Sunday, 11 September 2016

Blue Moments: Epiphany Moments

"The Gift of the Blue Moment," an excerpt from “SMALL GRACES” by Kent Nerburn

Her garden has fallen to ruin. Irene is old now, maybe ninety. Her memory has fled, leaving her eyes like lights in an empty room. I always try to say “hello” to her when I see her. She is guileless, full of wonder, a child in awe of the universe.
Her garden used to be the most beautiful around. She took such pleasure in tending its flowers and plants. She and my wife would share knowledge of bulbs and buds.
There is no such knowledge in Irene now. Her eyes are watching other worlds. When she answers at all, it is in response to questions only she can hear.
I listen to her closely. What remains alive in the dim chambers of her memory?
She thinks I am her son, goes on about her mother. A story about a little dog. It makes no sense.
But this is not about sense. She has woven other tapestries from the threads of her life. She is responsive to other colors, moved by other winds.
I would leave, but there are echoes here.

I am carried back to a time years ago when I was living in the medieval university town of Marburg, Germany.
I was 25, penniless, alone, frightened, and ill. I was living in a garret. I had no friends and I was far from family. My days were spent working in an antique restoration shop of an embittered alcoholic man, and my nights were spent wandering the streets watching the passing lives of people who neither spoke my language nor knew of my cares.
I had never been so alone.
The mother of the man for whom I worked was a very insightful woman. As a child of twelve she had watched the Nazis come into her classroom and take the Jewish children away. No one spoke of it and class went on as if nothing had happened. But day by day, night by night, she saw her friends and playmates disappear.
She became a watcher and a survivor.
For months she watched me struggle with the demons that were driving me. She would see me sitting with the neighborhood children, drawing cartoons in the shadow of the castle. She would see me staring vacantly into the distance when I thought no one was watching.
One day she took me aside.
“I watch you,” she said. “I see the loneliness in your eyes. I watch your heart running away. You are like so many people. When life is hard, they try to look over the difficulty into the future. Or they long for the happiness of the past. Time is their enemy. The day they are living is their enemy. They are dead to the moment. They live only for the future or the past. But that is wrong.
“You must learn to seek the blue moment,” she said.
She sat down beside me and continued. “The blue moment can happen any time or any place. It is a moment when you are truly alive to the world around you. It can be a moment of love or a moment of terror. You may not know it when it happens. It may only reveal itself in memory. But if you are patient and open your heart, the blue moment will come. My childhood classmates are dead, but I have the blue moment when we looked in each other’s eyes.”
I turned and stared into her lined and gentle face.
“Listen carefully to me,” she continued. “This is a blue moment. I really believe it. We will never forget it. At this moment you and I are closer to each other than to any other human beings. Seize this moment. Hold it. Don’t turn from it. It will pass and we will be as we were. But this is a blue moment, and the blue moments string together like pearls to make up your life. It is up to you to find them. It is up to you to make them. It is up to you to bring them alive in others.”
She brushed her hand through my hair and gave me a pat on the side of the head.
“Always seek the blue moment,” she said, and returned to her work.
Irene’s mind is wandering now. A little dog. Her sister. Names I’ve never heard.
I smile and nod. She smiles back and continues. The blue moments are calling to her, filling her memories with light.

I recently attended “Summer School” at the Nightingale centre at Great Hucklow. This year’s theme was “This changes everything”. It was a fantastic week and one in which it was a pleasure to participate in. I gave a theme talk and led a “Singing Meditation”.

Here is a audio recording of the "Theme Talk" I led. Here I talk about many of my "Epiphany moments", moments that changed everything. Just click on the link to hear it...

This changes everything

 I also participated in an engagement group led superbly by Rev Margaret Kirk and Rev Cody Coyne. The title of the group was “Taken at the Flood – Epiphany Moments”. The title comes from Shakespear’s Julius Caesar Act 4 scene 3

There is a tide in the affairs of men.
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
Omitted, all the voyage of their life
Is bound in shallows and in miseries.
On such a full sea are we now afloat,
And we must take the current when it serves,
Or lose our ventures.

Julius Caesar Act 4, scene 3, 218–224

Words suggesting we must go with the flow of life, that this is where the power is. If we do so we can make each moment precious, we can bring it to life. That each moment can become momentous and perhaps life changing. The key is to “ learn to seek the blue moment,” that Kent Nerburn spoke of in the earlier reading and to string these moments together and bring them alive in the lives of others.

The purpose of the engagement group was to encourage us to look at our lives and uncover life changing, epiphany moments. Now an epiphany is a moment when you suddenly feel that you understand, or suddenly become conscious of, something that is important to you. It can be in the nature of a sudden and profound religious or spiritual experience or less dramatic. I suspect that the “Blue moments” described in Kent Nerburn’s earlier reading are another way of naming such moments.

Now Epiphany was originally understood and is celebrated as the 12th Day of Christmas, when the Magi saw the Christ child and were filled with the presence of the divine, an epiphany. The understanding has broadened over time. We can all experience them. We can all experience moments when we glimpse the essential nature of things in ways that change the course of life dramatically and powerfully for the better. We can all experience moments of sudden discovery and or revelation when things seem to seamlessly fall in place and a new clarity is gained. We can all experience epiphanies.

During the week we were given a variety of tools to explore our lives. The image that they came up with was to describe our lives like a journey through a forest, a deep dense forest, in which there were moments of clearing and illumination where sudden realisations would come. Throughout the week many “blue moments”, many epiphanies came to mind. As I traced my life I saw how these moments seemed to stitch together. The moments of illumination have seemingly accelerated in recent years. I have shared many of these moments with over the years in my "blogging. I wonder as you look back over your lives if you too can uncover similar moments in your lives. What have been your epiphanies your “blue moments”? Can you see a thread through them, do they seem to seamlessly stitch together? Perhaps you could think about them in the coming days and weeks.

As I look back at my life I can bear witness to many “blue moments”, moments of illumination or as I prefer see them moments of awakening. You see every moment our lives can become such moments if we would learn to seek them and learn to bring them alive in our lives and in the lives of others. We just need to be alive and awake to these possibilities.

During the week many sources of material were shared. One being extracts from “Memories, Dreams, Reflections” by Carl Jung from chapter “First Years” pgs 21 and 22

Here Jung is recalling experiences from his early childhood, epiphany moments that shaped his whole life. Moments of illumination, moments of wholeness and connection when he felt safe and protected and finally at one with life and moments that shaped his whole life. He wrote:

“One memory comes up which is perhaps the earliest of my life, and is indeed only a rather hazy impression. I am lying in a pram, in the shadow of a tree. It is a fine, warm summer day, the sky blue, and golden sunlight darting through green leaves. The hood of the pram has been left up. I have just awakened to the glorious beauty of the day, and have a sense of indescribable well-being. I see the sun glistening through the leaves and blossoms of the bushes. Everything is wholly wonderful, colourful, and splendid.”

“From a somewhat later period comes another memory. My mother took me to the Thurgen to visit friends, who had a castle on Lake Constance. I could not be dragged away from the water. The waves from the steamer washed up to the shore, the sun glistened on the water, and the sand under the water had been curled into little ridges by the waves. The lake stretched away and away into the distance. This expanse of water was an inconceivable pleasure to me, an incomparable splendour. At that time the idea became fixed in my mind that I must live near a lake; without water, I thought, nobody could live at all.”

Seemingly these are moments, epiphany moments, “blue moments” that helped to shape him and which he carried with him all of his life. I remember as I read these accounts familiar words from William Wordsworth came to mind and the following words from poem “Prelude” that has been singing in my soul these last few years. The phrase is “spots of time”. Wordsworth wrote:

“There are in our existence spots of time,

That with distinct pre-eminence retain
A renovating virtue, whence–depressed
By false opinion and contentious thought,
Or aught of heavier or more deadly weight,
In trivial occupations, and the round
Of ordinary intercourse–our minds
Are nourished and invisibly repaired;
A virtue, by which pleasure is enhanced,
That penetrates, enables us to mount,
When high, more high, and lifts us up when fallen.”

William Wordsworth, The Prelude (Book XI, ls 258-278)

“Spots of time” are “blue moments”, epiphanies, those moments when life not only feeds but truly nourishes us on a deep, deep level, deeper than the marrow of our bones; moments when the common becomes uncommon,; moments when the veils we create ourselves seem to slip away; moments when we seemingly see beyond the ordinary; moments when we experience reality on a deeper level.

These “spots of time” are sacred moments that are made holy by their mysterious ability to nourish us and perhaps even repair us in body, mind, heart and soul. These moments are so special because they seem so rare. They are a kind of grace; they seemingly come to us, from a place somewhere beyond ourselves.

These moments can happen anywhere. For Wordsworth these “spots of time” occurred primarily in nature. We all experience them in different ways, in different states and in different settings. Those moments when time seemingly stands still; those moments that touch us at the core of our being; those moments that transform our lives; those magic moments. Time seemingly becomes compressed or concentrated in these moments when the senses become heightened, when life seemingly has a deeper meaning. Moments when life becomes denser and deeper. These are not necessarily supernatural moments by the way; no they are firmly grounded in reality.

In these moments time appears to be slowing down, although obviously it does not. Time does not so much stop as become compressed, the moment becomes concentrated. There just seems to be more of life in that moment, but it lasts just as long. Maybe the moment is deeper, not longer. Time is time after all.

When I look back at my life I can think of those moments when deep powerful meaning has emerged seemingly out of nothingness and all of life has felt connected. I can see a thread running through these moments, these “blue moments”, as Nerburn wrote in the extract at the beginning of this "blogspot":

“Listen carefully to me,” she continued. “This is a blue moment. I really believe it. We will never forget it. At this moment you and I are closer to each other than to any other human beings. Seize this moment. Hold it. Don’t turn from it. It will pass and we will be as we were. But this is a blue moment, and the blue moments string together like pearls to make up your life. It is up to you to find them. It is up to you to make them. It is up to you to bring them alive in others.”

We have all of us experienced such moments in our lives, moments that we carry with us, throughout our lives. Moments when time has seemingly stood still, moments that have changed us or as I prefer to see it woken us up or woken something up within us. If we look back through our lives perhaps we can see a pattern form, a thread or string running through it all, or perhaps not. I certainly can when looking back at my own life.

The question is though, what can we do with them? And can we “bring them alive in others”?

I believe so. I also believe it is our task to do so. This is where the meaning comes in our lives. This is the thread and this is how we become a part of the Divine, the “Golden Thread”.

So this is what I’d like you to do. To look back through your life and recall such moments. Moments like Nerburn, Jung and Wordsworth described, moments that have stayed with you. Perhaps you could look for a pattern in moments that either woke you up and or put you to sleep and perhaps think of ways in which you can bring these moments alive in others.

Sunday, 4 September 2016

Love Letters: It matters what we leave behind

“Love letters” by Edward Hays in “Secular Society”

"You and I are meant to be “letters” to the world. People who “read” us receive a message from the Divine Mystery. Now, there’s a delightful vocation – to be a sort of “valentine” from God to a love-hungry world! But if we are to be living, divine letters, “words made flesh,” we, of all people, should keep alive and treat with respect the beautiful custom of letter writing. As we take time to do this, let us remember that such activity is always prayer. Let us remember that it is also prayer to receive and read a letter. Perhaps we could pause at the conclusion of having penned a note to a friend and trace the sign of the cross upon the letter to remind ourselves of this fact. Or we could breathe part of our spirit into the envelope. More than just a puff of breath, we could send along with our message a part of our soul. Since love is invisible, some ritual or sign helps us to remember what it is we are really sending when we send a letter to someone we love."

Huw a member of the Urmston congregation recently asked me if people treat me and act differently towards me since I lost the weight. I thought about it for a moment and said, no I don’t think so, or at least I hope not. After all I am still the same person I always was, it’s just that I now I live in a smaller shell than before.

I’ve been thinking about it a lot since. Do people treat me the same way now that I have transformed myself physically? Have the physical changes altered the way I am in the world? Do we judge people more on their appearance than on their inner being? Does the way we see ourselves affect the way we live with others and live in life?

The more I’ve thought about it the more I have become aware of people treating me differently actually. I’ve also realised that I am acting differently in the world and am once again seeing the world through fresh eyes. I have changed once again, or do I more accurately mean I have woken up once again. I am and will always be the same man in essence. This part of myself never changes the spirit that lays at the core of me. Whatever happens to my physical being, my emotional being and my mental being, this core always remains, although I believe that it just more awakened today. In fact there have been times in my life when that aspect of my being has been fast asleep.

There is no doubt to me that my physical, mental, emotional and spiritual being are interconnected, not one is separate from the rest. Just as all life is connected, nay interconnected. Nothing exists in isolation from anything else. Even the time we exist in now is influenced by all that has ever existed before. Yes we live in this moment right now. But this moment does not exist in isolation we only have this moment because of all that happened before and we are only the people that we are, in this moment, because of all that has existed before. We bring our whole selves alive in this precious moment right now. We do so by not rejecting any aspect of our lives up to now. We do so by allowing our whole being to come alive, to come to flower right here right now. This is what being alive really means. This is what bringing the moment alive really means. It is not enough to passively live in the moment, you’ve got to bring the moment fully alive. In so doing you live the life you are here to live and you play your part in the cosmic co-creation. All that we do and all that we do not do matters. Each moment that we live we leave behind us a legacy, a love letter if you like, that others will pick up on as they too continue on through their lives.

Just think of the people that have influenced you in your lives. People who are no longer physically with you, but who are still impacting on you today. Even when they are gone, something beautiful remains.

It matters how we live in the world. It matters how we see the world and think about the world and feel about the world. This is influenced by how we have lived in this world. It’s not just something that comes to us in isolation and it is influenced by how we see and experience ourselves.

Who do we think we are? What do we believe about ourselves? What do we see when we gaze at ourselves in the mirror, in the glass, in the water? Do we see ourselves with loving eyes, or with the eyes that despise? For how we see ourselves will influence how we see life and see others. You see we all do live by the “Golden Rule” we do in fact love or hate our neighbour as we love or hate ourselves. I just that one day we can all live by the Golden Rule of compassion and not of loathing or indifference.

My dad once shared a story with me, just weeks before he died. It’s one of those things that has stayed with me all these years and has only truly begun to make sense to me these last few years. Now whether it actually happened in his life, or not, doesn’t matter. I have come across versions of this story in my reading. What matters is the universal mythos in the tale. This is the story:

He recounted a tale when he was once at Appleby Horse Fair, a place he loved; where he was probably at his happiest. He was talking to me about faith and God. It was during a time of my life when I was a man of little or no faith; I certainly had no belief in God. He recounted that he saw a priest staring down into the water from a bridge. He asked the priest what he was doing and the priest told him that he was staring into God’s eyes. My dad looked into the water and said he could only see himself and the priest. At which point the priest replied that this is where God dwells within you, within me and within everything.

Whenever I remember this moment, that has stayed with me ever since, even in my darkest hours, my nihilistic despair, the memory would come alive deep within me. Its real meaning only really made sense many years later. What I do know is that whenever I looked into the water or into the glass, whatever I saw looking back at me was reflected in how I saw life and lived in the world. It impacted on how I lived in whatever moment, whatever place and whatever people I found myself in the company of.

When I look at life today and when I look deeply, compassionately into the eyes of others I can see something of the Divine present there, sometimes awake and sometimes fast asleep. Most of the time though, somewhere in between.

The very first Unitarian I ever met was Peter Sampson. I met him as I passed through the threshold of Cross Street Chapel all those years ago. He taught me so much about what it means to live as a human being. He is also a talented poet and hymn writer. He wrote the following piece for a collection of named "Heart and Mind" It speaks powerfully to me,

“Incarnation” by Peter Sampson

'"The incarnation is true not of Christ exclusively but of Man universally and God everlastingly. He bends into the human to dwell there and humanity is the susceptible organ of the divine."

James Martineau (1805-1900)

James Martineau’s distinctly Unitarian ‘take’ on the transformation of God into our human – all too human – flesh and blood has been a constant inspiration to me.

Our responsibility for our own lives and necessarily, for the lives of our brothers and sisters throughout the world lays upon us all a duty which cannot be dodged; our humanity is defined by how we serve and care for the needs of the human family. You can’t have faith without works and working for the good of all inspires our faith in God-given life.

It is a small comfort to me to be told that God died for our sins. I see every one of us missing the mark in our lives and whenever a fellow-creature is harmed we must pray for forgiveness for ourselves. We are all culpable but if we are to serve human progress we have to say ‘sorry’ from the bottom of our heart and move on.

When we look around us we tend to focus on what’s going wrong: suffering – often caused by human ignorance – waste, devastation, degradation, contempt, the whole sorry spectacle of “Man’s in humanity to Man”. I see this as a betrayal of our God-given humanity, a trivialisation of our God-endowed divinity.

Resorting to armaments and inflexible war-talk of politicians, shouting at those we don’t agree with and throwing our weight about if we don’t get our own way – I want to say “Come off it! Who do you think you are? There is that of God in every person, in every creature on the planet.
Peter's piece begins with the following quote by the great 19th century Unitarian James Martineau who stated that:'

"The incarnation is true not of Christ exclusively but of Man universally and God everlastingly. He bends into the human to dwell there and humanity is the susceptible organ of the divine."

Could this be true? Is humanity the susceptible organ of the divine?

I do believe that there is that of God in everyone, but that is not all that we are. Yes we have the potential to do incredible things we humans and I do believe that God lives through our lives. But that is not all that we are, we are also capable of incredible hatred, destruction and evil. I believe that both these potentials lay within each of us. It is important that I recognise this when I look at another and when I look at myself. When I look at another person I must recognise myself within them. This sometimes fills me with absolute bliss and on other occasions it fills me with nothing but agony. Humanity is a mysterious duality indeed.

Abraham Joshua Heschel said the following of man...

“Man is a duality of mysterious grandeur and pompous aridity, a vision of God and a mountain of dust. It is because of his being dust that his iniquities may be forgiven, it is because of his being an image that his righteousness is expected.”

It is an incredible thing to be human, we are fascinating creatures. Even the word human itself interests me. It is formed from the same root as humility, possibly humanity’s greatest attribute. It is also closely related to humus (not to be confused with hummus) and exhume. The root for all of these words is “hum” which originally referred to the earth or dirt. Our earliest forbears perceived that we humans originated from the soil – you would think that this would keep us grounded, but seemingly not - this is made clear in the second creation story found in Genesis II which reads “And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life.” The ancient Hebrew word for Adam is closely related to the word “toadamah” which means soil or earth. There are other ancient creation stories too which associate the origin of humankind with soil or the ground. Such as the Sumerian myth of Marduk who created people by killing Qingu and mixing his blood with clay. Or the Greek myths of Decallion and Pyrrha who by throwing rocks over their shoulders created man and woman.

We are indeed a mysterious duality we humans. Yes formed from dust but with the spirit of the Divine breathed into our very being.

We need to remember this when we look into one another’s eyes and when we look into our own eyes. For how we see ourselves and how we see one another will impact on how we live in the world and that really matters. We need to look a little deeper than the surface too, for that will change. Beauty is more than skin deep, our real beauty and true essence lays way beneath the surface of our skin; it is way deeper than our thinking minds and our feeling emotions. It is in our essence, our spirit our souls. This never changes, it remains the same it’s just that it awakens and goes to sleep at different times and stages of our lives.

How awake and alive we are in the world in this moment really matters too. For how we live will impact on those around us too and will impact on how they live in the world, for no one and no-thing lives in isolation.

In every moment of our lives we are creating and leaving a legacy for those who share this time and those who follow in this beautiful co-creation that is life. Each moment we leave behind us letters that those who follow will then pick up and read and be influenced. So let us ensure that the letters we leave behind are letters of love and not of indifference, letters of Hope and not of Despair.

I’m going to end this little chip of a "blogspot" with this beautiful extract from Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself”:

I hear and behold God in every object, yet understand God not in the least,
Nor do I understand who there can be more wonderful than myself.
Why should I wish to see God better than this day?
I see something of God each hour of the twenty-four, and each moment then,
In the faces of men and women I see God, and in my own face in the glass,
I find letters from God dropt in the street, and every one is sign'd
by God's name,
And I leave them where they are, for I know that wheresoe'er I go,
Others will punctually come for ever and ever.

Sunday, 14 August 2016

Belong Here

“Talking Heads once sang “you may find yourself in a beautiful house
with a beautiful wife. And you may ask yourself, well how did I get here?”

How did I get here? The song was of course “Once in a lifetime.” And how did I get here? Is a question I’ve been asking myself a lot recently. I’ve been experiencing a few once in a lifetime moments recently.

Another question I’ve been asking myself too is “What have I done to deserve this?

Another one has been, do I really belong here?

I recently won “Slimming World Man of the Year 2016”, something I had to keep under my hat for a couple of weeks. It has been quite a ride ever since, especially once the news came out.

Now as part of winning the competition I spent a night in luxury suite at the Ritz. I took my mum along and she loved it. On arrival there was a knock on the door. I answered it and there before me stood two men in uniform who walked in and introduced themselves as our butlers and that whatever we required they would provide.

How did I get here? Do I belong here? Well I did win.

It was an amazing, if somewhat surreal, couple of days, in which I was worked to be fair. I spent one afternoon trying on outfits with a stylist and a whole host of women. It was fun and I got into it and in the end chose something I could wear for the "Press Call" that followed the next day. That night we ate at Savini at Criterion at Piccadilly Circus. A place I doubt I will ever eat in again. The next day came the "Press Call" and then home to prepare to lead worship the following day. The next day the news came out and over the next week it spread. No doubt in the coming months more will come out and hopefully a great deal of good will come from it. So far there has been a very positive response to it all.

So yes a truly once in a lifetime experience. It was wonderful to find myself in such places and the truth is I did deserve it and do you know what I didn’t feel like a fish out of water. After all I had earned it. I belonged there. I rarely feel that I don’t belong anywhere these days. I belong anywhere because I have learnt to be at home within my own skin within myself. I know who I am and I am at ease with who I am. I know who I am warts and all and beauty spots too. I am at ease with myself, imperfections and all. I can be myself anywhere and in the company of anyone because I no longer have to strive to fit in, to be a part of someone or someplace else, to seek the approval of others.

To belong you need to be yourself, while paradoxically in order to be yourself you must first of all feel that you belong. When you feel that you belong you will no longer feel the need to fit in, because you will be at ease with yourself.

Brene Brown once said

“Because true belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world, our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance.”

I like Brene Brown, I particularly like what she has to say about the difference between “Belonging” and “Fitting in” that they are not the same thing although they are often mistaken for one another.

Brene Brown explains that “Fitting in” is really about assessing situations and becoming the person that you believe you need to be in order to be accepted and acceptable. Whereas “Belonging” does not require us to change who we are, but to be who we really are.

Belonging is an innate desire to be a part of something larger than ourselves. This is a primal yearning, deep within the soul of us and thus we often try to acquire it by fitting in and seeking approval from others. Now not only does this not satisfy this yearning it actually becomes a barrier to it. In so doing we lose our identity and feel even more lost and lonely. True belonging you see only happens when we present our true, authentic, imperfect selves to the world, “warts and all” and beauty spots too. Unless we are at home within ourselves we will never feel that we belong anywhere.

John O’Donohue in his wonderful book “Anam Cara”, relates belonging to longing and yearning. He suggests that we need to find a balance in belonging and that often our problems stem from not being truly at home with ourselves; that we should be our own longing; that the key is to be-long within ourselves. If we belong within ourselves then we will feel at ease and belong wherever we are. Therefore the sense of who we are, our identity will not be ruled by the need to fit in, to belong, externally.

The problem of trying to fit in and not belonging stems from a sense of being different, something I know I’ve experienced at times. This can be a real barrier. Now of course sometimes these barriers are put up by those who would exclude certain types of people for being different. We have seen horrific examples of this throughout human history. People excluded for racial, political, religious, gender and sexual identity reasons. There still are barriers that exist, although thankfully many have come down, although far too many still remain.

It can be difficult to join a group where you feel that you are different from the others. I experienced it myself when I began my Slimming World journey. Such groups are seen as the domain of women, only 3% of members are men in the UK, that is still nearly 50,000 men, but it is a minority. Being concerned about your weight and joining such groups is not considered a manly activity and therefore getting through the door and beginning the journey can be doubly daunting for men. I certainly experienced this when I first joined. I remember looking round the room, feeling very self-conscious at the time and just seeing a room full of women. It would have been easy to use this as an excuse to just run, but thank God I didn’t. One thing I will be endeavouring to do over the next twelve months is to encourage as many men as possible to live healthier happier lives. There are after all more over weight men in this country than women, probably because we feel it is unmanly to face up to the problem.

Most people find it difficult to join something, to belong to something, when they feel different to those already present. It’s the same with any group or community, including church and chapel communities. It is hard to walk into anything you have never been to before. I know it took me some time to pluck up the courage and explore religions community all those years ago

We Unitarians say that all are welcome, to come as you are regardless of who you are, where ever you have been and where ever you are going. You are welcome as you are exactly as you are in this moment. That said people are still reluctant to walk through the door of our places of worship and when they do they often find it hard to belong there, even amongst we who offer religious freedom. The reasons for this is many and varied and how we resolve it is not easy to answer either. I think that the key is to be as open and welcoming as we can be. They key is to cultivate a true sense of belonging, which begins within ourselves. For if we belong we will not need to try to fit in and hopefully the stranger will more easily feel like the neighbour. As Philip L Bermoan wrote in “The Journey Home”

“Truly spiritual people are in the habit of cultivating the nearly forgotten art of basic hospitality, perhaps because they realize that when we are able to make others feel comfortable, the pleasures of belonging are close at hand.”

They key is to cultivate the pleasure of belonging.

The key is to bless one another with our presence and they will fell that they belong amongst we people who belong here as they are exactly as they are in this moment. For as Rachel Naomi Remen wrote in "My Grandfather's Blessings".

"A blessing is not something that one person gives another. A blessing is a moment of meeting, a certain kind of relationship in which both people involved remember and acknowledge their true nature and worth, and strengthen what is whole in one another. By making a place for wholeness within our relationships, we offer others the opportunity to be whole without shame and become a place of refuge from everything in them that are not genuine. We enable people to remember who they are."

A sense of belonging is a deeply precious thing. It is belonging that helps us become who we are meant to be. It is a sense of belonging that allows us to find ourselves in beautiful place and feel that we are home. It is a sense of belonging that enables us to be ourselves, in whatever company we find ourselves without feeling the need to fit in. It is a sense of belonging that enables us to truly make every moment a once in lifetime experience. It is a sense of belonging that allows us to become good neighbours and to the bless the whole world with our welcome….

May you find a place where you belong…May you find a house of belonging…

Saturday, 6 August 2016

No Pain No Gain


A man went to a tattooist to have a lion tattooed on his back. He’d always wanted a picture of a lion on his body, because he thought himself to be fierce and brave like a lion.

The tattooist hadn’t been working for long before the man shouted, “Ouch! You’re hurting me! Which part of the lion are you doing now?”

“I’m doing his tail,” said the tattoo artist.

“Well you’d better leave the tail off, I don’t want a lion with a tail.”

The tattoo artist continued, but not for long. No sooner had he felt a few more needle pricks than the man shouted again, “This is killing me! Which part of the lion are you doing now?”

“I’m just getting started on the mane,” replied the tattooist.

“don’t bother with the mane,” I don’t want a lion with a mane!”

The tattooist complied with the man’s wishes, and began work on another part of his back. Once again, after a few moments, the man shouted, almost weeping. “This is intolerable! I can’t bear the pain! Which bit of the lion are doing now?”

“I’m doing the belly.”

“Then stop doing the belly! I don’t want a lion with a belly!”

The tattoo artist put down his equipment. “You want a lion with no tail, no main, and no belly! Who could draw such a creature? Even God couldn’t do it! I think you should leave and come back when you are a bit braver.”

from "The Shortest Distance" by Bill Darlison

My personal trainer works me really hard. It is tough at times but I do stick at it no matter what. The results we are getting together are quite amazing. He told me recently that he had never worked with anyone so determined. I smiled at this. If there is one thing that has grown in me these last few years it is the capacity to stick at things no matter what. To me this is the essential ingredient of the faith I have found. The God of my understanding enables me to do things and stick at things no matter what. In the past this is the one thing that was probably lacking in my life. God doesn’t do it for me, God enables me to do what life asks of me. I have faith to stick at anything despite the pain and suffering involved, whether that be mental, emotional, physical or spiritual.

Well the other day he came to our session in some obvious pain and discomfort. He had recently had a new tattoo done, on his scalp. As he described the process, he had gone through, I found myself wincing at the pain of it all. It has only just begun as well. He will be going through even more pain before it is fully completed. I said to him “No pain, no gain” and he grinned knowingly and then spent the next hour putting me through a gruelling regime. As he did so and as I have continued my daily exercises that little mantra has kept on ringing in my ears. I am continuing to gain in health and fitness and flexibility day by day. I’ve even grown about an inch as my posture has improved and spine has straightened, something I never thought would be possible. The work we are doing is relieving me of some deep rooted pain and shame dating right back to childhood.

Facebook reminded me of a pain I went through last year. only the other day. It was right at the beginning of my weight loss journey. I used to spend a great deal of time in coffee shops. Often meeting and talking with people but also writing. I still do quite often but my habits have changed. Just over a year ago I would probably consume at least a dozen full fat CafĂ© Lattes a week. I used to drink an awful lot of milk and it was one of many contributing factors to my weight problem. Well a year ago I decided that I would, at least for a short time, give them up. I thought I’d go the whole hog and give up caffeine completely. Well I didn’t know what I was letting myself in for. The first few days were agony. It began with the headaches but then the pain spread to my whole lower body, the symptoms were very similar to a severe bout of flu as my lower back and upper legs were in agony. Historically the two areas of physical weakness and shame in my body. This lasted about five days but eventually subsided and I was soon reaping the benefits of becoming more energised and sleeping beautifully. I have stuck with being caffeine free and am loving it. Yes I had to go through pain to get there, but my word the results have been wonderful. Yes the gain was most certainly worth the pain.

I remember a few years ago, early in my ministry, a colleague telling that when they were a student a senior colleague had warned then to be careful not to reveal to much about themselves to the people they serve, especially when creating worship. I don’t know if they were attempting to subtly warn me about being too open. If they were I ignored them. I don’t think I could do this work without bringing my whole self into the worship I create. How can others relate to something unless you put human flesh on the words. I have not been afraid to show my pain and joy and struggle and confusion at times, to reveal all that I have gained and learned too. Hopefully this has not been in a self-indulgent way, but in an attempt to show to others that I am as human as they are and to encourage faith in them. If I can anyone can I am as human as the next person.

I don’t pour out my pain on the people I serve. Instead I have people to turn to to in my pain and confusion and joy and suffering. In fact in recent times I have noticed that I can do this more easily than perhaps in the past. I thank God for this. The worst kind of pain is the pain of loneliness and isolation. There are many blessings of ministry but one of its curses is the loneliness that can be experienced at times. This I know is caused by not owning and coming to terms with your own suffering.

These thoughts bring to mind some beautiful hard earned words of advice from Henri J. M. Nouwen in his beautiful book “The Inner Voice of Love: A Journey through Anguish to Freedom” written as he reflected on his various struggles. In his meditation “Own Your Pain” he wrote:

“The main question is “Do you own your pain?” As long as you do not own your pain—that is, integrate your pain into your way of being in the world—the danger exists that you will use the other to seek healing for yourself. When you speak to others about your pain without fully owning it, you expect something from them that they cannot give. As a result, you will feel frustrated, and those you wanted to help will feel confused, disappointed, or even further burdened….

…For you to be able to share your struggle as a service, it is also essential to have people to whom you can go with your own needs. You will always need safe people to whom you can pour out your heart. You will always need people who do not need you but who can receive you and give you back to yourself. You will always need people who can help you own your pain and claim your struggle.

Thus the core question in your ministry is, “Is my sharing of my struggle in the service of the one who seeks my help? This question can only be answered yes when you truly own your pain and expect nothing from those who seek your ministry.”

I believe that I can answer yes to this. I have learnt to own my pain.

No one can escape the pain of life. It is as much a part of living a full life as joy. In trying to avoid pain all we ever succeed in doing is cutting ourselves off from the joy that accompanies the pain of life. In fact there are times in life when we must walk faithfully through the pain to fully experience the joy. . Herman Hesse saw the truth in this when he said:

“Love your suffering. Do not resist it; do not flee from it. It is your aversion that hurts, nothing else.”
It is this aversion that causes the suffering within the suffering. It is this that causes much of what so many people describe as the loneliness of modern life. In trying to suppress our pain all we succeed in doing is to cut ourselves off from the joy of life.

While life does involve pain and suffering, it does not have to involve “the suffering within the suffering”.

Life itself is not suffering.

We need not be identified by our suffering.

Eckhart Tolle suggest that we create needless suffering when we blame others for all our personal pain. He claims that the habit of blaming and cultivating outrage, anger, resentment and other negative emotions, what he has termed our “pathological ego” is what blocks us from knowing the truth about ourselves and the human condition.

He explains that although we do suffer, we are not our suffering, it is not our whole identity. The trouble is that we can become trapped in it and then it identifies all that we are. He calls this the “pain body”. He claims that we can step outside of this and become children of love with worth and dignity. This though is not achieved by simply ignoring the pain and hoping it will just go away.

That said we do not need to go looking for it and it does not justify receiving unnecessary pain and or abuse. There are forms of suffering that cannot to be justified. There are times when passive acceptance of all forms of suffering is not the answer. Dorothy Soelle , amongst others, criticised the claim that suffering is justified because it was the only way to achieve Salvation or Nirvana. As she said

“No heaven can rectify Auschwitz”.

She did not believe that suffering was ordained by God. Instead she saw God within the suffering. For her God suffered with humanity. For her salvation was achieved through experiencing God within humanities suffering, not as a result of it. She saw God as being in solidarity with the victims of oppression in human society. Therefore in her view to fully experience salvation is to work for liberation of the oppressed and to end man made suffering, not passively endure it.

That said we cannot escape all suffering it is a part of life. In fact perhaps it is through our shared suffering that we can come closer together and develop compassion for one another and all living beings, as the Buddhist suggest.

May Sarton saw the truth in this when in “Recovering, A Journal” she wrote

“I woke before dawn with this thought. Joy, happiness, are what we take and do not question. They are beyond question, maybe. A matter of being. But pain forces us to think, and to make connections, to sort out what is what, to discover what has been happening to cause it. And, curiously enough, pain draws us to other human beings in a significant way, whereas joy or happiness to some extent, isolates.”

It is through owning our pain and suffering, growing through it faithfully and passing on what it has taught us that compassion grows and we can truly serve, minister, to one another and the wider world. In many ways this the purpose of a spiritual community. A religious community has to be one of compassion.

Compassion means to suffer with. We can learn to be with others in their suffering and with ourselves in our own. Interestingly the opposite of compassion is apathy.. To be apathetic to the suffering not only of ourselves but to the pain of others is the worst kind of hell any one can suffer from, it’s inhuman, it creates our loneliness and it creates our isolation.

To suffer with is to experience compassion it is the gateway to love and service.

So let us stand in solidarity with ourselves and with one another in our pain and suffering. In doing so we will know the full meaning of compassionate living and in doing so we will fully experience the joy that life offers to us.

And when we do we will know God, we will know love.

Amen and blessed be.

Sunday, 31 July 2016

More than words.deeds

“There is a marvellous story of a man who once stood before God, his heart breaking from all the pain and injustice in the world. “Dear God,” he cried out, “look at all the suffering, the anguish and distress in your world. Why don’t you send help?”

God responded. “I did send help. I sent you.”

from “Teaching Your Children About God” by David J. Wolfe

Part of my work as a minister is to the wider community, beyond the walls of the congregations I serve and who pay my stipend. I see this community as ever widening by the way and not just those who live in and around the towns of Altrincham and Urmston. My printed media and social media work extends my ministry to far flung places all over this country and world. I am also invited to lead worship out and about. I wish I could do more, but I possess neither the time nor energy to do so. I do the best that I can to, to minister, to serve.

Now one of my many roles is to conduct rites of passage for those who are looking for "something religious, but not too religious", as they so often say. Whether that be child namings and blessings, weddings and of course funerals. The most challenging are funerals, especially for people I have never met and or do not know. This is never easy, it takes a lot of emotional and spiritual energy, but sometimes can be the most rewarding.

I am extremely grateful to have been called and to have accepted the role as minister these last six years. I offer thanks and praise for this challenging, deeply rewarding and spiritually enriching work. Yes it is tough at times, but I am blessed to have been given it.

That said being grateful, I know is not enough. It is vital to offer thanks and praise; it is important to recognise what life gives to us and yet I know simply being grateful is not quite enough.

People thank me all the time. I received a beautiful letter of thanks from a man recently who attended a funeral I conducted. He has attended a few others things I host at the chapel these last few years and this has led to him rediscovering some old loves and encouraged him to re-engage with them. It was lovely to receive the letter but what touched me more was not his thanks, but that what he had experienced here had led to him wanting to do something about it; that he wanted to act on his gratitude.

For me this is the difference between offering thanks and living with gratitude. You see true gratitude to me compels us to act on what we have given thanks for. To pay forward what has been freely given to us. To me this is what true spiritual living is about. This is the works that grows from faith and inspires others, fills them with that loving spirit, so that they too can pass it on.

I recently conducted a funeral for a family. Afterwards one of the family members thanked me for “making it so easy for them”. They also apologised for the way that they had been at times, I said there really was no need, as I understand. I wasn’t just saying it though, I do understand. Such times can bring up all kinds of intense feelings and at a time when people ought to be pulling together and supporting one another they can do the exact opposite and end up falling out and hurting one another. Sometimes these disputes can take years to resolve, sometimes sadly they are never resolved. I have had experience of this over the last few years too. It always leaves me with a sense of sadness and pain. When I think of the things I witness in life that cause me pain I feel that irreconcilable family disputes cause me the greatest.

Saying sorry isn’t enough. Ok it might be a start but it really isn’t enough. Again works is required here. Simply saying sorry, especially if the only person you are apologising to is a stranger, who is not a part of the dispute, does not heal a rift. Amends is required, reconciliation is required, true healing needs to come. Otherwise sorry just becomes another hollow word. It lacks both faith and works I would say, although it does perhaps appear ok.

It is a strange thing being a minister. People often find themselves saying sorry to you. I suspect at the bottom of it is a feeling that so many of us share, a feeling of somehow being wrong inside. A feeling that probably stems from some hidden sense of guilt over something from the past, something we have done or something that we have failed to. Some simple, all too human, frailty. I wish I could do something about it.

If I had a superpower I think that this might be it. Not so much to relieve people of their guilt. I don’t believe it is mine or anyone else’s job, but our own. No the superpower would be to inspire others to do the works that their souls are crying out for them to do. To either put right what needs to be put right and or to live with gratitude for the gifts that life has freely given them. Not to merely recognise these gifts and to truly offer thanks and praise for them, but to give back and make from them a sacred act of gratitude.

Recognising and acknowledging what has been freely given us is a vital aspect of true spiritual living, as is acknowledging when we have fallen short, but the words and recognition are not enough. Saying thank you and saying sorry is not enough.

I say this because they are good things to do, but they are not quite good enough; I say this because they are not the best. We can all do better I know I can. It’s a bit like remembrance as opposed to remembering. Remembering is merely passively recalling something in your mind, whereas remembrance is a commitment to make something better from what has happened. This is why being grateful and being sorry is not good enough. It is passive and if I have learnt anything I have learnt that the spiritual life is by no means a passive one. The spiritual life only truly comes alive in deeds, in our works, in the way we live our lives. It is this I believe that leads us to our true calling. It certainly led me to mine. The reason I became a minister was an act, in many ways, of remembrance; it was an act of gratitude for the love that had been freely given me that gave me life once again when I had given up; it has been an apology in action, an amends for wasting so much time. And I’m the one receiving the rewards as life pays me back 100 hundred fold in the blessings of my daily living and breathing.

As I once read “The spiritual life is not a theory, we have to live it.”

Now what does that mean? You may well ask. Well for me living the spiritual life is about committing to more than just what is good, it’s about committing to be the best we can be. It’s about aiming high, it’s about committing to excellence, while accepting that we will all fall short. We are all far more human than otherwise.

This is not a cop out though, it is an aspiration and hopefully an inspiration to others. For if we keep on aiming to be the best we can, than so will others and then we all benefit by making our lives and our world the best it can be.

This brings to mind the other problem with merely offering thanks and saying sorry. This is of course is the whole self-centredness of it. Where is the commitment to others? Saying thank you and acknowledging all I have and or simply offering an apology does not reach out to other. It does not bring about reconciliation nor does it ensure that they have enough. No faithful inaction is simply not good enough, it is not the best this requires works too and requires a commitment to be the neighbour both near and far, a commitment to the wider world of our shared humanity.

After all there is one humanity, one world and one spirit that runs through it all…One God.

It is vitally important to acknowledge the gifts we have been given in our lives. To offer thanks for what others have freely done and given to us, but it is not enough. Likewise it is important to acknowledge when we have fallen short, done wrong and to apologies for this, but once again I do not think this is enough. It is not enough to simply acknowledge and remember.

What is required is to turn these words into actions, into deeds to make them acts of remembrance and to do something about bringing some healing into this world that we keep on damaging with our all too human frailties.

The healing begins in our own hearts and lives, in our own families and communities and spreads out beyond to the wider human community and all life itself…It is up to us to ever widen those concentric circles of compassion…It is, I believe what we are here for…


Sunday, 24 July 2016

Free the Heart and the Mind Will Follow

Last Sunday was quite a day. I along with 31 other men had been called through to the Slimming World "Man of the Year" semi-final and finals day. It is quite an honour to be one of the 32 out of some 50,000 male members in this country.

There was a beautiful moment of synchronicity that I became aware of as I switched on my computer and logged on to Facebook before setting off that morning. It showed me a memory from exactly a year before of a journey I had taken with my brother and sister to Devon to attend our nephew Joe’s wedding. During the journey my sister spent several hours selling the merits of Slimming World to me. I listened, tried to evade, but I listened. She was speaking to me because she loves me; she spoke only in and through love. She spoke the language of the heart and I was able to listen with the ears of my heart. I believed that I was always going to be the way I was and to get to a physically healthier place was just too much for me. A price it would seem I was not willing to pay. I believed that the only way to achieve weight loss would be to starve myself. This has not been the case at all, Slimming World and its method of “Food Optimising” is about healthy eating, group support, healthy living and personal responsibility. At its its core is love, it speaks another language of the heart and that day I began to have ears that could hear once again. That weekend was the turning point and I loved reliving the memory of the journey to the wedding as I enjoyed the journey to Slimming World headquarters with my group consultant Janet Cullin. I also loved the synchronicity of it all…My whole life seems to be led by it and the more I am open to it the more it seems to speak to me, constantly drawing me on to endless possibilities. Synchronicity to me is the invisible voice of love always calling to those who have ears that can hear.

It was an amazing day listening to many inspirational men who had embarked on the same journey as myself and were now living amazing lives. I got through to the final and then waited for the final result…Of which I cannot yet reveal as they have asked the finalists to remain silent about the result for at least the next few days…So you will have to watch this space if you want to know who the winner is…

Now during the day the former professional footballer and current TV presenter Dion Dublin gave us an inspirational talk before the semi-finals began. I listened intently to what he said. What stood out was him talking about how every time he was injured and presented with disappointments he had to face and question his beliefs about his ability to overcome them and to carry on with his career. The pinnacle for him being when he finally played for England at Wembley. He compared this to the journeys we all had been on, something he couldn’t identify with as he had always been a fit athlete. That said he did suggest that our journeys must have begun with our own minds, with us challenging our beliefs about ourselves and lives and that it must have taken great courage to keep journeying on. As he said "If the mind is right, the body will follow."  He came across as warm and caring, I really liked him. More than that I believe that he understood exactly the journey we had been on, certainly mine.

As I shared my story in the semi-final and final I spoke about beliefs about myself that had been ingrained from a young age, beliefs that at the time had given me a certain amount of security and stability but had eventually tethered, tied me down, enslaved me. Over the years I have challenged many things that I believed about myself and life in general. I have changed my mind many times. This is never an easy task. It is amazing how these beliefs can cling and at times re-emerge seemingly from nowhere.

I am not done with my changes…Are any of us?

There is a poster in the small schoolroom at Dunham Road chapel that reads “Anyone who is a slave to anything is not free. The first step to freedom is to free the mind.”

It has been up there for a few years now and I have noticed many people comment on it on a number of occasions. A friend did so just the other day as he reflected on how he had been enslaved by his own thinking, even though he would consider himself quite a rational man. I identify with him strongly, as I have said many times before I have become enslaved many times by my own beliefs. The very things that I thought gave me security and the illusion of stability, that gave me an anchor on which I could depend, were actually chains that enslaved me, kept me trapped and stopped me flying free.

Bob Marley once sang “Emancipate yourself from mental slavery. None but ourselves can free our minds.”

There is real truth in this statement. No one else can set us free from our own self-created mental slavery. If they could wouldn’t that be the worst kind of slavery? The enslavement of handing over responsibility for our own lives to another. There is no freedom in this. One of things I love about Slimming World is that while it offers you a simple method and there is a great deal of mutual support, in the end responsibility is with the individual. It is up to us to live this way, day by day. I see this as vital as it build genuine self-esteem. At its core is of course love and support, but also a development of true love for self also.

So how do we then free our minds from our own mental slavery and live the lives we are born to live? Well I actually believe it takes more than just questioning our thinking. Yes that is part of it, but it isn’t the full picture; yes discernment is a vital aspect, but it is not enough on its own. For me it begins with spirit and it comes alive in and through love.

Everything worthwhile in my life has to come through love. True religious community is built on love and lives through love. The 12 Step Fellowships I have belonged to have at their core the simple principle of love. Slimming World is about love. To me they are all about love, love for self, love for other, love for life; they are about love for self, love for neighbour and love for whatever it is that we experience is at the core of all life, God for me.

I have discovered that it is by living in and through love that one is then able to truly question ones beliefs, for love is about more than belief it is about faith, something deeper than belief and it is this that sets one free to live and be in love.

If my life has taught me anything it has taught me that in order to change your mind and therefore change your life requires first and foremost a change of heart, or perhaps more accurately an opening an awakening of the heart.

So how do we bring the heart alive, how do we live in love?

Well I believe it requires attention and application. Love is not soft and mushy. It is not about sentimentality. It requires discipline. It is about raising our heads and observing where love is present in life, rather than merely focusing on what is wrong with both ourselves and our world. It requires us to live in the solution, rather than the problem. It requires us to live fully open to the love out there as well as the love in here. It requires courage, which of course means heart, it means love, from the French word “Cour” meaning heart.

It requires spiritual discipline too. For me that means practising prayer and meditation each day and throughout  the day. It’s about taking sacred moments, so as to connect more fully to the love within each and every one of us and the love present in life.

It requires attention to one another. To support one another and encourage one another when it is needed, without taking over one another’s lives. This is because love requires responsibility for our own lives. For if we don’t we will not bring to life the love present deep within us and we will not be free.

Freedom begins in love and continues through love. To free the mind the first requirement is to live in and through love. Freedom does not begin in the mind, it is much deeper than that, although I was once a slave to the former belief. To free the mind you must first free the heart, this is the first step to freedom. Free to what? Well free to be love…

The key to freedom's gateway is love…Love for self, love for other and love for God…First and last and always love…Love is all that we need…We need it to begin and we need it to continue…

So keep on rocking in the free world all you groovers and shakers out there...It's the only way to be...Yeh, really free...May we always have ears to hear life's redemption songs...

Saturday, 9 July 2016

Daily Bread for the Daily Journey

Every morning we step out into the world uncertain of what the day will bring. Yes we make our plans and designs and have our own ideas about what will be. Sometimes things work out exactly as we expect, but often they do not. Sometimes they work out far better than we could have dreamed of, but at other times they do not. We cannot predict life and I do not believe that it is already pre-ordained. I believe that the book of life always remains open. I do not believe that God has pre-ordained anything. I do believe in the Lure of Divine Love, but that this is not controlled by some primal centre, but hey I could well be wrong. I do believe that this Love speaks to us in and through life, as well as in and through us. This is why I believe that everything matters. Life feeds us and we feed life. We are all a part of the Great Co-Creation. This is why it matters how we journey on in life. This is why it is so important that we keep on stepping out into the world, on this continuous journey, experience all that life offers to us in all its blessings and curses. Always remembering that we do not journey alone.

Many people describe life as a journey that moves from one stage to another, sometimes full of joy and sometimes full of fear. Like the seasons life is forever changing. My life has taken me to different stages and I have journeyed with a rich variety of people. Some have been there from the very beginning, some have joined and stayed and others I have travelled with for only a short time. They have all touched and blessed my life in deep, rich and meaningful ways and I hope I have blessed theirs likewise.

Much has changed these last twelve months and these changes seem to be increasing in pace as the days go by. Yes there are the obvious physical changes, but those are just the ones on the surface. There are many other changes, unseen, that have been occurring deep within me. One thing I know for certain is that I am not done with my changes and life certainly isn’t done with changing me. I have never felt more fed by life, nor do I feel I have fed life more positively at any other stage of my life. I have never felt more alive and I want to share this aliveness with everyone.

How do I know this? You may well ask. Well because I feel that I know myself now better than I ever have before. Even these last few weeks’ deeper and newer truths have been revealed. The journey into who I truly am has gone deeper.

Now the inner journey is very much a spiritual journey. It is not really about physical travel, one of distance, it is more one of depth. This is captured beautifully in the following poem by Wendell Berry

"A Spiritual Journey"

And the world cannot be discovered by a journey of miles,
no matter how long,
but only by a spiritual journey,
a journey of one inch,
very arduous and humbling and joyful,
by which we arrive at the ground at our feet,
and learn to be at home.

by Wendell Berry

Now no doubt the Wendell Berry poem is inspired by the Christian mystic Meister Ekhart. It was he who claimed that the spiritual journey is not one of distance, that we do not so much travel on a physical pilgrimage from A to B to C to D etc, that the spiritual journey is some kind of linear progression in which we reach some goal, some new state of being way over there in some distant realm. No instead we discover new truths, understandings and experiences as we journey through life in a cyclical sense and that as we do so we move deeper into the core of our own being and find ourselves at home within ourselves.

John O’Donohue captured this beautifully when he wrote:

“Meister Eckhart radically revises the whole notion of spiritual programs. He says that there is no such thing as a spiritual journey. If a little shocking, this is refreshing. If there were a spiritual journey, it would be only a quarter inch long, though many miles deep. It would be a swerve into rhythm with your deeper nature and presence. The wisdom here is so consoling. You do not have to go away outside yourself to come into real conversation with your soul and with the mysteries of the spiritual world. The eternal is at home — within you.”

(John O’Donohue, Anam Cara: a Book of Celtic Wisdom)

Now strange as this may sound a life time’s journey can only be taken in one day. Did you know that the word journey is derived from the Latin word "diarnum" meaning daily portion from which the old French word "jornee" which meant a day’s work or a day's travel, is derived. I love this truth, it makes me smile broadly. Of course any spiritual journey can only be taken one day at a time and can only be achieved through taking our daily bread, feeding our spirit, and feeding life itself with our spirit. The key is of course to keep on going deeper and deeper feeding and being fed by and on the journey, while constantly being humbled and opened by the experience and thus feeding life.

Now while each of our journey’s are individual, they are not private. They are not taken alone nor in isolation. We are all a part of something far greater than ourselves. We are influenced by all that is around us, just as we influence all that we interact with. This of course begins with the people we share our lives with, those we journey with. We feed them and they feed us. We care for others and they care for us. Howard Thurman captured this rather beautifully in what follows. The Reverend Howard Thurman, was a theologian, minister, a Baptist with heavy Quaker leanings, Dean of Theology and Chaplain at both Howard and Boston Colleges, and the co founder, with Dr. Albert Fisk, in 1944, of “The Church for the Fellowship of All Peoples”. America’s first fully multicultural church. Thurman wrote:

“Every person wants to be cared for, to be sustained by the assurance that we share in the watchful and thoughtful attention of others—not merely or necessarily others in general but others in particular. We want to know that—however vast and impersonal all life about us may seem, however hard may be the stretch of road on which we are journeying—we are not alone, but are the object of another's concern and caring; we want to know this in an awareness sufficient to hold us against ultimate fear and panic. It is precisely at this point of awareness that life becomes personal and a person is free to ask and find answers to this question: What makes me come alive, and how can I share that aliveness with the world?”

Here Thurman captures how vital communal spirituality is to personal spiritual development and journeying. Spirituality cannot be truly expressed in isolation otherwise it just becomes self-centred and self-serving, thus stagnating personal growth. True spirituality needs community. It needs to feed and be fed by community. It kind of has to become religion, in its truest sense, to mature into all that it can be. I’m not talking about religious dogma here. I mean free religion, I mean coming together in love. I mean the idea that be bind together in fellowship. A living, breathing, fellowship of love. A community of loving support and understanding who journey together hand in hand.

It’s about more than just fulfilling our own personal needs. It’s about building something more. Not just for ourselves but for the good of all, for we all depend upon it. That though is not to say that the individual journey does not matter. Of course it does. It is about the individual becoming all that they can be within community with others. It’s about, as Thurman says the individual coming alive and sharing this aliveness with life. In so doing we inspire others to be all that they can be. In so doing they then inspire us to become even more than we could even dream of becoming.

This to me is what it means to build the kin-dom of love right here, right now. Yes this kin-dom is already here, right here right now if we would just let it come to life. It is there within each and every one of us. Our task is to let it come to life and to share it with our brothers and sisters and thus inspire them to do likewise. In so doing they will too inspire us to become even more than we could even begin to dream of.

Life is a journey, a journey we are engaged in even if we are not fully aware of it at the time. Yes ok, it’s not really a journey that goes anywhere. Even when it ends all that we are really doing is returning to the beginning. Yes changed by the experience in some way, but still the essence remains. What matters is how we travel, we can always go first class; what matters the most is the journey that we travel today. What our days’ work is today, remember that is what journey really means, today's work. Our day’s work today, is how we feed life and to do our day’s work, our journey, to our best ability depends on how we feed ourselves and how we feed life. It matters you know, it really does.

So how are you going to journey today? What is your day’s work today? How will you allow life and those around you to feed you today? And just as importantly how will you feed life today, in all that you feel, all that you think, all that you say and all that you do?

It matters you know, it really does…