For Contemplation and Discussion

A new element of the Fellowship's work is a regular online discussion group. While this group is only available to members, we will post the material we look at here for anyone to use in contemplation or discussion.

When I was young, I would avidly read Andy Capp cartoons. Not the first place you would think of for learning renowned works of poetry, but yet it was indeed here where I first heard of this great poem of John Donne. The scene was Andy Capp running down the street chased by Flo with her rolling pin, the rent man, and many other characters determined to catch him, mostly to exact money. Two of his friends were watching this scene and one remarked to the other, “No man is an island…. except Capp who is always surrounded by hot water!”

Not quite the effect Donne was looking for! But it did serve for me to look up the poem in its entirety, and it has been a favourite of mine since. It’s only in more recent times, however, that the truth of the poem has made an impact on me. It’s a truth that mystics throughout the centuries have understood. We are inexorably linked to one another, to the whole of creation and to the Divine.

It certainly feels, in society at large, that we have lost that connectivity with one another and we are living in a culture of ‘everyone for themselves’. We have seen huge spikes in racism and violence, in crimes against others, in the seemingly ever-growing class divide. We are living though a pandemic, yet, unlike in other times of great trial where people came together, we remain at odds with one another. My Facebook feed is full of posts from those who are shielding berating others for wanting to go out, and posts ranting against people not wearing masks for “no good reason” when they clearly do not know the situations of these people. We have clearly moved into a time of, “I don’t care for whom the bell tolls, as long as it’s not for me.”

 

But even if this is true of society at large, it is always countered by those who hold on to the truth that Donne iterates. So for meditation and discussion this week, we’d love to hear your thoughts on this and your stories of how you have felt that connection and the impact it has made on your experience and understanding.

Previous Topics

Click the title to go to the discussion.

Memories of Place 

Questions that may aid contemplation:

Do you have stories of place memories?

 

Do you think there is a reason that God may allow us to see these? Or is it purely those who are sensitive who can see them?

 

What do you think causes them? What role do emotions play in the 'recording' of these scenes?

This theme is based around an incident that happened here in the CFPSS office last summer. I was sat at my desk and glanced up towards the door. A man in a black coat and quite tall black hat ran past the window in the door (see first photo). This was rather interesting, not only because the clothes he was dressed in looked old-fashioned, but because the direction from which he ran is, in fact, a solid wall (see second photo). My husband and I did a little investigating and found that it's not possible to set off from a standing position at the wall and be up to speed passing the window.

 

The mills where the office is situated have plenty of stories of hauntings - so much so the Most Haunted did an episode from here some years ago (it can be viewed here) and there are several amateur videos on YouTube. I believe that this is was a place memory - an echo of a past event played out over and again without any sentience. The wall wasn't there in the days when the mills were in operation, so could this have been a replay of someone from the past running down a longer corridor? It was certainly interesting to observe.

 

Dreams

Questions that may aid contemplation:

Does God still speak through dreams today?

 

Are our dreams purely subjective in their meaning? Is there any place for interpreting our own dreams and those of others?

 

What dreams have you had that appeared significant? Have you had dreams that have spoken into events that have happened afterwards?

The image below is of an article from the New Scientist, 9th May 2020 about how and why this time of lockdown is affecting our dreams.

Dreaming is something we all do, whether we remember our dreams or not. Sometimes we feel strongly that our dreams have more significance than simply our subconscious minds processing our experiences.

The Bible is full of stories of dreams and dreamers, and of interpretation of dreams. From such stories, it is evident that God speaks to people through their dreams.

 

Suffering

This week's topic for discussion is 'suffering', and once again to spark our discussion we are looking at a passage from the novel Glamorous Powers by Susan Howatch.

Susan is a patron of the Fellowship and  the author of several books, including the Starbridge novels: a series of books written about the Church of England beginning in the late 1930s. The first, Glittering Images, follows a priest sent to report back to the Archbishop of Canterbury regarding a bishop who may have the potential to cause problems within the church. It becomes clear, as the novel progresses, the Bishop has certain psychic powers,. The second novel, Glamorous Powers (which is the origin of the material for discussion this week), follows an Abbot with the gifts of clairvoyance and healing as he leaves the sanctuary of his Order to find his calling in the world. In this week's passage he is comforting his wife after the death of a loved one.

 

More information about Susan and her novels can be found here: https://www.bookseriesinorder.com/susan-howatch/

The ancient question was again hammering on the door of mystery, the great mystery of the imperfect world, the great mystery of a Creator who would permit the impermissible, the great mystery of human suffering…

 

‘Those hard painful questions only seem unanswerable,’ I said, ‘because you’re viewing them from the wrong position: you’re in the world and looking out. But now step outside the world and look in. The first thing you’ll notice is that it’s a world of change. There’s this huge dynamic force, life, which is constantly banging against the walls of time and space as it contracts, expands and develops. Now step closer, and you’ll see this continuous change can’t be represented by a vertical line, only by a circle. Half the circle is dark and half is light. The dark side of change is suffering, the light side is growth, development, flowering, and the dark and the light follow each other endlessly in the great cycle of birth, death and resurrection. Now this means the light and the dark sides of the circle aren’t merely related to each other; they’re interdependent, and this interdependence means that without suffering there can be no growth, no development, no flowering. Without suffering, in fact, there would be no life as we know it; we’d all be wooden images, utterly static, in a world where nothing ever happened and where God’s love would fall on barren soil…

 

‘Now step back and look at the world from another angle. Look at it as an idea in the mind of God, a brilliant dynamic idea which we ourselves can’t fully grasp except that its dynamism ties us to the change we can’t escape. But beyond the idea, beyond the mind of God, is God himself, the unchanging perfection of ultimate reality. In other words, this cage we live in, this prison of time and space, isn’t ultimately real. [He] may have slipped out of the cage ahead of us, but that doesn’t mean he’s ceased to exist. As part of the ultimate reality his existence is reflected back into the world of time and space in the form of the absolute values, the values which can never die, and the value in which we can most clearly see him reflected is love.’

(Susan Howatch, Glamorous Powers, Diamond Books, London, 1988, P641)

Questions that may aid contemplation:

What resonates in this description?

 

What do you disagree with?

 

What would you add?

 

The Soul

This week's topic for discussion is 'the soul', and to spark our discussion we are looking at a passage from the novel Glamorous Powers by Susan Howatch.

Susan is a patron of the Fellowship and  the author of several books, including the Starbridge novels: a series of books written about the Church of England beginning in the late 1930s. The first, Glittering Images, follows a priest sent to report back to the Archbishop of Canterbury regarding a bishop who may have the potential to cause problems within the church. It becomes clear, as the novel progresses, the Bishop has certain psychic powers,. The second novel, Glamorous Powers (which is the origin of the material for discussion this week), follows an Abbot with the gifts of clairvoyance and healing as he leaves the sanctuary of his Order to find his calling in the world. In this passage he is trying to find the words to describe what happens when we die.

 

More information about Susan and her novels can be found here: https://www.bookseriesinorder.com/susan-howatch/

“You’re wondering if we can survive as individuals after death. Christianity says we do. On the other hand the Indian mystics claim that we don’t; we merely become absorbed in the Absolute. However Plotinus (who was probably the greatest religious philosopher who ever lived – and a pagan, incidentally) holds that although there’s a merging with other spirits individuality is retained; each soul is an individual as a face or body. So the question then becomes: what is the relation of this ‘soul’ to the ‘I’ of personality? Or in other words, who is it who survives after death? Is it the ego, the demanding self of our daily lives whom we know all too well? Or is the real self not the ego at all but the spiritual presence which we share with all human beings, the ennobled self which often prompts men to sacrifice for others, and share the burden of another’s suffering? ”

(Susan Howatch, Glamorous Powers, Diamond Books, London, 1988, P641)

Questions that may aid contemplation:

How far do you perceive we retain our individuality after death?

The passage above intimates that our 'real self', the part of us that survives death, is separate to our ego. What then should our response be to the ego?

What are some of the ways we nourish our souls, our 'real selves'?

What are some of the barriers we can face in seeking to bring to them to prominence? How do we overcome them?

 
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The Churches Fellowship for Psychical and Spiritual Studies

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