Imagine you could step into the Monastery right now – perhaps like the one which we saw in the 2005 TV series, or even the one in this image – and move apart from all the frantic busyness and stress and tension of your life, and receive some deep wisdom from the heart of the mystics.
Yesterday I received something very similar at a Quiet Day in St Mark’s Church Leamington Spa where I heard three talks from Bishop John Stroyan, Bishop of Warwick – a man imbued in the literature of some of the world’s greatest mystics. Bishop John is someone who speaks in a lowkey way and yet treasures of spiritual wisdom emerge almost as asides. There is no stridency, nothing is declaimed; but those listening cannot but be aware that he speaks of the true underlying structure which drives our behaviour, our motivation and our attitudes and the way we react to events and circumstances in our lives.
During his talk he referred to the Martin Luther Memorial Church in Berlin – which he described as “the most shocking church” he had been into. Figures of Nazi soldiers and members of the Hitler Youth are interspersed with figures from the Nativity, and an Aryan family of the type Hitler wanted in his Master Race also adorn the church. In addition, a strong, muscular, Aryan Christ is seen on the cross. It’s one of the hundred churches Hitler built, the only one that has survived, intentionally as a chilling reminder of how evil systems can recruit the Christian faith to their cause. Apparently, the Bishop said, both the Nazis and the apartheid regime used Christian clothing for their causes – making God in their images, recruiting Him to serve their agendas.
This is a very strong warning to us, as the Bishop said: “Beware of what we think we know.”
Some of the wisdom the Bishop shared with us included the observation that “you’ve faced the darkness and come through it, and God will use that as a gift to help others who struggle.”
How often do we see that those who have suffered the most are in the best position to support and comfort those who now suffer in the same way?
He said that pearls are tears shed around grit that irritates the oyster. Some people, as we know, become hard and embittered and resentful around that grit in their lives.
But the Bishop spoke about the weaving of God’s good purposes through events in our lives that we would never choose to happen. “Crises can be the bearers of grace.”
Julian of Norwich said, “In falling and rising again we are always held close in one love.”
An image the Bishop likes to use in his talks is one taken from his life as a dog-lover. He may be taking his two dogs for a walk and when they get the smell of an exciting rabbit, they rush off away from him after the rabbit. He calls loudly for them to come back. They know his voice. And yet they practice what we all do: “selective deafness”.
Another image comes from the bird world. The mother eagle puts sharp pointed uncomfortable things in the nest to make the eaglets fly.. Otherwise they would stay cosy in the nest. This is the only thing that makes them leave the nest, take wing and soar on the thermals.