Archive for the ‘Lent Book’ Category

A couple of years ago I began writing prayers and meditations in a notebook. Now they are in a real book and the book is being used for The Big Read 2014.

The clips below tell you more.

If you want to access the wonderful material that has been created to support people using the book for Lent, please follow this link.

One of the great things about The Big Read is that it is interactive and participants are invited to share stories and become creative themselves. So I am hugely looking forward to hearing from people who engage with the meditations and prayers once the project is underway in March.

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A few years ago I wrote a book called Barefoot Disciple: Walking the Way of Passionate Humility. Because it was the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Lent Book, 2011, it has been read by quite a lot of people. I received fair bit of feedback at the time and still do. Indeed I am this weekend in a Birmingham parish where a number of people read it just recently. Apparently their discussion really took off when it came to the subject of foot-washing. During the peace on Thursday night someone I had never met before greatly me warmly, saying, ‘I really enjoyed your book’. Such moments are deeply touching, humbling and rewarding. But this blog is about a response to the book which is all of those things – but in a way that is off the scale.

When I was writing Barefoot Disciple, I did, from time to time, take off my shoes and socks and step out into our very large and overgrown former rectory garden and do a kind of walking meditation. You could call it a wincing meditation, as I am not very hardy. But I remain glad for the memory of walking barefoot on frosty grass and damp gravel.

What I never expected, however, was that anyone would pick up the idea and take it one step further. But this is exactly what Hannah Phillips has done these last few years, deciding to go barefoot through Holy Week, come what may. It was always a bold decision – but the weather this year has made it especially challenging.

This is how Hannah explains how the experience has challenged her.

When my feet hurt, I often felt tempted to take the easy path – to walk on the grass rather than on the gravel, so to speak. But I thought this would be missing the point. Many people around the world don’t have the option to take an easy route.

I think our journey of faith is like this. We are often faced with difficult decisions, and we must trust in God to guide us onto the right path.

Hannah’s barefoot experience is one from which I have learnt quite a lot: simply by reflecting on how much I don’t want to do any such thing myself. I mean: so cold, so scratchy, so dirty and so difficult to explain. It is a radical and prophetic gesture, pointing to the reality of the down to earth poverty of so many of God’s people, and the vulnerability that we are all invited to share as we follow in the footsteps of Jesus Christ.

On her blog Hannah has written about her own learning too:

Soon after Jesus rode in in his glory, people in the hierarchy saw his difference as a challenge to them. Instead of embracing his humility they fought it. They did not spare the time to understand him, instead they condemned him to death. Every time we walk past the person in the street behaving slightly differently and judge them we are complicit in what happened to Jesus. Just as when we welcome in the stranger to our house, we are welcoming Jesus in too.

Walking barefoot has highlighted for me how judgemental I can be. It is easy to condemn others before you understand them. It is easy to look at me and say I am mad, poor or just plain stupid, when you do not know why I have bare feet. I am vulnerable and I seek to be understood. How many other people feel like that and do I do enough to listen?

There is much to learn by reflecting all this. And, who knows, a reader of this blog might be inspired to a barefoot venture of their own. Hannah’ barefoot days are also raising money for Us.- formerly USPG –

If you wish you can make a supportive donation here:

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I was contacted the other day by a parish. They were planning to use Barefoot Disciple for Lent – did I have any questions to help start discussion? I had never put a list together but it seemed like a good idea – so here’s the list. It’d be fascinating to hear some of the reflections that these questions promote.

You can get more details about the book by clicking on the cover in the sidebar.

Chapter 1 – Christlike Wisdom

  1. What life lessons have taught you about humility?
  2. Who would be in your gallery of heroes of humility?
  3. Do you agree that learning is integral to following Jesus?
  4. What difference would it make to your church life and your personal walk of faith if we routinely used the word ‘apprentice’ instead of ‘disciple’?

Chapter 2 – Learning to Walk

  1. Have you ever been on a pilgrimage?  What impact did it have on you?
  2. What do you make of foot-washing rituals?

Chapter 3 – A Terrible Force

  1. What is the best definition of humility you have ever come across?
  2. How do leadership and humility connect up to your experience?
  3. What do you make of the story about Rubens’ self-portrait (p49)?

Chapter 4 – Humiliation, Pride and Modesty

  1. How do you see the difference between intentional humiliation and moral humiliation (p. 54)?
  2. How does the distinction between good and bad pride help you?
  3. Do you find learning humbling?
  4. What do you think of ‘rhetorical humility’?

Chapter 5 – Childlike Maturity

  1. What is Christian maturity in your view?
  2. “True humility … is found in accepting who we really are.”  (p. 73)  Discuss!
  3. Does old age bring disappointment?
  4. What do you think of the story of the all age orchestra?  (p. 79/80)
  5. If you have time – role play Jesus before Pilate as described on p. 82/3.

Chapter 6 – Giving Up Grumbling

  1. Could you give up grumbling?
  2. Do you agree with the analysis of the ‘why’ question (p. 96 – 99)?
  3. Three alternatives to grumbling are suggested.  Can you think of a fourth?

Chapter 7 – Becoming a Stranger

  1. Do you have a story to tell about a journey that changed your life?
  2. Have you ever felt that you were the stranger?
  3. Why is writing so difficult?
  4. How might a more open approach to hospitality change your life, your church?

Chapter 8 – Generous Living

  1. How does the lesson of the bus journey in India challenge you?
  2. Do you have trouble identifying with the rich?  Why?
  3. To what extent do you personally have an ‘abundance’ or ‘scarcity’ mindset?  What of your church?
  4. “At the end of the day it’s ‘generosity of spirit’ that matters” (p. 146).  Do you agree?
  5. “A genuinely humble person is a grateful and unself-conscious giver.”  Are they?  Which comes first giving or humility?

Chapter 9 – Bodily Spirituality

  1. Does the phrase ‘interdependent creatureliness’ speak to you?
  2. How serious is the problem of loneliness in the Western world today?
  3. “True discipleship takes us to the limit of competency and capacity and well outside our personal comfort zone.” (p. 161) Is this true to your experience?
  4. What do the stories in the final few pages 168 – 172 have in common?

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One of the more shameful things you can do as an author is look your book up on Amazon to see how well it is selling.  As the ratings change every hour you can waste a lot of time like that.

If the book is doing well it is good fun.  You see it rising from the hundred thousands to a five figure number. You begin to wonder, maybe it will get into the top 10,000. It does. Will it do better? Yes, inside the top 5,000. Then one day, Amazon mentions it in a promotion and it breaks into three figures.  We are cooking on gas now. There’s only Jamie Oliver between us and the very top. Well, Jamie and about a thousand other books. That’s quite a lot, actually.

It is very childish, of course.  I have no idea how Amazon’s algorithm works and it was only after a while that I realized that just a few sales could lead to very significant changes.  And those sales might well be of other books.

Someone told me that the number of ‘likes’ makes a difference too. Which is good if you want to be kind but don’t want to bother reading it.  The other day a student told me she liked my first book. I was astonished. ‘You’ve read it?’ I asked. ‘I read the back cover’ she replied. ‘It was nice.’ Fair enough. A like is a like.

With two books published there is even more juvenile fun to be had. It’s a race. Which book is in the lead?  One day I looked them up to find they were only a few places apart – one was 9,248 and the other 9,254. Neck and neck. I wanted to photograph the moment. An hour later they had moved apart. Don’t ask me how I know.

Both have tumbled down over the last few days.  One was mentioned in the Church Times as a ‘recently published’ book last Friday, It was around 5,000 then. Now, less than a week later, it is ranked 144,559.  And, no thank you, Mr Amazon, I will not take the trouble to look up the top 100 books right now. I am not quite in the mood.

This is innocent sport, of course.  But there are is a real danger lurking. A new review could pop up any moment.

In fact, one just has. I must be getting old as it made me laugh out loud. It’s short enough to tweet:  ‘An interesting little book, a bit disjointed, but makes better sense reading it for the second time. It was very thought provoking especially during lent (sic).’

It was for Barefoot Disciple. Healing Agony has not been reviewed yet. Though you never know…Maybe I had better check.

I am not sure about Amazon reviews. You just don’t know who the reviewer is. But you can work out a few things by looking at their other reviews.  So I looked ‘jrc’ up.

There were six other reviews, all as succinct.  Two were for Bibles, (‘this is a neat bible, although the print is a bit small’.)  One was for Majestic Rainbow Bible Tabs (‘these bible tabs are so useful. they help finding the books of the bible so much quicker. They are a bit fiddly to put on but still useful.)

And one was for a ladies watch strap. (‘I am a bit disappointed, a good price, a lovely colour, and a nice looking watch strap, but no spring loaded pins included to fit watchstrap to watch. SO had to buy them as well.’)

Reviewers also award stars.  jrc had given several five-star reviews. The watch strap minus pins only got three stars – which for some illogical reason made me feel better about getting four for my disjointed ramblings. The neat Bible only got two. Even more disjointed, perhaps.

Must stop. It’s time to check the rankings.

But why not be radical and shop in a real bookshop, say the Durham Cathedral Shop. There is no fear of stumbling across a ranking or review in there. Check it out at Nice staff too.


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You learn a lot if you write a book. And some of what you learn is about the subject matter. Putting it all down coherently makes you see the gaps in your knowledge.

But you learn more about yourself.  You discover new levels of self-doubt.  ‘Why did I ever think I could do this?’

You are soon back at school, thinking of excuses for not handing in your homework on time. You learn how very easily distracted you can be. And how easily pleased. Only to be disappointed again when you read your genius passage through the next morning.

The process of writing involves self-discovery of the most humbling kind. ‘Now I know why there are so few books on this subject’ you say to yourself – again, and again and again.

And you learn about others. You learn about the people you share your life with and their capacity to be loving and supportive and encouraging. You marvel as you see them express an interest in yet another micro-iteration of an idea that lost its shine some while ago. And you learn about your editor’s tact and wisdom and patience.  Well, how do they put up with writers??

It’s when you try to write that other authors, real ones, rocket in your estimation. Anyone who has published something longer than 4,000 words is your hero.  You read other people’s books with eyes open wide in stunned disbelief – ‘how did they do that!’ You read a single chapter – ‘wow!’ You read sentences and wonder at how so much was crafted into so few words so elegantly.  And then you return to your own lumpen, tired and turgid prose and blush with the anticipated embarrassment that one day people might read this stuff.

My first book, Barefoot Disicple, had been commissioned by the Archbishop of Canterbury as his Lent Book for 2011.  No pressure, then.  Sooner or later the archiepiscopal eye would be cast over the whole thing and the Foreword written. Of course it felt like waiting for an essay to be marked.

I read the Foreword on a computer terminal in a cupboard in a London retreat house. I remember walking away afterwards; my feet hardly touching the ground. Heavy irony here: the book was about having your bare feet firmly on the ground. Hubris was just down the corridor. I thought myself out of it.  ‘What about the reviewers?’ I asked myself. ‘What about the real readers? What will they think?’  I was down to earth again with a bump. The right place to be.

Six months later it was published. Then there was the launch. It was a celebration.  But none of it was about the content, the words.  It was about the existence of the book.  Suddenly, it was born. Da-da!

As if. The struggle forgotten, I had to learn how to sign copies. Signing it seemed like cutting an umbilical cord. No wonder my signature was shaky.

After a while emails and cards from readers, strangers to me mostly, began to arrive. Now it began to feel real. People writing back. People taking part.  The book was living its own life. Not only born but grown-up and wandering free. We were both liberated.

Someone sent me the notes she had written after each session her Lent group had spent with the book. A few days later she emailed again. ‘I forgot to send you the prayer,’ she wrote.  And there is was,  A Prayer for Barefoot Disciples.  Astonishing.  The heart of the book transposed to the language of prayer. What better fulfilment might any text have?

Here is the prayer. The whole book in one sentence,  fourteen short lines. How did she do that!  I don’t know. But I am delighted, Sue Page, that you did.  Thank you.

A Prayer for Barefoot Disciples

Lord Jesus Christ,
we follow you
as you empty yourself of power,
gaze into the eyes of need and pain,
and tread the way of humility
all the way to the Cross.
Teach us how to walk,
shedding the shoes of pride and conceit,
ceasing to complain,
delighting in the life you offer
and learning more of what it is to be humbly open
and alive in your love.
We ask this in the name of Your Father
and the power of Your Spirit.

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