularly aware of in this first year of retirement.
Mike (Barnard Castle, UK)
Henry writes: Recently I was staying in London and a friend told me about the ‘Gaia Exhibition’ in Southwark Cathedral, a focus for thought and prayer for the care of our planet. Its a travelling exhibition that’s been in other cathedrals, and entrance was free. I was ordained in the Cathedral many years ago so its a place that has significance for me.
Intrigued I went along and was taken aback by the sight of a huge revolving model of our Earth, hung suspended in the Nave of the Cathedral. Many people were present, of all ages and nationalities, walking round, or standing and gazing wrapped in wonder at what they were seeing. There was still and prayerful atmosphere. I went and stood in the Chancel and looked down the length of the building.
Suddenly I remembered. It was a day in later November 1991, thirty years previously. I had with others edited a book ‘Approaches to Prayer’ that contained a wide range of different prayer exercises, and we had organised a Day of Prayer in the Cathedral at which many of those prayer exercise were available at different times and at various stations around the building, led by those who had written them. Large numbers of people came and it was a wonderful day. I had nothing to do but be there. The Cathedral always had a Eucharist at midday, so that was one of the prayer exercises, and I was asked if I’d administer a chalice. I was stood during the service behind the altar, and I had a vision: I saw our Earth in space, floating at the back of the Cathedral, prayer was rising like incense from all over it. And God said that all this prayer, from many faiths and centuries, offered in many languages, was all acceptable, as was the prayer being offered around the Cathedral at that moment. I was astonished and my understanding of prayer underwent a dramatic deepening, which changed me.
Gradually it dawned on me that my vision was now being fulfilled, in the Gaia Exhibition’: people of all faiths and none were gathered in the Cathedral praying for our Earth and all their prayers were valid and acceptable. This at a time when the issues facing our world are everybody's issues, and they need us to cooperate in addressing them. Our various faith leaders need to set an example to our political leaders, one of mutual acceptance & affirmation.
Comments about the site
Just wanting to say “yes” to this. You will be speaking for, and to, many. I will certainly be passing this on to others, and will contribute some thoughts myself later.
So, I was delighted to see Feral Spirituality make an appearance. I'd think you could find many wanting to join in