Missionary and Mystic

Two kinds of passion

Two forces rule the universe
Light and Gravity…
If we know in what way society is unbalanced
We must do what we can to add weight to the lighter scale
Simone Weil

The island of Cyprus is associated with the stories of two holy men who might be regarded as having embodied the contrast between the missionary and the mystic. One is Saul of Tarsus – better known as Paul, writer of many letters in the Bible. The other is Neophytus, a 12th century hermit from the Troodos Mountains.

Paul was a Jew who lived just after the time of Jesus of Nazareth. His name is associated with powerful letters and prayers to communities beyond the confines of the small world of Jesus. Paul was a learned man, who was influenced by Hellenistic philosophy. He felt compelled to transform the simple narratives of Jesus into a more philosophical framework.

The legacy of Paul’s words about love, loyalty and faith now inform many of the key rituals in the lives of Christians, used at times of birth, marriage, death and dying. What is often forgotten is that, in his youth, Paul committed acts of terrorism against the followers of Jesus. That is, until he experienced a conversion.

We know that the psychology of conversion is complex, but what is commonly accepted is that, when a person’s world-view is radically overturned, they often describe the experience as a revelation and, in some cases, the converted believe that they are called to influence the religion and life-patterns of others. This is the zeal that can accompany conversion, and it applies equally to political converts as we know. In Paul’s case, his zeal to convert others was enacted in a spirit of activism and passion.

Neophytus, on the other hand, represents a different way of living out a life of conviction. Born in Cyprus in the 12th century, Neophytus was drawn to the hermetic life from the time of his youth. The story goes that his parents, unaware of their son’s calling to be a hermit, arranged a marriage for him, and that he fled from home to escape this fate. Neophytus’ desire to uncover the fount of holiness took him to Jerusalem and back again to Cyprus – still searching for a location that would allow him to retreat as fully as possible into the depths of his own understanding of what it means to commune with God.

Paul was driven to go out into the world, and to shout from the rooftops that that he had found the meaning of life and the truth of human destiny. Neophytus was driven to make his home in a cave of his own digging, far from the company of others where silence and isolation might reign.

The irony is that both men attracted followers, because each man exhibited the charisms of faith that inspire others to seek out the wisdom they are believed to embody. Over time, Neophytus was overwhelmed by the growing band of his followers, so he retreated further into the mountainside. It is written that he eventually carved out his own burial chamber where, it is assumed, he at last found the silence of an eternal communion.

Two men, whose histories are overlaid by myth and legend. The point, I think, is not the degree of historical truth in either case. The lesson to be learned is that these tales convey archetypes which can reveal much about our own spiritual identity and faith journey. You might be tempted to conclude that those of us who pursue a life of meditation and contemplation stand in closer relationship to Neophytus than we do to Paul. That is not how I see it. Nor is there a necessity to follow the Christian faith to learn from the Hellenistic theologian or the Cypriot mystic. Practitioners of meditation are drawn from all faiths and none. Zeal to recalibrate the world according to loving kindness will come from the creative energy that reverberates in the depths of our person. It will come from the peace of our inner cave.


Take a moment to come fully into your peaceful space
be aware of your body
feel that the top of your head is suspended by a connecting thread
relax your neck
stretch each limb and then let it rest
palms on your knees with thumbs gently touching
note the curve of your spine
and plant your feet so that you are aware of being grounded
breathing in
breathing out

Now, find the cave within you
And imagine that two companions are there with you

Neophytus is your still point
Gently and wordlessly grounding you

Paul is an electrical impulse that awakens your mind
And fires you with a zeal for justice

Accept the stillness of Neophytus
And be grateful for Paul’s energy and his passion
Accept them both and find a place for them in your cave
May you flourish with each if them
Breathing in
breathing out

Listen for the wisdom of the missionary and the mystic
before you let them go
Then remain with your own breath
Your own life force

breathing in
breathing out
and when you are ready


Of Bugs and Flowers

In a mews laneway near my home, a local artist has embellished a wall of wild flowers by attaching their botanical names in English and in Latin. I see this as an invitation to look closely at these airborne visitors, and to acknowledge that they have lineage and a cultural history.

When I came across the wall (which, until then, I had only seen as the boundary between one property and another), I recalled one early experience of being encouraged to look at the detail of things; to see what is hidden in plain sight. I was six years old and our neighbour was a lay preacher. I had no idea what that meant of course, but I was vaguely aware that this man was different from ‘us’. Ours was an atheist family. All I knew about atheism when I was six was that we didn’t go to church, but that we had a shelf of books about God.

One day, when my mother and the preacher were having a conversation in the garden, our neighbour produced a microscope from out of his pocket. Bending down to my height, he asked if I would like to look through the lense to see the details of a flower, a Sweet William, he called it. So many years have passed since then, but my memory of that moment is vivid. It is not the image of a flower-head that remains, but the delight at seeing the smallest insect I had ever seen crawling up the stem. I had been allowed a glimpse of life in miniature, and a first intimation of the complexity of eco-systems. Or, in the language of my six year old self, a story of bugs and flowers.

I often think of our old neighbour. Did he dream of converting hearts and minds? Did he hope that he might bring some light and colour into the stark dourness of Calvinism? I wish I could tell him that one small girl, who grew into spirituality of a liberating kind, will always regard the man with the microscope as a source of revelation.

Many theologians and philosophers have written about the importance of attending to the moment we are in, and the detail of each thing we encounter. This is central to the practice of meditation because, in truth, the present is our focus. Make of it what you will. Breathe it in. Listen to the sounds around you. Look at the contours of your world. Listen with care to its rhythm and its music. The poetry and drama of the present moment is your life. Live it now, as fully and compassionately as you are able.

Meditation on Wild Flowers

Return to your place of peace and rest there
Come fully into the space
Let time drop away
Relax into your own body
Forgive the painful parts
be grateful for the strength you have

Breathe in to the count of four
Hold for the count of four
breathe out at your ease
hold for the count of four


Close your eyes and imagine the wild flower wall
its seeds were carried by the wind
until they found a home in a busy city

The wind has no will
seeds will go where they are blown

Have compassion for yourself
when you blow with the wind
Be grateful for the walls that have sheltered you
where…like wild flowers
you have put down roots

the natural world is not a thing apart from you
You are the natural world


In the isolation brought about by the 2020 pandemic, we have all had to rethink Donne’s maxim that “no man is an island’. In the reality of lockdown, each man and  each woman is an isola: if not under law, then certainly with a new appreciation that the space inside our own heads is, ultimately, the only place where we can exercise control. Our inner space will be tormented by anxiety or it will be blessed with peace according to the extent of our resources.


I use the term resource to signify two things: first, I am referring to the store of cultural, philosophical, and spiritual grids which we have inherited and/or learned through our interaction with the ordinary and extraordinary people we have encountered. Our aesthetic sensibility has been honed in their company, their conversation or by the way that their art, music, poetry or prose has marked us.

            In another sense, I am using the term resource to signify the capacity which we have to return to source: to retrace our steps on the pathways which have led us to this point in our life; to pause at the crossroads long enough to recall how and why we made a decision to take one direction and not another one. As we return to source, we will encounter many incarnations of ourselves, some of whom we will have to forgive.

            The principle focus of the reflections in this volume is the art and practice of Meditation. It is a practice in the most obvious way, because it is associated with the habitual formation of techniques. However, meditation is also an art in the sense that it is capable of bringing about a unique way of looking at the world. It is, in other words, a constructive practice which can change the minds and hearts of those who practise regularly.

            The following are small narratives which have allowed me to ‘return to source’ in order to uncover the pathways leading to my own life of contemplation and begin to answer the question of its genesis.

  • Genesis: the source of things; the way they began, the spring from which all else flows But, already, I am using a vocabulary that is rooted in the time/space framework of linear thinking. And that is not my intention.
  • Genesis: energy out of which something is generated. Now, I am getting a little closer to the idea I want to convey.
  • Genesis: not a point in time, but the flow of things into which we are thrown. Poets and philosophers know this.

In the middle of the journey of our life

I found myself astray in a dark wood

when the straight road had been lost

Dante Alighieri

To begin in the middle; that is what we all must do. We have no choice; this is what philosophers call our thrown-ness. By some roll of creation’s dice, we awaken to find ourselves conscious in the middle of the lives of others, driven by the desires of others, regulated by the laws of others and comforted, if we are indeed fortunate, by the compassion of those who accept our shared vulnerability. The present, then, is the fulcrum point in the history of our consciousness, balanced between past and future. If meditation is to go beyond an occasional exercise; if it to become a way of life which informs our being and our doing, then we need to retrace our steps to find our own unique pathway: the winding road that has led us to a desire for the peace and wholeness of meditation. Chances are that, in re-tracing our steps, we will uncover many incarnations of ourselves, like matryoshka dolls nesting one inside the other. Be assured that we may have grown and changed, but that some essence of us will always remain. Every incarnation is a chapter in our story.

To accompany you on your journey, I offer you a number of reflections. Through these narratives, you will see that I have come by the backroads to the meditative life. My hope is that my readers will be encouraged to revisit their own back story, and to sense the power of creativity that every one of us is born with.


Looking Forward

A day will come when normality will return

It will look different

We will feel different

We will emerge stronger

We will put our faith in more sustainable projects

Kinder relationships

And a new respect for the planet as One Home



  • I will be holding regular meditation classes in Dublin, beginning in September 2020, depending on the lifting of restrictions on movement in the city.
  • Check out the website of the British School of Meditation, where you will find links to my website and e-mail address.

In the meantime, please continue to use


as a resource.

It will be up-dated at intervals.


True North

The work I am involved in allows me to interact with a broad range of faiths. In fact, much of my work during the last decade has been in developing dialogue with people of different faiths and in bridging the gap between religious and non-religious world-views. That is what dialogue means. Dia & logos, two Greek terms which can be thought of as using language to jump across a gap. The art of dialogue, then, comes with a warning, to Mind the Gap.

So, in these settings, I am often asked questions about my own faith journey, which has been a long and winding path, with pauses at the crossroads. In common with most people, there have been times when I wished that the signposts were clearer, or that some benevolent guide would appear. However, my belief is that inside each person there is a virtual compass, and that, if we are diligent in our attention to the magnetism of the compass, then it is possible to distinguish our own true North. Remember, paying diligent attention is an act of will. It is a self-discipline, and it is also a commitment. Attention must always be critical, so that we protect ourselves from thoughtlessly following the paths of others.

If you are reading this, then you have already felt the pull of the meditative life. Together (or virtually together), we have explored some of the basic approaches to meditation as a practice. However, my aim has been to deepen the practice itself by asking the question, “How do we actually live a meditative life?”

I suggest that the first step is to retrace our steps to find the unique pathway that has led us to a desire for the peace and wholeness of meditation. Chances are that, in re-tracing our steps, we will uncover incarnations of ourselves, like so many matryoshka dolls nesting one inside the other. The point here is to be assured that we may have grown and changed, but that some essence of us will always remain. Every incarnation is a chapter in our story.

Indeed, I have come by the backroads to the meditative life. My hope is that my readers have been encouraged, through these reflections, to revisit their own back story, and to sense the power of creativity that every one of us is born with.