Father Gilbert Shaw (1886-1967), who from 1958-62 was Warden of the Sisters of the Love of God at Fairacres was a remarkable man. His work lives on in the life of the community at Fairacres and of the Community of the Servants of the Will of God at Crawley Down. Fr Gilbert is counted by CSWG as one of their founders, he was the link between Fr Robert Gofton-Salmond, material founder and first superior, and FAther William Sirr, Father William of Glasshampton, who pioneered the contemplative life for men in the Church of England. Father Gilbert’s teaching is also preserved in the addresses he gave to SLG which are an amazing testimony to the depth of his spiritual experience.
For me the balance in his life between social action, the demand for justice for the poor and contemplation is essential to understanding him and the Anglo-Catholic tradition in the Church of England. I am also struck by his teaching on the spiritual conflict; addresses on which I have been reading this week while on retreat at Crawley Down. This is something that resonates very strongly with me in my work with young people and in Lewisham. It is also a strong point of understanding with the Pentecostal churches which so many of our young people attend.
SLG publish a small fraction of Fr Guilbert’s writing; I hope one day they will publish more.
Here are some extracts from a paper given by Sister Isabel SLG:
‘The greatest priest’, Archbishop Antony has said, ‘that I have known in any tradition of the Church’.
GILBERT SHAW: A TEACHER OF PRAYER IN THE TWENTIETH CENTURY
A talk given at the twelfth International, Interdenominational Congress of Religious (CIIR) at Subiaco, Italy, September 2001
SISTER ISABEL SLG, available here
SLG Press website and bookstore is here
The wikipedia ‘stub’ here.
Arthur Royall writes about Gilbert Shaw’s work in Poplar here
“The striking authority which emanated from Father Gilbert may well have owed something to this early passion for social justice, to the unglamorous years of toil in the East End and the practical works of mercy.”
“The intentions … with which his life was offered to God, and which were also the intentions of every Mass he celebrated, were these:
The sanctification of the priesthood—holy men of prayer to guide God’s people to holiness.
The care and nurture of contemplatives—men and women in ordinary walks of life, often very lonely people—whom he spoke of as lighthouses.
The recovery of the great tradition of contemplative life and prayer—within this process he saw religious (and the contemplative communities in particular) as citadels or fortresses in the forefront of the battle against evil.
All these intentions combined to serve the strongest intention of all: that humankind, drawn to respond to God’s love made known in Jesus Christ should be restored to its original beauty in the image and likeness of its Creator. We hear such words from time to time and are perhaps used to them but, calmly considered, this over-arching intention is somewhat breath-taking. It encompasses the whole of what we mean by creation, redemption and sanctification—all that we know of the work of the Trinity. For Gilbert, to live and suffer for that end, for which ‘the whole creation is groaning in travail’, was simply his daily lot. And for this and his other intentions he did suffer—real poverty, real misunderstanding, real hostility—for much of his life.”
“As a Western Christian and priest of the Anglican Church he was perfectly clear about the weaknesses of his own tradition (even while in himself he manifested many of its strengths). He had no illusions about the accommodation of the Church of England and of other Churches to the secular status quo, or about their neglect of the commandment to love God and neighbour. He doubted their fitness to stand fast in the battle of the mind which had already begun and was being waged on many fronts and in many undercover ways throughout the world. But despite a forthright mode of expression and a certain combative strain in his character, he was never anything but loyal to the Church of his baptism and obedient to its hierarchy whose authority he accepted. He didn’t waste time in destructive criticism and he shunned, as an instrument of the Father of lies, anything like accusation of the brethren.”
Father Gilbert’s last homily:
What then is prayer?
Prayer is the giving of ourselves in and with our Lord’s own gift of himself to the Father
as the Holy Spirit gives the spiritual energy to make this possible.
Prayer is about the way the power of God enters into his creature,
and flows out to affect and to draw the world at large…In order to receive and to be channels for transmitting the transcendent power of God
it is necessary, paradoxically, for men to die to their own self-will and energy.
This is surely the point at which the gospel becomes a great challenge to us all.
Fr Gregory CSWG, 1985