The Forgotten Art of Listening

My Sisters and Brothers,

Dom Helder Camara was a little Brazilian priest who is probably most famous for his statement: “When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a communist.”

But to those who knew him, he was a man who lived entirely for God, and for others.

In the book A Thousand Reasons for Living (a collection of his nightly vigil meditations), the following was written in the introduction:

“The way Dom Helder spends his days is no mystery. They are completely available to others, to all and sundry, great and small, by appointment or unannounced. He listens, he advises. He listens, he gives a decision. He listens, he helps. Unfailingly present, available, attentive.”

I like that – he listens… he listens… he listens!

This reminds me of something I read about Pope John Paul II. It was written by a former member of the Swiss Guard in a book called The Pope and the CEO:

“Whenever I encountered the pope, it unfailingly felt as if I was the reason he got up in the morning. He was always fully present, keenly aware of what was going on in the heart and mind of the person to whom he spoke and far more interested in what you had to say to him than what he had to say to you. No matter what other pressing concerns awaited him at the end of your conversation, those concerns were seemingly absent from his mind while he was with you.

How different are these attitudes of listening to what most of us are used to? I think of myself – how I’m always talking. And even when I’m listening, I often catch myself thinking of what my reply will be.

But if we are to really connect with people, and be there for them, we need to learn to listen! We need to relearn this ancient lost art of TRULY LISTENING! With every part of ourselves.

I think about Jesus. The Gospels are a record of many things that Jesus said. But I also think He was a listener. When people came to Him, He listened deeply to what they had to say… so deep that He would often hear what their hearts were saying, even if their mouths couldn’t say it!

And that’s how we need to be!

I spoke about most of this in yesterday’s post. But I think it is worth repeating. If we want to be followers of Christ, we have to learn to listen as He listened. We need to devote ourselves entirely to listening deeply to what others are speaking to us – both verbally and non-verbally. Giving ourselves to them, wholly and completely, even for a few seconds, and let them know that they are worthy to be listened to! That as children of God, their presence means something!

May the Lord Jesus Christ fill you with His Mercy, and Love, and Compassion! And may He give us the grace to be true listeners, as He was, is, and always will be! Amen.

Being Present In the Great Loneliness

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Sliabh Meadhonach – the Great Loneliness, Iona Island

My Sisters and Brothers,

There’s a place on Iona known simply as Sliabh Meadhonach – the Great Loneliness. It is an actual place located towards the wild western side of the island… and yet it has no definable boundaries. You can’t look to any particular point and say, this is where the Great Loneliness starts, or this is where it ends.

But when you enter it, you know you’re in it!

It is a wild place of bog, and large rugged rock formations. But its most striking feature is its silence. All you hear is the north wind blowing, and maybe a bird singing far in the distance.

Right in the middle of this desert place is a small circle of stones, that once formed the base layer of an ancient hermit’s cell.

Every time I’ve visited this cell, I’ve wondered what it must have been like back in the time when the hermit lived there. Was it a completely isolated place suspended in the silence of the Great Loneliness? Or was there a steady stream of pilgrims that wound its way through the bog to visit, to confess their sins, to talk, to listen?

I think it may have been a bit of both. There were definitely times of complete isolation. But I also think this hermit had a total open-door policy… much like what existed with the desert monks of the east, or the Russian poustinikki.

In her book Poustinia (which means “desert”), Catherine Doherty describes these Russian desert dwellers:

“They were people who craved in their hearts to be alone with God and his immense silence. Why did they crave that silence, that solitude? For themselves? No. A hermit of this type, according to the Eastern spirituality, went into the poustinia for others.”

She goes on to describe what it was like to visit one of these “hermits”:

“There was a gracious hospitality about him, as if he were never disturbed by anyone who came to visit him. On the contrary, his face was a ‘welcome’ face. His eyes seemed to sparkle with the joy of receiving a guest. He seemed to be a listening person. A person of few words, but his listening was deep, and there was a feeling that he understood. In him St. Francis’ prayer seemed to become incarnate: he consoled, he understood, and he loved.”

This, I believe, is the model that the ancient Celtic hermits followed too. They withdrew from the world a bit… but they did so in order to become more available to the world!

In my last post, Beyond Time and Space, I wrote about us entering the spiritual realm, and going throughout the earth and the universe in prayer. But as we do that, let us never forget to keep our feet on the ground!

Like the Celtic saints of old, or the Russian poustinikki, let us live in the spiritual realm… but let us never forget to be totally present in the physical realm too! May we never get so caught up in being “spiritual” that we forget to be available to our neighbour!

One of the foundation stones of Celtic spirituality is hospitality. And if we desire to live as our Celtic Sisters and Brothers did, we need to embody this spirit of hospitality that so characterised them!

An old Celtic saying describes a Christian as one whose door is closed to no one, and whose food is offered to everyone!

If we desire to be like these Celts – if we desire to be Christian! – we must connect with our fellow man. Yes, we can withdraw from time to time – even Jesus did that! But let us always – ALWAYS! – be available! Let us connect and develop deep relationships with everyone whom God places upon our path! And let us never walk past another human without noticing them. Sometimes hospitality can be as simple as smiling at someone!

May the God who became flesh fill you with the desire to be wholly present to everyone! May His Light and Love fill you to overflowing so that you may take that Light and Love to all the corners of the world! Amen.

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Hermit Cell, Iona Island

Beyond Time and Space

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Dear Sisters and Brothers,

This photo is of my little prayer space. It’s nothing fantastic – just a bookcase, with a few items on it that help me focus on praying. They change from time to time, but at the moment, the centre-piece is a Celtic cross made from 5,000 year old Irish turf, a Communion chalice and plate from Iona, a small crucifix from the Vatican, a candle holder (also from the Vatican) depicting the Archangel Michael crushing Satan’s head, and an incense holder in which I burn pure frankincense resin (and a couple of tea-light holders… but they’re just there for the candles).

Like I said, it’s nothing fantastic… but this is where I go into battle!

This little space is my battle field. And every day, I go into this space in order to enter the spiritual realm and attack the forces of darkness that are hell-bent on destroying humanity!

Sometimes I sit. Sometimes I kneel. Most often, I pace up and down. But when I enter this space, I am entering a space that is actually outside of space! And time too.

From here, I wander the whole world! In a second, my prayers can take me to China, or Brazil, or Laos, or Cuba! Whatever country God lays on my heart, I can be there straight away, just by entering His presence in prayer!

Every day, I am with our Sisters and Brothers in the persecuted underground Church, as I lift them up in prayer. I am in the war zones of the world, and the poverty. Sometimes my prayers take me to nice places too… but where there are souls crying out for someone to pray for them. I am with all the pilgrims wandering around the planet, searching for hope and meaning. And I am with you also!

Every day, I lift up to God everyone who may read this blog. Although we don’t know each other, I pray that God will use these words that I write to bless you.

I also have a small jar of anointing oil from Israel. Sometimes God lays upon my heart someone who is ill. When that happens, I anoint my hands with the oil, lift them up to heaven, and pray that God will send the anointing and blessing to the one who needs healing!

Just today, God placed on my heart a Brother in the Faith who is being imprisoned in North Korea. I believe he has tuberculosis, and is suffering a great deal. To be honest, I felt God was actually asking a friend of mine to pray for him. She has the gift of healing, and I believe God wanted her to lift this Brother up. But I joined her from my little space outside of space. I anointed my hands with oil, and lifted them up to heaven for our suffering Brother.

From here, I also go beyond this world. From this little space, my prayers take me throughout the whole universe, praying that God will keep all the planets in their orbits. Praying for the groaning of the universe at what the sins of mankind have done to this planet.

No, this isn’t a small, insignificant space at all. This is a space that is huge! It has no walls, windows, or doors, but is open to the whole world. Every day, people from all over the planet gather in this little space with me. And not just people, but angels, and also the cloud of witnesses that the Bible speaks about (Hebrews 12:1).

And it’s open to you too! If you need prayer for anything, come into this space and let us pray for you. And if you want to pray, come in also! Create your own little space – a corner in your bedroom, a place in nature, wherever – and travel the world with me! Our individual spaces will grow bigger and bigger until they merge together into one giant space that encompasses the whole world! The whole universe! And together we will battle the forces of darkness, and lift up the suffering, and pray for the sick!

Don’t ever allow your prayers to become limited. You can lay hands on a sick person thousands of miles away through the power of prayer! You can sit with a suffering prisoner in a solitary confinement cell on the other side of the world! You can listen to the unheard voices, speak to the lonely, comfort the grieving… all through the power of prayer!

So find your space, wherever it may be. Consecrate it with your prayers. And take it into a space outside of space, where the whole world can gather!

May the Lord Jesus Christ fill you with His Light and Love and Peace! Amen.

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An In-between Time

Sisters and Brothers,

Today is Ascension Day, when we celebrate and remember Jesus ascending into heaven, with the promise that He will return again!

This is a time of great joy, as we know that our King is now seated on His rightful throne! But it also begins a time of waiting. Before He left, Jesus told His disciples to wait in Jerusalem until the Father sent the Holy Spirit… which happened ten days later on Pentecost.

Personally, I don’t believe that during this time, the disciples sat around doing nothing. I think it was a time of preparation – a time of deep prayer and study of the Scriptures so that their hearts would be ready for the coming of the Spirit.

And this is what we should be doing in this “waiting” period between Ascension and Pentecost. We should set this time apart as a time to pray, a time to raise our hearts to God, and a time to prepare for the Holy Spirit to move!

Pentecost is only ten days away! Let us be prepared for the Spirit to move mightily in and through us!

May the God of heaven and earth open your heart to the movement of His Spirit, and may His Grace be upon you as you prepare your Soul for the mighty outpouring of Pentecost!

In the Name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit! Amen.

The Real Celts

My Sisters and Brothers,

Over this past decade, there has been a massive resurgence in everything Celtic. There have never been so many books written on the subject. And there have never been so many people identifying with the spirit of our Celtic ancestors.

But, as with many things in our modern culture, something has happened in this resurgence. That ancient spirit that swept across these British Isles like a wildfire, seems to have been watered down. Tamed. And a lot of new age ideas have crept into the modern practice of this ancient belief.

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St Columba’s Bay, Iona

Just a few days ago, I was sitting on the pebble shore of St Columba’s Bay at the south end of the small island of Iona, thinking about this very thing.

This was the spot where St Columba and his twelve companions landed in the year 563, having travelled from Ireland in handmade coracles. There was nothing tame about their journey, which was left to the mercy of the wind and the waves! And there was nothing tame about their landing on Iona. At that time, Iona was known as Innis nan Druinich – the Island of the Druids. And if the ancient Roman accounts are true, these druids weren’t peaceful priests dancing in forest groves. They practiced human sacrifice and cannibalism! But the old stories tell us that St Columba and his handful of disciples, fought off these druidic priests, not with physical swords, but with the power of God! And from that moment, these spiritual warriors went into all of Scotland, fighting against the forces of darkness in order to bring in the Light of Christ!

This side of Celtic Christianity has sadly been lost in the modern interpretation. We read about “nice” things – their love for nature, their soul friendships, their blessings and songs. Don’t get me wrong, all these things are part of Celtic Christianity, and I plan to write about them in later posts. But behind all that was a people who weren’t afraid of battle!

Whenever the Celtic saints went into the “desert”, it wasn’t to retire from the world. It was to fight for the world – to advance the Kingdom of God!

The spiritual realm was as real to them as this physical realm was, and they had a very deep understanding that there was a battle raging all around them… as it rages around us today! But they – and us! – have been called to rise up as mighty prayer warriors, and send the enemy fleeing! Each and every one of us has been called to be a warrior for Christ, clothed in the armour of God, fighting for King and Kingdom!

So as we explore this rich heritage of ours, let us never forget this part. Let us follow in the footsteps of Columba and his disciples, and all the other Celtic saints. And let us wage war in the spiritual realm, never retreating! Always advancing!

May the Lord bless you and keep you!

 

 

Dia Dhaoibh!

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Celtic cross on the Isle of Iona

My Sisters and Brothers, Dia dhaoibh!

Dia dhaoibh is a traditional Gaelic greeting, which literally means “God to you!”

And this is the greeting I want to send to you in this first post – God to you! May the God of heaven and earth fill you and be with you as you read these words, and become a part of this community of souls in the mist!

My prayer is that this is exactly what this blog will eventually be – not just one person writing words… but a community of like-minded and like-souled pilgrims walking this road of life together!

I envision a community of warriors rising up, encircling their lands with prayer, and battling the forces of darkness as the ancient Celtic saints did!

I see a community going out with Love before them, healing this broken world in the Name of Jesus Christ, our King!

If this resonates with you, please come in! Join us in this mission! Raise your hands and hearts to heaven, as our Celtic Sisters and Brothers did so long ago!

May God the Father bless you with abundant blessings! May the Son fill you with His Light! And may the Spirit empower you to spread that Light into all the world! Amen.

Your Brother and Soul Friend,

Craig