This year has been full indeed, a near perfect example of the blessings and curses that come with “Choosing Life”, to paraphrase good old Moses. There has been professional fulfilment when I was given the honour of delivering the address at the “Anniversary Service” at our denominational annual meetings. There is no greater honour, especially for a minister as junior as myself. Mixed with this though have been the hardships in both congregations, as we have lost so many beloved members, the pastoral demands have been somewhat overwhelming.
Personally it has been a mixed year too. I have fallen beautifully in love, my relationship with Sue is just the most incredible joy and blessing. That said it has not been without challenges within both our families. My own family has been torn apart by the suicide of my step brother Daniel. To witness the pain and suffering in those I love has been almost unbearable at times.
This year has been oh so full. Too much, oh too much at times. My mind has felt filled to overflowing and this has left my heart almost empty. It’s a strange feeling to be filled up to brim with life and yet at the same time to feel almost empty in my being at the same time. A very strange paradox indeed.
My life and my mind have been too full and as a result I have felt emptied of my inner resources, my heart and my soul. This has led to a disconnect at times.
It would appear that a full cup, an overflowing cup, is not such a great thing.
Is this so? Is a cup filled to overflowing always a bad thing?
There is another image of an overflowing cup that comes to mind. This is from the 23rd Psalm. Here it is said that King David sings of God as a shepherd who will see him safely through the Valley of Death. “Thou prepares a table before me in the presence of mine enemies; thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.” In the psalm the overflowing cup is an excess of goodness, a symbol of abundance, a source of joy. I I believe that the same is true of love. Can you ever be too full of love?
So we have two images of cups overflowing: One depicting a mind that is too full and therefore unable to focus or learn something new; the other depicting a cup overflowing with love that will enable us to live full lives despite the presence of fear.
Is there a contradiction here, is this a dilemma? Well only if you get lost in the metaphor, the curse of the literalist. The two images are of course depicting different aspects of our humanity.
The Zen story is describing the mind, whereas the Psalm is depicting the heart. It is talking of God’s infinite love. So yes we can be full abundantly with love and yet still have a mind that is clear. Experience has revealed to me that it is the full heart that enables me to clear my mind and not a clear head that leads me to a full heart.
This has happened again in recent months. I so needed last week. I needed to stop, my soul needed to catch up with my body. I needed to let my heart be filled; I needed to once again be touched by the joy of living, as I was in danger of becoming detached from life.
You don’t always get what you want though. The week began with pain and suffering as a dear friend of Sue and mine died. It began in sadness as we felt our pain and that of our friends and our friend's loved ones, not least her children. We set off to Yorkshire, with heavy hearts, as we headed over the hills to be with my family. We spent two days with them. It was a time filled with a great deal of joy and love, but also deep sadness. There is a high level of anxiety and suffering about. This is pretty clear as we are coming to terms with Daniel’s death. It was a beautiful but also a painful time.
We all need to let our souls catch up with our bodies. We are not fully alive when our hearts, minds, bodies and souls are not at one. This brings to mind another favourite tale about a workaholic businessman who decided to take a Safari. He plotted a course and determined a time-table. He hired workers from a local village to carry the various containers and cases. On the first morning, the entire party roused early, travelled very, very fast and went very, very far. On the second morning, they roused early, travelled very, very fast and went very, very far. On the third day, the same. On the fourth morning, the local tribesmen refused to move. The man gestured irately and fumed at the translator to get them going. “They will not move,” the translator relayed.
“Why not?” the man bellowed, thinking of all the time wasted and dollars spent. “Because,” the translator said, “they are waiting for their souls to catch up with their bodies.”