Love is the meaning ...

A blog by Rev'd John Allen


13 December 2020  - Advent 3


My experience has been that to make sense of life I need more and more knowledge of the existence in which I must grow and make my contribution.  I need knowledge which is as vital to my life as light, air, nourishment and love.  Where do I find knowledge?  It is passed on to me by the people around me and especially by good mentors and teachers.  I find it in books.  I find it through the customs, the culture and prevailing intellectual climate in which I live.  I imbibe it through friendship and through the practice of the organizations with which I become involved.  To these I owe my loyalty and so I think and act accordingly.

I find it natural to be co-operative and to some extent to go with the flow, but in no way do I feel overly constrained.  I believe I have been born free.  My life has not been determined.  I have to make choices for myself.  I want to love but I am not compelled to love.  All this reassures me of the supreme value of nurture and education.  This knowledge is passed on to me by the world in which I live.  It comes to me from human sources.  But is this the only kind of knowledge?  Many, probably most people, would reply Yes.

But there is a limit to human knowledge and there seems to be a knowledge that is entrusted to some which comes from beyond these limits.  Surely knowledge is more than an accumulation of information.  It is about relating and because we are only capable of being personal the receiving of knowledge is to enter into a deep and receptive relationship with – what?

Some of the greatest gifts to civilization seem to have come from individual people who, over and above their acquired skills have manifested sublime inspiration which is a leap beyond humanity’s present limitations.  They are gifted with an awareness and an intuition that comes from a realm which is beyond the reach of most of us.

People with faith believe this to be REVELATION.  Eternal wisdom and spirit from beyond our human realm is uncovered to our perception.  Most people who have experienced such revelation have found it to be a personal encounter.  By spoken and written word, they have passed this on thus creating a tradition and a distinctive way of living.  Such people no longer live lonely lives, but live in an intimate relationship with the One source of all existence and meaning.  For people like myself this is an encounter with God.  At first we do not always realise this.  But it transforms our lives.

© John Allen 2020

6 December 2020  - Advent 2


I have introduced the word GOD.   For some of you this may be a “turn off”.  You do not wish to be pressurised into religious belief.  Is not religion one of the causes of so much conflict, in history, and in our current situation?  Is it not too elusive and intangible to have any relevance to present reality?  But some of you might be curious.  Perhaps my reflections could help provide some understanding of a dimension of everyday life which is mostly unexplored and unresolved, but persists in the deeper reaches of human awareness. 

I suspect that nearly everyone who is prepared to think about the meaning of their life is born with a degree of spiritual awareness.  We live through our bodies and minds but there is something else as well.  What makes us tick?  What is the undergirding principle which motivates what you do and who you really are?  You may not regard yourself as “religious”, but you are human.  You can rationalise everything, but as you push out the boundaries of your mind you seem to reach the limits of your understanding.  But there is something more.  I suggest that this “something” is not way out in space and time and beyond your grasp, but something you have been born with.

This “something” is your unique self-hood.  It is this which makes you who you are and forms your character and personality.  I believe that this is not simply the product of the nurture you have received but a sheer gift.  We do not ask to be born.  Life is a gift and, while it is passed on to us by our biological parents, its ultimate source is a profound mystery.  Some call this mystery GOD.

A mystery perceived by so many thinking people stimulates speculation and research.  Without this natural desire there would be no scientific discovery and no knowledge and humanity would still live in the dark.  We start with known facts.  One fact leads us to the next fact.  A fact can only be accepted as a fact when it is researched and tested.  Does this mean there is always some human being going before you who knows more than you do?  Does this mean that all knowledge only has a human source?  Common sense would deny this.

Surely there is another source and so we are back with GOD.  The Christian Faith is that it is GOD who reveals Himself.

© John Allen 2020

29 November 2020 - Advent Sunday


Surely a world without love would be a bleak, sterile and joyless place?  There is so much malice, pain and suffering in our present condition, but I believe this is more than counter-balanced by so much that is good and beautiful and this is inspired by an instinctive capacity to love.

This tiny word expresses the only hope we have.  Without love there is nothing but despair. It is a word which every person knows.  Or they think they know.  The problem is, as with most words, there are many interpretations and terrible travesties.

Too often love is abused.  It can be equated with a selfish desire for pleasure only for one’s self.  It can be cheapened and trivialised.  It can be used as a form of blackmail.  Or for some it can be one of the most sublime joys of human existence, well worth the price of boundless generosity and self sacrifice.

I believe that love is always personal.  Therefore, love comes from a Person.  My faith is that this person is God.  Love is always life-giving and life-enhancing.  Love is not controlling or threatening or demanding but evokes a spontaneous response in the one who is loved.

I remember a conversation I once had with an unhappy parent: “How can I make my children love me”?  The only reply that came to me was, “You can’t.  You simply love them”.  It is true love which unlocks our capacity for risky and unconditional self-giving.  It can be costly and sometimes sadly unrewarding.  We can only just go on loving.

In the Bible I read, “God so loved the world that He gave His only Son.”  Ever since the world has taken advantage of God.  But God does not give up on us.  He just goes on loving.  Our faith that this is true saves us from despair.

© John Allen 2020

22 November 2020 - Christ the King


In my experience, Love sets me free from the captivity of my inadequacy.  I am liberated by Love to become all that I am capable of being.  It fills me with a sense of wellbeing which energises my life.  It is an intimation of ecstasy.  But herein lies its danger

The danger is like reaching out and catching a beautiful butterfly in a net.  It is not mine to capture, for all I will do is bring it to a too early death.  Love is not something I can own and make it my possession.  Possessive love is a contradiction of love.  I cannot demand love and manipulate it for my own self-centred desires.  Love is a paradox.  To keep love I must be willing to let it go.  “Love isn’t love till you give it away”.

Love is always creative, overflowing, and every precious experience of love is a step towards ultimate ecstasy – a glimpse of heaven.  The key reality of our humanity is that each one of us is a unique person.  As I person I have the innate capacity to relate to another person.  My person, my selfhood, is the gift bestowed on me in my birth by the ONE who is my origin.  Surely I am as the ONE who created me?  My selfhood, like a bud in spring waiting and eager to burst, reaches out in love to the ONE who is my meaning and purpose.

If this human awareness rings true, could it not authenticate this description of God?  “God is love and those who live in love live in God, and God lives in them”.  1 John 4 v16

Believing in God is a problem for so many because it seems that, if there is a reality other than our present physical and material realm, it is impossible to make contact with it and those who do believe in God turn this belief into stories which, surely, are in the realm of fairy stories.  But all stories, however fantastic, are unlikely to keep their value unless they have within them the ring of truth.

But many people are fortunate enough to have some experience of love and might this not be the beginning of a dawning belief in God?

© John Allen 2020

15 November - Second Sunday before Advent


Am I lonely?  Are you lonely?  I was an only child.  I was surrounded by adults who were preoccupied and anxious about the gathering and ominous cloud of the Second World War.  In those days children often felt excluded.  I was told, “You are too young to understand”.  But I never felt alone.

Waking or sleeping there was a constant conversation in my head.  Was I a dreamer (at school my teachers told me to stop day-dreaming) or was I being very silly, simply talking to myself?  People who think they hear voices can be dangerously deluded.  Trying to remember, I think the conversation was wordless and silent.  It was more like the awareness of a friendly, reassuring presence.  It gave me the courage to be myself.  At the moment of birth when our cord is cut, we are entrusted with the most precious gift we shall ever have: the gift of life which is the gift of selfhood.  This is our inborn capacity to relate, to ask and to receive, to love and to be loved.

I have come to believe that I am only alive because I am loved.  Human life is Love?  What is Love?  Is it not the heartbeat at the pivot of all reality which overflows and endows life and wellbeing to all that exists?  There can be no life without a beating heart to sustain it.  There can be no such thing as a heart without the ONE whose heart is the origin of all existence and meaning.

This is the inexplicable mystery that thinking people have pondered through the ages.  Who is or what is this ONE ?  Out of this store of human thought emerge many versions of philosophy and religion.  All this would be a mind-blowing tangle if it were not for one word – LOVE.  Every human being is aware of this restless and longing urge which draws them out of their personal loneliness.  It can inspire the very best in each one of us.  We reach out from ourselves, upwards and onwards.  Many of us first experience love in a special relationship.  But I have come to believe that such a love is a first step into a greater love, of this world, of humanity and beyond and within, that some call the love of GOD.

But the very mention of GOD puts some people in a defensive mode, just as some people may wish to protect themselves from pain by avoiding the danger of “falling in love”.  I could not bear to contemplate this world if there were no such thing as love.  And many, myself included, fear to face up to a world without GOD.  To make sense of our life we have to make a choice or fall over a cliff into the eternal unknown.  I will try to explain my choice and I hope, help you to make yours.

© John Allen 2020

8 November 2020 - Remembrance Sunday


I need to wake up and ask myself a crucial question.  What is the purpose of my life?  I used to think it was mainly about myself; being happy and successful and leaving my mark on the world.  The problem with this is that it makes me self-centred as it does so many other people.  Self-centred people create their own self-centred worlds and these worlds collide.  I am fearful that my particular world is vulnerable so I spring to its defence.  I in my world find myself in conflict with you in your world.

The mystery of living in this world which we all have to share with one another is the problem of war and peace.  Perhaps we need to rub our sleepy eyes and ponder the uncomfortable polarities which surround us.  Darkness and light; cruelty and kindness; hatred and love; despair and hope; death and life.

I am beginning to discover that the way to be happy is to escape from my self-centredness and to find a new centre which enfolds everybody else.  But what can this centre be?  Deep thinkers in every generation have reached out to mind blowing abstractions: the source of all existence; ultimate truth: goodness; beauty;  ove.  But you and I are individual and distinct personalities.  We live tangible lives.  It is beyond us to let go of self and entrust our very existence to an abstract concept.

We need a person.  We need a story.  In my own personal experience, I have gradually become aware of GOD and the story of JESUS CHRIST.  I feel called to let go of self and take hold of God.

Of course this is picture language.  In this present existence, we only have limited and finite minds.  GOD (whatever that word means) has, at present, to be for us the password by which we might gain access on the way towards ultimate reality, truth, goodness and eternal love.

As I discover that as a self-centred person I am digging a deep, dark hole, I pray that I may find the courage to come to my true self and my true destiny and to dig myself out.  This is my escape and I am aware of the hand of God reaching to hoist me out and set me on the way ahead.  I invite you to join me one day at a time and together we will endeavour to find THE GREAT ESCAPE.

© John Allen 2020

1 November 2020 - All Saints' Tide


I suppose we all want to be happy and to be able to deal with whatever life brings. Over the years I have discovered that I need a coherent relationship with myself, with the people around me, and with God.  I needed to learn how to pray, and that praying is about friendship.

Is friendship with God possible?  God seems to be a religious word.  Is its use only appropriate if you have decided you can believe in God, go to church, read the Bible and try to lead a Christian life? But I stumbled across this friendship before I could answer Yes to any of these questions. I just blundered on.  And so I am sharing these reflections with everyone who longs for friendship, whether you are religious or doubting or puzzled.  No one is out of reach, and no one has a label attached.  You are just who you are and I am just me.  I simply hope we can, as we journey together, discover the friendship which brings true happiness and the inner capacity to live generously and creatively and to cope with everything.

Every new day we get up and reach out to the future.  Sometimes the future may seem worrying but we know we have no choice and in the company of friends we find that each day can be enjoyable and stimulating and a benefit to other people.

I believe that the recipe for a happy life is to discover who you are and to relate to other people.  We each have a distinctive character, a personality, and this is our spirit, our selfhood.  I suggest this is your spirituality and you express this in reaching out to others, and engaging with their spirituality.  As you become aware of the presence of God within you, this grows into prayer.

Praying is loving and to love is to be set free from your self isolation and to be enabled to live a life that will be a blessing for the world.  This is what these reflections are about.

© John Allen 2020

18 October 2020 - Luketide


Many years ago, while still a small schoolboy, I began to learn that to survive and to achieve anything you either had to have brawn or brain.  As I felt below average in both, my prospects appeared bleak.  People were always telling me I was hopeless.  The best school report I ever received ended with the comment, “Allen, as usual, is top of the failures”.

But I appeared to have something else.  I was born with an acute sense of awareness and a capacity for empathy.  While I was rubbish on the playing field and bereft of any academic achievement, I ended up as head boy of my school.  I was editor of the school magazine and president of the debating society.  Was I a fraud?

It seemed I was destined to leave school at 16 with no academic qualifications.  Most of my schooling was during the Second World War and so my family was preoccupied.  I was lovingly neglected and as an only child went my own happy way.  In a sense I was feral.  I learned to ride a bicycle and enjoyed solitary rides discovering the countryside, exploring churches and finding myself.

When asked what I wanted to do when I left school I simply said I wanted to write.  I had no clue as to how I would earn a living.  What would I write?  But things happened.  The Rector of the church I attended recommended me to the boss of a news reporting agency.  I was interviewed by the chief reporter.  At 16 I was sweeping floors, making the tea, running errands and sometimes, when there was nobody else, found myself with note pad and pencil in the press gallery of the local law court.  I typed my story, and if passed by the chief reporter, phoned my copy to the Press Association.  Next morning I scoured the national newspapers and sometimes found snippets of what I had written.  Then I was sent to an old fashioned local paper.  The boss had bought it and was using it as a nursery for cub reporters.  We were given liberty to make it more exciting.  I had the freedom to roam, find stories, and write them up.  To my surprise the boss saw I had flair and imagination and accuracy.

Accuracy tempered my self esteem.  My lack of skills or qualifications caused me to keep a low profile and so I was dumbfounded when the curate of my local church suggested that I might consider the possibility that God might be calling me to be a priest.  I said “What me?  Of course not”.  I knew so little about God or the Church, but within days it was as if a joyous tidal wave was sweeping over me and carrying me into an undreamt of future.  My family had little connection with the church.  Money was in short supply.  I had nothing to offer.  And yet, incredibly, something deep inside me was crying out “Yes.  This is it!”

I went to a selection conference and enjoyed every minute of it.  Being realistic I did not expect to be selected but in a strange way I felt a new sense of peace and joy.  I was to be informed by post.  A week later I tore open the envelope.  It contained a brief letter – “You have been recommended for training provided you attain qualifications for university entrance”.

Of course it was hopeless, but only a week later I was shown a letter printed in the Church Times.  The Community of the Resurrection at Mirfield was concerned about young men, called by God, who needed to attain the necessary qualifications.  They were offering free accommodation and tuition.  I was interviewed and accepted.  The rest is history.  I passed examinations and went on to read Theology at Kings College London and was ordained in York Minster to serve my first curacy in a parish in Middlesbrough.

I just scraped through, but the most important thing was I was introduced into the life of prayer and and that has transformed everything.  It is this way of living which I have shared with so many people and now, towards the end of my ministry, I am happy to share with you.

© John Allen 2020

4 October 2020

I am convinced that to live and work for a better future it is essential for each one of us to have a core belief.  This will give us the resilience, the stamina, and the joy, so that together we can work for a better world.  The reflections I am sharing with you in this blog have grown out of my experience of a lifetime of prayer and ministry as a priest in the Church of England from 1964 till the present time.  My hope is that these reflections will ring a bell in your own experience and encourage you in your own life of prayer to discover the best way for you.

I am so grateful to Philippa for offering me the hospitality of this website.  Our plan is that, starting on November 1st, a reflection will appear on the 1st and the 15th of each month.  My suggestion is that you might like to read this as part of your daily prayer time and respond to it in a way which seems right for you.  You are welcome to download it.

If you would like to engage in further conversation either individually or as part of a group, I am around and about.

Father John

© John Allen 2020