The Sacrament of the Present Moment

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‘The sacrament of the present moment is the doorway to the eternal and universal’, says Sally Welch, vicar of St Mary’s Charlbury, in her recent book How to be a mindful Christian (Canterbury Press, 2016).  It is an experience that we try to cultivate at our regular Mid-Month Meditation in the Chase Benefice (3rd Tuesday, 6.15pm). The joy of a midsummer meditation at Holy Trinity Ascott is that we can have the door wide open and tune in and out of the sounds of the village and the valley of the Evenlode.

As we listened to blackbirds bickering, stomachs rumbling, the train trundling by, and a motorbike scooting noisily up the hill, it seemed opportune this week to pick up Sally’s book again and read out the following sentence from the introductory chapter on Christian mindfulness:

When our minds connect with our environment, we can make the whole creation part of our prayer, recognising that God can be found in every detail of the landscape, his unique loving signature within every living creature.

Mindfulness has acquired quite a following, not least thanks to the work, essentially in a mental health context, of Professor Mark Williams of Oxford University who is as it happens also a priest in the Church of England. Another local priest, who has written at length about the subject from a Christian point of view, is Tim Stead at the church in Headington Quarry, Oxford (Mindfulness and Christian Spirituality, SPCK, 2016). Oxfordshire clearly has more than its fair share of practitioners, including Sally Welch, our Area Dean, a great advocate of pilgrim walks and our local expert on ‘the labyrinth’ as recently featured at the Charlbury Festival (rescheduled for July 3rd at 2pm).

Sally’s words were particularly well received and bear quoting here at some length in the context of freeing our minds from the constant chatter of our thoughts and daily concerns:

When our attention is removed from the necessity of anticipating every event, of plundering the past to provide new sources of anxiety for the future, we will be able to see things for what they are, in the intensity of their beauty, in the perfection of their creation. Emotions will no longer enslave us, and in the freedom into which we have been released, we will encounter God.

… Pure enjoyment in all things, in all moments, will liberate us from a preoccupation with having, gaining, achieving, possessing. Mindful prayer releases us simply to reflect upon the moment, not relying on our possession of it to validate it or ourselves but simply to experience it, free from the chains of thought that habit drapes around the most commonplace actions.

There are plenty of injunctions in the Bible for just this sort of attitude and we didn’t need modern writers to tell us to ‘observe the joy of the ‘now’’ (or did we?); neither do we need to go back to poets and prophets of earlier times, though Sally usefully quotes both William Blake and Teresa of Avila. The contemporary poet R S Thomas (1913-2000), celebrated earlier this month at his own annual literary festival, famously commented in his poem The Bright Field:

                                           Life is not hurrying
            on to a receding future, nor hankering after
            an imagined past. It is the turning
            aside, like Moses to the miracle
            of the lit bush, to a brightness
            that seemed as transitory as your youth
            once, but is the eternity which awaits you.

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20 vi 17

Post Scriptum: Poetry doesn’t ‘do it’ for everyone but we are very much looking forward to an evening of poets and poetry at Wychwood Circle on November 12th and featuring both R S Thomas and Mary Oliver. Entitled ‘Only Connect’, it will be led by Liz Griffiths (Chipping Norton) and Lesley Wasley (Charlbury) and will be open to anyone.

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