Sunday, 4 October 2015

Reverence for Life

Albert Schweitzer on “Altruism”

'Wherever we find the love and sacrificial care of parents for offspring…we find this ethical power. Indeed, any instance of creatures giving aid to one another reveals it. Let me tell you of three instances which have been brought to my attention.

The first example was told me by someone from Scotland. It happened in a park where a flock of wild geese had settled to rest on a pond. One of the flock had been captured by a gardener, who had clipped its wings before releasing it. When the geese started to resume their flight, this one tried frantically, but vainly, to lift itself into the air. The others, observing his struggles, flew about in obvious efforts to encourage him; but it was no use. Thereupon, the entire flock settled back on the pond and waited, even though the urge to go on was strong within them. For several days they waited until the damaged feathers had grown sufficiently to permit the goose to fly. Meanwhile, the unethical gardener, having been converted by the ethical geese, gladly watched them as they finally rose together, and all resumed their long flight.

My second example is from my hospital in Lambarene. I have the [opportunity] of caring for all stray monkeys that come to our gate. Sometimes there will come to our monkey colony a wee baby monkey whose mother has been killed, leaving this orphaned infant. I must find one of the older monkeys to adopt and care for the baby. I never have any difficulty about it, except to decide which candidate shall be given the responsibility. Many a time it happens that the seemingly worst-tempered monkeys are most insistent upon having this sudden burden of foster-parenthood given to them.

My third example was given me by a friend in Hanover, who owned a small café. He would daily throw out crumbs for the sparrows in the neighbourhood. He noticed that one sparrow was injured, so that it had difficulty getting about. But he was interested to discover that the other sparrows, apparently by mutual agreement, would leave the crumbs which lay nearest to their crippled comrade, so that he could get his share, undisturbed...

(With thanks to Rev Feargus O'Connor for these words by Schweitzer on "Altruism")

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the death of Albert Schweitzer, one of the great figures of the twentieth century. He was incredibly gifted. By the time he was thirty he had achieved more than most of us could even dream of doing in our lifetimes. He was an accomplished musician, minister, theologian and university professor. Then in his early thirties he qualified as a medical doctor and devoted the rest of his life to serving the medical needs of the people of Africa. In 1953 he was awarded the Nobel peace prize.

In 1915, while interned in France during the First World War, Schweitzer began to struggle to understand what made life “purposeful”, eventually he came up with his universal ethical principle “Reverence for Life” He said “I am life that wants to live in the midst of other life that wants to live.” He recognised a universal “will to live” in all living beings and claimed that ethical humans would feel compelled to approach all life with the same reverence they have for their own lives. Claiming “‘good’ means to maintain life, to further life, to bring developing life to its highest value. ‘Evil’ means to destroy life, to hurt life, to keep life from developing.” This laid the foundation for his simple universal ethical principle. He saw that "Reverence for Life contains all the components of ethics: love, kindliness, sympathy, empathy, peacefulness, power to forgive." Reverence for life became the by-word of his life and teachings, he promoted the concept that to be an ethical person required us to honour all life and to be a friend of the world, cherishing all aspects of creation. As he wrote “Profound love demands a deep conception and out of this develops reverence for the mystery of life. It brings us close to all beings.”

“Reverence for Life” though is more than ethics, it is a religious imperative. Hence the appropriate use of the word “Reverence”. “Reverence” is a word of real power. “Reverence” literally means “profound, adoring, awed, respect”. “Reverence for Life” has the power to transform, to change the way that life is experienced. Through it an ethical person not only respects life but experiences awe and adoration for every aspect of creation. It is the “Golden Rule” in its purest and most universal form. Through it you see all life as your neighbour and and you love all life as you would wish to be loved yourself.

Nothing in life is separate, everything is interconnected. “Reverence for Life” speaks of life as being interconnected that nothing is separate. Therefore when we disrespect one aspect of life we are disrespecting all and when we revere one aspect, we revere all life. Or to paraphrase Jesus What you do to the least of them, you do to me. Everything is interconnected, nothing lives separately from all life and I believe that is all connected by a Great Universal thread from which all life exists. I call this thread God.

The Great twentieth century theologian and Process philosopher Charles Hartshorne recognised this and as a result urged people of faith to widen their circle of kinship beyond the confines of their own species. He described the universe as a living network rather than a collection of inert forces or senseless objects, He asked: "Is it likely that God takes no delight whatever in the more than a million other living forms on this planet, yet does delight in, derive value from contemplating, the one human species lately emergent on the planet? If such an idea is not sheer anthropomorphic bias, what would be such bias?" Schweitzer did not suffer such speciesism, even as a young boy he recognised God’s love for the animals as he wrote “As a small child, I could not understand why I should pray for human beings only. When my mother first had kissed me good night, I used to add a silent prayer that I composed for all creatures.”

“Reverence for Life” helps us to recognise the importance of everything. It helps us see that everything matters. Every thought, every feeling, every word and every deed. It helps us recognise the intrinsic value of our own lives too. It reveals how we see life and how we live in life impacts on everything, including our own souls, our own beings. I am recognising this more and more as I live and breathe and enjoy my own being and that in which I live and breathe and share my being. In recent weeks as I have simply enjoyed walking round where I live I have felt more connected to the people and the nature that I pass and interact with. As my reverence and love for life has grown, so has my love for my own being too.

Today on the day that the congregations I serve pay homage to the animals and the gifts that they freely share with all life I would ask you the reader to also pay homage to Albert Schweitzer and his lasting legacy. When he died, more than 50 years ago, on 4th September 1965 he left a legacy which in my belief is very much at the core of liberal religious thought. This great humanitarian, musician, theologian, medical doctor and ethical philosopher believed that all life should be revered. That life really mattered, that each and every one of us matters, that this world matters and every living creator living in it matters too. That we do not live purely from or for ourselves and that we are connected and held together in so many ways. That if we share our suffering that we can together begin to lift ourselves from this suffering. That we, each of us, have within us the power to make the difference. I did not say change the world, but make a difference. You never know one small act of compassion might just begin a tidal wave of compassion that can impact throughout all life.

It can happen you know. You’ve just got to believe and then make that belief an action. It simply begins by recognising the Divine in all life. It begins with “Reverence for Life”

I'm going to end this little chip of a "blogspot" with the following meditation by Kenneth Collier. I have grown to love the stillness of deer in recent weeks, they bring out an awe filled reverence in me...

“The Deer” by Kenneth Collier

You must stand perfectly still and look like a peculiar tree. And if you move, it must look like it was the wind that blew your hand to your face. And the deer will look back at you without moving their tails. They will look right back at you without moving their tails. They will look, and you wil think that maybe they are not really there. But then, they will move their ears, and you will know they are real.

And that is what it is like. It is like the sweet, almost immovable deer. It sounds green, like rain falling through leaves. It sounds blue, like wind across the bay and the sea. It sounds silver and black, like the sky when there is nothing left of the day but sleep and soft sounds of breathing and dreams that drift upwards like smoke and disappear.

It moves as slowly and carefully as a heron stepping deliberately through the still water of the pond. And it is almost silent. Almost. Not quite. Silent like the falling snow is silent. It whispers against the window, or sings, or even hisses like a fire made of apple wood hisses.

Or maybe you won’t know it is there until it stops. Until the whispering is hushes. Maybe you won’t know it is there until it is not there. And then you will long for it, like the dry grass longs for the rain, And all you can do is be still and wait.

But do not worry. And do not hurry. For the clouds will gather eventually and the rain will fall with a rattle into the grass. The whisper will return like the deer that moved its ear and you will sigh a long, sweet sigh, And I know that it is there.

The throaty sound of knowledge, the sudden splash of understanding, washes over you like a waterfall, like starlight, like a dream that makes the day come alive. And you will know it in the little daily things; the smell of coffee, the touch of hands, the sound of light falling on grass, the taste of air after rain. You will never know it and never forget.

But maybe you ask, “What is this thing?” What is it that moves as silently as snow?”

And what shall I answer? It is nothing but the deer.

Saturday, 26 September 2015

Harvest: Wisdom to Know the Difference

“Harvest” is a time for reaping, but it is also a time for reflection; “Harvest” is a time just before Autumn sets in and all around us slows down; “Harvest is a time to gather in all that has occurred in our lives; “Harvest” is a time to feast on the good and perhaps chuck out what is of no use.

We will, before we are probably aware of it, soon enter into the winter of the year. Let us hope we have gathered enough to see us through the darkness of winter; let us hope we have planted enough, and cared for what we have planted, so that our harvest will be plentiful, that it will leave us fulfilled.

It is said that we reap what we so, but I'm not sure this is entirely true. There are after all other forces at work. We cannot control every element of life; there are powers at work other than our own. Sometimes everything can be destroyed, can be blown away by forces way beyond ourselves. This can lead us to believe that all is lost, but this is not necessarily so. We can begin again at any time. Seeds can begin to grow again, even after utter devastation.

“Harvest” is a time to reflect on what has been and to plan for times ahead. How is your harvest this year? Have the seeds you planted failed to grow? Are you been left with a bad harvest? Is this because you have not nurtured and cared for your crop as you should have or is it due to forces way beyond your control? Either way do not despair, hope springs eternal, even in the Autumn and the winter. There is always time for new beginnings. Let’s gather in the harvests of our lives and lets offer thanks and praise for all that we have been given, even if it’s a hard lesson, let’s give thanks for the lesson.

For tomorrow is another day and we can begin again in love.

I recently came across the following meditation "The Wisdom to Know the Difference" by Sarah York, it really touched me as I reflected on some of the people I serve and how they live with growing older...

“The Wisdom to Know the Difference” by Sarah York

My colleague Harry Meserve described as a pleasant surprise of advancing years the discovery of areas of knowledge, activity, and enjoyment that he had never before had time for or even considered. “This discovery,” he writes, “reminds one that no matter how distinguished, competent, and successful we may have been…we are now as little children who must be taught from the start how to make our way in other fields of knowledge and activity. Such experience is good for the soul.”

Aging is a lifelong process of adjustment to change. The people who age the best are those who are granted serenity – as the famous prayer puts it – the serenity to accept the things they cannot change, the courage to change the things they can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

Getting older is one of those things that cannot be changed. The losses are different for different people. Sometimes the loss means giving up possessions to move to a smaller home, or giving up independence to move in with a family member. Or it may be the loss of physical abilities – hearing, walking, seeing. Gradually, age reminds us that we can’t do things we used to do. Age forces us to redefine ourselves in terms of what we can do. It is an art to be able to grow through the losses and accept the process without giving in to a spirit of decline.

Aging is a process of growth, not of decline. I admire people who age well more than those who remain youthful. Sometimes it is hard to tell the difference, for both may appear vital and alert. But one avoids the realities of the autumn season of life by pretending that it’s still summer, while the other enjoys the brilliant colours.

...I love the final paragraph, especially the short sentence that opens it, "Aging is a process of growth, not of decline.". It also got me thinking about "The Serenity Prayer" in relation to "Harvest"...

The word Harvest is derived from the Anglo-Saxon haerfest, meaning “Autumn”. Autumn is always the reflective season. A time to gather in all that our lives have produced and then to separate what is of no use, to let it go and to store up what is of good use. It also got me thinking of the following parable from Matthew's Gospel Ch 13 vv 24 - 30

24 He put before them another parable: ‘The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; 25but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away. 26So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well. 27And the slaves of the householder came and said to him, “Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where, then, did these weeds come from?” 28He answered, “An enemy has done this.” The slaves said to him, “Then do you want us to go and gather them?” 29But he replied, “No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. 30Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.” ’

This parable got me thinking about what "Harvest" is really about and I believe it is two very important things. "Harvest is about storing up what is of value and good to us and offering thanks and praise for this and letting go of what is not. This time of year is very much about preparing for the future, making best use of what we gather in but also about acknowledging the power of letting go of what is not. For by doing so we are making room for more of what is of good use.

Now of course not everything can simply be let go of, life just isn’t like that. There are aspects of our lives and who we are as people that no matter how much we may wish them away will always remain. That said how we live with them will make all the difference. In fact we may even be able to make good use of these perceived problems. Sometimes the only thing we can do is to adopt a different attitude towards these problems in our lives; sometimes this is all that we need to do.

Now isn't this the wisdom of "The Serenity Prayer” “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change. Courage to change the things I can. And wisdom to know the difference”

The “Serenity Prayer” is one of the great prayers, simple, practical and beautifully universal. It speaks powerfully to the heart and soul of so many people and has been doing so ever since it was first written by Reinhold Niebhur in the 1930’s. I even got into a conversation about it in a remote village in Transylvania when I went on a trip there a few years.

Several years ago I visited Unitarians in Transylvania. One day I visited a small community a village called Icland - there is no other settlement in the region whose name ends in land, the story goes that it was originally settled by people from Ireland or England – I walked up the hill towards the parish house and settled into a little schoolroom with a few adults and two teenage girls. For some reason I had images of Thomas Hardy or even Dickens in my mind as I walked up to the house and looked at the village. None of the houses had running water, everyone had a well. The minister led a short religious education class and I was deeply moved by the conversation which she translated for me. It was a conversation about struggles with the current economic climate and the importance of letting go of control and not becoming blocked off from God. The words of the serenity prayer came to my mind as we spoke “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can and wisdom to know the difference” – if only we could all find that wisdom to know the difference. I mentioned this and then a few moments later one of the women present produced a copy of the prayer from her purse. We then continued with the conversation which was one of the most beautifully moving and connective ones I have ever had. We spoke deep into one another's hearts. I left these people knowing I will probably never see them again, but also knowing that this conversation would be etched on my soul for a long time to come. During the conversation I had felt the presence of the spirit that I call God powerfully. I can picture the woman Elizabeth in my mind’s eye as she talked openly and eloquently of her struggles with life and faith. I can picture her now.

The key to this time of year and every time of year is in finding the wisdom to know the difference. The key to this of course is discernment. We need to be able to discern, to sift out, what needs to be let go of, what needs to be accepted and what needs to change either internally or externally for this to happen.

Now the word discernment comes from the Latin “discernere” which means to separate, to distinguish, to sort out. Just think of prospectors panning for gold or sifting through rocks and dirt in search of gem stones. They are separating, they are sorting through the muck for what is precious, they are distinguishing, they are discerning.

Discernment is the key to more fruitful harvests in our future. We need to discover what is of value and what needs to be discarded from our hearts, our minds and our lives. We need to do this in order to live fully and experience all that life has to offer. We need to discard the dirt and muck in order to discover all that is precious in life; we need to do this in order to be fully aware not only of our own lives, but the lives of those around us.

So how do we clear our minds so that we can discern, so that we can sift through the muck of life? Well I believe that we need to create space and we need silence. Our lives, our minds are so full of stuff that it is really difficult to discern what is right and healthy sometimes. This makes it difficult to make wise choices about life. In order to make those wise decisions we need to be still, we need to be silent, we need to connect to our bodies, to our breathing. We need to prepare ourselves for what life has to offer us. If we do we may just hear that still small voice of calm; that voice that is less than a whisper and yet so much more than silence. That voice that will grant us the wisdom to know the difference.

I will end this little chip of a blog with following “Autumns Arrival” by the late Simon John Barlow.
"Autumn's Arrival"

The chill in the air of mists and rain,
The grey and blue of sky meeting the reds and golds of leaves
Announce that autumn has arrived.
A feast for the seasons.
The fruit-laden branches of tree and the berry festooned bushes,
The bare fields now reaped of grain and vegetables,
Announce that harvest has arrived –
A feast for the body.
But what of the feast of the soul?
What have we gathered from our lives?
What of the harvest of experience?
The words of Julian of Norwich remind us that
“Peace and love are always alive in us,
but we are not always alive to peace and love”.
And so beloved,
In this season of ingathering and feasting, let us remember
The harvest for the senses,
The harvest for the body,
And the harvest of the soul
- lessons learned, peace sensed and love felt –
- the ingathering of Commonwealth of God.
God of Creation,
We give thanks for the bounty of our harvest of senses, body and soul
We hold in compassion those whose harvest is not yet ready,
Or seems too difficult to reap:
Guide us to use our blessings to bring a brighter harvest for all beings:
And grant us the wisdom to be alive to the harvest of peace and love.

Simon J Barlow

Saturday, 19 September 2015

Imagination: More Important than Knowledge

Last weekend my brother and his family finally managed to come "up north" for the weekend. It was the first time we had been able to see them for more than a year. Sadly due to ill health and other problems they had been unable to come for a couple of days at Christmas. So it was a little bizarre going through the whole process of giving and receiving Christmas present from nine months before.

It was a lovely day, in so many ways. What I enjoyed the most though was watching the cousins playing together. I especially delighted in watching the young and active imaginations of the youngest two Johhny and Sammy playing with what looked like mechanical insects, seeing their imaginations come alive and create little adventures and worlds together. I also loved watching and listening to the older two Joey and Scarlet as they went off into the other room with a guitar and began to write music together. They wrote a song which they would perform to each of us separately. It was beautiful witnessing their creative minds work together and them sharing their imaginations with us all. It is truly amazing what can be created when people come together in love. These two sets of children had not spent time together in over a year and yet the rapport they shared and the creativity that came from it, was a beautiful thing to behold. Just a wonderful example of the beautiful and creative thing that is the human imagination, especially in a child.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful to see life through the eyes of a child once again; wouldn’t it be wonderful to see the wonder and mystery of life once again; to see the things around us as fertile ground for adventure, rather than just mere objects to be used and discarded.

Lynda Sexson captures this feeling near perfectly, in “Ordinarily Sacred” she wrote:

“My son once found the hip-bone of a large cow. He wore it as a stately garment or as armor; he played the bone like a guitar or played himself in the bone like a dinosaur. He circulated his interest upon the bone back into his discovery of it in the woods, to the being who had walked if before abandoning it, to the shape and feel of it, to hanging it on the wall and looking at it and the shadows it cast. And the bone was transformed – quite beyond the original fragment of decay in the woods – into images of everything from death to art.”

It got me thinking of my own childhood and little adventures that I would create in my own mind. Memories that had at one time become lost in some many other things. I thought of times just going off alone and creating whole worlds in my imagination. I remembered Sunday mornings at my grandparent’s farm and waking very early in my pyjamas and getting my granddads broken no longer usable rifle and pretending I was John Wayne defending the Alamo and other such adventures and many other dreams and memories too. I remembered too the fascination with old animal skulls, especially the jaws and teeth. It brought back lots of lovely memories of innocent and happy days, memories which for years had become lost. I thought about all these things as I drove back to Altrincham to prepare myself to lead worship the next day. It created a beautiful space in the soul of me.

It brought to mind the following meditation...

“Magical Thinking” by Colin Bossen

"The sign in the windowpane of Kristin Baybar's toyshop in London reads "We do not exist but if you think we do, and would like to visit... please knock." Knock I have. In truth, I have more than knocked I have entered the sanctum of the toyshop itself. It is a strange and magical place, filled with curios, doll house furniture and hand carved toys. Every surface is covered, the cupboard display cases stacked high, with miniature flowers, snapping tin alligators, painted puzzles that move, penny whistles and cheap magic tricks. Several signs proclaiming "Do Not Touch" suggest that this might not be a shop for small children.

Yet some of my fondest childhood memories are of Kristin Baybar's. For three summers, while my father taught a study abroad course, my family rented a flat around the corner. Every chance I got I would wander over to the toy shop. The shop owner--Kristin Baybar herself--seemed to delight in entertaining small children. There were magic tricks, toys that made noises and puzzles. Within the walls of the shop the world seemed just a little more wonderful than outside.

The shop and its owner did much to teach me about the power of the imagination. Creative play, the ability to dream and discover new things helps make us human. Without them there would be no culture, no religion, no art and no science. They help us to define and redefine the world for, as William Shakespeare wrote, "We are such stuff / As dreams are made."

My friend Richard once defined magic as the act of imagining something and then creating it. “I think, I’m hungry. I want a sandwich,” he would say, “I imagine it and then I create it. That’s magic!” Open yourself to the marvellous that surrounds you, seek it out if only for a moment, and you never know what sort of magic you might create. So much of the world first began as a dream. So much of the world has yet to be dreamed."

...Colin Bosset captures beautiful the power and magic of the imagination, in this beautifully moving meditation...

One of my all time favourite quotes is by Albert Einstein who said “Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.” Without imagination there is no way that he could have developed his theory of relativity; without it there is no way he could have stepped beyond the perceived wisdom of the time. Without imagination there is no way that Beethoven could have created the Ninth Symphony, ground breaking in so many ways and composed while he himself had become deaf. Beethoven never heard his own masterpiece. Without imagination there is no way that Shakespeare could have created his masterpiece Hamlet. Without imagination JRR Tolkein would not have created the works “The Lord of the Rings” and without imagination Peter Jackson would not have been able to create the cinematic masterpieces that were the motion pictures. Without imagination so much of what brings pleasure to our lives, that makes life life, would never have come to pass. It is imagination, as an expression of our creativity, that enables us to boldly explore our world and envision worlds and reality beyond prosaic fact. I agree with Einsten “Imagination is more important than knowledge”

It is imagination that allows us to see beyond the confines of the understanding of the day. In the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew’s Gospel chapter 5 Jesus begins his ministry with his vision of how a good person a holy person should be. He begins by telling the people that they are the light of the world, that it is through them that the Kingdom will come about and then in the final verses he once again turns the wisdom of the day right around by rejecting the eye for an eye concept of justice and tells those who will listen that they must love their enemies. This new thinking, this new way of being grows from that very same place of imagination, from which all creativity flows.

Yes all creativity flows from the imagination, but so do many of our troubles too. Our imaginations can project all kinds of fears onto our psyches. Throughout history this has been exploited. Aspects of the media both feed and feed on this. Politics and religion has often operated here too. They have preyed on our fears and this sense that there is something fundamentally wrong with us. Advertising does similar things, especially the beauty industry. They sell us an imagined ideal of what we can be and thus we dream of reaching perfection. When the truth is that the only perfection we are capable of attaining is perfect love, which means acceptance of all no matter who they are or where they have been.

Fear can really tap into that place deep within us, the same place that all creativity grows from. Imagination is a double edged sword. The same thing that creates all that is beautiful, wonderful, moving and deeply spiritual in life is also the same thing that creates all that is destructive, hateful and dehumanising too. It all stems from that place deep in the marrow of our being. From what I call our soul. Fear and love are two sides of the same coin and the one that wins out is the one that we feed, as the old Cherokee chief taught his grandson.

An old Cherokee is teaching his grandson about life.

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

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

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

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

The key, it would seem, is how we feed our souls. In the same way the food that we eat effects our bodies, so too the stimulus we feed our hearts and minds effects our souls.

Now we feed our souls in many ways, art is one but it is just as easily fed by the ordinary. I noticed this last weekend as I enjoyed my nieces and nephews imaginations come alive. My soul was beautifully enriched by the whole experience. As I drove back alone that night I wept at the beauty of it all and the space that it had created within my soul to awaken my own imagination and give birth to my own creativity, my own gift to share with the world.

It brought to mind the following extract by Graziano Marcheschi’s in “Wheat and Winds and the Wolf of Gubbio

"You hear an old song and the face of a lost loved one suddenly appears, and in the space of the song the loved one grabs your loneliness by the collar and sends it out the door.

"You stand before a painting and the peaceful landscape calls you in — or a scene of violent pain holds you in thrall — and for a minute that's longer than eternity you enter the serenity, or you rage and grieve along with the picture's tortured souls.

"You read a piece of poetry and for the span of a minute — or an hour — you find a space to sit and listen to the sound of naked joy, or to stare into the face of unfathomable grief.

"More than anything else, that's what good art does: not answer questions or set agendas, but create space — space to laugh, to mourn, and to wonder who and how and why we are."

Marcheschi captures the transformative nature of imagination. He honours it and sees it as a vehicle of love and service. Service to humanity and service God. He is so right.

Everything that we do begins in the imagination, which is so much more than our individual thoughts. We are fed from everything and that little bit more than everything too. It is imagination that leads to action. You see what we imagine we live. And how we live really matters because everything that we do and everything that we do not do matters. Why you may well ask? Well because everything that we do impacts on those around us, in who we live and breathe and share our being. We are constantly feeding one another and life itself just as everyone we come into contact with, and the whole of life is feeding us, even if we aren’t consciously aware of it. There is still so much that we don’t know and may never know. This is why the imagination is, in the words of Einstein, “more important than knowledge.” Imagination enables us to become all that we are meant to be, it creates our destiny it allows us to explore new routes and even carve ones that were not there before, weren’t even dreamed of. This is the real beauty of imagination. For with it there is always something new to be seen, felt, experienced, to fall in love with. It is imagination that brings our world alive.

Just be careful how you feed it and how you feed life with it…

Saturday, 12 September 2015

Self Reliance and asking for Help

I was recently chatting with some friends, when one of them asked the group of us about a reference in a book familiar to us all (The book was Alcoholics Anonymous). She asked what a “Lone Ranger” was ? (now as it turns out she had got the reference slightly confused, as the phrase she was referring to is actually “Lone Wolf”). Well there were several responses. Several of the men amongst us, who had obviously watched the televisions series as children, began to describe who “The Lone Ranger” was. It was interesting that many talked about why he was “The Lone Ranger”, citing the reason being that he worked alone. Now as someone pointed out this is not actually correct. This friend it seemed was quite an expert and explained that he was called “The Lone Ranger” not because he rode alone but because he was the only surviving member of a group of six Texas Rangers who had been ambushed in a canyon named Bryant’s Gap by a gang of outlaws led by Bartholomew “Butch” Cavendish. He explained that Tonto, a Native American, comes across the scene and rescues the surviving ranger and nurses him back to health. The story tells how the ranger real name Reid had saved his life when they were both boys and that they had formed an eternal bond back then. Tonto had given him the name "Kemo Sabe", meaning trusty scout. The Lone Ranger lived by a strict moral code and went about righting wrongs, but he did not do so alone. He did so alongside Tonto and on his trusty horse Silver “Hi Oh Silver, Away”. The three along with others helped each other. No one was completely self-reliant, although they were very much responsible. “The Lone Ranger” even had his own Creed, that he lived by. It read:

I believe…

That to have a friend, a man must be one.
That all men are created equal and that everyone has within himself the power to make this a better world.
That God put firewood there, but that every man must gather and light it himself.
In being prepared physically, mentally, and morally to fight when necessary for what is right.
That a man should make the most of what equipment he has.
That “this government of the people, by the people, and for the people” shall live always.
That men should live by the rule of what is best for the greatest number.
That sooner or later…somewhere…somehow…we must settle with the world and make payment for what we have taken.
That all things change but truth, and that truth alone, lives on forever.
In my Creator, my country, my fellow man.

An interesting creed…although definitely of its time, hence the lack of gender neutral language.

Now “The Lone Ranger”, operated very much within the spirit of Emersonian “Self-Reliance”, but he did not operate alone. He asked for help when he needed help and he got it. “Self Reliance” is one of those phrases that have been misunderstood and misinterpreted over the years, I know that I have done so. It’s not about not caring for the needy and telling them that they need to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps. It’s also not about refusing to ask for help relying purely on your own resources. When Ralph Waldo Emerson was describing it in his famous essay “Self-Reliance”, as he left the Unitarian ministry and went off alone, he was not talking about the self-reliance that some economists talk of today. No what he was describing was more akin to cultural and spiritual autonomy and the need to know ourselves and listen to our hearts and our own intuitions and to use these gifts given to us by nature for the best purpose and not to use them lightly or selfishly. This is portrayed in his thoughts on prayer. Towards the end of his essay “Self-Reliance” he writes “Prayer that craves a particular commodity, anything less than all good, is vicious. Prayer is the contemplation of the facts of life from the highest point of view. It is the soliloquy of a beholding and jubilant soul…But prayer as a means to effect a private end is a meanness and theft.”

Self-reliance ought never to be confused with selfishness, they are in no way similar, although they have been misinterpreted over the years and understood similarly.

No one pulls themselves up from their bootstraps completely alone, all by themselves. From the moment of our births others are involved in creating who we are and who we become. As the old saying goes “It takes a village to raise a child.” No one lives entirely from themselves we are all a part of an interdependent web of relationships that are made of both visible and invisible strings; strings that are physical and others metaphysical. Asking for help is actually a sign of both strength and wisdom, rather than weakness. It is a sign of good, mental, emotional and spiritual health.

Now asking for help is not something that comes easily to me. I am much more comfortable offering my hand than accepting that of another. That said the moments of the greatest personal spiritual growth for me have been those moments of humility, when I have felt powerless and completely lost and have had to surrender to this and held out my shaking hand in the hope that help would be available. It happened again recently as I surrendered to the need to lose weight. I hit a rock bottom about eight weeks ago and broke down. From there I was able to lift up my eyes to hills and to genuinely ask for help. Just asking the question, in prayerful brokenness was enough for things to begin to change. I found the appropriate help and they showed me what I had to do. Now of course it is my task and responsibility to put in the action, but I am not doing so alone. I am part of a Slimming World and am following their “Food Optimisation” plan as well as exercising daily. The results are astonishing, in under 8 weeks I have lost almost three stones, a total of 41 pounds and feel fantastic and am therefore better able to serve life and the people around me.

Now the asking for help began as a prayer but soon became an activity and it brought to my mind that questions that begins Psalm 121 “I lift up my eyes to the hills – from where will my help come?” Now in the Psalm the answer is that God will give the help. God who made the heaven and the earth as well as the hills that the Psalm is referring to.

Now while the hills themselves may not be the power there is something powerful about both looking up to them and being up there looking down on life from them. In many ways the thing I miss the most about Yorkshire are the hills, Cheshire is a very flat place.

Standing up on a hill top and looking down on the world in which we live and breath and have our being gives us space and perspective. It helps us rise above our worries and troubles and leads us to solutions that often cannot be found in the middle of the hustle and bustle of life. Somewhere in that space the answers as to what can be done, can be found.

A few months ago I went to see the documentary film “Between Dog and Wolf” it told the story of my musical heroes New Model Army and their long career on the fringes of the mainstream. Much of it moved me as it described their many ups and downs, many that they created for themselves. There was one moment that really took a hold of the soul of me. This was when Justin Sullivan, the creative force behind it all, talked about the few months he lived in London at the beginning of their odyssey and how he just couldn’t write there. He felt cramped up creatively and hemmed in. he needed to return to the hills of Bradford to write once again. He needed those hills to find space and perspective and to once again touch the spirit.


I understand this I need space and time alone to commune with the unseen thread so that I can connect with physical life in the right way; so I can help in appropriate ways and seek help when I need it, so as to be the best that I can be.

From the cradle to the grave we need to keep on asking for help and we need to make ourselves available to be of assistance to others in their time of need. This is not to say that we become unhealthily dependent on others and society as a whole, no not at all. We are though a part of a whole, a complex whole that makes life and community. As we grow and change and become the people that we are this changes shape and reforms constantly, it seems that we are being born again and again to new versions of ourselves. Of course we cannot do this alone. We cannot give birth to ourselves, no one can. We need help and sometimes we need to ask for help from others and in so doing we are of course doing not only a service for ourselves, but for them also.

No one is an island. We are communal beings entirely dependent on each other and life itself. In the words of Martin Luther King “We are interdependent…all life is interrelated. We are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied into a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” This has never been more true than today. When someone reaches out in a time of need it is our God given duty to help and when we need help we need to be faithful enough to ask for help too. Interdependence is a physical fact, but it is also a spiritual reality.

This to me is the whole point of spiritual community, of religious living. To see, understand and experience this oneness, this Divine Unity. To see that we are all one. To be of help to one another and to seek the help when it is needed. In this way we all grow and become the best that we can be and serve life to the utmost of our ability.

So I say to you the reader, echoing the Creed of “The Lone Ranger’s” let’s recognise the power within ourselves to make this a better world; let’s gather the firewood that god has provided for us; let’s make the most of the equipment we have; let’s settle with the world and make payment for what we have taken. "Hi oh Silver, away"

I will end this this little chip of a blogspot with the following meditation “The Web of Life” by Robert T Weston…

"The Web of Life"

There is a living web that runs through us
To all the universe
Linking us each with each and through all life
On to the distant stars.
Each knows a ­little corner of the world, and lives
As if this were his all.
We no more see the farther reaches of the threads
Than we see of the future, yet they’re there.
Touch but one thread, no matter which;
The thoughtful eye may trace to distant lands
Its firm continuing strand, yet lose its filaments as they reach out,
But find at last it coming back to him from whom it led.
We move as in a fog, aware of self
But only dimly conscious of the rest
As they are close to us in sight or feeling.
New objects loom up for a time, fade in and out;
Then, sometimes, as we look on unawares, the fog lifts
And there’s the web in shimmering beauty,
Reaching past all horizons. We catch our breath;
Stretch out our eager hands, and then
In comes the fog again, and we go on,
Feeling a ­little foolish, doubting what we had seen.
The hands were right. The web is real.
Our folly is that we so soon forget.

By Robert T Weston

Saturday, 5 September 2015

Face to Face

Extract from “Your Many Faces” by Virginia Satir

Life for me is like an ocean, with waves sometimes high, sometimes low, sometimes smooth, sometimes rough; so sometimes I’m high, sometimes I’m smooth, sometimes I’m low and sometimes I’m troubled. To carry the ocean analogy a little further, the current is life and the waves are essential for the movement of the ocean and for all the life that it holds inside. Waves are a natural response to all of the forces in the universe.

I am the same way, my faces are natural consequences of my being a human being, living and growing, and I need to know that storms as well as the beautiful sunshine are part of life. So I take pride in my stormy face, my sunshiney face, and I accept them as natural for the context. I don’t have to put on a happy face when I feel stormy. I can put on a face that belongs with that. And I don’t have to put on a face of doubt when I feel sunshiney inside.

...The face truly is a fascinating place...

As I mentioned in a previous blog I'm on a bit of a health kick at them moment. Going for long daily walks has become one of the many lifestyle changes I have put into place. I got a little ambitious the other day and decided to walk from my home in Altrincham to Lymm and back, following the Trans-Pennine way. It was quite an epic walk to be fair, I believe it took about three and a half hours in total. On the journey I took great delight in watching people as they approached and the many different facial expressions they pulled. I empathised with some, especially the joggers who looked somewhat pained as they ran towards me. No doubt towards the end of my walk I was pulling a similar face. In fact just as I was reaching the end of my journey a friend passed me going in the opposite direction on her bicycle - I hadn’t noticed her coming towards me as I was now focused on getting home, face forward – as she passed she commented “all this walking isn’t good for your health” I then recognised her and blurted out a “hello”, followed by a nod and chuckle of recognition.

There was also another moment a little earlier in the walk when what looked like a wolf’s head suddenly appeared by the side of me. It was one of those dogs that look just like a wolf, it was a moment of fright that took me by surprise and brought images of “An American Werewolf in London” to my mind and the two American tourists David and Jack being savaged as they walked the moors. A little over dramatic I know, but it’s what flashed through me as my fright instinct kicked in. The owner who was running with the dog just called “Don’t worry he’s ok, you just remind him of someone”. It appeared as if the dog just wanted to get a good look at me, face to face. As they ran on I thought to myself I wonder who I remind him of; I wonder what he recognised in me, that he has seen in someone else. 

As I was walking the following story played over in my mind;

There is a story told of a rabbi in ancient times who gathered his students together very early one morning, while it was still dark. He put this question to them: "How can you tell when night has ended and the day has begun?"

One student made a suggestion: "Could it be when you can see an animal and you can tell whether it is a sheep or a goat?"

"No, that's not it," answered the rabbi.

Another student said: "Could it be when you look at a tree in the distance and you can tell whether it is a fig tree or a peach tree?"

Again the rabbi answered: "No."

After a few more guesses the students said: "Well, how do you tell when night has ended?"

The rabbi answered: "It is when you look on the face of any man or woman and you see them as your brother or sister. If you cannot do this, then, no matter what time it is, it is still night."

as I continued walking I thought to myself do I always recognise every face I see as my brother and sister? Well not always it seems, I do view people with suspicion and distrust at times. Don’t we all? My fright mechanism can be sparked off, just as easily as everyone else’s. 

Facial recognition is hard wired into us. Apparently we can recognise a friend or foe, from their facial expression, from quite a distance. I for one am glad I still have a good vision and can pick up many things from distance, so long as I am facing forward and looking. It would seem I’m also good at picking up, almost intuitively, how a person is feeling from their expression. I have often taken one of those on-line quizzes that test your ability to identify emotion from facial expression. Whenever I take them I always seem to score 100%. I think that this dates backs to childhood and learning how to pick this up in the people around me, it was an early developed defence mechanism. There are advantages and disadvantages to this...

Now all this got me thinking about the word “face”. It seems to have many meanings. Etymologically it comes from the Latin “Facia” and “Facies” meaning appearance, form, figure, countenance. It seems that “Face” literally means “form imposed upon something”. Now from this the many understandings of the word “face” have developed. Think about how many expressions are involved in the word face. Such as:

Face up, face into, facing something, face off, face forward, saving face, the face of, faceache, face to face, the face that launched a thousand ships and many more…

Now each and every face is unique, no too are alike, each speaks of each individual life. Each changes with mood and circumstances too. We have one face and yet each face changes with our every mood. Abraham Joshua Heschel captured this perfectly when he said:

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

There is power in the face, perhaps even danger too. Many religions recognise this, hence the wearing of the veil, who’s original meaning was to protect those that gaze into the face. This is why veils can be found in holy places too. This brings to mind Exodus chapter 33 and an interchange between Moses and God. It recounts how God lovingly protects Moses from looking into his face, after granting him favour and recognising him. Moses so longed to see God’s face and therefore asked to see it directly “Pray thee, show me thy glory.” Of course he could not, for that would have destroyed him.

There is a real power even in a human face, for after all do we not also bare the image of the divine? To truly look into another’s face can be overpowering, frightening and make us feel a little vulnerable. To look at another face to face is a powerful experience, but also a little scary. You could say that it is truly awful, in the original meaning of the word. As to truly look at another’s face will fill us we awe. As no doubt it would if we looked truly at our own face. Look what happened to Narcissus as he became transfixed by his own reflection.

Remember that etymologically face originally meant “Form imposed upon something”. Interestingly John O’Donohue said that the “Face is an icon of creation”. In Anam Cara he stated that “The human face is an artistic achievement. On such a small surface an incredible variety and intensity of presence can be expressed. This breath of presence overflows the limitation of the physical form. No two faces are exactly the same. There is always a special variation of presence in each one. Each face is a particular intensity of human presence.”

It is the face that reveals the person. It shapes who we are perhaps even shapes our very future. 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.

It really matters how we face life…

The human face is not a common place. Each one is unique and each one reveals how we face life.

And it really matters how we face life. The very shape of our features can be a warning to others to keep away or an invitation, a warm welcome. There is immense power in each of our faces. This power will influence our futures and that of those who we come into contact with. Our face influences the future by what it invites or disinvites into our lives. The way that we face the future actually creates our futures, just as much as our individual actions along the way. In not just about what we do, or do not do, but the spirit in which we face the things that we do.

How are you facing life today?

Saturday, 22 August 2015


“This Place Is Sanctuary” by Kathleen McTigue taken from “Shine and Shadow”

You who are broken-hearted,
who woke today with the winds of despair
whistling through your mind,
come in.

You who are brave but wounded,
limping through life and hurting with every step, come in.
You who are fearful, who live with shadows
hovering over your shoulders,
come in.

This place is sanctuary, and it is for you.
You who are filled with happiness,
whose abundance overflows,
come in.

You who walk through your world
with lightness and grace,
who awoke this morning with strength and hope,
you who have everything to give,
come in.

This place is your calling, a riverbank to channel
the sweet waters of your life, the place
where you are called by the world’s need.
Here we offer in love.
Here we receive in gratitude.
Here we make a circle from the great gifts
of breath, attention and purpose.
Come in.

I was recently invited to an “open evening” at Timperley Community Church. The purpose of the evening was to discuss the new “Emergency Night Shelter” that will be opening there for those who find themselves homeless and who the council cannot give housing to in the coming winter months. There is currently no provision for this in Trafford and according to official statistics there is no real homelessness in Trafford. Official statistics claim that there are just two homeless people in the whole of the borough. I know from personal observation and experience that this is untrue.

The “Emergency Night Shelter” are seeking support in the community and from religious organisations. They are looking for volunteers to man the shelter as well as provisions such as socks, underwear, pillows and pillow cases, water proof clothing and toiletry packs. I will be endeavouring in the coming months to help in whatever ways I can. I have noticed in my five years as a minister in Trafford that there is a growing need for this provision.

Homelessness is on the increase in this country, I find this disturbing. What I find equally disturbing are attitudes toward people who find themselves in such situations. I do not like some of the language that I hear and the way that people are spoken of. I hear an alarming dehumanisation going on and it is not healthy for the soul of this country.

In 2013 112, 070 people declared themselves homeless in the UK, this is a 24% rises over a four year period. Official statistics submitted by local authorities show that the number of “rough sleepers” has increased from 1,768 in 2010 to 2,744 in 2014. “rough sleepers are only a small fraction of the total homeless population.

Local authorities have a statutory duty to house some homeless people, such as pregnant women, parents with dependent children and people considered for a variety of reasons as vulnerable. This rarely includes young single adults who are often hit the hardest. There are tens of thousands who find themselves in hostels. There are though not enough beds to provide for them all. Many fall into the category that are known as “hidden homeless”, more or less out of sight in B&B’s, squats, or on the floors of friends and families. I’ve been in this situation myself more than once in my lifetime. There is no security here, nowhere in which to build and or rebuild a life.

There are a variety reasons as to how and why people become homeless. There is of course an increasing problem with finding affordable housing as well as other poverty related issues. According to Crisis most men cite the reasons that they have become homeless as relationship breakdown, substance misuse and leaving an institution such as care, prison or hospital. Single women, who make up about a quarter of the clients of homelessness services are more likely to find themselves homeless as a result of physical or mental illness or after escaping a violent relationship. Whatever the reasons these are human beings and need to be seen and treated this way. They are no different to any of us. When we dehumanise one person, we dehumanise every single one of us. When we look into the eyes of a stranger we see our own eyes staring back at us.

All this got me thinking of a verse from the book of Hebrews chapter 13 V 2 "Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it." Do we show hospitality to these strangers in our very midst?

Showing hospitality and caring for the vulnerable in society is a key aspect of the Judeo - Christian and Islamic traditions. You will find it deeply rooted in the Abrahamic faiths and virtually every other world religion too. Hospitality is an essential spiritual practice. It begins with an open heart and a generosity of spirit. It’s about recognising the good in life and in people, especially those who find themselves in dire circumstances. It’s about recognising ourselves in those very same people. It’s about being open and welcoming to all, where ever they have been, where ever they are going and where ever they find themselves now. Tibetan Buddhist monks great the strangers visiting their temples with “Welcome, friend, from what noble spiritual tradition do you come.” The Christian monastic tradition has a long held practise of taking in strangers and offering them sanctuary as if they were Christ, inspired by those very words from Hebrews. In so doing they are following the example of Jesus who mingled with all people, there was no one left outside the city gate, no untouchables in his eyes.

Increasingly our age is becoming characterised by distrust, there is a fear of the strange and the stranger. The idea of assisting or taking in a stranger is not something most of us would want to do and the idea that we might be entertaining an angel just seems crazy. Is it though? Who knows what gifts can emerge in such encounters. Maybe when we welcome the stranger and give them sanctuary, in whatever ways we can, what we are actually doing is liberating ourselves from the bondages of selfishness and self centredness that we create. You see when we put barriers and blockades up to keep the unpleasantness of life out all we are actually doing is cutting ourselves off from the beauty present in life.

Living with hospitality and openness is another way, a better way. No it won’t change the world but it will change our every encounter and bring the healing of sanctuary to all involved. In the words of Joan Chittister “Hospitality is the way we come out of ourselves. It is the first step toward dismantling the barriers of the world. Hospitality is the way we turn a prejudiced world around one heart at a time.” When we open our doors to those in need we open our hearts to a loving encounter and in so doing we do indeed greet angels. The angels in ourselves and the angels in the stranger.

All this talk of opening doors as well as offering welcome and hospitality has brought an ancient word into my mind, “Sanctuary”. I think the first time I heard the word was as a child watching Charles Laughton playing the “Hunchback of Notre Dam” and those immortal words “Sanctuary, sanctuary, Esmeralda you gave me water.” I think the second time was in the song by The Cult “She Sells Sanctuary”. I’m not sure I understood it then though. I have been thinking about it once again recently as I reflected on our world. “Sanctuary, who will offer shelter?” I have also been thinking of all those beautiful souls that have opened themselves to me in so many ways and given me sanctuary materially, emotionally, mentally and spirituality.

Now a sanctuary in its original meaning was a sacred place, such as a shrine. These places became safe havens for people in desperate need and fleeing persecution in medieval times. The word has developed and expanded in meaning over the centuries into a place of safety for humans and animals too. A place where we can be welcomed and made to feel at home and therefore thrive.

I like to think of my free religious tradition as a kind of sanctuary. A place where people can come and feel secure and safe as they are and then begin to thrive and grow spiritually with us. In so doing they can become sanctuaries and places of welcome and hospitality in the world. They can live with openness and give to those they meet in a loving way. For me being a Unitarian minister is about creating sanctuaries wherever I go and encouraging others to do likewise. Encouraging them to live openly and lovingly in a world that seems increasingly closed in and distrusting. It’s about encouraging people to do what they can, whatever that might be. In so doing they may well not only encounter angels, but become the angels that others encounter too.

Where can we offer hospitality and welcome in this world? Something perhaps to think about? How can we become a sanctuary? Where is the place of need in the world around? How do we begin to heal our world and offer hope and home to helpless and the hopeless? How do we welcome the stranger and encounter the angels of life? Perhaps it could begin by offering some support to the night shelter at Timperley Community Church, or similar things in your own towns and cities. That would certainly be a start and of obvious practical benefit, but it must also begin in our hearts and minds by us living more openly and lovingly, with heart filled courage. It begins with building a sanctuary in our own hearts and opening the doors to one another and greeting the stranger.

I’m going to end this chip of a "blogspot" with the following by Gordon B McKeeman “A Drop in the Bucket” taken from “Singing in the Night”

“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.”
Mark Twain said. “Man is the only animal that blushes-or needs to”
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.

Saturday, 15 August 2015

The Five Gifts & The Sixth Sense

From “The Three Marriages: Reimagining Work, Self and Relationship” by David Whyte pp 42-43

“This falling in love can occur in a multiplicity of ways. We have the remarkable ability as human beings to fall in love with a person, a work, or even an idea of ourselves. That is, we create a relationship that has a perfected image of what we first encounter, a sense of longing for the perfect person, the ideal work, the full potential of our own character. We fall in love through seeing, hearing, touching, tasting, intuiting and longing. These senses are constantly mediating the frontier between what we think is a self and what we think is other than our selves.

First we have eyes, taken mostly for granted, with which we see a new moon or a tiny memo. We have ears, not fully appreciated, with which to entertain a grand opera or a humble opinion, and we have these tireless hands used every day to pull others towards us or push them away; most especially we have a tongue with which to taste, to give voice to desires or to lash others with our pent-up disapproval. We also have the intellect to contrast and compare, to measure carefully and weigh things in the balance. Then beneath them all, untiring but seldom listened to, we have the sixth sense acknowledge in almost all traditions a swirling internal formation called the intuition, the imagination, the heart, the almost prophetic part of a person that at its best somehow seems to know what is good and what is bad for us, but also what pattern is just about to precipitate, what out of a hundred possibilities is just about to happen, in a sense, an unspoken faculty for knowing what season we are in. What is about to die and what is about to come into being.”

...The writing of David Whyte is one of those something news that I have fallen in love with these last few months...

I have recently embarked on a new healthy living regime. As well as altering my diet, quite dramatically actually, I am also going on walks in and around the area I live. Each morning after my time in prayer and silent meditation I set of out into the day. Each day the walks are getting a little bit longer and I’m up to about two hours, before coming home showering and then reading for about half an hour. This is followed by a healthy breakfast and then I get on with my busy working day. I have to say I’m feeling fantastic for it.

As well as the obvious physical benefits my senses are feeling enriched too as I soak in the beauty of nature all around and all the other people I see up an about at that hour, whether going to work or out and about walking, jogging, cycling and of course all the lovely dog walkers. People seem even more friendly at this hour of the day. I sometimes go for another early evening walk too and it’s great to see all the life in the local parks on these lovely summer evenings. My senses feel as though they have been reawakened once again.

One thing I am loving about this time alone in virtual silence, except for the noise of all that is around me, is that as I walk and my senses connect to the life around me I feel that deeper self, the soul as some have called it, also awakening too. It seems that by moving silently through the life all around me my senses are being awakened and that at some deep level there is another awakening going on right down in the marrow of the soul of me. This is how beauty works of course, it creates this sense of aliveness within us and it is this energy, I have come to believe, that enables us to act in a more loving and compassionate way. I am experiencing a deeper sense of connection to the soul of me, whist also feeling more of a part of the world around and to that something more, that is at the core of everything.

I feel like I’ve fallen in love with life once again and as that song I so love to sing goes “There’s always something new to fall in love with.”

I offer thanks and praise.

Now I’ve also been enjoying a book these last few days, which has really tied in with my current experiences. Each morning after my walk and shower and before I eat I read a little from it. The book is “The Three Marriages: Reimagining Work, Self and Relationship”, by David Whyte. It is catching that place deep in the heart of me. At the beginning of the "blogspot" is an extract from the book. Here David talks about falling in love either with someone or something, an idea, an opportunity a calling or some new aspect of oneself. He says “We fall in love through seeing, hearing, touching, tasting, intuiting and longing. These senses are constantly mediating the frontier between what we think is a self and what we think is other than our selves.”

He is suggesting that we take our sensory agents for granted. Like our eyes with which we experiences the most vast and amazing things as well as tiny minutiae of detail and or a written messages that we need to make sense of. Oh if only we could always have eyes that could see. He moves on to our ears in which we can appreciate the most complex and moving musical number as well as the thoughts and feelings of another person. Oh if only we could learn to “listen with the ears of our hearts” He then talks of our hands that can be used in such creative and destructive ways and with which we can draw another person close to our heart or push them away in rejection. How often do we use our hands carelessly? He lays the greatest emphasis on our tongues with which I am currently delighting in as I get used to a new diet and also talks of how through our tongues we “give voice to desires or…lash others with our pent up disapproval.” Finally he describes the intellect, our rational reasoning mind with which we discern all that our senses take in and can thus respond, hopefully appropriately. Sadly so often we do not, reason does not always prevail.

Whyte then describes that which is beneath it all, that which sadly we do not listen to enough, probably because of all the noise going on all around us, but also more especially the noise going on within us. He calls this the sixth sense. That voice that is less than silence and yet somehow more than a whisper, that intuitive part of humanity that if we listen to it tells us what is right and good and what is not. What he himself describes as “a swirling internal formation called the intuition, the imagination, the heart, the almost prophetic part of a person that at its best somehow seems to know what is good and what is bad for us, but also what pattern is just about to precipitate, what out of a hundred possibilities is just about to happen, in a sense, an unspoken faculty for knowing what season we are in. What is about to die and what is about to come into being.”

As I have been walking around these last couple of weeks I have felt this intuitive part of me awakening further. I feel more connected, more open, more a part of everything and through this experience life does seem to be calling to me. I have noticed I need less distraction. As I walk I am not listening to music, just to the life around me, I am letting my senses soak this up without any distractions. It’s the same at home I am less inclined to put the radio and or television on, unless it’s to listen to the cricket, either the Ashes or my beloved Yorkshire. I have noticed that as a result I am hearing more clearly that voice that is less than a whisper and yet somehow more than silence. That voice that animates all life, that breathes out everything.

Now this brings me to the following passage from the book of Kings (1 Kings ch 19 vv 11-13).

"He said, ‘Go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.’ Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; 12and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence. 13When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. Then there came a voice to him that said, ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’"
Earlier in this chapter, from the book of Kings, Elijah is threatened by Queen Jezebel and flees to a cave on mount Horeb where he is told that God will pass by and speak directly to him. A great wind comes, followed by an earthquake and then a fire, but we are told that God is in none of them. Following the fire comes the still small voice – a voice, a sound like silence – this voice that is less than a whisper and yet not quite silence signals the presence of God. The text then tells us that Elijah covers his head and goes out to talk with God.

Elijah had been commissioned that day to set right the problems of Israel and to call a new King for Syria and a new King for Israel and a new prophet who would lead the next generation.

Now no doubt this all sounds a little strange and fanciful and beyond all reason but I hear a deep universal truth in the story. This is "Mythos". Throughout the ages we hear accounts of people being called out by this still small voice; the voice of comfort, of hope, of challenge, of support and also at times the voice of rebuke...This same voice spoke to Jesus, Muhammed, The Buddha, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Mary Wolstencroft, Nelson Mandella, but perhaps it is not a voice as we understand it....less than a whisper and yet more than silence...

The still small voice of calm…The intuition that speaks to us when our own minds are silent enough…

What is this still small voice of calm?

What is this something, this almost nothing that is more than silence and yet less than a whisper? What is this emptiness that can fill us with awe? It is so gently powerful and seems to emerge, nay burst, from nothingness into life. It is a nagging thought or presence that is their floating around in our consciousness or perhaps unconsciousness. It never seems to easily be revealed it requires us to go into our own depths and at the same time to truly open ourselves up to connect to the life all around us and then somehow in the stillness and silence meaning is revealed. Maybe it is something more than a mere thought or feeling, that appears from nowhere or perhaps beyond nowhere. This feeling that comforts, that accepts, that connects, even pardons just when we need it the most. Perhaps it’s the voice of conscience that lives in that space between what we say and what we do, between the talk and the walk.

We can never be truly certain what this is. Some, myself included, call it God, others prefer a myriad of names. But what does it matter what we call it, this is just belief or unbelief. It is truly beyond us to know what is behind this voice, this thought, this feeling, this experience but I feel sure that we have all known it from time to time. We have all known this indescribable presence at some point in our lives. This sense of being addressed by something, this powerful irresistible urge, is the source of art and poetry and not just religion and theology.

Experience has taught me that there is something in the corner of all our lives that gently, quietly, nudges us and desires our attention. I do not believe that I or any of us will ever fully understand or even comprehend what this still small voice is, but we ought not to ignore it.

To truly connect to it requires a stillness and a silence, a bit like those deer I see when I wander around Dunham Park. I also feel that it also requires a deeper sense of connection and awakening through all our senses, filtered through our reasoning mind. For if we do we will awaken to the beauty that is life, to the joy of living in all its mystery and we will be inspired to do the good that we can do.

I'm going to this little chip of a blog with some beautiful words on silence by Mark Belletini

“Ode To Silence” by Mark Belletini

You, silence, are the ground
On which we build the fragile sandcastles of our every spoken word.
You, silence,
Are quicksand where curses and cockiness and
And arrogance find their end.
You, silence, are the strand of beach we stroll where loneliness
Turns into solitude,
And our small heartbeats join the much vaster
Heartbeat of tide and wave.
You, silence,
Are the hand in which the pearl of the universe,
Grown around the painful grain of human suffering,
Rests in heartbreaking beauty.
You, silence,
Are the wide, bright delta into which
The river of this prayer fans out,
Before it flows into the indigo Deep,
Quiet, dark and lovely.
Come, Silence, fill this moment.