This year our conference was held at the Boar’s Hill Carmelite Friary – a first for our group. We were all impressed by the warmth of their welcome and the quality of the accommodation and food.
The Priory is set in acres of beautiful grounds overlooking the city of Oxford. There were 17 of us plus our speaker. Saturday was a very special day. It was the occasion of Br Bede Falconer O. Cist’s life vow (received by our Episcopal Adviser, Bishop Tony Robinson). We were joined by 4 visitors: the Prior of O. Cist, Fr. Geoff van der Weegen, Bede’s parish priest Noel and 2 other friends from his home church. The friends joined us for lunch after the service. It was also the occasion of the 50th anniversary of Fr. Barrie Williams’ ordination.
Our speaker was Sr Cecilia Goodman CJ – from St Bede’s Pastoral Centre in York. Here theme was “The Path of Prayer”. In her first address, she offered us a model outlining the main stages a person might pass through in their journey of prayer, from the moment of one’s initial awareness of the presence of God. She gave us very helpful insights into how we can recognise these stages in ourselves and in those we come alongside.
In her 2nd talk, she explored in greater depth, the phenomenon known as “the night of the spirit”: that time, usually later on in one’s spiritual journey when one is plunged into a time of doubt and confusion; a time when one’s sense of certainty and security are lost. Cecilia described the different ways in which this stage can manifest itself and gave us some helpful strategies for finding our way through. She emphasised that this is essentially a good and creative time when God is doing a deep work of transformation within. She also stressed that it is crucial to have a spiritual advisor who can accompany us through this time and help us recognise and respond appropriately to the signposts. She drew on the writings of St Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross, and St. Ignatius.
Her final talk was entitled “The God within”. She explored with us the different manifestations of the Prayer of Union. She began by describing the “The Prayer of Simple Regard and “The Prayer of Quiet” and went on to look at some of the ways in which God may be encountered during the Prayer of Union. She spoke about these later stages of prayer as a time when the initiative in prayer is more God’s rather than ours. It is an invitation to a deeper surrender.
It is impossible to do justice to all that was said in just a few paragraphs. Sr Cecilia has produced CDs on all these subjects and on many other aspects of prayer and spirituality. Here are a couple of links if you would like to get in touch with her and order some CDs for yourself: www.stbedes.org.uk or /and email@example.com Titles relating to this weekend are:
The Path of Prayer
When God goes missing
Breaking through the darkness
Next entry: Theology of the Single Consecrated life