Category Archives: Spirituality

Hidden God – Saint Thomas Aquinas

To honour Thomas Aquinas, I re-post my attempt at paraphrasing one of Thomas’s great Eucharistic hymns:

Lord, we do adore you; deep in love we’re falling.
You in bread, in wine, are hiding, heat as in the flame.
Lord, you feed us wholly, for our hearts you’re calling;
But, Lord, we’re nothing, nothing can we claim.

Taste and touch are failing; seeing is deceiving,
Only in the sense of hearing do we know it’s you.
I believe our God’s Word, memory retrieving
Truth from the Scriptures, Jesus tells it true.

On the cross you’re hiding, God as human here,
You are God and human, and both death and life exist.
I believe, and trusting that my faith is clear;
I pray the prayer of the terrorist*.

Thomas touched your woundings; those I cannot warrant.
My faith depends on trusting in the here and now.
Help me then to know you with a heart transparent,
Seek hope: I love you more in every hour.

Bread ignites our memory of our Maker dying.
Bread and wine are living, and burn with His life afire.
Help me journey forward on our God relying
And find the sweetness people all desire.


*The two bandits crucified with Jesus were probably armed rebels, in today’s word, terrorists.

Paraphrase of Thomas Aquinas Adoro Te Devoto.
Metre: Tune: Nicæa TiS 132

Originally posted in 2012 at


Gazing Prayer: Susan Pitchford’s new book shows how.

Susan R. Pitchford tssf, The Sacred Gaze: Contemplation and the healing of the self, Liturgical Press 2014, (Paperback 168 pages)

Available from $16 approx. online.

Reviewed by Ted Witham tssf

Gaze: to look with love into the face of another. Gazing requires attention over time; and gazing brings the one who gazes closer to the other whose face is beheld.

Susan Pitchford, as a member of the Third Order, Society of Saint Francis, is the right person to introduce readers to gazing as “Contemplation and the Healing of the Self”, as she describes gazing in the sub-title of this accessible and helpful book. Pitchford uses Saint Clare of Assisi as her springboard for the idea of gazing as prayer, in particular, Saint Clare’s letter to Saint Agnes of Prague, where St Clare invites Agnes to gaze on Christ as a mirror.

Susan Pitchford first places this idea in her academic field of sociology to understand how a loving gaze can lead to the healing of self by correcting the images we have of ourselves.

We begin the journey by acknowledging that we are gazed at: God looks with love on our face. What God sees there, because God is love, is the self that is made whole, not the wounded and sinful self of which we are so conscious. When we discover this true self, we are set free to pray in true freedom. We then can gaze on the face of God.

Pitchford is conscious that this way of talking about prayer can easily be empty words. A useful chapter describes how different personalities can use their imaginations to engage in gazing: for some, this will be visual or verbal, for others auditory or kinaesthetic. All are ways to behold the face of God, to bring our attention to focus on God present with us. How to gaze with words or scenes from scripture or with clay or music attractively detailed. These practical suggestions are a strength of The Sacred Gaze.

Like Sister Ilia Delio in her books on Franciscan prayer, Susan Pitchford traces a threefold movement of prayer: from attention to gazing to transformative action. As Pitchford writes, ‘If our gazing at Christ doesn’t cause us to turn a compassionate gaze at the world, and motivate us to compassionate action, then we need to check on whether it’s really Christ we’ve been gazing at. If we know nothing else about Jesus, we can be certain at least of this; staying aloof from the needs of the world is not his style.’ (page 138)

The Sacred Gaze begins in Franciscan prayer and sociological insight, but roams widely and useful across much of the literature of contemplative prayer. I enjoyed the insistence with which Pitchford connects this material with ordinary life. It is encouraging that ordinary people like me and you can set out on the journey of the sacred gaze, being held in love, discovering the true self, and acting in freedom with compassion for the world.

Hidden God

Australian Anglican theologian Scott Cowdell quotes René Girard on the essential reserve of Christ:

Christ … withdraws at the very point where he could dominate. We in turn are thus required to experience the peril of the absence of God, the modern experience par excellence. … To imitate Christ is to refuse to impose oneself as a model and to always efface oneself before others. To imitate Christ is to do everything to avoid being imitated. … The death of the gods, which so frightened Nietzsche, is simply the same thing as an essential withdrawal in which Christ asks us to see the new face of the divine.

–          René Girard, Battling to the End, Conversations with Benoît Chantre, Michigan State University Press 2010, page 125, Quoted in Scott Cowdell, Rene Girard and Secular Modernity: Christ, Culture, and Crisis, University of Notre Dame Press 2013.

Jésus, sauveur du monde

Our translation of Henry Allon’s beautiful canticle Jesus, Saviour of the World, made for the French-speaking network of the Anglican communion.


Jésus, Sauveur du monde, viens à nous dans ta miséricorde :
sois notre salut et notre secours.

Par ta croix et ta vie offerte pour nous, tu as libéré ton peuple :
sois notre salut et notre secours.

Quand ils étaient sur le point de mourir, tu as sauvé tes disciples :
nous nous tournons vers toi pour nous secourir.

Dans la grandeur de ta miséricorde, brise nos chaînes:
pardonne les péchés de tout ton peuple

Présente-toi comme notre sauveur et notre libérateur puissant:
sauve-nous et aide-nous pour que nous puissions te louer.

Viens et demeure avec nous, Seigneur Christ Jésus !
Écoute notre prière et sois avec nous à jamais.

Et quand tu reviendras dans ta gloire,
Unis-nous à toi et partage avec nous la vie de ton royaume.

—Henry Allon
Traduction :  Rév. Père Ted Witham, Cécile Schantz-Rauld et  Rév. Père Ron Silarshah

John Newton’s dream

John Newton


This account of a dream of redemption recorded by John Newton, the former slave-captain, has fascinated me since it was first shown me at Duke University. It seems straightforward on first reading, but becomes more and more intriguing with each reading.


The scene presented to my imagination was the harbour of Venice, where we had lately been. I thought it was night, and my watch upon the deck; and that, as I was walking to and fro by myself, a person came to me, I do not remember from whence, and brought me a ring, with an express charge to keep it carefully: assuring me, that while I preserved the ring I would be happy and successful: but if I lost or parted with it, I must expect nothing but trouble and misery.

I accepted the present and the terms willingly, not in the least doubting my own care to preserve it, and highly satisfied to have my happiness in my own keeping. I was engaged in these thoughts, when a second person came to me, and observing the ring on my finger, took occasion to ask me some questions concerning it. I readily told him all its virtues; and his answer expressed a surprise at my weakness, in expecting such effects from a ring. I think he reasoned with me for some time upon the impossibility of the thing; and at length urged me, in direct terms, to throw it away.

At first I was shocked with the proposal; but his insinuations prevailed. I began to reason and doubt myself, and at last plucked it off my finger, and dropped it over the ship’s side into the water; which it no sooner touched, than I saw, at the same instant, a terrible fire burst out from a range of mountains, a part of the Alos which appeared at some distance behind the city of Venice.

I saw the hills as distinctly as if awake, and they were all in flames. I perceived, too late, my folly; and my tempter, with an air of insult, informed me, that all the mercy of God in reserve for me was comprised in that ring, which I had wilfully thrown away.

I understood that I must now go with him to the burning mountains, and that all the flames I saw were kindled on my account. I trembled, and was in great agony; so that it was surprising I did not then awake: but my dream continued; and when I thought myself upon the point of constrained departure, and stood, self-condemned, without plea or hope, suddenly, either a third person, or the same who brought the ring at first, came to me, (I am not certain which), and demanded the cause of my grief. I told him the plain case, confessing that I had ruined myself wilfully, and deserved no pity. He blamed my rashness; and asked, if I should be wiser supposing I had my ring again. I could hardly answer to this; for I thought it was gone beyond recall. I believe indeed, I had not time to answer, before I saw this unexpected friend go down under the water, just in the spot where I had dropped it; and he soon returned, bringing the ring with him.

The moment he came on board, the flames in the mountain were extinguished, and my seducer left me.

Then was “the prey taken from the hand of the mighty, and the lawful captive delivered”. My fears were at an end, and with joy and gratitude I approached my kind deliverer to receive the ring again; but he refused to return it and spoke to this effect: ‘If you should be intrusted with this ring again, you would very soon bring yourself into the same distress; you are not able to keep it: but I will preserve it for you, and, whenever it is needful, will produce it in your behalf.’


John Newton (1799 ?), The Life of the Rev. John Newton: “An Authentic Narrative

London: The Religious Tract Society, 20-21.