She thought there were no Gods; no one was to blame; and so she evolved this atheist's religion of doing good for the sake of goodness. – Virginia Woolf, Mrs Dalloway
The Art of Practice
or How to build a House Church using a table. (And a bell, book and a candle.)
On Practices and props for Church Building, March 2018.
Upon the rather unnerving and yet delightful realisation* that I was actually here to build a church of sorts; a holy and sacred establishment in the middle of nowhere, it came to my attention that it would be wise to look to the practices, rituals and processes of the towers of faith that we already have.
In order to establish a church, temple and convent for the faithless and the hungry and the lost, what exactly was one to do? It is true to say that many of these towers of faith have been (rightly so perhaps) rejected, denied or despised following their corruption and the advent of The God of Science. But surely, in amongst all that, they did create some of the most profoundly beautiful spaces, places, processes and practices humanity has ever seen. In our attempts to commune with the Divine, we have made some serious wonder of our own.
So, like all good artists, I could steal and borrow. Of course I could. To borrow from the things that have longevity, efficacy and are proven. The things that work. The things that have magic in them.
I could take what I needed, mix it up with what I wanted, blend it with what I deeply desire. I could gently and ferociously demand it into the world.
I could raise a cathedral from the earth with my bare bear hands and my heart and my tears.
All I had to do was learn how that was done.
So I went back to the beginnings. And the beginnings always begin with a Calling.
A Call to Practice. A Call to Prayer. A Call to Silence.
That is how to begin.
That is how you start to build a church.
*due in the most part to much prophetic and mystical adventure up a mountain (which, for the record, requires sleeping a great deal and eating a lot of pancakes).
And this is worth stating here. It has be a long hard and ruthless road to be able to state it clearly. Let there be no confusion. I am the Authority in this space. I have earned it and I accept it. Fully. That prophetic and mystical adventure has made one thing very clear. This work is necessary. It is vital. And it is serious. This is not a co-created community waving it's hands in agreement, playing with fire and then forgetting who is responsible and pointing fingers when it all goes a bit pear-shaped. I am the Authority. I am responsible, I am accountable. And I love it. And this is how the Desert Mothers would have it. And so it shall be.
A full set of practices, prayers and rituals is curated as part of the refugi codex.
The early practices formed during The Hermit Years, as I like to call them, are the foundations of this church, this temple, this heart inside a house inside a mountain. They form the basis of the patiently knitted together Daily Practice that takes place.
There are three main simple practices, summarised in the line: The Blunt and Loving Sweeper of Time and Life.
PRACTICE ONE: A liturgy of The Hours
Oh Virginia, Oh Mrs Dalloway, Oh The Hours - if only we had listened.
Across every single religion and human faith there is an honouring of the passing of time. The Liturgy of the Hours, The Sounding of the Bell, The Call to Prayer. The passing of day into night and season upon season is a fundamental part of our human experience. The cycles to which we human animals are part of. And we have always worshipped it. Always looked to time.
Checking our watches and punching our time clocks. Paying by the hour.
When I came here I put down my understanding of time. In order to learn something new. There are no clocks that work in my home. I work to calendars few might recognise. I pay attention to the moon and the stars. The seasons and the rhythm of my own body. I have trained myself over the years to know the sound of my own bell.
A reminder to stay with it. Stay present, stay in practice, stay. Just stay.
Within the structure of a daily rhythm, I sit for a moment and gently notice the rhythm of breath. I invite you to do so too. Notice our bodies, our surroundings, what we see, hear, smell. The stopping itself is prayer. An invitation to rest in restorative silence. To carrying ourselves wherever we go.
If you come here, you will abandon time in order to reclaim it as your own.
It is an opportunity for your heartbeat to match the heartbeat of the universe.
Time. It's all about time. And Time is an Art; Time is Art.
PRACTICE TWO: Sweeping (or The Way of the Bald Monk who says fuck a lot)
Occasionally, from time to time, us humans can get a little to over-attached to our thinking minds and our emotional rivers. We become a swirling storm of suffering and confusion. There is a practice for this. Do not come to me with your drama or your suffering until you have spent an hour sweeping in silence. I will do the same. If either of us forget, we are there to remind each other and pass on the broom. It is the single most effective practice there is apart from breathing and maybe doing the washing up. Sweep.
PRACTICE THREE: Down to Earth like the Ammas, White not Red
In the early Christian faith, many House Churches were led by women. They were spiritual guides; teachers and leaders of their monastic communities. They were simple and straightforward. Blunt and savvy. They name what needs to be named.
And so there is this, the final of the three practices, stated bluntly and wisely so that all may hear:
The Desert Fathers and Mothers practiced white martyrdom as opposed to red martyrdom. Sacrificing one’s life is not what happens here. We stay alive.
All good faiths have props.
This is a House Church and every house should have a table. The table in this house is a foundation stone of this work. A seat at this table is golden.
This table hosts an ongoing salon in the tradition of all good French women of means and money.
It also brings our practice firmly back into the home and the place of domesticity and nurture.
It is where we break bread, grind corn, make jam. It is where the potatoes are peeled and the wine shared.
It is the heart of the home of the church of the mountain.
For those who cannot travel and feel called to attend, you can take a seat at The Table by signing up to join our monthly communion.
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The thing I’m most passionate about with regards to the Church is her table practice. Every day I hear the church has a crisis of this, & a crisis of that. I rarely agree. I see one crisis: we mostly don’t believe in The Lord’s Supper, or orient our communities around the meal. – Johnathan Martin