Sunday, 22 November 2009

Sin is Personal

If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being.

A.I. Solzhenitsyn

This little quotation says so much to me.   Some people say that they think of me as being good, but I know myself to be a sinner.  My heart contains so much to be sorry for, as well as so much to be grateful for.

For example, only one of many, I have a terrible temper, especially when I blame myself for something.  I am liable to go into a complete ranting rage at a moment's notice.  There appears to be nothing that I can do about it.  I also have difficulties with other passions.  Most of these are habits, and I would dearly like to have them behind me.

In fact when I think about it, I have all the passions: Pride, Anger, Lust, Envy, Gluttony, Avarice, Sloth; but also in some strange way hints of all the virtues: Humility, Patience, Chastity, Contentedness, Temperance, Liberality, and Diligence.  This is what Aleksandr is saying in the quote above.  Defeating sin is about moving our own personal dividing lines.

And defeating sin is an internal battle: the devil is pretty simplistic in his approach, "if he did it yesterday, lets see if we can fool him into doing it again today" is his favourite ploy.  Not being a creator, he doesn't do well in the innovation stakes.  For true innovation in sinning you want a human, but once invented the devil is quite happy to nudge you into it time after time after time...

It's easy to say "avoid the opportunities for sin", but in practise this is impossible.  Yes, we can avoid pubs to avoid drink, but then we cut ourselves off from companionship with people for whom we may be called to help.  I could give up woodwork, so that I didn't get angry when I cut the wood wrong - but then I couldn't make the things that people love.  We could give up marriage, so we couldn't hurt the ones we love.

In fact we can't avoid sin, it is already in our hearts.  All we can do is turn back every time to God and repent - and then ask for Grace to do better.  Only God can take the stain of sin from our hearts, and He will only do it if he is asked.

This is what is meant by "standing in the struggle".

St Basil the Great wrote this:

Blessed, therefore, is he who did not continue in the way of sinners but passed quickly by better reasoning to a pious way of life.  For there are two ways opposed to each other, the one wide and broad, the other narrow and close ...  Now,  the smooth and downward way has a deceptive guide, a wicked demon, who drags his followers through pleasure to destruction, but the rough and steep way has a good angel, who leads his followers through the toils of virtue to a blessed end.

Notice the words 'continue' and 'quickly' in the first sentence, and the phrase 'toils of virtue' in the last. And this is a story about a monk from Kiev:

A brother asked Abba Sisoes, saying, "What shall I do, Abba, for I have fallen?"  The old man answered, "Get up again."  The brother says,"I got up and fell again."  The old man continued, "Get up again and again."  The brother asked, "'till when?"  The old man answered, "Until you have been seized either by virtue or by sin."

It's clear then, the Fathers tell us that we have to find a way to the rough and steep path that leads to the blessed end. But that we will step off that path, and when we do we must immediately step back on again, albeit a little further from our goal. Confess the sin, turn to God, immediately begin to struggle upwards again.

What, after all, was the Problem in The Garden of Eden?  Was it the eating of the forbidden fruit?  Or was it, perhaps, the lie, the attempt to hide the broken commandment, the fear of being found out?  Yes, the breaking of the command was the sin, but the stain on their hearts, on our hearts still today, is the fear of being found out.  This is why we must immediately confess and ask for forgiveness - the longer we wait the worse the stain, the worse the rot.

A quote from St. Silouan of Athos:

The heart-stirrings of a good man are good; those of a wicked person are wicked; but everyone must learn how to combat intrusive thoughts, and turn the bad into good. This is the mark of the soul that is well versed.

How does this come about, you will ask?

Here is the way of it: just as a man knows when he is cold or when he feels hot, so does the man who has experienced the Holy Spirit know when grace is in his soul, or when evil spirits approach.

The Lord gives the soul understanding to recognize His coming, and love Him and do His will. In the same way the soul recognizes thoughts which proceed from the enemy, not by their outward form but by their effect on her [the soul].

This is knowledge born of experience;  and the man with no experience is easily duped by the enemy.

The Lord should have the last word here (Luke 6:45):

The good man out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil man out of his evil treasure produces evil; for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.

Friday, 13 November 2009

On Sin

The traditional understanding of sin in this country (England) derives mostly from the Roman concepts of legal debt and erroneous concept of the Latin Church that Adam's fall changed us into creatures somehow different from those that God created in Eden.

The idea that sin is in some way held in a kind of 'account', and then meritorious works somehow cancel these debts, is part of the Latin heritage, and it has permeated the language of the Anglican church too. I find this unhelpful as a concept, the thought of having to pay off my account is enough to send me into deep deep depression. Because, like St Paul, I am a great sinner, and like him I persecuted and pilloried the faithful for many years. God be praised that also like him I have seen the light, albeit not quite as brightly – yet.

These are not, however, the concepts of the early Church Fathers who saw sin as a turning away from, or rejection, of God AND his offer of Eternal Life in Him. For the Fathers Adam's fall was as if the Perfection of Adam was obscured by sin, under that shroud the perfection is still in existence – we are still made “in His image” - only God can see it, but it is still there. Christ shows us by his submission, even to revilement and death, the way back to God and to perfection. This is the triumph of the Cross, that by submission to God we can all be made perfect, but the way leads though agony. This is however a cup that you can pick up, or one you can let go by.

All the Fathers agree that God has given his creatures complete freedom to choose, and we retain that freedom forever. It is not the belief in God that brings salvation - the devil and the fallen angels know full well the truth, but have rejected it – it is the acceptance of God's will that enables Him to bring salvation.

This is why it is so important to understand that Jesus was both fully Man and fully God. In his Humanity he shows us what can be achieved if we ask. He did conquer all the temptations of a human life, and then, just for us, submitted to the agony of death and resurrection. He didn't need to go though the agony for himself, he didn't go to 'pay off' our account of sins. No, he went through the agony to show us what God could achieve if we ask him, and to show us that the process would bring pain before it brought life. The Fathers also taught that while in the tomb he showed this to all the dead, so opening the way to life, even to them. On Great Pascha (Passover, Easter) the Orthodox sing the hymn (it's much better in Greek):

Christ is risen from the dead,

Trampling down death by death,

And to those in the tombs he has given Life.

When you next go to St Bega's, Bassenthwaite, look at the ancient Crucifix over the pulpit, the Cross stands in the open tomb, the scull and bones are Adam's; but they are ours too.

So how do we handle our sin? The first thing to say is “turn back to God”, which is another way of saying “pray”. You have broken the relationship you had with Him, so do what you would do for any relationship that you have broken and want to mend – ask for forgiveness. But don't get hung up on the sin, it isn't an irretrievable situation – this is Christ's Good News: “life for sinners, follow me!” And don't get into self over-analysis, that way leads to depression - an opportunity for the devil - it is no way out, and it leads to death.

A wise man, probably a modern saint, Archimandrite Sophrony Sakharov (the title means roughly Chief Abbot – a monk, he died in Essex) said: “You know, we pick and poke away, hunting for every little mistake or thought, and we make ourselves crazy, all for nothing. It becomes an obsession, and really makes a wall between us and God, leaving no room for grace to act. Yes, we must know our sins, and that we are sinful and deluded beings, but we must never lose sight of the fact that we come to God in prayer, not to be obsessed with our sins, but to find His mercy. Otherwise the devil takes everything away from us… joy, hope, peace, love… and leaves us nothing but this obsession with our mistakes. That is not repentance. That is neurosis…”

Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, now and forever. Amen.

This is joy of our faith that we can, with utter confidence, say: “Lord have mercy.”

Love, Richard.

Friday, 6 November 2009

Prayer Unceasing

I submitted this article to The Binsey Beacon. It was published in the December 2009/January 2010 edition. It's a follow-up to my last blog entry (see below). I rather unashamedly have plagiarised some words from Fr James Coles's blog Scholé (It's my favourite blog right now)

Prayer Unceasing.

In my last letter to The Binsey Beacon (Sept 2009), I wrote about unceasing prayer, as advocated by Saint Paul in 1 Thess 5:17. I thought it might be helpful to expand a bit on what I mean by 'unceasingly'.

I have been studying the writings of the Holy Fathers, the so called 'Patriarchs of the Church', holy men who lived in the first centuries after The Resurrection of Our Lord. Some of these were taught by the Apostles, but all were very close in time to people who heard Our Lord speak – the oral tradition was still very strong. So I count their testament very highly. The study of their writings is called 'Patristics' for obvious reasons.

The study of Patristics has occupied the Eastern Church, The Orthodox in particular, throughout the years since, and many of the more recent orthodox writers have followed the tradition of the Holy Fathers too. It's interesting to note that of all the manuscripts (velum, parchment, and papyrus) that we still have from ancient times, the fragments of the Gospels and Epistles are the most numerous, and then the writings of Fathers about them. You can tell the popularity of a manuscript by the number of copies that were made – and hence the likelihood that they will survive the vagaries of time. This may be a good topic for another letter.

To return to prayer unceasing. It is pretty impossible to do nothing but say prayers all the time. You have to wash and dress and cook and work, otherwise you will die. This story about Saint Anthony the Great (c251-356) is helpful.

Abba Anthony fell into discouragement and a great darkening of thoughts, he said to God, “Lord, I want to be saved but these thoughts do not leave me alone - what shall I do in my affliction? How can I be saved?” A short while afterwards, when he got up to go out, Anthony saw a man like himself sitting at his work, getting up from his work to pray, then sitting down and plaiting a rope, then getting up again to pray. It was an angel of the Lord sent to correct and reassure him. He heard the angel saying to him, “Do this and you will be saved.” At these words, Anthony was filled with joy and courage. He did this, and he was saved.”

Even work is prayer if it is dedicated to God. Saint Gregory the Theologian (of Nazianzus) said, “remember God more often than you breathe.” Prayer is to be as natural to us as breathing, or thinking, or speaking. Somehow we need to get into the habit of prayer so that everything becomes a part of it. The point is briefly expressed in one of the Sayings of the Desert Fathers: “A monk who prays only when he stands up for prayer is not really praying at all.” (Anonymous) Saint Antiochus of the Monastery of St. Sabbas (7th C) , alludes to the words of Ecclesiastes 3:1-7 when he says: “There is a proper time for everything except prayer: as for prayer, its proper time is always.”

So when we speak of unceasing prayer we are not saying that the words must be said unceasingly, but we are saying that the mind must be in the heart, and the heart and mind turned constantly towards God, no matter what we are doing. Again then, I suggest to you that repeating a simple prayer a goodly number of times just after you awaken, will set the mind in the heart and on God. At frequent intervals throughout the working day further short periods of concentrated focus on God are needed. And finally to go to sleep with the prayer echoing in the mind: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner”.

Remember, at this time of year especially, that He came to give you Life. What are you going to give Him for Christmas: attention, adoration, love?

His Peace be with you all this Christmas and throughout 2010. Richard.

Private Prayer

This is a reprint of a letter I wrote to The Binsey Beacon, my local church newspaper (Anglican).  It was published in the September 2009 edition.  Without it my next blog won't make much sense.

On Private Prayer

He is like a still pool, a perfect reflection - and yet it is the still pool that is the refection of the perfect Him.

Isn’t it amazing how much you can say in just a few words? True prayer isn’t about words, it’s about relationship. It’s about standing with God, at peace with Him as He is at peace with you. The hard part is silencing the noisy ego-self with it’s constant prattling on about the things we see and hear and feel. We need to put our mind in our heart, and not in our brain.

Perhaps you have sat quietly just holding the hand of someone you love deeply. To hold a newborn asleep in your arms. To stand on a mountain, silenced by the splendour, so grateful to have lived to feel that serenity. Standing in prayer is like that - no words, just love

If you know what I mean, then you’ll also know how fleeting these moments are, how infrequently we let ourselves love so deeply, how hard it is to achieve that degree of rapport. It can’t be done on demand, all you can do is to stand there, and wait, and hope.

Sometimes you will have to pour out all your worries and concerns, a great rush of words and emotions, before you can stand in silence - eventually, just to love. Sometimes you stand in silence just hoping for a single word, but it doesn’t come. Sometimes your senses will put you straight into the right mode, a smell, or a sound, or perhaps a loved-ones gentle touch, and there you are.

And even more frequently you can’t get anywhere at all, but the half-memory of the bliss makes you yearn for what you can’t quite recall.

This is where a prayer like The Jesus Prayer can help. A simple prayer, one that you can repeat easily meaning every word, concentrating on just the words, letting the ego exhaust itself, while you put your heart into the prayer. The important thing is the prayer, that is where all your focus should be. Don’t worry about all the things you want God to do, He knows. Don’t worry about all the sins you remember, He already forgave. Don’t worry about listening for His reply, you’ll hear Him when He needs you to.

Lord Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner

Say it now. “Lord” - yes, that’s the right attitude - submit. “Jesus Christ” - yes, the God who became like me to suffer as I do and die for me. “Son of God” - yes, the whole Holy Trinity: Father, Son, and Spirit. “Have mercy on me” - in the end that’s all I can ask, because I acknowledge that I am “a sinner”. To say the prayer is to assume the attitude of love, to put your mind into your heart, and do nothing but what you are made for - Love. God does all the rest. As Saint Paul says in 1 Thess 5:17:

Pray without ceasing.

Yes - forever...

Love, Richard.

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Discovering the Saints

When I started to read Fr John's book "The Living Tradition of the Saints", I realised at once that it was going to take some time.  I had already read Fr John's booklet that explains the fundamental elements of Orthodox Tradition. And I was familiar from the works of Fr John Main OSB and Fr Laurence Freeman OSB with their ideas, derived in part from Saint John Cassian's documentation of the ascetic tradition of the Desert Fathers, and their modern rediscovery of Benedictine Christian Meditation.  Fr John had also explained the concept of Theosis to me in conversation.

Now to my simple mind (ha!) the ideas seemed very similar, and also struck chords with Zen and other mystic eastern ideas. Calm the ego, focus the mind on a simple idea, and then wait for the change to happen.  But walking this path with Our Lord, his Holy Apostles, and the Saints discovers a completely different perspective.  The issue is not the method, the issue is the objective.  It is the fundamental question: "Do you want to be eternally in the closest possible relationship with God?"

I say "do you want" because the concept of Free Will comes across as the single greatest respect that the Creator has for his creation.  God never forces anything on us, and if it seems like He is, then you have misunderstood.  This is Love, love is Respect, respect taken to the ultimate level.

I say "eternally", because once embarked on, this journey leads beyond the grave and "forever and ever" or, as the orthodox prayers have it "to the ages of ages".  And a wonderful idea is developed in this concept of eternity, that the relationship can get closer even after death.

I say "closest possible" because when we start on this journey we have no concept at all of how close the relationship can be.  The best guess we have comes from Our Lord's references to the first person of the Trinity as Father, we may be lucky and understand that a little, but maybe not.  What heights can this relationship reach?

And "relationship" is what it's all about.  All the stories of the Saints tell us this, a Saint is one who demonstrably achieves a close relationship with God.  We can tell this from their demeanour, from their works, and from their effects on others.

Finally, ultimately, the most important word is "God".  God is the end of all prayer, of all worship, of all longing, indeed all living.  There must be acceptance that the relationship is of creature to Creator.  The wonder is in discovering that this surrender is victory - if you doubt this look at the story of The Cross.

Fr John's book describes his journey through the scriptures, and by meeting the Saints in their stories.  He draws out the little nuggets of great wisdom from all this.  It is not an easy comfortable read.

So I started, I found I could read maybe half a page at a time, perhaps two pages a day.  There are 375 pages, and it took about nine months.  I did stop on occasion and read other things.  I also started, for the first time in my life, to really pray.

I found that I now had a method of prayer that works for me.  I'm not decrying others their methods, but for me I need a deep sanctity and a peace that I find now both in public and private prayer.

In private prayer, I sit alone, preferably in the quiet dark. I say the Jesus Prayer a few times, then try to concentrate all my attention on God, it's a sense of will, focus, striving, longing.  I have to remember to breathe.  I can't do it for long, so I say the Jesus Prayer again for a while and concentrate on that.  Then back to the focus on God.  At the moment I think of Him as a kind of Bright Darkness all about me - I expect this will change.  This goes on for as long as it does, sometimes just a few minutes.

I also like to stand and say the Hours, or the Rule of Saint Pachomius.  These are for when there is a lot going on in the head. Just the discipline of singing a Psalm or two, and the the ancient prayers as they have been said for almost two millennia, makes worries float away, and grounds me in the importance of my relationship with God.

In public prayer, whether in the local Anglican Churches, or at Matins, Vespers, or even The Liturgy with Fr John, I pray the set prayers with as much ardour as I can muster.  I get so much more from the formal prayer now that I have a proper prayer-life away from the church and the congregation.

And what has this achieved?  Well maybe nothing.  Maybe I would have become more calm, less aggressive, more loving, less critical, and all the other things if I had just prayed like my Anglican brothers.  I don't know.  This is certainly harder work.

I have not made the step of becoming Orthodox, I'm not able to cut myself off from communion with my beloved friends, and I may never do that.  I may never be able to take a full part in the Orthodox Mysteries, at least not here on earth.  At the moment this is a tension, so I'll let The Lord handle it.

There are some downsides to this programme of prayer too.  God shows me quite often how much evil I still have inside me.  I wake from sleep with terrible dreams still echoing in my mind on occasion.  The Fathers say that this is not unusual, God has a lot of unpacking of sins to do before I can move forward.  I have to see these things and, with my free will, throw them away, to forgive myself, if you will.

And sometimes I have to stop and take a rest, not a rest from the relationship with God, but a rest from getting closer.  He is so wonderful that I need time to contemplate Him from this vast distance.

I find having read what I've written here that I didn't say much about Fr John's book after all.  The orthodox insights into the scriptures, the lives of the early Saints, how the schism between the Greek and Latin church evolved, the Saints of the modern era especially St John of the Cross with Saint Teresa of Ávila, and later still Saint Thérèse of Lisieux, Saint Silouan of Athos and Archimandrite Sophrony Sakharov.  Maybe we can get to that later.

Sunday, 11 October 2009

Three years searching

This second post to my new blog is intended to bring my journey of faith a bit further forward.

Following that midnight conversion experience, I didn't throw myself into things.  I waited and prayed.  I read a lot, and in particular started to listen hard to the Vicar's sermons.  Most people around here are evangelical Anglican or Methodist, maybe not Sola Scriptura, but pretty close, and I couldn't see that - after all the first Christians only had the Hebrew Scriptures.  The local church is low Anglican (The Church of England is a broad church, as they say), quite a long way from my Catholic heritage.  Services are fairly predictable from the Common Worship style, although there are still Churches where only the 1662 Common Prayer Book is used.

However, the Vicar led prayer meetings too, and I soon started going to these, and also to some of the Bible Studies that he ran.  The prevailing prayer style appears as Chatting to God.  I'm  not really inclined to this, as it seems to me that the important thing is to foster the relationship with God, yes by confessing our cares and yes, by being open to him, but in some way no one was telling me how to do that.  And in Bible study groups the pace is governed by the level at which the group can go - and many people can't go further than a very literal interpretation.  I end up in such groups either dominating or silent and unsatisfied. In short, this way lies anger, despair, and sin.

Still, I met some wonderful people, they are all dearly loved friends now, and I could not be without them.

I had the opportunity to represent the parish at the local Churches Together group, and that has helped me a lot.  It's given me a better view of what others believe, and how others do things.  Boy, the Catholic Church has changed since I knew it in the 1970's; and the Society of Friends have wonderful meetings that I love. Even the local Charismatic church has a lot to offer, but for me it isn't right.

Then one day, Ros came home from a History Society meeting, they had been addressed by a local clergyman about the Local Celtic Saints.  After the meeting she had met an Orthodox Deacon who had retired with his wife to the area, and was setting up a Community - Saint Herbert, Saint Mungo, and Saint Bega - the local Celtic Saints!

Well, of course, we had to invite him to the next Churches Together meeting, and there I met him.  Fr John's approach is to hug everyone, I think it's Russian, although he is very British.  He expects a full kiss too, no chaste cheek touching.  He rather impressed me.  We got talking, he told me that he had a Chapel in his attic, with full frescos on all the walls.  I invited him for tea (well, I'm English, it's what you do) and we have become firm friends.

About this time our local vicar resigned from the church - the pressures of the job had given him what was close to a nervous breakdown.  It's completely understandable, we have two priests for nine parishes.  We were lucky, we got a new man in just six months, but they were a long six months for me.

Just about then too, Fr John asked me if I knew how he could ask the Church of England for the loan of St Bega's Church for his ordination to the priesthood - he wanted an ancient place that was big enough for his bishop and all those who would want to come.  St Bega's certainly pre-dates the Great Schism, it was built in stone about 950, but there was probably a wooden church there before that.

Saint Bega is one of the patrons of his community too, and it would be the first time in over 1000 years that an Orthodox Bishop ordained a priest to serve in Cumbria.  In due course we managed that difficult introduction between Bishop Basil of Amphipolis, and my lord Bishop Graham of Carlisle which resulted in special permission being given, and a year ago this weekend Deacon John was dragged to a little travelling altar I made in the crossing of St Bega's and ordained a priest.  It was my first Orthodox Liturgy.

Fr John arrived on our doorstep a few days later with a copy of his great book: "The Living Tradition of the Saints, and the significance of their teaching for us".  That book, and the man that goes with it, changed everything again.

And I think that will do for today.

First Post

Well, at last, a Blog!

I'm not quite sure where this is going, but it seems that I usually have a lot to say, so we shall see if I also have a lot to write.

A little bit of history to start with seems appropriate, although I don't plan to start at the beginning, if you want that go to my CV on my webpage.

I started writing about my faith a couple of years ago, and then as it developed, so did my writing.  I am a bit of mixed-up-kid when it comes to faith, but I am trying to sort that out, as you'll see.

My father was brought up in a staunch Roman Catholic family in England's county Durham.  We suspect that, at least on his mother's side, there was a strong dose of Irish genes.  Father's mother wanted him to become a priest, and sent him to a Marist School, which he hated.  In rebellion, he became an Industrial Chemist, and in due course met my mother.

Mother's family were green-grocers from Hatfield, about 20 miles north of London, and she was an Anglican, who sang in the local church choir.  As was necessary in those days, she formally converted to Catholicism to marry father, and in due course when I was born early in 1950, I was baptised by the Catholic priest at St Bonaventure's Church in Welwyn Garden City.

Soon after this my father took the next step in his revolution and stopped all contact with the Catholic Church.  Since that day, he is 89 as I write, he has professed himself an atheist.  Mother brought my younger brother and me up as Anglicans, and in about 1958 she was formally received back into the Church of England.

In the fullness of time, in about 1965, I went to confirmation classes, and was duly confirmed by the Bishop of St Albans in the Parish Church at Baldock in Hertfordshire.  It didn't take!

Soon after I left home in 1968 to go to University (Kent at Canterbury), I met and became close friends (platonic) with a catholic girl, and became quite interested in Catholicism.  One of the local churches was on my way to college from my digs, and I would drop in to hear the 8am Mass (Tridentine - in Latin).  Eventually I asked the University Catholic Chaplain, Fr Francis Moncrieff, for instruction, and formally converted later that year, being re-confirmed at Westminster Cathedral by the then Archbishop.

Then I met the Franciscan friars who had a house on campus, and was very enamoured of their simple life and easy-going manner.  This seemed to be what God was calling me to, and I made preliminary steps with a view to joining the Order of Friars Minor when I graduated.

But then I met Rosalinde, and suddenly the celibate life of a Poor Friar didn't seem at all the right direction.  Ros was, and is, an Anglican - firm and unshakable in her faith.  A couple of years after graduation we were married.  I didn't even ask her if she would mind a Catholic wedding, we were married in the Parish Church of St James, Weybridge, by Canon Buckley.  It was as Anglican as it gets.

My faith faded away.  I have to say in retrospect that I did very little to foster it.  At first I'd go to Mass on my own, and then I'd go to Church with Ros, and eventually I became agnostic and stopped going all together.  I read a lot, and found myself in what today would be the Dawkins camp.  A proselytising atheist.

This history has reached about 1976.  From then until about 2004 - 28 years - not one little glimmer of religious zeal was to be seen.  Oh, I did flirt with Buddhism, but that was never religious, it was much more philosophical, and I did read the Koran, well, I read everything - I still do!

When we retired to Cumbria we worried that we wouldn't know anyone, so we decided that we would go to the local village church as a way to meet people and get involved.  I have to say I was complete fraud - I'd sit through the service, maybe mumble the hymns a bit, but I was there for Ros really.  But the people were open, loving, and friendly, the sermons were good, very very good.  And gradually I noticed that I was listening with interest.  God bless the Reverend Ian, a gifted preacher, teacher, and learned biblical scholar - and a troubled soul.

One night, as I lay awake in the depths of the dark, I just felt I had to ask the question: "Do you really exist?", and as clearly as if it had been shouted in my ear, I knew the answer was "YES".  There was not, in fact, any sound, no loud voice, no Pauline flash of light.  I wasn't blinded, but I was convinced.

I told Ros at breakfast.  Next Sunday I took communion.  Everything changed.