Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Conishead Priory and the Manjushri Meditation Centre

Every half term we tend to head off to the Lakes to relax. We travelled up this morning and stopped off on our way at Conishead Priory, which houses a meditation centre and the Kadampa Buddhist temple in its grounds. The temple was built in 1997 and is really a very beautiful and tranquil place. We have attempted to visit before and always managed to find it closed but this time we struck lucky and enjoyed walking around the temple in the suggested clockwise direction. It was interesting to read about the "Dharma", these are the teachings of Buddha concerning the realisation of inner peace, which apparently help us to abandon those states of mind that cause suffering ( can't argue with that now, can you?)The centre piece of the temple was this dharma wheel in the ceiling, which was meant to symbolise the eight teachings, united in harmony, yet all diverse and spreading out through life and the world.
We walked around the temple and read about the various adornments, plaques and their meanings. The main shrine houses the largest bronze statue of Buddha ever made in the West and I managed to talk a little to a young monk, who was refilling some bowls of water and some glasses with various substances. He explained that this was to do with offering substances that we find beautiful or welcoming, such as water, flowers, light, perfume or food. At the back of the guide book was a step by step beginner's guide to a a simple breathing meditation, which Matthew wanted me to follow as he read me the instructions in a whisper, to the evident amusement of the said monk.
We then headed up to the Whitewater Hotel in Newby Bridge. You can see from the pictures that it is aptly named, because the river at the back forms quite a torrent as it courses over the rocks under the bridge.

All in all , a very calming day which was finished off nicely with a sauna and swim and a much needed meal in our favourite local pub.

Sunday, 25 October 2009

Rowan's role

It has been fascinating over the last few days to read the reactions from various quarters to the Pope’s offer of a safe haven for disaffected Anglican clergy. Rather like in a bad marriage, all the past resentments and grievances bubble to the surface, everyone points out each other’s faults, all the different factions jockey to get what is rightfully theirs out of the whole shenanigan.
John Hind, Bishop of Chishester, has announced that he might be walking out. Meanwhile, Forward in Faith, at its meeting in London, introduced some domestic comedy by stating that their grounds for possible separation as not only the introduction of women bishops but also the Church’s, “attitudes to sexuality.” This statement, coming from Forward in Faith, a group notorious for Anglo Catholic high camp, is rich to say the least. Colin Coward, on the Changing Attitude blogspot, is NOT amused, in a scathing article entitled, “Let’s Pretend”, he points out that,
“ Both John Broadhurst and John Hind and the flying bishops of Ebbsfleet and Richborough know that they pastor many gay male Anglican-Catholic priests.”
Quite a lot of naming and shaming in Coward’s article, I get the feeling that someone who knows most of what there is to know about various people in the C of E is itching to name more than a few home truths...
Meanwhile, some have suggested that Rome has not exactly been above board in wooing those ready to jump ship. Lord Carey has been reported by Ruth Gledhill as “appalled” by the apparent contempt shown by Rome in failing to consult the Archbishop of Canterbury and notifying him only a few weeks in advance.
My personal view, and many may disagree with me, is that Rowan Williams has been treated appallingly by many within and outside Anglicanism. Kendal Harmon (Titus online, courtesy of Anglican Mainstream) has displayed his contempt for what he sees as William’s laxity and lack of authority by describing Rome’s offer as,
“ a huge indictment of the leadership of the Archbishop of Canterbury.”
Many conservative commentators have used the Vatican’s announcement to put the knife in, describing Williams as, “taken by surprise”, “ignored” and “completely unaware” and many web sites have clearly selected the most unflattering photos, such as the ones featured here. There are also clear signs that many liberal commentators are not so sweet on Williams. The MCPU’s recent response to his actions over Anaheim was tantamount to an accusation that he lacks the integrity to be true to his convictions or to make clear to others the limits of what he is and is not willing - or indeed able -to do.
While I do not believe Williams is, or should be, above all criticism, I think the level of carping in some quarters lacks generosity. He is not someone who sees his role as to police the various squabbles in Anglicanism but primarily as a spiritual leader. Grace and forbearance with each other are the Christian virtues that he has offered as a means to unity, but his recent comments about a “two track” Communion do show that he is realistic enough to know that, for the time being at least, we may need to live separate lives.

Saturday, 24 October 2009

Freedom of Speech or a Platform for racists?

Like many of us, I've spent a bit of time this week mulling over the thorny issue of whether Nick Griffin should have been offered a platform on the BBCs Question Time. On one hand, I do value freedom of speech and expression, on the other, I am conscious that this freedom needs to be balanced against the possible consequences for the vulnerable within society, especially if the sentiments expressed are likely to encourage violence and hatred. A part of me felt Griffin would be sure to condemn himself out of his own mouth, another part worried about the fillip given to racist attitudes, insidious or overt, that seem to be growing in British society. I decided to wait and see.

Within minutes of watching Griffin perform, I felt a lot easier. It didn't take long to recognise that this was not going to be a slick performance as he blundered his way through the programme alternating from arrogant buffoonery to self pitying ingratiation. It was, as they say, not a pretty sight - but at least he created some near comedy (if it hadn't been so offensive) with his non violent Ku Klux Klan and the assertion that he only associated with fascists to moderate their views.

And yet ... on Radio 4 on Thursday morning they discussed the turning point in the political career of Jean -Marie Le Pen, when in 1984 a similar exposure in the media dramatically increased his foothold in French society. Over the last few decades we have seen a sea change in attitudes towards people based on gender and sexual orientation; racial prejudice has not decreased in the same way - and anti Islamic feeling has burgeoned. I just hope and pray that, when it comes to the BNP, history won't repeat itself.

Friday, 16 October 2009


Pareidolia is the perception that an object is in some way significant, often supernaturally or spiritually ( according to Wikipedia that is.) Apparently, thousands of people gathered at Knock Shrine, Co Mayo, on Monday, hoping to see an apparition of the Virgin Mary outlined in the Sun.
There were ripples of applause from a crowd estimated at more than 5,000 as some people believed they could see the sun shimmering, changing colour and dancing in the sky. Some people were rapturous afterwards.

However you can actually find God ( or his mother) literally anywhere ! A Dutch chocolate fan has recently taken the biscuit after finding an image of Jesus after biting into a Kit-Kat, allegedly on Good Friday.
"I was amazed. I just took a bite and then I saw the face of Christ in it," the finder enthused. Instances of pareidolia connected with seeing Christ or the Virgin Mary in food are surprisingly common.

Here are some searching pareidolia questions for you, gentle reader:

1. Can you see Jesus in this kit kat?
2. Would you have eaten it anyway?
3. Or preserved it in some sort of shrine?
4. Or sold it on e-bay?
5. Or used it as an excuse to consume kit kats in large quantities ?

Answers on a post card?

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Women Bishops on a bus!

I have a feeling quite a lot of people have already found this brilliant link which allows you to make your own version of the “atheist bus” with its well known slogan, “ There probably isn’t a God, so relax and enjoy your life.” It can be great fun making up your own version - especially if there is an issue over which you feel exercised !

Friday, 9 October 2009

Latest on Women Bishops

I am sure I will not be the only one to feel frustration and disbelief at the news today that the committee responsible for overseeing the legislation on women bishops through Synod is seeking to reverse the decision duly made and voted on in July 08. Those who cannot accept the authority of women bishops have argued that their position should be protected by statute and it seems that they may have their way. The committee, headed by the Rt Rev Nigel McCulloch, Bishop of Manchester, states that it ,
“ voted to amend the draft to provide for certain functions to be vested in bishops by statute rather than a statutory code of practice.”
In short, the revision committee has voted to change the rules to remove certain powers from female bishops when they face opposition from traditionalists. In such areas specially appointed male bishops would assume these powers – which would be enshrined in law.
Now my dismay and anger at this news is not primarily based on a reluctance to pander to the attitudes of those who are in conscience opposed to the ministry of women. I am quite happy to state unequivocally that I personally believe such objections to be based almost wholly upon deep rooted misogyny and a lack of humility in those opposed to the ministry of women with respect to their own ministry as men and servants of Christ. I also believe the “objections” to women’s ministry to have no real scriptural basis and see them as offensive, morally bankrupt and demeaning to the common humanity of all of us. These are strongly held convictions – but nevertheless I can recognise that I may be unfairly judging those who “cannot in conscience accept women’s ministry.” What really concerns me though is the sheer unworkable nature of a “two tier” church with such potential for division, discord, no-go areas for women and a real curtailing of the scope of women’s ministry. In all sincerity, I hope that WATCH delivers a resounding, “Thanks but no thanks” to these proposals ; at the same time I know how bitter it will be to so many women to see their prospects for ministry and opportunity dwindle and fade.
I also ask what message we give to those outside the Church, the young within the church and women, whether lay or ordained. Forward in Faith members have complained that the matter has been reported as though they were bigots or,
“ as though we just care about what hangs between the legs” ( Rev. Fr. Tomlinson.)
But how can we expect the majority to see it in any other light than a church that is prejudiced, out of touch and, despite a message of love, places little weight on valuing all people as precious and acceptable in God’s eyes.

Sunday, 4 October 2009

Poem for Autumn

Spring and Fall: To a young child

MARGARET, are you grieving
Over Goldengrove unleaving?
Leaves, like the things of man, you
With your fresh thoughts care for, can you?
Ah! as the heart grows older
It will come to such sights colder
By and by, nor spare a sigh
Though worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie.
And yet you will weep and know why.
Now no matter, child, the name:
Sorrow's springs are the same.
Nor mouth had, no nor mind, expressed
What heart heard of, ghost guessed:
It is the blight man was born for,
It is Margaret you mourn for.

Gerard Manley Hopkins

A young girl crying, as she watches the leaves fall, forms the inspiration for this poem. Hopkins feels that the child with her “fresh thoughts” can hardly understand what she is grieving over. The adult understands, what the child cannot yet grasp, that our sadness at the ending of the year and the death of nature is rooted in our knowledge of our own mortality; man was born for the “blight” of death, and, as Hopkins brilliantly concludes “It is Margaret you mourn for.”

No-one masters sound quite like Hopkins, all the w and l sounds in that “worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie” create such a sense of the weariness and sadness. At the same time this is a beautiful poem, the linking of youth and the ending of a cycle, the voice of the poet and the dawning awareness of a child, even the name “Goldengrove” which suggests all the richness of human life and experience as well as the gold of the autumn leaves.