Sunday, 21 January 2018

The Wisdom of Winter & Ecclesiastes

“Ice Sculpture”

A Norwegian artist loved to make ice sculptures. When winter came he would travel to the Artic north and camp in a shack beside the frozen river. He would hack slabs of ice from the river and carve them into beautiful shapes.

People soon heard about his work and came from far and wide to see these sculptures.

“Doesn’t it sadden you”, they asked, “that, as soon as the spring thaw begins, your art will vanish back into the river?”

“Not at all”, he replied, “for this is our life. For a brief time we take material form, and have a unique opportunity to express something of the nature of the spirit within us. If we express that spirit truthfully and honestly, others will find inspiration from it. And then, when the time is right, we return peacefully to the river, and all is well.

by Margaret Silf

Last Monday, the 15th of January was a special day in the yearly calendar, did you mark it? In the USA it was a public holiday, Martin Luther King Day. A day when people remember the sacrifice he offered and the service he gave with his life and death. Now while it is a public holiday, it is a day that is not meant to be of rest, but a day of service. The idea is to follow the great man’s example and to be of service to the wider community.

Now while this is a special day, it is not the one we were supposed to mark here in the UK. Last Monday was “Blue Monday.” It is regarded as the hardest day of the year, the Christmas spirit has all gone, our bank accounts are empty and we are right in depths of winter. It is dark, it is cold and there is little light around, Spring seems so far away. There will not be another public holiday until Easter and that seems a long way away too. I am told that it began as a clever marketing ploy by a holiday company to encourage people to book a holiday in sun. I don't know if this true or not, but I do know that several of my friends are jetting off for a week in the sun this week. People will do anything to escape the cold and the dark of winter.

The day light hours will increase over the coming weeks but still we must face winter. January and February can be difficult as we feel stuck in the cold on these dark winter evenings.



Winter is not an easy time, so many of us want it over as soon as possible. We want spring and the new birth and life that it brings, but that is not the way to live and we know it. To live, always looking towards the spring yet to come, is to fail to fully experience what is present now. There is such richness in the dark cold of winter and we need to feel it and allow our eyes to adjust to the darkness. There is a beautiful wonder about winter that we would do well to embrace. There is a need to embrace and fully experience the darkness, the lifelessness and the starkness of this time of year. We should not wish it all away, for everything there is a season and a time for everything under the sun. We need winter, as hard it feels. All things need to properly come to an end in order for what is new to truly come to fruition. The beauty and the meaning of life comes in its finiteness.

Whenever I look at the winter world it looks barren and bleak. It looks bare as I look out there.

I was staring at a barren tree the other day. It looked vulnerable just standing there all alone and yet I knew it was alive as it stood there bold and upright. It reminded me of my own vulnerability and my exposure to the cold of winter and to the challenges of life, challenges I do not shrink from, even though I do from time to time feel tempted.

Like everyone I want to feel safe, protected and warm, not cold, exposed and vulnerable. It is a refuge that we all seek, often something that folk seek and believe they will find in religion and spirituality. This sense that we are protected and safe, but is it realistic? So often we seek protection from the troubles of life, from its winter. If life has taught me anything it has shown me that the insulation I often seek so easily becomes isolation. These attempts to protect myself from exposure only increase the suffering. If I have learnt anything in life it’s that self-protection just cuts you off and leaves you feeling all alone, once again.

One of the advantages of ministry is that it really forces you to pay attention to the passing seasons. By doing so you learn to appreciate what each has to offer. Winter has so much to offer if we would but let ourselves appreciate it I think the trees in winter have much to teach we who would prefer to hibernate. If I have learnt anything I have learnt that the spiritual life is about living openly and vulnerably, it’s about accepting the reality of life. It’s about standing their upright, arms outstretch in the cold vulnerability of life waiting for the time of re-birth and renewal in whatever form this takes, just like the trees in winter.



The spiritual life teaches me not to cling to things, but to let life flow freely through me. The power of our finite lives is in the impermanence. Thus giving us a time for everything under the sun, including death. The power and beauty of our lives comes in its finiteness. Nothing ever lasts forever. That said although our lives and the lives of our loved ones someday come to an end, life does go on and love does indeed remain. To quote Ecclesiastes 1 v 4 “Generations come and generations go, but the earth abides forever”

For everything there is a season. Winter is the most difficult in many ways. This winter has been a challenge for me as a minister, the demands are greater than ever and there is much heart ache within both congregations I serve, many are seriously ill. For some this will be the final year of life.

The wisdom contained within the book Ecclesiastes, particularly the well known  verses from the third chapter, has stood the test of time. There is good reason for this; it speaks an eternal and universal truth that generation after generation have found that they can relate to. The power of this ancient source lays in its ability to link we who live today with the generations that have walked the earth before us. We all of us have travelled many and varied journeys and lived through all the seasons of life. Nothing is permanent and nothing lasts forever. No one will ever escape the pain of life, but that ought not bring despair because if we remain open we will also know life’s joy. Yes there is a time to mourn, but there is also a time to dance; there is a time to weep, but there is also a time to laugh.



“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.”There are many seasons in our lives, just as there are many different emotions. Yes sometimes we can experience all those emotions in one single day, just as we can experience four seasons in one day. There is a time and perhaps a place for all them, for to diminish any of them is deny what it is to be fully human. Yes there is a time to weep, just as there is a time to laugh and there is a time to mourn, just as much as there is a time to dance.

I have wept several times this last week and have held others in their suffering too, that said I have also laughed many times, I have seen joy and I have seen how life continues on. Again to repeat Ecclesiastes 1 v 4 “Generations come and generations go, but the earth abides forever”

It is the realness of Ecclesiastes that really speaks to me, it reveals and authentic truth. I have a growing love for Ecclesiastes. I love it because it is real, it is authentic. Like the changing seasons life is forever changing, it is impermanent, nothing last forever. As Rami Shapiro writes of its wisdom:

"The world revealed in Ecclesiastes is an impermanent world of continual emptying. Ecclesiastes calls this hevel. Trying to grasp something in this world, trying to hold on to anything in this world, leaves you breathless, exhausted, and anxious. This impermanence is the nature of nature, and because this is so, the world lacks surety and certainty; change and the unknowing that change carries with it are the hallmarks of life. In Ecclesiastes you spend no time longing for escape from impermanence, but rather learn to live well in the midst of it. This is what the Book of Ecclesiastes wants to tell us. This is why it was written. This is why it is still read some twenty-five hundred years later."

Eccleciates teaches me what it means to live authentically and truly religiously. That said it is a religion that is not pointing to Salvation beyond this life, but in this life. This to me is the essence of my Unitarian faith. It is not pointing to something beyond this life, but within this life. Which you can only truly experience by letting go of control and allow life to have its way with you, every season of life and every feeling of life. In so doing you will live the life you have been given, the ultimate gift, the ultimate grace.

Last Monday was meant to be the most miserable day of the year, Blue Monday. I didn’t feel that myself. Yes there was pain and suffering present in my life and certainly in those around me. I have been with many people experiencing the most difficult kinds of suffering. There is much pain in those I hold dearly to my heart too. I also relive my own grief and suffering when I am with others going through the same pain. Whenever I walk into a hospital ward I do relive those times I have gone to be those I love the most those whose lives are coming to end or have already ended. That pain is the price I pay for daring to love, a pearl of the greatest price. It is the refusal to close myself to this pain that allows me to do the things I am here to do. It gives me meaning even in the most painful suffering.

“Generations come and generations go, but the earth abides forever” So does love. Something beautiful remains. I’ve been thinking all week about the legacy of Dr King and his view of religion of the creation of the beloved community. He knew intense suffering but never lost faith in the power of love to always overcome. He spoke about building the kingdom now. This is faith that I can believe in and it’s something I and all of us can be responsible for. We cannot escape the suffering in life. We cannot cling to anything even those things and those people we love the most. The generations come and the generations go, just as the seasons do also. That said we can plant seeds of love right here right now. We can walk side by side with one another, we can hold each other and bear witness to one another’s tears. We can also laugh and dance and make merry even in the midst of real suffering too. We can live our lives fully regardless of how many seasons we have left. And when the time comes we can let go of our lives with dignity and grace.


Remembering always that while our individual lives come and go, just like the seasons, both the earth and love abides forever.

I'm going to end this "blogspot" with the following inspired by a verse I have reapeted from Ecclesiastes 1 vv 4 “Generations come and generations go, but the earth abides forever”

“The Earth Abides Forever” by Richard S Gilbert

The seasons come and the seasons go,
But the earth abides forever.
The cold-whetted wind blew autumn from my mind,
The white snow whipped across my landscape
And reminded me of the changing seasons.

Another transition, paying no attention to the calendars,
Simply doing what it had to do to follow Nature’s law.
The seasons are capricious here;
They come and go without warning;
They flaunt our human artifacts and devices;
They remind us of our finitude
And call to mind our dependence.

There is a strange beauty in their passing,
Something mysterious in the subtle or not so subtle
Changing of the guard.
The seasons seem indifferent to us
Who, after all, are in charge here, aren’t we?
They act as if they do not need our permission to be or not to be.

It is a humbling reminder of irresistible forces
Meeting immovable objects
With inexorable persistence.
And we, with our little lives, tossed into his playground of Nature,
Strutting importantly about our business,
Try to learn to play our small part within the larger drama
In which we find ourselves.
The seasons come and the seasons go.
So do we
But the earth abides forever..


Sunday, 14 January 2018

Guilt and shame are not the same

I recently came accross the following by Richard Gilbert...It oh so got to the heart of me...

“To Savor the World or Save It” By Richard S. Gilbert

“It’s hard to know when to respond to the seductiveness of the world and when to respond to its challenge. If the world were merely seductive, that would be easy. If it were merely challenging, that would be no problem. But I arise in the morning torn between the desire to improve the world and a desire to enjoy the world. This makes it hard to plan the day.”
—E.B. White

I rise in the morning torn between the desire
To save the world or to savor it—to serve life or to enjoy it;
To savor the sweet taste of my own joy
Or to share the bitter cup of my neighbor;
To celebrate life with exuberant step
Or to struggle for the life of the heavy laden.
What am I to do when the guilt at my bounty
Clouds the sky of my vision;
When the glow which lights my every day
Illumines the hurting world around me?
To savor the world or save it?
God of justice, if such there be,
Take from me the burden of my question.
Let me praise my plenitude without limit;
Let me cast from my eyes all troubled folk!
No, you will not let me be. You will not stop my ears
To the cries of the hurt and the hungry;
You will not close my eyes to the sight of the afflicted.
What is that you say?
To save, one must serve?
To savor, one must save?

The one will not stand without the other?
Forgive me—in my preoccupation with myself,
In my concern for my own life
I had forgotten.
Forgive me, God of justice,
Forgive me, and make me whole.

,,,Beautiful and powerful don't you think...

I have often said how much I dislike the phrase “there are two types of people in the world.” and usually respond that there is only one type of person. Now I’ve recently been questioning my conclusion. I have noticed that in one area of life there may well be two types of people… Those who arrive early for things and those who are always late.

Which one are you?

...I am of course not being serious here, there is ony one type of person in this world, we are one human family...

I hate being late. Now some might say that this is a good quality, that I am being considerate. To some degree this is true, but not entirely. The truth is I don’t like creating unnecessary anxiety, also I want to avoid criticism at all costs.

I live an extremely busy life, so I do my utmost to always give myself time to get to things and not to have to rush around at the last minute. I admit that to some degree this is fear based. I just don’t like that look from others when I am late and I will do many things to ensure I am not so.

Now there was a lovely little example of this on Monday afternoon at the gym. I had arrived in plenty of time for my session with Chris my personal trainer. I’d done my half an hour of cardiovascular and then had a few minutes to relax and stretch before my session began. I was about to begin stretching when I saw a friend and went over to say hello and got into a conversation. The conversation went on and Chris skipped along. I saw him and thought it is two o’clock, I’ve got to end this conversation, I don’t want to be late. I managed to bring the conversation to an end, which I felt some guilt in doing and went over to Chris to begin my session. I apologised for being a couple of minutes late. He smiled and said “oh don’t worry I’m always rushing not to be late. I always feel a little guilt when I see you waiting here for me every time, I’m always on the last minute and you are always early.” I smiled and said “Oh I hate being late”. I then said “I often make that impression on people, they feel guilty around me, it’s one of the perils of the job.” I smiled about it for most of the day.

That said anyone who really knows me should never feel guilty around me, I am as human as the next person. I’m as perfectly imperfect as everyone else.

Guilt in an interesting feeling. It can be positive, as a barometer to keep one aiming for our highest ideals, which everyone falls short of. That said there are other forms of guilt that are very negative and unhelpful. Such feelings come from a sense that there is something fundamentally wrong with our human being, it comes from a sense of shame. This is unhealthy and unhelpful, for no matter how well you do or what you do you will always feel bad about your very human being, if you live with a sense of shame.

As I look at my own guilt I can see that I have suffered from both types. For most of my life it was shame based and I know that it led me to doing more harm than I ever intended to as it stopped me doing the things I needed to do. These days most of my guilt is a guiding barometer, but not all of it, I do acknowledge that some of that fear of being late is based on a need of others to see mr as being good enough.

This is not necessarily a bad thing by the way. It keeps me grounded. For it reminds me I am no better than anyone else. It has certainly saved me from becoming sanctimonious. Not a good quality, especially in a minister.

Guilt is a common feeling for most ministers. We rarely feel that we are doing a good enough job, we wish we could do more. I have never been busier than I have been these last few weeks and yet I’ve felt I’ve not done enough. Crazy I know, but true. Now is that coming from healthy and unhealthy guilt? Probably a mixture of the two.

I have felt these feelings often when being around those suffering and their loved ones. I feel it around family and friends too, particularly old friends. I wish I had more time for them. I feel it too sometimes when in a joyful state, when I feel so much joy at simply being alive. When I see others suffering and struggling, there is a part of me that feels bad. I also experience some survivor’s guilt too, with my fellows in recovery and when I think of friends and loved ones that have died far too soon. I then feel a little bad for feeling guilty about feeling joyful.

It is crazy isn’t it, but oh so very human. I don’t think I’m alone in these feelings. It does suggest I’m not some kind of psychopath, which I am pleased about. No I’m a human being who experiences the same emotions and feelings as everyone else. Thank God.

Guilt comes in many forms, helpful and unhelpful. To feel remorseful after saying or doing the wrong thing, is healthy. It compels us to do what we can to put things right. That said if this feeling lingers even after putting right what was wrong, if we dwell and beat ourselves up for unskilful action or word, then this form of guilt is coming from another place, from this sense that fundamentally there is something wrong with us.

I suspect that the key is where the guilt comes from. Does it come as a result of our actions, thoughts and or words or is it a feeling that comes from some other place and almost dictates our thoughts, feelings, words and actions and regardless of these things we just feel bad.

Where does this feeling of being wrong come from? Why does it control so many of our lives?

Now in our culture some put it down to our Judea Christian heritage, the core of our culture, even in these secular times. Often folks who grew up in deeply religious homes will argue about who feels the most guilt. Now although the Judeo-Christian tradition seems to be seeped in guilt, I understand that the guilt that the Bible speaks of is guilt as it is commonly understood, this sense of guilt. As Mark Belletini points out in “Nothing Gold Can Stay: The Colours of Grief”

“…I confess to being surprised that the word guilt itself, as in the feeling of guilt, is not found any place in either the Jewish or the Christian testaments. Not once. The few times the English word can be found in more antique translations, it refers only to the kind of “guilty” that courts speak about, which is not a feeling so much as a legal category.

I am convinced that families of origin, cultural and ethnic patterns, and categorical realities play a far greater role in how much guilt we feel than does religion. I certainly have known folks raised without religion of any kind – including the “shopping mall spirituality” created by cultus consumerism – who have struggled with guilt as much as anyone raised in a particular denomination of religion, Western or Eastern.”

The feelings of guilt coms from a place within us. When it is in appropriate proportion it is a good thing. It connects us to one another and to life, it keeps us humble and therefore human and saves us from the dangers of destructive hubris. Such guilt is a function of conscience. This is key to my understanding of my faith as a Unitarian, this concept of living revelation that is an aspect of my humanity, if I can tap into it and allow it to lead me. When I do I see this same spark in others too. You see in opening myself to the divine spark within me I open myself to that same spark in everyone and everything. This is key to my understanding of religion, my attempts to live my life in the company of others and through which I attempt to shape an ideal that I strive for, but suspect I will never attain. I always fall short of this ideal, in this sense I sin (from sinare which meant to fall short of the mark). This though is not original sin, it is actually more original blessing. I feel guilt, appropriate guilt, because I fall short of the mark, although I do at times feel shame too, in doing so I deny my true nature. I also occasionally fall short in shaming others too, something I strive not to do. I sometimes fail to recognise the divinity in my brothers and sisters, but hey these short comings save me from becoming too pious and separating myself from these very same brothers and sisters.

Now Shame is something else. Shame is destructive and it keeps us separate from ourselves and one another. Shame is not formed from our actions or inactions, but from some other place in our being. It’s that place that people have tapped into throughout human history. Yes religion has used this, the classic example being the concept of Original Sin, but then so has the secular world. Advertising is the classic example it’s how they sell lifestyles to us and it’s how they get so many of us to feel we have to change who we just to be acceptable. How many people suffer from a sense that there is something fundamentally wrong with them? I know it’s crippled me over the years. Thankfully it does so less and less as I grow faithfully.

When I look myself in the eye these days what I see is a man who gets things wrong from time to time and I feel appropriate guilt for this. This enables me to act in the world positively. Yes I wish I could do more, but hey I am only human. I feel less shame about my being, but I must confess that I am not completely free of this. There is a part of me that is ok with this. Why? Well because it keeps me grounded, for I know that every single one of us is still living with these feelings.

When you look at yourself in the eye, what do you see? Do you a decent person who makes mistakes? Or do you see someone who is fundamentally wrong to the core.

It matters you know, it really does. For it will affect how you interact with the world and how the world interacts with you.

I’m going to end this "chip" of a "blogspot" with a bit of Mary Oliver, her classic poem “Wild Geese”

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.


You might also find this lovely bit iof wisdom from Brene Brown helpful


Sunday, 7 January 2018

Give Yourself Away

...This little "blogspot" begins with this beautiful piece of wisdom...

Parker J Palmer Reflecting of “Sabbath’s” by Wendell Berry taken from “On Being”

One of my favourite poets is Wendell Berry the following is often seen as a poem about death and dying but really it is about generosity the most living giving of all virtues. “Sabbaths” by Wendell Berry

Sabbaths – 1993, I

No, no, there is no going back.
Less and less you are
that possibility you were.
More and more you have become
those lives and deaths
that have belonged to you.
You have become a sort of grave
containing much that was
and is no more in time, beloved
then, now, and always.
And you have become a sort of tree
standing over a grave.
Now more than ever you can be
generous toward each day
that comes, young, to disappear
forever, and yet remain
unaging in the mind.
Every day you have less reason
not to give yourself away.

Generosity does not require material abundance. When I think back on the many people who have been so generous toward me, I never think of money or “things.” Instead, I think of the way they gave me their presence, their confidence, their affirmation, support, and blessing — all gifts of “self” that any of us can give.

And where does generosity come from? Perhaps from another life-giving virtue, the one called gratitude. When I take the time to breathe in my life and breathe out my gratitude for the gifts I’ve been given, only one question arises: “How can I keep these gifts alive?”

I know only one answer: “Become a giver yourself, pass your gifts along, and do it extravagantly!” As Wendell Berry “Every day you have less reason/not to give yourself away.”

...I do love Parker J Palmer, he speaks to the soul of me. I love the way he brings Wendell Berry's words to life...

When I awoke on Monday morning, the start of not only a new week, but also a new year, I should have been tired. By rights I should have been utterly exhausted, I certainly expected be so.

Now don’t get me wrong I didn’t leap out of bed, I simply rose into the day. That said I felt so alive. Why was this? By rights I should have been exhausted. I had certainly felt that way for a few days leading up to the New Year. I don’t think I’ve been busier than I have been this last month, so many demands, that I have mainly fulfilled and cheerfully. I’ve got a busy few weeks ahead, this week has been very full too.

Last Sunday began early at about 6.30am and it didn’t end until gone 2am, early New Year’s morning. I had led worship at both of the congregations I serve in the morning as well as other pastoral duties and then hosted a New Years Social and Watch Night service. It’s been full on for weeks, I’ve been giving myself away and its felt like I’ve been running on empty. So by rights, by all reason I ought to have awoken on Monday morning, have begun the New Year, exhausted and utterly empty. 

Several people had said to me these last few weeks, “Don’t give too much of yourself away.” I was thinking about this last Saturday evening as I felt utterly exhausted and knew that the next day was going to be a challenge. I would be spending the best part of 24 hours holding the space for others. I wondered, would I be up to it. I spent time in prayer and meditation, preparing myself, emptying my mind and filling my heart.

I’ve heard this phrase a lot over the years “Don’t give yourself away.” I question it, I'm not convinced it is helpful, if anything all it does is restrict life, reduce experience and keeps one lonely and isolated. I think the reason I felt so alive on News Years morning is that I had indeed been giving myself away and I’d been sharing in the company of so many other people who had also been giving themselves away. People simply coming together in love, with hearts burst open. On Monday morning my head felt completely clear and at peace, my heart was burst to overflowing and the soul of me had never felt more alive. I had spent so much time in intimate, spiritual community. I was experiencing, what I call true, free and loving religion. Religion as it is meant to be.

I’ve been thinking of Wendell Berry’s poem “Sabbath’s and Parker J Palmer's reflection on it, these last few days. I had shared it during the “Watch Night” service I had led. Like Palmer highlights it is the poem's ending that really gets into the heart of me and I know it got to others too, during the service. “Every day you have less reason not to give yourself away.”

I have learnt that if you truly want to know yourself, this is how you do it. This is how you will find yourself, how to know love, how your very being gets transformed and you become who you truly are, by giving yourself away. By pouring your heart out, you fill it with love and your mind and spirit know peace. This is the purpose of the religious life of living in true intimate spiritual community. You cannot experience this if you practise your spirituality in isolation. This is what I have experienced even more deeply this last month.

Religion gets a very bad name these days and rightly so, as for too long it has been about control and dogma, but that is not really its purpose, not in it truest sense. I think the core of religion is self transcendence, t is about giving yourself away and in so doing you actually not only find yourself, but become who you truly are.

This brings to mind a favourite quotation on the purpose of true religion, by Karen Armstrong:

“Religion is not about accepting twenty impossible propositions before breakfast, but about doing things that change you. It is a moral aesthetic, an ethical alchemy. If you behave in a certain way, you will be transformed.” When we dare to move beyond the known patterns and perceptions of our lives, letting the alchemy of love, listening and justice do its work, then we will be more than changed. The base metals of our lives will be transformed into something precious and flourishing. This is the purpose of religion, and the meaning of a religious life: to be transformed."

These thoughts about the true nature of religious living were passing through my being as I reflected on the recent weeks of my life and the people I have shared this time with. I see so many gorgeous examples of this transformation in them. Just beautiful!

Again as Wendell Berry wrote “Every day you have less reason not to give yourself away.”

This is about living generously. My word I have witnessed this a lot this in the ordinary people I share my life with. I’m not talking about on the big global scale, I’m talking about the communities that intersect my life. When I look at the big picture, on the news screens, what I see is selfishness and greed and yet when I look at the people around me, what I witness is people being generous, people giving themselves away. It fills my heart. By the way I'm not saying that this is all that is there, no just what is reported. They only tell us about the bad news, so rarely do we hear good news. Look around you, it is there.

As Parker J Palmer has pointed out generosity does not require material abundance. When I look at the people I have been around in recent weeks, what I have witnessed is generosity of spirit, generosity of time and generosity of heart. I’ve witnessed it every time I’ve been visiting in hospital as I have looked at the people all around me. I have witnessed people giving their time, their support, their open hearted presence, their hope even in the suffering of their loved ones. These are our gifts of the self. This is how we bring that divine love alive. This is the alchemy that transforms life. This is the heart of true religion. This is gratitude in action, this is living with gratitude, this is abundance, extravagance, this is God incarnating in out ordinary human lives.

Sadly too often we are afraid to do this. In fact we are told over and over again “Don’t give yourself away.”

Why?

What are we so afraid?

No! Times is passing by, it is short “Everyday day you have less reason not to give yourself away.”

It’s that simply really and yet at times it seems so complicated. This is the transformative nature of the religious life. It comes alive, as we come alive when we give ourselves away.

Another poem I’ve been thinking of a lot these last few days is “Accepting this “ by Mark Nepo

Yes, it is true. I confess,
I have thought great thoughts,
and sung great songs—all of it
rehearsal for the majesty
of being held.

The dream is awakened
when thinking I love you
and life begins
when saying I love you
and joy moves like blood
when embracing others with love.

My efforts now turn
from trying to outrun suffering
to accepting love wherever
I can find it.

Stripped of causes and plans
and things to strive for,
I have discovered everything
I could need or ask for
is right here—
in flawed abundance.

We cannot eliminate hunger,
but we can feed each other.

We cannot eliminate loneliness,
but we can hold each other.

We cannot eliminate pain,
but we can live a life
of compassion.

Ultimately,
we are small living things

awakened in the stream,
not gods who carve out rivers.

Like human fish,
we’re asked to experience
meaning in the life that moves
through the gill of our heart.

There is nothing to do
and nowhere to go.
Accepting this,
we can do everything
and go anywhere.

So many beautiful paradoxes in this poem that speak to me of what it means to live spiritually alive and in the company of others. I have witnessed and experienced so much of what it speaks of these last few weeks and it has filled my heart and humbled me. I have bared witness to how the spirit only comes alive in relation. That’s what the spiritual life is actually about you know, relationships. You cannot be a spiritual being, a living one at least in isolation. It only occurs truly in community, as messy as that can be. In so doing we may not transform the world, but we certainly transform ourselves, in that very relationship and this may just one day transform our shared world. I live in and through hope.

I’m going to end this little chip pof a "blogspot" with a confession. I hope you can forgive me. Life is an utter mystery to me. It just doesn’t make sense. I know my own life doesn’t. I don’t understand any of it, I just can’t make sense of it. Last Monday morning this didn't seem to bother me. My head was completely empty and my heart was full and I felt this incredible sense of belonging and well-being and pure love. I felt powerfully the presence of God and every person I looked at that day seemed to me to be made in that image. I felt this new sense of wanting to be a aprt of the love of this world, to be in relationship with it all.

If I know nothing else I know that every day I have less reason not to give myself away.

Maybe that is all I really need to know, maybe all I have to do is keep on remembering this and keep on giving myself away. The next time I forget, please remind me.



Sunday, 31 December 2017

Choose Life


Here we stand on the hinge of the year, New Year's Eve. Or as it is known in the Caribbean, “Old Year's Night”. Here standing at the end of one year and facing the new, we are offered an opportunity to await, to contemplate. No doubt we will spend time with friends, family, loved ones, or perhaps we prefer to be alone reflecting on the year of life that has now gone. I will joun with friends and community at our social and “Watch Night” service. A tradition I love more as the years go by.

No doubt we will all have experienced so much of the blessings and the curses of life this year. How has it been? What are the lessons this year of life has taught you? Whatever it has meant, whatever it has brought, it matters. For everything matters, every thought, every feeling, every word, every action, everything we do and do not do. So let’s remember the year now gone with gratitude, even if it has been a challenge and let us make of it all that we can. Let us make our meaning of this year in how we live this next year as we once again enter into another 365 new days of the book of life. Remember life itself is the ultimate grace, the ultimate free gift, for we did nothing to be given it. Life is the greatest free gift of them all.

Tomorrow is New Year’s Day, a time for new beginnings, a time for hope of what might be as we step forward into another year of life, a time to journey on in life. A time to once again experience both the blessings and curses of “Choosing Life”.

This brings to mind the journey that the Israelites took to the Promised Land. In Deuteronomy 30 vv 11-19 Moses speaks to the people on his 120thbirthday. God had just informed him that he would not enter the Promised Land, after fourty years in the widerness, with the people he had led out of exile.

As they reach the Promised Land the people gathered to receive Moses’ final blessing. And what does he say? He tells them that they must “choose life.” They are told that in order to keep the freedom that they have been given they must make thoughtful choices about their lives. I am sure that this must have been scary for them, for after all they were frightened of their freedom. Throughout their time in exile whenever they were given freedom they did not want it, they hoped that someone would make their decisions for them. Again this is such a universal predicament, it echoes through the ages. How often do we wish that someone would make our decisions for us? Wouldn’t that make life easier? But we must make the decisions, we must live our lives. We will make mistakes. I have made many this year, but we will also get much right. It’s what we do with what has been in the coming year that really matters.

Now "Choose Life" is a phrase that has seeped into public consciousness on at least two occasion over the last 30 years. Two places that would at first glance seem highly unlikely.

One was in a "Wham" pop video to the song "Wake me up before you go-go". I feel fairly confident in claiming that George Michael, Andrew Ridgley and Pepsi & Shirley didn't know they were quoting Moses when they were dancing along to this song.



It is also the inspiration for a poem by John Hodge that was spoken by Ewan McGregor to the tune for "Lust For Life" by Iggy Pop for the trailer to the film "Trainspotting". A film that is definitely not about "choosing Life", as it’s a film about heroin addiction. Addiction is the ultimate rejection of life



In “Choosing Life” we choose all of life, blessings and curses. We do not get one without the other, but we do get life, the ultimate free gift. The biggest mistake we ever make in living is that we wish so much of our lives away, we dream of some other place, a heaven, a nirvana, an Oz, Ithaka. Perhaps heaven, Nirvana, the Promised Land, Ithaka is actually the life that we have now, the kingdom is now, perhaps the true gift is life itself, the beautiful journey. It truly matters, every breath really matters.

This brings to mind that rather beautiful poem “Ithaka” by Constantine Cavafy.

"Ithaka" by C.P. Cavafy

As you set out for Ithaka
hope your road is a long one,
full of adventure, full of discovery.
Laistrygonians, Cyclops,
angry Poseidon—don’t be afraid of them:
you’ll never find things like that on your way
as long as you keep your thoughts raised high,
as long as a rare excitement
stirs your spirit and your body.
Laistrygonians, Cyclops,
wild Poseidon—you won’t encounter them
unless you bring them along inside your soul,
unless your soul sets them up in front of you.

Hope your road is a long one.
May there be many summer mornings when,
with what pleasure, what joy,
you enter harbors you’re seeing for the first time;
may you stop at Phoenician trading stations
to buy fine things,
mother of pearl and coral, amber and ebony,
sensual perfume of every kind—
as many sensual perfumes as you can;
and may you visit many Egyptian cities
to learn and go on learning from their scholars.

Keep Ithaka always in your mind.
Arriving there is what you’re destined for.
But don’t hurry the journey at all.
Better if it lasts for years,
so you’re old by the time you reach the island,
wealthy with all you’ve gained on the way,
not expecting Ithaka to make you rich.

Ithaka gave you the marvelous journey.
Without her you wouldn't have set out.
She has nothing left to give you now.

And if you find her poor, Ithaka won’t have fooled you.
Wise as you will have become, so full of experience,
you’ll have understood by then what these Ithakas mean.


How often have we heard the phrase “Life is a journey”? Sometimes beautiful; sometimes frightening!

For all of us at times just to simply step out into the world takes all the courage we can muster. Choosing life is not always easy. Past experiences can often stop us dead in our tracks. Fear can block our attempts to step out into the world and back into the adventure of life with all its many challenges. Fear is always present to stop us to block us along the way.

What is it that calls us on, what is our Ithaka? Ithaka though is not about the destination itself, but the journey that comes with living life. Just like Moses none of us gets to truly reach the destination that is the Promised Land, for it is not a geographical location but the adventure of life itself. This is the gift, the pearl of great price, the kingdom of love right here right now and what we do with it is what really matters, for everything matters. The meaning of our lives comes from what we do with the life we have been given, in all its blessings and curses.

So as we stand on the hinge of the year let us not do so in fear of what is to come, for the truth is not one of us can know. There will be much suffering for all of us, for that is part of life. That said there will also be much joy too. For some of us it may be our last year and for some that we know and love that will certainly be the case. Now while our actual lives may not end, perhaps some aspect will. We should not fear this, for every ending is a new beginning.

So let us step forward in Hope, of what might be, of what we might make of the year ahead. Let’s make the meaning of the year that has passed with the way we live the year ahead

So let us step forward into this threshold moment that is New Eve or Old Years Night, let us do so in love. Let’s end in love and let’s begin again in love.

We have before us life, blessing and curses, suffering and joy, the beautiful journey, for life itself is the Promised Land, the ultimate free gift, the ultimate Grace. Let’s choose life.

I will end thid "blogspot"with some words of beginning by Edward Searl

Always there is a beginning —
a new day,
a new month,
a new season,
a new year.

Forever the old passes away
and newness emerges
from the richness that was.

Nothing is ever lost
in the many changes
time brings.

What was, in some way,
will be,
though changed in form.

Know this:
This moment is a beginning; 
and your lives,
individually and together,
are full of richness, of freshness,
of hope and of promise.

From “We Pledge Our Hearts” by Edward Searl



Sunday, 10 December 2017

Becoming The Gift We Have All Been Waiting For

We are now fully into the Advent Season, the days that lead to Christmas Day. These are the days of waiting of preparation. The music is playing, we can hear all the familiar songs in every shop as we no doubt begin the process of selecting presents for our loved ones.

Have you done all your shopping yet? I’ve not even begun. I will soon, but not just yet. I’ve got too much to do.

Gifts of course come in many forms. Not all are wrapped in paper and tied up in ribbons. Some come in other forms, some wrapped in flesh, human flesh. I remember at primary school once being asked what was my favourite Christmas present had been, to which my answer was “Our Natalie”, my youngest sister had just been born a few days before Christmas. Her life has proved to be a wonderful blessing, even if she is a little too well named. Our Natalie never stops nattering. That said she is a gift beyond gifts.

When I look back at my life I have known some wonderful gifts in human form. Some of whom I have known for only a short time and others all my life. I’ve been thinking of these folk quite a lot these last few days. While I may not carry those people with me physically, their love is tied up in my heart. I do not forget these things, in fact in many ways my life is an act of remembrance of the love they gave, and certainly my ministry is.

Last week an old friend, someone who I have begun to see a little of once again in recent times, reminded me of a book I had given him as a gift 12 Christmases ago. He told me he had been re-reading it in recent weeks and reminded me of an inscription I had written in it, some simple words of gratitude, simply for being himself. He told me that reading it had led him on a path of spiritual discovery and wanted to thank me for it. I could have wept, I would have wept if I had not being in company. Now while this boy does cry, he rarely does so in the company of others, I am always the minister.

The conversation brought to mind another gift of a blessing that a dear friend gave me 11 months later, on the day my heart was broken, as I lost the most precious gift that ever entered my life, my friend Claire’s son Ethan, my Immanuel. The one who showed to me that God is indeed with us.

The day Ethan died I was utterly broken. I was alone with nowhere to go and ended up with friends from the Cross Street congregation, three in particular Alan Myerscough, Wynne Semeter and Peter Sampson. John Midgley had already come to the hospital and ministered to us as best he could. I will never forget what John gave that day, even though I have since learnt that he felt he let me down, nothing could be further from the truth. What I remember the most though about that day is a simple bowl of soup that Wynne warmed for me, sat me down and made me eat. It didn’t change anything about the hell I was in but the love warmed me physically, emotionally and spiritually. I felt God was with me, expressed in human form, incarnated in those around me. I also remember how much others were friends to me in the coming months, particularly my friend Derek.

The Christmas that followed was a hard for so many people, but in so many ways it was beautiful. A beautiful example of people coming together in love, a glimpse of the kingdom of love that I believe is at the core of the true Christmas message. It is certainly the message I read in Matthews Gospel, to me this is what it means to follow that yonder star the wise men from the east were seeking. I pay homage to those gifts of divine love that I have known in human form, that have blessed my life and shown to me that God is with us indeed.

Christmas is a time of celebration, of family and others coming together once again in love. It is a time when everything is heightened and illuminated. This can be difficult for some people, particularly Christmas Day. For some people who are not feeling so joyous, Christmas can actually increase those feelings of isolation and loss. As we sit round the Christmas dinner table we may notice not so much the ones that are there, but the ones who are not there. Often those we have lost due to death’s dark shadow, but also those who are not there due irreconcilable differences. I notice the empty chairs around my own family’s table. I always have done. I fully feel the joy of the day, but also its sadness.

Yes Christmas can be hard for some people. We need to remember this as we engage in our joy. And if we really want to bring the love at the centre of the season to life, we ought to perhaps think of ways in which we can bring a bit of love into their lives. One simple act of love can change a person’s life for ever. It certainly has mine.

There is a tradition that has developed in recent years that has begun to recognise that Christmas has its shadow side as well as its light. Many places of worship now conduct what are called “Blue Christmas” services. They are held at this time of the year for those who have lost a loved one during the year, or who are remembering losses from previous years.

Grief can sting more sharply at this time of the year because such feelings stand in contrast to what is the ideal of this Christmas season, namely, a time of the fullness of the heart, a time when one is united to all that one loves.

Christmas is about the heart, the ties of the heart, the loves of the heart, the dreams of the heart, the yearnings and longings of the heart. At Christmas we are called to concentrate on the heart; we are called to concentrate on what the heart wants, what it needs, and how it calls us to live. This is not easy if your heart is broken by grief.

By the way grief may not be the loss of person to death, it may be the end of a relationship, or the loss of livelihood and or health.

Sometimes the light of Christmas can illuminate this suffering in our hearts and lives. This can make the lives of some appear more dark and dreary as we are burdened with the memory of too many failures, too many defeats, too much sorrow. Sometimes loneliness, fear, selfishness, discouragement, and resentment turn the bells of Christmas into bitter mockery.

We need to remember this in this season of the heart. Such people need to gift at the heart of this season more than others.

So what can we do?

Well we can give the greatest gift of the season, we can give our heart. How do we do this by giving just a little bit of time and attention to someone who really needs it. In so doing we will truly begin to sanctify this season by giving one another perhaps the greatest present of them all, our true presence. A pearl of great price, a gift beyond material value. The most priceless commodity of them all.

Do you know what we can all bring the spirit of Christmas alive in our hearts and lives. It’s quite simple really, it is not even difficult. Anyone of us can do it. All it requires us to do is to open our hearts, to become the gift that we have all been waiting for. How do we begin? Well again that is quite simple too. All that we have to do is look all around us, in our own families and our own communities. You don’t need to look above to find the star to follow, you just need to look around, find the need around you and invite those suffering around you into your hearts and lives. Unwrap the greatest gift you have been given, your own heart. Become a memory that may change someone’s life forever. You have that power within you. Go use it.

This will be my focus this season, I invite you to come and join with me,  in this giving of our true presence, the ultimate present. To open our hearts to those around us. To pay attention to those close at hand. To bring the heart of Christmas alive, to incarnate love in our own lives. To become one another’s Immanuel’s, to show that God is indeed with us.

It really is that simple. We can bring the spirit of the season alive once again. We can bring Christmas alive in the presence of each and every day. We can become the greatest gift that anyone could wish for.

We no longer have to wish it could be Christmas every day, we can make it Christmas every day. By simply blessing each day with our presence, by giving our whole hearts to those who really need it.

Sunday, 3 December 2017

Advent: In a Dark Time the Eyes Begin to See

Twice a week I sit in shared meditation, in the dark, with friends. The silence is lit by three simple candles. One of the things I love about the time, early in the morning, is that during the weeks of November and December we begin in darkness, as the silence ends we remain in the dark and then as we share where we are personally at spiritually the sun rises and the day begins. At the end of the hour our space is fully lit by sunlit. I love this time and space as we move from darkness, to half-light, to full light. It is a gentle transition from one spiritual space into another, without physically moving.

There is another time in the week when I do something similar, only it ends very differently. There is not the same transition from darkness into light. As the time ends the lights are switched on and I find the transition from darkness to light, a little shocking. There is no in-between space as we move suddenly from darkness into bright, shocking neon light.

We are approaching the darkest time of the year as we head towards the Winter Solstice, closely followed by the coming of the light that is Christmas. Today is Advent Sunday, the day that marks the beginning of the days leading to the coming of the new light, that is Christmas.

Advent is a time for waiting, a time of preparation. A time set aside to wait for the “coming” of Love in human form symbolised in the birth of the Christ child. A promise of what love can become if we let it grow and nurture in our hearts and lives. For every new life is the gift of promise and possibility. A gift of possibility that can be reborn in each of our lives if we allow it to be.

Advent is a season of preparation and it cannot be rushed. It requires patience. We cannot wish the days away, we cannot wish the winter away. We have to wait patiently, but not passively. We have to adjust ourselves to the coming light. If it was to come all at once, it would be too much for us. Let us not wish away the darkness of winter and look forward too desperately to the future, for what is yet to come. Let us adjust to the limited light we have been given, just enough to take the next step.

We impatient people, we who live by neon light and instant gratification do not like the dark and certainly know little about patience, about waiting. If you don’t believe me just watch yourself the next time your computer freezes when you’re trying to watch a clip on YouTube. We want it all and we want it now. We also want it all in bright lights, with bells on. We certainly don’t want to have to go through the hardships to take us there.

Yes Advent is about the coming of the light, but not something sudden and dazzling, more a journey from darkness into natural light. This is the classic spiritual journey. This is the beauty of the holy month of December. I experience this powerfully in that dark silky silence of early morning, when the frosty winds make all moan. I revere this dark, cold, humbling time that leads to the coming of the light. I have noticed these last few years that if I don’t rush and push my way through this time, If I allow myself to savour it, something shifts deep within me if I allow myself to truly embrace the darkness. Somewhere between Solstice and New Year, probably on Christmas Day, some new light comes into my vision, but not suddenly. Like most good things in life, slowly it rises. It is coming. This is Advent, the coming of the new light. If we allow it to it will work its magic and something new will grow within each and every one of us.

We are afraid of the dark though aren’t we. We want to rush through these weeks and force the light, we people born in neon times. We impatient and expectant folk. The truth is though that in order for us to truly appreciate the light we must first know the dark. Brings to mind those beautiful words from Isaiah chapter 9 verse 2 “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness-on them light shines.”

Now of course the very same light shines on us all, it’s just that we don’t always notice it. We only really notice it when we are in the deep darkness. I saw a beautiful example of this during the last singing meditation I experienced. I always light a hundred candles as we sit together in the dark. The candles are meant to light what we are engaging in, to allow those present to read the words we sing around. Now usually I leave the kitchen door open which adds a little artificial light. I now realise how much this has been a mistake. Last week I didn’t and do you know what the room seemed even more illuminated. The candles burned ever more brightly in the darkened room. The light shone even more brightly on we that were singing and sharing silence in deep, deep darkness.

We need to honour the darkness in order for us to truly rejoice in the light, when the moment of magic comes.

But first we must know the dark, we must learn the patience of sitting in the dark. This brings to mind that beautiful short poem “Know the dark” by Wendell Berry

“To go in the dark with a light is to know the light.
To know the dark, go dark. Go without sight,
and find that the dark, too, blooms and sings,
and is traveled by dark feet and dark wings.”

But we don’t want to know the dark, we want to walk in the light. Often we spiritually inclined do not want to look at the darkness, we only want the light. Who really wants to take the time to look at the darkness within ourselves and within our world? The truth is of course that if you refuse to look at the dark, to shine a little light on it, is to truly live in the dark; this is a life without joy, this is not truly living in life. We need to bear witness to all life, to hold life with a steady gaze, to live spiritually alive.

In order to live spiritually alive we need to see life in its fullness. We need to practice holding an unwavering gaze in the dark to not look away or to flush it out with neon light, one that is far too bright.

You see as Roethke said: “In a dark time, the eye begins to see.”

I am learning to surrender to a more natural light, to the dark. I am learning to allow my eyes to adjust to the whole of reality. I need to do so to truly embrace the beauty of the dark. This includes the lingering darkness within myself that leads me to still reject and to turn away from some aspects of life.

I am slowly learning to follow those words of Wendell Berry

"To go in the dark with a light is to know the light. To know the dark, go dark. Go without sight, and find that the dark, too, blooms and sings, and is travelled by dark feet and dark wings"

I am learning the lessons of the darkness and during these Advent days I will not be waiting passively for the coming of the light. Instead I will appreciate these dark days, shed some gentle light on the dark places within myself, my life and this our shared world, so that when the moment of magic comes I can become a child of the light and become a light for others. This is what we are here waiting for. To be a light to others who may be struggling in their own dark times. We can light the way. This brings to mind the following beautiful words by Mary Oliver “The Buddha’s last Instructions”

The Buddha’s Last Instruction
by Mary Oliver

“Make of yourself a light”
said the Buddha,
before he died.
I think of this every morning
as the east begins
to tear off its many clouds
of darkness, to send up the first
signal—a white fan
streaked with pink and violet,
even green.
An old man, he lay down
between two sala trees,
and he might have said anything,
knowing it was his final hour.
The light burns upward,
it thickens and settles over the fields.
Around him, the villagers gathered
and stretched forward to listen.
Even before the sun itself
hangs, disattached, in the blue air,
I am touched everywhere
by its ocean of yellow waves.
No doubt he thought of everything
that had happened in his difficult life.
And then I feel the sun itself
as it blazes over the hills,
like a million flowers on fire—
clearly I’m not needed,
yet I feel myself turning
into something of inexplicable value.
Slowly, beneath the branches,
he raised his head.
He looked into the faces of that frightened crowd.

So let’s prepare ourselves for the moment of magic yet to come. Let’s nurture the love within us and prepare to give birth to it in lives. Let’s not wish these dark cold days away. There is a beautiful gift in them if we allow ourselves to fully experience them. We need to experience each and every sensation of this season. We need to not fear the dark, we need to know it and fully embrace it. And when the time comes to once again give birth to the new light.

Amen


Sunday, 26 November 2017

A Drop in the Ocean

"A Drop in the Bucket"

What it says about inadequacy, futility, insignificance!
A drop in the bucket. What’s the sense? What’s the use?
We’re no longer in the center of things.
Copernicus removed the earth from the center of the solar system.
Darwin removed humans from the center of the earth.
Astronomy has removed the solar system from the center of the universe.
Well, who are we, then, and where are we?
Physiologists call us “weak, watery solutions, more or less jellified.”
Just suppose that we are the merest drops in a bucket.
There are unspoken assumptions here.
We assume that a full bucket is what we’re aiming at
and that until the bucket is full, nothing has been accomplished.
There is never a shortage of buckets.
The empty bucket litany is long and tedious:
racism, sexism, ableism, authoritarianism, oppression, injustice,
violence, environmental degradation, overpopulation.
You feel like a drop in the bucket?
Who asked you to fill the bucket - especially all alone?
Remember how many there are who share your concern.
We may feel daunted, but we are not one drop.
A sense of isolation is the parent of the drop-in-the-bucket feeling.
Sometimes one can decide the size of the bucket.
Don’t think you can do a large bucket? Try a smaller size.
Even imparting a bit of hope - a pat on the back, a financial contribution, a
few hours of volunteer service - every drop helps!
It might even be wise to remember why you need to help fill this bucket,
possibly to quench the thirst of someone hard at work on a larger one.
That buckets of whatever size are filled a drop at a time.
If you don’t help, it will take even longer.
That your drop may be one of the last ones needed.
(Why is it that our image is of the first drop in the bucket?)
Where we’d be if everybody gave up putting drops in the bucket? –
probably much worse off.
Persistence depends on patience, on keeping at it when there is little to reassure us.
It would be too bad to give up, to sit back, bemoan the sorry state of the world,
and wonder why somebody, anybody, everybody (but not me, thank you)
doesn’t do something about “it.”
After all, the Grand Canyon was fashioned by drops of water,
As ordinary as they seem.

from Out of the Ordinary, Meditations by Gordon B. McKeeman

I love to go to the sea from time to time. Sometimes I hear it calling powerfully to me. It’s a song I hear singing in my heart. I hear it with the ears of my heart. Now what it is that I love so much I am not sure. It probably has something to do with the vastness of it. Like King Canute I am humbled by the sea. I know it is a power far greater than little old me, but it is more than that, I also find it deeply connective too. While the waves move individually, the sea moves as one. The sea speaks powerfully to me about the spiritual nature of life, both personally and communally.

It seems I am not alone in this. Frederick Buechner in his beautiful meditation titled “Tears” wrote the follow about the great twentieth century theologian Paul Tillich

“Tears” by Frederick Buechner

"They say that whenever the great Protestant theologian Paul Tillich went to the beach, he would pile up a mound of sand and sit on it gazing out at the ocean with tears running down his cheeks. One wonders what there was about it that moved him so.

The beauty and the power of it? The inexpressible mystery of it? The futility of all those waves endlessly flowing in and ebbing out again? The sense that it was out of the ocean that life originally came and that when life finally ends, it is the ocean that will still remain? Who knows? . . .

Maybe it was when he looked at the ocean that he caught a glimpse of the One he was praying to. Maybe what made him weep was how vast and overwhelming it was and yet at the same time as near as the breath of it in his nostrils, as salty as his own tears."

...I think I get it...

I feel fully human when I open my senses to the sea, it humbles and connects me to life. It reminds me that I am not God.

Last weekend and at the early part of this week I felt tired and somewhat weak, I seemed to lack my usual energy. My mood wasn’t low though, my mind was still and I felt connected spiritually, but still I lacked energy. It troubled me somewhat. I began to ask myself what on earth was wrong with me. It took me the best part of week to get back to my usual self. I think it had something to do with being away with my ministry group for a few days and not exercising and eating as I normally would. These days I tend to eat a diet high in protein, fruit and vegetables and this was lacking in my diet during my time away and this impacted on me. I felt weak internally and I didn’t like it. Thankfully I was soon back into my healthier energising habits after a few days and got back to my usual self.

No one likes to feel weak, to experience a sense of powerlessness and yet to a great degree we have little control over the events that go on all around us. Like King Canute we cannot hold back the tides, we cannot control the nature of life. In fact when we try to we just end up going against the tides of life and get into an even bigger mess. Yes we are a part of life, but really just a drop in the ocean.

Now an awful lot of modern day spirituality doesn’t seem to recognise this. It suggest that actually we can do absolutely anything we want if we just believe that we can. We just need to manifest our desires and harness the energy. Now while it is true we can be held back by faulty beliefs that stop us becoming all that we were born to be, my life is absolute evidence of this. These last few years I have found myself overcoming all sorts of faulty beliefs that have held me back. That said I do know that I cannot do anything. I am not omnipotent, no one is. Even the mighty eventually fall. Hubris is perhaps the greatest danger to our own and others humanity.

The key I have found is to discover the power we each of us carry and bring that power alive lovingly for the good of all. To truly become the wave on the ocean. Remembering always that we are not the ocean, just a drop. A vital drop, but one drop all the same.

Power is often misused. Some use their power to control and manipulate others; while still others surrender their power to those who they consider more powerful than them. The daily news seems to be filled with examples of the misuse of power on a daily basis. Thankfully, eventually; life has a way of bringing even the mightiest down. Not without casualties though, how many innocents are left damaged by the misuses and abuse of power? I pay homage to those who take responsibility and speak up against such abuses of power that we witness every day.

Now misuse and abuse of power has occurred throughout history. I suspect that it stems from forms of Hubris that some are considered above or higher than others. We can see examples of supremacist ideas everywhere. Some of the worst horrors committed by humanity have been justified by such ideas. It still goes on by the way, in this land and others too.

It happens in families and communities too, where bullying occurs when individuals try and have their own way regardless of others. I know this feeling well. I grew up such an environment and thankfully it is something that has repulsed me all my life. That said I do from time to time not take full responsibility, I turn away and do not always face such behaviour. I do not use the power I have within me for the good of all, through my own fear. I’m better than I used to be, but I’ve still got a long way to go.

Life has taught me many things. Perhaps one of the greatest lessons is that people who try and laud their power over others, those who act in supremacist ways, are not as strong as they wish to appear. It is generally the weak who desperately hunger for power in order to compensate for their feelings of vulnerability and fragility. It is one way in which they can delude themselves into believing that they can somehow hold back the tide. It can be so terribly destructive. So often of course we surrender ourselves and our own power to such figures. Some bully their way there and others do it through manipulation.

The solution, I have come to believe is to find ways to access the power we all have within us, to become our own authority and to play our roll fully in the sea of life; the key I have come to believe is to become the drop in the ocean, to fully contribute to the sea of life. You see when we wake up to the power we already have within us, that same power that is at the core of all life, a loving power, a connecting power that does not seek supremacy, when we awaken to this power we become our own authority. In so doing we do not need to seek power over others, nor surrender to those who we perceive to be more powerful than we are. In so doing we become authors of our own ideas and actions and we participate fully in the ocean of life. This is essentially true leadership, because by doing we inspire others to do the same. To inspire is to awaken the spirit within another, that source of power within us all. This is true leadership, this is what the great spiritual teachers throughout human history did. This is the task of the spiritually mature.

I have come to believe that this is what is at the core of the ministry of Jesus. That he was attempting to show those of his time to seek the power within themselves, to become all that they able to be and to serve one another and life, to overcome those who ruled them in their time. When he tells the crowd on “The Sermon on the Mount” that they are the light of the world and that they must become beacons to others this seems pretty clear. The parables about the kingdom seem all about this as do other accounts such the story of him calming of the sea. Now this story sadly portrays the disciples as failing to see this, instead they seemingly marvelled at his power to calm the sea. He wanted to show them the power to overcome the fear was within them, but they instead wanted him to calm the storm for them. Faith though is not about calming the storm, it’s actually about coming through the storm together, encouraging and inspiring one another not to be afraid, to become responsible for the welfare of the community, to build the kingdom of love right here right now. Where no one has supremacy over another, that all are at one in the ocean of love.

We cannot calm the sea, we cannot hold it back. That said we can become at one with it and we need not fear it. We do not sail this ship alone. We are in this together all the way.

So how do we begin? Well first of all we need to accept that we are not the all-powerful. That like King Canute we cannot hold back the tide. Neither can we expect another to simply take all our troubles away, we must not surrender responsibility for our lives to someone we consider to be more powerful than ourselves. We then need to recognise that the same power that is at the core of life is also at the core of our being, we need to recognise that great reality deep down within each of us and to bring this to life, to become the light of the world. We need to share that in loving community with one another, to become that drop in the ocean. In so doing we know that we belong and we will no longer feel the need to laud our power over others.

How do we begin? Well I will offer an answer with this simple story that speaks of the power within us, the power to begin to create the ocean of love.

From “Invisible Acts of Power: Personal Choices that Create Miracles” by Caroline Myss

"Years ago I had a conversation with a man who told me that the most important truth he had learned was to be kind. He learned this, he recounted, during a cab ride in New York City. As he was paying the driver, he said, 'Thank you, sir.' At this, the driver leaped, ran around the back of the cab, and opened the door for his passenger. Startled, the man got out and said to the cab driver, 'You didn't have to do that,' to which the driver responded, 'I wanted to. You are the first person in this country to honor me by calling me sir, and I thank you for that respect.' The man had never before considered the power inherent in a respectful gesture, but from them on, kindness became the pillar on which he built his life and the legacy he hoped to pass on to his children. That exchange, he said, changed his life."

May we all become drops in the ocean of love. You never know you might just change someone’s life for the better.

Amen