Casting off

Once I had a home in Ireland, a hermitage on a cliff facing the ocean. Our local Catholic priest used regularly to invite me, as an Anglican priest, to preach at his Masses. But when he gave me the latest edition of the Catholic Church’s Catechism – a thick volume, analysing every mortal and venial sin – I had to throw it away.

I cast it off because to me it represented what the Church has become not what it is meant to be. It does not truly relate to the teachings of Jesus.

Jesus was critical of the rigid, legalistic moral code of his Jewish faith. He stated that there are only two commandments: to love God wholly, and to love one’s neighbour as one’s self. Under the Roman Emperor Constantine, however, his teachings were hammered into a theological and binding set of rules, which gave power to the Imperial Church as an institution.

Each of the major religions has been hijacked at one point or another in its history by such power structures. It has then fallen to the mystical element to preserve the core of their founder’s teachings. Thus in Islam we have the mystical tradition of the Sufi, in Judaism that of the Kabballah, in Christianity that of the Quakers, and of individual mystics such as Meister Eckhart and Dame Julian of Norwich.

Today, I find the writings of Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee, who is head of the Golden Sufi Centre in San Francisco, constantly inspiring. The inner journey can sometimes seem a lonely one, for, as he writes, ‘Every effort is required to walk along a path that is as narrow as the edge of a sword. Two cannot walk together, for it is the journey of the soul back to the Source.’ But he then adds, ‘From a spiritual perspective we are never alone; we are looked after more than we could ever know. The moment we turn towards Him, He takes us in His arms and provides us with everything we need.’ These words bring to mind Psalm 23: ‘Yea, though I walk in the valley of the shadow of death, Thou art with me, Thy rod and Thy staff comfort me.’

All the great mystics throughout history have conveyed the same essential message. We don’t need books of catechism or centralised power structures. What we need is silence. Unless we learn to stand still in the darkness, and listen, we shall not sense these presences which surround us. The ancient words resonate, reminding us of what we have to do: Be still and know!


2 thoughts on “Casting off”

  1. I have a complete affinity with what you say, coming over the course of my experience living life, even out of a similar context as you: ordination in the Anglican church, seeing the world through theatre.

    In fact, in the midst of my study leave, that became an experiential journey, I felt very alone in my discovery and my reimagining of my life. i shared the roadway with others who I learned from and shared their values and sensibilities toward life, but it was always in part. Church part. Theatre part. And other parts. You were the only one who crossed all the boundaries for me, shared all the same parts. Some years ago, I had just experienced the most revealing moment of my journey, after years of searching, found in work with Enrique Pardo of the Roy Hart Centre in southern France. And I had returned to Canada with this strong sense of the work ahead of me, a vision for my vocation in ministry in the Anglican church. And I ran into a church that had no idea what I was seeing, and no wish it would seem for what I was seeing. I couldn’t deny what I had learned in a hard way over the years. I couldn’t go back to where I was in the church. I wrote you because I was so alone and you, a long way away in the world, was the only one I’d found who shared all the same worlds I did, with the same insights or perceptions on those worlds. You wrote back sharing yourself and bolstering me for being where I was. God, “not leaving me alone,” really was the muse giving me what I needed. Your book on Experimental Theatre opened me up to the journey, along with The Drama Review, and then to my great surprise, some long time later, I accidentally happened onto your ‘Inner Journey Outer Journey’ and learned you were a non-stipendary Anglican priest, someone sharing a similar world as I and who had come to seeing that world in a way I had, and I wasn’t so alone. When I recently came to the end of that journey after 30 years, I wanted to talk to you, come to England. I said to my wife, in the intensity of that moment, I think I have to go to Bledfa. Of course, the wonder now is with the internet, I can share in your thoughts and learning. Dispersed shared communities are much closer, that the geography of community in the past didn’t allow.

    OK. For all this, are we just one way of seeing, one yogic body, no special claim to knowing, just that we see this one particular way? Those enterprising Christians who saw Constantine as a way to advance their cause, who ran the councils, invited some, didn’t invite others, manipulated and played politics, who were smart enough to win the popular voice and become the church as we have it…well are they just another way of seeing, a different body and temperament? Would I be a christian without them? Even if my idea of christianity is so different, so pre-Constantine, at least imaginatively? (Who knows what even the disciple community was really like.) Well, I can only take your wisdom again: what can I account for more but the silence, to be still in the silence, and find without judgement, that this human existence on a spinning planet, flying through space inside the galaxy travelling through space at over a million kilometres an hour, is wild and woolly and spectacularly fascinating, and for all that, in the end, the silence is perhaps just about one thing: that we might under the vault of the universe, hold hands with another human being…share the silence. Feeling alone on the pilgrimage, wondering what fool I am, is not lost for me, simply because one other walks the same path too, in my case, you. in sharing similar worlds, the call to priesthood for one, we share the same way of travel. Your insights and words have been my companion. I have been blessed. For this blog and and your care to help others, I thank you. For sharing all this.


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