Thursday, March 15, 2007


I was privileged to hear Father John Dear speak at a Whitley College seminar yesterday. John is a peace activist in the non-violent tradition of Jesus, Gandhi and Martin Luther King, whose message is grounded in the gospel narrative, and flows from and into the life that he leads. He has given me much food for thought, but one stands out above all others at this time. I have been reading a series of reflections on the last words of Jesus from the cross by Stanley Hauerwas, fitting as we move through Lent. John Dear made an observation which gave me pause for thought... what were the last words of Jesus to the gathered church of the time? They were spoken in the Garden of Gethsemane... "put down your swords".
From this time forward, the disciples dispersed; the last words from the cross heard by only a few.
What is the import of these words?
It struck me as John spoke that we regularly disconnect the individual events of Holy Week in particular and the life of Jesus in general from the overall picture. We cannot separate Jesus' injunction to put down the sword from his crucifixion, or response under pressure at trial - Jesus eschewed violence as a response. Neither can we ignore Jesus' overturning of the tables in the temple, or the prayer for his disciples, "Love one another as I have loved you".
The Christian faith has been tacked onto, and at times given fuel to trains heading for war. How are we to embrace this last command of Jesus in the garden?
The way of nonviolence has demonstrated powerful and transformative effects, far greater than military might (consider Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq, The Falklands, the list could go on...), yet we have barely learnt the ways.
It is something which will remain at the forefront of my journey through Lent.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Mis en Place

Since reading Fernando’s reflection on the concept of Mis en Place, itself inspired by The Happiness Project, I have been contemplating its implications. For the uninitiated, mis en place is a cooking concept which refers to the process of careful preparation which allows a chef to give full attention to the process of mixing ingredients and cooking. Every ingredient, every tool and bowl, every machine is prepared before starting… in this way the task can move smoothly to its completion (which explains why those cooking shows make everything look so easy – the work of preparation is completed in advance). As Fernando indicates, professional chefs are pedantic about this, providing as it does a way through the anarchic chaos which professional kitchens often appear.

By taking this concept and reflecting on it in relation to our own creativity and spirituality, Fernando triggered some deep thoughts within, particularly as I have often pondered the place of discipline in a vital Christian spirituality. People of my generation tend to regard discipline with suspicion, regarding it as a recipe for stifling individuality and limiting both creativity and realisation of potential. Yet as I have considered the sporting field, the lie of these assumptions is exposed. Most of us are in thrall at the creative capabilities of elite sports personnel. They can push boundaries, create opportunities and respond with flair only because they have applied the concept of mis en place to their lives: they have put all the work to ensure that the skills, capabilities and fitness is there to draw on at the critical moment. Discipline releases creativity. It enables endurance. It reassures one that, in the critical moments, there are resources to draw upon, well-rehearsed skills and patterns, and a repertoire of options available.

In the spiritual journey the items of mis en place may well be prayer, study, reflection, journaling, meditation, fasting, stillness, service... among the many classic spiritual disciplines available to us from history. Such time of preparation is not wasted, even when the ingredients are not employed in the immediate situation. Such practices serve to deepen our humanity and expand our being, sending deep roots which can nurture and nourish us at the most surprising times.