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Issue 27



Article by Revd Dr Leslie Griffiths

Message to the FCP from
The Rev\'d Dr. Leslie Griffiths, Lord Griffiths of Burry Port.
Superintendent  Minister at Wesley\'s Chapel in London.

I am a patron of the Fellowship of Contemplative Prayer. I was glad to be asked and sincere in the immediate and affirmative reply that I sent off. But when someone asked me if I would speak at a forthcoming Conference, I baulked, stuttered a bit, and said no. l wa s distinctly uncomfortable with myself. How could I agree to serve the Fellowship while being so categorical in my refusal to offer a talk? I\'ve had cause to reflect a great deal on that question since and perhaps I might be permitted to share some of my thoughts now.

l\'ve had an entry in Who\'s Who for nearly 30 years. The compilers ask their victims a number of questions. As part of the interrogation, we are asked to state our \"recreations.\" Mine, as put forward in 1985 and repeated unchanged ever since, appear thus: \"Fun and fellowship spiced by occasional moments of solitude.\" I think it\'s a fair statement of the activities that sustain me and I hope that will go on being the case. Fun and fellowship are at the heart of what makes my life meaningful. I\'m afraid that l\'ve never lost sight of the child within me and little pleases me as much as a good laugh. Joy is something that seems to have filled my life and I can only thank God for that.

I\'m sure it has something to do with my dear mother. She died penniless in 1975 - her entire estate consisted of a shoe box with a few photographs and one or two Ietters in it. But, at another level, she left me a fortune. She was utterly poor, her body broken by years of hard labour, and her life was shaped by economic and domestic circumstances of a very harsh kind. But she had a generosity of spirit, an unquenchable love of life, a readiness always to go a second mile, a eostly commitment to the virtues of friendship, that put her in a league of her own. One friend of mine, hearing me speak thus of my mother, suggested that she possessed an \"aristocracy of the spirit.\" She certainly did. And she filled me with a native optimism, an instinctual readiness to see things from another person\'s point of view, and a recognition that there will always be people whose plight in life is harsher than one\'s own. 

This disposition has allowed me to forge so many friendships in the course of my life. And, glory be, I see my children blessed in this same way. Nothing helps me cope with the work I do more than the support of my friends. They seem always around to help share my burdens, offer me advice, make space for me, tell me what a fool I am and so much more. At meals, on walks, over a dri nk, on holiday, in my office, I just seem surrounded by people who care about me. And, on top of all this, my wife Margaret remains my closest friend. ln addition to her love and support, we are bound together by an ocean of memories and shared experiences. Gosh! what would I do without her? How could I have lived so richly without all my friends? So \"fun and fellowship\" flow freely from all these relationships. 

I recognize that l\'m not made in a way that seems to lend itself to contemplation. I don\'t seem to have had dark nights of the soul, or p eriods of atrophy, or self-doubt, or despair. Not that I think of all those experiences as the inevitable mood music of contemplation. But they do all speak of interiority and lend themselves in some way to apophatic approaches to the spiritual life. Once again, I don\'t say this dismissively. And I may have got it all wrong. I enjoy the poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins - those soaring sonnets and those soul-searching explorations of the nature of despair. And I\'ve delivered lectures about the spirituality of R.S.Thomas. His description of what things are like behind the looking-glass - all that stillness, emptiness, darkness, silence - has intrigued me. So I do seem to have a penchant for the subject even if I have little experience of it. 

And so to solitude. A few years ago I was diagnosed as having cancer. The news came when Margaret was with her dying mother and I was alone. I had 48 hours to weigh up the news and to consider possible outcomes. There would be surgery. And then further diagnosis. I viewed the possible treatments I would undergo and the outcomes I must look at squarely. An early death was one of them. I looked death in t he eye and recognized that I might soon have to slip into its embrace. I felt such peace come over me as lworked through all these matters. When Margaret returned, we were able to have a mature conversation about it all. That pool of solitude was just what I needed. The peace I felt then has never left me. I just hope that when the trumpet does eventually sound, I shall not rage against the dying of the light but die in peace so that people might see how death had no dominion over me. The jury\'s out on that, of course, and I may end up frail and useless when the time comes. We\'ll see . 

It\'s in moments of solitude that I disentangle the confusions of my mind. And open myself to an inner sense of the presence of greater forces than I can of myself muster. I can see into a deep pool of energy, comfort, meaning, love. Glimpses are all I seem to get of immortality. I do sometimes see infinity in a grain of sand and sense eternity in an hour. Solitude stimulates a heightening of my awareness; it reinforces my desire to live an outward-facing life. When people ask me how I came to be a Methodist, I invariably reply that I found (and continue to find) the combination of inward religion and a necessarily related commitment to the outward demands for living a transformative life in the society around me positively inebriating. So with all this buzzing around within me, why did I hesitate when asked to speak at that Conference?  I suspect it was because, while I have deep respect for contemplative religion, I feel that it isn\'t my natural m├ętier and my acceptance might create a false impression. I need to live in a world where people cultivate the art of contemplation. But I need it because I sense how impoverished the wo rld would be if it were simply filled by people like me. 

lt\'s the complementarity of spiritualities that interests me. I\'ve given lectures on the eremitical tradition and stood by a Roman Catholic priest as he negotiated with his bishop to live the life of a hermit. I know about the via negativa and used to read the works of the 14th English century mystical writers. I learned about the ladder of ascent and enjoyed Richard Rolle, Julian of Norwich and others. I recalt how deeply influenced I was by reading Aldous Huxley\'s book The Perennial Philosoph y with its examination of the contemplative writings from around the world. For all that, I am not that kind of person myself. And I would hate to pretend that I was. 

So I give my wholehearted and sincere support to the Fellowship of Contemplative Prayer and I\'m delighted to add my name to its list of patrons. And I hope this apologia pro vita mea will go some way towards helping those bewildered by what might seem like my facing two ways at the same time to see that things are much more nuanced than that. 

May God bless The F ellowship of Contemplative Prayer.

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