Tag Archives: Encounter

31 October: Virtual v In-Person

Eddie, Sean and Jim lead the singing.

By Eddie Gilmore of the London Irish Chaplaincy, always happy to share his wisdom with us.

Having now attended, in person, my first hybrid conference I had a chance to compare the experience of attending virtually and attending in the flesh.

It was the AGM and annual conference of CCA, Community Chaplaincy Association, of which Irish Chaplaincy is an associate member, and it was being held at the Royal Foundation of St Katherine, a charity founded in East London in 1147 and described on its website as ‘an extraordinary urban oasis’. It truly is! There is an immediate sense of calm upon entering, with lots and lots of lovely, tranquil spaces, both inside and out. I had a little explore before joining the group and found in the grounds the old chapel which was reconfigured so that a huge floor to ceiling window was created in one of the side walls giving a view of the beautiful garden and a giant oak tree. And right outside the chapel is a little enclosed terrace with fountains. It really was my kind of place, somewhere where I could just sit in peace for hours.

One of the most valuable elements of conferences for me has always been the informal conversations that take place in between the formal sessions. This one was no disappointment in that respect, and the conversations were well fuelled by mid-morning coffee and pastries, a tasty lunch, and tea and cakes in the afternoon. You just don’t get any of that when you attend ‘virtually’, which many people did. There they were on a large screen, and they even got a bit of gentle teasing from Jackie, the Chair: “Sorry, we’ve got to leave you now to go for our coffee and pastries!”

There was yet another little treat in store, with an opportunity to go to the chapel for a mid-day prayer at 12.45. I was the only one who went and the man there lighting the candles as I arrived seemed pleased that he wouldn’t be conducting the service on his own. We got chatting after the prayer, and my ears pricked up at the clear trace of a Belfast accent. He had heard of the Irish Chaplaincy and said how much he liked our website. “How do you know about us?” I asked, pleasantly surprised. His wife, it turned out, was Debby, CEO of London Gypsies and Travellers, with whom I’d had some contact. Kevin told me that she spoke very highly of our work. We could have talked all day but I had to go for lunch where I ended up sitting next to Jackie who, it emerged, had once worked as an actress and had appeared in Casualty!

Those encounters with Kevin and Jackie and everyone else during the day; so too simply going to a different place and observing people and life on the way: it was so stimulating. It was a very different experience to attending virtually, which I have done several times over the last eighteen months. I sit there in my chair on my own and I really do try to concentrate but I end up turning the camera off and checking and sending emails; and then I get fidgety and walk around the room; and then I lie on the floor to listen; and then invariably I fall asleep! How many virtual conferences have ended for me in sleep! And I feel a bit rubbish come the end of the day.

By contrast, I was still buzzing the day after the CCA conference as I travelled up to London again for our first hybrid team meeting at the Irish Chaplaincy! There were six of us there in the flesh and three people on my laptop screen and it worked just fine and there was plenty of good-natured banter and laughter. All were agreed that we would all come together once a month for an in-person meeting followed by lunch together. And we’ll continue to do certain other meetings via zoom. One of those who had been on the screen came in to the office a little later and the seven of us headed over to Temptation Café for lunch to mark Fiona’s birthday. Dessert was taken back in the office in the form of chocolate cake, and it was a welcome return to an old Irish Chaplaincy tradition. Several people contacted me the day after to say how much they had enjoyed it. I also had found it immensely uplifting and energising.

And then the week after that there was the CSAN Directors conference, which had been due to be in Rome but because of continuing Covid uncertainties took place at Hinsley Hall in Leeds. As said already, I find immense pleasure and value in the informal encounters that take place between sessions. And I was delighted with the reunion in the evening of Sean (whistles), Jim (bodhrán) and myself (guitar). We were in fine form, and we were joined at one point by Jo and Andrew of CJM music who had given us such fantastic musical input during the conference.

In the middle of one tune I noticed a woman enter the bar who wasn’t part of the CSAN group. I gave her a little smile and she explained to me later that it had encouraged her to come in and stay. She had been up in her bedroom, the sole person there that night who was not part of the group, and had hear the music from below and had felt drawn to it. She stayed right to the end and sang a couple of old Irish songs herself, beautifully, and told a bit of her story. Amongst several various or potential things in common, she and I knew somebody at Taizé where she’d once spent a couple of years. I told her that she would be getting a mention in my latest blog, which would be making the point that some things just aren’t possible via a zoom screen: things which may be considered dispensable but which are in fact vital to our innate human need for connection. And so Sorcha becomes the second person living in London but born in Belfast to appear in this particular piece!

It will be interesting to see how the hybrid working culture develops. Zoom is here to stay and we couldn’t put that genie back in the bottle even if we wanted to. And indeed it makes certain things possible that we never could have imagined, for example people in different countries or cities being able to meet together without having to hop on planes or trains. Mind you, in-person can be hard to beat, especially if it involves live music, coffee and pastries or chocolate cake!

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20 June: A walk around Fredville Park and Barfrestone.

On the occasion of our Ruby Wedding, Mrs Turnstone and I took a walk around the country park belonging to Fredville House. This is still working farmland, but the trees have been planted over the last 300 years and more to create a pleasing classical landscape. Our walk took us through the park and back in by one of the gatekeeper’s lodges, then returning to the park and out by another lodge. We were now in Frogham with its redbrick cottages, but we pressed on along a short stretch of the North Downs Way, past the new, far from lowly cattle shed and into the village of Barfrestone. We caught a glimpse through the hedge of the house where we met, the Old Rectory, then visited the graves of L’Arche friends, and into the old churchyard, admiring one stone in particular, noticing the gardener and St Thomas over the door of the ancient church of Saint Nicholas. After a picnic on the grass, one last look at the rectory, and home to Canterbury.

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8 November: Praying with Pope Francis: Dialogue and Reconciliation


Pope Francis’s Missionary Intention this month is:

Let us pray that a spirit of dialogue, encounter, and reconciliation may emerge in the Middle East, where diverse religious communities share their lives together.

What can I do with these stones? I could throw them at anyone who got too close to me or my possessions or my part of the beach.

I could use them to make a pathway in my garden, or across country for people to walk over. I could use them as filler in a drystone or concrete wall, providing shelter for people or beasts.

I could go down to the tideline and start a game of ducks and drakes, skimming them across the surface of the sea, splashing over the waves. People would hardly need an invitation to join in, the game is infectious. Like football (soccer) on a smaller scale. Every nation wants to be involved in the football World Cup even if they can barely hope to win one game.

Playing games, playing music, sharing meals together can help bring about a spirit of dialogue, encounter and reconciliation as much as high level talks between politicians who barely trust one another.

But even sport can be tainted by spectators’ hatred and racist abuse, when they could be admiring the beauty of the players’ skills, sharing the thrills of the game.

Is there room for God’s Spirit somewhere in there?

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May 18. What is Theology Saying? LV: Salvation outside the Church IV.


We know that Christian missionary saints believed God would commit to the flames of hell those not baptised into the Church, even when living in good faith. They were saints – but they were austinmistaken. Christian missionaries forced converts to renounce all their previous ways of striving after God, making them adopt Western ways that had nothing to do with religion. Much cruelty was inflicted through the inability to distinguish between cultural and social customs, and religious convictions.

Modern Social Sciences make it easier for us to accept this as missionaries sought to try to understand the different cultures and ways of thought of non-Christian folk, and they began to understand non-Christian religious convictions from the way the people saw them. Like being less than impressed looking at stained glass windows from outside – so different when seen from inside.

The patristic scholar Jean Daniélou proposed seeing the great Eastern Religions as being pre-Christian but leading to Christ. Their followers are saved by their commitment, the hope that seeks a future fulfilment. The fact that these people live after Christ [today] is not important, because their experience is before Christ as long as they have not heard the Gospel in a form that makes sense to them. While there is one Hindu living the Hindu tradition in good faith and with conviction, we cannot speak of the Hindu religion as false.

It is not only through their sincerity in striving after God as best they know how, that God comes to meet them; it is also because their striving is true. Our religious language is symbolic in a special way. It describes realities we have hardly glimpsed, and cannot comprehend. In the Jewish tradition it was important not to make images of God – because all images are false, the only image of God is the human person. So they speak as though God is a human person – masculine gender, a father-figure, who can get angry and change his mind. These characteristics are not literally true of God – but are true in another sense – they are true of our experience of God.

Other faith communities also know that language about God cannot be literally true. They express their experience of God. Asian faiths tend to be more contemplative than those of the Western world; they leave symbols in their symbolic form rather than seek explanations. Hindus say when you have images you understand you are making only a remote comparison, but when you have explanations you might be misled into thinking you understand much more than you do. God cannot be understood.


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3 October, What would you do? The Beggar II: The Aftermath.


To conclude Christina’s story from Divineincarnate.com.

After all of these years, I can’t shake the feeling that I’ve never left the spot where I encountered the beggar. My group’s intent had been to go on with life without his presence in it. But it didn’t work. Somehow…I’m still there.

In the wordless waiting of the old man with his begging bowl outside of a sacred place, I caught a glimpse of myself. I see the poverty of my excuses: “I can’t, I’m disabled” or “I would help you, but it’s just not convenient right now” or “Well, if someone else had gone in to help, I certainly would have pitched in too.” And I see my own need for others—not my specific need as a disabled person dependent on others for daily survival, but my innate and intimate need as a human being for deep and generous loving.

My identification with the beggar, however, has become even more profound than that. Hoping to receive some gift of kindness, he was waiting for the reaction of another human being. The reaction that gave him was of emptiness. Devoid of courage, devoid of humility, I was pitifully poor, with nothing to give. Nothing. My human foibles, which caused me to choose poorly, put an empty begging bowl into my own hands. So, now, the beggar is still standing outside of the sacred place, but it is not him who begs and waits there—it’s me.

A stranger is never just a stranger. The beggar waiting outside of the church is Christ and Christ is that beggar. There should be no understanding of separateness in this, I don’t mean to remove the beggar on to some kind of a pedestal as a representative of the Holy Other. We are called to recognize Christ within. This is profoundly down to earth, this is gritty, this is intimately real. My deep sense of truly remaining on that street with the beggar—as the beggar—is not a mere flight of fancy or pretty response. It’s true.

It’s profoundly, sublimely, impossibly true.

The next time that you see me on the street, or in the subway, or holed up in a little corner somewhere…please be brave, please be kind.

© 2018 Christina Chase

Christina has come back to the point that Saint Thérèse was making in our post of October 1st: that Jesus comes to us as a beggar. Thank you Christina!


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11 November: Sacrifice in War II: Dehumanising the Enemy-Victim



Neither war comics, nor old films nor computer games could remotely be described as subtle: the enemy does not appear as a fellow human being. The Great War poet Wilfred Owen’s describes a dream encounter in a Western Front tunnel:his  dawning realisation of the humanity of his visitant in ‘Strange Meeting‘ illustrates the dehumanising that allows industrial slaughter to take control.

It is not clear whether this enemy, the man he had recently killed, was a German or perhaps his peaceable true self:

With piteous recognition in fixed eyes,

Lifting distressful hands as if to bless.

Wilfred Owen,  Strange Meeting

That ‘slaughter’ should be personified as taking control shows how war de-personalises, de-humanises people. War, conflict and death are seen as irresistible, superhuman powers, sweeping away combatant and civilian alike, powers that were indeed personified by the ancients, like John’s four horsemen (Revelation 6), or in Shakespeare’s play:

… Caesar’s spirit, ranging for revenge,

With Atë by his side come hot from Hell,

Shall in these confines with a monarch’s voice

Cry “Havoc!” and let slip the dogs of war …  Julius Caesar III.i. 270-273.

While War and Death are personified, the enemy is depersonalised. But for the industrialist selling arms to his own or any other country’s forces is a source of profit. The individuals whose lives are at risk do not enter his mind or heart.


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7 September: Silence

DSC00010 (640x480)

eddies gently

against the hot shore of my mind,

against cliffs, into rocky hollows,

exploring dark caves,

slipping in where

no one dares:

simple and bold.

The tide is low.


meetatsea (800x600)

I cool my tired words in the shallows

and walk my mind far from the shore

where high tide would submerge me.

Now I am safe.  Farther out,

the silence is too dangerous and deep

but here, we come to meet each other

where delicate shells whisper

from the depths.



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May 17: Inter-Galactic Discoveries II



‘My esteemed colleagues,’ the Director’s tone held all of the stilted pomposity, promising a dull time indeed, that much of Ossyrian formal conversation was famous for. His opening remark, however, told a very different story, ‘the hugely expensive mission to Earth, assiduously prepared for over several circumnavigations of the inner sun, was…a dismal failure.’ The assembled party of formerly grinning astronauts greeted the statement with stony silence. No one, of course, was fearful of any personal criticism; a social taboo of immense strength, to single out another in Ossyrian society in order to voice anything crude or unpleasant was simply unthinkable. But there was more than one way to make the point.

Without mentioning any names, either corporate or personal, the Director continued, ‘The inhabitants of the planet called Earth – as noted from intercepted radio and video broadcasts –  had seemed to possess a quality of vitality, of humour, of irrepressible energy and a boundless measure of what the philosophers mysteriously define as hope that was deemed essential for further study.’ The silence grew ever more uncomfortable. ‘This mandate – to discover hope’s source and catalogue its manifestations – seems to have been side-tracked by other considerations.’ No one needed to be told what those ‘other considerations’ had been and, even if they had, words like ‘patronising’, ‘arrogant’, and even ‘cowardly’ had long ago vanished from the Ossyrian language and only existed in dusty volumes of literature often recorded in an archaic digital script that only a few could read.

‘Sir,’ Droghmirrxz timidly spoke up, ‘I…I would like to volunteer for a return mission, one that will not fail!’ ‘So would I, sir,’ Bogmerlg added and, as the Director nodded assent, even indicating that he would also personally accompany them on the new outreach to Earth, the two old friends broke into broad smiles, restoring the harmonious balance of the Xgi in the hitherto tense conference room, to everyone’s evident relief.


The location selected for the new mission was a sleazy East Kentish beach town in the grip of an endless economic recession, not far from the original site at Canterbury, called Margate. The place had definitely known better days and a splash of crumbling grandeur bore eloquent, if melancholic, testimony to happier, more prosperous times. The Council was dominated by a racist/isolationist party called UKIP, though the great mass of (non-voting) inhabitants of the medium sized municipality seemed to possess every shade of skin colour and speak half of the languages known to the human race. Vitality was clearly had in abundance; the kind celebrated throughout human history, though all too often in retrospect –  of hard scrabble, elbow rubbing diversity and an irrepressible hope that things could only get better. A perfect place for the newly launched Ossyrian study!

Alfie and Ajax 2

The Director and his two subordinates were safely beamed into a pre-rented flat directly across the street from the sea that would serve as field HDQ for the duration of the mission. The boss had cleverly assumed human form and passed as a tall male with scruffy beard, salt and pepper hair, and glasses, known simply as ‘T’. His cover was as an academic at some nameless school several miles away. Bogmerlg and Droghmirrxz reassumed canine disguises, this time as a frisky pair of Chihuahuas; Droghmirrxz, as team captain, became the dominant male; a black, white and russet tricolour with adorable ‘racoon’ mask called Alfie, while Bogmerlg, as second, became the beta male – white with brown spots called Ajax. When all was organised to ‘T’s satisfaction, some possible courses of initial action (and encounter!) were explored.

+   +   +

The animal shelter had, at first, seemed an odd choice as the locale of the initial foray into human society. It was, after all, an animal shelter…but as Alfie had wisely pointed out, the place was run by and for humans and the fact that it was filled with abandoned and often abused former pets and half-feral strays made it a sure-fire litmus against which the virtue of hope might be tested (and possibly discredited). ‘T’ had arranged for the two Chihuahuas to accompany him inside the shelter in order, as he put it, ‘to see if they would get along with a possible new addition to the pack.’

‘This places sure stinks!’ Ajax crinkled his nose, reacting to the potent mix of caustic disinfectant, musky fur, urine and excrement, processed animal food…and fear. The three Ossyrian agents, appearing as a human male accompanied by two Chihuahuas, were, of course, able to communicate telepathically, thus preserving the integrity of their respective disguises. ‘And it’s kind of scary and…depressing,’ Ajax’s tail dipped to half-mast as his courage wavered. ‘Oh, stop being…’ Alfie’s pert rebuke (unthinkable if they had been back on the home world) was interrupted by a roar of canine rage as a huge Mastiff, reddened eyes glinting with only a shred of sanity, threw itself against the mesh of its enclosure in an attempt to maul the tiny Chihuahua. Alfie, with hackles raised, threw it all back at the bucking Mastiff (safe in the knowledge that the enclosure was sturdily built) and returned the abuse bark for bark. ‘So much for the practice of virtue,’ ‘T’ communicated with disgust. ‘Come on, let’s get out of here.’ ‘Wait!!!’ Ajax was humming with barely repressed excitement, ‘Look over there!’


(to be continued)


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May 16: Inter-Galactic Discoveries 1

As I said in my Interruption ‘Third Person Singular’, stories can open our hearts and minds. David’s SF tale has certainly tapped into something with TJH as these next posts will show.



The first Ossyrian mission to Earth had met with mixed success. The ruse of appearing as canines had allowed the fact-finding delegation easy access to terrestrial homes in the British city of Canterbury where the forward base was set up, but the jarring discoveries upset so many of the cherished and tender Ossyrian sensibilities that, ultimately, the investigation was abandoned and, after leaving an illegible note, that nevertheless attempted to communicate a message of the highest moral rectitude, on the porch of the city’s world-famous cathedral, the delegation returned to their ships (parked safely out of sight behind synthetic clouds and equipped with state-of-the-art anti-radar and tracking or detection devices) and gratefully resumed their natural forms of long necks, short legs, thick waists, and large domed heads.

new stuff 3 002

With the lingering (and highly disgusting) taste of dog food still clinging to the bright purple tongues of their alimentary orifices, the weary delegation tucked gratefully into a double-portioned Ossyrian feast; all six types of artificially produced, scientifically assessed, and thoroughly nutritious food and four types of drink that would have, to any other imbiber, seemed very much the same as one another. And, in fact, one of the many gaps in the study would have quickly become apparent at that moment since, limited in their terrestrial culinary experience to various types of dog food and the odd scrap offered by a human or putrid morsel scavenged along the pavement during their frequent ‘walks’, the Ossyrians had completely missed out on an important (and healthy) similarity between their own food and, at least, the native English variety; both entirely devoid of spices and, consequently, nearly tasteless.

As the Ossyrian ships left the terrestrial stratosphere and headed for the great teeming gulf of deep space that would ultimately see them back on their beloved home planet, the long debriefing began.

‘I just can’t understand it,’ Droghmirrxz sighed meaningfully, ‘how they can live with all of the stress…and so unnecessary; clearly an obvious result of their flawed world-view, failure to accurately assess consequences and, let’s face it, a level of hypocritical behaviour that nearly defies belief.’ ‘I know exactly what you mean,’ Gixzmak purred, batting all three of her azure eyes in an attempt to impress (she had had a slow-burning crush on Droghmirrxz for the past eighteen Ossyrian revolutions of its nearer sun). ‘I mean, they profess to believe in equality, peace, mutual respect, social orderliness, and healthy food…but did you notice how many of the earth dwellers, in their actual daily lives, were fractious, ambitious, untidy, and…fat?’ The small group of alien astronauts nodded sagely. ‘Still,’ a faraway expression of almost undefinable longing lit her features, ‘it did feel good, though, being scratched behind my ears…and it was kind of fun,’ she added rakishly, ‘being able to poop outdoors…anywhere I pleased.’ Droghmirrxz blushed a scandalized bright yellow. ‘Really, Gixzmak!!! That’s going too far!’ the group facilitator snapped, but he was smiling and the rest of the group, noting the cue, broke into tepid giggles.

+   +   +


Six (terrestrial) months later the thoroughly debriefed and smugly satisfied Ossyrian delegation entered the misty, limash-scented atmosphere of their home world and, touching down at the metropolitan space port, were issued the necessary transport tokens for the hover-tram which took each adventurer home for a period of rest in immaculately beautiful but also completely utilitarian apartment cubicles. Later, the delegation was re-united at the diplomatic wing of the sprawling Inter-Galactic HDQ where they were greeted by an unexpected surprise.

(to be continued)



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May 15: Pentecost: The Breakthrough

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Many years ago, in my hometown, I had a powerful experience while riding on a bus. I don’t know why I was taking the bus that day, as at that time I drove a motorcycle, nor do I recall where I was going…but, really, all of that is beside the point. The experience I had, while staring aimlessly out the window, remains fresh in my memory, even decades later.

Now, please, don’t misunderstand what I am about to write – as if it were a claim to some privileged mystical experience. Rather, it came in the form of a daydream; a sparkling thought, caught up with an image, all in an instant…that made me blink then smile and begin the first of many re-plays. What occurred was a kind of visualisation that I have come to call the ‘breakthrough’; a great, shattering, re-arranging, expansive, irresistible, all-encompassing force pulsing through a billion shards of what seemed like brightly coloured stained glass, all rushing forward and constantly re-configured in near-endless patterns of dazzling complexity and creative expression. It was also immediately apparent that the thrusting force was purposeful, even rational, and, above all…exuberant.

I reckoned right away that it must have been a manifestation of the Holy Spirit.

Over the years I have remembered and cherished that image, tried (with varying degrees of success) to represent it in art, and have also discerned it in some others’ experience as well. As I have done so, many different dynamic aspects of the fundamental breakthrough have emerged. The first is scriptural and that is of a Triune God on the move; nearly peripatetic, even mendicant. This has always been obvious in terms of the Second Person of the Trinity, first in terms of the explosive creative agency of the Word and then through the itinerant ministry of the Incarnate Word; preaching and working miracles on the many byroads of Palestine- the foxes have holes and the birds build nests but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head. But what of the other Trinitarian Persons? The Holy Spirit blows like the wind, wherever he wills, defying all of our attempts to place God within perceptible perimeters or even (God forbid!) a box. He also dances and flickers like tongues of flame; dead, static religion has no place in that raucous Kingdom. What of the Father? Moving, always moving with his desert people in the great covenantal Ark; a mendicant God for a pilgrim people, sparkling with the guiding light of shekinah even in the dark nights of weakness and despair.

And like Siva in a very different religious tradition, that Spirit of wind and fire, ever moving- siempre adelante– can unmake as well as make. But God being God is necessarily all in all and utterly good. When Love unmakes it is only to pave the way for the exhilaration of renewed freedom. Thus, St. Paul in Ephesians 2:14, For he himself is our peace, who made both groups into one, and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall… I have seen many a wall tumble and, when it is the work of Christ attested by the Holy Spirit, people invariably look up, rubbing weary eyes in wonder at undreamed of promise…fulfilled.



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