Resources for the Advent Journey

Autumn mist (4)This coming Sunday is the start of Advent – the time of preparation for the Christmas celebration of Jesus’ birth.

This is time of  ‘waiting and watching’  but also seeking hope in the face of suffering.

Here are some links, resources and services for Advent that you might find useful, or prompt you to find something else that will work for you.

If you would like daily reflections on Advent themes check out:

  • Richard Rohr’s Center for Contemplation and Action
  •  The World Community for Christian Meditation  encourages Centering Prayer. Subscribe at ‘Support for your practice’ at the foot of the linked page.
  • The Evangelical, student inspired, international 24/7Prayer community is committed to action for justice. They are offering a series of pod-casts for  Advent.
  • AdventWord is produced by Virginia Theological Seminary and the Anglican Communion Office. Sign up or follow @adventword or search on Face-book.

For a longer read
The Advent season also invites us to reflect on the themes of death, judgment and the end of the world.
This can be a less traveled part of the Advent season. But these themes can also be an entry point to the depth of God’s love in a world containing far too much suffering and conflict.
I recently came across a great sermon on these less comfortable Advent themes by Rev’d Lucy Winkett, Vicar of St James’ Piccadilly.
You can find the full text here but this is foretaste…

‘all this Advent spirituality is as far away from the tinsel-covered Christmas commercialism as you can get. It is choosing to hope in the darkness of not knowing. It is revolutionary patience,stubborn hope that will not ignore the suffering of the world but acknowledges that somewhere, even now, the war is over, and the uncovering of things is upon us, beside us, within us.’

best wishes for reflective prayerful Advent.



Christian meditation:different ways of seeing.

Look right

Different  people are drawn to different ways of praying. I keep being reminded of this in one to one conversations and  offering workshops.

There is no point forcing ourselves into a model and method of prayer that does not work for us.

So here is a list of some of the main traditions of Christian silent prayer and meditation.

As you read it try to notice if one of them catches your attention more than others. This might give some idea of the direction you might want to go next.  This paying attention is also a key element of many of the methods themselves.

Centering Prayer
A period of silence, using a word said silently as a focus to lead us into deeper silence and stillness.

Lectio Divina
A slow reading of scripture passage several times, while watching to see where our attention is drawn.Then sitting for a period of silence with the word or phrase to which we were drawn.

Ignatian meditation
A way of using the imagination to picture, hear, feel and even smell the scene of scripture.The asking ‘where am I in this passage?’ and sitting quietly with what comes to mind.

Ignatian review.
A way of looking back on the day to notice and sit with moments when we had energy and/or felt close to God and able to love, as well as those times when we felt drained of energy and felt far away from God and unable to love.

Prayer of the heart.
Placing the attention in the body, particularly the heart, and holding situations and people there so that they are both ‘in mind and in the body’.

Mantra or repeating phrase.
The Jesus Prayer is a good example of this where a phrase is used in formal prayer and during activities as a way of maintaining awareness and praying constantly.

Repeating prayer.
Both the Rosary and the Lutheran ‘Pearls of Life’ offer a structured physical way to pray, using repeated words to give focus and to get beyond the words.

Pilgrimage, labyrinths  and walking meditation.
These are all ways to use the movement of the body as prayer.

Practice of the presence of God.
A way of being open to the full experience including God’s presence during daily life.

Did you notice which drew your attention more than others? If so this might indicate something to explore further. If nothing clicked today, keep watching and observing!

Of course, this is not an exhaustive list. Many of these ways overlap with each other. One favourite method might not last a whole lifetime.

This article was first circulated as part of our weekly mailing week about different aspects of meditation and contemplation in Christian tradition. If you would like to subscribe to the list please contact me at


Trauma and Resilience Land in Our Bodies

strand of barbed wire against a meadowThis is more of a long listen than a long read but you can do both thanks to the On Being website.

I have listened to this podcast conversation between Krista Tippett and Prof Bessel van der Kolk three times and am not done yet. I am fascinated by the interest of neuroscience in our experiences of our own bodies.

In the chaplaincy at Imperial we are not working with people with severe traumas. But many students and staff tell us that they come with high levels of anxiety, fatigue or diagnosed depression. Many have been referred by the Student Counselling and Mental Health Advice Service or the psychotherapy team at the university medical centre.

For all of us practicing meditation there is a whole turn towards paying attention to the sensations of being ‘in our bodies’. Seems obvious, but as van der Kolk puts it “Western culture is astoundingly disembodied and uniquely so.”

I used to be a human being too.


“An endless bombardment of news and gossip and images has rendered us manic information addicts. It broke me. It might break you, too.”


Here is a very long read by Andrew Sullivan.  He starts by describing how he detoxed from constant digital activity and distraction. Things had got serious (the full url for the article  is “technology nearly killed me”).

Sullivan describes learning to meditate and use mindfulness. He gives a good description of the process of slowing down and moving away from his frenetic online life. I think this will resonate with many of us. It is something we have conversations about in chaplaincy work with students and staff.

What surprised me, coming after this description of Mindfulness, was  his complaint about the lack of silence in contemporary Christian worship. Fair point. If you are interested in Christian mediation and contemplation keep going to the end!

This is a good long reflection on what silence, presence and connection could mean in the digital age.

The article first appeared in the New Yorker Magazine on 18th September 2016.

“When we pray for our enemies, we may find that we are simultaneously emboldened to stand for justice while we are also less able to demonize another human being.”

Photo credit: Associated Press with permission from Episcopal Church website

The Episcopal Church in Washington was criticised by Christians, and others, for hosting the traditional prayers before the inauguration  of Donald Trump as president.

A response to the criticism of the Cathedral came in an open letter from Michael Curry, the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church of America.The title of this post is a quote from the letter. Michael Curry is offering a reminder to Christians of the many connections between prayer and protest. Prayer can critique, lament, stir us to  action, sustain protest, deepen hope and enrich longing.

The full text of the letter is below but, in an age of ‘fake news’, here is the original context.

January 12, 2017

The following is a statement from Presiding Bishop and Primate Michael B. Curry.

This past week, Barack H. Obama, the 44th President of the United States, in the tradition of Presidents dating back to George Washington, gave his farewell address to the nation. Next week Donald J. Trump, in the same tradition of this country, will take the oath of office and be inaugurated as the 45th President.

We recognize that this election has been contentious, and the Episcopal Church, like our nation, has expressed a diversity of views, some of which have been born in deep pain.

There has been much discussion, and some controversy, about the appropriateness of the Washington National Cathedral hosting the Inaugural Prayer Service this year, and of church choirs singing at inaugural events.

Underneath the variety of questions and concerns are some basic Christian questions about prayer: when I pray for our leaders, why am I doing so?  Should I pray for a leader I disagree with? When I pray what do I think I am accomplishing?

On one level these questions seem inconsequential and innocuous. But real prayer is not innocuous. It is powerful. That question can become poignant and even painful as it is for many in this moment, given that some of the values that many of us heard expressed over the past year have seemed to be in contradiction to deeply-held Christian convictions of love, compassion, and human dignity.

So, should we pray for the President?

We can and, indeed, I believe we must pray for all who lead in our civic order, nationally and internationally. I pray for the President in part because Jesus Christ is my Savior and Lord.  If Jesus is my Lord and the model and guide for my life, his way must be my way, however difficult. And the way prayer for others is a part of how I follow the way of Jesus.

This practice of praying for leaders is deep in our biblical and Anglican/Episcopalian traditions. Psalm 72 prays that the ancient Israelite king might rule in the ways of God’s justice, defending “the cause of the poor,” bringing “deliverance to the needy.” 1 Timothy 2:1-2 encourages followers of Jesus to pray earnestly for those in leadership, that they may lead in ways that serve the common good.  Even in the most extreme case, Jesus himself said, while dying on the cross, “Father forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing,” was praying for Pontius Pilate, the Governor of Rome who ordered his execution, and for all who were complicit in it.

In this spirit, the Prayer Books of the Anglican/Episcopal way have always included prayer for those “who bear the authority of government,” praying in a variety of ways that they may lead in the ways of God’s wisdom, justice and truth. When we pray for Donald, Barack, George, Bill, George, or Jimmy, Presidents of the United States, we pray for their well-being, for they too are children of God, but we also pray for their leadership in our society and world. We pray that they will lead in the ways of justice and truth. We pray that their leadership will truly serve not partisan interest but the common good. When we pray for them, we are actually praying for our nation, for our world, indeed we are praying for ourselves.

Prayer is not a simplistic cheer or declaration of support. Prayers of lament cry out in pain and cry for justice. Prayer can celebrate. Prayer can also ask God to intervene and change the course of history, to change someone’s mind, or his or her heart.  When we pray for our enemies, we may find that we are simultaneously emboldened to stand for justice while we are also less able to demonize another human being.

Real prayer is both contemplative and active. It involves a contemplative conversation with and listening to God, and an active following of the way of Jesus, serving and witnessing in the world in his Name. For those who follow the way of Jesus, the active side of our life of prayer seeks to live out and help our society live out what it means to “love your neighbor as yourself.” So we work for a good and just, humane and loving society. We participate as followers of Jesus in the life of our government and society, caring for each other and others, and working for policies and laws that reflect the values and teachings of Jesus to “love your neighbor,” to “do unto others as you who have them do unto you,” to fashion a civic order that reflects the goodness, the justice, the compassion that we see in the face of Jesus, that we know to reflect the very heart and dream of God for all of God’s children and God’s creation.

I grew up in a historically black congregation in the Episcopal Church. We prayed for leaders who were often lukewarm or even opposed to our very civil rights. We got on our knees in church and prayed for them, and then we got up off our knees and we Marched on Washington. Following the way of Jesus, we prayed and protested at the same time. We prayed for our leaders who were fighting for our civil rights, we prayed for those with whom we disagreed, and we even prayed for those who hated us. And we did so following the Jesus, whose way is the way of unselfish, sacrificial love. And that way is the way that can set us all free.

As we celebrate the birth of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., we may find guidance in his words, spoken during one of the most painful and difficult struggles in the Civil Rights Movement. He asked that all participants live by a set of principles. The first principle read: “As you prepare to march, meditate on the life and teachings of Jesus.”

Should we pray for the President?


The Most Rev. Michael B. Curry

Presiding Bishop and Primate

The Episcopal Church

Higher Education after Brexit

Here are a few brief observations from Chaplaincy on the uncertainty created by Brexit for  UK  Higher Education.


Chris Hale, Head of Policy at Universities UK spoke at the HE Chaplains annual conference in January 2017.  He outlined  the general uncertainty that now affects staff and  students, as well as threatening future research funding and partnerships.It is a picture chaplains see in thier own universities.

I have had conversations with staff from EU countries worried about whether they can stay in the UK. Some have been working here for decades.There is now much evidence that the usual right to remain procedures don’t work for existing EU nationals. See the LSE Brexit blog on this.

At Imperial about  20 per cent  of  students and 25 percent of staff  come from EU countries other than Britain. Student applications from EU countries are down by 7%.

A significant  amount of research funding comes from the EU’s Horizon 2020 programme. The UK Government has now agreed to meet any loss of funding to these projects when the UK leaves the EU. This may do something to maintain collaborations between EU and UK  universities.This area is being watched closely. What will happen to science funding after 2020 is not yet clear.


See also Universities UK Brexit round-up.


Long reads

I want to share some longer articles that I and my colleagues at the Imperial College Multi-Faith Centre are finding useful.

While much of what we read digitally are bite size posts, news items and tweets, here are some long reads (and long listens) that ask for our time and attention. No ‘listicles’ here!

“When we pray for our enemies… we are also less able to demonize another human being.”

“I used to be a human being too.” by Andrew Sullivan.



Tom Beaudoin: speaking a second religious or secular langauge.

thomas-beaudoinAs a team of Buddhist and Christian chaplains at Imperial we were really excited to hear Tom Beaudoin’s key-note talk at the Conference of European University  Chaplains  in the Netherlands last year.

Tom is Associate Professor of Religion at Fordham University. In his talk he was looking at life in a globalized world. He argued that there would be great advantages if we were all to learn to speak a second religious or secular  language.

Language, as a metaphor for our worldview, suggests that we all have a religious or secular ‘first language’ for talking about how we see the world and what we believe, for example Christianity, Islam, Buddhism  or atheism, humanism, agnosticism.

To learn a second ‘religious language’ does not mean  giving up our first language, our ‘mother tongue’. In a world were we are constantly meeting people whose world view is very different from our own it is good to be able speak even a little of another language.

So, while Christianity is my first language, I can ‘speak’ a little Buddhism. I have learned this second language from working with colleagues, sharing silent meditation together and hearing about their traditions. I am not fluent and I am not a native speaker.  But I know enough to be a good ‘house guest’ and (I hope!) to travel courteously  with my second language. This way I learn more, and see a little from the Buddhist perspective.

The other gift of learning a new language is returning to our first language with new eyes, and a better ear for the language itself. I now have a better understanding of my mother tongue for having started learning a second language!

La rentree

The start of our new academic year is just a week away at Imperial. I have been remembering my holidays in the summer and getting ready for the new start.

I really like the ‘process of return’ expressed in this French word I kept seeing on my holiday. “La rentrée” sums up the whole phenomena of ‘back to school and back to work’.

Supermarkets stockpile new school bags, pens and stationary required for “la rentrée”. The newspapers talk about politicians making their  “rentrée” – with new policy announcements and campaigns. I am told it is also the excuse for late deliveries because well…people have been away and are just coming back to work… “c’est la rentrée!”

We can’t avoid the end of the holiday. We do have to go back to school or work and all the stuff of daily life. So what I like is the way “la rentrée ” suggests that this is a process, and it can take some time, and we should probably all just bear with one another because it is going to take a while to get back to life as usual.


In one sense returning from holiday is straightforward. Just get home, get back in the office and start getting on with things. But like the space shuttle’s “re-entry” it can be a dramatic process returning to the familiar atmosphere and the gravity of work.

And in the course of the holiday and the return journey we may have changed a little. Maybe we are for the moment more relaxed, or returning with a new vision.

In daily life, and in the practices of spirituality that we weave through our daily lives, it can take time to pick up all the patterns and routines. It is good to do this slowly if possible. Maybe, after the break there might be some new things to try, some things to ditch and some re-ordering of the work.

I also found that “à la rentrée ” is  a way of wishing someone a ‘good return to work’; blessing for the ‘process of return’.

Whether you’re getting back to work, about to start the annual academic cycle, or exploring new patterns of spirituality, ‘Bon courage!

Warning – contemplation in process!

Sign for Secret Garden - a space for quiet contemplation and study

I have been watching the Facebook  posts from chaplains in London, around the UK, from the US and other parts of Europe.

Here at Imperial we have five more days to go till the start of the new academic year.

Five days before the great whirlwind of welcome events, orientation sessions, BBQs and hall parties.

I look forward to the great wave of energy that comes crashing in with the start of a new year, from the arrival and return of thousands of students.

Out for a walk at lunchtime in the early Autumn sunshine I saw this great sign at the entrance to Imperial’s ‘secret garden’. It is a hidden patch of green space in the middle of the city.

I love the idea that our urban, globalized, hyper-active academic community has this officially sanctioned place for ‘quiet contemplation’.

Even if it comes with a warning exclamation mark!

Secret Garden 2