Father Ken Leech played a significant role in my spiritual life beginning in the 1970’s. I read Soul Friend when it first came out and True Prayer a few years after. I and others from the Order of the Ascension visited with him in London in the mid 80’s and the Order asked him to lead our retreat before first taking the Benedictine Promise in 1988. Later we used his Subversive Orthodoxy as our common reading.
When I think of Kenneth what first comes to mind is his humanity; he was fully human. Then what comes to me is his deep longing after God. I trust that both are now complete.
The word he offered that I believe the Episcopal Church most needs to hear is written in Prayer and Prophecy (1986 booklet)
Radical action can only begin with radical contemplation.
In this he was one with Evelyn Underhill –
One’s first duty is adoration, and one’s second duty is awe and only one’s third duty is service. And that for those three things and nothing else, addressed to God and no one else, you and I and all other countless human creatures evolved upon the surface of this planet were created. We observe then that two of the three things for which our souls were made are matters of attitude, of relation: adoration and awe. Unless these two are right, the last of the triad, service, won’t be right. Unless the whole of your...life is a movement of praise and adoration, unless it is instinct with awe, the work which the life produces won’t be much good. …
For the real saint is neither a special creation nor a spiritual freak. He is just a human being in whom has been fulfilled the great aspiration of St. Augustine – “My life shall be a real life, being wholly full of Thee.” And as that real life, the interior union with God grows, so too does the saints’ self-identification with humanity grow. They do not stand aside wrapped in delightful prayers and feeling pure and agreeable to God. They go right down into the mess; and there, right down in the mess, they are able to radiate God because they possess Him.
Esther de Waal notes the lack of contemplative grounding in our parishes.
It is very fascinating to see how, in the ten years since this book was first written, increasing numbers of lay people like myself are turning to the monastic tradition. Here they find support on their Christian journey which they often fail to find in the institutional church, where parish and diocesan life can be extremely busy, and seemingly lacking in any sort of contemplative focus. [Esther de Waal in "Living with Contradiction: An Introduction to Benedictine Spirituality" 1997 edition]
In one of Fr. Leech’s addresses to us in 1988 he said this –
Any authentic priesthood must derive from an inner core of silence, a life hid with Christ in God ...Only those who are at home with silence and darkness will be able to survive in, and minister to, the perplexity and confusion of the modern world. Let us seek that dark silence out of which an authentic ministry and a renewed theology can grow and flourish.
I invite you to join members of the Order of the Ascension in silence this week. In the joyful and unsettling silences of tomorrow’s Eucharist I hope you’ll remember Fr. Ken Leech.
Ken died this past Saturday (September 12). In recent times Ken has been part of the Eucharistic community at St Chrysostom’s in Manchester. Fr Chris Hartley, one of the curates, gave him the last rites a few hours before he died.
May his soul, and the souls of all the departed,
through the mercy of God, rest in peace.
Here’s the Order of the Ascension web page in memoriam for Kenneth.
Prayer and Prophecy (a short booklet published by Ascension Press in 1986. There is a book with the same name now available Prayer and Prophecy: The Essential Kenneth Leech )