The Mother of Your Fear

I have a shelf in my library where reside the volumes that speak most deeply to my soul with the sustained whispering that great writing gives .  One volume is The Heart Aroused: Poetry and the Preservation of the Soul in Corporate America by David Whyte.  I have returned yet again to this wisdom from the Yorkshire poet.

Chapter two is a treatment, an exegesis almost, of Beowulf.

The mythologist Joseph Campbell used to say that if you do not come to know the deeper mythic resonances that make up your life, the mythic resonances will simply rise up and take you over. If you do not live out your place in the mythic pattern consciously, the myth will simply live you, against your will. Beowulf is welcomed by Hrothgar, and that night lies in wait for Grendel with his men inside Herot, Hrothgar’s great hall. Sure enough, in the ensuing fight, Beowulf mortally wounds Grendel, who then staggers back to die in the mere. That night there is tremendous feasting and gift-giving. The problem, it seems, has been solved in one swift movement. But that night, as Beowulf sleeps with his men in a different hall, something else comes from the swamp to Herot, fights off the best warriors, and retreats with its human victim: Grendel’s mother.


The message in this portion of the poem is unsparing. It is not the thing you fear that you must deal with, it is the mother of the thing you fear. The very thing that has given birth to the nightmare.

Here it is.  I am afraid that I will not be enough.  What man is not?  What is the mother of my fear of inadequacy?  Why, not to be enough and in the end to not be AT ALL!  Yup, you got it!  Not wonder we are willing to loiter along the the lakefront, the edge of the mere!  We would do almost anything to avoid plunging headfirst into the dark waters of the unconscious where the shadow knows and as Whyte writes, “men pray for dry feet.”

Yet, we are unsatisfied circling the lake.  We look deep into the water, seeing our reflection in the surface, telling ourselves that, Yes, we will sign up to be the latest narcissist falling in love with our own reflection on the surface of the liquid before us.  Anything to avoid falling headlong into our destiny, the soul-work that awaits us all.

My wife gave me her first gift before our hearts ever spoke of marriage.  It is a framed prayer that has sat on a table in my library for about thirty years.  It says,  “Oh God of second chances and new beginnings, here I am again.”  And so I am.

JWS – March 5, 2018  10:20 PM


Are We Awake Yet?

I and the Not I  A Study in the Development of Conscious   – M. Esther Harding

Biologists, who in attempting to discover the nature of consciousness in animals, found themselves obliged to recognize that each creature sees only what concerns himself; everything else he seems to be blind.


 This reminds me of the saying, “A Frog can only see what he can eat.”

Human beings, having an animal and spiritual nature, given circumstance can descend to the level of a frog, who can only see what he can eat or by the spark of the divine rise to the occasion, limiting themselves for the sake of others.  JWS

RIP Sister Pam, OHP

Sister Pam.jpg

Sister Pam of the Sisters of the Holy Paraclete was buried today in Whitby at Seaton Castle, the motherhouse of her order.  I remember her kindness when I stayed with them 2009.  She insisted I see Lastingham deep in the moors and off we went.  May light perpetual shine upon you sister, and may your soul and the souls of all the faithful departed rest in peace.

Most of the early history of the church comes to us from the Venerable Bede who, in A.D. 731, completed his history of the English Church and People, when he was a monk at the monastery in Jarrow.



The present 13th Century church is built over the 7th Century Saxon Church


The Story of Ct. Cedd and St. Chad founding the Monastery in Lastingham.

“During his episcopate among the east Saxons, God’s Servant Cedd often Visited his own province of Northumbria to preach. Ethelwald, son of king Oswald, who ruled the province of Deira, Knowing Cedd to be a wise, holy and honourable man, asked him to accept a grant of Land to found a monastery, to which hr himself might often come to pray and hear the word of Go, and where he might be buried: for he firmly believed that the daily prayers of those who would serve God there would be great help to him. The Kings previous chaplain had been Cedd’s brother, a priest named Caelin, a man equally devoted to God, who had ministered the word and sacraments to himself and his family, and it was thought of him that the King came to know and love the bishop. In accordance with the King’s wishes, Cedd Chose a site for the monastery among some High and remote hills, which seemed more suitable for the dens of robbers and haunts of wild beasts than for human habitation. His purpose in this was to fulfil the prophecy of Isaiah: “in the haunts where dragons once dwelt shall be pasture, with reeds and rushes”, and he wished the fruits of good works to spring up where formerly lived only wild beasts, or men who lived like beasts.

The Man of God wished first of all to purify the site of the monastery from the taint of earlier crimes by prayer and fasting, and make it acceptable to God before laying the foundations. He therefore asked the King’s permission to remain there throughout the approaching season of Lent, and during this time he fasted until evening every day except Sunday according to custom. Even then he took no food but a morsel of bread, an egg and a little watered milk. he explained that it was the custom of those who had trained him in the rule of regular discipline to dedicate the site of any monastery to God with prayer and fasting. But then days before the end of Lent a messenger arrived to summon him to the King, so that the king’s business should not interrupt the work of dedication, Cedd asked his brother Cynebil to complete this holy task. The latter readily consented, and when the period of prayer and fasting came to an end , he built the monastery now called Lastingham, and established there the observances of the usage of Lindisfarne where he had been trained.


When Cedd had been bishop of the province and administered the affairs of the monastery for many years through his chosen representatives, he happened to visit the monastery at the time of plague, and there he fell sick and died. He was first buried in the open, but in the course of time a stone church was built, dedicated to the blessed mother of God, and his body was re-interred in it on the right side of the altar.


The bishop bequeathed the abbacy of the monastery to his brother Chad, who subsequently became a bishop. The four brothers I have mentioned – Cedd, Cynebil, Caelin and Chad – all became famous priests of our Lord, and two became bishops, which is a rare occurrence in one family. When the brethren of Cedd’s monastery in the province of the East Saxons heard that their founder had died in the province of Northumbria, about thirty of them came wishing, God willing, either to live near the body of their Father, or to die and be laid to rest at his side. They were welcomed by their brothers and fellow-soldiers of Christ, and all of them died there of the plague with the exception of one little boy who was preserved from death by the prayers of his father Chad.

10 predictions about the future Church and shifting attendance patterns – ChristianWeek

Every generation experiences change. But sometimes you sense you’re in the midst of truly radical change, the kind that happens only every few centuries. Increasingly, I think we’re in such a moment now. Those of us in in Western culture…Read More→

Source: 10 predictions about the future Church and shifting attendance patterns – ChristianWeek

Things I’ve Been Chewing On Since Pentecost

Mentoring as Cure of Souls

 Down deep, men and women began/begin to feel a yearning to be connected with others in a way that didn’t rely on a cable, keyboard, or cell tower.

MentoringThe September 2005 special edition of Newsweek’s “Spirituality in America” sums up our spiritual hunger very well: “Today, then, the real spiritual quest is not to put another conservative on the Supreme Court, or to get creation science into the schools. If you experience God directly, your faith is not going to hinge on whether natural selection could have produced the flagellum of a bacterium. If you feel God within you, then the important question is settled; the rest is details.” Again…  David Stoddard.

A Christianity which is not basically mystical must become either a political ideology or a mindless fundamentalism. Watts, Alan W.. Behold the Spirit: A Study in the Necessity of Mystical Religion.

This is exactly the situation in the second decade of the 21th Century. On the left the Church is political ideology and the right is brain dead fundamentalism. Betwixt and between these camps of true believers lies the company of the beleaguered.

Many do not know that before he was a Buddhist  Master,  Alan was Father Watts, Episcopal chaplain at Northwestern University,  Evanston, Ill.  The following long quote is from Behold the Spirit, a work that I consider a classic.  His critique of the present condition of the Christian Church in America was made in 1947.  The man was a prophet. Perhaps if anyone had listened he might well remained a Christian.

AlanWattsFr. Watts continues,  “Naturally, institutional Christianity will, in its present form, continue to supply the demand which remains for a monarchical religion. But a considerable number of ministers and even congregations—not to mention millions of reasonably intelligent young people—realize that churches must “put up or shut up,” and that the chief business of religious facilities and assemblies is to provide a social milieu for religious experience. This is no mere matter of changing the externals—of having rock bands instead of organs and Kyrie eleison set to jazz, nor even of turning churches into social service centers with the idea that t*his would be practicing Christianity seven days a week instead of just talking it on Sundays. Continue reading


May 24, 2015
Saint John’s
Memphis, Tennessee
John W. Sewell


Today we celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit fifty days after the Resurrection. The reading from the Acts of the Apostles describes the day of Pentecost and the indwelling of God’s Spirit in a new way, more continuous and more manifest than had been experienced before. The ancient Aramaic translation of the Pentecost story puts it this way, “And as the days of Pentecost were fulfilled, they gathered together as one. And there was from the stillness of heaven a sound like the stirring of Spirit, and the whole house was filled with it, where they were staying.” The spirit then fell upon them as tongues of fire. After Pentecost the word, God, as they had defined it, was no longer adequate to describe what the Christians were experiencing.

As John Polkinghorne puts it, [The Faith of a Physicist, pg. 146] “The early Church felt that it experienced divine power present within it with a peculiar intensity and personality.”

They looked into the Hebrew Scriptures for ways to explain what had happened. The language of spirit (ruah) was used in the Old Testament in relation to creation (Genesis 1: 2f.) The Spirit brooded over the waters of chaos in creation.

jesus_breathes_on_the_disciplesIn both Greek and Hebrew the word for spirit means also ‘breath’ or ‘wind.’ This is the sense of today’s Gospel reading. On Easter afternoon, the disciples were huddled behind closed doors for fear of the authorities. Jesus came and stood among them and showed his wounds. And as the disciples rejoiced he said twice “Peace be with you!” Then he said, “As the Father has sent Me, so I also send you.” Then, when He had said this, He breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” This verse can be translated, “Receive the holy breath.” He then says, “If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven him, but if you do not forgive someone, his sins are retained.”

Jesus breathed on them giving the Holy Spirit to the disciples. They had been behind closed doors for fear of the Jews. He tells them that they may forgive sins and retain them. I have been wondering? Is Jesus telling the church to be the moral police as has so often been the interpretation of this passage? Or is he saying in another way what he said in so many other places, namely, that we are to forgive everyone. If we retain sins is it because we can choose whether or not to forgive OR because we are unwilling or unable to forgive? Did our Lord not tell Peter to forgive infinitely? If we do not forgive is it because we unable to inhale the holy breath?

I am learning that deep breathing and fear are not compatible. Years ago and far far away I studied Yoga. The word comes from the Sanskrit and means union, from the words “to join”. Yoga is a technique for promoting “mindfulness.” — to become still and in that stillness to awaken and become conscious. To breathe and stretch promotes consciousness of one’s body one is present in one’s body. The yoga tradition says that each human being has a certain number of breaths to breathe in their lifetime. To breathe rapidly and shallowly is to wasting our very life. Although I doubt there are a set number of breaths per life, shallow rapid breathing does not promote health. Is the same true in the life of faith?

It is difficult to panic when breathing from the diaphragm. When people panic they breathe faster and more often, which in turn promotes more fear and less thinking. When we are afraid we have more trouble forgiving than when we are centered. The gospel tells us that perfect or mature love casts out fear. When we are centered we can choose to love rather than become our fear. After Jesus breathed on the apostles they were no longer afraid. They went into the streets proclaiming the good news of God in Christ to the very people from whom they had earlier hidden.

pentecostLike deep breathing, the presence of the Holy Spirit is incompatible with paralyzing fear. So it stands to reason to me that where we are afraid is the very place the Spirit is likely to be manifested. To be alive is to risk. Yet we are so afraid of risking. We run the numbers, buy insurance, take polls as if by some incantation or marshaling of force we shall at last be secure. But it is an illusion.

As Helen Keller, a woman who knew a good bit about challenge once wrote, “Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.”

The promise of our Lord is the gift of the Holy Spirit, the heavenly dove, the bird of open spaces, of the unpredictable, the risky and uncontrollable. Our part is to become quiet and be still, facing our fear that the love of God will be manifest in us. Fear prevents the breathing THAT PRODUCES SONG.

For example check out the Psalm for today –
26 Yonder is the great and wide sea
With its living things too many
to number, creatures both
small and great.

27 There move the ships, and there
is that Leviathan, which you
have made for the sport of it.

God made the whale just for fun. As an old friend of mine, Fr. Craig Bustrin, used to say, “The Whale is God’s Rubber Ducky.”


Advocatus: is a Lawyer, defender, in John 15, a defense attorney. Interestingly, the word, Satan is not a proper name, but a title, literally meaning, “The other side” or prosecuting attorney. The “Court of Heaven” is clearly displayed in the opening chapter of Job. Here the title, Satan, is used; in others accuser.

JOB 1:6-12 One day the heavenly beings came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan also came among them. 7 The LORD said to Satan, “Where have you come from?” Satan answered the LORD, “From going to and fro

on the earth, and from walking up and down on it.”


The scene, as the curtain rises is a court room. Each one, you and I, are seated in the chair reserved for the defendant. We are in a world of trouble, facing the death penalty; if the truth be told, we, every last one of us is guilty It’s an open and shut case without wiggle room. Not only are we addicted to sin, we are pushing it as well.

Now, the good news, beloved. Jesus served as our advocate so long as he lived in his incarnation (Christmas t0 Ascension). He is gone. Panic not. Jesus promised another Advocatus, one like him. Who is this defense attorney? It’s a senior partner in the old-line law firm in Heaven! Actually, it’s better than that. One of the masthead names of the firm, Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Attorneys & Counselors, founded before the foundation of the world is on his way.

The Holy Spirit is opening an office here just so we have immediate and continual defense! He is on retainer paid for by the cross and passion of the second person of the Trinity. Do you see what amazing news this is? What have we done to deserve this? Nothing, absolutely nothing. This, sisters and brothers for God is pro bono work! We call it GRACE!. .

In the Name of God, Father, Son & Holy Spirit!


peggy I gave Peggy’s money to the girl with orange hair. She held up a bucket with a sign “cure cancer.” “Are you sure?” She was shocked at the three bills; clearly, generosity exceeded her expectations. I didn’t compound her confusion by telling her the truth; the folded paper was intended for a dog and a man who live in the street. Peggy is a black Whippet. Salt and pepper sprinkle her elegant snout. Her Dad, Keith, told me they lost their shelter when the fellow they lived with died. While my discernment of homeless economics is primitive, I suspect that put them in the street was more complicated.

Neither he nor Peggy was malnourished, but autumn in York advanced toward All Hallows’ and Whippets have only fur veneer. She shivered, and he held her, arms wrapped around his best girl giving her more blanket than he could spare. I dropped a few pounds in his hand. “Get you and Peggy something to eat.”. I saw them last where Stonegate meets Saint Helen’s Square. Peggy, wearing a coat like a fashion model, was mighty sporty. “I got her a coat,” Keith grinned. He has a good smile, and only the missing upper front tooth reminds me life is hard. I set aside some pound notes for them.


At twilight, Evensong sung, a solitary high C floated; releasing stacked overtones that whispered down the sound chamber of the Nave.

“Lighten our darkness,we beseech thee, O Lord; and by thy great mercy defend us from all perils and dangers of this night; for the love of thy only Son, our Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. (Book of Common Prayer – Collect for Protection)

I came out the South Transept down Stonegate searching. The Shops mostly closed, patrons gone, leave shop-keepers to turn the key and turn toward home. Medieval buildings, like eccentric neighbors, leaned out, beckoning across the cobbles, straining to learn the gossip of the day’s trade past. The people lying in the gate alone seem less so in anonymous dark than when ignored by the crowds. I stopped and inquired if they had seen a man and his dog. None had. Full Night fell, and I turned back.

Some would think it odd that a man in the street would have a mouth to feed not his own. They are ignorant. Remember poor ignored sore Lazarus? Was he not comforted in the gate by the dogs. A burden to some, an extravagance to most is all Keith has. He admitted as much when he stroked her elegant neck and whispered, “she’s eight almost an old lady.”

Determined to honor them, that last day I went round again looking but found no “Peg o’ My Heart“. Time ran out. I caught the train to the plane in Manchester. Reluctantly, I gave Peggy’s money to the girl with the orange hair.

October 2013
York, United Kingdom


The Holy Island

It isn’t much of an island. The sea is busy, tirelessly cutting off island from mainland, in an ancient lulling rhythm of the cry of sea birds and the smell of salt air. The wind blows perpetually smoothing abbey stone and erasing the data from tombstones. It would not seem auspicious as a home let alone a base, a minster, for the conversion of the soul of a people.

Saint Aiden

Saint Aiden

Yet Aidan recognized the essence of the place coming from the Holy Island of Iona in the Irish Sea. That other island was not much of an island either and yet it was the engine of evangelism to Scotland and beyond. So Aidan saw more than he saw for he was a man of imagination coupled with a profound spirituality.

The Anglican tradition contends that things are not intrinsically holy rather they are made holy by being used for holy purposes. As a chalice is not made holy on account of precious medal or stones but rather by becoming the cup of salvation, so this island became holy as the habitation of holy men.

Lindisfarne is the Holy Island and pilgrims and tourists come by the thousands in the summer but there were few folk indeed in March. I rather enjoyed being here in the cold season when only the most determined come to visit and pray. We arrived an hour after low tide careful not to tarry until the tide inexorably turns cutting off land travel for many hours.  It has a bit of the Brigadoon effect, I think, the tides preventing and then allowing pilgrims the way to the Priory.

I did not have a profound spiritual awakening on Lindisfarne. I wasn’t looking for such, was open though, but again there is a peace that even the most tourist minded seem to sense. What comes home to me again and again is that whatever challenges we face in the Church and in the Economy or in our Soul, such and greater have faced our Spiritual forefathers, Aidan and Cuthbert. I am comforted.

Saint Chad

Saint Chad of Litchfield

Saint Chad of Litchfield

Last Monday was the feast day of Saint Chad, Bishop of Litchfield. He was born in Northumbria (where Whitby is located) and he plus three brothers became priests. He was educated by the great Saint Aiden of Lindesfarne.His brother Cedd founded a monastery at a remote spot at Lastingham as described by the Venerable Bede (see below). After Cedd’s death Chad was Abbot here before becoming Bishop.

For a long time I have found the Celtic saints of the North of Britain very attractive. The more I learn the more I like them. Today Sister Pam, no small authority on these men and women, drove me out to Lastingham across the high moors. What an amazing place, austere and mysterious and covered with free range sheep.