When Ground Becomes Holy by Keith Lamdin

Sarum College from CathedralWhat does it mean to be grounded?

As a school boy it meant being punished by not being allowed beyond the school grounds but as a performer it means being connected with the ground (feet on the ground) so that stability and steadiness can be the base for thought and action.

When Moses approached the burning bush he was told he was standing on Holy Ground. He needed to be bare foot so that body and holy ground could be in touch.

As a child I spent much of the summer barefoot on the beach, running across shingle and sand but it was a shock in later life at the beginning of the human relations movement to be told to take off my shoes and socks and to stand in meditation, feeling the ground beneath my feet. It was a kind of coming home.

For too long the separation of body from soul or spirit has reigned supreme, fed it seems to me by a longing to imagine life after death essentially spirit without the body. Robertson Davies in his novel Rebel Angels (1), part of the Cornish Trilogy, in a conversation between Parlabane and Maria, talks about the importance of the tree being not only crown above the ground but roots as well. He suggests that Maria needs to be not only the academic above the ground but connected to the gypsy roots from which she came. Ephesians 3.14 reminds us to be rooted and grounded in love, and only then can we really understand the nature of God’s love for us. The body and the spirit belong together, and that is why place is so important. To be grounded you have to be grounded somewhere.

People speak of an immediate sense of change as they come through the High Street gate in Salisbury into the largest Close in England, from the bustling medieval shopping centre into an altogether different kind of space. The cathedral itself, surrounded on all sides by expanse of grass, can be seen for what it is; a magnificent building built in less than 50 years so all of one Early English style. For more than 750 years, day after day, bread is broken, psalms are sung, prayers are said, and just possibly tourists become pilgrims. At the same time this Gothic building is surrounded by the Close wall which is made up of many of the stones of the Norman cathedral from Old Sarum. So one cathedral is embraced by another one.

This has been a place of prayer for so many years and here also it is possible to be connected with the ground that is Wiltshire, so famous for its chalk downland, outcrops of beech on flint and chalk streams, with Stonehenge, Avebury, and the many burial mounds that pepper the landscape, with its sense of early occupation and human rituals.

In the North East corner of the Close stands Sarum College, a mixture of buildings. Originally a 17th century elegant house inspired by Christopher Wren, it was extended in the 1880s by William Butterfield with brick and flint when the building was developed to be a residential place for training ministers for the Diocese of Salisbury, and added to in the 1960s and 70s when Wells Theological college joined.

What does it mean that people have prayed morning and evening in the small upstairs chapel? What might the effect be that students have sat in the library and still do and grapple with ideas beyond their understanding and have fallen asleep on books late at night? Can the walls absorb something of the loss of faith and recovery of belief and the endless sense of sacrifice and calling? One is reminded of the words of Jesus as he rode on a donkey into Jerusalem: ‘If these were silent the stones would cry out’ (Luke19:40)

Following its closure as an Anglican theological college in 1994, Sarum College was reborn as an ecumenical centre for theological study where our passion is learning to nourish the human spirit. Now people come here for a variety of reasons; to retreat and take a break from ministry to read and pray, and think; to engage in serious postgraduate study in Spirituality, Liturgy, Theology Imagination and Culture, or Leadership; to attend day programmes; to retreat or learn about spiritual direction; to come to conferences or to see the art that we display in these historic buildings. People from all over the world meet one another at breakfast and find themselves in conversation over lunch.

Is it presumptuous to claim some kind of special holy ground here? It is just as possible to stand in the midst of dereliction and decay, or brownfield sites or at the holocaust museum in Jerusalem and still find oneself grounded in holiness. Every ground is holy because God is there, but maybe there are different kinds of holiness. I am reminded of the line in T.S. Eliot’s Little Gidding ‘to kneel where prayer is valid’, or from a more sceptical perspective, Philip Larkin’s Church Going (2)

A serious house on serious earth it is,
In whose blent air all our compulsions meet,
Are recognised, and robed as destinies.
And that much never can be obsolete,
Since someone will forever be surprising
A hunger in himself to be more serious,
And gravitating with it to this ground,
Which, once he heard, was proper to grow wise in,
If only that so many dead lie round.

We have wondered whether we should sell our building and move to a trading estate close to the station, but return to staying here because we do think there is something special, not only about our commitment to Benedictine hospitality, but about the place as well. We can only believe what so many people of little faith or none tell us about their experience of coming here: what they find when they walk though the Close gate and turn left and find their way into our college. It may be that there is a special kind of holy ground when so many feet from so many faithful people from so many centuries have stood here, and prayed and touched the love of God. I wonder why we go for standing rather than sitting or kneeling. Maybe we should do a bit more prostrating, lying face down on the ground without worrying about what it will do to our clothes.

It just becomes possible standing on such ground that we can lay aside our defences, and wriggle our toes into the earth and thus connected, open ourselves to the mystery of love and find that kind of union with God that brings about a new kind of wisdom and courage to change the world. The ground becomes holy because it is a place of meeting and greeting, a place of turning and choosing.

1) Davies, Robertson (1981). Rebel Angels: Macmillan of Canada.
2) Larkin, Philip (2003). Collected Poems: Faber & Faber.

Keith Lamdin  |  About Sarum College  |  A Brief History  |  Supporting Sarum College

Sarum College’s Meals on Wheels

Photographs by Ash Mills Photography

Refurbishment of Sarum College Kitchen Underway.

Sarum College guests – including visiting choirs singing in Salisbury Cathedral this summer – continue to enjoy freshly cooked meals thanks to the early-morning arrival of a five-tonne temporary kitchen on July 29th.

Undeterred by the logistical challenges of navigating a medieval Cathedral Close, the team from Dawsonrentals Ltd delivered the temporary kitchen without a hitch (however close it sometimes looked!). In the final stage of the delivery, the kitchen was hoisted over the college wall and wheeled into place on the grass behind the main college entrance.

The full gallery of pictures are on the Sarum College Flickr page.

More groups than ever are choosing to meet and stay at Sarum College. The strain this has put on the 40-year-old kitchen facilities has meant this project has become a top priority for the college. Over the next month the kitchen will be completely gutted so the space can be redesigned and new equipment brought in. The result will enhance the kitchen and dining area so that it is more attractive, energy efficient and effective in meeting the growing demand for events, functions and external catering.

While this work goes on the College will continue to cater for the staff, students and guests. The Cavell Room has been transformed into a temporary dining room to ensure both bodily as well as spiritual needs continue to be met!

Sarum College is an education charity which receives no funding from government or church bodies. This project has been funded primarily by a grant from the Mrs RP Tindall Trust. Other funds have come from the July 2014 Community Matters (green token) scheme at the Waitrose store on Churchill Way. Friends of Sarum College and private donors also have responded generously to an appeal for funds for the project.

If Sarum is able to secure enough funding, the next phase of work will be the refurbishment of the Common Room, a relaxed space for breaks, informal meetings and evening gatherings. We hope to begin this phase of works in December.

If you would like more information on how you can support Sarum College, contact Christine Nielsen-Craig, Director of Marketing and Development.

Bookshop Bestsellers July 2014

Sarum College BookshopGeorge Herbert’s life and works were celebrated in July with the George Herbert Festival, much of which took place at Sarum College.

His popularity is evident with last months bestsellers. Festival goers were treated to a talk by John Drury on his biography of George Herbert, ‘Music At Midnight’. Rowan Williams was another speaker throughout the 4 day event and his works, including his latest publication ‘Being Christian’ proved to be popular.

It is also that time of year again with the publication of next years lectionaries and Church Desk Diaries.

1. Common Worship Lectionary 2014-2015, Canterbury Press Norwich £4.99

2. Music At Midnight by John Drury, Penguin Books £9.99

3. Poems of Rowan Williams by Rowan Williams, Carcanet Press £9.95

4. Being Christian by Rowan Williams, SPCK £7.99

5. 8 Bible-Themed Journey Days for Primary Schools by Barbara Meardon and Verity Holloway, BRF £9.99

6. SPCK Common Worship and Book of Common Prayer Lectionary 2014-2015, SPCK £4.99

7. Reflections for Daily Prayer, Church House Publishing £16.99

8. The Rev. Diaries by Reverend Adam Smallbone, Penguin Books £14.99

9. Church Book and Desk Diary 2015, Canterbury Press Norwich £18.99

10. In Season and Out of Season by Jeremy Davies, Canterbury Press Norwich £19.99

Book of the Month: August 2014

Being ChristianBeing Christian by Rowan Williams

To recommend a book by Rowan Williams is generally to provoke a look of caution and the expectation of immensely scholarly thought expressed in sentences so complex that even after a second reading their meaning will remain obscure.

On the contrary, however, Being a Christian: Baptism, Bible, Eucharist, Prayer (SPCK, 2014) is lucid and thoroughly enjoyable. I would recommend it as equally suited to a Lent course, as preparation for adult baptism or confirmation, or the bedside table of any Christian reader. (Or, come to that, a reader of any faith or none, minded to discover the staple elements of Christianity.)

Dr Williams deals with each subject separately, giving its history and describing its value in the Christian life. About the Eucharist, for example, he points out that to share in it ‘means to live as people who know that they are always guests – that they have been welcomed and that they are wanted … In Holy Communion, Jesus Christ tells us that he wants our company.’ By analogy with the passing of bread to Judas Iscariot, we are also there as ‘those who have the capacity to betray.’ The Eucharist is not a reward for good behaviour but food to ‘prevent ourselves from starving as a result of our own self-absorption.’

Through baptism, we inherit ‘a life of prophecy and priesthood and royalty’ – the threefold identities of Jesus which will grow in us as we grow in his faith.

An important section of the chapter on the Bible is the reminder that until fairly recently Christians did not read the Bible, but heard it read to them. This, says Williams, is significant – ‘Christian life is a listening life. Christians are people who expect to be spoken to by God. And there are many parts of the world whose people are unable to buy a Bible.

It is composed of many different types of writing and much does not seem to be addressed to us: ‘The Bible is, you might say, God telling us a parable or a whole sequence of parables. God is saying “This is how people heard me, saw me, responded to me; this is the gift I gave them; this is the response they made … Where are you in this?” ‘

On prayer, Williams cites three early Christian writers: Origen (‘The whole of our life says Our Father‘; Gregory of Nyssa (‘Prayer heals relations’); and John Cassian (‘O God, make speed to save me’). This is the section I found most valuable because it addresses, with humility, skill and clarity, what I find most difficult: and I commend it, and the book, most highly.

Reviewed by Julia Taylor.

Special price of £6.99 in the shop (posted out for free) or £4.99 + postage online from www.sarumcollegebookshop.co.uk between 1st and 31st August 2014. RRP £7.99.

Take this Bread by Sara Miles

This book, first read several years ago has influenced me and moved me more profoundly than perhaps any other.

It has certainly helped develop & shape my thinking on ministry and the sacraments and how our faith is lived, in and out of church and its structures. In Take this Bread, Sara describes her exploration of faith from her first visits to church to her vocation & vision and her growing ministry. The story of her encounter with Christ in the Sacrament, her conversion and her understanding of what the Eucharist continues to means in both her life and ours is nothing short of a life changing read.

The prophetic naivety which she displayed and used is a strong challenge to the structures of our churches; fresh eyes, newly lit by the Spirit can see things so differently, how often do we obfuscate this with processes and past experience?! Sara writes and reflects on the living out of the Eucharist; if we really believe this, how do we live? How can we not pick up the challenge and grow in justice, hospitality, healing and above all love? It is a challenge that has spoken right into my life and given me much to reflect on as I learn how to work in and with communities, churches, structures & people, and above all how I learn to listen to the Spirit of God. I keep coming back to its themes and ideas as they help me to understand more about what our calling is as church which has at its centre a meal, a welcome and food of all sorts for everyone.

I would massively recommend reading this and her other books Jesus Freak and City of God; prepare to be challenged and excited about faith in the 21C. Sara is speaking at Greenbelt this summer too!

Review by Angi Nutt (35/08)