Reflections

People have said they often appreciate the tone and content of our welcome notes, so we have collected a few of them here.

February 2016

I have often reflected on the prayer “Keep us free from all anxiety as we wait in joyful hope for the coming of our Saviour, Jesus Christ”, and wondered if it is really possible to live without any anxiety. After all, anxiety is an early-warning system that primes us to respond to threats in our environment. It is a natural response to a world that is becoming increasingly uncertain, ambiguous and volatile – all conditions that we humans perceive as threatening. Yet unwarranted anxiety is a debilitating condition that causes misery and suffering.

How does faith help us cope? I’ve never heard anyone say they never experience anxiety, but I have heard people describe how their faith helps them to step aside from their fears and connect with a deeper reality, a reality within which they experience the ‘joyful hope’ that allows a measured response to life’s challenges. The feelings of anxiety may be still present, but they are no longer overwhelming. Instead of drowning under the waves the perspective changes to become like a surfer, balancing and responding to an ever-changing wave by focusing on the here and now of each subtle movement.

Our 2016 programme of talks and workshops offers a wonderful range of opportunities to encounter ‘joyful hope’; whether through the Gospels, meditation, icons, poetry or simply divine grace revealed in a conversation. We invite you to come along and share in the hope, and if not totally free of anxiety, at least surf the wave of life!

January 2015

We have now formally changed our name to the Cockfosters Centre for Spirituality.  What does this mean? It acknowledges that after 20 years we are entering a new phase, growing from an organisation founded from a Benedictine monastery to one that lives within the body of the Church of Christ the King in Cockfosters, now guided by the Chemin Neuf community.  As part of this new phase the committee re-visited our vision, and affirmed that while our purpose is unchanged, we needed to update some of the language used to describe it.

As we shared what aspects of our vision still resonated most strongly, it became clear that ecumenism was still important because we have all experienced the different gifts that come from the many forms of Christian spirituality.  We recognized that many of those who attend our Centre are seeking their own answers to difficult questions of meaning, of faith, of life; that they are curious and open to growth, and that they are tired of empty dogma. Our role is unchanged – to offer a place of wholeness in which the search for God and the process of personal growth are seen as one and the same.

Our forthcoming programme has a theme of Traditions of Prayer, and we are delighted with the range and quality of our speakers. We hope that as you read our vision and explore our programme you will be moved to join us.

We invite a financial contribution to cover the cost of events and to support the Centre’s upkeep. We do not wish cost to be a barrier to anyone attending, so please feel free to offer what you can afford.

Kath Barnard

Many of you will have encountered Kath over her many years of service to our Centre. Sadly she passed away early in November 2014 and we miss her steady and cheerful presence

December 2013

“For all that has been, thanks.  For all that will be, yes.”

Wise, and brave, words from Dag Hammerskold. It’s not always easy to say ‘thanks’ for the difficult, painful or distressing episodes in our lives. The gifts are not always immediately obvious and it may take some time and healing for us to recognise them. Nor is it easy to say ‘yes’ to uncertainty and an unknown future. But a stance of appreciation and acceptance helps us to live more fully in the present moment, and stay open to the gifts that this brings. It’s a way of actively living in faith, that’s not the same as wearing the rose-coloured glasses of naive optimism, or passively giving in to life’s challenges.  Seeking the ‘thanks’ in the past means we are looking for God’s presence in our lives, often expressed through the love and care of other people. Saying ‘yes’ to the future requires us to recognise human limits and really mean it when we pray ‘thy will be done’.

Useful thoughts for us here in Cockfosters, where we are in a time of change.  After 77 years the Benedictine community has withdrawn and over the next six months the parish will move to diocesan management under the care of the Chemin Neuf community.  The most immediate change is in our name, now the Cockfosters Centre for Spirituality. Our centre was founded in the Benedictine heritage of hospitality, mutual respect and a search for God. These values will continue to inform our work and we are optimistic that the changes will bring new opportunities, although there is still much to be discovered about the detail.

We will continue to offer a programme of events and talks, and this year’s programme features regular guests including Fr Laurence Freeman, Margaret Silf, Mary Jo Ratcliffe and Kim Nataraja.  Joe Mulrooney will bring share his wisdom too, and David Oliviere will offer a session that will be of real help to those dealing with bereavement.  We feel so privileged that we can welcome speakers of this calibre.  Please take a look at our programme, tell your friends and come along.

April 2013

Faith means different things to people at different stages of life.  For a young child, it might be a literal belief in Bible stories.  As a young adult, faith can provide a framework of rules and rituals that help to make sense of a confusing world. An older adult may view faith as a set of ethics that help to lead a good life and an important connection within a community.  For some, faith comes to transcend the rules of any single institution and becomes an ever-present experience of God’s love. Making the transitions between these different stages can be painful because it can feel like there’s a rejection of the previous stage and that one’s whole identity is under threat.  That’s why we aim to offer opportunities that foster the growth of faith, by creating time to pause, reflect and listen to the gentle voice of God.

Our speakers bring a wonderful diversity of styles and experience.  There is a strong contemplative theme, with Laurence Freeman, Kim Nataraja and Terry Doyle.  We are pleased to maintain our Benedictine tradition through regular lectio divina meetings too.  You can find the full programme here

Change occurs slowly in the Church. Having learned last year that the Benedictine monastery here in Cockfosters is to close, we are yet to see any visible day-to-day changes and the future remains unknown.  So we will continue with our programme and hope that you will join us.

Autumn to Winter 2012 – 13

The Cloud of Unknowing was written in the 14th Century.  Its authorship is disputed, yet the words reach across the years, proving yet again that human nature and our quest for the divine is timeless. Kim Nataraja led a beautiful day for us in June, introducing the Cloud and helping us to explore its insights.  One passage that resonated strongly for me was “But only to our intellect is he incomprehensible: not to our love”.  This reminds me that to seek God requires us to tolerate, and indeed welcome, ambiguity.  The spiritual path is not one of absolutes or certainties. Indeed neither is life in general– as a more recent mystic said, “life is what happens when we’re busy making other plans” (John Lennon).

Here in Cockfosters we are confronted first hand with ambiguity and uncertainty.  After 75 years, the Benedictine Community of Monte Oliveto is withdrawing and the monastery is to close.  This is not unexpected, because the number of monks has dwindled over recent years. The Church of Christ the King (Vita et Pax) will join the Diocese of Westminster. Our strong hope is to continue our activities and we are confident in our programme through to March 2013.  Beyond this we must wait to see what happens – and trust that the right path will emerge.

We invite you to join us over the coming months, either by attending our events or through your prayers.   Thank you for your support and we hope that we can continue to play our part in providing time and opportunities for you to “lift up your heart to God with humble love” (Cloud of Unknowing, 3).

Winter 2011

It used to be said that there were no more than six degrees of separation between any two people. Recent research suggests that, thanks to the rise of Facebook with more than 700 million members, we are now connected to everyone else on the planet in no more than four steps.  So my friends’ friends’ friends’ friends encompass the whole world.  I’m not so sure about this, because if it were really true surely there would be more tolerance, more compassion and more peace than there is right now?

There’s a growing risk that we confuse the number of connections with the quality of the relationships.  The quality of relationship relies on our ability to recognise and appreciate both the similarities and differences between us and another human being.  The core similarity, as taught by Christianity and the other great faiths, is that separation between our individual selves and God is but an illusion, so we are all one in God.  So rather than there being four degrees of separation between us, there are really none at all.  This is hard to acknowledge when our human egos are so well designed to meet our personal needs and defend our individual interests.  We create so many categories of difference that our fundamental unity is lost or forgotten.

It’s easy to dismiss the urge to have more and more ‘friends’ on Facebook as nothing more than a fad driven by insecurity.  But perhaps this behaviour speaks to a much deeper desire to be connected with something that transcends our individual selves.  Ironically, that something doesn’t lie out there in cyber-space, but is waiting quietly in our own hearts.  We can find it by engaging in real communion and service with others and by regularly spending time in silent contemplation.

We hope that our forthcoming programme offers opportunities for you to engage your hearts and minds, and to develop some real, rather than virtual, friends.  It would be good to have you along.

April  2011

It’s  a feature of human nature that when threatened, we identify most strongly with those who are most similar to us – we seek  the safety of the tribe.  Unfortunately this also means we start to fear  anyone who is different.   This underlies many of the world’s conflicts – in Palestine, the Balkans,  the Congo.  In politician’s action to repel asylum seekers and expel immigrants. In the post-code wars between street gangs.  When violence erupts between police and student protestors.  Gripped by anger and fear, we cease to see others as human.   In the process we lose our own humanity too.

So perhaps the great challenge of our time is to stay human – and always see and feel the humanity of others.  We need to learn how to transcend the boundaries of the tribe.  Staying human requires us, paradoxically, to give up our attachment to limited identities that we think make us human.   What if, when asked ‘where are you from?’ the answer was  ‘Earth’?   It’s true, and reminds us of our commonality rather than our differences.   Meditation, prayer and service can all help to increase our awareness too– and help us  to notice the presence of  God in each and every life we meet.

We hope that you will enjoy our forthcoming programme.  Our speakers are offering a range of opportunities for reflection, nurture, challenge and learning, in which we can be reminded of our common humanity.

Winter 2010

I was fortunate to hear Brother David Steindl-Rast speak in London recently.  He’s a Benedictine monk with a long history of building dialogue between Christianity and Buddhism.   Asked about the role of religion in bringing about a spiritual revival in the modern world,  he replied “All religion had at its source a direct, authentic spiritual experience, which was  alive and vibrant,  like a fountain of water.  Over time, the fountain froze and lost its energy and movement.  Our role is to melt the fountain again, with the warmth of our own hearts.”

I was moved by his words, because he personalised the issue of the  potential conflict between spirituality and religion. In my own mind I had an answer already, and it was about the problems with ‘them’ in power.   Instead he brought the solution back to me. Rather than blaming ‘them’  for  the problems of institutional religion, the answer lies with what we do with our own love and attention – the  warmth of our own hearts.

But how do we melt the frozen fountain?  It’s not always easy to bring our love into the world, and at times it feels hard not to blame others and rail against the world (and God?) when  we see so much that is painful, difficult, or cruel.    We hope our forthcoming programme offers some opportunities for you to pause, reflect, and share the warmth of your heart.  Our speakers will be exploring several important themes, like transition and crisis,  appreciation, and remembrance    We do hope you can join us.

Autumn – Winter 2009

This programme  completes the year’s  theme of Stewardship.  Our intention has been  to provide opportunities to reflect and re-evaluate our relationship with the material world.

We’ve noticed that inviting our speakers to frame their contribution within a  theme both supports and constrains their approach.  Some, such as Tracy Curran, David Nash, Wendy Smith and Alida Schieffelin –Gersie, have chosen to offer sessions which explicitly address the  questions and possibilities of stewardship through poetry, story-making and self expression.  Others, such as June Boyce-Tilman’s session on Unconventional Wisdom,  provide an intriguing and challenging perspective while Kim Nataraja will draw on the traditions of the Desert Fathers and Mothers.  And we remain so fortunate to have contributions from Dom Laurence Freeman and Father Timothy Radcliffe,  speakers whose reputation for wisdom and insight are such that for many people, the chance to hear them first hand is perhaps more important than the topic on which they speak.

Support and constraint – the two parameters that are provided by any meaningful faith tradition.  Just as we need  wise words and inspiration to help us grow in faith and awareness, so too we need discipline and boundaries to prevent either  spiritual atrophy or else an overly eclectic path.    Wise stewardship embodies these parameters too, accepting and making grateful use of the earth’s bounty whilst recognising and working within its constraints.

We hope that the events  in our programme will further your appreciation of stewardship and inspire your spiritual journey.

January 2009

We’ve invited our speakers this year to consider the theme of stewardship, because it seemed timely and important to do so.  The increasing reality of climate change, the crisis in the world’s financial markets,  increasing gloom in the ‘real’ economy and growing world conflict over oil, diamonds and water all point to a need to re-evaluate our relationship with the world’s  material resources.

In ancient times, the Steward was entrusted with the care of the King’s estates  while the King was away.   He was expected not just to maintain them, but to increase their value – as told in the parable of the talents.  But what does this mean today?  How is this concept relevant for a contemporary Christian, or anyone following a spiritual path?   What exactly has ‘the King’  entrusted us with,  and in these straightened economic times, how do we make these assets grow?

Perhaps at its most basic level we might reflect on how we steward ourselves.  Are we providing ourselves with the right opportunities for quiet reflection, for contemplation, for renewal?  Do we provide space for the connection with God that creates our personal ‘capital’?  And in turn, do we have the awareness  to reach out to others and invest wisely in relationships?

As a profound example of stewardship in action, I’d recommend the behind the scenes visit to Chickenshed theatre in May.  This renowned and inspirational theatre is on our doorstep and its heritage is closely entwined with our local parish, so we wanted to reconnect and acknowledge their work in providing stewardship for youth.

Winter 2007

This year’s programme has a theme; ‘To be a Pilgrim; a year looking at our life journey’. Paul Bunyan’s tale “A Pilgrim’s Progress” is one of the better known pilgrim stories, and despite its age the tale of the spiritual seeker’s travails and redemption still resonates today.   So we’ve invited all our speakers to weave the language of Bunyan’s tale with their own insights and experience. For the first time we’re also offering an on-going evening group for those who would like to travel with others.

The metaphor of life as a journey is an ancient one, found across cultures. It’s so pervasive that it’s easy to forget that it is a metaphor, a way of framing and making sense of one experience by use of another. So rather than life being experienced as a series of disjointed, meaningless occurrences, the metaphor enables us to see life as having a destination and purpose, and our role becomes clear.   No longer a victim of random events, we’re the traveller in the story, the one who must set out and persevere with the hope that, against the odds, we can reach our destination.

It has always intrigued me that many journey stories don’t end with the traveller remaining with their ‘treasure’ in a far away land. Whether it’s Dorothy, Ulysses, or Frodo Baggins, the ultimate quest is to safely return home. I wonder if the same applies in our own spiritual journeys? That despite our need to seek adventure and answers in the wilds and foreign lands, the true reason for the journey is to allow us to appreciate what’s always been available. To come to realise that God is not only to be found ‘out there’, but is immanent and ever-present ‘at home’ in our hearts.

Autumn 2007

“I’m not religious but I am a spiritual person”; a common refrain from many people when questioned on matters of faith. It’s a response that begs some good questions – what is the meaning of ‘religious’ and why is it so often something to be avoided? What does ‘spiritual’ mean, and why does it seem preferable?

‘Religious’ in its negative connotation often brings a sense of intolerant moral judgement and irrational belief in the supernatural that is out of touch with the modern world. And there are, sadly, many instances where ‘religious’ attitudes and behaviours fit this negative description. ‘Spiritual’ on the other hand, has a more acceptable face related to a sense of deeper values and a more profound purpose in life.

Perhaps both these popular descriptions are insufficient, and in their own way misguided.

Our spiritual journey takes place not in isolation, but in the rich context of our prevailing culture and history. The search for connection with, and expression of, the divine in our daily lives is most fertile when it’s congruent with our personal cultural heritage. There are of course many valuable insights available from different traditions and cultures, and there is much merit in an open stance towards the wonderful diversity that is so readily available today. But perhaps we need a home to return to as we explore; a home that provides a sense of continuity, of service, of community. And it is these aspects that religion, at its best, can provide for the spiritual seeker.

We hope that the coming programme helps you on your own journey, either by providing a familiar standpoint or else by offering an alternative to your own cultural perspective.

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