Sunday, 14 August 2016

Belong Here

“Talking Heads once sang “you may find yourself in a beautiful house
with a beautiful wife. And you may ask yourself, well how did I get here?”

How did I get here? The song was of course “Once in a lifetime.” And how did I get here? Is a question I’ve been asking myself a lot recently. I’ve been experiencing a few once in a lifetime moments recently.

Another question I’ve been asking myself too is “What have I done to deserve this?

Another one has been, do I really belong here?

I recently won “Slimming World Man of the Year 2016”, something I had to keep under my hat for a couple of weeks. It has been quite a ride ever since, especially once the news came out.

Now as part of winning the competition I spent a night in luxury suite at the Ritz. I took my mum along and she loved it. On arrival there was a knock on the door. I answered it and there before me stood two men in uniform who walked in and introduced themselves as our butlers and that whatever we required they would provide.

How did I get here? Do I belong here? Well I did win.

It was an amazing, if somewhat surreal, couple of days, in which I was worked to be fair. I spent one afternoon trying on outfits with a stylist and a whole host of women. It was fun and I got into it and in the end chose something I could wear for the "Press Call" that followed the next day. That night we ate at Savini at Criterion at Piccadilly Circus. A place I doubt I will ever eat in again. The next day came the "Press Call" and then home to prepare to lead worship the following day. The next day the news came out and over the next week it spread. No doubt in the coming months more will come out and hopefully a great deal of good will come from it. So far there has been a very positive response to it all.

So yes a truly once in a lifetime experience. It was wonderful to find myself in such places and the truth is I did deserve it and do you know what I didn’t feel like a fish out of water. After all I had earned it. I belonged there. I rarely feel that I don’t belong anywhere these days. I belong anywhere because I have learnt to be at home within my own skin within myself. I know who I am and I am at ease with who I am. I know who I am warts and all and beauty spots too. I am at ease with myself, imperfections and all. I can be myself anywhere and in the company of anyone because I no longer have to strive to fit in, to be a part of someone or someplace else, to seek the approval of others.

To belong you need to be yourself, while paradoxically in order to be yourself you must first of all feel that you belong. When you feel that you belong you will no longer feel the need to fit in, because you will be at ease with yourself.

Brene Brown once said

“Because true belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world, our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance.”

I like Brene Brown, I particularly like what she has to say about the difference between “Belonging” and “Fitting in” that they are not the same thing although they are often mistaken for one another.

Brene Brown explains that “Fitting in” is really about assessing situations and becoming the person that you believe you need to be in order to be accepted and acceptable. Whereas “Belonging” does not require us to change who we are, but to be who we really are.

Belonging is an innate desire to be a part of something larger than ourselves. This is a primal yearning, deep within the soul of us and thus we often try to acquire it by fitting in and seeking approval from others. Now not only does this not satisfy this yearning it actually becomes a barrier to it. In so doing we lose our identity and feel even more lost and lonely. True belonging you see only happens when we present our true, authentic, imperfect selves to the world, “warts and all” and beauty spots too. Unless we are at home within ourselves we will never feel that we belong anywhere.

John O’Donohue in his wonderful book “Anam Cara”, relates belonging to longing and yearning. He suggests that we need to find a balance in belonging and that often our problems stem from not being truly at home with ourselves; that we should be our own longing; that the key is to be-long within ourselves. If we belong within ourselves then we will feel at ease and belong wherever we are. Therefore the sense of who we are, our identity will not be ruled by the need to fit in, to belong, externally.

The problem of trying to fit in and not belonging stems from a sense of being different, something I know I’ve experienced at times. This can be a real barrier. Now of course sometimes these barriers are put up by those who would exclude certain types of people for being different. We have seen horrific examples of this throughout human history. People excluded for racial, political, religious, gender and sexual identity reasons. There still are barriers that exist, although thankfully many have come down, although far too many still remain.

It can be difficult to join a group where you feel that you are different from the others. I experienced it myself when I began my Slimming World journey. Such groups are seen as the domain of women, only 3% of members are men in the UK, that is still nearly 50,000 men, but it is a minority. Being concerned about your weight and joining such groups is not considered a manly activity and therefore getting through the door and beginning the journey can be doubly daunting for men. I certainly experienced this when I first joined. I remember looking round the room, feeling very self-conscious at the time and just seeing a room full of women. It would have been easy to use this as an excuse to just run, but thank God I didn’t. One thing I will be endeavouring to do over the next twelve months is to encourage as many men as possible to live healthier happier lives. There are after all more over weight men in this country than women, probably because we feel it is unmanly to face up to the problem.

Most people find it difficult to join something, to belong to something, when they feel different to those already present. It’s the same with any group or community, including church and chapel communities. It is hard to walk into anything you have never been to before. I know it took me some time to pluck up the courage and explore religions community all those years ago

We Unitarians say that all are welcome, to come as you are regardless of who you are, where ever you have been and where ever you are going. You are welcome as you are exactly as you are in this moment. That said people are still reluctant to walk through the door of our places of worship and when they do they often find it hard to belong there, even amongst we who offer religious freedom. The reasons for this is many and varied and how we resolve it is not easy to answer either. I think that the key is to be as open and welcoming as we can be. They key is to cultivate a true sense of belonging, which begins within ourselves. For if we belong we will not need to try to fit in and hopefully the stranger will more easily feel like the neighbour. As Philip L Bermoan wrote in “The Journey Home”

“Truly spiritual people are in the habit of cultivating the nearly forgotten art of basic hospitality, perhaps because they realize that when we are able to make others feel comfortable, the pleasures of belonging are close at hand.”

They key is to cultivate the pleasure of belonging.

The key is to bless one another with our presence and they will fell that they belong amongst we people who belong here as they are exactly as they are in this moment. For as Rachel Naomi Remen wrote in "My Grandfather's Blessings".

"A blessing is not something that one person gives another. A blessing is a moment of meeting, a certain kind of relationship in which both people involved remember and acknowledge their true nature and worth, and strengthen what is whole in one another. By making a place for wholeness within our relationships, we offer others the opportunity to be whole without shame and become a place of refuge from everything in them that are not genuine. We enable people to remember who they are."

A sense of belonging is a deeply precious thing. It is belonging that helps us become who we are meant to be. It is a sense of belonging that allows us to find ourselves in beautiful place and feel that we are home. It is a sense of belonging that enables us to be ourselves, in whatever company we find ourselves without feeling the need to fit in. It is a sense of belonging that enables us to truly make every moment a once in lifetime experience. It is a sense of belonging that allows us to become good neighbours and to the bless the whole world with our welcome….

May you find a place where you belong…May you find a house of belonging…

Saturday, 6 August 2016

No Pain No Gain


A man went to a tattooist to have a lion tattooed on his back. He’d always wanted a picture of a lion on his body, because he thought himself to be fierce and brave like a lion.

The tattooist hadn’t been working for long before the man shouted, “Ouch! You’re hurting me! Which part of the lion are you doing now?”

“I’m doing his tail,” said the tattoo artist.

“Well you’d better leave the tail off, I don’t want a lion with a tail.”

The tattoo artist continued, but not for long. No sooner had he felt a few more needle pricks than the man shouted again, “This is killing me! Which part of the lion are you doing now?”

“I’m just getting started on the mane,” replied the tattooist.

“don’t bother with the mane,” I don’t want a lion with a mane!”

The tattooist complied with the man’s wishes, and began work on another part of his back. Once again, after a few moments, the man shouted, almost weeping. “This is intolerable! I can’t bear the pain! Which bit of the lion are doing now?”

“I’m doing the belly.”

“Then stop doing the belly! I don’t want a lion with a belly!”

The tattoo artist put down his equipment. “You want a lion with no tail, no main, and no belly! Who could draw such a creature? Even God couldn’t do it! I think you should leave and come back when you are a bit braver.”

from "The Shortest Distance" by Bill Darlison

My personal trainer works me really hard. It is tough at times but I do stick at it no matter what. The results we are getting together are quite amazing. He told me recently that he had never worked with anyone so determined. I smiled at this. If there is one thing that has grown in me these last few years it is the capacity to stick at things no matter what. To me this is the essential ingredient of the faith I have found. The God of my understanding enables me to do things and stick at things no matter what. In the past this is the one thing that was probably lacking in my life. God doesn’t do it for me, God enables me to do what life asks of me. I have faith to stick at anything despite the pain and suffering involved, whether that be mental, emotional, physical or spiritual.

Well the other day he came to our session in some obvious pain and discomfort. He had recently had a new tattoo done, on his scalp. As he described the process, he had gone through, I found myself wincing at the pain of it all. It has only just begun as well. He will be going through even more pain before it is fully completed. I said to him “No pain, no gain” and he grinned knowingly and then spent the next hour putting me through a gruelling regime. As he did so and as I have continued my daily exercises that little mantra has kept on ringing in my ears. I am continuing to gain in health and fitness and flexibility day by day. I’ve even grown about an inch as my posture has improved and spine has straightened, something I never thought would be possible. The work we are doing is relieving me of some deep rooted pain and shame dating right back to childhood.

Facebook reminded me of a pain I went through last year. only the other day. It was right at the beginning of my weight loss journey. I used to spend a great deal of time in coffee shops. Often meeting and talking with people but also writing. I still do quite often but my habits have changed. Just over a year ago I would probably consume at least a dozen full fat CafĂ© Lattes a week. I used to drink an awful lot of milk and it was one of many contributing factors to my weight problem. Well a year ago I decided that I would, at least for a short time, give them up. I thought I’d go the whole hog and give up caffeine completely. Well I didn’t know what I was letting myself in for. The first few days were agony. It began with the headaches but then the pain spread to my whole lower body, the symptoms were very similar to a severe bout of flu as my lower back and upper legs were in agony. Historically the two areas of physical weakness and shame in my body. This lasted about five days but eventually subsided and I was soon reaping the benefits of becoming more energised and sleeping beautifully. I have stuck with being caffeine free and am loving it. Yes I had to go through pain to get there, but my word the results have been wonderful. Yes the gain was most certainly worth the pain.

I remember a few years ago, early in my ministry, a colleague telling that when they were a student a senior colleague had warned then to be careful not to reveal to much about themselves to the people they serve, especially when creating worship. I don’t know if they were attempting to subtly warn me about being too open. If they were I ignored them. I don’t think I could do this work without bringing my whole self into the worship I create. How can others relate to something unless you put human flesh on the words. I have not been afraid to show my pain and joy and struggle and confusion at times, to reveal all that I have gained and learned too. Hopefully this has not been in a self-indulgent way, but in an attempt to show to others that I am as human as they are and to encourage faith in them. If I can anyone can I am as human as the next person.

I don’t pour out my pain on the people I serve. Instead I have people to turn to to in my pain and confusion and joy and suffering. In fact in recent times I have noticed that I can do this more easily than perhaps in the past. I thank God for this. The worst kind of pain is the pain of loneliness and isolation. There are many blessings of ministry but one of its curses is the loneliness that can be experienced at times. This I know is caused by not owning and coming to terms with your own suffering.

These thoughts bring to mind some beautiful hard earned words of advice from Henri J. M. Nouwen in his beautiful book “The Inner Voice of Love: A Journey through Anguish to Freedom” written as he reflected on his various struggles. In his meditation “Own Your Pain” he wrote:

“The main question is “Do you own your pain?” As long as you do not own your pain—that is, integrate your pain into your way of being in the world—the danger exists that you will use the other to seek healing for yourself. When you speak to others about your pain without fully owning it, you expect something from them that they cannot give. As a result, you will feel frustrated, and those you wanted to help will feel confused, disappointed, or even further burdened….

…For you to be able to share your struggle as a service, it is also essential to have people to whom you can go with your own needs. You will always need safe people to whom you can pour out your heart. You will always need people who do not need you but who can receive you and give you back to yourself. You will always need people who can help you own your pain and claim your struggle.

Thus the core question in your ministry is, “Is my sharing of my struggle in the service of the one who seeks my help? This question can only be answered yes when you truly own your pain and expect nothing from those who seek your ministry.”

I believe that I can answer yes to this. I have learnt to own my pain.

No one can escape the pain of life. It is as much a part of living a full life as joy. In trying to avoid pain all we ever succeed in doing is cutting ourselves off from the joy that accompanies the pain of life. In fact there are times in life when we must walk faithfully through the pain to fully experience the joy. . Herman Hesse saw the truth in this when he said:

“Love your suffering. Do not resist it; do not flee from it. It is your aversion that hurts, nothing else.”
It is this aversion that causes the suffering within the suffering. It is this that causes much of what so many people describe as the loneliness of modern life. In trying to suppress our pain all we succeed in doing is to cut ourselves off from the joy of life.

While life does involve pain and suffering, it does not have to involve “the suffering within the suffering”.

Life itself is not suffering.

We need not be identified by our suffering.

Eckhart Tolle suggest that we create needless suffering when we blame others for all our personal pain. He claims that the habit of blaming and cultivating outrage, anger, resentment and other negative emotions, what he has termed our “pathological ego” is what blocks us from knowing the truth about ourselves and the human condition.

He explains that although we do suffer, we are not our suffering, it is not our whole identity. The trouble is that we can become trapped in it and then it identifies all that we are. He calls this the “pain body”. He claims that we can step outside of this and become children of love with worth and dignity. This though is not achieved by simply ignoring the pain and hoping it will just go away.

That said we do not need to go looking for it and it does not justify receiving unnecessary pain and or abuse. There are forms of suffering that cannot to be justified. There are times when passive acceptance of all forms of suffering is not the answer. Dorothy Soelle , amongst others, criticised the claim that suffering is justified because it was the only way to achieve Salvation or Nirvana. As she said

“No heaven can rectify Auschwitz”.

She did not believe that suffering was ordained by God. Instead she saw God within the suffering. For her God suffered with humanity. For her salvation was achieved through experiencing God within humanities suffering, not as a result of it. She saw God as being in solidarity with the victims of oppression in human society. Therefore in her view to fully experience salvation is to work for liberation of the oppressed and to end man made suffering, not passively endure it.

That said we cannot escape all suffering it is a part of life. In fact perhaps it is through our shared suffering that we can come closer together and develop compassion for one another and all living beings, as the Buddhist suggest.

May Sarton saw the truth in this when in “Recovering, A Journal” she wrote

“I woke before dawn with this thought. Joy, happiness, are what we take and do not question. They are beyond question, maybe. A matter of being. But pain forces us to think, and to make connections, to sort out what is what, to discover what has been happening to cause it. And, curiously enough, pain draws us to other human beings in a significant way, whereas joy or happiness to some extent, isolates.”

It is through owning our pain and suffering, growing through it faithfully and passing on what it has taught us that compassion grows and we can truly serve, minister, to one another and the wider world. In many ways this the purpose of a spiritual community. A religious community has to be one of compassion.

Compassion means to suffer with. We can learn to be with others in their suffering and with ourselves in our own. Interestingly the opposite of compassion is apathy.. To be apathetic to the suffering not only of ourselves but to the pain of others is the worst kind of hell any one can suffer from, it’s inhuman, it creates our loneliness and it creates our isolation.

To suffer with is to experience compassion it is the gateway to love and service.

So let us stand in solidarity with ourselves and with one another in our pain and suffering. In doing so we will know the full meaning of compassionate living and in doing so we will fully experience the joy that life offers to us.

And when we do we will know God, we will know love.

Amen and blessed be.

Sunday, 31 July 2016

More than words.deeds

“There is a marvellous story of a man who once stood before God, his heart breaking from all the pain and injustice in the world. “Dear God,” he cried out, “look at all the suffering, the anguish and distress in your world. Why don’t you send help?”

God responded. “I did send help. I sent you.”

from “Teaching Your Children About God” by David J. Wolfe

Part of my work as a minister is to the wider community, beyond the walls of the congregations I serve and who pay my stipend. I see this community as ever widening by the way and not just those who live in and around the towns of Altrincham and Urmston. My printed media and social media work extends my ministry to far flung places all over this country and world. I am also invited to lead worship out and about. I wish I could do more, but I possess neither the time nor energy to do so. I do the best that I can to, to minister, to serve.

Now one of my many roles is to conduct rites of passage for those who are looking for "something religious, but not too religious", as they so often say. Whether that be child namings and blessings, weddings and of course funerals. The most challenging are funerals, especially for people I have never met and or do not know. This is never easy, it takes a lot of emotional and spiritual energy, but sometimes can be the most rewarding.

I am extremely grateful to have been called and to have accepted the role as minister these last six years. I offer thanks and praise for this challenging, deeply rewarding and spiritually enriching work. Yes it is tough at times, but I am blessed to have been given it.

That said being grateful, I know is not enough. It is vital to offer thanks and praise; it is important to recognise what life gives to us and yet I know simply being grateful is not quite enough.

People thank me all the time. I received a beautiful letter of thanks from a man recently who attended a funeral I conducted. He has attended a few others things I host at the chapel these last few years and this has led to him rediscovering some old loves and encouraged him to re-engage with them. It was lovely to receive the letter but what touched me more was not his thanks, but that what he had experienced here had led to him wanting to do something about it; that he wanted to act on his gratitude.

For me this is the difference between offering thanks and living with gratitude. You see true gratitude to me compels us to act on what we have given thanks for. To pay forward what has been freely given to us. To me this is what true spiritual living is about. This is the works that grows from faith and inspires others, fills them with that loving spirit, so that they too can pass it on.

I recently conducted a funeral for a family. Afterwards one of the family members thanked me for “making it so easy for them”. They also apologised for the way that they had been at times, I said there really was no need, as I understand. I wasn’t just saying it though, I do understand. Such times can bring up all kinds of intense feelings and at a time when people ought to be pulling together and supporting one another they can do the exact opposite and end up falling out and hurting one another. Sometimes these disputes can take years to resolve, sometimes sadly they are never resolved. I have had experience of this over the last few years too. It always leaves me with a sense of sadness and pain. When I think of the things I witness in life that cause me pain I feel that irreconcilable family disputes cause me the greatest.

Saying sorry isn’t enough. Ok it might be a start but it really isn’t enough. Again works is required here. Simply saying sorry, especially if the only person you are apologising to is a stranger, who is not a part of the dispute, does not heal a rift. Amends is required, reconciliation is required, true healing needs to come. Otherwise sorry just becomes another hollow word. It lacks both faith and works I would say, although it does perhaps appear ok.

It is a strange thing being a minister. People often find themselves saying sorry to you. I suspect at the bottom of it is a feeling that so many of us share, a feeling of somehow being wrong inside. A feeling that probably stems from some hidden sense of guilt over something from the past, something we have done or something that we have failed to. Some simple, all too human, frailty. I wish I could do something about it.

If I had a superpower I think that this might be it. Not so much to relieve people of their guilt. I don’t believe it is mine or anyone else’s job, but our own. No the superpower would be to inspire others to do the works that their souls are crying out for them to do. To either put right what needs to be put right and or to live with gratitude for the gifts that life has freely given them. Not to merely recognise these gifts and to truly offer thanks and praise for them, but to give back and make from them a sacred act of gratitude.

Recognising and acknowledging what has been freely given us is a vital aspect of true spiritual living, as is acknowledging when we have fallen short, but the words and recognition are not enough. Saying thank you and saying sorry is not enough.

I say this because they are good things to do, but they are not quite good enough; I say this because they are not the best. We can all do better I know I can. It’s a bit like remembrance as opposed to remembering. Remembering is merely passively recalling something in your mind, whereas remembrance is a commitment to make something better from what has happened. This is why being grateful and being sorry is not good enough. It is passive and if I have learnt anything I have learnt that the spiritual life is by no means a passive one. The spiritual life only truly comes alive in deeds, in our works, in the way we live our lives. It is this I believe that leads us to our true calling. It certainly led me to mine. The reason I became a minister was an act, in many ways, of remembrance; it was an act of gratitude for the love that had been freely given me that gave me life once again when I had given up; it has been an apology in action, an amends for wasting so much time. And I’m the one receiving the rewards as life pays me back 100 hundred fold in the blessings of my daily living and breathing.

As I once read “The spiritual life is not a theory, we have to live it.”

Now what does that mean? You may well ask. Well for me living the spiritual life is about committing to more than just what is good, it’s about committing to be the best we can be. It’s about aiming high, it’s about committing to excellence, while accepting that we will all fall short. We are all far more human than otherwise.

This is not a cop out though, it is an aspiration and hopefully an inspiration to others. For if we keep on aiming to be the best we can, than so will others and then we all benefit by making our lives and our world the best it can be.

This brings to mind the other problem with merely offering thanks and saying sorry. This is of course is the whole self-centredness of it. Where is the commitment to others? Saying thank you and acknowledging all I have and or simply offering an apology does not reach out to other. It does not bring about reconciliation nor does it ensure that they have enough. No faithful inaction is simply not good enough, it is not the best this requires works too and requires a commitment to be the neighbour both near and far, a commitment to the wider world of our shared humanity.

After all there is one humanity, one world and one spirit that runs through it all…One God.

It is vitally important to acknowledge the gifts we have been given in our lives. To offer thanks for what others have freely done and given to us, but it is not enough. Likewise it is important to acknowledge when we have fallen short, done wrong and to apologies for this, but once again I do not think this is enough. It is not enough to simply acknowledge and remember.

What is required is to turn these words into actions, into deeds to make them acts of remembrance and to do something about bringing some healing into this world that we keep on damaging with our all too human frailties.

The healing begins in our own hearts and lives, in our own families and communities and spreads out beyond to the wider human community and all life itself…It is up to us to ever widen those concentric circles of compassion…It is, I believe what we are here for…


Sunday, 24 July 2016

Free the Heart and the Mind Will Follow

Last Sunday was quite a day. I along with 31 other men had been called through to the Slimming World "Man of the Year" semi-final and finals day. It is quite an honour to be one of the 32 out of some 50,000 male members in this country.

There was a beautiful moment of synchronicity that I became aware of as I switched on my computer and logged on to Facebook before setting off that morning. It showed me a memory from exactly a year before of a journey I had taken with my brother and sister to Devon to attend our nephew Joe’s wedding. During the journey my sister spent several hours selling the merits of Slimming World to me. I listened, tried to evade, but I listened. She was speaking to me because she loves me; she spoke only in and through love. She spoke the language of the heart and I was able to listen with the ears of my heart. I believed that I was always going to be the way I was and to get to a physically healthier place was just too much for me. A price it would seem I was not willing to pay. I believed that the only way to achieve weight loss would be to starve myself. This has not been the case at all, Slimming World and its method of “Food Optimising” is about healthy eating, group support, healthy living and personal responsibility. At its its core is love, it speaks another language of the heart and that day I began to have ears that could hear once again. That weekend was the turning point and I loved reliving the memory of the journey to the wedding as I enjoyed the journey to Slimming World headquarters with my group consultant Janet Cullin. I also loved the synchronicity of it all…My whole life seems to be led by it and the more I am open to it the more it seems to speak to me, constantly drawing me on to endless possibilities. Synchronicity to me is the invisible voice of love always calling to those who have ears that can hear.

It was an amazing day listening to many inspirational men who had embarked on the same journey as myself and were now living amazing lives. I got through to the final and then waited for the final result…Of which I cannot yet reveal as they have asked the finalists to remain silent about the result for at least the next few days…So you will have to watch this space if you want to know who the winner is…

Now during the day the former professional footballer and current TV presenter Dion Dublin gave us an inspirational talk before the semi-finals began. I listened intently to what he said. What stood out was him talking about how every time he was injured and presented with disappointments he had to face and question his beliefs about his ability to overcome them and to carry on with his career. The pinnacle for him being when he finally played for England at Wembley. He compared this to the journeys we all had been on, something he couldn’t identify with as he had always been a fit athlete. That said he did suggest that our journeys must have begun with our own minds, with us challenging our beliefs about ourselves and lives and that it must have taken great courage to keep journeying on. As he said "If the mind is right, the body will follow."  He came across as warm and caring, I really liked him. More than that I believe that he understood exactly the journey we had been on, certainly mine.

As I shared my story in the semi-final and final I spoke about beliefs about myself that had been ingrained from a young age, beliefs that at the time had given me a certain amount of security and stability but had eventually tethered, tied me down, enslaved me. Over the years I have challenged many things that I believed about myself and life in general. I have changed my mind many times. This is never an easy task. It is amazing how these beliefs can cling and at times re-emerge seemingly from nowhere.

I am not done with my changes…Are any of us?

There is a poster in the small schoolroom at Dunham Road chapel that reads “Anyone who is a slave to anything is not free. The first step to freedom is to free the mind.”

It has been up there for a few years now and I have noticed many people comment on it on a number of occasions. A friend did so just the other day as he reflected on how he had been enslaved by his own thinking, even though he would consider himself quite a rational man. I identify with him strongly, as I have said many times before I have become enslaved many times by my own beliefs. The very things that I thought gave me security and the illusion of stability, that gave me an anchor on which I could depend, were actually chains that enslaved me, kept me trapped and stopped me flying free.

Bob Marley once sang “Emancipate yourself from mental slavery. None but ourselves can free our minds.”

There is real truth in this statement. No one else can set us free from our own self-created mental slavery. If they could wouldn’t that be the worst kind of slavery? The enslavement of handing over responsibility for our own lives to another. There is no freedom in this. One of things I love about Slimming World is that while it offers you a simple method and there is a great deal of mutual support, in the end responsibility is with the individual. It is up to us to live this way, day by day. I see this as vital as it build genuine self-esteem. At its core is of course love and support, but also a development of true love for self also.

So how do we then free our minds from our own mental slavery and live the lives we are born to live? Well I actually believe it takes more than just questioning our thinking. Yes that is part of it, but it isn’t the full picture; yes discernment is a vital aspect, but it is not enough on its own. For me it begins with spirit and it comes alive in and through love.

Everything worthwhile in my life has to come through love. True religious community is built on love and lives through love. The 12 Step Fellowships I have belonged to have at their core the simple principle of love. Slimming World is about love. To me they are all about love, love for self, love for other, love for life; they are about love for self, love for neighbour and love for whatever it is that we experience is at the core of all life, God for me.

I have discovered that it is by living in and through love that one is then able to truly question ones beliefs, for love is about more than belief it is about faith, something deeper than belief and it is this that sets one free to live and be in love.

If my life has taught me anything it has taught me that in order to change your mind and therefore change your life requires first and foremost a change of heart, or perhaps more accurately an opening an awakening of the heart.

So how do we bring the heart alive, how do we live in love?

Well I believe it requires attention and application. Love is not soft and mushy. It is not about sentimentality. It requires discipline. It is about raising our heads and observing where love is present in life, rather than merely focusing on what is wrong with both ourselves and our world. It requires us to live in the solution, rather than the problem. It requires us to live fully open to the love out there as well as the love in here. It requires courage, which of course means heart, it means love, from the French word “Cour” meaning heart.

It requires spiritual discipline too. For me that means practising prayer and meditation each day and throughout  the day. It’s about taking sacred moments, so as to connect more fully to the love within each and every one of us and the love present in life.

It requires attention to one another. To support one another and encourage one another when it is needed, without taking over one another’s lives. This is because love requires responsibility for our own lives. For if we don’t we will not bring to life the love present deep within us and we will not be free.

Freedom begins in love and continues through love. To free the mind the first requirement is to live in and through love. Freedom does not begin in the mind, it is much deeper than that, although I was once a slave to the former belief. To free the mind you must first free the heart, this is the first step to freedom. Free to what? Well free to be love…

The key to freedom's gateway is love…Love for self, love for other and love for God…First and last and always love…Love is all that we need…We need it to begin and we need it to continue…

So keep on rocking in the free world all you groovers and shakers out there...It's the only way to be...Yeh, really free...May we always have ears to hear life's redemption songs...

Saturday, 9 July 2016

Daily Bread for the Daily Journey

Every morning we step out into the world uncertain of what the day will bring. Yes we make our plans and designs and have our own ideas about what will be. Sometimes things work out exactly as we expect, but often they do not. Sometimes they work out far better than we could have dreamed of, but at other times they do not. We cannot predict life and I do not believe that it is already pre-ordained. I believe that the book of life always remains open. I do not believe that God has pre-ordained anything. I do believe in the Lure of Divine Love, but that this is not controlled by some primal centre, but hey I could well be wrong. I do believe that this Love speaks to us in and through life, as well as in and through us. This is why I believe that everything matters. Life feeds us and we feed life. We are all a part of the Great Co-Creation. This is why it matters how we journey on in life. This is why it is so important that we keep on stepping out into the world, on this continuous journey, experience all that life offers to us in all its blessings and curses. Always remembering that we do not journey alone.

Many people describe life as a journey that moves from one stage to another, sometimes full of joy and sometimes full of fear. Like the seasons life is forever changing. My life has taken me to different stages and I have journeyed with a rich variety of people. Some have been there from the very beginning, some have joined and stayed and others I have travelled with for only a short time. They have all touched and blessed my life in deep, rich and meaningful ways and I hope I have blessed theirs likewise.

Much has changed these last twelve months and these changes seem to be increasing in pace as the days go by. Yes there are the obvious physical changes, but those are just the ones on the surface. There are many other changes, unseen, that have been occurring deep within me. One thing I know for certain is that I am not done with my changes and life certainly isn’t done with changing me. I have never felt more fed by life, nor do I feel I have fed life more positively at any other stage of my life. I have never felt more alive and I want to share this aliveness with everyone.

How do I know this? You may well ask. Well because I feel that I know myself now better than I ever have before. Even these last few weeks’ deeper and newer truths have been revealed. The journey into who I truly am has gone deeper.

Now the inner journey is very much a spiritual journey. It is not really about physical travel, one of distance, it is more one of depth. This is captured beautifully in the following poem by Wendell Berry

"A Spiritual Journey"

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.

by Wendell Berry

Now no doubt the Wendell Berry poem is inspired by the Christian mystic Meister Ekhart. It was he who claimed that the spiritual journey is not one of distance, that we do not so much travel on a physical pilgrimage from A to B to C to D etc, that the spiritual journey is some kind of linear progression in which we reach some goal, some new state of being way over there in some distant realm. No instead we discover new truths, understandings and experiences as we journey through life in a cyclical sense and that as we do so we move deeper into the core of our own being and find ourselves at home within ourselves.

John O’Donohue captured this beautifully when he wrote:

“Meister Eckhart radically revises the whole notion of spiritual programs. He says that there is no such thing as a spiritual journey. If a little shocking, this is refreshing. If there were a spiritual journey, it would be only a quarter inch long, though many miles deep. It would be a swerve into rhythm with your deeper nature and presence. The wisdom here is so consoling. You do not have to go away outside yourself to come into real conversation with your soul and with the mysteries of the spiritual world. The eternal is at home — within you.”

(John O’Donohue, Anam Cara: a Book of Celtic Wisdom)

Now strange as this may sound a life time’s journey can only be taken in one day. Did you know that the word journey is derived from the Latin word "diarnum" meaning daily portion from which the old French word "jornee" which meant a day’s work or a day's travel, is derived. I love this truth, it makes me smile broadly. Of course any spiritual journey can only be taken one day at a time and can only be achieved through taking our daily bread, feeding our spirit, and feeding life itself with our spirit. The key is of course to keep on going deeper and deeper feeding and being fed by and on the journey, while constantly being humbled and opened by the experience and thus feeding life.

Now while each of our journey’s are individual, they are not private. They are not taken alone nor in isolation. We are all a part of something far greater than ourselves. We are influenced by all that is around us, just as we influence all that we interact with. This of course begins with the people we share our lives with, those we journey with. We feed them and they feed us. We care for others and they care for us. Howard Thurman captured this rather beautifully in what follows. The Reverend Howard Thurman, was a theologian, minister, a Baptist with heavy Quaker leanings, Dean of Theology and Chaplain at both Howard and Boston Colleges, and the co founder, with Dr. Albert Fisk, in 1944, of “The Church for the Fellowship of All Peoples”. America’s first fully multicultural church. Thurman wrote:

“Every person wants to be cared for, to be sustained by the assurance that we share in the watchful and thoughtful attention of others—not merely or necessarily others in general but others in particular. We want to know that—however vast and impersonal all life about us may seem, however hard may be the stretch of road on which we are journeying—we are not alone, but are the object of another's concern and caring; we want to know this in an awareness sufficient to hold us against ultimate fear and panic. It is precisely at this point of awareness that life becomes personal and a person is free to ask and find answers to this question: What makes me come alive, and how can I share that aliveness with the world?”

Here Thurman captures how vital communal spirituality is to personal spiritual development and journeying. Spirituality cannot be truly expressed in isolation otherwise it just becomes self-centred and self-serving, thus stagnating personal growth. True spirituality needs community. It needs to feed and be fed by community. It kind of has to become religion, in its truest sense, to mature into all that it can be. I’m not talking about religious dogma here. I mean free religion, I mean coming together in love. I mean the idea that be bind together in fellowship. A living, breathing, fellowship of love. A community of loving support and understanding who journey together hand in hand.

It’s about more than just fulfilling our own personal needs. It’s about building something more. Not just for ourselves but for the good of all, for we all depend upon it. That though is not to say that the individual journey does not matter. Of course it does. It is about the individual becoming all that they can be within community with others. It’s about, as Thurman says the individual coming alive and sharing this aliveness with life. In so doing we inspire others to be all that they can be. In so doing they then inspire us to become even more than we could even dream of becoming.

This to me is what it means to build the kin-dom of love right here, right now. Yes this kin-dom is already here, right here right now if we would just let it come to life. It is there within each and every one of us. Our task is to let it come to life and to share it with our brothers and sisters and thus inspire them to do likewise. In so doing they will too inspire us to become even more than we could even begin to dream of.

Life is a journey, a journey we are engaged in even if we are not fully aware of it at the time. Yes ok, it’s not really a journey that goes anywhere. Even when it ends all that we are really doing is returning to the beginning. Yes changed by the experience in some way, but still the essence remains. What matters is how we travel, we can always go first class; what matters the most is the journey that we travel today. What our days’ work is today, remember that is what journey really means, today's work. Our day’s work today, is how we feed life and to do our day’s work, our journey, to our best ability depends on how we feed ourselves and how we feed life. It matters you know, it really does.

So how are you going to journey today? What is your day’s work today? How will you allow life and those around you to feed you today? And just as importantly how will you feed life today, in all that you feel, all that you think, all that you say and all that you do?

It matters you know, it really does…

Sunday, 3 July 2016

Hope not Despair: Coming into the peace of things

"The Peace of Wild Things" by Wendell Berry

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

Like Wendell Berry we all feel despair at the world at times. We all fear for our own lives, our loved ones and the lives of others. This is something common to the whole of humanity, something that unites us all. No life is immune from suffering. I have experienced such moments these last couple of weeks, as I have been recovering from surgery. I have had to spend much time alone as company has been too exhausting. This has not been easy for an active man such as I. It has been deeply uncomfortable at times, but I know in so doing my soul has opened up and I have grown. In the pain and suffering I have found the peace that passeth all understanding and if truth be told the suffering has not turned to despair.

One of the darkest moments was a week last Sunday as I stood in silent suffering in the market square of the village where I had grown up. I stood there in Priestley’s shadow weeping with many others. I grew up in the village of Birstall, in West Yorkshire. Birstall was not known to most of the world until a couple of weeks ago, but sadly now the world does know its name. Birstall of course was the scene of the brutal murder of the M.P. Jo Cox. Murdered because she served and loved all of her people, which in the eyes of some is somehow treachery.

The tributes in the market place were beautiful, all gathered around the statue of Joseph Priestley. The Unitarian minister and scientist who himself was chased out of England for his beliefs. His home and laboratory were destroyed by a baying mob.

I walked away from Birstall market place heart broken. They say home is where the heart is. Well this is home and it feels broken, my heart is broken. I walked away and wanted and needed to be alone. I thought of Wendell Berry’s poem I too wanted to come into the peace of wild things. I didn’t have the energy to be with people, even loved ones. I needed to be alone. I need to feel this horror and suffering and to come to terms with this awful destruction of love. So I went off alone, low on energy, in physical discomfort and pain, and I just wept.

Now what has followed since and caused me to weep more and more. I have found much that I have witnessed and heard since hard to take as people have torn one another apart. As division has risen and as hate has grown. Some of the things I have seen on the news and some of the things I have heard from people I know personally has broken my heart again and again and again and all I could do was sit silently and try and take it in, struggling to come into the peace of anything. There does seem to be so much turmoil and division about everywhere.

Now of course this is nothing new, it’s been going on for a long, long, time. The human capacity to Love and to create knows no bounds. That said the human capacity to Hate and destroy knows no bounds similarly.

As the days have passed I have continued to sit in the silence, alone, hoping against hope to come into to the peace of something. As I did other words came into my heart. I thought of Viktor Frankl and “Man’s Search for Meaning” and his equation that D=S-M that despair is suffering without meaning. I thought of Jo Cox herself and her legacy. I thought of her words during her maiden speech in the House of Commons, her belief that there is more that unites us than divides us. I thought of what I have learnt during my life, that hope is born from despair. That in these ashes of all our hearts that love and hope can rise again, but it is up to us. I thought of the beautiful words of Margaret Kirk’s Meditation "Something there is that doesn't love a wall". That bridges between difference can be made. That we are all the same people, all of the same earth, born under the same sun. That we can live together as one. It is up to us though. We are responsible. It is up to us to create meaning from the ashes of suffering. It is up to us to bring healing in our lives, in the lives of those around and to the wider human community. We are responsible, every single one of us. For everything matters. Every feeling, every thought, every word and every deed.

Below is Margaret Kirk's Meditation mentioned above...

“Something there is that doesn’t love a wall” by Rev Margaret Kirk

We see barriers erected between people of different lands,
We see sheets of steel and towers of concrete called Protection.
We see boundaries policed,
watch men, women and children running from hunger and persecution,
looking for a gap in the wall………

Something there is that doesn't love a wall…………

We see walls of fear –
Fear of the young, fear of the stranger,
Fear of sexuality that is different, fear of the educated, fear of the poor,
Fear of the Muslim, fear of the Jew –
Fear upon fear, endless and perpetuating,
And we offer our silent prayer that solid walls of fear will crumble to dust.

Something there is that doesn't love a wall…………

We hear the language of separation,
The jingoistic chant, the racial slur,
words of indifference and dismissal,
words arranged for the purpose of exclusion,
words that sting and taunt,
words that lie.
Let us find words that ring with love and truthfulness,
that reach out through the emptiness of separation.

Something there is that doesn't love a wall…………

We see the deluded barriers of the mind protecting self,
We see relationships stripped of affection
as one person becomes closed to another.
We see people trapped in misunderstanding,
old hurts re-ignited,
bricks placed higher on the wall,
goodwill and trust suspended.
and we ask for boundaries that are not impenetrable,
through which light can shine and distance be dissolved.

Something there is that doesn't love a wall………….

And when we need these boundaries for our own well being,
Let us know them for what they are,
Use them wisely and kindly,
Recognising our own vulnerability and that of others –
So each of us can find the space for retreat and succour,
find that peace that passes all understanding
and be renewed with strength and love
for the task of living life joyfully in communion with all others.

...A beautiful poem...A heartbreaking poem...

There are moments in every single one of our lives, when darkness seemingly over comes us. We all experience tragedy, loss, bereavement, rejection and failure. No one can avoid this. There is no wall we can build around ourselves that will protect us from this. In fact if we do build up such walls all that we will achieve is to cut ourselves off from the love and the joy present in life. This leads to the worst kind of suffering, the suffering within the suffering, hopeless despair. It leads to nothingness.

This despair, this nothingness often turns to blame, to pointing the finger, to scapegoating to hatred of the other who we see as being somehow different to us. There seems to be a growing tide of this at the moment. Whether that be against people from other parts of the country, other sections of society, other genders, religions, sexualities, nationalities, colour of skin, even other age groups. The young not trusting and blaming the elderly and the elderly not trusting and blaming the young. This helps no one and it just makes things worse.

So what can we do? How do we build bridges of love between those divisions in our lives and our own communities? How do we bring light into the darkening aspects of life? How do we bring the light of Hope into the darkening shadows of despair? How do we ensure that the light shines in the darkness and that the darkness does not overcome it? Well by becoming the light of the world and letting that light shine from our being. This is how we bring Hope to life and light. This is where meaning will grow from the ashes of despair. This is what I remembered as I came to the peace of everything, alone and in the silence. In this silence that still small voice of calm seemed to speak to me in a voice that was somehow more than silence and yet less than a whisper. I remembered also why I had become a minister of religion in the first place, that too had been born from personal loss and suffering. I remembered how my heart had been broken many times before and I remembered all the many broken hearted and broken people I have known in my time ministering to the communities I serve and how they too had come to life once again in their grief and suffering. My heart was filled once again and courage began to rise within me.

Hope had risen from the ashes of suffering...There was no despair...

Like Wendell Berry we all feel despair at the world at times. We all fear for our own lives, our loved ones and the lives of others. We all seek to come into the peace of something. We can find that peace. I know this to be true and when the peace comes, provided we do not close down or close in, hope can once again come to life and we can begin to bring healing not only in our lives, but in the lives of those around us stretching out to the wider reaches of this our shared world. We cannot avoid suffering, but we can give birth to meaning in that suffering in the way that we live our lives. We need not despair, we can live in hope, we can live in love. We can heal what separates us from one another. 

We can live in love. In all that we feel, all that we think, all that we say and all that we do.

I’m going to end this "Blogspot" with these adapted words by Sidney L. Freeman, which my friend Jane Blackall recently shared...

'Only a few things wear the mark of the eternal:
the giving we have invested in others,
the love we have expressed in deeds,
the kindness we have shown, the work
we have done because we loved it,
the light we have shown that others may not stumble,
the evil we turned into good because we saw
that none of us lives apart,
but all are members one of another.'

Saturday, 4 June 2016

Openness: Eyes, hearts, minds & hands

If I have learnt anything about spiritual living I have learnt that the key is openness; the key to spiritual living is to live with open hearts, open minds, open eyes and open hands. These four are spiritual living in practice, which I have come to believe is the true essence of religion. Not creed like religion but truly living breathing practising free religion. True religion, intentional spirituality, should not only bring us to life as individuals but enable us to live truly alive and fully awake in this our shared world.

Unitarian minister James Vila Blake (1842-1925) wrote, "Love is the spirit of this church, and service its law. This is our great covenant: To dwell together in peace, To seek the truth in love, And to help one another." I think in many ways this covenant articulates the essence of what it means to come together in love as a worshipping community. It has been adopted by many Unitarian Universalist and Free Christian communities. It expresses beautifully what it means to live in an open, living breathing spiritual community, what free religion ought to be about.

When I am asked what it means to be a Unitarian, the first word that comes to mind is “openness”. It seems to me that we are an open tradition. Now as I have come to believe the essence of openness is humility, but more about that later.

Openness is very much a doing word. It’s not so much that you are open, more that you live openly. I have come to believe that to do so religiously, is to be open in four ways. It is to live with open eyes, open hearts and open minds and open hands.

Now to live with these four open eyes, open minds, open hearts and open hands is no easy task. In fact to master them is virtually impossible. The key is to begin and to continue; the key is intentional practice.

To live with open eyes is to see the world as it truly is; to see reality as it really is, warts and all and in its beauty spots too; to live with open eyes is to not turn away from the suffering present in life but also to pay attention to life’s beauty too; to live with open eyes is to see the reality of the whole of life. This is not easy, so often we are tempted to turn away. To live fully connected lives we need to live with open eyes, to see life in all its blessings and curses.

To live with an open mind is to be able to search for truth and meaning, while maintaining an awareness of the tension between certainty and curiosity. It is the balance of being receptive to what is new and alien, while at the same time holding onto what is most dear. It is to try to know while in the presence of the unknown and unknowable. This can make others feel uncomfortable and others may try to close an open mind or fill it with their things. To live with an open mind does not mean that we do not discern, that we don’t come to conclusions. Quite the opposite actually. It is vital to come to conclusions, so that one can act in the world. It’s just that after the decision the openness must be maintained, it is never too late to change our minds. The key is to keep our minds open but to be careful with what comes in.

The key to living with a loving and open heart is live with all our senses, including our sixth sense, our soul, open to all the wonders and mystery of life. This too brings its dangers. Living with an open heart exposes us to pain and suffering. You see to truly live with an open heart is to allow ourselves to be touched in the most tender of places. This can hurt sometimes. Remember Cupids arrow had to first of all pierce the flesh before it could penetrate the heart, love hurts. To live with an open heart is to follow the great commandment, it is Agape. It is to love others, no matter who they are what they have done, where they have come from, it is to love without condition. It is to follow the Golden Rule. It is to love our neighbour as we would wish to be loved ourselves. This requires love and compassion for ourselves of course, which can at times be the greatest challenge. It is to feel a deep connection with all that is, all that has been and all that will ever be. It is to recognise that in order to feel this connection requires that we share ourselves. To love is to practise forgiveness, over and over again. Practising living with a loving heart is to live willing to be transformed by what we encounter in our daily lives.

By living with these three open eyes, open minds and open hearts we can then practice living with open hands. Hands that welcome, hands that humbly accept our interconnectedness. Open hands are willing to do what they can do to serve, to play their part in the world. It means committing and recommitting to use our hands, our abilities, in the service of life. With our hands, our actions, we take responsibility for our part in serving life, to create the kin-dom of love right here right now, to create a better world, the beloved community. With open hands, we offer what we have and do what we can.

Our open eyes allow us to recognise where we can act in the world, if our minds and our hearts are open. It is these three that tell our open hands where they are needed.

Open hands though are not just about action, they are also about connection and perhaps more importantly humility. Humility is the key to openness and to my eyes the essence of this my chosen Unitarian faith. I say chosen but I’m not sure if I chose it or it chose me. Who knows?

Now humility is a word that is often misunderstood. To be humble is to be at home in our true humanity, to be grounded in our own reality and shared humanity. The key to humility is to recognise that we are a part of something larger than our singular selves.

Humility is not about being meek and mild and bowing and scraping, it is not about being self-deprecating or denigrating. Too often humility is seen in this way, particularly from a religious perspective, as an excuse for suffering and or meekness. To me this is not true humility; true humility is about living with open hands and doing what we can in the world, we can only do this if we live with open hearts, open minds and open eyes and by recognising our common humanity.

Humility is an interesting word, when understood correctly. It has its roots in the word “humus” which means earth. By the way human and humanity share the very same root, something that Forrest Church often spoke of. In “Bringing God Home: A Traveller’s Guide” he wrote:

“The word human has a telling etymology, my very favourite. All the words that relate to it – humane, humanitarian, humor, humility, humble, and humus – are illuminating. From dust to dust, the mortar of mortality binds us fast to one another. Jews, Christians, and Muslims alike trace their ancestry to the third chapter of the Book of Genesis, where God proclaims to Eve and Adam (whose name means “out of red clay”), “In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground, for out of it wast thou taken; for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.”

Being humble is connected to being grounded. To be truly humble is to recognise our honest place in the world and life in general, whilst recognising that life itself does not revolve around us. Humility is at the core of my understanding of my Unitarian faith, I believe that we are a truly humble faith. Our tradition is open and accepting, we welcome diversity, we honour one another’s points of view. Are these not by their very nature acts of humility? And in doing so are we not accepting that each of us have limits to our own individual perspectives; that we need to be open to one another in order to see new and deeper truths; that we cannot make sense of anything alone. This is free religion in its essence, this coming together and experiencing more than we could have imagined alone, by coming together, in love. We honour and acknowledge that on our own we cannot know everything and that by being open to others who may see and understand things differently we are challenged to expand our understandings, doing so in love and respect and honour these differences. Humility is about rejoicing in the challenge that others who see things differently can reveal to us and therefore expand our understanding.

I feel that so many of our troubles are caused by our inability to be truly open to one another and to new ideas; our troubles are caused by our arrogance and belief that we know best. Therefore by not living openly we fail to understand and therefore empathise with each other and we remain trapped by what we think we know. We are too closed down and we need to open up, to one another, to life and to God. We need to be opened up like the Buddhist Monk, arms out with his begging bowl. An image which as Thomas Merton explained “represents not just a right to beg, but openness to the gifts of all human beings as an expression of this interdependence of all beings...Thus when a monk begs from the layman it is not as a selfish person getting something from someone else. He is simply opening himself to his interdependence.” The key is to live openly and of course the key to openness is humility. No one lives apart from anyone else we are all interdependent. Also none of us knows everything, we all see through the glass dimly.

I remember the first time I heard Forrest Church’s assertion that humility and openness are the two keys to religious living, how much this struck me deep inside. I saw the truth in it. There is limitlessness in openness. Who knows how much we can truly change and learn to love if we just stay open, in our hearts and minds and eyes. Who knows what we can do with our loving hands if we live with truly open eyes, open hearts and open minds.

The key to true spiritual living is openness, to live with open eyes, open hearts open minds and open hands; the key is to live with true humility, to see that we are grounded in our shared humanity; the key is to see that we are a part of something far greater than ourselves and that through recognising this we will know the love present in life and begin to bring that love alive, right here right now.

Every day is a day when we can bear witness to a Power Greater than ourselves. We do this when we love one another with open hands, when we see the world with truly open eyes, when we live with minds that are truly open and hearts open to the love waiting to enter and to be poured out onto our world that really needs it.

I believe it is our task to live truly open lives. This is real spiritual living, this is true religion. I believe it is our task to bring love alive, through our openness. It is our task to allow God to incarnate through our lives. To do so we need to live with open hands.

I'm going to end this little chip of a "blogspot" with a beautiful poem "Accepting This" by Mark Nepo, that a I came across a while back.

"Accepting This" by Mark Nepo

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

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

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

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

We cannot eliminate hunger,
but we can feed each other.
We cannot eliminate loneliness,
but we can hold each other.
We cannot eliminate pain,
but we can live a life
of compassion.

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.