Sunday, 15 April 2018

Listening with your heart

William Stafford: "Listening"

My father could hear a little animal step,
or a moth in the dark against the screen,
and every far sound called the listening out
into places where the rest of us had never been.

More spoke to him from the soft wild night
than came to our porch for us on the wind;
we would watch him look up and his face go keen
till the walls of the world flared, widened.

My father heard so much that we still stand
inviting the quiet by turning the face,
waiting for a time when something in the night
will touch us too from that other place.

“How do I listen?”

How do I listen to others? As if everyone were my Master speaking to me his cherished last words.”

Words of the great Sufi mystic Hafiz. How do we listen in such a way? Well maybe it begins by listening like the father in William Stafford’s poem above, to be like someone who can listen for what they can hear, far off in the night, “from that other place.” Such people hear so much that they make me want to listen as well. So often in life it has been the example of how others listen and really hear that has inspired me to listen. That said I don’t always listen to others as if everyone were my master, sadly sometimes I don’t listen, or I find it hard to listen.

I have noticed in the last few weeks that I have found it a challenge to listen to others. As a result I have not been as effective as I would hope to be in my work. This is hardly surprising. I am grieving and hurting and deeply concerned for my nearest and deepest. I know well the power that grief has on myself and others being. I have been reminded of this over the last year or so as I have shared deeply with others in the grief group I lead, “The colours of grief: Our shared experience of love and loss”. They have been some of the most treasured moments of my own ministry as we have shared together our own experiences of love and loss, holding one another, listening to each other and beginning to bring some healing. Through our shared experience of suffering we have helped bring healing to one another. Through this deep communion of coming together in love and loss we have experienced what Richard Rohr has described as “dear compassion” which as he has observed “is formed much more by shared pain than by shared pleasure.” In these deeply intimate moments I have heard the Divine Love speak as I have listened with others with my heart open, as we have listened with “the ears of our hearts”.

I found listening particularly difficult at last week’s Unitarian General Assembly Annual Meetings. It was interesting that I found it less difficult engaging in group participation work, but found it impossible to listen to talks and particularly debate in the important business meetings. I tried, but found I just couldn’t sit and listen. So I took the wise move of taking care of myself, spending time in loving company and actually sitting and talking with others in smaller more intimate groups. I heard some beautiful things and was involved in some deeply moving conversations. The Friday morning, the day I delivered “The Anniversary Sermon” was a wonderful example of this. After sharing breakfast with Sue we remained at our table as others left for the buisness meeting. We sat down at 8am after sharing worship and did not move again until noon. Wow! What a beautiful four hours as different people passed by and stopped and shared with us. It was deeply healing, interesting and moving. I laughed and cried and shared, I also heard some pretty eccentric views too. These were Unitarians after all. It was a beautiful morning. Sue enjoyed it too and although the morning had started badly with an unpleasant encounter she met some beautiful and friendly people, with open hearts, minds and souls.

I enjoyed deeply what I heard all morning, I said very little actually. I heard everyone as if they were the Divine speaking to me his cherished last words. I know that it helped to heal something in my heart, it opened my heart and helped me share the anniversary sermon with my heart wide open. It was deeply connective and healing. I listened with the ear of my heart, I let those words sink into my being and as a result began to speak the language of the heart. From what I was told later, this connected with those in the congregation deeply.

The next day my colleague Mark Hutchinson sent the following reflection on my address:

It went by the title “A Danny Meditation”

How many statues
Stare out into the ocean
Wishing only to be
Somewhere else
Not seeing
Or hearing
Or listening

Hold each other
Be held

Not even realising
As the powerful tide is rising
How all statues that wish this way
Are never walking
Or listening
Or talking
Just disappearing
Each and every day.

Hold each other
Be held
This is your domain.

This is a world of pain and joy
For every girl every boy
Everything around and in between
We cannot stop the pain
Nor stem the rising tide
But we can listen
There are things to be said and seen.

Hold each other
Be held
This is your domain
Awaken a new dominion

A man two loving sisters holds
This man is held by them
Not wishing for another place
Despite the seething pain
Just to hold
And to be held.

Hold each other
Be held
This is your domain
Awaken a new dominion
Do your job.

Trusting statues
Talking listening holding,
Stepping back from the tide
Have laughed, sung and cried
And not once tried
To be away
From this very necessary day

In trust and love
Hold each other
Be held
From your domain
Awaken a new dominion
Do your job
Let us hold
Let us be held
Let us all
Do our job.

Mark listened and absorbed every word and created something beautiful from it. It has certainly touched me deeply. He seemed to be listening with his heart and responding with his heart. To me this is what it means to truly live religiously. It is to listen and to live with “dear compassion.”

To truly live religiously is to live in communion with one another, it is to live in “dear compassion”, this is about inviting others truly into our lives and I have come to understand that is about truly listening to each other with our hearts, with the ears of our hearts.

Listening is about invitation. It is about inviting the other into our lives; it is about making space for the other. This is not always easy to do especially when engaging in conversation.

As I have shared many times before “Listen with the ear of your heart”, is one of my ministerial mantras. It comes from “The Rule of Benedict” a set of ancient principles for monastic orders. The foundation of the rule is listening, deep attentive listening. It begins, “listen carefully, my child, to the instructions...and attend to them with the ear of your heart “.

This is no easy task. It is so easy to get wrapped up in so many other things, particularly our own pain and troubles. That said in order to make space for the other we do need to learn to listen; to listen “with the ear of our hearts”.

Ernest Hemingway once said "When people talk, listen completely. Most people never listen."

How many of us can really say that we listen to one another? When we begin to converse do we take time to truly listen to what the other person is saying? Or are we merely waiting for our turn to make our point? When we engage with one another are we really attempting to make space for them or is it all about us? Is it about our need to be heard? Are we engaging with others in the hope that they will agree with us?

In “Forgotten Art of Deep Listening” Kay Lindahl asks us to:

“Think of the difference it would make if each of us felt really listened to when we spoke. Imagine the time it would save to be heard the first time around, instead of having to repeat ourselves over and over again. Envision a conversation in which each person is listened to with respect, even those whose views are different from ours. This is all possible in conversations of the heart, when we practice the sacred art of listening. It takes intention and commitment. We need to slow down to expand our awareness of the possibilities of deep listening. The simple act of listening to each other can transform all of our relationships. Indeed, it can transform the world, as we practice being the change we wish to see in the world.”

By listening we can begin to transform the world; by listening we begin to practise being the change we wish to see in the world.

Listening is about making space for the other, it is an invitation; an invitation to create true spiritual intimacy. Listening is one way to release ourselves from the treadmill of own ego centric little worlds. It can release us from hell.

Yes sometimes it is hard to listen, particularly when we are caught up in our own pain. It happens to all of us, it’s been happening to me of late. I thank God that I have not run and I have not tried to hide, I have simply let others share their time and space with me, to listen to me when I have been ready to speak my own pain and fear and love and truth.

I have lived faithfully, indeed I have lived religiously in intimate company with others. I have lived with others in “dear compassion”

To truly live religiously is to live in communion with one another, it is to live in “dear compassion”, it is about inviting others truly into our lives; it is about making space for the other. It’s about listening with our hearts, with the ears of hearts. It’s about living with others in “dear compassion”

Let us live in “dear compassion”.

Sunday, 8 April 2018

Accepting this: There is no other place

"Accepting This"

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.

we are small living things
awakened in the stream,
not gods who carve out rivers.

Like human fish,
we are 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.

—Mark Nepo

One of my favourite places on earth is Crosby Beach. It’s not just vanity by the way, although I do love to stand next the sign that reads Greater Crosby. So maybe a little vanity…Maybe, maybe not…

What I love about Crosby Beach are the 100 identical sculptures, of those 7ft tall figures that go by the title “Another place”. There they stand staring out to sea, perhaps looking for another place, any place but here; these naked, lonely scarecrows staring out into the great big nothing, dreaming of another place.

Have you ever felt like that? I have. I have stood there staring out at into space so many times dreaming of something other than the life I was living. Who does not want to escape when the tides of suffering are coming in?

It’s a common hope, to dream of some other place beyond the life we have, beyond the suffering and pain we can all experience at times, or perhaps to dream of a place away from what can often be seen as the mundane aspects of normal life. We all at times hope for some Heaven, The Promised Land, Nirvana, the perfect life when all are troubles are behind us. It is common to all we humans to dream of some technicolour dream land, our own private Oz…

Someday I'll wish upon a star
Wake up where the clouds are far behind me
Where trouble melts like lemon drops
High above the chimney top
That's where you'll find me

Oh, somewhere over the rainbow bluebirds fly
And the dream that you dare to,
Oh why, oh why can't I?

Yes it’s such a common desire to dream of some other place beyond our current life. It’s dangerous though. Remember those words sung by Dorothy in the 1939 film “The Wizard of Oz”, brought with them the Tornado and none of us want that. As I have often heard, “be careful what you pray for.”

Dorothy dreamed of another place somewhere over the rainbow, a place away from dull, grey, flat Kansas. Is there another place that we dream about, that we Hope for, a Heaven, a Nirvana? Who knows? I don’t. Nobody knows.

This is not how it is meant to be. It is a waste of this precious gift that is our finite human lives, to wish it away. We are not meant to live our lives dreaming of another place, a place beyond this life. Our task, I have come to believe is to create heaven here and it begins within each and every one of us. I much prefer to follow that simple message in the “Sermon on the Mount”, to become the light of the world. To create the Kingdom, the kin-dom of love, right here, right now. We are here to bring alive the light within us, to hold one another, to live in love.

We bring heaven alive through our loving living or we create Hell by fearing one another, fearing life, turning away and dreaming of some other place, somewhere over the rainbow, somewhere beyond this life. Why do we waste our days wishing our lives away?

“Another Place” contains 100 identical figures all placed in different parts of Crosby beach. Some are way out to sea and some close to edge of the beach, almost on land. They disappear as the tide comes in and eventually all are consumed by the sea. None can hold back the tide, they are always overcome by it. The sea is a powerful force, a power far greater than our singular human selves. Every single one of those statues is eventually overwhelmed by the sea. They teach me a lesson in humility.

Oh how I love the sea.

I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by;
And the wheel’s kick and the wind’s song and the white sail’s shaking,
And a grey mist on the sea’s face, and a grey dawn breaking.

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 entirely sure, I cannot tell. Only my heart knows and I have not yet fully perfected the language of heart. Yes I hear it, but I cannot yet adequately put it into words. I am trying.

My love 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.

Like Nepo said

we are small living things
awakened in the stream,
not gods who carve out rivers.

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

I am not alone in being overwhelmed by the sea's power, thank God. Frederick Buechner in his beautiful meditation titled “Tears” wrote the following 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 and yet that mysterious power is very close at hand. God is with us, in us, running through us. We swim in a sea of love, in the waters of life.

I bow before the majesty of it all. It truly humbles me. I bow before life, before the waters of life. I bow before the ground of all being of which I am a part of. I am human and I am finite. In accepting this I see I am a part of life and I can live my life as one fish swimming in the ocean of life. I suspect that is what it means to live in heaven. Heaven on earth. This is what it means to choose life in all its blessings and curses. It is to be at home in the earth or the sea in which you find yourself, to be truly present in your being, to truly belong here and live in the time and space you find yourself and to serve the life in and around you.

A pretty picture you might think, but is this just a dream? How do we do this? How do we serve the life we find ourselves in? How do we begin to swim in that sea? How do we begin to create that kin-dom of love right here right now? Is this just another’s dream?

Well we can’t simply transcend suffering, ours or other peoples. I don’t think we are meant to. Pain, as much as joy is something we live with. We have to let life sink into our very human being…

“Come with me on a journey under the skin, oh come with me on a journey under the skin…All you’ve gotta do, all you’ve gotta do, all you’ve gotta do is surrender…surrender…surrender…

I love “The Waterboys”

We have to sink into the ground at our feet, surrender the ground of all being. To begin where we find ourselves, start close in…in the earth, the hummus, be fully human. Simple but far from easy…

We seem to be living in very troubling times. We see this clearly when we look nationally and globally, but also when we look close at hand. It’s been a long hard winter in the congregations I serve, we have lost several people after long illnesses. It’s been a difficult time within my own family. My step brother Daniel, the son of my mum’s husband took his own life last week, ripping a deep hole in my family. As I stand here now I feel the pain of so many people I love deeply, within my family and my communities. We cannot escape this suffering and I cannot take away the pain of my loved ones, as much as I want to. Gosh if I could only perform miracles but I cannot. Ministry truly humbles me and so it should. I cannot take anyone’s burden from them, but I can walk with them and be with them in their pain and of course their joy and celebration, the blessings and curses of “choosing life”.

To repeat those beautiful by Mark Nepo

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.

I have spent much of this winter and early spring standing with people as we held each other. Last Wednesday I stood with two of my sisters and we held each other tight, broken with tears rolling down our cheeks.

As individual people we cannot end suffering, but we can do small little things. This is how we create that kin-dom of love. Didn’t Jesus say it begins with the little things, the mustard seed?

David Whyte, formed in the same soil of West Yorkshire I was formed in, only with an Irish soul, in his wonderful poem, talked about starting close in. This is how we begin the courageous conversation as he called it, this is how we begin to live, to create that kin-dom of love right here right now. Through the authentic, the courageous conversation, we dwell in our own being and connect with all of life…but it begins close in with the first step.

“Start close in” by David Whyte

Start close in,
don’t take the second step
or the third,
start with the first
close in,
the step
you don’t want to take.

Start with
the ground
you know,
the pale ground
beneath your feet,
your own
way of starting
the conversation.

Start with your own
give up on other
people’s questions,
don’t let them
smother something

To find
another’s voice,
your own voice,
wait until
that voice
becomes a
private ear
to another.

Start right now
take a small step
you can call your own
don’t follow
someone else’s
heroics, be humble
and focused,
start close in,
don’t mistake
that other
for your own.

Start close in,
don’t take
the second step
or the third,
start with the first
close in,
the step
you don’t want to take.

By David Whyte in, “River Flow: New and Selected Poems”

We cannot take away the pain of the world, it’s not our task, but we can humbly walk with one another. Again to repeat those words by Mark Nepo, from his poem “Accepting This”

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.

“Accepting this” is a poem that touches the soul of me so deeply. Yes we are small things, but we are significant and we are living things, who truly are awakened when we swim in the stream, in the water of life. No we are not God but we can be enlightened by that spirit and experience meaning. We can know what it is to be fully alive, we just have to let that water flow through the gill of our hearts. We do not need to wish for some other place or even travel to some other place. We just need to accept the reality of our beautiful and finite humanity and we can do anything and truly go anywhere. If we take care of these small things we may just begin to build that kin-dom of love right here right now.

So let’s stop dreaming of some other place, somewhere over the rainbow, let’s instead inhabit the ground at our feet, let’s open the gills of our hearts and swim in the water of life and let’s build a land where we’ll bind up the broken, walk hand in hand and hold one another tight…

This is heaven on earth…All is well…All is well…All is well…

Sunday, 1 April 2018

To look or not to look: An Easter Reflection

From "The Book of Awakenings: Having the Life You WantBy being Present To The Life You Have" by Mark Nepo

"A Great Battle Raging"

"There is a great battle raging: for my mouth not to harden and my jaws not to become like heavy doors of an iron safe, so my life may not be called pre-death."

~ Israeli Poet Yehuda Amichai

There is an ancient Greek myth that carries within it, like a message in a bottle, one of the most crucial struggles we face as living beings. It is the story of a gifted musician, Orpheus, whose Love, Eurydice is taken by Hades, the god of the underworld. Orpheus is so grief-stricken that he travels to the land of the dead to plead with Hades to give Eurydice back. After a cold and deliberate consideration, Hades says, "You can have her. It will take you three days to bring her back to the land of the living. There is one condition. You must carry her and you must not look upon her face until you reach the light. If you do, she will return to me forever."

Unfortunately, unknown to Orpheus, Hades tells Eurydice the opposite, "He will carry you to the land of the living, and you must look upon him before you reach the light. If you do not, you will return to me forever." Their colossal struggle fails, and Eurydice is lost forever.

The struggle for us, though, is ongoing. For there is an Orpheus in each of us that believes, if I look, I will die. There is also a Eurydice in each of us that believes, if I don't look, I will die. And so, the great spiritual question, after "To be or not to be?" is to look or not to look. The personal balance we arrive at determines whether we make it out of hell or not.

Though it shifts throughout our lives, according to our devotions, I believe each of us is born with a natural leaning toward looking or not looking. Not surprisingly, I am one of those feminine seers: I believe that if I don't look, I will die. This probably has a lot to do with my calling to be a poet. So, I admit my bias. For though, like staring into the sun too long, there are times we mustn't look to preserve our sight, more often we need to look to stay alive.

Like each of us, I struggle with both: to be the keeper of secrets or the discoverer of truths. Though no one can tell us how, we have to work this great battle again and again: to leave the underworld - not to harden - and to make our way back into the land of the living.

...I recommend this book, actually anything by Mark Nepo...Here follows a reflection inspired by this passage and Easter morning...

To look or not to look? To become the keeper of secrets or the discoverer of truths? To preserve our sight or to look and therefore choose life? Dilemma’s we face every day in our lives. How often do we look? How often do we refuse to look at life?

Often this is a decision we face many times each every day. To look or not to look, to turn away not only from the darkness, but also the light? Just think about the last week of your life. How often have you looked when perhaps you shouldn’t have looked? Also how often have you refused to look, when you really should have looked?

To look or not to look? To become the keeper of the secret or the discover of truth? Brings to mind the narratives of Easter morning found in the Gospel accounts, the story of the followers of Jesus going to the tomb. The stories of those who went and those who did not go. Those who found something in the tomb and those who saw nothing. Those who reacted faithfully and those who fled in fear. Those who looked and responded to the light and those who turned away. All very human responses to what they saw with the eyes, what they found in that empty tomb.

An example is Maray Magdalene in John's Gospel. She rises before dawn on the third day to visit the tomb. She is a broken woman as her beloved teacher Jesus has died a horrible death.  Mary is going to prepare Jesus body, following the teaching of her Jewish faith. When she arrives at the tomb she sees that stone blocking the entrance has already been rolled away and there is no body inside. She flees in fear and grief

She does eventually return and faearfully enters broken, in despair, grieving for the loss of her beloved Jesus. There then follows a description of an exchange with two angels and then suddenly out of the corner of her eye she catches something, a man. She dares to look. The man asks why she is crying and who she is looking for. Mistaking him for a gardener she asks if he has taken Jesus away and asks where he is saying she will take care of him and will rell no one. She just wants to take care of his body and clean him up so he can rest in peace, At this moment the man calls out her name saying “Mary”. As she hears her name she sees that the man is Jesus. As he names her, she recognises him and calls him “Rabbi” “Teacher”

Personally I do not believe in the literal bodily resurrection, but this does not mean I do not believe in a kind of spiritual resurrection, an awakening that can occur in our all too human finite lives. This I believe is what happened to Mary. When she heard her name called, suddenly her eyes were opened to a new reality, she began to see perhaps for the first time. In this moment, through finally seeing with her own eyes. She is called out from her blindness caused by grief and despair. Her eyes are opened and she saw for the first time, she truly began to understand her purpose in life. Her life began again.

Easter is after all the day of new beginning Easter calls us to open our eyes in a new way. To see not only what we expect to see, but something more, something new and unexpected. We need to look to see, despite the pains and troubles of life and the temptation not to look. Look we must, we must always choose life, despite its very real troubles. We must awaken to life, to answer the call and to pour out the love we carry within us onto life.

Mary Magdalene is in utter despair, having lost her teacher, until she once again heard the voice of hope, born from that same place of total hopelessness. As she did she was able to see life through new eyes, new vision came and she was able to turn away from despair to hope.

This is Easter for me a story of hope for all of us that whatever happens in our lives if we keep on turning in faith new vision will come. Easter time, in the midst of spring, truly is the turning season, it is the day of new beginnings. Easter teaches that we can begin again in love each and every day. This begins as we dare to look and see, in so doing we see new hope and by turning from whatever despair may keep us trapped in our empty tomb we are once again turned toward the light.

How we look at life and how we look at others is so important. How we respond to how we see matters too, everything matters every thought, every feeling, every action and every single look. It matters how respond to what we see too. Do we turn away in fear or respond in love? I’m sure we’ve all seen the responses of the young people in America to the gun violence. They have responded in loving and peaceful ways and said enough is enough, its time to change. It’s time for a new dawn and a new beginning. It’s time to respond in loving compassion, to say that life, all life matters, we see the same thing in the “Me too movement” too. We also see it in small acts of love too. I have experienced these last few days as I have been with my loved ones as we have lost one of our own tragic circumstances. The family is broken in grief but so many of others are holding one another in love. I offer thanks and praise for all who have offered loving support.

I also witnessed a simple example, right in front of my eyes. Last Friday I arrived at my gitlfriend Sue’s when jut in front of me there was a loud bang as two cars collided into one another. Thankfully no one was injured, just a little shook up. Now at first Sue didn’t want to look out of her window when she heard the bang. I think there was a little fear about seeing the darkness. When she did she instantly responded. She didn’t turn away. She simply went down stairs, turned on the kettle and took tea and coffee to the two sets of young men in a state of shock. Now this was only a small act, not one that will change the world. That said it was a simple act, witnessed by the young men and her neighbours, and one that hopefully others will respond to when they witness troubles in a similar way in the future. They will not turn away, they will look and having looked they will respond from their hearts and act.

It matters how we see life. This is the starting point, but isn’t the end. It matters how we respond to what we see with our eyes, for others will be watching too.

We need to look. We need to choose life, we need to become seekers of the truth and not keepers of the secret and we need to give our love away, to act on what we see and to give our love away, in our small individual human ways.

It begins today.

Happy Easter. Let’s begin again in love.


Sunday, 18 March 2018

All is Well: Belum, Not Quite Yet?

I am afraid of nearly everything:
of darkness, hunger, war, children mutilated.
But most of all, I am afraid of what I might become:
reconciled to injustice,
resigned to fear and despair,
lulled into a life of apathy.

Unchain my hope,
make me strong.
Stretch me towards the impossible,
that I may work for what ought to be:
the hungry fed,
the enslaved free,
the suffering comforted,
the peace accomplished.

So may it be. Amen.

Words by that famous author “Anonymous”. It goes by the title “A Prayer for Hope.”

A prayer not asking, not petitioning for change to be done for us in some future dream like state, but a prayer asking for the person praying to change. If there is one thing I have learnt through prayer, and I pray a lot. is that prayer doesn’t necessarily change things, prayer changes people and people change things. Prayer is not an abdication of responsibility but an acceptance of responsibility in this life, right now. I know that prayer helps to plant those seeds of Hope deep within me to create within me the sense that all is well, not perfect, but well…You might find this hard to believe, but I do believe that all is well…

Theae last few weeks, as part of our annual Lent Breakfast series, the Churches Together in Urmston have been exploring the theme “Hope Now”, not some dreamed of Hope in the future but “Hope, right here, right now”. It’s been a fascinating few weeks. I took my turn to lead and enjoyed sharing in a fruitful conversation. It was wonderful to hear the different versions of people you would find everywhere in the world, the pessimists and the optimist, the cynics and the idealists, the ones who view humanity as basically fallen, but capable of ok things and those who see humanity as basically good, but who fall short from time to time and of course those who see life as suffering with occasional glimpses of heaven and those who see life as a blessing, a gift, in which suffering occurs. How do you see these things? It matters you know, it really does.

Now Hope, certainly for the future, is an easily criticised concept as it sounds like an abdication of responsibility. Hope for me though is not about that at all. Hope, as I experience it, is a way of being. We live in Hope, I would say that we live through and by hope or we don’t. It is not the same as optimism and it is not living in the expectation of something perfect beyond this life, or at least it isn’t for me. It’s actually a quality of our broken and vulnerable hearts. Hope is something that we give birth to, a quality we nurture and allow to grow through our vulnerable human being.

As Vaclav Havel wrote:

“Hope is an orientation of the spirit, an orientation of the heart.
It is not the conviction that something will turn out well,
but the certainty that something makes sense,
regardless of how it turns out.”

So often, from the most grotesque ruins of life, the most beautiful things have grown. I have been thinking of this a lot, as I have observed hope in action and cries of never again come from thousands of young people across the Atlantic following another dreadful school mass killing. Now the cynics have cried there is no point, we’ve tried this before the gun lobby will always win out, but the young people have said “no”! “We can change things”! And they have seemingly set something in motion. It has inspired me I can assure you. I’ve been deeply touched as I have bared witness to this in recent weeks.

It brought to mind the following little gem of wisdom I shared at last week’s Lent Breakfast. It is taken from “Dwellings. A Spiritual History of the Living World” by Linda Hogan,

"Seed. There are so many beginnings. In Japan, I recall, there were wildflowers that grew in the far, cool region of mountains. The bricks of Hiroshima, down below, were formed of clay from these mountains, and so the walls of houses and shops held the dormant trumpet flower seeds. But after one group of humans killed another with the explosive power of life’s smallest elements split wide apart, the mountain flowers began to grow. Out of destruction and bomb heat and the falling of walls, the seeds opened up and grew. What a horrible beauty, the world going its own way, growing without us. But perhaps this, too, speaks of survival, of hope beyond our time."

Yes there may be Hope beyond our time, but the seed must be planted now. The Hope has to be there growing in our hearts and souls or we won’t plant those seeds. It does not mean there is not horror and destruction in our lives now, but nor does that horror in the present moment stop us seeing that there is goodness in our time and place.

We need to live in and through hope, we need to be hope, we need to say yes to life. Just because there are problems and suffering in life it does not mean we should turn away from life and lose all hope, make despair the orientation of our heart. What kills us is cynicism, giving up on the possibility of what we can make things in life.

This brings to life a quotation from Stephen Colbert a rather wonderful late night American television host, who suffers great despair at the state of his country at times, but lives in and through Hope, it is an orientation of his heart and spirit. He said:

“Remember, you cannot be both young and wise. Young people who pretend to be wise to the ways of the world are mostly just cynics. Cynicism masquerades as wisdom, but it is the farthest thing from it. Because cynics don't learn anything. Because cynicism is a self-imposed blindness, a rejection of the world because we are afraid it will hurt us or disappoint us. Cynics always say "no". But saying "yes" begins things. Saying "yes" is how things grow. Saying "yes" leads to knowledge. "Yes" is for young people. So for as long as you have the strength to, say "yes".”

So I say yes to life, to possibility, to the Hope in my heart. That Hope though is now, that hope is present, not some other place somewhere over the rainbow. So I keep on planting seeds, despite those who tell me there is no point. For hope is, as Elizabeth Barrette says in “Origami Emotion”

“Origami Emotion” by Elizabeth Barrette

Hope is
Folding paper cranes
Even when your hands get cramped
And your eyes tired,
Working past blisters and paper cuts,
Simply because something in you
Insists on
Opening its wings.

Life is not perfect, there is suffering in all parts of life, but it is not life itself. We do not live in a state of despair, well at least not yet.

This brings to mind a winderful little piece of wisdom titled "Belum" by Robeert Fulghum

“Belum” by Robert Fulghum

"Americans, it is observed, prefer definite answers. Let your yea be yea and your nay be nay. Yes or no. No grays, please.

In Indonesia, there is a word in common use that nicely wires around the need for black and white. Belum is the word and it means ‘not quite yet.’ A lovely word implying continuing possibility. “Do you speak English?”

“Belum.” Not quite yet. “Do you have any children?” “Belum.” Do you know the meaning of life?” “Belum.”

It is considered both impolite and cynical to say, “No!” outright. This leads to some funny moments. “Is the house on fire?” “Belum.” Not quite yet.

It’s an attitude kin to that old vaudeville joke: “Do you play the violin?” “I don’t know, I never tried.”

Perhaps. Maybe. Possibly. Not yes or no, but squarely within the realm of what might be. Soft edges are welcome in this great bus ride of human adventure.

Is this the best of all possible worlds? Belum.

Is the world coming to an end? Belum.

Will we live happily ever after? Belum.

Have we learned to live without weapons of mass destruction? Belum.

In some ways, we don’t know. We’ve never tried. Is it hopeless to think that we might someday try? Belum. Not quite yet."

I love this concept of "Belum" of  uncertainty, but a faithful uncertainty, that nothing is ever fully sealed, not yet at least. However hopeless things may feel at the present moment it does not mean that all is despair. Look around you, look into your own heart. There is love and goodness present both within you and in life. There are those around you that can bring inspiration to your being, who have the courage to say yes to life, that have hope lightening and inspiring their hearts.

All is well. Yes it doesn’t always feel like it, but it is. For an awful long time I used to say “all will be well”, don’t lose faith in life. In recent weeks I have changed my mind. Well actually my heart and soul have changed my mind. Minds are made for changing by the way. We should never, ever be ruled by our minds. I no longer believe that “all will be well”, to quote Julian of Norwich. Why you may well ask? Well because it sounds like an abdication and abandonment of this life. Such belief is of no use to me, is disrespectful as it rejects what I’m experiencing right here right now. It’s also a rejection of reality.

My truth, as I type these words right here , right now, is that all is well. Life is rich in meaning. It is not devoid of suffering and trouble, but it is well. There is love, there is goodness and it is my task, I believe, to share that with those all around me. It is the orientation of my heart and soul. It is Hope.

Living this way is not about perfection, it is not about completeness it is about planting seeds from our hearts and souls and living in the Belum, the not quite yets of life. To repeat those words of Robert Fulghum

“Is this the best of all possible worlds? Belum.

Is the world coming to an end? Belum.

Will we live happily ever after? Belum.

Have we learned to live without weapons of mass destruction? Belum.

In some ways, we don’t know. We’ve never tried. Is it hopeless to think that we might someday try? Belum. Not quite yet."

So what are you going to do? Are you going to try, give it a go, plant those seeds in your heart and souls right here right now in this new spring or be cynical and claim the wisdom of fear and say we’ve tried this before it won’t work, what’s the point? People will never change. There is no Hope. Or are you going to join with me and believe in your heart that all is well, not perfect, but well. That there is goodness in the world and goodness in my heart and that this goodness can once again grow in the world if I would just let the courage work through me and rise once again.

It’s up to us right here right now. Hope is not something we passively dream of in the future, something beyond this life. It has to be born here right now, an orientation of our heart and souls or not at all.

All is well, have the courage to allow the seeds of Hope to form in your hearts and souls, let it become the orientation of your very being. Let’s not give up on our belief in love and life, well at least not quite yet, Belum.

Sunday, 4 March 2018

Know yourself, know that you are mortal

Last year I was invited to Parliament to speak at a forum on obesity, specifically to talk about men’s health. It was an incredible honour. As you can imagine security was tight. It was actually the week before the horrific terror attack that took place there. I will neer forget the sickening scenes that took place just seven days later, the terrible loss of innocent lives.

As I entered parliament I had to pass through metal detectors and thus had to empty the coins in my pocket out onto a tray for unspection. One of those coins was a sobriety chip. The security officer seemed very interested in what it was and asked me about it. I explained what it was for a few moments and then turned the coin over. On the back it read “To Thine Own Self Be True”, which I read out to her. she looked at me rather oddly and then dismissed me. I moved on into the day, speaking from my heart of my own expereinces in the hope to help others. It was a good day.

Being true to yourself, living with honesty, authenticity and integrity is key to recovery and I would say it is the key to living with virtue in this world.

The ancient Greeks believed that the ultimate aim for a person of virtue was to know themselves. There were many aphorism on this theme such as “The unexamined life is not worth living.” The key for the ancient Greeks was to know yourself. Now “Know thyself” has been understood in many ways but ultimately to know oneself is to know that you are mortal and live in such a way, fully a part of mortal life. They constantly guarded against the dangers of hubris, the idea that human beings were God’s. Yes we are made in the image of the Divine but we are not God’s and it is vital that we recognise our finite mortality. In many ways this is the beauty and the energy of our lives, the fact that they do not last for ever.

Know yourself, know that you are mortal. That is what it means to be truly human. The word human is etymologically linked to humility. We are not god’s we are finite, we are mortal. We cannot live wholly from ourselves, no one is totally self-reliant, self sufficient and we do not live for ever. To truly know yourself is to accept the finite nature of your humanity. This is a stepping stone to discovering yourself and your unique place in the circle of life.

The fact that we are mortal is not to say that we do not matter, quite the opposite actually. Our lives matter, how we live matters. We impact on the whole of creation and we impact on the lives around us. Just as all that has existed before impacts on who we are today, including our ancestors. 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 is made up of from that.

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. We are not separate selves, to know ourselves is to know what made us who we are. To know who we are we need to know those who we are surrounded by, who help make us who we are and all those who existed before we did. How do we begin to know ourselves? By knowing the lives we are surrounded by. No one is an island. Then we begin to understand who we are and we can begin to know ourselves.

The book of Genesis describes 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. I believe it 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 into life, to incarnate it to bring it to life.

I believe that most of our human problems stem from our rejection of this, 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 myself. 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?

I believe that we are all formed from that same love, from that same image, every single one of us.

Now this puts a great responsibility on us as human beings, to make our lives matter in the short time that we have here on earth. What will our epitaphs read?

From time to time I am asked to conduct funerals for people who are not members of the congregations. Often they have had some connection in the past or are looking for something spiritual in nature but not too religious. Last year the family asked for the following poem to be included in the service.

The Dash – Linda Ellis

I read of a man who stood to speak
At the funeral of a friend.
He referred to the dates on her tombstone
From the the end.
He noted that first came her date of birth
And spoke the following date with tears, 1964-1994
But he said what mattered most of all
Was the dash between those years.

For that dash represents all the time
That she spent alive on earth..
And now only those who loved her
Know what that little line is worth.
For it matters not, how much we own;
The cars..the house..the cash,
What matters is how we live and love
And how we spend our dash.

So think about this long and hard.
Are there things you”d like to change?
For you never know how much time is left,
That can still be rearranged.
If we could just slow down enough
To consider what”s true and real,
And always try to understand
The way other people feel.

And be less quick to anger,
And show appreciation more
And love the people in our lives
Like we”ve never loved before.
If we treat each other with respect,
And more often wear a smile..
Remembering that this special dash
Might only last a little while.

So, when your eulogy”s being read
With your life”s actions to rehash..
Would you be proud of the things they say
About how you spent your dash?

Know yourself, know that you are mortal, but also know that how you live your mortal life really matters. It impacts on all that you meet and come into contact with. Each and every life matters, each is unique and each is vital and each has something to offer to the world.

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 one another is, for this will impact on how we live in the world.

To know yourself is to know that you are mortal. I believe that because of this, not despite it, it really matters how we live our lives, how we spend our dash.

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 responsibility to this life that we lead and the history 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.

By the way it’s never too late. Actually I suspect that it’s probably only later in life that we finally get to know ourselves. I’d like to share with you the following poem by “Now I become myself” by May Sarton

“Now I Become Myself” by May Sarton

Now I become myself. It's taken
Time, many years and places;
I have been dissolved and shaken,
Worn other people's faces,
Run madly, as if Time were there,
Terribly old, crying a warning,
"Hurry, you will be dead before—"
(What? Before you reach the morning?
Or the end of the poem is clear?
Or love safe in the walled city?)
Now to stand still, to be here,
Feel my own weight and density!
The black shadow on the paper
Is my hand; the shadow of a word
As thought shapes the shaper
Falls heavy on the page, is heard.
All fuses now, falls into place
From wish to action, word to silence,
My work, my love, my time, my face
Gathered into one intense
Gesture of growing like a plant.
As slowly as the ripening fruit
Fertile, detached, and always spent,
Falls but does not exhaust the root,
So all the poem is, can give,
Grows in me to become the song,
Made so and rooted by love.
Now there is time and Time is young.
O, in this single hour I live
All of myself and do not move.
I, the pursued, who madly ran,
Stand still, stand still, and stop the sun!

To know thyself, to be who we truly are, who we were born to be, is no easy task. Sarton wrote this poem when she was 83 years old. It would seem that it took her a long time to truly know herself and become who she really was, something she wrote of in her memoirs and journals. I commend them to you, they are worthy of exploration.

It is no easy task to be who we truly are, to live openly, to live whole and holy lives. To “find our path of authentic service in the world.” You see we learn by following others from the day we are born. We learn to be like those others we are surrounded by, who made us who we are, rather than becoming who we truly are. It takes a long time to let go of the stabilisers of others and become wholly ourselves. For May Sarton it only really began after the death of her parents during middle age, actually about the age I am now.

Forrest Church had similar experiences it was only when he stopped living in his father’s shadow that he found the courage to truly become himself and give his true mortal gift to life. As he said:

"I found my calling. I answered a call that was mine, and not someone else’s." And went on to say "To envy another’s skills, looks, or gifts rather than embracing your own nature and call is to fail in two respects. In trying unsuccessfully to be who we aren’t, we fail to become who we are."

The key he said of course was to always “be who you are.”

This is the key of course. This is what it means to live holy lives. This is how we become a holy, an authentic presence in the world. This is how we serve the world by our presence and you know what it is never too later. This is how we fill in that dash and truly live our mortal lives. It can begin right here right now. May Sarton was 83 years old when she wrote “Now I become myself”. Maybe, we only truly become our true selves at the end of our physical being. That said we need to begin some where and the only place to begin is right here right now. Right here, right now is the only place we can not only know ourselves, but truly be ourselves, to not only know that we are mortal, but to truly live our mortal lives and give our unique gift to the life.

Let us make it so.

Sunday, 25 February 2018

Shyness and Invitation

The Smith’s famously sang “Shyness is nice, and Shyness can stop you from doing all the things in life You'd like to… Coyness is nice, and Coyness can stop you from saying all the things in life you'd like to. So, if there's something you'd like to try. If there's something you'd like to try. Ask me, I won't say no, how could I?”

Rather cute lyrics, to a lovely and funny song.

...I love the people who are courageous enough to ask me...

I’m not so sure it’s so nice though, shyness can be excruciating debilitating at times. It has affected my life negatively over the years. How many times has shyness stopped me accepting the invitation of life, too many.

Some folk might find this hard to believe, but I can be quite shy. It takes me time to feel comfortable enough to be myself in new environments. There is a shyness about me. I’m better than I used to be. I'm sure folks who see me in my work find this hard to believe, but it is true all the same. It takes me time to feel comfortable in my own being, in new company and new situations. Thank God though that these days it rarely leads me to turn down the invitation.

There have been times when I have hidden myself from view, literally hidden my face, afraid to pop my head above the parapet for fear of being shot down. My mother knew this and saw how different I was to my siblings on my first day at school. She walked us all to school on the first day, but I reacted differently to my siblings who just joined the other children. I did not, I walked through the gates of Birstall County Primary School, swallowed hard and sat down in the corner utterly overwhelmed and bewildered by it all. I did in time adjust and found a level of comfort in the crowd, but it took time. It has been the same throughout my life. I do eventually become a part of the whole, but it takes time.

I don’t think I’m alone in these feelings, in fact I know I’m not. We all experience shyness in some form or another, especially when invited and take the first steps into something new, particularly if is something that might be wonderful, but will definitely make them feel vulnerable. By the way we are always vulnerable, that is the nature of life.

Think about how you felt the first time you walked into a new community you bacame a part of. It takes time to feel you belong and can be wholly yourself. I know it does for me.

Shyness is a beautiful thing, so long as it doesn’t stop us doing those things our hearts desire. It’s ok to feel the trembling excitement of shyness, but it can become unhealthy if it enslaves us.

David Whyte writes that “Shyness is the sense of a great unknown, suddenly about to be known. It is the exquisite and vulnerable frontier between what we think is possible and what we think we deserve”.

This is an exciting feeling actually. Yes there is fear there, but a kind of anticipated joy too. It is not in and of itself a negative feeling.

To me these feelings are the essence of the spiritual journey, which is not a safety first way of living and breathing by the way. No it compels us to deal with powerful feelings and discover new ways of being in the world. This can feel quite daunting at times, but should not cause shame. It is natural, healthy and necessary actually. To brashly step into anything without any shyness can lead to problems not only for ourselves but others too. These uncomfortable feelings are needed as we explore the great new mysteries life is offering us. This is the invitational nature of life. That said we are not alone in these feelings, no matter how alone we might feel, and this is why it is vital to be a part of a community that journeys on through these adventures, inviting us onto the great unknown that is our lives.

There is a place for shyness when it comes to spiritual growth. Carl Gustav Jung claimed that folks tend to be either introverted or extroverted. Now whether a person had an introverted or an extroverted personality depended on whether the individual increases in energy from being with others and is therefore an extrovert; conversely an individual who recharges his or her spiritual and emotional energy from being alone and recharging through solitary activities such as reading, prayer and or meditation tends to be introverted. I think ministers and those who serve tend to be introverts by nature. Yes we get meaning from giving to others, it is our purpose in life, but it’s not necessarily where we get our energy and connection with the divine from. Yes we have our peacock moments when we are listened to, but the solace and energy tends to come in those alone times.

Many of the great sages were introverted in nature and often highly sensitive individuals who needed time alone in prayer and meditation. Think of Jesus going off alone to pray, or the Buddha, Mohamad, Gandhi.

Now while they were introverted in some ways this did not stop them accepting their invitations by turning down their calls. The spiritual life is all about invitation. It’s about stepping out of ourselves, no matter how shy and or introverted, to serve our world and to fully become a part of the whole.

I was recently asked, by one of the folk I serve, why I don’t often talk about my understanding of God. I remember saying at the time that it was primarily about humility, how can anyone really speak adequately about the Divine. A bit of an evasive answer if truth be told.

So what do I think of when I speak of God? Well the truth is I see God as invitation really, that God offers itself to us, invites us to walk with. I cannot accept that God has pre-ordained everything that occurs in life and controls our every interaction. I do though believe in the Lure of Divine Love, that God invites us into life and love. An invitation I sometimes turn away from, although less so these days. I do not believe events are laid out before myself or others and yet I do experience synchronicity when I am truly in tune with life around me and spirit within me. Some days if feels like the whole of life is communicating with me, compelling me to follow. At such times it feels impossible to refuse such invitations. This year it has been immensely powerful and as it has been impossible to ignore the invitation, there really was no choice. It has been so powerful at times that it has felt like I have been directed. I’m not sure I truly believe this. That said my belief either way is irrelevant as to whether it is factually correct or not. Whether I believe something or not doesn’t make it true or not. I think it is important that we all remember that. I have felt powerfully directed at times and I have never known the presence of God more intensly.

The core of the spiritual life for me is invitation and I have discovered that the way to truly live this life is to became an invitation myself. It has mostly allowed me to transcend my own shyness and given me life deep and rich in meaning. It’s amazing what we can invite into our lives and encourage others to do the same. Do you know what, the invitation is often written all over our faces.

Our faces reveal who we are you know. In many ways our faces shape who we are and can actually shape our futures by what we invite into our lives through it; David Whyte in “The Three Marriages: Reimagining Work, Self and Relationship” states that:

“We do not often admit how much the shape of our face can be an invitation to others or a warning to keep away. Our face influences our future by what it invites or disinvites. The way we face the future actually creates our future as much as individual actions along the way.”

He illustrates what he means by telling the story of two guests at a party that he hosted at his home. He stood at his door with his eight year old daughter welcoming guests. He described his daughter as being very shy with strangers and of hiding behind his legs and just waving a hand at the guests as they arrived. This apparently all changed as one guest Satish Kumar, a former Jain monk arrived, a man who had achieved great things through his presence and openness and welcome. Whyte writes that:

“At sixty, his face was so full of life and happiness and welcome and happiness that my daughter ran out spontaneously from behind my legs and held her hands out toward him. I was taken aback by the sudden courage of my hitherto reluctant daughter, but I could see what she was running toward. Satish’s face was an invitation to happiness itself. Seeing him always makes me want to practice the set of my own face as a kind of daily discipline. I only have to see him and I want to be as naturally happy and appreciative as he is, and more importantly he makes me want to show it.”

Whyte then describes another face that was the polar opposite of Satish’s that sent his daughter scurrying once again behind his legs. Whyte writes:

“A man whose face seemed to carry not only past disappointments, but also a sense that it was only a matter of time before it was disappointed again. This man’s face seemed almost hungry for circumstances to betray him.”

Whyte writes that as he observed these two faces together, all night long he could see with absolute clarity that these two faces had radically different futures in store for them. It mattered not what they did or would do, or what would happen to them. He could see it in what they invited or disinvited into their lives. One was open and welcome, while the other was closed off and disappointed. He could see it, because it was written all over their faces.

Our faces say it all...

Yes shyness is nice, there is a cuteness to it, especially in the young. There is a healthy place for it too as we step over the threshold into something new. That said if it leads us to refusing the invitations of our lives, it is not helpful at all.

So I offer you the invitation to openness, an invitation that begins to be expressed through our all too human faces. May we become the invitation that encourages others to overcome their shyness and step over the threshold and join in the courageous conversation that is the spiritual life.

Sunday, 18 February 2018

Desire is the point of everything

I was recently listening to young woman broken by grief at the loss of a dear friend, someone she described as a second mother. She was grieving the very real physical loss of someone who had affected her life deeply, how she longed to spend just a little more time with her. It truly was her heart’s desire. This is the power of love and loss, the power of grief. No matter what we might believe spiritually, we miss the persons flesh and bone and being. We are physical beings after all. As she shared she spoke about her own spiritual beliefs. She spoke of something I hear a lot of these days, a kind of modern take on spirituality. Something you often hear from folk who claim to be spiritual but not religious. She said that she couldn’t understand why she was finding the loss so hard as she knew that we are spiritual beings merely having physical experiences and that what really mattered was spirit. I remember thinking to myself, ouch. I think so many of our troubles stem from rejection of our physical being, that somehow this is less than spirit. I often witness the opposite trouble by the way, that which sees us merely as physical beings, “lumbering robots” to quote Richard Dawkins, a view which sees no spirit animating our physical being. Both views are problematic to me and in some ways deny what it truly means to be human. For me our lives are animated flesh, brought to life by the one loving spirit. When we lose that which we love, a part of our body and our spirit breaks with this loss. I have thought this for many years now as I have experienced love and loss, as we all do as I have grieved, as we all do. The last 12 months have revealed this ever more strongly as I have had the privilege of sharing with others in “The Colours of Grief: Our Shared Experience of Love and Loss”. I know that love lives on, it is eternal, but when we lose someone we love dearly we grieve the loss of their physical being, how we long to see them, to hear them, to touch them once again. We should never decry this very real experience. We are animated flesh, we are the spirit expressing itself in lived reality. We all love, we all long and we all desire.

They say it's not about the destination, but the journey itself, that is the gift, the blessing of our lives. It is called the beautiful journey, the ultimate gift of life. Now while I accept this as truth, I do not see it as the whole truth. You see it’s not just about our individual journeys, our singular adventures, but who we journey with. We do not sail the ship alone. Some are with us and stay until the end, some are there at the beginning, but leave along the way; some join us for a short while and then they are gone and many others journey on where we are long gone. So yes it's about the journey but it's more than that, it’s about who we journey with. We do not sail this ship alone. To me this is what it means to truly live religiously, to live our spiritual lives with others. And each time we lose one, we journey with, our heart breaks and we grieve their loss. For each matters.

By the way we don’t go anywhere. Life truly is Groundhog Day, we journey round in circles and eventually return home with treasure. You see the journey is truly about learning to be at home where you find yourself, being grounded in our truly human beings. As Wendell Berry wrote:

“A Spiritual Journey” by Wendell Berry

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

This is why we desire. We desire to journey, to commune to become a part of and to belong, to be at home in the ground of our being. Desire is a vital aspect of our humanity that sometimes the spiritual inclined do not wish to speak of. Or the scientifically inclined try to reduce or some try to buy and sell, treat as a mere commodity.

As Eduardo Galeano observes in “Walking Words”

“The Church says: The body is a sin.
Science says: The body is a machine.
Advertising says: The body is a business
The body says: I am a fiesta”

We are living breathing beings, animated and in my belief infused by spirit. What we experience right here right now is not merely a physical experience, it is the spirit manifest, alive. Yet we want to deny this, to reduce its meaning, to deny the sacredness of our all too human being.

So often desire is decried and yet desire is the point of everything. I have discovered that it is desire that animates our all too human being, perhaps it is desire that is that spark of the divine in our human being, in our flesh and yet so often it is the thing we fear the most because it cannot be controlled, it is an ungovernable beast that overcomes our rational and reasoning minds, its meant too. We are not just machines, lumbering robots. We are the body electrified, enthused with joy, wondering and suffering too.

I have come to believe that our bodily desire comes from that spirit within us. This longing and yearning for communion, for connection, for completion, for fulfilment and wholeness flows from our essence. It is heard in our first cry when we are born, the cry of the newborn to be held and loved. It is found in the yearning of young lovers to experience one another as one. It is found in the urge to adventure, to discover new lands, new scientific understanding and all creative expression. It is that longing to be loved and cared for, that creates family and community and it is this that cries out when we lose something or someone we love, when we grieve. It is desire that urges us to connect with a larger reality, to that which is greater than our singular selves. It is that power that is greater than all and yet present in each. Perhaps desire is that aspect of the Divine in our humanity.

I see clearly that desire is a deep longing that comes from our souls, the essence of our human being. Sadly it would seem that the spiritual traditions have not always recognised this. In fact many of the traditions, or at least how they have been understood have suggested that our desires need to be curbed and or controlled, that we should be ashamed of them.

Desire is often associated with greed, lust and egoism. Desire is often considered dangerous to the individual and society. It comes from this idea that fundamentality there is something deeply wrong with our human nature. The idea that we are fallen creatures. The idea it appears is that to receive enlightenment and or transformation that desire must be transcended. This saddens me, as I have found that it is through my real human experiences that the spirit comes alive, love expressed through our human lives and it is our task to bring that alive through our human lives. To me this is what the gospels teach in their essence as do other traditions in their essence too. As Diarmuid O'Murchu observed in “The Transformation of Desire: How Desire Became Corrupted and How We Can Reclaim It”

"In this analysis religion breaks loose from the chain of life. It becomes an instrument of death and destruction. It undermines that which is central to all spiritual growth and development. The desires of the heart are precisely those that keep us rooted in mystery, forever reminding us that the Spirit lures us forth into the transformative power of the new. This is precisely what is happening in every one of the parable stories in the Gospels, the seminal narratives offered by Jesus to break open the meaning of the Kingdom of God.

"Jesus took desire seriously, and wishes all Christians to do the same. We engage desire, not primarily by adopting a moralistic and legal coding, but by working co-operatively for the right relationships that facilitate liberation and growth at every level of life. Striving to get relationships right is the heart and soul of the New Reign of God. And it is not merely human relationships, but right relating at every level from the cosmos to the bacterial realm. Creation is forever held in the embrace of a relational matrix, and from that foundational source all relationships find their true place and purpose."

...The Lure of Divine Love keeps on calling me, thankfully I rarely refuse the call these days...

Desire comes from our essence, our soul, our being. It is desire that leads us to connect to be more than our singular selves. It is from desire that we respond to the suffering of others. It brings us to life and makes us feel alive. We are born to live alive and then to let go of life when our time comes.

Desire is the vitality of life, it is our longing for completeness, it’s what brings us together and forms community, family, friendship and human love. We are not spiritual beings merely having a physical experience, our physical experience is the spirit dancing in life. This desire, this human yearning, is how the spirit is known. I’m with the Sufi’s who saw yearning as God’s desire to be known. We ordinary humans are the spirit incarnated in life. Actually I suspect that all life is an expression of the Divine love. Desire is the point of everything.

Do not be afraid to express your desire it is the spirit come alive. Through our desire we become all that we born to be…Fully alive…

I’m going to end this "blogspot"  with the following poem by Rene Daumal, “I am Dead Because I lack Desire”

"I Am Dead Because I Lack Desire" by Rene Daumal

"I am dead because I lack desire;
I lack desire because I think I possess;
I think I possess because I do not try to give.
In trying to give, you see that you have nothing;
Seeing you have nothing, you try to give of yourself;
Trying to give of yourself, you see that you are
Seeing you are nothing, you desire to become;
In desiring to become, you begin to live.”

Let us desire to become, let us begin to live