Michael Powell


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Spirituality & Perception - Paper 1


Stories & People Paper 1 was descriptive and factual in its account of my journey through jobs and roles integrating built environment, theology, ministry and building, in various ways. That journey only has coherence and stability if one can see what was going on at the same time in terms of a spiritual journey.

In this additional paper I have brought together some examples of the people and kinds of thinking that have encouraged and refreshed me and now serve as underpinning..  

Again, as in Stories & People Paper 1, these examples can be imagined in the form of an octagon.

But this time I have added an additional item numbered 0 because I see it at the centre of the octagon, influencing my approach to all the others.

1. Charles Handy Professor at the London Business School and Anglican
2. Jack Burton Bus driver in Norwich and ‘worker-priest’ (Methodist)
3. Dag Hammarskjöld Secretary-General to the United Nations and Lutheran
4. Harry Williams

Cambridge College Chaplain

5. John Rayner Rabbi
6. Peter Rice Structural Engineer
7. Teilhard de Chardin Geologist and priest (Roman Catholic) 
8. St Martin ’s-in-the-Fields Church’s prayer
0. Thomas Traherne Poet 1636?-1674


Charles Handy Professor at the London Business School and widely known as a broadcaster asks whether there is a mystery at the heart of things.  

The Mystery of the Universe:

Whence comes our Energy?
So many strive each day to build a better world,
Putting heart and body to a stringent daily test,
Why do they bother?

What keeps us good?
When the way ahead is snared with tempting traps
Like sloth and gluttony, or selfishness and greed.
Whence comes our virtue?

There is more mystery at the heart of things.

Could it be chance?
We all are just a random mix of genes
Our feelings chemistry, our bodies particles in flight.
Is it all luck?

Or is there something?
Some force or reason, some point behind it all
Something that hounds us on, for each to find
A Spirit and a Truth?

Is there a mystery at the heart of things?



Jack Burton, a ‘worker priest’, drives his bus around Norwich and sees the mystery as beauty in both a medieval church and, morning and evening, in a new concrete office block

This evening I visited South Creake parish church..... There is a quality about medieval architecture which is inspiring and ennobling before ever a word is uttered; and this church is a gem. It was a warm, still summer evening, quiet and perfect.  

Most modern office blocks do not impress me – they fill me with alarm and despair. But recently one new building of glass and concrete caught my attention early in the morning when the rising sun filled it with fire and set it seemingly ablaze. Tonight, I noticed this building had been illuminated. The concrete shone pure white in the surrounding darkness, and looked very effective.  



Dag Hammarskjöld, working at the head of the United Nations, interprets ‘God’s marriage to the soul’ in terms of things given meaning, responsibilities accepted, and ‘quality’ pursued. He is also sensitive to landscape.

You are liberated from things, but you encounter in them an experience which has the purity and clarity of revelation.

In the faith which is ‘God’s marriage to the soul’, everything, therefore, has a meaning.

So live, then, that you may use what has been put into your hand...  

What distinguishes the ‘elite’ from the masses is only their insistence on ‘quality’. This implies a responsibility, to all for all, to the past for the future, which is the reflection of a humble and spontaneous response to Life – with its endless possibilities, and its unique present which never happens twice.

Not to encumber the earth.... just this: not to encumber the earth.   

A landscape can sing about God, a body about Spirit.  



Harry Williams, a Cambridge college chaplain, says that ‘resurrection’ means that we are able to make new values.

Living goodness ... must be the result of renewed creativity, and it will manifest itself not, in terms of realizing values which exist already in some changeless ideal realm above and beyond man, but in terms of actually creating values which are new.

`The task of ethics is not to draw up a list of traditional moral norms, but to have the daring to make creative valuations. '. And values can thus be created only by being lived, not by being argued about or assented to.

This creation of new values means that for us to enter eternity and be given eternal life is not to be raised up to  the vision of so me static state of changeless perfection, but to participate more and more actively in the creative processes we find all around us here an now. To share God's life is to find ourselves creating with him.    



John Rayner sees scaffolding around the synagogue enabling it to be repaired, restored and renewed, with prayers being said at the top and at the bottom, a reality and a metaphor for his students’ work.

Speaking at the ordination of four graduates of Leo Baeck College West London Synagogue, 13 November 1966 where building work is going on,

Repairers of the Breach

In the Mishnah we read: `Workers may recite the Shema on top of the scaffold' (Ber. 2:4). But it goes on to say that in order to recite the Tefillah they must come down. It is therefore perfectly in order to pray at the foot of the scaffolding, as we are doing this evening. And though the scaffolding hides from us, temporarily, the full glory of this house of worship, it is yet capable of yielding its own sym­bolism. For the purpose of the scaffolding is to enable the­ workers to repair, to restore, to renovate and to re-construct; and that is not an inapt description of the task of the modern rabbi.

For the House of Israel is today in a state of disrepair. Its fabric shows everywhere the ravages of the Holocaust. It suffers, too, from the stresses of disunity, the dry rot of secularism, the dilapidation of neglect. Its furnishings are overlaid with the dust of superficiality, and its unwashed windows admit only a dim light.

In this situation it is more than ever the task of the rabbi to be a `repairer of the breach' (Isa. 58:12), to heal the rift between past and present, tradition and modernity, belief and practice, prom­ise and fulfillment. 


Peter Rice, an eminent structural engineer, enables young engineers, craftsmen and theatre personnel to practically design on site how the natural lighting will work in the Full-Moon Theatre, being built along a pilgrim way to Compostela.

The theatre is lit entirely by reflected moonlight. The calculation to track the moon, define the geometry of the reflections which perform different theatrical functions – spots, sidelights, footlights and so on – was developed in London and Paris , working with Humbert Camerlo, a theatre director. Otherwise all the development is the product of craftsmen working on site. Young engineers don’t sit and draw in the office. They are all sent to the theatre to participate in its development, both physically and mentally.

What I feel is essential to the Full-Moon Theatre ... is that everything that happens there is rooted in the place and comes from the hands of people who live and work there.

The spiritual side of the experience is enhanced by the place itself ... on one of the famous medieval pilgrim ways to St Jacques de Compostela, and there is a spring just below the Full-Moon Theatre where the pilgrims used to stop for refreshment and spiritual sustenance. This connection means that one is permanently aware of an extra presence when one is at the Centre.  


Teilhard de Chardin, geologist and Catholic priest, in his daybreak Mass on the World, offers all the people and all that will be done to God.

Since once again Lord I have neither bread, nor wine, nor altar, I will raise myself beyond these symbols up to the pure majesty of the real itself.

I will offer you all the labours and sufferings of the world.

Over there, on the horizon, the sun has just touched with light the outermost fringe of the eastern sky. Once again, beneath this moving sheet of fire, the living surface of the earth wakes and trembles, and once again begins its fearful travail. I will place on my paten, O God, the harvest to be won by this renewal of labour. Into my chalice I shall pour all the sap which is to be pressed out this day from the earth’s fruits.

My paten and my chalice are the depths of a soul laid widely open to all the forces which in a moment will rise up from every corner of the earth and converge upon the Spirit. Grant me the remembrance and the mystic presence of all those whom the light is now awakening to the new day.

One by one, Lord, I see and live all those whom you have given me to sustain and charm my life.

One by one also I number all those who make up that other beloved family which has gradually surrounded me, its unity fashioned out of the most disparate elements, with affinities of the heart, of scientific research, and of thought.

And again one by one – more vaguely it is true but all-inclusively – I call before me the whole vast anonymous army of living humanity: those who surround me and support me though I do not know them; those who come, and those who go; above all, those who in office, laboratory and factory, through their vision of truth or despite their error, truly believe in the progress of earthly reality and who today will today take up their impassioned pursuit of the light.



The Church Prayer of St Martin ’s-in-the-Fields, Trafalgar Square , links stone and Spirit, grace and intelligence, in its vision of a real-time Kingdom in the city.  

God of heaven and earth,
of history and eternity, of spirit and stones,
whose glory is proclaimed
in the life, death and resurrection of your Son:
renew your people in grace and truth
that with energy, imagination and intelligence,
we may build your Kingdom
and be transformed into your likeness
from glory to glory,
through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen


Thomas Trahrerne, poet from the 17th century, speaks of good action and ethical, responsible practical living, being pursued ‘as if’ we had the assurances that only eternity can give. That is not naive; it is true faith.


For man to act as if


For man to act as if his soul did see

The very brightness of eternity;
For man to act as if his love did burn

Above the spheres, even while it’s in the um;

For man to act even in the wilderness,

As if he did those sovereign joys possess,

Which do at once confirm, stir up, enflame,

And perfect angels; having not the same!

It doth increase the value of his deeds.


In this a man a Seraphim exceeds:
To act on obligations yet unknown,
To act upon rewards as yet unknown,
To keep commands whose beauty's yet unseen,
To cherish and retain a zeal between
Sleeping and waking; shows a constant care;
And that a deeper love, a love so rare,
That no eye service may with it compare.


Burton, Jack (1976) Transport of Delight London SCM Press

Cecil, Lord David (ed) (1940, 1951) The Oxford Book of Christian Verse Oxford Clarendon

de Chardin, Teilard (1970) Hymn of the Universe London William Collins

Hammarskjold, Dag (1964) Markings London Faber and Faber

Handy, Charles (1991) Waiting for the mountain to move London Hutchinson

Rayner, John D (1998) A Jewish Understanding of the World Oxford Bergharn Books

Rice, Peter (1993) An Engineer Imagines London Artemis

Welcome to St Martin ’s-in-the-Fields (2009)

Williams, HA (1972) True Resurrection London Mitchell Beazley


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