Saturday, 13 September 2014

Emptiness: The Greatest Paradox of the Spiritual Life?

In a recent “Living the Questions” group we explored “Awe, Wonder & Amazement”. As is always the case it was a fascinating conversation as we wrestled with the subject, exploring what the great minds have said about it as well as share personal thoughts and experiences. It was a wonderfulfilling evening. Afterwards I sat and reflected on all that I heard from those present. I was amazed by what I had experienced, it filled me with awe. A truly awful evening (the evening filled me with awe). I felt filled and yet completely empty of fear and trouble. I felt very much at one with myself and yet a part of everything. I felt like a tiny speck in life and yet one in the midst of a greater whole. I felt a deepening sense of love for all that is, all that has been and all that will ever be. I felt deeply that sense of love for life, for that which makes up life, for all that is out there and I felt a deepening sense of love within the soul of me. The following simple words by Forrest Church came back into my mind “God is not God’s name. God is our name for that power that is greater than all and yet present in each.” I experienced this deeply with the people I was connecting with that evening. It also brought to my mind the following beautiful words by Ralph Waldo Emerson,written while reflecting on the wonder of being in the woods.

“Standing on the bare ground – my head bathed by the blithe air, and uplifted into infinite space – all mean egotism vanishes. I become a transparent eyeball; I am nothing; I see all; the currents of the Universal Being circulate through me; I am part or particle of God.”

I love the beautiful paradox here “I am nothing; I see all;” and the last part “I am part or particle of God.” As I thought of these words an image of a "Meme", I had recently seen published through social media, also came to mind. It goes by the title “Serbian Proverb”, and read “Be humble, for you are made of earth. Be noble, for you are made of stars,” These words and that evening certainly humbled me and I live in the hope that they will enoble me too. I know how important it is that I believe the simple message contained in these beautiful words. These two qualities are vital to a fulfilling life, they are not opposing dualities, more complimentary qualities.

A few days later I was chatting with someone who had attended “Living the Questions” discussion. I asked him how he was doing as I knew he was going through some changes in his personal life. He began to talk and it was clear that something was stirring within him and that he was opening up to something new. We both talked about those moments in our lives when things had changed, when life had humbled us and how in those moments something broke both inside and outside and how this had brought about a new beginning, spiritually speaking. I would personally call these profound spiritual experiences, although I know others would give them a different name. In these moments the humility that opened me took me to another level, you could say it began to enoble me. I live in hope that this will continue.

A few days later I was chatting with my Tuesday morning friends. There was a theme running through the conversation. Several of us described recently experiencing a powerful sense of fear present in our lives. While at the same time experiencing a greater sense of faith also present  within us too. A faith that manifests as a deep sense of knowing that by remaining open and connected that we will walk through whatever fear our minds create.

As we shared together the following words from Luke’s Gospel chapter 12 vv 22-27 came to mind.

‘Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat, or about your body, what you will wear. 23For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. 24Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds! 25And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? 26If then you are not able to do so small a thing as that, why do you worry about the rest? 27Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these.

As the conversation continued the following words from the 46th Psalm also came into my mind “Be still and know that I am God”. If I have learnt anything in life I have learnt that somewhere in this stillness in this emptiness a fullness and a strength can begin to grow.

The problem I suspect for many of us is that we are afraid to stop, to centre and to empty out minds. but stop we must if we wish to begin to be filled, it is crucial that we do so. The great spiritual traditions of the east have understood how vital emptiness is in order to experience the fullness and harmony of life. They have claimed that what is required is silence and stillness in order to truly connect to all that is, to truly know you are a part of God. When we are still we no longer locate ourselves in the past or the future or attempt to become something or someone else. In this stillness we can become like the Lillies of the field or the birds of the air. In this stillness a profound silence of the mind is revealed. It is this silence that embraces and connects the present to all times and places. This stillness is what holds and embraces all the movement of life. In  it we become, as Emerson said, “a part or particle of God”

It is emptiness that reveals the greatest paradox of life. For it is often in this emptiness that we truly understand how important everything is; it is the emptiness that reveals the fullness of life. As I constantly say everything matters, every thought, every feeling, every word and every deed. For everything is a part of everything else. The mistake is to fall into the despair of emptiness, although perhaps this is a stage that we may have to go through. This mistake is formed from a superficial understanding of emptiness, that some see as a dismissal of  life as a kind of dream, that doesn't really matter or exist. In doing so we end up dismissing life itself as empty and unsubstantial, that it doesn’t really matter. Such a view can lead one to see the world with contempt and therefore dismiss the very real suffering of others. There is nothing either humble or enobling in this. To me the very point of emptying and going within is to enable us to truly connect with both the joys and sorrows of life, its difficulties and its successes in a very real way and therefore act in a noble way. It is the very stillness that will hold us in the storms we feel or witness and ensure that we do not turn away but live instead in the way of love.

I believe that this is almost perfectly illustrated in the poem “I am much alone in this world, yet not alone” by Rainer Maria Rilke, there is something powerful in these beautiful words especially in the context of the nothing and everything paradox and perhaps the frustrations it brings.

I am much too alone in this world, yet not alone
to truly consecrate the hour.
I am much too small in this world, yet not small
to be to you just object and thing,
dark and smart.
I want my free will and want it accompanying
the path which leads to action;
and want during times that beg questions,
where something is up,
to be among those in the know,
or else be alone.

I want to mirror your image to its fullest perfection,
never be blind or too old
to uphold your weighty wavering reflection.
I want to unfold.
Nowhere I wish to stay crooked, bent;
for there I would be dishonest, untrue.
I want my conscience to be
true before you;
want to describe myself like a picture I observed
for a long time, one close up,
like a new word I learned and embraced,
like the everday jug,
like my mother’s face,
like a ship that carried me along
through the deadliest storm.

“Wisdom tells me I am nothing. Love tells me I am everything. Between the two my life flows”, said the 20th century Hindu guru, Nisargadatta Maharaji. Carl Sagan once wrote "For small creatures such as we the vastness is bearable only through love."

For me in the silence in the emptiness I find the love that connects me to all that is in a truly wonderfulfilling sense. In the emptiness my cup once again begins to runneth over. In so doing I can once again know the fullness of life and live in such a way that is indeed enobling.

By deepening in silence we discover that the apparent emptiness holds no real fear, instead it leads us to true beauty and joy; it leads us to the joy of living. In that space we can discover that we are “a part or particle of God”. In doing so we rest in the infinite space that is life and begin to live in both accord and harmony. This silence brings peace, wholeness and well-being. It humbles us for it allows us to see that we are made of the earth and yet also enobles us for we can see that we are made of the stars.

Sunday, 7 September 2014

Hope & Enthusiasm: A 200th Anniversary Celebration

Today we marked 200 years of our free religious tradition here in the town of Altrincham. 200 years ago they formed this fellowship of love and service in the town and they have continued sailing in it for many generations. They did so in hope and with genuine enthusiasm. I am very aware that today we stand on the shoulders of giants as we look ahead as a free religious faith offering hope to a community and world that does at times seem so divisive…I believe that this free religious tradition that I serve has much to offer our world, as those who came before us did. I live with hope in my heart that we can continue to build on those firm roots that those who came before us planted. A solid trunk grew from those roots and many branches have stretched from it, leading to buds and leaves and fruits that have flowered and nourished so many.

Today we celebrate the 200th anniversary of the Unitarian congregation in Altrincham.

We who live today are connected to both the past and the future, we are links in a chain of history. It is our task to do the best we can with this our link in this time and place. We cannot shape the whole world, but we can do something in this our time and place, in full knowledge that this will influence the whole of history…Everything matters you know, every breath, every feeling, every thought, every deed impacts in some way on the chain of life…Everything matters…

The fellowship of love that we sail in today is a place of nurture where the spirit can grow, but not alone. We do not sail this ship alone we do so in community with one another and with that eternal spirit that is present in all life and yet greater than it all. Our tradition is as much about community as it about individual freedom, something that seems lost in modern spirituality, something that is so needed in our time…We come together in love and to grow and flower in that same spirit…

Here we stand on holy ground. Here the spirit has spoken and been heard, just as the burning bush spoke to Moses. Here the Divine can speak to each of us, as it has for generations and encourage us to keep on moving forward to new freedoms. This though is not holy ground because it is especially sacred. No it is holy ground because we consecrate it with our presence and the spirit that grows in and through us, that we bring to this place. Our task here is to increase the holiness and then take it out into our world where the worst aspects of humanity keep on desecrating.

As Wendell Barry so beautifully put it. “There are no unsacred places; there are only sacred places and desecrated places.” It is the task of this our free religious faith to nurture the sacredness from which we are formed and to carry that out into our world, through our lives…Everything matters you know, every breath, every feeling, every thought, every deed impacts in some way on the chain of life…Everything matters…

Trees and bushes have been speaking to me all this year, as have the beautiful flowers that grow from them. It really began at the end of last year, at a time of loss and pain in my own life and those I hold most dear. My sister, our Mand, told me of a single rose she had seen right in the midst of winter, both physical winter and a personal winter too. This rose lifted her spirit and as she told me of it, it lifted me too. That winter rose brought hope that love will survive any of the biting frost that can threaten our lives. This year I’ve been seeing roses everywhere, the most beautiful I have ever seen…They have become a symbol of hope to me…“And I’ll bring you hope, when hope is hard to find and I’ll bring a song of love and a rose in the winter time.”

Like absence of love a life lived without hope quickly becomes empty and meaningless. Please do not get me wrong I’m not talking about optimism here, they are not the same. Optimism is about an expectation of something to come, whereas hope is more about allowing something to grow from within. It is a form of love incarnating in life, something that begins in our own hearts. Hope is knowing that something beautiful will grow, even from what feels like the worst kind of suffering. Hope always overcomes despair as meaning emerges from the suffering…To paraphrase Vaclav Havel “ Hope is an orientation of the spirit...It is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense regardless of how it turns out.”

Or as Erich Fromm observed “To hope means to be ready at every moment for that which is not yet born, and yet not become desperate if there is no birth in our lifetime, Those whose hope is weak settle for comfort or for violence; those whose hope is strong see and cherish signs of new life and are ready every moment to help the birth of that which is ready to be born.”

I see symbols of hope every day and I am certainly ready to help bring them to birth. I see them on the side of the road as I drive. Just like "The Tree of Lost Soles" I saw one day travelling to Warrington. A beautiful symbol made from the stump of an old tree and old discarded shoes. A symbol that has stayed with me this year as I see folk coming to life in my midst. All souls can indeed be found and can begin life again. I’ve seen it in the eyes of so many this year. So I live in hope. Why? Because even in the midst of winter a rose can grow and bring hope to all our lives.

So what can we do in our time and place, how do we plant seeds of hope in our time and place? How do we take care of our link in the chain of life, in the chain of history? How can we ready ourselves “to help bring to birth that which is ready to be born”?

Well I believe that it begins with two things. The first is to truly see our world and our shared life as a blessing, as a beautiful gift that we are a part of. This begins by first of all understanding that we too are blessings. We need to let this form and grow in our souls, our hearts and our minds and then bring it to life. We need to be filled with this spirit, to be enthused by it. To be enthusiastic. By the way that’s what enthusiasm means, from entheos to be filled with the spirit, with God. We need to be filled with this spirit and to set it free and begin to consecrate our world once more. We need to let hope become an orientation of our spirit and to bless our world with this enthusiasm. And do you know what if we do our world will become overflowing with roses, even in the depths of winter time.

I’m going to end today with a little story, entitled “Building a Cathedral” (Taken from "Concentration and Compassion" by Bill Darlison)

When the great Cathedral of Chatres was being built in the 13th century, a traveller happened to be passing by the construction site. He was amazed at the number of workers involved in the project and the variety of jobs being done. He approached a carpenter and asked, “What exactly are you doing here?”

“I’m sawing wood, what on earth does it look like I’m doing?” came the curt reply.

The traveller then approached a stonemason and asked him the very same question, to which he replied,

“I’m earning a living, I’ve got a wife and children to support.”

However, a third man, an unskilled worker who looked to be sweeping up after the others, said with a beaming smile, “Can’t you see? I’m building a cathedral!”

So I say to you let’s go build Cathedrals in our own hearts, let’s take them out into our world and make every inch of this world holy ground once more…Let us consecrate, let us bless everything and everyone we touch...Everything matters you know, every breath, every feeling, every thought, every deed impacts in some way on the chain of life…Everything matters…

“Cos I’ll bring you hope, when hope is hard to find and I’ll bring a song of love and a rose in the winter time,”

Saturday, 30 August 2014

Breadth and Depth

Last Saturday was a first for Dunham Road Unitarian Chapel Altrincham, as we conducted our first same-sex marriage. In fact it was a first for the whole of Trafford as it was the first to be conducted in a religious building in the Borough. I attended the do afterwards and as is always the case many people wanted to discuss the service and as well as ask questions about the Unitarian faith tradition. Of all the things that were said to me my favourite had to be “I am not a church going, but I really liked that service”. I was also involved in many other conversations with a variety of people as we ate and listened to the speeches. It’s amazing what people tell you about themselves their own faith or lack of faith, their frustrations with previous wedding service that they had attended, whether religious or secular ones held in hotels etc. What touched me the most though was that people were able to connect with what they were witnessing on a deep, deep level whether they were “religious” or not. The service was deeply religious, in a very real sense and yet it was able to touch those hard to reach places of folk regardless of what they believed, or not. The service had both breadth and real depth. I left feeling that I had done my job and done it well.

We say all are welcome here, come as you exactly as you are, but do not expect to leave in exactly the same condition…That was certainly achieved…I offer thanks and praise for this…

For me in many ways this is what lies at the core of the free religious tradition I serve. This coming together as we are, exactly as we but not expecting to always stay exactly where we are or as we are. There is a real openness and humility in this, which I believe are essential requirements for the corporate transformative experience that ought to lay at the core of a free religious tradition.

People constantly ask me what a Unitarian is, they are always trying to pin me and our tradition down. For some this is curiosity and for others I suspect it is in an attempt to be critical, to pick holes. By the way there are many holes and personally I’m very pleased about this. I would hate to feel I am a part of something that looked at itself and believed that it was the perfect embodiment of anything. I do not believe that anything in life is perfect and therefore must be incomplete. I’m aware every week that I am an imperfect minister, but one I also know is growing.

One criticism that people often make of the tradition I serve is that it is seen as being too broad and as a result shallow. They say yes there is plenty of width, but no real depth. That anything goes, we accept people uncritically. Do you know what there may well be some truth in that, but it’s a truth that I see in a positive light and not a negative one. I certainly want to welcome people exactly as they are, warts and all and beauty spots too. I want to welcome their whole selves, even if I’m uncomfortable with some aspects of them. To me this is not shallow at all, actually I believe that it encourages depth. To me this is real depth and not some shallow imposed depth. That said regardless of what I believe many do still see the Unitarian tradition as wishy washy, shallow, and empty.

This brings to mind a story my brother loves to tell of he and his wife being driven around Dallas in a taxi and the driver pointing to a church and saying “That church is a Unitarian Universalist church and those folks can believe whatever they like”, my brother recounts that this was said in an utterly bemused tone. My brother’s response was oh yes “My brother is a Unitarian”. I think for the first time in his entire life the taxi driver went silent.

By the way as a kind of counter to this thought I have heard many Unitarians say "We so not beleive waht we like, we believe what me must."

I also remember seeing an episode of the cartoon series “The Simpsons” in which the church pastor Rev Lovejoy offers the Simpson children a bowl of Unitarian ice cream. When one of the children replies that the bowl is empty his response is that this is the point. The bowl is empty. He is saying there is nothing in it. It is an empty vessel which will not feed or sustain you.

Now I don’t believe and have certainly not found this to be true, but it is certainly how others view the Unitarian faith. Why is this? Well I believe it is because we find it hard to articulate exactly what our faith is about. We can say what it isn’t far more easily, but find it hard to say what we are really about. I know I find it a challenge from time to time. In fact there has been times when I have done all I can to avoid the question.

There are those within the Unitarian tradition who say the same thing by the way, claiming that we need a clear coherent message, so that we can market ourselves better. The problem of course is that no two people can agree entirely as to what that might be.

Now while there are a variety of views as to what it is to be a Unitarian there does seem to be two distinct themes that emerge and re-emerge as to the direction we ought to be taking in articulating what we are about and the way we should move forward in order to grow. The call seems to be either a return to our roots, a more Biblically based Unitariansism and the other to do away with the past completely as if it never happened and to embrace an almost secular kind of religion, an oxymoron if ever I’ve heard one. I have heard this described as the ABC approach. I remember hearing this phrase quite frequently a while back and asked someone what they meant by it. They said ABC, anything but Christianity. The ABC approach is one that says we embrace anything, well anything but Christianity.

My own personal view is that neither of these two approaches necessarily breed depth as opposed to width, they can both easily become shallow. I believe there is a real depth the Unitarian heritage, in where we have come from and I believe it points to an openness that comes from our natural humility that grows from our traditions faithful uncertainty.

You see I think that real the depth of the Unitarian tradition doesn’t come from becoming tied by our roots or by the rejection of it completely. Instead it comes from our approach. This I believe is found in that simple statement “Come as you are, exactly as you are, but not expect to leave in exactly the same condition”. I believe it comes from the humility and openness that is at the core of this approach.

At the core of the Unitarian approach is the principle of none subscription to imposed creeds and dogmas. We claim that the seat of authority lays in the enlightened conscience of the individual and not an external authority? When I first heard this sentiment expressed and first came into contact with the ideas of the Great Nineteenth century Unitarian theologian James Martineau it spoke to me right down deep in the marrow of my soul. The “Seat of Authority” rejects all external authority in matters of faith whether of Church or scripture. It set Unitarians apart in the nineteenth century from mainstream Christianity. Now of course our tradition has broadened and has widened since this time, but I do think that today it is this that gives the Unitarian tradition its depth. For me this is the essence of the tradition. To me this is our unique selling point, to use marketing jargon for a moment. I believe that there is both breadth and depth in this approach.

I believe that the Unitarian tradition is both broad and deep. This is because it encourages people to include all that they are, all their experiences, all that has brought them to place they find themselves at this moment in time. I believe it is a mistake to reject any aspect of our experiences. There is always a temptation to reject the past, both personal and collective, but it is what has made us who we are today. We need to embrace it and see it fully for what it is, warts and all and beauty spots too. We need to share these experiences with one another in order to bring depth to our kaleidoscope of experiences. For no two experiences are exactly alike.

In the four years I have served the beautiful people at Dunham Road Unitarian Chapel Altrincham and Queens Road Unitarian Free Church Urmston I have discovered that one of the greatest gifts of this work I have been blessed with is that people tell you things, they share their experiences. All kinds of people tell me where they have been, what an honour to be blessed with such conversations, they are precious beyond measure, pearls of great price.

I believe there is real breadth and depth in the free religious tradition I have chosen (or did it choose me?), and that this is to be found in the personal experiences of those within our communities and those who came before them. The past should never be rejected as it can reveal so much to we who live today. To find the real depth in life you need to listen to the whole of life, you must let it speak, past, present and future. You must learn to listen to all the voices, for they are voices just like your own. You must be open to all the stories of life both ancient and modern and those of prophesy too, for they have so much to teach. You must be open to all experiences that are available to you. How can this be done? Well it begins with humility, this is the very key to openness, I believe.

Once again I say to you and I say it to myself too…”Come as you are, exactly as you are, but do not expect to leave in exactly the same condition”…For I believe that in these simple words you will know both the breadth and the depth of life...a breadth and depth found in the beautiful free religious tradition I am blessed to serve.

Saturday, 23 August 2014

Are You Awake? Consciousness and Self-Consciousness

It is said that soon after his enlightenment that the Buddha passed a man on the road who was struck by the Buddha's extraordinary radiance and peaceful presence. The man stopped and asked, "My friend, what are you? Are you a celestial being or a god?"

"No," said the Buddha.

"Well, then, are you some kind of magician or wizard?"

Again the Buddha answered, "No."

"Are you a man?" "No."

"Well, my friend, then what are you?"

The Buddha replied, "I am awake"

The Buddha was awake, he was fully conscious to all that is and all that will ever be. He was fully integrated, he did not see himself as separate, well he did not see himself at all.

Now this is not a claim I would or could make about myself. I believe I am more awake these days than I have ever been in the past, but I am very aware of a sense of separation from time to time. That said I am more conscious than I ever was before. There is a simple reason for this I am less self-conscious than I once was. I feel more connected, at one, with all that is, than at any other time in my life. I feel conscious, I feel awake, but I used to be terribly self-consciousness and I suspect that it was this that was the very root cause of so much of that aching loneliness that used to eat away at me. I felt, separate, cut off, alone. How many of us feel like this, it is so much the plague of the modern age.

The other day I was chatting with my mum, it was a wonderful conversation. She was doing most of the talking. This is the case in most of the conversation I have these days. I like it this way. “Now the ears of my ears are awake.”

We got talking about childhood things and what life was like back then. I asked her a question, which I haven’t asked for years about a birth defect I suffered from. She went into detail explaining how when I was born some of the nerve endings at the base of my spine were underdeveloped. It was something akin to spina bifida, but in a less severe form. As a child I had to frequently go for physiotherapy and there was a period when I was not allowed to engage in any sport. I hated the feeling it engendered in me as I looked at the other kids running around in the playground, knowing I wasn’t allowed to join in.

It was a few years later when the pain really hit me though, in my mid to later teens when I was painfully aware of the way I walked. I waddled when I moved, I still do now. When it was my time to be teased at school I would be called "Penguin, cripple, crip, criptic acid and spina bifida." I remember walking down the street of the town I grew up in and whenever I saw someone walking towards me I would stand up straight and attempt to push my feet inwards in the vain hope that they wouldn’t think that there was something wrong with me. I must have looked a right sight.

I was just so terribly self-consciousness. I was just so locked in on what I believed was wrong with me. I’ve been thinking about this over the last few days and do you know what I’m not wholly convinced that the problem was my perceived physical imperfections. I suspect that if I’d been born without this physical difficulty the problem would have manifested in other areas of my life. The problem was the self-consciousness, I was locked in myself and therefore not fully conscious, I was separate and felt alone.

One thing I’ve learnt over the years is that I am not alone in this. So many of us suffer from this from of self-consciouness. We feel lost, lonely and cut off because we are locked in what we believe is wrong with us. Sometimes it is harder to see what is right, than what is wrong. This is a deeply lonely, isolated, way to be.

Socrates said that “The unexamined life is not worth living”. Now while not wishing to argue with the great philosopher I do wonder if the “over examined life” can prove just as worthless. It is so easy to get lost in oneself, wrapped up in our own underwear to such an extent that we do not live at all. We can become so self-conscious that we fail to become conscious of all that is and all that as ever been. It is so easy to become wrapped up in our own perceived needs that we fail to live in the world with others and then complain about feeling lonely. Yes it is important to examine ourselves, to understand who we are and what makes us tick, but that should not be an end in itself, a destination. It is a staging post in the spiritual adventure, but not the final destination.

Some label extreme self-absorption as Narcissism. A word taken from name of a boy of ancient Greek mythology named Narcissus who fell so in love with his own reflection that he fell into the water and drowned. Now I don't believe that it is entirely correct to name the type of self-consciousness I am discussing here as Narcissistic self-love. There seems very little love here at all. Quite the opposite in fact the pre-occupation is with what is wrong. What I'm describing is a deep form of self hatred and or loathing, not love.

When you look at your own reflection in the mirror, what do you see? Do you see someone that you love? Do you see who you really are? While many of us see ourselves warts and all, how many of us see the beauty spots too? The kind of self-absorption that most people I come into contact with suffer from tends to be a deeply ingrained negative type. The preoccupation is often with what is wrong with them, with their shame, rather than how wonderful they are. This is certainly not what Narcissus suffered from.

This kind of self-consciousness can become so consuming that it takes over our every human interactions. I wonder how many of us suffer from the following kind of commentary when we meet up with people. “What will they think of me?” “How do I look?” “If I say something, will they think I’m an idiot?” and then a little later, “He gave me a funny look, he must have thought me a fool. Why on earth did I have to make that stupid remark? Gosh I’m such a freak, they all seem to be staring at me.”

This kind of inner dialogue can be so crippling. It can haunt us from the moment we wake and continue throughout our day, eating away at our every decision. Oh and of course because we doubt ourselves and every decision we make, we assume that everyone else must be doing exactly the same thing. This kind of self-consciousness can be so inhibiting, so much so that it can block us off almost entirely from the world around us. We can become utterly consumed by this kind of self-consciousness, leading to us seeing the world entirely from this point of view. When we do the world does not look like a pretty place at all.

So what can we do about it? How do we wake up to a greater consciousness? How do we break free from this crippling self-consciousness?

In the Gospel accounts Jesus taught his followers that they must lose themselves in order to be found. This beautiful paradox taught that by emptying ourselves of our self-absorption we begin to be filled with the spirit of neighbourliness. So that when we look deeply into the still waters we are not drawn in by narcissistic self-consciousness and loathing at our own reflection, but rather into a deeper contemplation of our shared lives. We become conscious of all that is, all that has been and all that will ever be. By opening ourselves to and for others we begin to shed that debilitating skin of self-consciousness that it is so easy to become imprisoned in.

Gandhi said “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in service of others”

The Buddha talked of Nirvana, of being freed from the suffering that was the blight of humanity. He showed that we all suffered and that it was in seeing our suffering as individual that led to this sense of separation. He suggested that we needed to break through our suffering not only to serve others but to reach a higher state of being, true consciousness, to be awake.

Now please don’t get me wrong I am not suggesting that we neglect ourselves and that we do not need to understand how we tick. All I am saying is that we must not get stuck there, we must not get lost there and we must not see this as a destination, more a staging post on the journey. The adolescent stage I suspect. Sadly for many folk, me included, this adolescent stage often goes on well into adulthood.

So how do we move from self-consciouness to consciousness. How do we lose ourselves so that we can be found? Well Forrest Church in his wonderful book “Lifecraft” offered three simple suggestions, which he called the three “E’s”, “empathy”, “ecstasy” and “enthusiasm”. The key he claimed could be found in the literal understanding of these words. “Empathy”, to suffer or feel with another; “Ecstasy”, to stand outside ourselves; “Enthusiasm”, to manifest the god (theos) within us.

Empathy is a deep felt compassion. When we open our hearts empathically to another we are courageously refusing to allow self-consciousness to stand in the way of a higher consciousness that comes into being as we feel what another is going through. In so doing we serve both ourselves and the other person, as well as that higher consciousness beyond our singular selves.

Ecstasy is one of those words that has often been misunderstood as some kind of hedonistic state and therefore self- indulgent, it is far from this. In its truest sense what it actually does is take us out of ourselves and lifts us beyond our self created confines. In so doing we transcend our self-consciousness and enter a realm in which purpose begins to emerge and meaning is found.

Enthusiasm means to be filled with spirit, with holy energy. Enthusiasm allows us to be fully involved and engaged in whatever it is we are doing. It allows us to see beyond the confines we have created. Forrest himself states, drawing on the imagery of Narcissus, that “Here, once again, consciousness displaces self-consciousness. We escape from our mirrored room. Its mirrors turn into windows. Or the pond grows so still that we can see beyond our own reflection to the trees and clouds and birds and sun. There is, by the way, no higher form of spiritual practice. When we step out of our own shadow, consciousness replaces self-consciousness.”

Experience has revealed to me that in so doing we are set free to walk with others in our own faltering ways. Instead of being lost in what we believe is wrong with us we are set free to do what we can in this our shared world and in so doing we encourage others to do the same, as perfectly imperfect children of God, children of Love.

As I understand it the whole purpose of the spiritual life is to develop a deepening sense of connection. We all have our troubles and our worries either within ourselves, those around us or the wider world. We need to see them for what they are, we need to acknowledge the truth, but we must not get stuck there, for that will paralyse us and stop us doing what we can. We cannot change the way the world is but that need not prevent us from doing what we can do and in doing so we will grow spiritually as we become integrated into all that has been, all that exists and all that will ever.

As a kind of conclusion I’d like to end this little chip of a blog with one final thought, inspired by some wisdom that Forrest Church shared right at the end of his life.

So much of modern spiritually gets it wrong because it is seeking the wrong thing. There is so much talk of finding ourselves, when in actual fact what we ought to be doing is losing ourselves. What we ought to be striving for is integration and to let go of those aspects within ourselves that block this. We all ask the question “Who am I?” when really we ought to asking is “How am I doing? And if we are still feeling utterly dis-connected we need to ask why? And how can I integrate once again? You see if we can begin to integrate with all that is, all that has been and all that has ever been we begin to truly cohere. In doing so we transcend our self-consciousness and become conscious. We become spiritually mature. We become like the Buddha, awake.

So how conscious are you today? Are you truly awake?

Saturday, 2 August 2014

Can we live as one?

Last year I bought a copy of  “Falling Into the Sky: A Meditation Anthology” edited by Abhi Janamanchi and Abhimanyu Janamanchi. There are some beautiful reflections in it, The following “God Has No Borders” by Rod Richards seems particularly pertinent in the current climate.

"We humans are the line-drawers. We are the border-makers. We are the boundary-testers. We are the census-takers. We draw a line to separate this from that, so we can see clearly what each is. We create a border to define our place, so we can take care of what's there. We test boundaries to find if they are real, if they are necessary, if they are just. We congregate within those boundaries in families and tribes and cities and countries that we call us. And we call people on the other side them.

But our minds seek boundaries that our hearts know not. The lines we draw disappear when viewed with eyes of compassion. The recognition of human kinship does not end at any border. A wise part of us knows that the other is us, and we them.

Let justice flow like water and peace like a never-ending stream. Let compassion glow like sunlight and love like an ever-shining beam. The rain, the sunshine, the breeze, the life-giving air we breathe -- they know no boundaries. Neither do our empathy, our good will, our concern for one another.

God has no borders. Love has no borders. Let us lift up the awareness of our unity as we celebrate our awesome diversity on this beautiful day."

John Lennon once sang “You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one. I hope someday you’ll join us and the world will live as one”.

Well looking around at our world at times this does indeed seem a dream. Pick up any newspaper or switch on the news and we see division and violence growing. The idea that we can live as one does seem like a dream at times.

This last week marked the hundredth anniversary of the commencement of the First World War. Over the coming months there will be many events remembering this. While we remember I do wonder if we have ever really learned. Over the last 100 years there have been very few days when there was no conflict taking place in this our world.

Now while death through armed conflict is responsible for the loss of so many lives it is thought that only about 10% of the one million violent deaths in the world each year are due to them. The conflicts and the violence that takes place in this our world is not just between nations, or even groups and individuals. Half of the 1 million deaths are thought to be through suicide and about one third through homicide. How can we live at one with each other if we cannot live at one with ourselves?

Now of course the divisions in human life take many and varied forms. We see them of course in religious context and between nations and ethnic groups. We seem them in political agendas and we see them within communities and even within ourselves. It seems that when human beings come together in any way shape or form division soon begins to grow. It happens in families too and within our individual selves. How many of us can honestly say, hand on heart, that they are at one with themselves and the world around them?

It seems very difficult to imagine a world where we can all live as one.

A few days ago I came across a fascinating article written about  Buzz Aldrin, the second man to land on the moon. The article recounted something that took place during that first moon landing, something that was intentionally kept quiet at the time.

As Neil Armstrong was preparing to take “one small step for man” Aldrin wanted to mark the moment in a way that was deeply spiritually meaningful to him, something that he believed would symbolise the wonder and awe of the moon landings and that transcended the nuts and bolts and mere technology. He felt that a simple communion would be appropriate. So Aldrin brought with him a piece of communion bread, a sip of wine and a tiny silver chalice amongst the few personal items he was allowed to take into space with him.

So just before stepping foot on the moon, Aldrin conducted the service. As he did he called out to Houston

“Houston, this is Eagle. This is the LM Pilot speaking. I would like to request a few moments of silence. I would like to invite each person listening in, wherever and whomever he may be, to contemplate for a moment the events of the past few hours and to invite each person listening, wherever and whomever he may be, to contemplate for a moment the events of the past few hours and to give thanks in his own individual way.”

Aldrin had wanted to broadcast the event globally but had been discouraged by NASA who were at the time fighting a lawsuit brought by the atheist activist Madalyn Murray O’Hair who was suing them over the reading of Genesis by the crew of Apollo 8. So the communion was kept quiet and personal due to fear of litigation.

Years later while reflecting on the incident Aldrin said himself that perhaps he should have chosen a more universal way of commemorating this incredible human achievement. He said;

“Perhaps if I had it to do over again, I would not choose to celebrate communion… Although it was a deeply meaningful experience for me, it was a Christian sacrament, and we had come to the moon in the name of all mankind—be they Christians, Jews, Muslims, animists, agnostics, or atheists. But at the time I could think of no better way to acknowledge the enormity of the Apollo 11 experience than by giving thanks to God.”

So many of those early astronauts, as they looked down on earth, were deeply moved by the experience. They certainly saw the oneness and the interconnection of all life on earth and all of humanity.

Thomas Stafford, while looking down on earth from Apollo 10 famously said:

"The white twisted clouds and the endless shades of blue in the ocean

make the hum of the spacecraft systems, the radio chatter, even your

own breathing disappear. There is no cold or wind or smell to tell you

that you are connected to Earth.

You have an almost dispassionate platform - remote, Olympian and yet so moving that you can hardly believe how emotionally attached you are to those rough patterns shifting steadily below."

From space those astronauts developed a deepening spiritual connection to the earth they had been separated from. They saw the world as one, there were no borders from space.

We are all connected on this our planet and yet we build so many walls, so many borders that separate us. How do we begin to live with a greater sense of oneness and interconnection? Well I do not think that the only answer is to blast off into space. I don’t think we need to do this. If I’ve learnt anything I have learnt that the journey towards interconnection and togetherness, the spiritual journey, is not one of distance, nor is it a journey of detachment, the spiritual journey is one of connection.

For me the spiritual life is essentially about connection. It is about connecting to a reality that is greater than our small selves. Living spiritually is about finding ways to connect to whatever it is that is of highest worth to us, whatever we hold sacred, whatever we regard as holy. It is about finding ways to connect through the daily interactions of our lives; it’s about learning how to live more openly even when the tough times come and those around us are refusing to do so.

This is not easy, especially when we see so many of those around us seemingly living more disconnectedly from all life and putting up barriers towards others. So how do we do this, you may well ask? Well I believe it begins with spiritual practise, it is this that will help us to connect in deeper and more meaningful ways.

I’d like to suggest a simple practise to you, one I came across in a book of meditations titled “Singing in the Night: Collected Meditations: Volume Five” edited by Mary Bernard. It is by David O. Rankin and is titled “Our Common Destiny”

“First, I must begin with my own creation. I must celebrate the miracle of evolution that resulted in a living entity named David. I must assist in the unfolding of the process by deciding who I am, by fashioning my own identity, by creating myself each day. I must listen to the terrors, the desires, the impulses that clash in the depths of my soul. I must know myself, or I will be made and used by others.

Second, I must learn to affirm my neighbours. I must respect others, not for their function, but for their being. I must put others at the centre of my attention, to treat them as ends, and to recognise our common destiny. I must never use people to win glory, or to measure the ego, or to escape from responsibility. I must listen to their words, their thoughts, their coded messages.

Finally, I must value action more than intention. I must feel, think, judge, decide, and then risk everything in acts of gratuitous freedom. I must batter the walls of loneliness. I must leap the barriers of communication. I must tear down the fences of anonymity. I must destroy the obstacles to life and liberty. Not in my mind (as a wistful dream). But in my acts (as a daily reality)."

Can we live as one? At one with ourselves, at one with one another, at one with those people who we see as being different to ourselves, can we live at one with all of life? Well I believe it is possible, I don’t see it as an impossible dream. It begins within our own hearts and souls and in the ways that we conduct our lives. It will not be easy though, as the forces of division are all around us and indeed within us.

Therefore it must begin within our own hearts and souls. in the way we live our own lives. It begins by learning to revere life as the most precious God given gift there is. If we do this we will surely no longer be able to create divisions within ourselves, one another and all life.

I'm going to end this little blogspot with some prayerful words by  Rick Hoyt titled “Beyond Borders”. I invite you still yourselves in a time of prayer…let us pray…

“Beyond Borders” by Rick Hoyt

Go forth
Because we are always going forth from somewhere

Going from our homes
Going from our childhoods and younger selves
Going from our cities and states and countries
Going from innocence to experience to enlightenment

Finding borders
Testing borders
Crossing borders.

Go forth
into the night
Because we are always going into some night,

Going into mystery
Going into questions
Going into the desert
Getting to the other side.

Go forth,
Eagerly or reluctantly
Leaving behind the comfort and joy and community and
familiarity of one place
Go forth, into the anxiety and sadness and loneliness and
strangeness of some other place.

Carry with you the love and laugther of this place
And let it light your spirit and your life and your way
as you make your journey.
Carry with you the wisdom you learned and the good memories of this place
And may they give you strength for your journey.

And when you have been away long enough,
far enough,
Done what you set off to do
Been there so long that
That place too, starts to feel like home.

Come back.
Come back.
Come back to the one, universal,
Everywhere and every when and everyone inclusive home,
This beloved community of all creation
That you cannot ever really leave.

Saturday, 19 July 2014

Resent or Rejoice

There’s a woman I know who whenever our paths cross, which they do quite frequently, always shouts out to me “resent or rejoice”. It’s been going on for months now and I’ve got no one else to blame for this other than myself. She once heard me talking about my wish to find a word like resentment, but that meant the polar opposite. A word that meant to re-feel a positive emotion or event. Now the word she came up with was “rejoice”. So every time we bump into one another she says to me “resent or rejoice”. I’m beginning to wonder if I actually resent or rejoice in these encounters. Usually I rejoice in the spirit of celebration that she is sharing and in the fact that she is developing something that has grown from a loving aspect of myself. I’ve even begun saying the phrase “rejoice or resent” back at her.

“Resent or rejoice”, it really got me thinking about attitudes and approaches to life. Do I rejoice in the life I have been given and those who surround me or do I resent this life that I am a part of? Do we resent or rejoice in life?

Now personally I would much rather rejoice than be consumed by poisonous resentment, although I'm not sure that this has always been the case.

Resentment is a negative emotion that is re-felt and replayed, over and over again until it becomes all consuming. Frederick Nietzsche said of it, “nothing on earth consumes a man more completely than the passion of resentment.”

When I look at my life there have been examples, some serious and others ridiculous, that have consumed me for long periods of time. I know I am not unique in this, it happens to us all, things from our past can so easily control and even poison the life we are attempting to live today.

I know from truly looking at my own life and honestly acknowledging all that has happened to me and all that I have caused to happen, that many of these resentments I used to carry were really just justifications for the mess I was in at the time. By blaming others for my troubles, the things they had done, real or imagined, I could somehow raise myself above them and place myself on a pedestal. The problem of course was that I just remained lost in this sea of anger and my life went nowhere other than more lost. I was stuck on a ship, created from my own ill feeling, heading for trouble and unable to change direction. The bitter feelings were so all consuming that I could not hear the voices that were offering a different direction and my senses were closed to the joy present in the life all around me. What a waste!

Yes resentment is such a waste of life, as it so quickly becomes all consuming. It can take over your whole life. You will find many examples of this in literature. The classic perhaps being Captain Ahab. In Herman Melville’s Moby Dick Ahab is consumed by his rage against the “white whale” “Moby Dick” who in a previous voyage had destroyed his ship and bitten off his leg. So Ahab vowing revenge sets out on a voyage to hunt down the “white whale”. He becomes so consumed by his rage and need for revenge that as time goes by he no longer sees “Moby Dick” merely as the perpetrator of an evil act but as the “devil incarnate”, as the sum and substance of all evil that occurs in our lives.

This is near perfectly illustrated in the following passage from “Moby Dick”

“Small reason was there to doubt, then, that ever since that almost fatal encounter, Ahab had cherished a wild vindictiveness against the whale, all the more fell for that in his frantic morbidness he at last came to identify with him, not only all his bodily woes, but all his intellectual and spiritual exasperations. The White Whale swam before him as the monomaniac incarnation of all those malicious agencies which some deep men feel eating in them, till they are left living on with half a heart and half a lung...All that most maddens and torments; all that stirs up the lees of things; all truth with malice in it; all that cracks the sinews and cakes the brain; all the subtle demonisms of life and thought; all evil, to crazy Ahab, were visibly personified, and made practically assailable in Moby Dick. He piled upon the whale's white hump the sum of all the general rage and hate felt by his whole race from Adam down; and then, as if his chest had been a mortar, he burst his hot heart's shell upon it.”

Ahab grapples with the “white whale” until the end. He hurls his final harpoon and cries out “to the last I grapple with thee; from hell’s heart I stab at thee; for hate’s sake I spit my last breath at thee.”

Now I know this is only a work of fiction. A great work of fiction by the way and one written by a man who had links with my own Unitarian faith. I understand that Herman Melville worshipped at “All Souls” in New York. A congregation that was served for many years by my great hero Forrest Church. There is something in this work of fiction that speaks to me and I believe to all of us when we look at the power of rage and the destructive nature of deep rooted resentment. We only need to look at the world we live in today to see example of this all around us.

Have you ever been consumed by such a rage?

The problem of course is that once you become consumed by such intensely powerful emotions it is very difficult to change direction. This is especially true if you believe the resentment is justified. Now while the anger may well be justified I am certain that the all consuming destruction it carries with it is not.

Resentment can close down all our senses to such an extent that we fail to heed all the warning signs around us and end up crashed against the rocks all alone. We may not end up with Ahab’s fate but we can easily find ourselves shipwrecked or lost at sea in a myriad of ways.

This brings to mind a story a heard a little while back about an old ship captain, in the days before modern communication, who one night saw what looked like the beacon of another ship headed straight for him. He asked his signal man to warn them and so he blinked to the other ship “Change your course 10 degrees south.” Moments later the reply blinked back “change your course 10 degrees north” to which the captain ordered the signal man to answer “I am captain change your course south.” To which the reply came back "I am seaman first class. Change your course north." This infuriated the captain, so he ordered his signal man to reply "I am a battleship. Change course south." To which almost instantaneously came the response, "I am a lighthouse. Change course north.”

If only we could just listen and perhaps change course for the good of our own and the health of those who share our lives. It’s not so easy though is it, especially when we believe that we are right and get a sense of superiority by this feeling of being right. If only we could see the damage that this does to ourselves and those around us, but alas so rarely we do as we become consumed by the rage and the hate.

Resentment is a destructive force.

So what is the alternative? Well maybe it is to find a way to learn to rejoice in all that is life. How do we do that? You may well ask. Well I think it begins by learning to see the joy in things, if not in our own lives then in the lives of others. It is so easy to get stuck in what is wrong and to therefore fail to see what is good and rejoice in it. This is such a terrible state for our minds to get in. As the poet Milton said “The mind is its own place and in itself can make a Hell of Heaven, a Heaven of Hell.”

Perhaps the key is to change course and not sail into the rocks or to be sunk to the depths by the white whale. The key I suspect is to change our minds. The key is to rejoice, rather than resent.

How does this begin you may well ask?

Well I believe that it begins by learning ways to celebrate our lives; it begins by learning to savour every breath no matter what is dealt to us. This begins by learning to offer that unceasing prayer “thank you”. It begins by following the advice of the Hopi elders who suggested that you should “Gather yourselves…See who is in the water with you and celebrate. All that we do now must be done in a sacred manner and in celebration.”

Maybe this is how we begin to rejoice, by looking at those in the water with us and learning to rejoice in who they are.

Pema Chodron claims that “Rejoicing in the good fortune of others is a practise that can help us when we feel emotionally shut down and unable to connect with others. Rejoicing generates good will. The next time you go out into the world, you might try this practice: directing your attention to people- in their cars, on the sidewalk, talking on their cell phones – just wish for them all to be happy and well.”

Maybe this is a way to set ourselves free from the anger and resentful feelings that leave us lost in the sea of life. Maybe this is one way to help us change direction and not leave us shipwrecked against the rocks. Maybe this is one way to begin to rejoice in life. Maybe it can begin by not so much looking for the things to be grateful for in our lives, but instead to offer gratitude for the good fortune of others who we find ourselves in the water with. Maybe it begins by wishing good fortune for the people we meet.

I have found that this really works as it begins to fill us with joy because when our minds are thinking of others good fortune it is difficult for us to be thinking of anything else. Why not give it a go? You never know you might just find that if you do your minds might just become freed from the shackles of resentments, and then you might just be able to learn to live and rejoice in the beautiful gift that is this day.

So what’s your choice to be today, do you resent or do you rejoice?

Saturday, 5 July 2014

Who do you think you are?

I recently invited a friend to an event at chapel. The invitation read “come as you are, exactly as you…but do not expect to leave in exactly the same condition.” It’s something I always say. There is something of my slightly mischievous humour in the phrase and there is a serious point too. Now my friend's response was quite interesting and I suspect a little mischievous too. He said “But what if you don’t know who you are.” I laughed to myself as I read it and then it got me thinking.

Who exactly are we? Does anyone truly know the answer to that question? Who do we think we are?

It is a well-known phrase isn’t it? “Who do you think you are? Now usually it’s said to someone who is getting a bit too big for their boots, someone who is standing above their station and needs knocking down a peg or two, or so we think. We say to them “Who do you think you are?”

Now the phrase has taken on new and different meanings in recent years. There is a well-known television series that goes by the same title. Each episode follows a celebrity as they re-trace their family backgrounds and discover interesting facts about their ancestors. The program can be quite moving at times both for those watching and the celebrities who participate in it.

Now no doubt the program is popular because it is about the lives of these celebrities but that is not the only reason. I suspect that its real popularity is due to the fact that it taps into a fascination that we all share. It seems that most of us wish to know where we come from and I suspect that one of the reasons for this is that we believe it will help us come to a better understanding of who we are. Genealogy has grown in popularity over the last few decades, it has almost become a national obsession. My mum has herself become a self-taught expert in it. She has studied our own family history and also takes great pleasure doing the same research into other peoples families too.

I suspect that this fascination with genealogy grows from our need to know where we come from, perhaps in an attempt to better know who we are. No one person lives a life separate from those around them and the history that they come from. Our lives are not singular cellular ones. The whole history of life has brought us to the point we are at today and who we are has been created from this.

This is beautifully illustrated By Thich Nhat Hahn, who wrote in “Present moment, wonderful moment”

“If you look deeply into the palm of your hand, you will see your parents and all generations of your ancestors. All of them are alive in this moment. Each is present in your body. You are the continuation of each of these people.”

All that has been before is a part of who we are. So who do you think you are?

In Genesis ch1 v 26a we hear the phrase "Then God said, ‘Let us make humankind* in our image, according to our likeness;". It is describing humanity being made in God’s image, in God’s likeness. Now what on earth could this mean? Well image, from the Latin “imago” means reflection or portrait it does not mean exactly the same as. I believe that this passage is suggesting that each of us has something of Divine within us, that we are a reflection of the divine and that this brings a duty to humanity to reflect this image into the world in which we live. This is a real responsibility, to reflect the divine love in life, to incarnate it into being. I wonder how often we actually achieve this.

I believe that most of our human problems stem from our rejection of this "likeness", from our inability to see that we are children of love, formed from love. That this Divine spark is an aspect of our very human being. I know when I look back at my darkest days it is this that frightened me the most and so I rejected it. I know that I am not unique in this thinking about who I am. I feel that so many of us are frightened of this spark of "likeness from which we are formed. Marianne Williamson beautifully illustrated this when she wrote “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous? Actually who are you not to be? You are a child of God?”

So who do you think you are? Oh and who do you think that everyone else is? Well I believe that we are all formed from that same love, from that same image. That includes you who read this blogspot and even I who write it.

Now of course this is not all that we are. We humans are capable of the worst kinds of horrors. We only need look at the news to recognise this. I do believe that this stems from our continual failure to recognise this sacredness either within ourselves or one another. When I look at the horrors that took place under the Soviet systems and other nations throughout the twentieth century I believe that the root of the problem was that we had reduced our human beingness to nothing more than commodity and that this sacredness, this Divine likeness, had thus been rejected. If we could only see who we really are, rather than what we think we are, we would no longer hurt one another and ourselves; we could no longer sacrifice another for some perceived greater reality; we could no longer claim that the ends justify the means. We would be compelled instead to recognise one another’s sacred uniqueness.

So how do we begin to recognise this sacredness in each other once again? Well I believe that the answer is simple and it begins with one another, with the person we next meet. Just take a look at their face.

We only really need to look into one another’s faces to truly recognise this incredible sacred uniqueness, no two faces are exactly alike and each face has so much to tell of the person looking back at us. When was the last time you truly looked at someone?

Abraham Joshua Heschel said of the human face.

“A human being has not only a body but also a face. A face cannot be grafted or interchanged. A face is a message, a face speaks, often unbeknown to the person. Is not the human face a living mixture of mystery and meaning? We are all able to see it, and are all unable to describe it. Is it not a strange marvel that among so many hundreds of millions of faces, no two faces are alike? And that no face remains quite the same for more than one instant? The most exposed part of the body, it is the least describable, a synonym for an incarnation of uniqueness. Can we look at a face as if it were a commonplace?”

The face…”a synonym for an incarnation of uniqueness.”…I like that.

Our faces reveal so much of who we are to one another. Think about when you meet up with and old friend or relative, one who you have not seen for many years. How often do they say or do we ourselves say “come on let’s have a good look at you” and how often do they or do we then look into one another’s faces to see how we are? And isn’t the response often fascinating for it either brings immense joy or gut wrenching sadness as we see our loved one as they are, for it is written all over our faces. I remember in my darkest days how I used to hate people doing this to me, for I was afraid that they would be able to see right into my soul and know that things were not ok.

In “Anam Cara” John O’Donohue wrote the following about the face…

“The face always reveals who you are, and what life has done to you. Yet it is difficult for you to see the shape of your own life; your life is too near to you. Others can decipher much of your mystery from your face. Portrait artists admit that it is exceptionally difficult to render the human face. Traditionally, the eyes are said to be the windows of your soul. The mouth is also difficult to render in individual portraits. In some strange way the line of the mouth seems to betray the contour of the life; a tight mouth often suggests meanness of spirit. There is a strange symmetry in the way the soul writes the story of its life in the contours of the face.”

We never see ourselves exactly as we are, we certainly do not see ourselves as others see us. We see an image of ourselves a reflection, but that is not who we truly are. We need others, others who we know intimately to even begin to know ourselves as we truly are. We need to look into one another’s face and see what it is that they are, in order to truly know who we are. We need to look into one another’s faces and do you know what, if we do, we may just catch a glimpse of the divine incarnating in life once again.

Do not be afraid of the beautiful light that is in each and every one of us.

So who do you think you are? It really matters you know. It matters who you think you are and who you think everyone else you meet is. Our very lives depend upon how we see ourselves and one another. It matters because life itself matters. Well it does if we believe that we are children of love, formed from love. Each unique and each vital and each with something to offer to life.

You see we are all a part of this body that is life. Everything that we say and everything that we do matters, just as everything we do not say and everything that we do not do matters. This is why it matters how we see ourselves and one another, who we think we are and who we think everyone else is, for this will impact on how we live in the world.

We need to pay attention to who we think we are and therefore who we think others are. For if we see that we are formed in the image of divine love we will see that we have a responsibility to this life that we lead and the human story that we are a part of. If we do we can become champions of this life, we can become co-creators of the Love that is Divine.

Let us make it so.

I will end this little chip of a blogspot with this little gem on paying attention by James A Autry.

“Threads” by James A Autry in “Love and Profit”

Sometime you just connect,

like that,

no big thing maybe

but something beyond the usual business stuff.

It comes and goes quickly

so you have to pay attention,

a change in the eyes

when you ask about the family,

a pain flickering behind the statistics

about a boy and a girl at school,

or about seeing them every other Sunday.

An older guy talks about his bride,

a little affectation after twenty-five years.

A hot-eyed

achiever laughs before you want him to.

Someone tells you about his wife’s job

or why she quit working to stay home.

An old joker needs another laugh on the way

to retirement.

A woman says she spends a lot of her salary

on an au pair

and a good one is hard to find

but worth it because there is nothing more important

than the baby.


In every office you hear the threads

of love and joy and fear and guilt,

the cries of celebration and reassurance,

and somehow you know that connecting those threads

is what you are supposed to do

and business takes care of itself.