Extreme Pilgrim (2)

On Friday Peter Owen-Jones' fascinating adventures on television continued as he attended the only-every-six-years Hindu Mela (gathering) on the banks of the River Ganges in India, met a guru, and experienced the initiation of lots of Saddhu (holy men).

His last Kung Fu exploit looked pretty hard work, but in this he seemed to look bewildered and out of his depth most of the time. This may have been helped by the hash smoking which seemed to be a necessary part of being a Saddhu, or the very in-your-face experience of lots of naked men covered in ash excitedly converging on the river at dawn to immerse themselves as an initiation. Peter opted out of this part “so as not to offend.” On a brighter note, he may not have needed the initiation because as a Church of England Priest the Guru and his followers seemed keen to accept him as a Saddhu.

More insightful was his trip into the Himalayas, dressed in the saffron robes of a Saddhu, to experience solitude in a particular small cave (regularly used for the purpose) in a remote village. He enjoyed the companionship on the way. Unfortunately, after being accepted and fed by the villagers for some weeks, he had to abandon his trek further into the Himalayas because of dysentery.

I found it fascinating that although he didn't really know what being a Saddhu was all about, the villagers accepted him in the role. This may have been helped by some long-awaited rain that fell as he arrived. His cave was empty when he arrived, but gradually the villagers brought him everything he needed from cow dung to bedding to food and water: humbling hospitality.

In reflecting on his own religion, and life as a parish priest in England, he felt that the life of the guru, with casual visits by many people, was perhaps more like the life of Jesus than he had experienced, and how the pattern of being a holy man is perhaps how his predecessors would have experienced their own ministry a few years ago. (This is in contrast to the more managerial way in which many church leaders feel it is right to focus their energies.)

He noted the way in which the Saddhu is “sustained by the faith of the community.” In the U.K I note that the church authorities sometimes wonder about how to make the church more relevant, or can blame themselves for lack of impact. This reciprocity in the life of a Saddhu means that one also has to ask whether British society collectively wants holy men (or women) or a church.

I can't wait for the final episode next Friday. Here's the link to the BBC site, you can watch the ones you missed!

Starting to make contact

This week I have started to get to grips with contact details of people on my p.c. (first of all I had to restore my PDA which crashed before Christmas because I allowed the batteries to run down) and started to e-mail people to meet abut Finding True North. I'm glad I've made myself get started on this rather than just doing admin!

Last night I was a guest at the final session of the Wilsher Group's coach training course (CLACC) and found myself unexpectedly on the receiving end of some free coaching from someone who was completing the course. This was really helpful as I used it to think through my USP (Unique Selling Point). I find this fairly straightforward to do for clients, but difficult to do on myself. An amusing and helpful question from my coach was, “What exactly is the Richard Hovey experience?”

Back to business

After the Christmas and New Year holiday I'm back to setting up Finding True North. A focus for the New Year needs to be “doing the business” with clients but there are some adminstration jobs to finish off.

Today I contracted for office facilities at Hartham Park, a short drive from my home.

I have also been impressed by the speed of HSBC in sending me cheque books and bits of plastic after I chose to open a bank account with them. Either they are really speedy, or banks work faster for businesses than they do for personal customers. As well as a local branch and helpful staff they have a good charging structure. (Included in this is two year's free banking in their January “sale.”)

Epiphany

Does God appear when you want Him to or, to put it another way, how do you authentically celebrate the Epiphany?

In our local churches we celebrated the feast of the Epiphany today (6th January). This festival celebrates the appearance of God, or his “shining forth,” or his glory. In the western church the event usually associated is the visit of the Magi to the baby Jesus bringing gifts.

On this Sunday so soon after Christmas it often seems to be a challenge for those constructing worship and choosing hymns to know whether to retain the feel of Christmas or to try to do something different. Most of the hymns seemed to conjure up an image of trudging slowly through snow, and the sermon sought to encourage us to set New Year's Resolutions to do with being more environmentally responsible (too late, I'd done mine, but I do hope that they are responsible). So the set of compromises used this time round didn't seem to lift me to a sense of the presence of God's glory… until we got to the middle of the service.

At the customary handshake called “The Peace” everybody seemed to come alive and it struck me that (as well as everything else it means) the image of the baby Jesus speaks of the presence of the glory of God in each one of us – people – how special we are!

Extreme Pilgrim

Sometimes I think I know too much about life as a vicar in the Church of England, so I was suprised to find myself watching a short documentarty about one on television last night.

Peter Owen Jones used to be in advertising, so I think he enjoys being in front of a camera. He says we've lost the plot about “spiritual enlightenment” in Britain, and that the church is too intellectual. So the one hour programmes follow him as he chooses three wildly different religious experiences. Last night was a Buddhist mountain monastery in China, from which Zen Buddhism later developed, and where the religious way – meditation – is a very physical martial art like Kung Fu. Apart from scenes of this guy of about my own age nearly killing himself by learning Kung Fu alongside seventeen year old youths, I liked the footage of him with other monks sweeping a terrace in a way that was really a dance.

I can feel that British Christians who want a more contemplative or less intellectual way of faith should first explore the rich depths of our local Christian heritage. I'm thinking for example of Celtic traditions, Lectio Divina, and the ways of St Ignatius (all of which crop up in the Spiritual Direction course that I am doing).

However I found this programme enriching. I liked the reminder that all life, including physical activity, should be worshipful. I liked the enlightenment that he seemed to discover as he found a sense of belonging with the monks, recognised that his worries were inside himself, and discovered that he was able to be more in tune with creation around him.

Anthony de Mello (yes I know I'm a fan of his) seems to have a similar perspective when he writes that happiness is something you have to discover inside yourself, rather than expect to come from external circumstances.

To continue this journey, watch the remaining two parts on BBC2 tv on Fridays at 9:00 p.m.

New Year Resolution 2008

I find myself starting to think about resolutions for the year ahead. Sometimes I come up with long lists of things I want to achieve.

This year what comes to mind is a desire to have fun and listen.

Last year seemed to have a lot of downs as well as ups, and as a family we could do with building on the “fun.” Work should be fun too, so this is in part about developing the new business.

Listening is about getting to know and being responsive to people, but it is also about listening to God – every day should be attentive. The best image I have of a close relationship with God is that of a pair of dancers who need to be very attentive to one another's every move including the footwork! (The image here is of dancing from the days when people used to hold one another – so “Strictly Come Dancing” style not disco – I must be showing my age.)

From a Christian point of view, there's something here about knowing, and living out, the “joy of our salvation.”