Taste and See:
The Lincoln Diocese Lent Course for 2008:
Six Sessions on Different Ways of Praying

Feedback Report, December 2007:
First Three Sessions

Introduction to the whole course
Introduction to 'Being Still'

Feedback on 'Being Still'
Introduction to 'Lectio Divina' and 'Gazing at Art'

Feedback 'Lectio Divina' and 'Gazing at Art'
Introduction to 'Ignatian Prayer'

Adrian Worsfold
13 Manchester Square
New Holland
DN19 7RQ

Taste and See: First Three Sessions


A group of seven people, including the facilitator at Barton-on-Humber, have been trial-running the Lent Course Taste and See. We were going to complete and send feedback at the end of the course. However, as our concerns have grown at a fundamental level about the workings of this course, and because of the early timing of Lent in 2008, we decided at the end of the third session to produce and send half-time feedback. We did this because the third session brought us to a point of considerable frustration, and I would conclude that it is unsuitable for general release.
In summary, the result of experiencing the first session, and especially the next week's feedback, was that the first session is patronising, diversionary and largely irrelevant to the prayer task it gives, and that it needs thoroughly rewriting.
The second session, largely as a result of feedback given in the third week, needs at least the Gazing at Art section expanding. The Lectio Divina part could improve from expanded explanation.
It took working through the text of the third session to come to a conclusion that the language there is incredibly unclear, that the session is set at too high a level with no lead-in or way through its layered complexity. The task set seems to be wrongly arranged and the the result was considerable confusion.
In addition, throughout the first half of the workbook, there are many typographical errors, there are examples of weak grammar, and, as we liked to tell each other, the Prodigal Son story is not found in John's Gospel (7 and 9).
I had a number of concerns about a Lent course that was clearly ambitious, based on the assumption that it was going to work well. It was clearly going to be challenging and even risky, with deep spirituality affecting the core of individual personalities. However, this course does not work effectively at all.
A point was made during the third session by our facilitator, when we had reached a point of frustration, that here were seven well educated and highly motivated people who had encountered many difficulties, and that in other places on general release this course would fail due to confusion. This may sound elitist, but Lent courses are run with rotating facilitators whereas, at the very best, this course needs careful handling and direction by a knowledgable facilitator to get through the confusion.


My own experience, as well as being a communicant member of the Church of England at St Mary's in Barton, is that I have encountered some parallel spiritual techniques to those in the course through Western and Mahayana Buddhist participation, and in the Bahai Faith (its "firesides), and with ecumenical contact particularly with Unitarians and Methodists. I am theologically educated to MA level and have a Sociology of Religion Ph.D. I have received some ministerial training with Unitarians in an ecumenical setting and at that time we had Eastern orientated and neo-Pagan spiritual practice as part of the year's denominational curriculum. I have a postgraduate Religious Education teaching qualification and an Adult Education teaching qualification and have taught a range of subjects in schools, Further Education, Higher Education and Adult Education. I also paint, and produced an acrylic on canvas A3 sized icon of Christ (in deep golds, oranges and blues) for the spiritual practice of the Gazing at Art in the course. Everyone in the Barton group brought their own background, experience, knowledge and education to this trial-run course.


We first met on 14 October to hear about the prayer based Lent course with five present plus the facilitator. We understood Barton was selected for trial-run feedback partly on the basis of it being a town church and therefore more broad based and mixed in theology than many an urban church. We were introduced to its structure based on a feedback session of the previous week's task followed by introducing the next task using one or two spiritual methods. I could see dangers in introducing largely unguided meditations and spiritual exercises to those in a Church tradition with little experience of silence: in my previous denomination a silence of 2 minutes in a church service was deemed long enough, and Anglican worship has almost nothing. The Buddhist practices I experienced had a number of sessions in a day or evenings of twenty minutes each, carefully guided and framed, and I learnt Buddhist views about the meditation process. Secondly, staring at art (for example a Mark Rothko painting) can have disturbing results, if unexpected, although I did wonder what would result, if anything, from using a reproduction (and the booklet had the Rublev painting in monochrome). Successful launches into deeper spirituality might prove to be disturbing; some might then withdraw from the course and it could affect their churchgoing. This view was expressed by me as a result of seeing and hearing about the course for the first time; I remarked that this was all highly ambitious and unusual.

First Week and its Feedback

On November 15 we met for the first session and, with much read in advance, people stated that the text is clearly patronising, as if we were being patted on the head
If there is an odd number of people in your group you will need to have one 'pair' that has three people in it! (3)
Yet at the same time that the text assumes that participants are spiritual idiots, it throws in undefined words that leave people perplexed.
The definition of spirituality using Gordon Wakefield's words (4) actually does not explain 'spirituality' because of the use of the word "supersensible". People then wanted to know what that meant. I took it to mean out of the ordinary without necessarily being supernatural in every case (I could have said "peak experiences", had I remembered the phrase). It might have been easier to discuss the differences say between a more general, even humanist, view of spirituality and a more expressively theistic spirituality, or even an approach to spirituality defined as specifically Christian.
Part B for the first week is simply a waste of text. It seems to offer a patronising distinction between busy lay Christians and spiritually focused and experienced clerical Christians, and uses arranged negative and positive texts to manipulate a negative response and therefore a contrived discussion. The repeated matter of “putting the milk bottles out’ is presumably about lay Christians getting on with ordinary life and finding time for spiritual practice, but "Deeper work" is another crass and elongated way of making a more direct point. Indeed the stricture against using meaningless words in the section about the Lord's Prayer and praying in private (6) could be applied to much of this presentation. (We wondered why the Lord's Prayer is in the form it is - only in the third week did someone say the wording is one of the oddities found in the Good News Bible.)
Instead the text could have been far more practical and prepared people for the task, for which the relevant paragraph headed "Prayer" (6) is too short and inadequate.
It matters because our feedback referred to known issues in meditative prayer: that going into silence leaves the mind racing and cluttered. Silent meditation and prayer requires strategies of approach if it is to be successful. The feedback in the following week found that the few minutes of silence did nothing for people and yet had replaced their normal prayer life. My point was that it can take ten minutes to calm the clutter in the mind and to then move on to get some benefit. So instead of all the chatter of the first section's text, better guidance could have been given towards the task. The limitation of time regarding silence in the booklet might suggest a timidity in the task, of being frightened to take silence beyond a few minutes for the uninitiated. Nevertheless, one member said it could have provided options and suggested trying the process for longer. Someone said how an outside noise distracts: but I said how those who can go deep into mediation should be able to do this even in a noisy room. People agreed with me that also nothing was in the course booklet about coming out of meditation, which has to be done slowly and carefully. I said that "strategies" could have been offered, and this word was used in later sessions.
In the feedback discussion I stated my view, with some agreement, that the text is useless, and that what Margaret Hebblethwaite might have thought about anything, and the further writing continuing on from that, is diversionary from the main task and offering strategies for silence and mediation/ prayer. The text is a laborious drift towards the spiritual exercise using initial negativity - and negativity (even as a device) is not a good idea when trying to encourage positive spiritual exercises. There is also an assumption of a particular theology too, something noticed throughout the course so far: we do not all understand God in the same way.

Some questions arising about what was not included (first week)

Although there is a suggetion of saying a few words if necessary, the phrase, "I am here and you are here. Isn't that extraordinary?" was puzzling as it was unclear to us why this is stated; also, this phraseology was caught up in the complaint about the patronising tone. The "please", "thank you" and "sorry" were equally puzzling.
Why was there no advice on process? There was nothing about being flexible with the time it takes for this approach to have spiritual impact, or then fixing a maximum time (using of a timer or a small bell), and there was nothing about counting, breathing or thought-expanding exercises to assist concentration. For example, people can repeat counting one to ten, they can focus on the breath, and they can use thoughts of loving kindness that expand outwards in order to give progression through meditative prayer.
Why was there nothing on the possible uses of natural sounds and quiet meditative music for those for whom silence is simply too difficult - rather than keeping the time span down for everyone? Why was there nothing on potential simple visualisations (external, as in a candle flame, or mental, as in a place of beauty) as aids to removing the clutter and concerns of the day?
Why was there nothing on the difference between meditation and prayer? Marcus Braybrooke in his book Learn to Pray (2001) gives practical advice on meditation and adds:
And you can transform meditation into prayer by deciding beforehand that each breath you take will be a gift of thanks for the divine presence - and then affirming afterward that you have completed this offering. (Braybrooke, 2001, 71)
This distinction would form an explanation for the words that were used about about the person here and "you" (the divine presence) here, and the "thank you" that should follow in the above explanation.
Why was there nothing on using or creating sacred spaces for the exercise? It is not for nothing that faiths have meditation and prayer rooms.
Therefore, this first session and its exercise could have been written more efficiently, directly and practically. By assuming (via the give-away patronising tone) a lack of experience, and running away from really tasting meditation and contemplative prayer, the result was people experienced very little in the week's task and were left puzzled. Had they been guided, and had the issues been tackled in a more direct presentation, with strategies laid out, and with an assumption of experiencing something powerful, then the feedback in the second session might have been very different and focused around managing the impact of meditation and contemplative prayer and using it in the future.
Therefore the whole of the first session needs to be thoroughly rewritten.

Second Week and its Feedback

Lectio Divina

The second session has the howler that the Prodigal Son is found at John 13: 1-5 when it constitutes the main theme of Luke's Gospel.
The description of Lectio Divina is reasonable, using Reading, Reflecting (on a phrase - the Handout arguably comes across as prescriptive whereas it intends only to give an example), Praying (in a highly restricted manner) and Receiving (prayer opening up plus moving into divine presence) as a four stage process. However, more could have been made of techniques.
This version is not the only description of four stages. Another is:
Read: slowly, as if a love letter, some verses read with pauses. Read silently or out aloud. All of it is read three or four times.

Receive: a piece of the text within the reading stands out and an image may form (which is to be developed in the mind). This impact may be due to the piece of text highlighting a previous personal experience or an aspect of oneself. It can involve pain, sin, gratitude or joy. This appearance of significance can be interpreted as the Holy Spirit at work.

Respond: this is where prayer is a finding out 'what the Lord wants' from the impact - that may already have been identified as the work of the Holy Spirit.  Pain leads to a prayer of crying out; sin leads to a prayer of confession and repentance; gratitude leads to a prayer of thanksgiving; joy leads to a prayer of adoration and praise.

Rest: this would be sitting in the presence of God after the prayerful response.

(Jones, 2007)
The weblog, The Life of a Seminary Wife (incidentally, the blogger is male), shows such scriptural use is received as a form of revelation.
There can be a discussion here whether Lectio Divina deals with revelation (the Word revealing itself), or subjectivity (personal feeling), or objectivity (truth discovered by process).
John Webster (2003), like Taste and See, and the blog above, also uses Bonhoeffer's 1936 'circular letter on Daily Meditation' (2003, 84) or similar wording from Bonhoeffer's Meditating on the Word (2000). It would have been more useful if Taste and See quoted a fuller version of the circular letter:
The Word of Scripture must never stop sounding in your ears and working in you all day long, just like the words of someone you love. And [Taste and See starts here] just as you do not analyse the words of someone you love, but accept them as they are said to you, accept the Word of Scripture and ponder it in your heart, as Mary did [Luke 2: 19]. That is all. That is meditation. (Bonhoeffer, 1936)
A translation of Bonhoeffer's Meditating on the Word (2000) is:
There is free meditation and meditation that is bound to Scripture. We advise the latter for the sake of the certainty of our prayers and the discipline of our thoughts. Furthermore, the knowledge of our fellowship with others who are meditating on the same text will make us love such meditation more.

In the same way that the word of a person who is dear to me follows me throughout the day, so the Word of Scripture should resonate and work within me ceaselessly. Just as you would not dissect and analyze the word spoke by someone dear to you, but would accept it just as it was said, so you should accept the Word of Scripture and ponder it in your heart as Mary did. That is all. That is meditation. Do not look for new thoughts and interconnections in the text as you would in a sermon! Do not ask how you should tell it to others, but ask what it tells you! Then ponder this word in your heart at length, until it is entirely within you and has taken possession of you.

(Bonhoeffer, 2000, 24)
Whilst not everyone will be doing a biblical text (which can be made clear) the last words about not looking for new thoughts and interconnections as one would in a sermon would be worth highlighting in the Taste and See text. Taste and See is right to point out that this approach can work with any spiritual text (however one understands spiritual).
Webster points out that Bonhoeffer's view is to accept and, elsewhere, to obey, and thus this is not subjective. My own response into the group was to suggest a passive not analytical approach to such reading, which would be a narrative approach (not quite subjective), and I read to the group, twice, a version of the Prodigal Son parable from Luke's Gospel - where it becomes important to read it well as a story, that the second time of reading (after a pause) might illuminate something not picked up the first time. This was followed by a silent period.


On reflection I feel that we could have benefited from more theory behind this method, and variations, leading again to more strategies particularly regarding prayer. It has to relate to the fact that each of us have different prayer and meditation lives and different theologies.

Gazing at Art

Gazing at Art seems to have failed to mention some of the techniques by which art can have a prayerful impact, that would follow on from the description of detail and how one might be drawn in to the example of the Adrej Rublev icon, The Hospitality of Abraham: The Trinity (La Trinita XV sec., 14).
As it happens, we did not read out the text aloud, and only some of us did read the text. I discovered the outer drawing-in chalice shape through gazing, but this is partly because I paint and look for flows and shapes and also colour relationships - though this took some time to see.

Absence of extra methods

A way for people to discover such shapes and relationships is to draw outlines of the artwork being gazed at, and also make notes about positions of main colours. This does not need the ability to draw and paint, but just making curves and lines that are drawn in a contemplative manner by looking with care. This would not involve anything to do with the colour wheel or analysing relationships of shapes, but just looking directly and having a pen or pencil and paper available.
Advice would have been useful on getting to see a high quality image. An image on a computer screen is better than paper reproduction, given the primary light colours involved  and the high contrast produced (a white light spot can create the illusion of black on essentially a grey screen). An alternative is a photographic quality printout.

Using a real painting

Better still, if possible, during the week of the spiritutal exercise, is to go to an art gallery if possible, and this was said in the feedback the following week. Ferens Art Gallery in Hull has a number of religious theme paintings that can dominate the eye, and the richness of paint can work on someone who does nothing more than sit and gaze, or makes lines and labels colours on to a page.
I painted an A3 size icon, based on a Greek representation of Christ (an image on my computer hard drive). I made him more Palestinian. I used a dark green base (except for the halo area), with gold paint applied on top, and then a contrast of rich orange and blue colours for Christ's cloak, painted over with silver, and repainted back in orange and blue. Using Acrylic gives strong, bright, deep colours. Greek text around and in his halo, and on the open Bible, produced an art object that can be stared at. Unfortunately I gazed at it and saw its painting needs, so I carried out my contemplative gaze upon a very large multi-faith feature I had painted months before that has long since had its final painting and which I tend to view already in a contemplative manner. I took both paintings to the group's feedback session. There is all the difference in the world between a paper print out and looking at a piece of artwork.


More in the way of background, explanation and clearly laid out available strategies are useful so that people can get the best out of either or both of these tasks.

Third Week and its Feedback

Week three on Ignation Spirituality provides a contrast with week one. Whereas week one is patronising and treats lay people as spiritual idiots, week three is so impenetrable in places and needs such prior understanding that we then decided feedback had to be sent off half way through the course.
We were fortunate that the facilitator of the group was well grounded in Ignatian Spirituality and was able to tell us more explicitly how Ignatius deliberately set out parallels in military action.

Turgid language and no reasonable entry level

The language was a huge blockage. We had to spend much time on what was meant by "grace" and, the worst case, "indifferent" (16).
The paragraph at the bottom of page 16 and on to page 17 in the handbook created nothing but confusion:
This means I should appreciate and use all the gifts God provides if they help me towards my end. But I should not allow creation to prevent me reaching my end. (Ignatius [sic - another grammatical error] own term was 'I should become indifferent to creation [no closing quotation mark].) As a result I must hold myself in balance in relation to the gifts of creation (in so far as we have choice are not bound by some obligation). I should fix my desires not on health rather than sickness, or wealth rather than poverty, success rather than failure. I recognise that everything has the potential to call me to a deeper response to God, and nearer to the end for which I was created. My only desire should be: To desire and choose what leads me to this end. (16-17)
This text had me and others turning the page backwards and forwards to try to get its meaning unravelled. It created nothing but agony within the group. The way I tackled it was once again to draw on my understanding of the Buddhist process of salvation through meditation. So I said it means one goes with the world around us, and has an attitude towards it that it is good. But one does not allow the world around us to become over attached - then it is sticky, drags us back with the wrong kind of desire, and is negative. Indifference is not negative, but is the ability to be detached from what is around us whilst nevertheless being in a positive shape of mind. An example was given by the facilitator of having wind up your back outside that you nevertheless regard as good; my example was being popsitive in rain when walking and indifferent to its negativity. I also mentioned indifference curves in economics, implying equality and not disinterest.

Possible source and alternative

This could have been so better rewritten. I note a possible copyrighted source for this text in the handbook (it also uses the word "indifferent")- and it is much clearer:
The First Principle and Foundation

The human person is created to praise, reverence, and serve God Our Lord, and by doing so, to save his or her soul.

All other things on the face of the earth are created for human beings in order to help them pursue the end for which they are created.

It follows from this that one must use other created things, in so far as they help towards one's end, and free oneself from them, in so far as they are obstacles to one's end. [This is so much clearer!]

To do this, we need to make ourselves indifferent to all created things, provided the matter is subject to our free choice and there is no other prohibition.

(St. Ignatius Parish, 2007)
This is so much clearer, because it separates out the stage by stage points, rather than compressing them into confusion.

Task set

The paragraph is not helped by the spiritual exercise for the coming week. The group concluded that surely point six should come above options 1 to 5. A joke of mine that Microsoft Word will have forced it into a point 6 by pressing return (automatic formatting) was taken up as being a likely explanation for something being point 6 when it applies to options 1 to 5.
In this context point 3 - 'Write your own first principle.' (17) - led people to ask, "What?" Even when looking back at the given first principle (16), I was left wondering what other first principle there could be. It must be a very difficult task to write another first principle, if being positive about creation is so central.
A clue may be in another comment made, that this exercise rather assumes a certain theology of God, and that creation is for our benefit, or that we are created to love God. These assumptions are for the purpose of the spiritual task, but here the function of such statements is not explained. Some of us are clear that the life of the world exists through evolution, and that we have simply come about due to countless millions of local accidents within the march of life. This would make an interesting first principle, and put a twist on indifference.
Handout 1 just added to the confusion, in trying to relate it to the turgid explanation that we had been attempting to unravel. Here was the word 'grace' again (18). My offering was that grace means an unconditional gift that comes about from the divine before there is a reciprocal giving and receiving - for example the gift that is behind and through the eucharist ceremony before exchanges take place. That is why "grace of [sic - should be “or’] gift" come together.

Conclusion for week 3

The group put in considerable effort into unpacking all this dreadful text and we came to the conclusion that this simply cannot do. The facilitator described all of us present as people who have had education after school and who are "highly motivated". We were thus were able to get through the mess, and make some sense. Nevertheless it is fair to say that we were left frustrated and angry. It surely cannot pass into general use.


We considered that the course has suffered from individuals writing the different sections on their own. It looks entirely unco-ordinated and operates at different entry levels. The typographical and grammatical mistakes suggest a lack of proofreading and rushing it into piloting. The first week's text was dismally inadequate and yet the third week's text gave no accessible way in or through.
Deliberately, I do not read ahead and in writing this feedback have not looked at weeks four to six at all. If it is anything like the first half of the course, it cannot pass - but I suspect many groups will just tackle the first weeks and either give up or become confused. They will feel like the spiritual idiots that the first session assumes lay people to be.
We wondered what other groups in the Lincoln Diocese might have made of this course. We do not know.
I hope there is a "Plan B" of some other, easier to handle, Lent Course. We have evaluated this so far and this needs withdrawing for a throrough rewriting - and quickly if still to be used.
If this is given to the diocese at large, it could have quite a serious, negative impact on many participating individuals. It may damage the spirituality that they already have by making them feel inadequate and leaving any spiritual development inaccesible. Instead of opening up the potential of methods of spirituality, they are being closed down.
I suggest that in any rewrite some adult education principles are applied: of knowing the entry level, of specific focus on the tasks, on explanation that includes differentiation of ability, and using a low fog index of writing, and of cutting out diversionary and pointless chatter that does not help towards the task.
The course is such a good idea, of huge potential, with dangers of impact and management if successful - but not this one. The course (so far) is not Taste and See, but Indigestion and Through a Darkened Glass.


Bonhoeffer, Dietrich (1936), 'Circular Letter on Daily Meditation', quoted in Webster, 2003, 84.

Bonhoeffer, Dietrich (1986), Meditating on the Word, Cambridge: Cowley Publications, 32-33, quoted in van Deusen Hunsinger, Deborah (2006), Pray Without Ceasing: Revitalizing Pastoral Care, Cambridge: William B. Eerdmans Publishing, 48, limited selection of pages in Google Book Search [Online], URL: http://books.google.com/books?id=deS9uq34FJMC&pg=PA48&lpg=PA48&dq=accept+the+word+of+scripture+and+ponder+it+in+your+heart+as+mary+did&source=web&ots=_C66Bu7Crr&sig=voa1pjw0APUsSjRI6SKUoAWzxKw [Accessed: Tuesday December 04 2007, 04:00].

Braybrooke, Marcus (2001), Learn to Pray: A Practical Guide to Enriching Your Life through Prayer, London: Duncan Baird Publishers.

Jones, Brandon. (2007), 'Lectio Divina - "The Nature and Practice of Spiritual Reading"', The Life of a Seminary Wife; September 28 2007; Blogspot/ Google [Online], Available World Wide Web, URL: http://lifeofaseminarywife.blogspot.com/2007_09_01_archive.html . [Accessed: Tuesday December 04 2007, 03:45]

St. Ignatius Parish (2007), 'Ingnatian Spirituality', St Ignatius; St. Ignatius, Archdiocese of Boston [Online], Available World Wide Web, URL: http://www.bc.edu/bc_org/prs/stign/ignatian_spirit.html 2007. [Accessed: Tuesday December 04 2007, 03:41]

Webster, John (2003), Holy Scripture: A Dogmatic Sketch, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, limited selection of pages in Google Book Search [Online], URL: http://books.google.com/books?id=EGVoBfU4fRAC&pg=PA84&lpg=PA84&dq=accept+the+word+of+scripture+and+ponder+it+in+your+heart+as+mary+did&source=web&ots=ixNvkEc1xW&sig=7nOD66pcC7_7CGgLA4sc9dJhwYY [Accessed: Tuesday December 04 2007, 04:01]


Adrian Worsfold
4 December 2007

Pluralist - Liberal and Thoughtful