I am delighted to share another beautiful submission for the Monk in the World guest post series from the community. Read on for Kate Kennington Steer’s reflection on the power of a word:
As the seasons shift again and the year moves into what I think of as its dying arc, I have been prompted yet again to return to the word I was given at the end of Advent last year: Welcome.
Welcome is all ‘about’ answering the Spirit’s invitation to listen, live and love more deeply as I follow in the footsteps of the Way to and with Christ. It is an all embracing word: whatever arrives in this day will come; its coming is beyond my power to control; and further, this coming will be ‘well’, in a way which will most probably be completely beyond my comprehension. My definition of welcome needs must be expansive and encompassing, and as I have been exploring its meanings and themes I have been reminded of TS Eliot’s echo of Julian of Norwich’s words,
And all shall be well and
All manner of the thing shall be well
The example of faith that these echoes proffer to me is a particular challenge – and comfort – when I find myself unmoored by periods of severe depression or struggling with the necessity of long periods of retreat from the world by a bad patch of ill health. Welcome assures me that fear is not the final word, wherever my explorations will take me.
Part of my recent commitment to unravelling the mysteries embedded in welcome is praying Thomas Keating’s famous ‘welcoming prayer’ each morning before I begin my period of centering prayer. I am finding it draws together strands of definitions I have already glimpsed and throws open the windows of my soul to other meanings:
Welcome, welcome, welcome.
I welcome everything that comes to me today because I know that it is for my healing.
I welcome all thoughts, feelings, emotions, persons, situations, and conditions.
I let go of my desire for power and control.
I let go of my desire for affection, esteem, approval and pleasure,
I let go of my desire for survival and security.
I let go of my desire to change any situation, condition, person or myself.
I open to the love and presence of God and God’s action within.
Praying this prayer is not easy – at all! The challenge to ‘let go’ of the key drivers that underlie and inform all of my behaviour brings to the fore all my fears in one fell swoop. I am presently finding it difficult to get past the second line: that welcome is ‘about’ healing, even though it was partly recognising this very need of God in every way that brought me to this word for this year. But ‘everything … is for my healing’? I know that embedded in here is the Invitation: the possibility that, through the presence of the Holy Spirit opening my eyes to noticing what keeps me from God, all my reactions to whatever arrives this day may lead me into closer relationship with God. The Invitation is the beckoning of possibility – that all may be redeemed by Grace. This is the freedom I am continually offered, and repeatedly fail to see. As St Ignatius says, ‘there are very few people who realise what God would make of them if they abandoned themselves into his hands, and let themselves be formed by his grace.’
For all the difficulties I create for myself, on some mornings I have a glimmer of the possibility of understanding. This creates a hope in me which prays with Wendell Berry that since it is
A grace living here as we live,
Move my mind now to that which holds
Things as they change.
(1982.IV, A Timbered Choir)
This tension between holding/being held in stasis and flux is a very real presence in my life. For example, I had set aside the last month for writing a new project. I was excited about the creative and spiritual challenge of this form of service and was certain that I had also been offered this project as an opportunity for my work to reach a new audience, and who knew what possibilities after that? And yet, I have spent nearly the whole month lying in bed, unable even to dictate. I will miss my publishing deadline, and will not fulfil my contract as it stands.
The challenge of welcome becomes very applicable at this moment. The challenge of welcome intimately involves me in the process of the letting go, over and again, of creative opportunities that failed to happen; or those that have happened and failed to materialise my original vision or do justice to my inspiration. Even more crucially, welcome is ‘about’ letting go of those times, photographs, prayers, essays, poems which did come close to expressing an iota of the wonder of God, so that the Spirit may take them wherever is most needful; so that I do not mistake them for God.
The challenge of welcome asks me in not to grasp onto all this ‘failure’, ’loss’, or ‘success’. Welcome wishes to release me from the possibility of mistaking these activities as signs of my worth and identity.
Never to be again! But many more of the kind
As good, nay, better, perchance: is this your comfort to me?…
Therefore to whom turn I but to thee, the ineffable Name?
Builder and maker, thou, of houses not made with hands!
What, have fear of change from thee who art ever the same?
Doubt that thy power can fill the heart that thy power expands?
There shall never be one lost good!
(Robert Browning ‘Abt Vogler‘)
Hope and Gratitude needs be my only response to welcome. And although I continually fall short in this on a daily basis, it remains true that this is what my soul needs for its healing. Only from this will come the kind of soul-making inspiration to see where my embodied creativity can join long enough with the Spirit to receive a word or an image that might aid others to see the Holy. Here. Now.
Kate Kennington Steer is a writer and photographer with a deep abiding passion for contemplative photography and spirituality. She writes about these things on her shot at ten paces blog (http://shotattenpaces.blogspot.co.uk).
Kate, thank you, resonating with your usual wisdom, humility and abiding faith. I was especially moved by your paragraph beginning…’The Challenge of welcome becomes very applicable at this moment…’, particularly that final clause – “so that I do not mistake it for God”. I give thanks to you and the Great Spirit for all the words, images and poems that did indeed come very close to an iota of God and have ‘aided me and others to see the Holy’. And I pray that “if it be for your healing” that your creative projects of 2016 and beyond might reach new (and old) audiences and seekers.
Judith, thank you so much for such steadfast encouragement. Your words arrive at exactly the right time – I am stuck in bed again, whilst trying to begin planning for Lent and not heeding my own learnt wisdom about the welcome needed in this moment – so bless you for drawing my attention back to this paragraph today. I will begin again… Thank you for all your prayers. All blessings to you this night and all nights.
thank you Kate… for your words and weaving of thoughts.
Thank you so much Kate for your encouragement. All Blessings to you.
Kate, as ever, your seeking spirit reaches through your words, lays proverbial hands on either side of my face, tips my chin down and touches me, as if brow to brow, speaking straight into where I live. I’ve not seen “welcome” as the goodbye that often needs to be said so clearly before. Your struggles plus those of the poets, the images you receive and offer us, along with the hard questions—I’m immeasurably enriched by your journey. Thank you.
Thank you for your persistent encouragement Laurie. Your companionship along the seeking Way is very much appreciated indeed! All blessings to you this day and all days.