Sailing to Ithaka ... has the journey finished, or does the journey continue?
Σα βγεις στον πηγαιμό για την Ιθάκη,
να εύχεσαι νάναι μακρύς ο δρόμος,
γεμάτος περιπέτειες, γεμάτος γνώσεις.
Τους Λαιστρυγόνας και τους Κύκλωπας,
τον θυμωμένο Ποσειδώνα μη φοβάσαι,
τέτοια στον δρόμο σου ποτέ σου δεν θα βρεις,
αν μεν' η σκέψις σου υψηλή, αν εκλεκτή
συγκίνησις το πνεύμα και το σώμα σου αγγίζει.
Τους Λαιστρυγόνας και τους Κύκλωπας,
τον άγριο Ποσειδώνα δεν θα συναντήσεις,
αν δεν τους κουβανείς μες στην ψυχή σου,
αν η ψυχή σου δεν τους στήνει εμπρός σου.
Να εύχεσαι νάναι μακρύς ο δρόμος.
Πολλά τα καλοκαιρινά πρωϊά να είναι
που με τι ευχαρίστησι, με τι χαρά
θα μπαίνεις σε λιμένας πρωτοειδωμένους,
να σταματήσεις σ' εμπορεία Φοινικικά,
και τες καλές πραγμάτειες ν' αποκτήσεις,
σεντέφια και κοράλλια, κεχριμπάρια κ' έβενους,
και ηδονικά μυρωδικά κάθε λογής,
όσο μπορείς πιο άφθονα ηδονικά μυρωδικά,
σε πόλεις Αιγυπτιακές πολλές να πας,
να μάθεις και να μάθεις απ' τους σπουδασμένους.
Πάντα στον νου σου νάχεις την Ιθάκη.
Το φθάσιμον εκεί ειν' ο προορισμός σου.
Αλλά μη βιάζεις το ταξείδι διόλου.
Καλλίτερα χρόνια πολλά να διαρκέσει
και γέρος πια ν' αράξεις στο νησί,
πλούσιος με όσα κέρδισες στο δρόμο,
μη προσδοκώντας πλούτη να σε δώσει η Ιθάκη.
Η Ιθάκη σ'έδωσε τ' ωραίο ταξείδι.
Χωρίς αυτήν δεν θάβγαινες στον δρόμο.
Άλλα δεν έχει να σε δώσει πια.
Κι αν πτωχική την βρεις, η Ιθάκη δε σε γέλασε.
Έτσι σοφός που έγινες, με τόση πείρα,
ήδη θα το κατάλαβες οι Ιθάκες τι σημαίνουν.
Κωνσταντίνος Π. Καβάφης
As you set out for Ithaka
hope the journey is a long one,
full of adventure, full of discovery.
Laistrygonians and Cyclops,
angry Poseidon – don’t be afraid of them:
you’ll never find things like that on your way
as long as you keep your thoughts raised high,
as long as a rare excitement
stirs your spirit and your body.
Laistrygonians and Cyclops,
wild Poseidon – you won’t encounter them
unless you bring them along inside your soul,
unless your soul sets them up in front of you.
Hope the voyage is a long one.
may there be many a summer morning when,
with what pleasure, what joy,
you come into harbours seen for the first time;
may you stop at Phoenician trading stations
to buy fine things,
mother of pearl and coral, amber and ebony,
sensual perfume of every kind –
as many sensual perfumes as you can;
and may you visit many Egyptian cities
to gather stores of knowledge from their scholars.
Keep Ithaka always in your mind.
Arriving there is what you are destined for.
But do not hurry the journey at all.
Better if it lasts for years,
so you are old by the time you reach the island,
wealthy with all you have gained on the way,
not expecting Ithaka to make you rich.
Ithaka gave you the marvellous journey.
without her you would not have set out.
She has nothing left to give you now.
And if you find her poor, Ithaka won’t have fooled you.
Wise as you will have become, so full of experience,
you will have understood by then what these Ithakas mean.
Constantine Cavafy (translated Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard)
You have come to the end of the journey. This is our last lecture in your three years here.
For most of you, I hope, the journey has been worthwhile. You know the date of your ordination, you know which parish and diocese you’re going to, and I hope you know which house you’re going to live in.
But I hope the journey of the past three years has been worth it in itself, has its own value, has its own intrinsic value, not in terms of meeting essay deadlines or getting exam marks you have worked hard for, but in terms of the journey itself … your spiritual and ministerial formation.
I hope that none of you thought you had arrived once you passed in through the doors here in September 2006. I hope you have found new spiritual depths, new spiritual breadth, new spiritual insights, and new spiritual challenges.
Those challenges will, perhaps, face no greater challenge than the one described to me recently by one bishop as “the law of supply and demand – they demand and we supply.”
Remember that when your being presented for ordination to the priesthood, you are charged with being – in the traditional words of the ordinal – stewards, watchmen, messengers and shepherds. You are to be servants and shepherds among God’s people, you are to proclaim the Word of the Lord, you are to baptise and catechize, you are to preside at the celebration of the Holy Communion, you are to lead God’s people in prayer and in worship, to teach and to encourage them, to minister to the sick and to prepare the dying for death.
If your priestly ministry is going to be truly spirit-filled, grace filled, and Christ-focussed, and giving priorities to the ministry and mission of the Church, then you must be aware of the pitfalls of conforming to the expectations of those who demand and who put pressure on you to supply, even when those demands are far down the list of priestly priorities.
As one rector reminded me shortly before my ordination, sometimes, sometimes, the most urgent demands are not the most important one.
And if you are not to fall into the trap of merely meeting other people’s expectations, then you need to pay attention to your own lifestyle and personal discipline, which is something that can never be legislated for in codes of practice or in regulations about clerical discipline, and are certainly never understood when it comes to the demands that can be made by a parish or a select vestry.
Keep before you always the priority of prayer: corporate prayer and private prayer. Remember the value of setting aside times of prayer, and of being faithful in the regularity of prayer.
When it becomes difficult to pray, because of demands or because of spiritual problems, you will realise the richness of the forms of prayer and the times of prayer provided in the Book of Common Prayer.
In ministry, we need to be sensitive to the prayer methods and needs of other people
At the same time, be sensitive to other people’s methods and needs in prayer. Because they are your parishioners never means that they share your priorities, comforts, or even discomforts in prayer and in the spiritual life.
Be regular in attending and in celebrating the Eucharist. Take this holy sacrament to your comfort.
Remember to take at least one retreat a year. Just like a puppy is not only for Christmas, retreats are not just for the days or day before your ordination.
Find opportunities and occasions for pilgrimage.
Constantly, throughout every day, find times of quiet.
Be graceful in receiving and grateful for the ministry of oversight. Your relationship with your rector, your fellow priests, your archdeacon and your bishop will be important, not just in terms of line-management, but in terms of spiritual discipline. None of us is a priest alone, we all share in a collegial ministry, and each of us is facilitating the priesthood of the whole royal people of God.
Remember you are holding an office in the Church of God, not in employment, seeking a career path. Your ministry is one of vocation and calling, not defined in terms of contract
Be wise when it comes to confidentiality, how you use money, in attendi8ng to personal care, and be balanced when it comes to availability.
Be open to the richness and gifts in other spiritual traditions – within Anglicanism, within Christianity, and even outside Christianity: on this course, we have looked at what we can learn from contemporary Jewish and Islamic spirituality.
Remember in your ministry and mission also that awareness means critical awareness, and be vigilant when it comes to spiritual bullying, elitism, and abuse.
Enjoy reading, constantly and daily. Karl Barth says we should get into the pulpit with the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other. But also read poetry, fiction and drama, listen to good music, enjoy the arts, be conversationally familiar with soap operas, television drama and what’s happening in sport.
Beware of your own spiritual weaknesses and temptations. Is it spiritual pride? Is it ambition? Is it lust? Is it spiritual smugness? It may be something that you are least willing to admit, most of all admit to yourself.
Classical books of spirituality: an introduction
The Bible ... to be read in prayer, not just in study, in meditation, or for mining for ideas for a good sermon
Some weeks ago, some of you asked before this module ended that I should recommend just a few books in the field of spirituality that I would regard as essential reading.
The Bible: Yes, continue to read it after you leave here. You will constantly find in it fresh insights and hear God speaking to you and to the Church. Use in the Bible in prayer, not just in study, in meditation, or for mining for ideas for a good sermon.
The Book of Common Prayer: read it, not just to prepare services. Read it morning, noon and night. Lex orandi, lex credendi. In it you will find a rich treasure trove of Church of Ireland, Anglican and Christian tradition. When you cannot pray, you will find the Church is praying for you. When you want to pray, don’t just pray according to your own whims, for your own pleasure and satisfaction.
Some others books to start collecting include:
Maxwell Staniforth and Andrew Louth (eds), Early Christian Writings (London: Penguin Classics, 1987 ed).
This selection of writings from the Apostolic Fathers provides deep insights into the spirituality of the infant church. It includes the Didache, the First Letter of Clement of Rome, the letters of Barnabas and Polycarp and the seven letters of Ignatius of Antioch, including his moving appeal to the Romans that they grant him a martyr’s death. The blood of the martyrs was truly the seed of the early Church.
Benedicta Ward (ed), The Desert Father: Sayings of the Early Church Fathers (London: Penguin, 2003).
The Desert Fathers provided the inspiration for Christian spirituality throughout the Middle Ages and beyond. These men and women, who first embraced solitude in the deserts of Egypt, Palestine and Syria, were seldom clerics, theologians or academics. Often they were uneducated peasants, shepherds, travelling traders, former slaves and penitent prostitutes. But they attracted so many followers that it was said they turned the desert into a city.
From the 4th century on, the reflections and sayings of the Desert Fathers were brought together and widely circulated. They are powerful and moving when it comes to their depth of religious conviction and whole-hearted – even joyful – commitment to poverty, simplicity and humility.
Their sayings directly influenced the Rule of Saint Benedict, and set the pattern for the Western monastic tradition.
Sister Benedicta Ward is an Anglican nun, a member of the community of the Sisters of the Love of God, and a member of the Faculty of Theology in Oxford, where she teaches the history of Christian spirituality. In this edited collection, she makes the most influential collection of the sayings of the Desert Fathers freshly accessible. She organises the collection around important themes, including: charity, fortitude, lust, patience, prayer, self-control and visions.
The Rule of Benedict:
The Rule of Saint Benedict has strongly influenced Western monasticism and Western spirituality, and has particular resonances for Anglicans. Three modern explications of the Rule of Saint Benedict, from an Anglican perspective, are:
Andrew Clitherow, Desire, Love and the Rule of St Benedict (London: SPCK, 2008).
Esther de Waal, Seeking God: the Way of St Benedict (London: Fount Paperbacks, 1984, &c).
Esther de Waal, A life-giving way: a commentary on the Rule of St Benedict (London: Mowbray, 1995).
Esther de Waal, who has taught in Cambridge, Nottingham and Oxford, is the wife of a former Dean of Canterbury. In 1982, she started “Benedictine Experience,” which brought groups to live in the precincts of Canterbury Cathedral, spending ten days together as they followed the balanced Benedictine life of study, worship and work.
In Seeking God – the Way of St Benedict, she shows how the rule is practical and totally relevant for today. She shows how the rule can guide us towards a growth into wholeness, a balance in every aspect of our being – body, mind and spirit – through which we can become truly human and truly one with God.
Canon Andrew Clitherow, who has been involved in ministerial training in the Diocese of Blackburn, draws on the Rule with a down-to-earth approach to help his readers to be “in Christ” in a changing Church and a changing society. In his introduction, he says: “We cannot expect our pursuit of radical love to make any significant difference to our lives when we understand it in terms of good manners or being personable with others. For divine love works at the heart of life and in human beings it challenges us to recognize and come to terms with ways in which our natural desires either conflict or co-operate with the love of God.”
Julian of Norwich, Revelations of Divine Love (London: Penguin Classics, 1998, eds Elizabeth Spearing and A.C. Spearing).
Julian of Norwich (ca 1342 – post 1416) was the first woman writer in the English language, yet we know very little about her – not even her original name, her date of birth, or the date of her death. In 1373, at a time of great illness when she thought she was dying, she prayed for a greater understanding of Christ’s passion, and received an extraordinary series of “showings,” visions or revelations from God, beginning when her parish priest held up a crucifix before her and she saw blood trickling down Christ’s face.
Through these “showing,” Mother Julian experienced a revelation of Christ’s suffering with extraordinary intensity, but also received assurance of God’s unwavering love for humanity and God’s infinite capacity for forgiveness.
Julian, who speaks of God as our mother as well as our father, is both a mystic and a remarkable theologian who is owned throughout the Anglican tradition. Her writings are among the most original works of mediaeval mysticism and have had a lasting influence on Christian thought – there are resonances of her thoughts in the works of modern literary figures such as T.S. Eliot.
She lived out her later life as an anchoress in the Church of Saint Julian in Norwich – hence her name – and became well-known as a spiritual adviser.
Thomas a Kempis, The Imitation of Christ (London: Penguin Classic, 1952 &c, ed Leo Sherley-Price).
Thomas a Kempis (1380-1471), who was Sub-Prior of Mount Saint Agnes, wrote several devotional works, but The Imitation of Christ has remained a classic for over five centuries, and is well-loved in all Christian traditions.
Although Thomas spent almost 70 years in the reclusive atmosphere of a monastery, in his writings he demonstrated a deep understanding of the human nature, and his writings have appealed to readers of every age and every generation.
The Imitation of Christ is a passionate celebration of God and God’s love, mercy and holiness. With great personal conviction, he points out our reliance on God and on the words of Christ, and the futility of life without faith.
The poetry and hymns of George Herbert:
George Herbert (1593-1633), a Welsh poet, orator and priest, and was an MP before being ordained priest in his late 30s.He spent the rest of his life as a rector of the little parish of Saint Andrew Bemerton, near Salisbury, near Wiltshire. He was noted for unfailing care for his parishioners, bringing the sacraments to them when they were ill, and providing food and clothing for those in need.
Throughout his life he wrote religious poems characterised by a precision of language, a metrical versatility, and an ingenious use of imagery or conceits that was favoured by the metaphysical school of poets. He is best remembered as a poet and for his hymns, especially for The Temple. His hymns in the Irish Church Hymnal include King of glory, King of peace (358); Let all the world in every corner sing (360), from The Temple; Teach me, my God and King (601); and Come, my way, my truth, my life (610).
A good introduction to the spirituality of George Herbert is found in Philip Sheldrake, Love Took My Hand (London: Darton, Longman and Todd, 2000).
Jeremy Taylor, Holy Living Holy Dying:
Jeremy Taylor (1613-1667) achieved fame as an author during the Cromwellian era. He is sometimes known as the “Shakespeare of Divines” for his poetic style of expression, and he was often presented as a model of prose writing.
Taylor was educated at Cambridge before becoming a chaplain to Charles I. During the Civil War, he lived and after the restoration was appointed Bishop of Down and Connor in the Church of Ireland and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Dublin.
Holy Living and Holy Dying is the collective title of two books by Jeremy Taylor, first published as The Rules and Exercises of Holy Living (1650) and The Rules and Exercises of Holy Dying (1651). These two books represent one of the high points of English prose during the early Stuart period.
Holy Living is designed to instruct the reader in living a virtuous life, increasing personal piety, and avoiding temptations. Holy Dying is meant to instruct the reader in the “means and instruments” of preparing for a blessed death. Each book contains discussions of theology, moral instruction, and model prayers requesting divine assistance in achieving them.
Holy Living is largely concerned with questions of practical morality, of a type that have hardly changed from the 1600s to today. Holy Dying, occasioned by the death of Lady Carbery, exercise Taylor’s gift for poetic prose is exercised to its fullest effect:
“But so have I seen a Rose newly springing from the clefts of its hood, and at first it was fair as the Morning, and full with the dew of Heaven, as a Lamb’s fleece; but when a ruder breath had forced open its virgin modesty, and dismantled its too youthful and unripe retirements, it began to put on a darknesse, and to decline its softnesse, and the symptomes of a sickly age; it bowed the head, and broke its stalk, and at night having lost some of its leaves, and all of its beauty, it fell into the portion of weeds and outworn faces.”
Taylor’s work was later admired by John Wesley for its devotional quality; and by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Thomas de Quincey and Edmund Gosse for its literary qualities.
William Law, A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life (1728; modern versions include Vintage, 2002, Vintage Spiritual Classics series):
The 18th-century Nonjuring Anglican priest and spiritual writer William Law (1686-1761) strongly influenced the theology of John and Charles Wesley, and few writers of the time have had as great an influence on the religious spirit of their time. William Law’s A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life is one of the most important devotional works written in post-Reformation England. Law criticised pious hypocrisy and the corruption of the Church, and offered a challenging insistence on Christian living. His prose is fresh and vivid as he illustrates the holy Christian life as one lived wholly for God. His thoughts on prayer, personal holiness and service to the poor have real contemporary relevance.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship (London: SCM Press, 1959/1978).
Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945) was a German Lutheran pastor, theologian, writer and martyr. His role in the Confessing Church and in the German Resistance led to his execution.
Bonhoeffer’s The Cost of Discipleship, first published in 1937, is a classic of Christian thought. It is centred around an exposition of the Sermon on the Mount, in which the writer spells out what he believes it means to follow Christ along the path of costly discipleship.
One of the most important parts of the book deals with the distinction which Bonhoeffer makes between “cheap” grace and “costly” grace. For Bonhoeffer, “cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline. Communion without confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ.” In other words, cheap grace preaches the Gospel in words such as: “Of course you have sinned, but now everything is forgiven, so you can stay as you are and enjoy the consolations of forgiveness.” The main defect of such a proclamation is that it contains no demand for discipleship.
In contrast to this is costly grace: “costly grace confronts us as a gracious call to follow Jesus, it comes as a word of forgiveness to the broken spirit and the contrite heart. It is costly because it compels a man to submit to the yoke of Christ and follow him; it is grace because Jesus says: ‘My yoke is easy and my burden is light’.”
Bonhoeffer foresaw the collapse of the organised church as the inevitable consequence of making grace available to all at too low a cost. The Church gave away the word and sacraments wholesale, baptised, confirmed, and absolved a whole nation without condition. We gave “that which was holy to the scornful and unbelieving … But the call to follow Jesus in the narrow way was hardly ever heard.”
Thomas Merton, The Seven Storey Mountain (1948, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1998 50th anniversary edition):
Thomas Merton (1915-1968) was a Trappist monk in the Abbey of Gethsemani in Kentucky, but was also known as a poet, political and social activist, as the author of numerous works on spirituality. He wrote more than 60 books, and scores of essays and reviews. He was involved in dialogues with Asian spiritual leaders, such as the Dalai Lama, the Vietnamese monk Thich Nhat Hanh, and the Japanese Zen master DT Suzuki. He died in 1968 of accidental electrocution while he was at an international monastic conference in Bangkok.
Thomas Merton’s The Seven Storey Mountain is his autobiography, written five years after he entered Gethsemani Abbey. The title is borrowed from the mountain of Purgatory in Dante’s Divine Comedy, and when the book was first published it was an immediate sensation. The original hardcover edition eventually sold over 600,000 copies, and paperback sales exceed one million. The book is remains in print, and has been translated into more than 15 languages.
In The Seven Storey Mountain, Thomas Merton is struggling to answer a spiritual call. The worldly influences of his earlier years have been compared with the story of Saint Augustine’s conversion described in The Confessions.
Merton’s Augustinian candour regarding his previous indulgence in alcohol and casual sex caused a censor from his Cistercian Order to delay publication until the controversial passages were toned down. But The Seven Storey Mountain struck a nerve amidst a society longing for renewed personal meaning and direction in the aftermath of World War II, and at a time when global annihilation was increasingly imaginable due to the nuclear arms race.
The Seven Storey Mountain has been included in most of the lists of the best 50 or 100 books of the 20th century, and has served as a powerful recruitment tool for vocations to the priesthood and to monastic life. The Seven Storey Mountain closes by admonishing the reader to “learn to know the Christ of the burnt men.”
Michael Ramsey, The Christian Priest Today (London: SPCK, 1972/1992):
Michael Ramsey’s The Christian Priest Today is a reworking of talks he gave to ordinands in the 1960s and 1970s. Michael Ramsey, who was Archbishop of Canterbury, credited Karl Rahner and Edward Schillebeeckx as particularly valuable theological mentors, along with Henry Chadwick, Richard Baxter and P.T. Forsyth.. This book is designed to hearten “priests and would-be priests [today who are] as devoted and as intelligent as at any time in history” and to help them understand their calling.
He discusses the tensions that exist for priests: the tension between this-worldliness and other-worldliness; the problem between varying kinds and tempers of biblical interpretation; the difficulty of maintaining a balance between traditions and modernity.
His lectures are short and practical – how to preach God today; how to preach Jesus today; the priest and politics; the priest as a person of prayer. The provide sharp insights into key issues of concern to the priest, who is very easily distracted by the day-to-day cares of a parish or by the rush of doing a “real” job while we are trying to provide pastoral care.
Archbishop Ramsey warns against a clerical hubris that seems to permeate the clergy of many churches, and urges the humility that is ever-present in the gospel messages, especially the gospel of ordination. “By your humility, you will prove that the authority entrusted to you is really Christ’s ... Everyone possessing authority is liable to become bossy and overbearing … Everyone possessing privilege and security is liable to a subtle worldly enjoyment.”
Ramsey ends on a note of hope, community, and inclusiveness. The priest, in the church and outside it, is called to empower all people. But he also recaptures a sense of the priesthood of all believers and makes it whole and important to the life of the church.
John V. Taylor, The Go-Between God (London: SCM, 1972), by a former general secretary of SCM and Bishop of Winchester, is one of the modern classics of Anglican spirituality.
George Appleton, The Practice of Prayer (Oxford: Mowbray, 1979/1980). A short book by a former Anglican Archbishop in Jerusalem, but an effective way of rethinking our priorities in prayer.
Some other helpful books each of you should consider having a copy of:
David Runcorn, Spirituality Workbook (London: SPCK, 2006).
Martin Dudley and Virginia Rounding, The Parish Survival Book (London: SPCK, 2004).
Roslaind Brown, Christopher Cocksworth, Being a Priest Today (Norwich, Canterbury Press, 2002).
Some anthologies, guidebooks and directories that you might like as ordination presents or at other stages include:
Richard H. Schmidt, Glorious Companions: five centuries of Anglican Spirituality (Grand Rapids/Cambridge: Eerdmans, 2002).
C. Jones, G. Wainwright, E. Yarnold (eds), The Study of Spirituality (London: SPCK, 1986/2004).
Gordon Maunsell, English Spirituality – from earliest times to 1700 (London: SPCK, 2001/2008).
Gordon Wakefield (ed), The SCM Dictionary of Christian Spirituality (London: SCM, 1983/2003).
Finally, as you got out, could I leave you with the words of a poem by Roslaind Brown:
Go at the call of God,
the call to follow on,
to leave security behind
and go where Christ has gone.
Go in the name of God,
the name of Christ you bear;
take up your cross, it’s victims love
with all the world to share.
Go in the love of God,
explore its depth and height.
Held fast by love that cares, that heals,
in love walk in the light.
Go in the strength of God,
in weakness prove God true.
The strength that dares to love and serve
God will pour out in you.
Go with the saints of God,
our common life upbuild,
that daily as we walk God’s way
we may with love be filled.
O God, to you we come,
your love alone to know,
your name to own, your strength to prove,
and at your call to go.
Canon Patrick Comerford is Director of Spiritual Formation, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, Dublin. These lecture notes were prepared for a Year III class on Spirituality on 22 April 2008.
For C.P.Cavafy’s poem “Ithaca,” recited by Sir Sean Connery and with music specially composed by Vangelis visit: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1n3n2Ox4Yfk
No Brother Lawrence?
Herbert's 'A Priest to the Temple' is marvellous to read for fun.
CS Lewis not worth a mention? Screwtape? The Great Divorce?
Oh yes. C.S. Lewis. Do not leave out C.S. Lewis!
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