Saturday 24 November 2012


The Archbishop of Canterbury's address to the Synod of Bishops in Rome
Archbishop's address in Rome

Carol Penn offers this quotation from Rowan Williams' address in October:

“… contemplation is very far from being just one kind of thing that Christians do:  it is the key to prayer, liturgy, art and ethics, the key to the essence of a renewed humanity that is capable of seeing the world and other subjects in the world with freedom – freedom from self-oriented, acquisitive habits and the distorted understanding that comes from them. To put it boldly, contemplation is the only ultimate answer to the unreal and insane world that our financial systems and our advertising culture and our chaotic and unexamined emotions encourage us to inhabit.  To learn contemplative practice is to learn what we need so as to live truthfully and honestly and lovingly. It is a deeply revolutionary matter.”

The link above gives a longer quotation as well as the full text.

Monday 19 November 2012


"The principal human tendencies that lead us away from living well" 
Finding Happiness: Monastic Steps to a Fulfilling Life Abbot Christopher Jamison
We are now into the Eight Thoughts listed by John Cassian (later sensationalised as Seven Deadly Sins).  Central to them according to Jamison (yet left out by Pope Gregory) is “Acedia”, the spiritual carelessness which we would all recognise.  What is the relevance of the list, from gluttony through to pride, in our twenty-first century existence?  Jamison suggests that it provides a framework within which people can develop their self-awareness – which he carefully defines to mean “attentiveness to my way of relating to people and to things”.  Hard to quarrel with that, from a spiritual or a secular point of view.

 As we now turn (not without a barely repressed snigger) to the three chapters on Gluttony, Lust, and Greed, we can agree or not that an interior discipline of thoughts is needed or that “spiritual hygiene” is as vital as medical hygiene.  But we can learn at least something about ourselves and how we want to live our lives if Jamison’s suggestions help us to “recognise our demons while also helping us to contain them”. 

Do join us.  

Sunday evenings at 7, monthly at Wychwood Library (OX7 6LD), open to all 
December 9th :  Gluttony, Lust, Greed
January 13th :  Anger, Sadness
February 3rd:  Vanity, Pride - and a summing-up of the whole book with the participation of Fr Geoff van der Weegan, Prior of the Order of Anglican Cistercians 


Tuesday 6 November 2012


Finding Happiness: Monastic Steps for a Fulfilling Life by Abbot Christopher Jamison

On November 11th we embark with Father Christopher on the first of John Cassian’s Eight Thoughts, which Pope Gregory the Great in the 6th century took upon himself to transform – for the benefit of lay people – into the more famous Seven Deadly Sins.

Interestingly, Pope Gregory left out Acedia, possibly on the grounds that it was too spiritual a concept for ordinary people like you and me, but Abbot Christopher Jamison places it first in his 8 chapters of Thoughts, for reasons which he explains.  The Seven Deadly Sins are only useful, says Jamison, when seen as describing “the principal human tendencies that lead people away from living well”, and their insights, he says, continue to challenge us to “greater personal honesty about our innermost thoughts.”

Acedia (sometimes known as accidie) means ‘carelessness’ in Latin.  The monks and nuns of the Middle Eastern deserts in Cassian’s day or in Gregory’s early monasteries would probably have defined it as ‘spiritual carelessness or apathy’, while we might recognise it as simply a loss of any enthusiasm for the spiritual life – not an uncommon trait in our modern Western culture.  

Indeed, Jamison bemoans Western society’s “catastrophic loss of understanding of the need for self-awareness” and sees our children in the 21st century growing up “in a culture that suffers from collective acedia.  He goes on to draw a parallel between care for our physical hygiene (born relatively recently of the discovery of germs in medicine) and spiritual hygiene, which ideally requires just as much daily attention as brushing your teeth or taking exercise.

How are those of us who are not monks or even church-going Christians going to respond to this, supposing we accept the picture Jamison paints of our condition?  Jamison’s answer – in the chapter on Acedia and in the previous one, provocatively entitled “Blessed are the pure in heart” – is repeatedly to emphasise the central role of “the interior life”.   Thus, we can “choose an interior life that is more integrated”, we must seek “self-awareness” (carefully defined to distinguish it from introspection), and “constant awareness of the interior life” is essential.

How does this relate to the Seven Deadly Sins?  After all, next month, Gluttony, Lust and Greed will be queuing up for their turn in the limelight!  The answer lies once again in Jamison’s brilliant re-definition of an ancient, and therefore largely discarded, notion: purity of heart, which we might today describe as freedom of spirit.  Echoing modern commentators from Karen Armstrong (whose book on Compassion we read only recently) to the Dalai Lama (whose tweets regularly return to this theme), Jamison suggests that “careful practice” is required in order to allow our “innate capacity for goodness … to flourish”.  And the way to “inner freedom” is to examine “the thoughts and demons that lie between us and the happiness of a pure heart.”

The next Wychwood Circle discussion – based on the 2nd and 3rd chapters of Jamison’s book – is on Sunday November 11th from 7pm to 9pm at Wychwood Library OX7 6LD.  Anyone is welcome to come, to listen, to contribute or just to ponder.

Friday 2 November 2012


LIFE OF PI by Yann Martel

The first monthly book recommendation, made at the last meeting of Wychwood Circle by Ian Cave:

As the narrator in the book says, this is a story to help you believe in God. Like Yann Martel's other book "Beatrice and Virgil", this book can be read on two levels. The first and most obvious is that it's about a man in a lifeboat with a tiger. This is in itself a facinating story about animal behaviour. But the second is a story where the only animal is the tiger inside the man, that makes him do inhuman things to survive. At the end of the book, two insurance investigators conclude that either story accounts for all the observable facts about the shipwreck and the state of the lifeboat. Just as science and religion account for the world around us. So it's up to you to decide which view of the world you prefer to have.
Wikipedia's entry about the book is worth reading if you want to know more details of the story. Martel's other book, "Beatrice and Virgil", is very different and much, much more deeply disturbing. In many ways it's a book to help you believe in evil. 

Life of Pi - Wikipedia

David adds:  Also worth looking at, this very interesting interview with Yann Martel in 2005 by Jennie Renton.
It would be good to have other reactions and views on this.  Click on "Comments" below and add your bit.