“Most worthwhile things take a long time” - on Zen in Australia

These are huge and transformative changes for people ... people become deeper in their life, more intimate with reality ... much more deeply connected in.

An interview with Ross Bolleter, Roshi

Ross Bolleter Roshi is spiritual leader and teacher of the Diamond Sangha Zen Buddhist lineage in Australia and New Zealand. He lives in Western Australia.


A wonderful interview from May 2018. With thanks to the Buddhist Council of Western Australia.

Editor’s Note: it is a personal blessing to find this interview, as Ross participated in our wedding (that is, the wedding of Catherine and Warren). Ross kindly flew out from WA and gifted us with a spontaneous “sermon” - an improvisation on the accordion, while leaning against a tree in a small park where the ceremony took place. As a composer he is known for his performances on decaying, ruined pianos (see below).

Here is Ross Bolleter speaking on Zen in Australia:

The Buddhist Council of WA is proud to share this video interview as part of the it Vesak 2018 celebrations. More information about the Zen Group of WA can be found on their website. Video produced by Boon Tan, Jake Mitra and Tanita Fernando.

And … Listen to a composition by Ross Bolleter for six ruined pianos:

Secret Sandhills for six ruined pianos (to the memory of Timmy Payungka Tjapangati (c. 1940 -- 2000)) Timmy Tjapangati's created his painting Secret Sandhills in the oppressive, desolate and poverty-stricken conditions of the government settlement at Papunya, 250 miles west of Alice Springs, in Central Australia in 1972.

Beyond Common Worship? Q. & A. with Mark Earey


                                                                                   (Photo supplied by Mark Earey.)

Mark Earey is Director of Anglican formation and Tutor in Liturgy at the Queen’s Foundation for Ecumenical Theological Education in Birmingham in Britain ( A prolific author, he has published many books in liturgical studies—including a new edition of Liturgical Worship (Church House Publishing), just out—as well as being involved in the thick of liturgical revision for his church, the Church of England, for many years. Here, Stephen Burns interviews Mark about his important book Beyond Common Worship (SCM Press, 2013) and his recent involvement in shaping liturgy for Messy Church...



SB: Why did you decide to write Beyond Common Worship?

ME: Back in 1997-2002 I was working for a Church of England liturgical organisation called Praxis as their National Education Officer – it was the period when Common Worship (CW) was being produced and the C of E had no national liturgy ‘officer’, so lots of questions about how to use CW came to me. I thought those questions would ease off once CW had ‘bedded in’. More than 10 years later I was struck by how many of the same questions were still being asked, even by those whose ministerial training had been in the post-CW era. It struck me that a Church is in trouble if it says liturgy is vital to its life and identity, but vast numbers of its clergy (let alone lay folk) find its liturgical resources confusing, intimidating and out of touch with their reality. What is more, lots of the questions were of a similar kind: ‘What’s the least I can get away with?’ or ‘What is the simplest?’ or ‘What can I leave out?’. These questions were not being asked from a spirit of rebellion (though there is a bit that around!) but by good, pastorally-minded and mission-focused church leaders who were trying to make CW work. It felt to me that CW was not ‘fit for purpose’ in a growing number of contexts, and no one seemed willing to face this reality head on.

SB: What is the book’s main argument, briefly?

ME: My basic argument is that ‘What is allowed?’ is not the best question to ask if you want to get the best quality worship. Better questions include, ‘What is appropriate?’, ‘What is needed in our context?’, ‘What will help us to express our love for God and allow God to shape us?’.

It is not really a problem with CW itself, but with the whole package of liturgical control in the C of E. Although it has loosened up in recent years, it has done so by constantly stretching the boundary of ‘what is allowed’ to bring more things within it. It leaves the essential question still the same.

I’m arguing that we need a completely new approach, based more on trust and accountability than on rules. In other words, it’s about moving from a ‘bounded set’ approach (in which rules tell you whether what you are doing is okay) to a ‘centred set’ approach (in which there is more room for a relational approach to determining whether what you are doing is okay).

SB: How have you found people have responded to it? Who have you been aware has been helped by it?

ME: A lot of people who have read it (especially those working in emerging church, pioneering situations, Messy Church, fresh expressions etc.) have responded with relief that someone has noticed the difficult position they are in, and that someone has made a suggestion for how we could do things differently.

I’m interested though, that beyond that there has been little take up of the ideas – largely I think because CW took up so much energy and time in the C of E General Synod, that a lot of people can’t face looking at complex liturgical questions again for a while.

As an idea it is helping some people to feel listened to: as a solution it can’t help anyone until it gets taken up at a strategic level. In the meantime we carry on as we are, with increasing numbers of churches and church leaders simply ignoring the rules we have, and bishops colluding with this, in a ‘don’t ask; don’t tell’ scenario. All this does is push creativity underground, because no one can admit what they are doing – and that means no one can help them do it better.

SB: So what could change that?

ME: It needs some brave people in a diocese somewhere to start the ball rolling in their deanery synod, asking for a review of the liturgical rules. Then it needs to move from there to a diocesan synod motion and from there to General Synod.




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SB: And what have you been up to with Messy Church?

ME: Although the C of E generally has been struggling to cope with the emergence of fresh expressions of Church within its current liturgical rules, it’s been really good to see the Liturgical Commission actively engaging with those who are working in these areas. Several years ago, Lucy Moore (who heads up the ‘Messy Church’ part of Bible Reading Fellowship) came to talk to the Liturgical Commission about Messy Church and the challenges it was facing as Anglican Messy Church congregations began to want to incorporate Holy Communion and Baptism into their life.

When the new Liturgical Commission for the current quinqennium was appointed in 2016, Lucy was a member and that has increased the opportunities for collaboration. In 2017 she convened a consultation about sacraments in Messy Church which drew together folk from Messy Church and the Liturgical Commission and a few others.

Out of that came a desire to give some guidelines to C of E Messy Churches about how to do Holy Communion within the bounds of CW. To get our heads truly into the space, the Liturgical Commission experienced their very own ‘Messy Communion’ at its meeting in October (an experience I’ll never forget!) and that fed into the process too.

SB: What are you learning about developing sacramental practices in messy church contexts?

ME: Anecdotally it seemed that lots of Messy Church congregations were adding a minimised CW communion service onto the end of a normal Messy Church session. In our guidelines we wanted to encourage them to take a more integrated approach, so that the eucharist was completely intertwined with the Messy Church session, taking seriously the sacramental (with a small ‘s’) nature of Messy Church itself – engaging the senses, being creative, eating together. We also wanted Messy Churches to engage with the integrity of the liturgy too, seeing it as a way to connect with the wider church across both time and space and to see themselves as taking their place within it. Though we have been constrained by the rules that still control CW (see above!), we’ve come up with guidelines which we hope will encourage MCs to be creative and bold about how they celebrate the eucharist within their sessions, taking their own particular context into account.



SB: What do you enjoy about teaching liturgy and worship?

ME: I love teaching something which is so important to people. Though students sometimes start off thinking they already know about worship (especially if they’ve been leading worship and preaching for many years), when they get into it their motivation for learning is always really high.

SB: What is the biggest challenge in your context? What are the “current issues”?

ME: The biggest challenge in my context is also the biggest joy – teaching liturgy and worship to Anglicans, Methodists and folk from Black-Majority Pentecostal Churches. They all bring such different assumptions about even the most basic questions.

I think one of the biggest issues across the denominations is how to help people who think ‘liturgy’ is some demonic scheme to keep the Spirit out of worship to see that there’s more to liturgy than that – and particularly that there can be more to ‘liturgy’ than their own experience of it.

SB: What is your own learning at the moment, Mark?

ME: I’m particularly struck by the ways that our assumptions and practices in worship are determined by whether we are most at home in an oral culture or a literary culture – and also by the way that screens (large and small) and the technology they represent are producing that Walter Ong called a ‘secondary orality’ – a shift from print (and the written word) to image, emotion, narrative and memory.

Thank you, Mark.


Photo from

Photo from

The Queen’s Foundation, Birmingham. (Photo by Stephen Burns.)

The Queen’s Foundation, Birmingham. (Photo by Stephen Burns.)

"More complex than I had previously imagined": Ashley Cocksworth on prayer


Ashley Cocksworth is Assistant Professor in Theology and Ministry at Durham University, and author of Karl Barth on Prayer (2015), of the imminent Prayer: A Guide for the Perplexed, and editor of the forthcoming T&T Clark Companion to Christian Prayer. Stephen Burns interviewed him...

SB: How did you get interested in prayer as a theological subject?

AC: As it happens, I can trace my theological interest in prayer to a single moment. I was settling into the first semester of the final year of my undergraduate degree and found myself enrolled on a modern Christology course. One of the questions on the list of otherwise rather conventional essay titles stood out like a sore thumb: it was on prayer. I couldn’t work out what it was doing there. It felt out of place. Intrigued, I set about answering it. I found the process of writing that essay deeply formational: for probably the first time in my degree, I was being asked to connect one of the central, everyday practices of the Christian faith with rigorous, critical theological argumentation. Suddenly prayer came to look massively more complex than I had previously imagined. I was gripped and perplexed by prayer in equal measure. In a sense, I’m still in the process of thinking through the (admittedly more expanded) question of how prayer and theology fit together.

Thinking back on it, that fourth year essay brought me into contact with all sorts of new and exciting literature: the mystics primarily but also neglected areas in the writings of more mainline thinkers and other academic disciplinary areas altogether – sociology, anthropology, etc. The more I’ve read, the more I’ve come to realise that some of the most significant thinkers in the western theological canon (Augustine, Aquinas, Calvin, Barth)have some super interesting things to say about prayer – and devote large chunks of their writing to the topic. The most stimulating of those discussions, I’ve found, are those that integrate, often with great imaginative verve, discussions of prayer into their systematic thinking and sometimes to such a rich extent that you can’t always tell when theology ends and prayer begins. 

SB: How have you come to understand the relationship between prayer and theology? Who has helped you—in person, with their writing, whatever?

AC: The relation between prayer and theology is fascinating – spiritually and intellectually. John Webster once said that you could write an entire history of western Christian theology on exactly the story of this relationship; and I think he’s on to something. In terms of personal influences, there are several; and the list is growing by the day. Alongside friends, colleagues, family, the cloud of witnesses, initially, I found Barth’s thinking on prayer and theology highly stimulating – at least enough to see me through my doctoral work on the topic. More recently I’ve been interested in tracing the relation between theology and prayer as it is worked out and finds expression in Anglican systematic theology. There is something instinctively Anglican about doing theology in the context of prayer that remains visibly at work in several contemporary systematic theologians – Sarah Coakley, Graham Ward, Katherine Sonderegger: all Anglican, all engaged in the high-octane work of cutting edge multi-volume systematic projects, all (though in very different ways) seeking to integrate prayer into their systematic vision. Together, they present a compelling critique of the construction of thinking and praying as antithetical to each other. Theology ends up, in fact,being more not less intellectually demanding when done in prayer: it braces the mind, soul, and heart and becomes not so much a thing to think about but a life to live. In a sense, systematic theology can be more systematic when routed through prayer while at the same time look a whole lot different too – less systematic, more untidy in an odd sort of way. 

SB: When you turn up to worship, how does being a theologian of prayer complicate, enable, help, hinder, clarify, or muddle, your participation? How does your study affect you as a praying person? 

AC: On one level, prayer is very simple. It’s the thing that makes us ‘us’. But on another level, and viewed theologically, prayer ends up becoming hugely complicated. There’s a reason why the thinkers I mentioned earlier devoted so many words to thinking through the apparent simplicity of prayer: when broken open, prayer becomes endlessly interesting and complex. There’s no such thing as ‘mere’ prayer. Prayer is drenched in meaning, and demands the most rigorous intellectual energy to work out what might be going on, theologically, as we pray. 

Another thing I’ve come to realise about prayer is that prayer is more than a thing I do (or should do). It is more complexly a work of God ‘in’ me. When searching for a definition of prayer, the early church didn’t select an individual practice of prayer (petition, intercession, praise) to sum up the life of prayer but reached for a metaphor. That metaphor was ‘conversation’. They meant, of course, conversation with God: dialoguing with the divine as if you would converse with a loved one – in silence and in speech. But conversation had a deeper, more radical meaning still. It meant more literally the ‘con-versing’, the coming together of the divine and the human in a relation of love and communion. It meant, in a word, ‘union’. In this sense, prayer is more than the thing I do – it’s God’s practice in me – but it also becomes more perplexingly the thing through which I do all things. Prayer is an ethic, a way of life, as Barth knew well.

SB: What kind of liturgy best invites your own prayer? How have you come to think about this? 

AC: For many years, both growing up in a university chapel and then as a student myself, my spiritual bread and butter has been choral Evensong. Theologically, there’s loads going on in the liturgy of Evensong. As part of the church’s daily office, the daily habit of prayer is the way the church breathes: it’s the breathing necessary for life. The more one prays, the more it becomes a habit and by that I mean the more one comes to ‘inhabit’ prayer and the life it involves; and the same is true for the church too. 

Part of my attraction to Evensong is the way it fires on all cylinders: it’s affectively orientated, aesthetically driven, beautiful, it integrates individual practices of prayer – confession, intercession, petition, praise – as well as the reading of Scripture, songs of liberation, the chanting of psalms. The organisation of the liturgy subtly but intentionally takes you through a process of transformation. It’s also something to be received. There’s lots of ‘not-doing’ at Evensong where you are prayed for more than do the praying yourself. One of the other intriguing things about the Evensong liturgy (at least in its original form) is the double saying of the Lord’s Prayer: it is said twice. The Lord’s Prayer is probably the most said prayer in the history of Christianity. It is utterly central. It has inspired theological interpretation and endless improvisation throughout its history – there are extraordinary re-readings of its petitions in new ways for new contexts. I’m with Teresa of Ávila who in her own heady and extended interpretation of the Lord’s Prayer described it as the summing up of all prayer. The best liturgy, in one way or another, is improvisation on the petitions and theology of the Lord’s Prayer. But having said that, as I gestured above, prayer is always more than leitourgia. It is more than the work of the people. It is to be caught up in something far greater: the mysterious presence of God.

 Thank you, Ashley.

Photographs supplied by Ashley Cocksworth. The banner image is also the cover of Ashley's new Prayer: A Guide for the Perplexed, which features Gillian Lever's "Embrace": see htps://