Saturday, 2 August 2014

Can we live as one?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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


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

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

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

that you are connected to Earth.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Beyond Borders” by Rick Hoyt

Go forth
Because we are always going forth from somewhere

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

Finding borders
Testing borders
Crossing borders.

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

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

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

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

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

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


Saturday, 19 July 2014

Resent or Rejoice

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Have you ever been consumed by such a rage?

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

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

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

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

Resentment is a destructive force.

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

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

How does this begin you may well ask?

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

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

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

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

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

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




Saturday, 5 July 2014

Who do you think you are?



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Abraham Joshua Heschel said of the human face.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let us make it so.

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


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


Sometime you just connect,

like that,

no big thing maybe

but something beyond the usual business stuff.

It comes and goes quickly

so you have to pay attention,

a change in the eyes

when you ask about the family,

a pain flickering behind the statistics

about a boy and a girl at school,

or about seeing them every other Sunday.

An older guy talks about his bride,

a little affectation after twenty-five years.

A hot-eyed

achiever laughs before you want him to.

Someone tells you about his wife’s job

or why she quit working to stay home.

An old joker needs another laugh on the way

to retirement.

A woman says she spends a lot of her salary

on an au pair

and a good one is hard to find

but worth it because there is nothing more important

than the baby.

Listen.

In every office you hear the threads

of love and joy and fear and guilt,

the cries of celebration and reassurance,

and somehow you know that connecting those threads

is what you are supposed to do


and business takes care of itself.


Saturday, 28 June 2014

Circles on my mind


I woke on Monday morning with circles on my mind. I am not entirely sure why, but they were there. Perhaps it had something to do with reaching and passing the mid - point of the year and acknowledging that the day light hours would now be shortening. Maybe it was images of a group of Unitarian young adults attending Stone Henge to mark and celebrate the summer Solstice. Maybe it was influenced by the World Cup and the nations of the world coming together in celebration of “The Beautiful Game”. Perhaps it was that image of the spherical football that had sown a circle seed. Or maybe that thought was actually the flowering of a seed that had been planted a few weeks previously when I attended a talk given by Rev Dr Ann Peart on “How We See The World”, which looked specifically at maps and their meaning throughout history.

I know that this probably sounds a little strange but I have noticed that circles and spheres have been cropping up in conversations everywhere. I have heard talk of circles in the physical circles I move in, as well as the social media ones too. I have lost count of the number of times, in recent weeks, I have heard the phrase “circles of friends” and how society is made up of many over-lapping circles. I wonder how many times such phrases have been uttered by my own lips. I heard it several times as I chatted with friends over coffee on Tuesday morning and within a friendship circle I am part of on Monday evening. Now is this because these things are on my mind that I have been hearing them, or is it because I keep hearing of circles and that this is why they are on my mind? Well who knows? Certainly not I.

I woke up on Monday morning wondering if human lives are made up of circles; I woke up on Monday morning wondering if all human life is made up of circles. Circles that are ever widening or ever decreasing.

The great nineteenth century Transcendentalist Ralph Waldo Emerson held this view, he often spoke of circles. His essay titled “Circles” opened with the following words:

“The eye is the first circle; the horizon which it forms is the second; and throughout nature this primary figure is repeated without end. It is the highest emblem in the cipher of the world. . . . every action admits of being outdone. Our life is an apprenticeship to the truth, that around every circle another can be drawn; that there is no end in nature, but every end is a beginning; that there is always another dawn risen on mid-noon, and under every deep a lower deep opens.”

(You can hear the whole essay by clicking here)



Emerson was suggesting that all life is a series of ever expanding circles; circles ever reaching out and encompassing more and more, as more is revealed. I think I agree with Ralph Waldo, certainly when I look at my life it is built on many circles, that are forever reaching out.

Now I am sure that there are many who will say that there must be a limit to these circles and that life on this sphere the earth is one of them. Well while that was once the case it is no longer true, we can after all blast off into space and so the circles of physical limit seem to be ever expanding too. As they say the universe is ever expanding.

Now when Emerson spoke of these ever increasing circles he was not talking of merely physical ones, he saw this same limitlessness with regard to truth and understanding too. He saw God similarly also. He saw the Divine as being beyond the circumference of these ever expand circles, but he also saw God at the core, the centre of the circle. This kind of Panentheism is something I have great deal of sympathy with. It makes sense to me, the idea that God somehow circles all life; the view that God is somehow more than all that is and yet is also at the core of life and truth; God is greater than all and yet at the core of everything.

So yes it seems that life is made up of circles and perhaps it has always been thus.

The circle is a central symbol of many of humanities religious traditions. It is often depicted as representing the sun, the moon, the door through which we are born and the human eye, I hear Emerson echoing these thoughts in his essay. As the circle has neither a beginning or end it is often seen as representing God’s love which is considered both perfect and eternal. This is why the circle is the symbol of the wedding ring, when two souls bind themselves to each other.

One example is the symbol of eternity and perfection, Ouroboros (Greek for tail swallower), which can be found in the Transylvanian Unitarian crest. This image of a snake swallowing its own tail symbolises infinity, re-birth and eternity and can be found in many other cultures throughout human history.

In many cultures the circle becomes a wheel. In Buddhism you will find “The Wheel of Dharma”, which with its eight spokes represents the “eight fold path”, which keeps rolling on to eternity. Other examples include the native American medicine wheel or Celtic wheel which with its four spokes stands for the four compass points, the four elements, the four times of the day, the four phases of the moon and the four seasons. Both were originally formed from stone circles and depict how everything in the universe is tied together, how even separate things move as one and are centred around the Sun, the giver of life, God. Here humanity is also placed at the centre at one with the Divine, the Great Spirit. Other examples can be found in Pagan and earth centred traditions. In Hinduism Shiva is depicted as dancing in a circle of flames, which represents the “Cycle of time with no beginning and no end. All these examples and many others appear to depict the circle as representing the inter-relatedness of everything.

Throughout human history the circle has appeared and re-appeared over and over again. It usually relates to the concepts of eternity, infinity, re-birth and perfection, with the Divine at is core and yet also somehow beyond the circumference.

Now while the centre is ever present the circumference is not, it is ever expanding. I believe that if we wish to remain in harmony with the core then we need to continue to expand with it. If we allow ourselves to be inspired by the centre we will forever be expanding the circumference. This is beautifully illustrated in the poem "Outwitted" which is the middle section of “Epigrams” by Edwin Markham.

"Outwitted"

He drew a circle that shut me out--

Heretic, a rebel, a thing to flout.

But Love and I had the wit to win:

We drew a circle that took him in!

There is something here that speaks to me about what true religion ought to be about; true religion ought to be about ever widening those circles so that all are included within God’s Love. Love is there at the core ever empowering us to widen the circle so as to include all. Sadly too often religion fails to do this as it draws its circles to exclude so many for a variety of reasons.

This is not to say that the exclusion is limited to religion, no you will find this occurring in all aspects of human society. If we look at our own lives surely we will see our own personal circle, our family circle, our community circle, our political circle, our social circle, moving ever onwards. Now while each circle includes ever more people, while doing so it also excludes many others too.

You know it came to me while I was wrestling with the sermon that this "blogspot" was created from, why circles are on my mind. The reason is that I am seeing division all around me. It seems that we are once again seeing the circles being sealed. Lines seem to be increasingly drawn in society. Suspicions of those outside our circles are growing and as a result there seems to be less trust. This cannot be a good thing. It is happening within nations and between nations; it is happening within cultures and between cultures; it is happening within the faith traditions and between the faith traditions, as well as those who wish to see an end to faith. It is happening within ourselves too. I often wonder if we are expanding our circles of experience and understanding or whether are we are in actual fact retreating into what we think we know.

So what can we do? Well I believe we can do much. Where does it begin? Well I believe it begins in our own hearts and souls, in our own homes and in our own communities. We need to begin to expand our own circles. How do we do this? Well I believe that we need to reach deep within ourselves to the ultimate source of love and in doing so we can begin to reach beyond our own human created limits and begin to ever widen our circles. It begins by seeing where and how we exclude ourselves and others from our circles. Now of course this will not stop others from limiting their circles but then that should not matter if we expand our circles of love to include all, even those who wish to keep others out.

Now this is no easy task, of course it is not. That said I believe that it is one that is worth undertaking. I believe it is the challenge of our age. I believe that maybe it is the task and the challenge of my own open faith tradition. I believe that it is our task to ever widen our circle so as include all, for there can be no limit to love. This begins by putting love at the core of the circle and to understand that if we see love as the circumference we will see there is no limit, for no one can be excluded from love. For if they are, it is not love.

For love is eternal and love is perfect and love knows no limits.

I would like to end this little blogspot with the following beautiful words by the Unitarian Universalist minister Mark Belletini entitled “Communion Circle”. Please read and then spend a few moments in silence before listening the song that follows...

So I ask you to please still yourselves in meditative silence…

The earth.

One planet.

Round, global,

so that when you trace its shape

with your finger,

you end up where you started. It’s one. It’s whole.

All the dotted lines we draw on our maps

of this globe are just that, dotted lines.

They smear easily.

Oceans can be crossed.

Mountains can be crossed.

Even the desert can be crossed.

The grain that grows on one side of the border

tastes just as good as the grain on the other side.

Moreover, bread made from rice is just as nourishing

to body and spirit as bread made from corn,

or spelt or teff or wheat or barley.

There is no superior land, no chosen site,

no divine destiny falling on any one nation

who draws those dotted lines just so.

There is only one earth we all share,

we, the living, with all else that lives

and does not live. Virus, granite, wave,

city, cornfield, prophet, beggar, child,

slum, tower, mine, robin, eel, grandfather,

rose, olive branch, bayonet, and this poem

and moment are all within the circle,

undivided by dotted lines or final certainties.

Everything,

everything, for good or ill,

is part of the shared whole:



sky, earth, song, words and now, this silence.


"The Beautiful Game"


Saturday, 21 June 2014

Radical Amazement

Every Sunday when I wake and prepare myself for leading worship I never know exactly what I’m letting myself in for, that said I have a better idea than the congregations I serve. As I take my seat in the worship space and quietly prepare myself I often look at those present and wonder what they have brought with themselves; I wonder what has been occurring in their lives, what joys and struggles are presently with them; I wonder what they are expecting from me that morning and if it will help them in anyway. I always hope that when they leave and return to their lives and the world outside of our windows, that they do so enriched in some way. My hope is that in some way a part of us all has been opened up to what it is to be alive and awake and fully human. That in some we have deepened our connection to ourselves, to one another, to life itself and to that eternal spirit that runs through it all, that I name God. It’s a risky business creating and leading worship, although I know it’s an even riskier one entrusting someone each week to lead you in it. I offer thanks and praise each week that people come and join and engage in this risky business with me…I offer thanks and praise that people open their hearts and minds and souls with me.

I’m often amazed by the feelings that life brings. They are always a mixed bag. The blessings and curses of “choosing life”, to paraphrase Moses. I felt some changes towards the end of last week, like something had shifted once again. I had taken a few days off and I suspect that my soul and body had once again re-aligned. Never a comfortable process, but always a beautiful one.

To be alive, to be human really is an amazing thing; to be alive to be here, is an amazing thing. We can go all over the world, we can blast off into space and look at all that is life and explore millions of galaxies and gaze at the wonder of it all and yet still miss the truly amazing thing, that we as people truly exist at all. Now some might call that the eighth wonder, but I say to you that it is the one true wonder and the one from which all other wonder extends from. How often do we stop and sense and truly feel that we are alive. Isn’t it amazing that we exist at all.

I feel like a child again; I feel amazed by it all again; I feel awake once again.

Life amazes me, constantly. Despite all the darkness and destruction that is present, that can overwhelm it all, life and love always seems to find a way through. Like that little shoot that finds its way back to life every spring time, finding its way through all the obstacles in its way, insisting on reaching out beyond and finding life. That amazes me; I find that utterly amazing.

Last week I was chatting away with a friend on facebook messenger when suddenly on my news feed a “Meme” appeared with a beautiful picture and a quote by Abraham Joshua Heschel that read

“Our goal should be to live life in radical amazement. ....get up in the morning and look at the world in a way that takes nothing for granted. Everything is phenomenal; everything is incredible; never treat life casually. To be spiritual is to be amazed.”

Now it’s one of those quotes that I’ve heard before, it does the rounds every now and again, but that day it really struck me. I paused and I listened to the words as they ran through my mind, my heart and my soul…especially the phrases “to be spiritual is to be amazed” and “Our goal should be to live in radical amazement.”

Now what on earth could that mean?

Well before I explore "Radical Amazement"I would like to just briefly tell you a little bit about the author of the quote. Abraham Joshua Heschel was a rabbi and a leading theologian in post war America. He was a contemporary and friend of Rev Dr Martin Luther King Jr and marched arm in arm with him during the civil rights protests in Selma Alabama, which he described as “praying with his legs” . I have a wonderful little book of his titled “I Asked for Wonder” and I have shared extracts from it in worship over the years. He writes beautifully about the nature of God and Man and the religious life. There is something about his writing that touches soul and spirit in a real “earthy” way. It is deeply spiritual and yet firmly grounded in reality. The concept of “Radical Amazement” is a classic example of this.

“Radical Amazement” captures those moments, those deeply human moments when we find ourselves intensely connected to the mystery and the majesty of existence. Now Heschel is not really talking about the big moments here when we mark life’s achievements. Instead what he is speaking of is what he himself describes as “the common and the simple” those small things that reveal “the infinite significance” of existence. In many ways “radical amazement” is about paying attention and looking deeply at the routine moments of our lives and experiencing just how incredible they are. There are parallels to mindfulness here, but I think there is more to it than that, there is a sense of eye popping awe and wonder in looking through radically amazed eyes. It’s about seeing the miracle in existence. How many of us truly recognise and acknowledge just how amazing it is that we exist at all?

“Radical Amazement” is about looking into the familiar with what Rumi called “fresh eyes”, it’s about recognising that even the most routine moments are in actual fact outrageous. Just think about our existence here on this spinning planet rushing through a universe some 13 billion years old, or so they tell us. We are formed from stardust and yet made from flesh that are homes to entire eco-systems and billions of cells that are neatly balanced so as to allows us to exist, that are constantly altering and changing and adjusting to all that we experience. We who are made from stardust are more than merely stardust though, we are made up of complex thoughts, emotions and experiences and there is a spirit within each of us. We are more than merely our biology; we are more than merely thinking meat. It is amazing and marvellous to truly be who we are.

And when we see life through “fresh eyes” all this that we are made from reacts in positive and powerful ways, something we can feel it with real intensity at times. I strongly believe that there are times when our whole make up responds to the whole of the make-up of the universe and that this occurs every time that we see the miracle in existence, in a new way. Sometimes this blows me away. It is amazing that we exist at all; it’s amazing that everything came from the same nothing.

Bang…and here we are in a fabulous place…what are you gunna do here…in this sacred place, in this sacred time, in these are sacred bodies, in these are sacred lives…

“Radical Amazement” is about looking into life with truly open eyes, it is an ethical act and an intentional decision, it is the ultimate spiritual practise and as such it is one that involves great risk. This is because it opens us up to all that is, as it truly is. This requires courage, because to see the beauty also requires us to see the horror too. This may seem too awful for some, but it is the awe that accompanies vulnerability that is required to be awakened to radical amazement.

Victoria Safford in the meditation “Open Eyes” asks us to

“Think of yourself as a prism made of glass, reflecting everything as it is, unable to exists dishonestly – reflecting beauty where there’s beauty, violence where there’s violence, loveliness and unexpected joy where there is joy, violation where there’s violation.”

To see the world with awakened eyes, fresh eyes, open eyes is look into the life in “Radical Amazement”. It is life as it truly is in its awe filled beauty. It is to truly let life in and to fill us to the brim.

Victoria Safford sees this as refraction, taking in all that is life and thus allowing it to transform us so that we can begin again anew. She calls it holy work as once we are transformed by it we can let is shine out of us in the prism of our ordinary daily actions as we live in life.

She says that

“To see clearly is an act of will and conscience. It will make you very vulnerable. It is persistent, holy, world transforming work."

It seems to me that “Radical Amazement” is how to live and breathe our human spirituality. At its essence spirituality is about being amazed it is about cultivating greater openness and deeper awareness of the beauty, blessing and mystery of life. Now to me this is the essence of my chosen Unitarian faith.

Openness is at the core of my understanding of the Unitarian spiritual tradition. At our best we encourage and celebrate the kind of openness and intentionality that enables “Radical Amazement” to be possible. When I lead worship each week my hope is to encourage, to challenge and to inspire those who join with me to not get stuck in a frame work of belief or un-belief but instead to cultivate their own experiences and see deep within them so as to bring meaning into each of our lives and thus to bring about transformation both within each of us and the world in which we interact and have our being.

Yes it’s a risky business we enter into each week, but one worth engaging in.

I’m going to end this little blogspot with a short anecdote from the life of Abraham Joshua Heschel.

Whenever he gave an evening lecture he would begin with the following words.

"Ladies and gentlemen, a great miracle has just occurred!"

As the audience began to stir in puzzlement, the great theologian would elaborate…

"Ladies and gentlemen, a great miracle has just take place...the sun has gone down."

How often in life do we even take the time to pay attention to the wondrous workings of the Sun and the Earth that sustains all life that enables our existence?

Never mind anything else, isn’t this amazing in and of itself?

Let’s open our eyes and look into the magnificent mystery of life. Let us live with “Radical Amazement”. Let us not lose our sense of wonder at the miracle that is sheer being.

For it truly is a risk worth taking.



Saturday, 7 June 2014

Are we the religious animal? A Pentecost reflection


I was recently sent the following bit of wisdom by Robert Fulghum. It got me thinking about that often heard phrase about humanity "We are the religious animal"...anyhow here is the the little chip of wisdom...

Propositions:

To be human is to be religious.

To be religious is to be mindful.

To be mindful is to pay attention.

To pay attention is to sanctify existence.

Rituals are one way in which attention is paid.

Rituals arise from the stages and ages of life.

Rituals transform the ordinary into the holy.

Rituals may be public, private, or secret.

Rituals are in constant evolution and reformation.
Ritual refers to two kinds of acts: those things we do for the first time that, in fact, have been done by the human race again and again forever – and those patterns that we ourselves repeat again and again because they bring structure and meaning to our individual and collective lives. A consideration of human and personal history will remind us that rituals are not set in concrete – that public forms, private celebrations, and even secret acts get modified over time to more nearly satisfy changing needs.

Today is Pentecost one of the most important days in the Christian Calendar. Not that many will have noticed, it certainly does not come with the same fuss as Christmas and Easter and yet it is deeply significant.

The word Pentecost means the 50th day. Pentecost, within the Christian tradition, falls 50 days after Easter. The original Pentecost though was the Jewish holy day known as Shavuot, which comes 50 days after the Passover. Now Passover marked the Exodus from Pharoah’s enslavement. Remember the Last Supper was Jesus calling his disciples to commemorate this. So 50 days later those very same disciples and many other Jews gathered once again to mark the Jewish Pentecost, Shavuot.

Shavuot marks the giving of the Law by God to Moses on Mount Sinai and was observed for centuries before the account recorded in the book of Acts when the presence of the Spirit is understood to have descended. Both Pentecost’s marked the dawning of a new era. For the Hebrews it was the receiving of the “Law of God”, which an observant Jew has to follow; for Christians it was the receiving of the Holy Spirit. They both came at a time when the people were lost and frightened and squabbling amongst themselves; they both offered the people a sense of unity across their differences; they both offered the people a sense of identity and understanding, a narrative to follow; they both were about creating a new religious identity and purpose.

Pentecost commemorates the beginning of a new revelation, a new step forward in religious understanding and practise. This it would appear, continues on and on. Religion, as does all life, continues to evolve, it has to or it will whither away and die. I wonder if ours might be a time for a new Pentecost.

Now there are those who will say that is the last thing that we need; there are those who will say that what we really need is an end to religion all together. Many see religion as the cause of most of humanities troubles and that really it’s for the weak, the feeble and mindless. It has been seen as a pill or an opiate or a crutch to keep us upright and moving forward. It’s not just the "New Atheists" either that hold this view, such thoughts have been around for some time, for all time to be honest. Sigmund Freud didn’t think much of religion. In 1927 he authored a book titled “The Future of an Illusion”. In it he argued that the belief in an almighty personal God who set everything in motion and authored the rules and who human beings depended on was like an obsessional childlike neurosis that humanity would one day outgrow as we developed and matured through scientific understandings of ourselves and nature.

Now what Freud failed to recognise was the capacity for religious understanding to evolve. He had a model for religion and he stuck to it, a bit like many of the "New Atheists" do today. I suspect that in doing so they are committing a fundamental error; I believe that even if we did do away with all religion that currently exists in our world today that a new form would eventually emerge. Why you may well ask? Well because I believe that we human beings are by our very nature religious animals. There is something within us that needs to celebrate life itself in all its pain and all its glory; there is something within us that wants to dance and to sing and re-enact the drama of what it is be; there is something within us that wants to acknowledge the mystery within and way beyond scientific knowledge and insight; there is something within us that wants to offer gratitude for what inspires us to be all that we can be; there is something within us that wants to offer hope, consolation, courage and endurance in the face of the fear and the many disappointments of life; there is something within us that asks the question why, when we consider the mysteries of life and death? These I believe are religious and spiritual needs and they are ones that humanity will never outgrow, because they cannot be outgrown.

Do you have these needs? I do and I believe that I always will. The darkest emptiest days of my life were when I tried to suppress and deny them.

Forrest Church in an interview shortly before he died said

“I have long believed that religion itself is our human response to the dual reality of being alive and having to die. We are the religious animal. We asked, “Where did we come from? Who are we? Where are we going? What is life’s meaning? What is life’s purpose?” Now, we don’t always come out with religious answers. But these are religious questions we ask. We’re not the animal with advanced tools or advanced language. We’re the religious animal, and so at some point death requires our search for meaning. Without death, we would not have to search for meaning, and we would not have to search for purpose. My own sense of the purpose of life, it’s to live in such a way that your lives will prove to be worth dying for. And that puts an enormous moral, ethical impetus behind our work in this world. I take it one world at a time. I’m agnostic about the afterlife. I haven’t gone there. It could not be, though, any stranger than this. There’s no afterlife that could be stranger than life itself. And we need, first and foremost, even as we’re dying, to celebrate the miracle of this day.

I agree with Forrest in nearly every sentiment expressed here. Human beings will never stop asking these questions re the mystery of life and death, they are at their essence religious questions. This is why religion will always emerge and re-emerge even if it were completely done away with tomorrow.

We human beings are meaning makers and meaning seekers. We must not underestimate this innate desire within us. We have this need for connection to things both in and of this world; we have this need to feel loved and held too, by things that are beyond our understanding. We need a relationship to life. We need to love something. Most of us want to be part of something bigger than ourselves, to help create a world that is more filled with possibility and hope than when we arrived. So we pay attention to what is going on all around us. We acknowledge it. We make meaning out of it. As we do so we make rituals out of the meaning. We make rituals to mark the stages of life from birth to death and all the stages in between. These rituals come in many and varied styles and forms and come from many sources, but they are there in every human culture and society. These rituals help us connect to a greater reality from which we belong, that we finite creatures are dependent upon.

We human beings are the religious animal. Therefore we need religion in order to live fully human lives. This is why I believe that even if we were to do away with all forms of religion it would once again emerge, although perhaps in a different form or forms.

Now maybe that’s what we need. Not so much an end to religion, but a new kind of religion, one that incorporates the best of the past but is not a slave to it, one that is not shackled by what has been.

I think that now, perhaps more than at any other time in human history we need a new Pentecost; I think now more than at any other time in human history we need the dawning of a new religion, something that will perhaps unite the whole human family.

Now I know there are many who will say, oh you are just a dreamer. Well maybe I am, but I don’t think I’m the only one. I believe that the fire of unity and hope can be lit once again.

The symbol of Pentecost is the flame. Every Sunday at the commencement of worship I light a flame. When I do so I believe that I am lighting a symbol of new hope, of what might be of what humanity can become if we live in unity and love.

If we light the flame of unity and love within our own hearts and carry that out into our wounded world I believe that we can begin the dawning of a new Pentecost. Instead of despairing at this our age, let us instead bring forth new hope, let us become symbols of new hope.

Our world needs a new Pentecost that will unite it and bring humanity out of its wilderness into the Promised Land. This must grow from within our own hearts and souls. It is a fire that grows from humility and leads to connection and interconnection and inter-dependence. The first Pentecost brought the Law, the one language. The second Pentecost brought love which called humanity to understand diverse languages. This new Pentecost, I believe, is needed to bring us together through our shared humanity through a genuine sense of humility that will allow us to see our interdependence.

We need a new Pentecost, a new beginning that will enable us to fully acknowledge our interdependence on one another, all life and that spirit that runs through all of life. For it is this that can bind us together if we would but let it.

Now there are those who say that in order to achieve this that the first thing we must do is bring an end to religion, that this is the cause of all of humanities ills, but I am not one of them. I say what we need is a new religion or at least a new approach to religion that can set us free from the chains that bind us; what we need is a way to join us in a unity with all that is, all that has been and all that has ever been. It begins within each and everyone of our hearts.

We need a new Pentecost, a new beginning that will bind us together in unity. We need it and our world needs it. We need to recognise the oneness, the unity of everything. We are all part of a vast and yet mysterious living system. By recognising this we begin to participate consciously in this vast oneness. The mystics of every faith tradition have proclaimed this divine unity. It is known as Nirvana in Buddhism, or the Brahman-Atman synthesis in Hinduism, when Jesus declares “I and the father are one” he is talking of divine oneness. We are all part of the one undivided whole. We are bound together in the ship of life.

Howard Thurman described this near perfectly in “Creative Encounter”, when he said "It is my belief that in the Presence of God there is neither male nor female, white nor black, Gentile nor Jew, Protestant nor Catholic, Hindu, Buddhist, nor Muslim, but a human spirit stripped to the literal substance of itself before God."

How though do we bring about that “Creative Encounter”? Well I believe it has to begin in our own hearts and minds and souls. We need to open ourselves to it in our daily lives and to carry it out into our world that so desperately needs it.

We need to light the flame within us and we need to carry this spirit of a new Pentecost into our divided world and begin to bind up the broken.

Let us be lights in our world…let us be the new beginning…Let us bring a new Pentecost here in our time and place…our world needs it...We all need it...let us make it so...




Saturday, 31 May 2014

The Impermanence of Truth



"To a visitor who described himself as a seeker after Truth, the teacher said: “If what you seek is Truth, there is one thing you must have above all else.” “I know,” answered the student, “an overwhelming passion for it.” “No,” said the teacher, “an unremitting readiness to admit you may be wrong.”

Anthony de Mello

To seek the truth one needs humility and openness and enough self-esteem to see that we are wrong sometimes and of course the capacity to admit to this. If we cannot, we will not be able to see the truth, even when it is right in front of us. It is so easy to become blinded by what we think we know. We need the openness that comes with true humility, it’s a truth that will set us free.

Like most folk I can be a stubborn bugger at times; I am more like my granddad than I care to admit at times. I’m better than I used to be but there are still times when I find it hard to admit that I am wrong. And yet when I can I find it so liberating, it sets me free to a new freedom and a new truth.

The truth is that the great thing about being wrong is that as soon as you are able to admit that you are wrong about something you are no longer wrong, you are right once more. Sadly so many of us find it difficult to see when we are wrong, me included. Why on earth is this?

I agree with DeMello's claim that a truth seeker needs “an unremitting readiness to admit you may be wrong.”

Although he and I could be wrong about this.

I believe that this applies as much to people as ideas about life. I know I have been wrong about many people in my life. So much so that I try not to judge people by my first impressions these days. I say I try, but it isn’t so easy.

At the beginning of this blogspot is a clip from the film “The Philadelphia Story”. If you watch it you will hear the following words uttered by Katherine Hepburn.

“The time to make up your mind about other people is never!”

I find something so beautifully faithful in these simple words. They say a leopard cannot change its spots, but I’m not convinced by this. I see people change all the time. I’ve seen much of my view of life alter over the years and as a result it would not behove me to think the same of others.

Life is fluid and so are people, nothing ever really stays exactly the same. I suspect that it is the same with truth. My truth today is not exactly as it was a few years ago. How about yours? Do you see things today exactly as you always have, or have some things changed?

I have for some time been fascinated by the Buddhist concept of “Dukkha”. Now "Dukkha is one of those words that is hard to explain in English. It is often translated as suffering, that "all life is suffering". Now I am not convinced that this is an entirely accurate translation, in the sense that suffering is understood in the west. I believe it is trying to teach that suffering is a part of life, that nothing ever lasts for ever. That nothing stays exactly as it in its current state. Impermanence is central to the Buddhist path; the path to enlightenment is to accept that nothing ever lasts forever. This speaks powerfully to me, especially when I think about truth. I have certainly noticed, over the years, the impermanence of truth.

So many problems in life seemingly come from our struggle against impermanence. How often do we try to grab for the seeming safety of absolutes, for certainty, instead of opening up to the freedom that comes with accepting that nothing is permanent, including how we see life and one another.

Accepting impermanence helps in the search for truth; it helps us to see the freedom that comes with changing our point of view about things. If you think about it if nothing ever stays the same then surely our point of view ought to be ever changing too. Life is always teaching us something new if we would but stay open up to it.

It’s a good thing to feel like a beginner in life, to feel lost and confused about everything, at times. It does not mean we aren’t making progress it’s just that we are taking shape, forming and re-forming over and over again. There is a false security in certainty that can end up enslaving us.

I have heard it said that God works on us like a skilled carpenter. Once God has worked on one side of us and polished it up, God immediately turns us over and begins working on the other side. I suspect it’s the same with life, once we sort things out in one area, we quickly become aware of something in another that needs improvement. By something in us changing everything else seems to come into another light and appears different. It’s the same with the world around us and the people in our lives too…nothing is permanent, nothing ever stays the same.

That’s why “The time to make up your mind about other people is never!” People change, nothing and no one stays exactly the same for ever. Nothing is permanent, the leopard is capable of changing his spots. Or at least from time to time, those spots appear to get re-arranged...

Nothing ever last forever...

In the Gospel of Thomas Jesus says, “If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you.”

These words have been singing a song in the ears of my heart for some time, there is real wisdom here. There have been times in my life when I have been afraid to bring forth what is within me and I have witnessed the same fear in others too. After all isn't it a little less scary  to receive our truth from elsewhere rather than to let it come forth from within ourselves:?

The key is openness, this I believe is the method for truth seeking and spiritual growth. It does not necessarily offer absolute truths, instead it shows a way that enables us to experience truth; a truth that will set us free. It will allow us to bring forth what is within us and by doing so we might just uncover what will save us from the delusion of what we think we know about ourselves, one another and life itself.

There is an ancient Chinese proverb that goes something like this: “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime” I suspect it’s the same with truth. Is it better to be given something that will feed us for a short time or is it better to be given a way that will enable us to keep on feeding ourselves and one another? Do we want to be given a fish that will fill our bellies for now or do we want to be given a method that will keep on feeding us; a method that will enable us to seek the truth that will set us free and continue to set us free?

Do we trust ourselves enough to seek out the truth and therefore to bring forth what is within us and allow this to keep on saving us from the delusion of permanence, that things will stay the same if we will them too? Or would we just rather stick with the safety of what we think we already know?

In John’s Gospel Jesus said “Ye shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free.” when I first read the piece of wisdom by DeMello at the beginning of this blogspot these words immediately sprang to mind. What I have discovered is that we are only truly set free by living in the truth. Not by accepting the truth we are given but by fishing for the truth and by seeing that some of the fish that we catch are of no use at least today and throwing them back. As DeMello taught if you want to be a seeker of truth then above everything else what you need is an unremitting readiness to admit that you may be wrong. Remember nothing is permanent especially not the truth. We cannot keep on living on the fish we caught in the past, we cannot live off them today.

The key I believe comes from trusting what we unearth, what we catch, whilst not putting a fence around what we see as the truth today; the key is an open attitude whether that’s in finding our own truth or in offering truth to another. Now the challenge of course comes in dwelling in the ambiguity of truth without becoming overwhelmed or paralysed by it; the challenge comes in maintaining a deep commitment to the  openness that truth seeking requires and not allowing ourselves to become closed down by what we think we know.

This is not for the faint hearted. This takes courage. This is not the easier path, but it is definitely the one worth taking, for it is the one that will set us free to dance the impermanence dance.

You know its ok to get it wrong to make mistakes. It’s ok to feel lost and confused about life at times. That is so human. There is something both glorious and beautiful in this.

If we want to be a seeker of truth then above everything else what we need is an unremitting readiness to admit that we may be wrong; wrong about how we view ourselves; wrong about how we view life; wrong about how we view other people.

This is a truth that can set us free, if we learn to live in the impermanence of what we think we know.

As Katherine Hepburn said in “The Philadelphia Story”

“The time to make up your mind about other people is never!”

I suspect that this applies to everything, especially truth. For the time to permanently make up our minds about truth is never.

If we keep on living faithfully, casting that fishing line of truth, it will continue to set us free.