FESTIVAL OF MEDITATION & PRAYER 2010
It is difficult to believe that it is now several years since we held this Festival, becuase so much that happened then has continued to permeate life at Mayfield Salisbury.
An outline of the programme can be seen here
It began on Friday 3 September 2010 with the opening event: Meditation through Music. It was a beautiful evening. The sun was still streaming through the stained glass of the Sanctuary windows as we entered the church, but as darkness fell the focus became the candle lit apse. The carefully chosen music was provided by the Caritas Strings conducted by Hector Scott, Chloe Young on Clarsach, John Wilmett on organ, and the Jubilo choir led by Walter Thomson. An explanatory booklet guided the congregation through the texts, most connected with the Eucharist, which became the focus for meditation. A particular feature was the wide variety of pieces chosen, ranging, for example, from Vaughn Williams' O Taste and see how gracious the Lord is, to the Negro Spiritual Deep River arranged by Brian Trant, and from Thomas Tallis’ If you love me, keep my commandments, to the Taizé chant Ubi Caritas played here on the clarsach. At the close the Sanctuary was still for several minutes, most being too moved to speak. Then gradually people made their way out, many going through to the reception in the upper hall for a glass of wine and the chance to share their thoughts on a wonderful experience shared. As someone said, ‘I feel as if my soul has been nourished’.
On each Wednesday evening throughout the Festival there has also been something special.
On Wednesday 9 September Dr Michael Fuller led a workshop on Opera and Faith. In the past it was not usual for operas to deal with religious themes, composers such as Handel, for example, were commissioned by the pious to write oratorios rather than operas to express Christian faith. But in the twentieth century it became more common for religious ideas to permeate opera. This Dr Fuller illustrated by showing extracts from four very different works: Britten’s The Rape of Lucretia (1946), Messiaen’s St Francis of Assisi (1983), John Adams’ Dr Atomic (2005) and Francis Poulenc’s Dialogues of the Carmelites (1957). Each was followed by a short interval to allow the audience to recover from such powerful pieces, for who can forget the closing of the first act in Dr Atomic which uses John Donne’s poem ‘Batter my heart, three person’d God …’ or the repetitive swishing of the guillotine’s descending blade at the close of Dialogues of the Carmelites.
On the 16 September there was a workshop on Blessings led by some of our House Groups: another well attended and truly beautiful occasion. Blessings used at the different stages of our lives were explored, from birth to the end of life and parting. Readings and music were interspersed by periods of silence and the singing of the Taizé chant ‘Bless the Lord, my soul’. There was a wonderful stillness as all there became enfolded in the beauty of the Sanctuary and found their own personal resonance in the words. Afterwards fresh fruit and sparkling drinks were served in the south transept, where many remained to enjoy some company and refreshment.
Then on 22 September we were joined in the Sanctuary by our friends from St Columba’s Roman Catholic Church who led us in a service of Evening Prayer. As was explained at the start, the words used were those which would be being said on this particular day all over the world, which gave a wonderful sense of being part of a global community. The prayers themselves were participatory, the verses of the Psalms, for example, being said alternately by those sitting in he north and south side of the nave, and the service started and ended with a time of reflection.
There were the ‘one off’ events too! One was the Afternoon Service: a short very prayerful service particularly appreciated by those who find getting to Church at other times difficult. It was led by Sheila Wallace DCS, with the help of our organist, John Willmett. Afterwards there was afternoon tea and a chance to chat with friends, both old and new.
Another ‘special’ was the Pilgrimage to Dunkeld,which took place on Saturday 18 September. This started with a short meditative service in our own Sanctuary before we all boarded the coach for Dunkeld. Once there, after a picnic lunch, we gathered in the Cathedral for another short service of worship followed by a time of silence, solitude and walking in the beautiful sunlit grounds by the river. Then it was back to the Cathedral for a celebration of Holy Communion led by our minister, Revd Scott McKenna. The whole day was thus one of quiet and prayer, from which all brought home their own special memories. As one person said: ‘Standing in the Cathedral grounds with my back against that great living tree watching the flickers of sunlight on the fast flowing waters of the Tay, I have never been so conscious of the briefness of my own life nor of the nearness of the arms of God as I live it.'
Then Saturday 25 September was Doors Open Day throughout Edinburgh, when many of Edinburgh’s finest buildings were open to the public to allow visitors to explore their architecture and history. This year Mayfield Salisbury was delighted to be one such building. Throughout the day therefore we were joined by a steady stream of visitors, many coming particularly to view our recently refurbished sanctuary and our renowned stained glass. They were also able to enjoy two organ recitals: one in the morning by Revd Robert Lawrie, who often takes our evening services, and one in the afternoon by our own organist, Dr John Willmett. In the afternoon too there was the book launch of Thy Story in Glass by Dr Elizabeth Cumming, design by Alan Victor. This beautiful book with its stunning photographs gives details of the history and design of all the Mayfield Salisbury windows and is still available from the Church Office (price £5.00)..
One other significant feature of the Festival has been our Open Church. Throughout each week, for an hour each evening and all day Wednesday, the Sanctuary was open for Meditation and Prayer. At these times the lighting was kept low and candles lit. Organ music was played on Wednesdays from 6.00pm – 7.00pm. At other times CDs of, for example, Gregorian chants, were used. Stewards were present throughout and they reported that, although the numbers were not large, they were joined at regular intervals by visitors: some came to pray, others read the leaflets provided, while others seemed happy just to sit and enjoy the peace and beauty of their surroundings.
All four Sundays of the Festival which were particularly memorable.
On Sunday, September 5, in the morning our minister, Revd Scott McKenna, preached on ‘Is God party to prayer?’ Prayer, he explained, is much misunderstood. It is not a wish list or an attempt to manipulate God. It is stilling ourselves so that we may enter into the silence of the Holy.
In the evening Revd Dr Alison Jack lectured on ‘Prayer in the New Testament’, leading the congregation from how people prayed in Greco-Roman times, through Old Testament times, to the New Testament. Here the profound differences which Christianity brought were explored, including some of the contrasts found in the Epistles and the Gospels, such as how it is in the Gospels alone that God is addressed as ‘Father’. The lecture was followed, as most events were, by a time of fellowship, when many continued to discuss over coffee and cake the points raised or explored the books on the Festival Bookstall.
On 12 September, we welcomed visiting speakers to all three Services.
At the 9.30 Revd Dr Sophia Marriage, an Episcopal priest, preached on Children’s Spirituality. With three small children herself, her suggestions on how best to nurture our children’s spiritually were not only extremely insightful, but also very practical; for example, the reassurance that while caring for babies if one managed one minute of private prayer in a day one was doing well! Children, she reminded us, learn from what they see and hear us do, far more than what we tell them they should do. Do they, for example, see us treating others or discussing others in ways that match the faith they hear discussed?
At the 10.45 the Very Revd David Lunan, Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland 2008-9, preached on The Centrality of prayer in the Christian life. He stated that he felt one of the most important things the Church has to do in our time is to help people to pray, and greatly encouraged us by stating that - ‘You are on to something here at Mayfield Salisbury in your Festival of Meditation and Prayer: addressing the spiritual life ... Thank you for reminding the Church, promoting it, and bringing it to our attention.’
Then in the evening, Father Raphael Pavouris, a priest at the Orthodox Church of St Andrew in Edinburgh, led a very beautiful and very instructive workshop on Visual Theology. From earliest times there is evidence that Christians used icons as aids to prayer. Father Raphael showed us, with the aid of a succession of stunning photographs of a wide variety of artefacts, how icons are a highly symbolic art form which is designed to be used as an aid to contemplation of the transcendent nature of God. They are thus ‘read’ and meditated upon in the same way as we in the Protestant Churches would read and meditate on a Biblical text. Afterwards there was time to meet with Father Raphael and ask further questions.
On September 19 Scott preached on ‘God is Darkness and Silence’. Our prayers, he explained, are shaped by What and Who we believe God to be.Then in the evening about 40 adults gathered in the chancel for a workshop on Godly Play with Eilie Blackwood. Godly Play is an imaginative approach to Christian nurture. It was developed in the 1970s by Dr Jerome Berryman of the American Episcopal Church and involves creating a sacred space for children or adults in which Bible stories are presented and wondered about. It is now used in many parts of the world and by many different Christian denominations. There is an excellent website at www.godlyplay.org.uk. As soon as Eilie started it could be seen why the approach is so successful, as the whole group quickly became completely involved in what they were watching. Two stories were told: The Exodus and The Good Shepherd. Each was told slowly and quietly in a reflective manner without interpretation, the teller sitting quietly on the floor surrounded by the group of listeners. Each was illustrated by the use of props and figures made from natural materials, their design deliberately simple. The story was then followed by a time of quiet wondering using a range of open ended questions designed to invoke a silent inward response.
The Festival ended with three very special services on Sunday 26 September.
First at the 9.30 Worship Service which many families attend, the Sunday School enjoyed a Session of Godly Play at which Eilie Blackwood used the Exodus story used with the adults the previous Sunday evening, while Scott McKenna led the adults in a time of Silent Prayer in the Sanctuary. All were encouraged to sit alone, undisturbed by others, using the prayer guide sheet if they wished, and in stillness and silence offer to God prayers of praise, thanksgiving, confession and supplication.
At the 10.45 Worship Service, the writer and spiritual teacher Father Gerard Hughes SJ preached on Praying from our Experience, taking the congregation through a method of prayer for use at the end of each day, his point being that it is in our experience of the events of each day that we meet God. As he said - ‘We are praying to know the desires and attitudes which underlie our moods and feelings. Are my desires all centred round me and my kingdom, my comfort, my success, my status, my wanting all creatures to praise, reverence and serve me, or are they directed to God’s Kingdom, to letting God be the God of love, compassion, peace and forgiveness to me, and through me, for all peoples and for all creation?’ After this service there was a Buffet Lunch served where there was a time of fellowship and a chance to talk with Father Hughes and discuss his most thought provoking address.
In the evening many were again drawn to the Sanctuary where the closing service of Communion Round the Table was held: a service of silence, prayer, scripture, mediation and music in the chancel, the rest of the church being dimly lit, giving a wonderful feeling of tranquillity. Several of the events which had taken place earlier in the Festival were reflected in this service. For example, there were icons on one part of the Communion Table and some of the figures used in Godly Play on another part. Reference was made to the closing of the first act of John Adam’s opera Dr Atomic with John Donne’s poem Batter my heart, three person’d God, here read, and silent meditation took place while listening to music played on the clarsach: all reminders of some of the very special evenings during the last three weeks.
But this was not quite the end, for, as on so many other occasions throughout the Festival, there was a final time of fellowship with refreshments being served in the South Transept.
Scott's recommended reading list on Meditation and Prayer can be found here