Sunday, 13 January 2019

Lonely but not alone: Alone but not lonely


From "The Great Failure: A Bartender, A Monk, and My Unlikely Path to Truth " by Natalie Goldberg

A conversation between Natalie Goldberg on her Zen teacher about ways to deal with loneliness.

" 'Roshi, now that I am divorced, it is very lonely.'

" 'Tell me. What do you do when you are alone in the house?'

"I'd never thought of that. I became interested. 'Well, I water the plants,' I faltered, then continued, 'I wash a few dishes, call a friend.' The momentum built. 'I sit on the couch for hours and stare at the bare branches out the window. I play over and over Paul Simon's new album about New Mexico — I miss it there.'

"His attention encouraged me: 'Lately, I've been sitting at my dining-room table and painting little pictures.' I looked at him. Suddenly my solitary life had a texture.

" 'Is there anything wrong with loneliness?' he asked in a low voice. I shook my head. All at once I saw it was a natural condition of life, like sadness, grief, even joy. When I was sitting with him, it didn't feel ominous or unbearable.

" 'Anyone who wants to go to the source is lonely. There are many people at Zen Center. Those who practice deeply are only with themselves.

" 'Are you lonely?' I entreated.

" 'Yes,' he nodded. 'But I don't let it toss me away. It's just loneliness.'

" 'Do you ever get over it?'

" 'I take an ice-cold shower every morning. I never get used to it. It shocks me each time, but I've learned to stand up to it.' He pointed at me. 'Can you stand up in loneliness?'

"He continued, 'Being alone is the terminal abode. You can't go any deeper in your practice if you run from it.'

"He spoke to me evenly, honestly. My hunger was satisfied — the ignored little girl still inside me and the adult seeker — both were nourished.”

...We all experience loneliness from time to time...

Christmas and New Year is a very busy time for folk in my line of work, everything feels ramped up. I certainly spent a lot of time with people, doing and giving of myself. I also spent quite a bit of time socialising with others. This continued all of last week, up until Sunday night. As I went to bed on Sunday night I craved so much for solitude, to be alone. I awoke on Monday exhausted and feeling a little disconnected. I needed space to be alone, to connect with my God and thus allow myself to connect with others and life again. I was beginning to feel that inner loneliness that always comes when I’m exhausted or have spent too much time with others. Like most ministers I am an introvert in the Jungian understanding. I am the kind of person who re-energises from spending time in solitude. I tend to give my energy when in the company of others and recharge in solitude.

As I spent time in silent solitude that morning a phrase came into my being. It went something like this “Lonely but not alone: Alone but not lonely”

There have been times in my life when I have been surrounded by everyone I could have to be around and yet felt utterly alone. There have been other times when I have been physically alone and yet I experienced not one semblance of loneliness. Being alone and experiencing loneliness may look similar, but they could not be more different. One is about connection and the other disconnection.

John O'Donohue wrote beautifully about the importance of solitude in "Anam Cara". He wrote:

"Solitude is one of the most precious things in the human spirit. It is different from loneliness. When you are lonely, you become acutely conscious of your own separation. Solitude can be a homecoming to your own deepest belonging. One of the lovely things about us as individuals is the incommensurable in us. In each person, there is a point of absolute nonconnection with everything else and with everyone. This is fascinating and frightening. It means that we cannot continue to seek outside ourselves for things we need from within. The blessings for which we hunger are not to be found in other places or people. These gifts can only be given to you by yourself. They are at home at the hearth of your soul."

...John O'Donhue had a beautiful gift in the way he used language...  

January can often be the toughest months for many people. The joy and celebration of Christmas and New Year is over. Winter has set in and there seems only dark days and nights and cold ahead. It can be a time of isolation when we don’t spend much time with others. I remember how many times last winter I said “it’s been a long one this time”. For many folk this can feel like the loneliest time of year. It need not be so. If we utilise this time in the right way, it can actually help us to connect to those deeper harder to reach parts that can come to life when spring comes once again. I was thinking of this as Sue pointed to the bulbs just sprouting a little bit on the cold morning last Tuesday. They are creating life, ready to fully sprout in the cold dark earth. They need this time to come fully to life, just like we do. I bet those bulbs have never known the ache of loneliness.

Loneliness is something that everyone experiences at some time in their life. We need not fear it, I suspect it just a part of the human condition. That said it’s not something that you ever get used. It ought not to be feared, it does not mean that there is something wrong with us and it is not a terminal condition. Just talk and listen with your neighbour and you will find they have felt like this many times too.

There are many causes for this sense of loneliness. If we lose someone we love dearly, a spouse, a partner, a parent, a dear friend, that loss can lead a deep loneliness. We feel like something is missing in our lives, which of course there is, our loved one. If we suffer a debilitating illness we can often become cut off from social contacts, this can lead to a sense of isolation. When we move house or change jobs a loneliness can set in too, we feel like a fish out of water. Even the seemingly self confident can feel lonely at such times. When these things happen the mistake we can often make is to draw further in and isolate even more, thus increasing this sense of loneliness.

Now this experience of loneliness may not be as negative as we might realise, for it can lead to new opportunities. It offers a chance to connect to those often untouched parts within ourselves, to connect to those inner resources and of course it can help us to understand the loneliness that others suffer too. It develops empathy and help us connect with others in deeper more meaningful ways.

Loneliness is not the end of anything. It can actually be the beginning. It is an opportunity to see and experience life in new ways. It is call to ourselves to help alleviate the loneliness and suffering in others. It has the capacity to transform our lives. Loneliness need not be seen as an affliction, instead it is an opportunity to transform both your own life and that of others. As Dag Hammarskjold said 'Pray that your loneliness may spur you into finding something to live for, great enough to die for.' "

Our experiences of loneliness can become a gift that can transform our lives and the lives of others.

The Epistle Paul had something interesting to say on loneliness in his timeless first letter to the Corinthians chapter 13. He wrote 'For now we see in a mirror, dimly (as through a glass, darkly), but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall understand fully, even as I have been fully understood.'

Here he is contrasting how we view life now with the life that will be enjoyed in what is called “God’s Kingdom, yet to come”. Suggesting that in our current state we do not see things clearly and that this is a cause of loneliness. The problem is that we do not see God, each other or life fully (‘face to face’) and thus we feel cut off, separate and alone. He is suggesting that only after death will we see fully. Paul is of course drawing on the Jewish tradition here, that no one can ever see the face of God, that it is always partially hidden behind a veil.

In the “Sermon on the Mount”, the moment where Jesus declares his mission in Matthew's Gospel, he says that, 'Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God.' Suggesting a way to see clearly the face of God and thus one another. Could this be the bridge that relieves ours and others loneliness? This to me is what it means to create the Kingdom of God, what I prefer to name the “kin-dom of Love” right here right now. This is what it means to live spiritually alive. This is what it means to remove from our being the veils, mirrors, fears, fantasies, selfishness and unreality that separate us from the Divine, from life and the people around us thus relieving the ache of one another's loneliness.

The problem is, of course, that so few of us want to go there. How many of us want to experience what it means to be alone. We need not fear being alone. As my time alone proved last Monday. You can be “Lonely but not alone” and you can be, “alone but not lonely”.

Last Monday, as I sat alone in silence I found myself utterly surrendered to the power of the moment I was in. As I sat there the following poem by David's Whyte's came onto my being

“Sweet Darkness” by David Whyte

When your eyes are tired
the world is tired also.

When your vision has gone,
no part of the world can find you.

Time to go into the dark
where the night has eyes
to recognize its own.

There you can be sure
you are not beyond love.

The dark will be your home
tonight.

The night will give you a horizon
further than you can see.

You must learn one thing.
The world was made to be free in.

Give up all the other worlds
except the one to which you belong.

Sometimes it takes darkness and the sweet
confinement of your aloneness
to learn

anything or anyone
that does not bring you alive

is too small for you.

...I do love David Whyte...

The line that sang in my heart was the following: “Sometimes it takes darkness and the sweet confinement of your aloneness…” 

So many people fear these two things, especially at this time of year "darkness and the confinement of our aloneness." The truth is that we need to experience this in order to truly connect with what is at the core of all being and to fully connect with life itself and the people we share our ives with. In so doing we see life as it really is and we begin to build that kin-dom of love, we live together one and all.

It is quite possible to be, “lonely but not alone” and you can find yourself completely “alone but not lonely”. The key is connection, connection to ourselves, to life, to the people around us and to whatever we believe is at the core of all life, what I call God. Sometimes it takes an experience of deep loneliness to allow us to know this, to see clearly.

Loneliness is something we will all experience in our lives. I bet we have all felt it at some time in the last week. The problem isn’t the feeling itself, but how we respond to it. It may well be an opportunity to connect. To connect to those deep places within us, to connect to the core of all life and to truly connect to one another. The problem is not the feeling of isolation and loneliness, but how respond to this experience.

We all feel lonely at times. Loneliness is the one thing that you are not alone in, feeling. May our shared loneliness lead us all to deeper connections.


Sunday, 23 December 2018

The Christmas Guesthouse: Welcome them all in

I am often asked “What do you believe in?” Not an easy question to answer. I often say “I believe in everything and that little bit more than everything.” Now don’t get me wrong, as someone recently did, this does not mean that I approve of everything in life, but I do try not to deny things these days, the good and the bad and the less than beautiful. I also believe that there is something more, perhaps only a little more, than this material life. The trouble I have is in articulating this. I know some will say this this is a cop out, but I do not agree. It is honest and it is humble. I experience something more than my and I reckon others understanding, but the fact that I cannot articulate this does not make it any less real. I experience so much in this life that I accept I can never fully comprehend. When I accept this I experience that something more in ever more deep ans wonderful ways that are way beyond my imagining.

There are times in my life when I feel this more powerfully than others. These are often moments of trial and tribulation. I have felt it often this year, that said I also feel it almost as powerfully in moments of joy. The key, I have discovered, is to always remain open.

Rumi wrote:

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

The key, as Rumi taught is to welcome whatever gift comes, “ a joy, a depression, a meanness” Well this year I have welcomed them all in. This is the greatest gift of all that we are given in the experience that is human life. I have learnt the truth that if you do welcome them all in, then somehow you will experience more than you could have ever dreamed of.

We are fast approaching the moment of magic, the birth of love in life, the birth of joy to the world. I have noticed many guests this Advent. Many joys and many depressions. I know that all the spirits of Christmas have been alive and well in me throughout this Advent Seasons. I have felt them even more intensely this week. Monday was a wonderful example as I felt myself getting a little scrooge like during the day, as I got frustrated at trying to get everything done in time to get to Sue’s as we were going to “Home” cinema in Manchester, to see big screen viewing of “It’s a Wonderful Life”.

Well the film worked its magic. It got into those places that it needed to get deep into. It was beautiful to sit there with so many other people, the rest complete strangers and allow the magic to get deep into the core of my being. It opened me up, got deep into my soul as I relived so many feelings that I have felt this year and so many other times throughout my life. I was visited by all the spirits of this beautiful season, as I re-experienced many emotions. As we left I felt that once again something had changed deep within me.

My heart had been a guesthouse and I had welcomed them all and as a result something in me had changed. This truly is a wonderful life, but it is not one without pain and at times suffering. Something we all experience even at this time of joy and love. Do not be afraid to let them all in. Remember we are all in this boat together and everyone of us will be experiencing these many emotions, unless something deeply human has died within us.

We need to make room for it all and to welcome it in, I reckon that this is what the Christmas stories, whether they be ancient or modern, are about. There is something powerful and transformative in the mythos of all of them that help bring the spirit of the season alive, just when we need it the most. Well “It’s a Wonderful Life” did it for me again this week as I laughed and connected and spent the last half hour with tears rolling down my face as I remembered so many people who have touched my life, and experiences that have affected me deeply, all those  complex emotions I have felt throughout my life and once again this year, as I felt the true religion, that gets lost in the tinsel, the lights and the ever heavier traffic so often at this time of year. It opened me up once again and allowed me to let it all in. As a result I can now hopefully give it all out once again.

I was asked the other day what Christmas means to me. My first answer went something like this, well for me this season is about preparing each of us for the coming of hope that can be found in a humble birth of a lowly child in a lowly stable. That this is not about one birth though, but all births and not just about our physical birth, but that this is a spiritual birth that can come at any time and can continue as we journey on through our lives. If we open our hearts to it, if we welcome them in. The magic will come to life so long as we do not act like those inn keepers in the ancient Bethlehem story. The miracle will come so long as we say that there is in fact room in the inn. It is a story of a child born with incredible potential and yet who is rejected. Isn’t this a universal tale? Doesn’t it speak of all of us at times? There is more to the Christmas myth than the historical accuracy or inaccuracy of the Biblical accounts. In fact to get lost in detail of what did or didn’t actually happen is to miss the whole point of the story. It sounds as ludicrous as those medieval theologians who argued over how many angels could dance on the head of a pin. Is that what really matters? Surely there is more to the story than prosaic fact.

Remember that during this season we sing “Glad tidings of comfort and joy, comfort and joy” and not “glad tidings of reason and fact, reason and fact”

There is a deep universal truth hidden with these deep and meaningful stories. There is something “deep and crisp and even” in it all, if we would just open ourselves up to it all and welcome it all in.

The great mythologist Joseph Campbell taught that myths such as the nativity story are actually metaphors for human life. That they are eternal and universal tales that can teach us about our lives right here right now. He believed that by understanding these mysteries we can begin to understand who we truly are and what life is all about.

Carl Jung taught that these myths originate within our “collective unconscious”. He said that we each have a conscious level that we are aware of in our waking moments. Beneath this is our personal unconscious level, our closet. This is where we store memories, experiences, desires, fears, urges, compulsions etc. It is here that our personal “stuff” is stored, which from time to time we dip into. Some of this stuff is beautiful and some of it is terrifying. This is the domain of our devils and demons.

Jung also described our “collective unconscious”. This is our “collective closet” Jung uncovered common themes, symbols and motifs while working with his patients and he noticed that these same themes, symbols and motifs were also to be found in the religious stories and myths. From this he concluded that these common myths and stories are part of humanities “common closet”. These myths are drawn from a common human well of memory and thought and that they teach us about ourselves and the mysteries of existence. The problem today is that when we hear the word myth we equate it with an untruth, a lie, instead of seeing them as revealers of deeper universal truths. As Campbell observed to view them as lies is to actually get “stuck in the metaphor” and to fail to see the deeper universal truth that is being revealed.

As I sat in that cinema last Monday, with a load of strangers who were all connected in that shared experience, I know that all those levels were working in harmony and doing their magic. I know this because as I left the cinema I felt changed and I feel certain that others did too. So much of my experiences were brought back to life as I set there with others, it was a truly religious experience as my heart was opened once more as I was held with others and was able to let in every experience. It was very similar to times when I sit through a good worship service or are held through a funeral service. The challenge is to stay like this throughout my days, something I can never quite do, but then who can?

Christmas is not yet here. We still have a few days to open the mangers of our hearts and let all those guests in. No doubt we will sing some of these songs once again, or we will see a film or speak with an old friend or loved one. Perhaps we will attend another service of worship and come together with others and sing “glad tidings of comfort and joy, comfort and joy, oh glad tidings of comfort and joy.”

So let’s invite everything in, lets believe in everything and in so doing experience and know that little bit more than everything. Come and join with me and make of your life a guesthouse where all can enter, where all are welcome to come as they are, exactly as you are…always remembering that none of us will ever leave in exactly the same condition…

Come Christmas come...and shine your holy light and bring to life that which is waiting to be born in the mangers of our hearts…


Sunday, 9 December 2018

Our Rituals of Christmas Time

We are well and truly into Advent now, well into the festival of light at this the darkest time of the year. How are you doing? Are you in the spirit of the season or are you struggling a little. It can be a difficult time for some folk in so many ways. It’s just so easy to get lost in a variety of things. So much so that we fail to fully experience what this time of year is all about. We all have a bit of Scrooge within us do we not, we all have a little bit of “Bah Humbug”.

Christmas means different things to each and every one of us. Do you know what, it always has. People often cry that it’s not what it used to be. Well do you know what it used to be many years ago is not what it used to be many years before then. That said despite all the ever changing rituals and celebrations there does appear to be a universal spirit that has always existed. Do you know what the spirit has existed longer than the Christmas story and stories. Christmas is the ultimate Universal mythos of the heart.

For many people Christmas is a time of love and compassion of bringing to the surface our better selves. For others it is about family (however we understand family) coming together. For some it is about God’s Love incarnating perfectly in life, in the Christ child. For others it is the celebration of the end of winter and the coming of life and renewal in the spring time. I think it is all of this and a whole lot more. It seems to me that Christmas is the ultimate universal festival of the heart. It is a mixture of so many traditions and it has altered so much over time, embracing and incorporating so much of this simple spirit of light and love. Christmas is the ultimate festival of the heart, perfectly placed in the deep mid-winter when we need it the most.

As the years go by the meaning of Christmas has changed for me, as the meaning of life has. I suspect it means more to me today than it has ever done. Every year this meaning grows. Christmas is not just another day to me, in fact it has truly become a season, the season of the heart come to life. Religiously it means more to me too. As time as gone by I have connected more to the many and varied rituals of Christmas and there are many. Ok some may see these rituals as secular, but I am not convinced. I see the spirit at the heart of Christmas incarnating in all of them. I love Christmas, I truly do. I love it because it fills my heart with nostalgia, generosity and goodwill, it connects me to life, to God and to the people around me, it connects me to the past, to my ancestors and to those who touched my life, many who are no longer here. I shed many tears around this time of year. All this allows me to feel more alive. It opens up the present, the ultimate gift of life. The spiritual life is not about passively living in the moment, but truly bringing the moment to life.

Christmas is the heart of the year. Christmas is about Kairos time, not Chronos time. Time slows and our experiences thicken, if we allow them to. If we open our hearts truly to the spirit at work in the experiences. If we open our hearts to one another our relationships will deepen. What is more religious than this? For me to be religious is to increase our connections through they way we live our lives and to be spiritual is to increase our sensitivity, our experience of life.

An example of this are the many rituals that we all engage in each and every year. One example is going to buy a new tree, or fetching the artificial one from where ever we store it in the house. Getting out the decorations and placing them around the home. For so many people this connects us to our past and those who have touched our lives. There are so many memories tied up in these rituals. The memories will be mixed, as life is mixed, to misquote good old Moses “The blessings and curses of choosing life”. How many of us laugh and cry as we engage with these rituals and of course pass on the memories, rebind them, bring them to life, remember, reincarnate them. Isn’t this love incarnated. To me this is the very essence of religion.

Then of course there is the music, whether that be carols and carol singing or the many and numerous pop songs and classic songs from the old movies. For every service during December the congregations I serve insist on only singing carols and I’m with them all the way. The "pop" songs are no less religious, no less spiritual to me. They connect me to my past and those I’ve heard and sung these songs with and they help bring the moment more fully alive. They increase my experience of life too, they open my heart, they incarnate love. A taste of heaven.

Then of course there are the films, those great Christmas stories. For so many of us this is the heart of Christmas. What is your favourite? What film is at the heart of Christmas for you? I will be going to see a couple on the big screen in the next couple of weeks. It’s wonderful to go and see a classic film on the big screen and to do so in company, sharing that experience with folk that you love.

All these rituals to me are deeply religious and spiritual also. They connect us to one another, to life, that spirit at the heart of life, they connect us to our past and those who have touched our lives and they bring the gift of Christmas to life, the ultimate gift of Christmas, the present, the Christmas present. It truly increases our sensitivity to life itself.

Another universal quality is the journeying of Christmas. There is of course the "chronos" journey through the Advent season as we open our Advent Calendars and count down the days. There are the journeys to buy the gifts for loved ones. There is the journey to events and parties. There is the journey home also. Journeying is of course at the heart of the Christmas mythos. Whether that is the journey of the Holy Family of Joseph and Mary, carrying the Christ child in her womb on the road to Bethlehem, of the refusal and the rejection, of the magical birth and adorations and then of course having to flee for their lives, a journey we can all relate to in so many ways. Journey’s people have been travelling on for generations. Then of course there is the journey of the Magi, the wise men, who were called out to cross many lands in order to follow their bliss and bring gifts of love to the beloved.

These are journey’s of distance. But also journeys of depth. They are both "Chronos" and "Kairos" journeys. I will be doing some journeying over the next few weeks. As I am sure you will all be doing so too. They will be journey’s of hope and of sorrow, of joy and laughter and some pain. They will be religious journey’s and spiritual journey’s, journeys of the heart. Journey’s that will increase our sensitivity to life and deepen our connections to one another, to life, to our past, our present and the future. It will open our hearts and in so doing incarnate love here in our lives.

So let’s journey on through this Christmas season and truly open our hearts and engage in its spirit. May our hearts open wider, at this the heart of the year. May our experiences deepen as we remember to slow down as we rush through the business of our days May we know the true gifts of the season; gifts of love, compassion and acceptance. May we bring the spirit of the season alive and in so doing learn to make it Christmas in the days yet to come.

If we want to make it Christmas everyday, then we need to live by it spirit every single day...It is up to us...

Sunday, 25 November 2018

Living your way into the answers

I have a love for detective stories. My favourite tv programs tend to involve mysteries and detection. As I child I was not a great reader of fiction and yet I loved Agatha Christie. Now don’t get me wrong I did read, just not fiction. I rarely read do even today. Why I am not wholly sure, I know I would benefit from doing so. That said when relaxing I do like to watch detective series, new and old. I’m just as happy watching “Murder She Wrote” as I am watching any of the high tech modern series. I’m just as happy watching Basil Rathbone as Sherlock Holmes as I would be watching “The Code” Last year I fell in love with “The Miss Fisher Murder Mysteries”, which is a modern historical Australian series, set in the inter-war years, a kind of attractive and daring cross between Miss Marple and Jessica Fletcher. I also recently discovered a wonderful board game “Baker Street” based on Sherlock Holmes, myself and Sue had a lot of funny playing this a little while back. There is something in the searching for clues and answers and coming to conclusions that I suspect I love in these books, films and activities. I know I am not alone.

Now the thing I love about all these detective characters is that they pay attention. Yes they look for clues but the key is that they pay attention to the people around them. The classic example of this is of course Miss Marple. The key to her detecting was in her paying of attention and her simple down to earth understanding of people, which she had developed during her time growing up the village of St. Mary Mead. Her gift was to see things in seemingly unique ways and her ability to connect the details and stories together and relate them to people she had known during her long life. She would hear the details of a murder and say something like, “That reminds me of poor Mr or Mrs so and so …” And how this little problem that they had faced or had caused would be related to the murder. Miss Marple paid attention to people. She also paid attention to the world around her, connecting it all together. To me this is the key to spiritual living, to pay attention, to make connections and then to put them into practical application. To not merely ask questions of life but to see the connections. The key was not to merely ask questions and search for answers but to piece it together and live them as a conclusion in life. The key is to do as Rilke suggested “To live the questions” and in so doing you might just live your way into the answers. This is done in our very human and real lives; it is done by paying attention to one another and by paying attention to life.

One of the groups I host is “Living the Questions”. Each month we explore and attempt to bring to life the questions of truly living. It has been a joy and blessing to be part of this these last few years, it has certainly transformed me and I have witnessed this in others too. The inspiration for the group’s title come from a favourite passage from “Letters to a Young Poet” by Rainer Maria Rilke. In it the poet Rilke writes a letter to his protégé the 19 year old cadet and budding poet Franz Xaver Kappus making a beautiful case for the importance of not merely asking questions, but living them, while embracing uncertainty and allowing for the development of intuition.

Rilke wrote:

“I would like to beg you dear Sir, as well as I can, to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing, live your way into the answer.”

To me this is what it’s about, to seek and struggle and to live the questions themselves. We need to do more than just ask the questions. You have to live the questions themselves you have to experience them and then somewhere in that struggle an answer may well be revealed, or maybe not. Either way I am convinced that by doing so we will live purposeful lives for the good of all.

If we can learn to not just ask, but live the questions now we might just perhaps one day in the future, almost without noticing it live our way into the answers. This though will only come in and through life itself, through paying attention to all around us, for all life is animated by the same spirit.

Now the one thing we don’t get to choose is what is going on around us. We can’t filter this, however much we try. To live the questions faithfully means paying attention to everything. This means facing not just the beauty of life but its ugliness too and wrestling with all the challenges this brings and then acting in appropriate ways. This is not easy, sometimes it can be deeply painful to face the whole truth of any given situation. You have to do it though if you wish to one day live your way into the answers. As the great twentieth century theologian Paul Tillich wrote “Being religious means asking passionately the questions of the meaning of our existence and being willing to receive answers, even if the answers hurt.”

Now living the questions, in the hope of one day you may live your way into the answers is not merely about logic, its not just about thinking your way into life. Actually if you live purely by your mind, your logic. you can miss so much. To live the question is a form of artful living, it is deeply creative in fact. My favourite detectives, usually the female ones all use intuition and emotion as an element of their questioning. Another favourite of mine is Leroy Jethro Gibbs from NCIS, who always uses his gut. To truly live the questions requires us to live fully in our bodies as much as our logical minds.

We Unitarians can sometimes be accused of being too logical and to disregard our intuition. I do not see this as a fair criticism. Yes we are encouraged to doubt and ask questions, but we are also encouraged to use our whole human experience and not to merely worship the mind as if it were God.

To truly live the questions and thus therefore one day hopefully live our way into the answers requires us to pay attention, to pay attention to everyone and then relate it our own experiences, like Miss Marple did. To find the answers she paid attention to life, to other people and to her own intuition. She lived her way into the answers by merely paying attention.

The problem is that paying attention is not always easy. It is easy to be distracted and sometimes it hurts too much to pay attention. It certainly does for me at times.

I noticed the other morning that I was paying attention. I noticed while sitting in meditation and then listening to others that life was touching me deeply and as a result my mind became clearer. I heard the language of the heart touch me deeply as people spoke and yet at the same time I could hear, clearly hear, all the sounds of life outside. I could hear the traffic, I could hear the dogs barking, I could hear the birds singing and I could hear the rain falling, as I did the words shared penetrated me more deeply. I listened to their questions and as I did I began to live my own and in doing so I knew I was on my way to live my way into the answers. And what is the answer you might ask? Well the answer is to pay attention, pay attention to everything. In so doing you will begin to live your way into the answers.

Sunday, 4 November 2018

Lost and Found

I ended my last "blogspot" with the following words by Mark Nepo

I keep looking for one more teacher, only to find that fish learn from water and birds learn from sky.
If you want to learn about the sea, it helps to be at sea.
If you want to learn about compassion, it helps to be in love.
If you want to learn about healing, it helps to know of suffering.
The strong live in the storm without worshipping the storm.

Mark Nepo

Now don’t we all feel at sea at times, Tossed around by the storms of life. The storms are not life by the way, but they are part of life.

I have felt myself at sea many times in my life; I have done so at times these last few months too; my mind has not been as clear as it could be at times. I have noticed I’ve got a little lost at times and I have lost things at times. My services have not been at the standard I would have liked too. I’ve also felt more tired than usual. Now there are obvious reasons for this as I have been experiencing deep grief and concern for my nearest and dearest. We are hoping that some healing will come now as last week we attended our Daniel’s (my step-brother’) inquest in Bradford. It was a deeply painful day. We held one another as we listened and bore witness. I also felt so powerfully, as powerfully as I have ever done, that loving presence holding us as we lived in the storm, but did not worship it. Something has changed, or do I mean awakened within me since Tuesday.

I have felt lost at sea quite a bit these last few months, it has changed me, but then it ought to. Living spiritually is not about transcendence, it is about transformation, formation, reformation. I feel that I know the sea more intimately than before and therefore feel better able to help my fellow travellers who from time to time, will get caught up in the storm and feel all at sea. We do not sail the ship alone, we travel in the ship of love together, as one and never alone.

I remember during a theme talk at this years Summer School one of the speakers stating something like. “Do not worry if you lose your car, that isn’t the problem. You are in trouble only when you forget that you have a car.” Well last week I thought I’d lost my car, I hadn’t I’d just parked on a different street than I thought near to Sue’s new house. I did though feel that horrible sensation in the pit of my stomach I have felt it a little too frequently in recent weeks. I thought I was losing my mind a little, I wasn’t I was just experiencing what it feels like to be lost. It humbled, it grounded me and it helped me to connect. It certainly brought down any of those barriers I am tempted to put up from time to time.

All you've got to do is surrender...

I have noticed, over time, a large collection of lost items appearing in the small schoolroom at Dunham Road. Items like scarves and hats and gloves and sunglasses and ordinary glasses. It is hard to know what to do with them, perhaps we need a “lost and found” box. I always remember such things as a child. I remember leaving something important on a bus and two or three days later getting it back as it was handed in and kept in the lost and found box. The same thing happened at the gym a few months ago as I had left my spare pair of glasses there on the Friday and only realised it when I returned on the Monday. Well there they were, a few days later, in the lost and found box. Sadly the same thing didn’t happen with my watch and then a little later my wallet when I left it in the post office after buying stamps. At least I remembered I had them and had lost them of course, now if I'd forgotten I had a watch or wallet that would have signified real trouble.

I find something deeply reassuring in the fact that “lost and found” are paired together. There is something very powerful  in the journey of faith in their pairing. There is something beautifully paradoxical in all of this. A bit like Nepo’s line, “If you want to learn about the sea, it helps to be at sea.” Gets me to think that if you want to be found you have to first of all get lost. It is the “Hero’s Journey”.

If I have learnt anything in life, and this year has taught me this once again and more deeply, it is that the problem isn’t whether or not we will get lot at times, the question is how will we live when we get lost. Now of course the first step towards finding my way again is to recognise, first of all, that I am lost. This doesn’t necessarily mean literally lost, but lost in myself, whether that be lost in fear, self-doubt, self-pity, basically lost in my own underpants.

When I am lost in myself and find myself truly “all at sea” I find that what has really happened is that I’ve separated myself once again from what I know to be true, about what is at the heart of me and the heart of life and have blinded myself to the light both within and without and I have once again walled myself in and I begin to feel alone and utterly lost. I have cut myself off from others and the love present in life. In such a state I can really do damage to myself and or others. I have done so in the past. I know that this is exactly where our Daniel had found himself, this is clear to me right now as anything has ever been. I know when I am lost, all at sea, internally, I find myself giving in to guilt, to loneliness and defensiveness. While externally I will begin to blame others for this sense of "lostness", resentment grows as does confusion in others. Don’t we all?

So when I find myself lost, how do I once again find myself? How do I go and look in that “lost and found” box of life? Well it begins, as it did when I left that important item on the bus at the age of 11 or when I lost my glasses recently. First of all I pause and then I ask for help. I ask for help internally and externally and do you know what if life has taught me anything it is that when you ask for help so many people always come rushing. As I have heard said many times, when trouble strikes, when horror and disaster strikes always look for the helpers. When you do it shows the love that is so present in humanity. It restores my faith once again.

I am most lost when I’m uptight and frightened. They key to being found is to lighten and loosen up. It requires patience and trust, perhaps the best qualities of faith. When a person is all it sea it is no use to thrash around, you need to be calm, take a breath and solutions usually come, usually you find yourself found. Sometimes you get rescued as someone else reaches through your defences with a kind word and or gentle touch and sometimes all it needs is a gentle word of encouragement and you can once again find your way back to shore.

Here is a rather lovely poem “The Way” by Edwin Muir

Friend, I have lost the way.
The way leads on.

Is there another way?
The way is one.

I must retrace the track.
It’s lost and gone.

Back, I must travel back!
None goes there, none.

Then I’ll make here my place –
The road runs on –

Stay here, forever stay.
None stays here, none.

I cannot find the way.
The way leads on.

Oh, places I have passed!
That journey’s done.

And what will come at last?
The way leads on.

Now of course sometimes when you feel lost you aren’t actually as lost as you think. What you are is actually in a place you would rather not be. I have felt that at times these last few months and I have certainly done so for my nearest and dearest. Acceptance has felt distant at times, but eventually it comes and you accept that you are where you are. This is beautifully illustrated in the following bit of wisdom form my old favourite Mulla Nasruddin

Nasruddin was sat on a river bank when someone shouted to him from the opposite side:
“Hey! how do I get to the other side?”
To which Nasruddin replied “You are on the other side!”

We are all always on the opposite side of the river to the other riverbank.

“If you want to learn about the sea, it helps to be at sea.” To be found you have to first of all get lost. I have learnt that it is important to be lost at times.

Whether any of us like it or not, we all find ourselves on the wrong river bank at times, not knowing how to get to the side we would like to. We all find ourselves in an uncertain place, lost and without guidance. We all feel lost at times. By the way we don’t really get lost in the woods and wilderness. Life isn’t really like the fairy tales although they can help us see the reality. These stories have a way of revealing reality through their beautiful mystery.

This brings to mind a rather beautiful poem “Afraid So” by Jeanne Marie Beaumont

Is it starting to rain?
Did the check bounce?
Are we out of coffee?
Is this going to hurt?
Could you lose your job?
Did the glass break?
Was the baggage misrouted?
Will this go on my record?
Are you missing much money?
Was anyone injured?
Is the traffic heavy?
Do I have to remove my clothes?
Will it leave a scar?
Must you go?
Will this be in the papers?
Is my time up already?
Are we seeing the understudy?
Will it affect my eyesight?
Did all the books burn?
Are you still smoking?
Is the bone broken?
Will I have to put him to sleep?
Was the car totaled?
Am I responsible for these charges?
Are you contagious?
Will we have to wait long?
Is the runway icy?
Was the gun loaded?
Could this cause side effects?
Do you know who betrayed you?
Is the wound infected?
Are we lost?
Will it get any worse?

We all feel lost at times, all at sea. I have re-learnt how important that is. It keeps you connected to life and allows you to grow, to be transformed. This is the point of the spiritual life. This year I have learnt once again about vulnerability. Everyone of us is vulnerable to the troubles of life. No matter how comfortable life might be at this moment that can be quickly shaken and all can be lost. That phone call can come, that changes everything, that breaks your heart.

The problem isn’t getting lost, we all get lost at times. The problem is in losing faith that you can be found once again. The key is how we live when we find ourselves lost. Do we close down and get lost deeper in our fear, or do we pause and reach out and ask for help from those loving forces that are all around whether visible or invisible.

I’m going to end this "blogspot" with one final poem, a favourite by David Wagoner that goes by the title “Lost”

Lost

Stand still. The trees ahead and bushes beside you
Are not lost. Wherever you are is called Here,
And you must treat it as a powerful stranger,
Must ask permission to know it and be known.
The forest breathes. Listen. It answers,
I have made this place around you.
If you leave it, you may come back again, saying Here.
No two trees are the same to Raven.
No two branches are the same to Wren.
If what a tree or a bush does is lost on you,
You are surely lost. Stand still. The forest knows
Where you are. You must let it find you.

Sunday, 28 October 2018

Sacred the Body: Embracing Embodied Spirituality

“The Way In” by Linda Hogan

Sometimes the way to milk and honey is through the body.
Sometimes the way in is a song.
But there are three ways in the world: dangerous, wounding, and beauty.
To enter stone, be water.
To rise through hard earth, be plant desiring sunlight, believing in water.
To enter fire, be dry.
To enter life, be food.

The twentieth century French Jesuit Priest and Philosopher Pierre Teilhard de Chardin claimed that “We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience.” It is a phrase I have heard many times over the years, in a variety of "spiritual" circles. Now while I think I know what people mean by it, it bothers me greatly. The reason is that in my view it appears to diminish the physical life. It seems to suggests that the physical life is of little importance, merely a home for the spirit. That what comes before and perhaps follows our physical life is somehow more important than this life. I am not convinced, dualism has always troubled me. I personally don’t see a separation between body and spirit. This disembodied spirituality troubles me. The reason is that if we see the body as somehow less than spirit, or on the other hand see nothing sacred at all in our humanity this can lead to all kinds of troubles. I personally see the body as deeply sacred indeed. For me the body is a beautiful expression of the spirit come to life.

This view about body and spirit has been described by Jorge N. Ferrer, professor of religious psychology as “embodied spirituality.” He wrote that:

“Embodied spirituality regards the body as subject, as the home of the complete human being, as a source of spiritual insight, as a microcosm of the universe and the Mystery, and as pivotal for enduring spiritual transformation.

The body is not an “It” to be objectified and used for the goals or even spiritual ecstasies of the conscious mind, but a “Thou,” an intimate partner with whom the other human dimensions can collaborate in the pursuit of ever-increasing forms of liberating wisdom.”

For Ferrer the body is the home of the complete human being. It is the physical reality in which we live. It is through the body that we both literally and metaphorically walk our own unique path. The mistake that so many religious understandings have made is that they have seen the body as the prison of the soul. Something that the spirit or soul needs to be liberated from. He claims that the mystery of incarnation never suggested that spirit entered into the body but that the spirit became flesh. To quote John’s Gospel “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was God…And the Word became flesh.” Through our bodies, our lives, the way we live our lives the spirit comes to life. We are here for a reason, life truly means something and it is our task to bring that something to life, through our lives, through our bodily existence.

Embodied spirituality is about fully inhabiting our lives, our thoughts, our feelings our relationships with ourselves, our lives, each other and the mystery that connects all life. It’s about being fully present in our bodies and lives and therefore fully experiencing our potential, being fully alive. The body is not just a suit that clothes our being. It is through the body that we experience what it is to be fully alive. They say “listen to your body”, sage wisdom indeed. For me the body is not a separate entity to spirit, I cannot agree with this dualistic view, it seems to me that it is through the body that spirit comes alive and further through the body that the spirit is fed.

Embodied spirituality views every aspect of our humanity, whether that be body, spirit, heart, mind and consciousness as equal partners in bringing the self, community and world into a fuller alignment with the mystery that brings into being all life, while at the same time connects all life. I suspect it’s a kind of panentheism, that sees all life as being in God and that God is in all life and that little or perhaps infinite more. It sees the full engagement of the body as being vital to spiritual growth and transformation.

Sadly the spiritual and religious traditions have not always recognised the sacredness of the body; they have not always recognised that it is through the body that that the spirit comes to life. In fact they have seen it as quite the opposite. Plato and Aristotle taught that the physical can never be the ideal. That the spirit or soul was better than the real, fleshly body that contains it. The physical, Plato argued, was only an imperfect shadow of the realm of the spirit. Other traditions placed the cultivation of the spirit as something to be nurtured separate from the body. What Ferrer has named as “disembodied spirituality”. Traditions of both the east and the west have seen the denial of the body as a path way to spiritual enlightenment. In Hinduism Brahmanism calls for the denial of bodily comfort in order to transcend Samsara, the continual dying and rebirth of reincarnation. The ultimate aim being to transcend the body entirely. You can see similar traditions in Christianity, Taoism and Sufism. Buddhist writings have described the body as a source of suffering and that Nirvana could only be reached through the cessation of bodily desires. Many traditions have emphasised the life beyond this physical realm as being more important than this life, thus denigrating our physical being. The flesh has also been seen as the root of human sin. That the body is the source of humanity’s spiritual fall. The classic example is Adam and Eve being banished from the Garden of Eden to suffer from bodily pain.

Sadly the body, has not been seen as sacred at all, quite the opposite actually. Instead it has been seen as something of shame, something to escape and transcend. For me though the spiritual experience is about transformation and not transcendence. To be truly spiritually alive is to be engaged in change.

That said it is not only the religious and spiritual traditions that have failed to recognise the sacredness of the body. We live in a secular materialistic age and yet we still struggle with our bodies. How many people have become obsessed with the way they look? How many of us hate our physical being? How many people prey on this too? The body has become big business. In many ways we have swapped the worship for the Divine, and for life itself, for the worship of the approval of others especially with regard to our bodies, the way that we look. This does not see the body as sacred, more as a commodity that can be traded on and with. It does not recognise the sacredness of life, both our own and each other’s.

Science also, or should I say bad science, merely sees the body as a machine and not an expression of the Divine manifested in life. Richard Dawkins has described human beings as “lumbering robots”. Is that all we are? Is there really nothing sacred in life? When you look into the eyes of your neighbour do you see no spirit, no soul? Do you really see nothing? I know I don’t.

Life is a sacred thing.

Next year at Summer School we are going to be exploring “Theology in the Flesh: How Might our Embodied Experience Shape our Answers to Life’s Ultimate Questions?” I have been asked to co-facilitate a group there and I am excited by the prospect. We will be exploring how our personal and communal bodily experiences interact with spiritual understandings and how we interact with the world.

The following quotation from Carol P. Christ came in an email outlining the subject that I received recently.

‘Embodied theology is rooted in personal experiences in our individual
bodies. At the same time, we all live in a relational world, shaped by
social and historical events and forces that are shared.’ – Carol P. Christ

I remember hearing an excellent theme talk given by Rev Bill Darlison at Summer School several years ago. In it he made the claim that if we wished to live life more spiritually alive then we need to increase our sensitivity to life. To me this reveals just how vital our bodily experiences are and how it is through them that our spirit comes truly to life. By increasing our sensitivity to life we will know experiences beyond our imaginings and life will become our constant teacher. We will grow in deeper understanding and most importantly we will become more effective in our daily living and truly become of service to life and those we meet in life. Surely this is the Divine Love incarnating in life.

It seems to me that to live a full life is to truly inhabit our whole being, body, mind, heart, soul and spirit. To do so requires us to truly inhabit our bodies and to fully express our whole being through our bodies. This means we need to learn to be at home in our bodies, to bring our bodies home if you like. You see it is through our bodies that we both give and receive love. It is through our bodies that the word truly becomes flesh and comes alive in our very being. We are so much more than merely chemical processes and our bodies are not some lesser experience than spirit itself. We need to love life and our very being. Our bodies need not be despised, denied or repressed. Our bodies need to know love and for them to know love we need to allow that love to be expressed by our very being. For surely this is the Divine Spirit truly coming alive. This is the Kin-dom of Love right here, right now.

For the word to once again become flesh and dwell amongst us, we need to express that love through our very being. "Sacred the Body"!

May we bless life by our very being in all that we feel, all that we think, all that we say and all that we do.

I’m going to end this little "blogspot" with a little bit of Mark Nepo

I keep looking for one more teacher, only to find that fish learn from water and birds learn from sky.
If you want to learn about the sea, it helps to be at sea.
If you want to learn about compassion, it helps to be in love.
If you want to learn about healing, it helps to know of suffering.
The strong live in the storm without worshipping the storm.

Mark Nepo

Sunday, 21 October 2018

Seeking a Moral Compass in a Post Moral Age

“It Matters What We Believe” by Sophia Lyon Fahs

It matters what we believe. Some beliefs are like walled gardens. They encourage exclusiveness, and the feeling of being especially privileged.
Other beliefs are expansive and lead the way into wider and deeper sympathies.
Some beliefs are like shadows, clouding children's days and fears of unknown calamities.
Other beliefs are like sunshine, blessing children with the warmth of happiness.
Some beliefs are divisive, separating saved from unsaved, friends from enemies.
Other beliefs are bonds in a world community, where sincere differences beautify the pattern.
Some beliefs are like blinders, shutting off the power to choose one's own direction.
Other beliefs are like gateways opening wide vistas for exploration.
Some beliefs weaken a person's selfhood. They blight the growth of resourcefulness.
Other beliefs nurture self-confidence and enrich the feeling of personal worth.
Some beliefs are rigid, like the body of death, impotent in a changing world.
Other beliefs are pliable, like the young sapling, ever growing with the upward thrust of life.

The other Sunday afternoon and evening Sue and myself attended a friends birthday celebrations. It was an interesting time. It began with yoga sessions at the center in Altrincham. he yoga was followed by a meal at a Sushi restaurant followed by a Gong Sound bath. This was what I was looking forward to the most. From early in our relationship Sue and I have shared these wonderful things together, led by lovely couple that we have nicknamed the “Wizard and his Wife”, they could quite easily be characters from a Tolkein novel and they do love what we call them this.

By the way a Gong sound bath is created from a selection of Gongs that are played over an hour while you simply lie there sinking into the ground. It is a wonderful and powerful experience, I highly recommend it to anyone.

Now as we arrived we greeted the Wizard and his wife, they welcomed us in, and Sue took out her phone and found her compass. She wanted to find East. So she found due north and we took our spot. We then shared with many others in a truly wonderful experience.

As I lay there, sinking into the ground and the sound washed over me, I began to think about her compass and its northward facing needle. As I was doing so the phrase moral compass came into my mind. How we do we find our moral compass, how do we find the right direction in life, the way to face in order to make the appropriate moral decisions in life? Sounds simple, I know, but I’m not certain it is so easy.

Now morality has been on my mind quite a lot in recent weeks. I have just finished reading Bob Woodward’s (of Watergate and all the President’s Men fame) excellent new book “Fear: Trump in the White House”. It is an incredible and frightening book. The president’s morality has come into question for various reasons. The suggestion is that it is not so much that he is immoral, more that he is amoral; that essentially he is not ruled by a particular foundational moral code, other than the situation he is in. If he has a moral compass he is ruled by fear and instilling fear. There is a quote on the back of Woodward’s book in which Trump says “Real power is – I don’t even want to use the word – fear.” The suggestion being made is that if he lives from a moral compass it is one based on fear.

It brought to mind something I read many years ago “Leviathan” by Thomas Hobbes, written just after the English civil war. It is a striking, disturbing and bleak view of human nature.

Hobbes wrote

"Whatsoever therefore is consequent to a time of Warre (war), where every man is Enemy to every man; the same is consequent to the time, wherein men live without other security, than what their own strength, and their own invention shall furnish them withall. In such condition, there is no place for Industry; because the fruit thereof is uncertain; and consequently no Culture of the Earth; no Navigation, nor use of the commodities that may be imported by Sea; no commodious Building; no Instruments of moving, and removing such things as require much force; no Knowledge of the face of the Earth; no account of Time; no Arts; no Letters; no Society; and which is worst of all, continuall feare, and danger of violent death; And the life of man, solitary, poore, nasty, brutish, and short."

I will just repeat the last few words

“And the life of man, solitary, poore, nasty, brutish, and short” Gosh that is hard.

For Hobbe’s what is required to overcome this state of fear is an ultimate authority to bring order to wayward humanity and subjugate our anarchic and brutish nature.

I suppose that you could say that this is some form of moral foundation, that this is something to aim for, but I am not convinced, although I do from time to time struggle with human nature, mine and others too.

Now while I reject this fear based view of humanity, I do have a sense that there is a goodness at the core of life, an ok-ness, I acknowledge that it is not always easy to find a guide. How do we find our true north? How do we find the right direction and make moral decisions about life, so as to give positively to the melting pot of humanity. It is suggested that there is no longer a single meta-narrative, that the foundation stones that we once built our lives on no longer have value. I am not convinced, I do find certain truths that have been with us for centuries and keep on resurfacing. I do believe that there is an ultimate goodness that we can connect to, a goodness that can be found in everything, in you, in me and in everything. A love that can always overcome any fear. For fear ultimately corrodes the soul and reduces life to nothing.

Last Sunday John Midgley led a wonderful service at Dunham Road, celebrating 50 years since he took up ministry here and at Queens Road, he will be delivering something similar at Queens Road next month. John was my first Unitarian minister at Cross Street in Manchester. While there he introduced me to the wonderful Carl Scovel. Now at the heart of his faith was something he described as the “Great Surmise” at a talk he delivered at the 1994 Unitarian Universalist General Assembly he described what he meant by it:

“The Great Surmise says simply this: At the heart of all creation lies a good intent, a purposeful goodness, from which we come, by which we live our fullest, and to which we shall at last return. This is the supreme mystery of our lives. This goodness is ultimate-not fate, not freedom, not mystery, energy, order, finite, but this good intent in creation is our source, our centre, and our destiny...Our work on earth is to explore, enjoy, and share this goodness. Neither duty nor suffering nor progress nor conflict-not even survival-is the aim of life, but joy. Deep, abiding, uncompromised joy.

Life really is about how we see things, our perspective. Is life “Nasty, brutish and short”...Maybe, maybe not?

Or is it a “Deep, abiding, uncompromised joy ”...Maybe, maybe not?

I have discovered the simple joy of living even in life’s most challenging times. I have found that there is a love at the core of life. It is our moral task, I believe, to find it and being it to life through our own human being. To me this is essentially what Jesus meant when he spoke of the Kingdom of God, what I like to call the kin-dom of love. This is no easy task, but then again it never has been. There has never been an idealised time for any of us. The people Jesus spoke to 2,000 years ago were not living easy and comfortable lives. Those people knew about conflict, oppression, tragedy and almost constant grief. He told them that all that was wonderful, life-giving, life affirming, all that is meaningful was theirs. He said to them “Enter into my kingdom with joy.” He also told them that “This is my commandment, that you love one another.”

So maybe this is the key, to live by the “Golden Rule”, to love one another, to love our neighbour as ourselves. That though requires a belief that there is a love at the core of all life, our lives. Do we see this when we look in the mirror, do we see this when we look into each others eyes?

It matters, it really does.

I think the greatest danger to humanity, past present and future looking forward, is this idea that some people are superior to others, have greater value. It is a voice that we hear more and more, a voice that leads to separation, that breeds this idea of us and them. It is there in religion, but also secular society. Some religious groups talk about the saved and the unsaved, others talk of being God’s chosen people. When they speak this way they are talking of a God I do not recognise. The God I know accepts and loves all universally. Experience has revealed to me that we are all chosen by God, it’s just that so many of us turn away and cannot believe that there is a spirit that is there in all life.

Then of course there are the anti-religionists who ridicule people of faith; who see it all as purely infantile projections. They mock, they poke fun, they separate people into the stupid and the wise. In so doing they are saying that they are better than them.

When the epistle Paul talked of the oneness, the unity in Christianity, he wrote that in Christ “there is no longer Jew or Greek.” He did not say that there are no longer Jews or Greeks more that people are no longer separated by these distinctions; that they are all one in love, in body and in spirit; that if all people are viewed in the light they are brothers and sisters to one another.

As Tenzin Gyatso XIVth Dalai Lama has said “Mentally, physically and emotionally we are the same. We each have the potential to be good and bad and to be overcome by disturbing emotions such as anger, fear, hatred, suspicion and greed. These emotions can be the cause of many problems. On the other hand if you cultivate loving kindness, compassion and concern for others, there will be no room for anger, hatred and jealousy.

These words very much chime with a favourite story of mine, “The Two Wolves"

An old Cherokee is teaching his grandson about life.

“A fight is going on inside me,” he said to the boy.

“It’s a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil - he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, ego and it makes me cynical about life.” He continued, “The other is good – he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, faith and it fills me with enthusiasm for life. The same fight is going on inside you – and inside every other person, too.”

The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf will win?”

The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”

Maybe this is how we can find a foundation on which we can make moral choices and decisions. It begins by believing that at the core of life is a goodness and that if we feed that in the right way it can grow within us and that we can live in ways that will serve life in loving and positive ways. It will require us to believe that this same spirit is all life. It will require us to live from a place of love and not of fear.

The choice is ours. Do we live by the power of fear, of hate, of separation or do we take the risk to live by love? It’s up to us…Our lives and all life depend on the choices we will make.

It matters, it really does…But then again everything matters…Every feeling, every thought, every word and every deed.