Sunday, 19 February 2017

The Wounded Journeyer

I love driving to events and occasions with a passenger at my side. Now there is of course the joy of travelling with another, but it is more than that though. In many ways some of the most rewarding ministry that I experience takes place in this time and place. What I love the most is that as I drive I listen. It is a time that is primarily when my ears do most of the work. I don’t just mean the two lugs at either side of my head, but the inner ear, the ear of my heart. It is a time for deep attentive listening and I’ve noticed that people sometimes open up, particularly about their woundedness in this time and space. I think it has something to do with the physical proximity as we are close but not face to face and somehow people find it easier to open a wound as they open the mouths of their hearts and I open the ears of mine. It seems to be the perfect environment for the language of the heart to come to life.

Now I know it is not my task to heal other people’s wounds that is no one’s task. I cannot heal anyone or anything, I don’t even think I can heal myself, not completely at least. Yes the wounds can be tended to, the emotional bleed can be stopped and the pain relieved but the scars remain and the past cannot be wiped away. The scars are sacred, they are marks of a life fully lived. They must not be hidden away they are a part of our lives. In fact these scars can become our greatest assets as they help us to walk side by side with others, showing them that they are not alone in their suffering and that whatever they are going through that they can survive and grow; that love can rise again from that suffering and that meaning can emerge as something beautiful grows from all our life's experiences. In many ways my ministry is exactly this. It grew from my greatest sorrow and suffering. It has not completely healed what happened, it does not take away the pain. If I could change it I would, every second of my life I would, but I can’t. All I can do is create something beautiful from it. I can walk with others in their suffering and joy. I can live with courage. I can live from the heart. I can live with my wounded heart cracked open, undefended and in so doing I can know love…In so doing I can live in such a way that my life will prove worth dying for, by the love I leave behind. (to paraphrase Forrest Church)

Life is a most amazing journey, never a dull moment. Now although each journey is personal and each experience unique. We never journey alone. We journey in the company of others. Some are there at the beginning and remain to the very end, some are there at the beginning but do not stay until the end, some come and join with us for a while but do not remain. Some are with us later in life and then journey on without us, when we are gone. We never journey alone, we always journey with others, although sometimes it doesn’t feel this way.

We are all wounded in some way on this ship of love journeying along. If we live in love we can bring some healing, we can become wounded healers. It is our wounds that put us in a place where we can be of service to one another. We are all wounded to some degree we all have cracks within us. Nobody is perfect, complete, and who would want to be. In fact it is our wounds and imperfections that put us into a better position to help others come to terms with who they are. It is this that breeds empathy and understanding. Who amongst us is not wounded in some way? Who amongst us does not bear the scars of life? It is our very wounds and the scars formed from them that makes us better able to help others come to a place of healing from their own wounds.

Now as they say life isn’t about the destination, but the journey itself. In many ways I’m not even sure it’s even about the journey, well not wholly, it’s more about who you journey with. We do not sail this ship alone.

We are all "Wounded Healers", journeying along, limping along...

 The ancient Greeks understood the power of the “Wounded Healer”. Their mythology tells the story of Chiron, who was a wise and benevolent centaur and a master of healing.

As the story goes during one of his adventures Heracles visited the cave of Chiron. He had been invited to a gathering there. Now as we all know it is impolite to attend a party without bringing something for other guests and so Heracles brought along a flask of strong wine. Now the smell of the wine attracted many of the other centaurs who began to fight over it, nothing much has changed over the centuries, during the melee Chiron was accidently wounded on the knee by an arrow shot by Heracles. This was no ordinary arrow, it was poison tipped. This was no ordinary poison either it had come from the Hydra a monster with many heads that was virtually impossible to slay. Now while Chiron could show Heracles how to heal the wound caused by the arrows tip, he could not treat the Hydra’s poison. As he was immortal it could not kill him but neither could he fully recover. He would have to live on into eternity with his wounded knee. Chiron the greatest of healers could show others how to heal, but he could never fully recover from this wound. His wound would always show. He walked on into eternity limping. Chiron is the archetype of the wounded healer.

“The Wounded Healer” was one of the most important archetypes identified by Carl Jung. For him the image of Chiron overcoming the pain of his own wounds by becoming the compassionate teacher of healing was a powerful example. The wounded healer is someone who has gone through great suffering and learnt from the experience. Through transcending their own suffering they are drawn towards the path of service leading them to help others. This process strips away the selfish ego-based feeling of being alone and isolated in their own suffering and woundedness. Instead through seeing the wound through different eyes they can see this suffering in others and they can therefore lead others to find ways to overcome their own suffering. Their wounds may never fully heal, as Chiron’s didn’t, but they can help heal the wider ailments of our shared life.

In his book “The Wounded Healer”, Henri Nouwen envisioned the religious community as a safe haven where people could be open and honest about their own woundedness, their suffering and loneliness, a safe haven where through recognising ones pain healing and recovery could begin. Nouwen wrote that people today are “Semitic nomads…(who) live in a desert with many lonely travellers who are looking for a moment of peace, for a fresh drink and for a sign of encouragement so that they can continue their mysterious search for freedom.” 

This speaks to me, one of the reason I became a part of a Unitarian community was for this very reason. Spirituality on an individual level is fine, but it only really comes alive in community as we search for healing and understanding together. Everyone is wounded in one way or another and everyone is looking for healing and understanding at one level or another, even if they are not entirely sure what from. We are all looking for love, understanding, acceptance and meaning. We are the religious animal, to deny this is to deny an important aspect of our shared humanity. None of us though are the experts, at least not in my Unitarian tradition, which is why we need one another. As the Buddhist Pema Chodron wrote in “The Places that Scare You”

“Compassion is not a relationship between the healer and the wounded. It's a relationship between equals. Only when we know our own darkness well can we be present with the darkness of others. Compassion becomes real when we recognize our shared humanity.

So how do we begin to heal, to live whole lives? Well it begins by knowing and naming our own pain. our own darkness. and to not be afraid to show our scars. I always remember the scene from “Jaws” when the great white shark hunters are going out to face the man killer and they begin to drink and sing sea shanties and of course show one another their scars. The scars are marks of experience of having lived the lives of shark hunters.

Now I know that this is a very machismo setting but I think there is something in it for everyone. Our scars, our wounds, are symbols of the lives we have lived and we ought not to be afraid to show them. Not is some form of vainglory but as symbol of our shared humanity. To show we have lived and found a degree of healing from our wounds, although no one escapes scar free. By understanding our own woundedness and not hiding our scars we can better serve one another and walk side by side with each other in our shared troubles. It is our very imperfectness that best fits us for the task of journeying together in the fellowship of love.

Henri Nouwen wrote “We do not know where we will be two, ten or twenty years from now. What we can know, however, is that human beings suffer and that a sharing of suffering can make us move forward.”

By sharing our suffering we can begin to move forward and it is this that can begin to bring about the healing and wholeness that we are all searching for, we are hoping for. This can grow from within each of us as we commune together, work together and do the works of compassion that our wounded world needs. We can begin it today, it begins in our own hearts. We are all “The wounded Healers.”

So let us journey together, side by side, let us tend to one another’s wounds lets become together, the wounded healers.

Let's keep limping along...Together...

Saturday, 11 February 2017

Life on the Mobius Strip: It's all about Relationship

Please watch the clip above before reading on...

It seems I'm not mad after all. I cannot draw a perfect circle.

Now I know that this test may not hold up in court, but I think it’s revealing. Not that I think it is one’s ability to draw perfect circle that is actually the true test of madness, the true test is to actually try. I think the true test of madness is to actually keep on trying to draw the perfect circle, or to even think that such a thing is possible.

The circle is never perfect, in fact I’m pretty sure that the circle will remain forever incomplete. I think it’s better that way…

One of the great plagues of humanity is perfectionism, seeking perfection both within ourselves and others. How many times, I wonder, have I rejected either myself, others, or life itself, because it did not offer perfection? How many times have I noticed others doing the same? It is a lot easier to see in others by the way than in myself.

Nothing in life is perfect, it is always imperfect. I am pretty much convinced that this is how it ought to be.

Now imperfection is one of those interesting words that doesn’t mean exactly what it always meant. When today we say that something is imperfect we are usually making a judgement about this something suggesting that there is something wrong with it. In so doing we are making an error. Imperfection comes from the Latin “imperfectus” which actually meant incomplete.

So when we say that we are imperfect, that others are imperfect, that life itself is imperfect we are correct, in the sense that nothing is ever complete.

The mistake we have made is that in saying that someone or something is imperfect we have suggested that they or it is somehow wrong, when in fact we couldn’t be more wrong. Imperfection itself is what makes life what it is, it is the fuel and energy of life as it is through imperfection that the energy to create relationship is fuelled.

Imperfection, incompleteness is the energy of life.

This brings to mind this rather lovely poem by Harold Kushner “Jigsaw”:

There must have been a time when you entered a room and met someone and after a while you understood that unknown to either of you there was a reason you had met. You had changed the other and he had changed you. By some word or deed or just by your presence the errand had been completed. Then perhaps you were a little bewildered or humbled and grateful. And it was over.

Each lifetime is the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle.
For some there are more pieces.
For others the puzzle is more difficult to assemble.

Some seem to be born with a nearly completed puzzle.
And so it goes.
Souls going this way and that.
Trying to assemble the myriad parts.

But know this. No one has within themselves
All the pieces to their puzzle.
Like before the days when they used to seal
jigsaw puzzles in cellophane. Insuring that
All the pieces were there.

Everyone carries with them at least one and probably
Many pieces to someone else's puzzle.
Sometimes they know it.
Sometimes they don't.

And when you present your piece
Which is worthless to you,
To another, whether you know it or not,
Whether they know it or not,
You are a messenger from the Most High

I love the way Kushner explains why we are incomplete. That it is through our incompleteness that we draw closer together. This is so true, we are relational beings. We do not live in separation and we do not live separate lives. We are constantly seeking unity, to be yoked beyond ourselves. The word “Yoga” actually means to join, to unite. It seems to me that all the great spiritual traditions, eastern and western, are in their own way pointing to this. That the spiritual life cannot exist in isolation. That in actual fact to live spiritually is to live in relation. That there is a yearning within us all to find that missing piece. In so attempting to do so, by the way, we enable others to do the same. In so doing we find ourselves and bring to life our true selves in the world in which we live and breathe and share our being.

When we come together in love, we create the love we have all be searching for.

This brings to mind a book I read just weeks before I began my ministry. It has been one of the most important books in shaping my approach to ministry, which of course literally means to serve. The title of the book is "Radical Hospitality: Benedict's Way of Love": By Father Daniel Homan and Lonni Collins Pratt. This is from the Chapter "Hospitality begins inside." (pg 33-34)

They wrote

" We are caught up in what is probably the most immature attempt at spirituality humanity has ever seen. It is tragically and poignantly adolescent, with the deep emotion and angst that goes with adolescence. It is a spirituality that seeks improvement for life - a better me, a better relationship - but it does not seek God and it does not move us towards others. It just keeps us running on the treadmill of our little egocentric worlds.

We are accustomed to easy answers. Hospitality is not an easy answer. It requires that we take a chance and we change. It requires us to grow. The moment we engage with another person everything gets messy. Our time becomes not quite our own; we can count on others interrupting us. We become subject to a whole hoard of emotional dangers.

Because hospitality always involves giving something of ourselves to others, it is a spiritual practice. Spirituality is about relationship. When you and I become confused about the meaning of spirituality, remembering that spirituality is about relationship will bring us back to the basics. Relationships."

...Spirituality is about relationships...

One of my great frustrations with a lot of modern “so called spirituality” is that it does not seem to be about relationships at all. It seems to be all about the self, almost about protecting the self, from the so called “messiness” of living. It seems to have become almost narcissistic in its nature. Maybe that’s why it can seem so appealing. The truth is of course that all we ever achieve in blocking ourselves off from the messiness, from circling our spiritual wagons, is increase the loneliness and the emptiness.

The spiritual life is about relationship. We need to be in what I have often heard called right relationship, with ourselves, with others and with whatever it is we connects all of life, what is often called the Divine, to live spiritually alive.

I can usually get a good measure as to where I am at spiritually by simply checking where I am at relationally with myself, with others and with God, they are all interconnected and inter related.

Now all this brings to mind the YouTube clip that began this "blogspot". by Parker J Palmer on “The Mobius Strip”.

Here is a little written reflection by Palmer followed by my own attempt to explain what he describes so well.

“Life on the Mobius Strip” by Parker J Palmer

Here’s a brief meditation on life on the Mobius strip, a curious concept to be sure, but no more curious than life itself!

The curious object pictured is a Möbius strip.

If you take your index finger and trace what seems to be the outside surface, you suddenly find yourself on what seems to be the inside surface. Continue along what seems to be the inside surface, and you suddenly find yourself on what seems to be the outside surface.

I need to keep saying “what seems to be” because the Möbius strip has only one side! What look like its inner and outer surfaces flow into each other seamlessly, co-creating the whole. The first time I saw a Möbius strip, I thought, “Amazing! That’s exactly how life works!”

Whatever is inside of us continually flows outward, helping to form or deform the world — depending on what we send out. Whatever is outside us continually flows inward, helping to form or deform us — depending on how we take it in. Bit by bit, we and our world are endlessly re-made in this eternal inner-outer exchange.

Much depends on what we choose to put into the world from within ourselves — and much depends on how we handle what the world sends back to us. As Thomas Merton said:

 “We don’t have to adjust to the world. We can adjust the world.”

Here’s the question I’ve been asking myself ever since I understood that we live our lives on the Möbius strip:

 “How can I make more life-giving choices about what to put into the world and how to deal with what the world sends back — choices that might bring new life to me, to others, and to the world we share?

I came across the wonderful Youtube clip on "The Mobius Strip" the other day, my journey to it was another beautiful example of synchronicity. The type that often leaves me smiling for days. Palmer suggests that “The Mobius Strip” is a useful metaphor for our inner and outer lives. How these are interrelated and how we are affected and how we affect the world in which we live. He claims that the onstage life is how we appear in the world, how we impact on the world, what he describes as the ego questions. While the backstage life is more about intuition and instinct and value and faith. These are those deeper aspects of ourselves, what is called soul, that greater reality that makes who we truly are. He claims that we are born in wholeness. That there is no separation between our inner and outer lives but as time goes by and we become increasingly influenced by the external world we lose touch with our souls and disappear into our roles. He suggest that as we grow up into the world we realise that it is not safe to be our backstage selves in the onstage world, that we somehow have to hide who we truly are and we begin to build a wall of separation. This he says becomes painful due to the disconnect between the inner and the outer life. Due to this, for so many, often the spiritual seekers, there is the desire to bring our lives into the classic shape of the circle. Which he says means I want what is important to me internally to be the values by which my external life which surrounds revolves. Thus bringing a sense of unity to my life. Thus my external life becomes authentic as I become centred.

Palmer acknowledges that this "centering" is a step forward and I personally see that this is where so much modern spirituality takes us, the kind that frustrates me. The problem with it is in the circle itself, it’s a kind of circling of the wagons, a wall of separation a kind of spiritual “gated community”, a walled garden of myself, that nothing and no one can touch. Yes we create our own sanctuary that no one can enter, unless of course they agree with us. Those who do not share our core beliefs and principles are excluded, thus avoiding the messiness and trouble of such relationships. This circle he suggests is just another kind of wall of separation and protection and does not in the end solve the real problem that we all suffer from, it feeds the sense of separation and does not truly allow for a deep spiritual intimacy that we all crave, it does not bring about true wholeness true relationship with ourselves, with others and with God.

Palmer suggests that there is another way, an alternative, which allows us to be both authentic and open. It is achieved by reshaping into the “Mobius Strip” which has the feature of being continuous and unbroken. By simply tracing your finger around what appears to be the outside of the surface you soon find yourself on what appears to be the inside of the surface.As you continue round you soon find yourself on what appears to be the outer part of the strip. He says that it only appears this way because one of the key features of the “Mobius strip” is that there is no inner and outer the two seem to co-create each other. That this is how life is. That whatever is inside us mergers with what is outside and vice versa and both influence each other and in that exchange, interaction, coming together we co-create what we call reality.

This Palmer says leads to one question that ultimately we have to ask “As I travel this Mobius strip between my onstage life and my backstage life, constantly co-creating, how can I become so aware of that exchange that co-creative transaction, moment by moment, that I can increasingly make choices about it that are life giving rather than death dealing?”

For Palmer this is the question that links the inner life with the outer life. It is this that brings that sense of connection of oneness and brings us closer together. It is this that brings the pieces of the jigsaw together and begins to bring about completeness maybe one day, that yokes all life together, that is Yoga. In so doing we return to the wholeness, the natural state, in which we were born. Or perhaps to put it more religiously we return to paradise, we return to the natural state, the original goodness and blessing into which we were born. We find completeness. We create the Kingdom of God, the Kin-dom of Love, right here right now.

So to answer Palmer’s question “How do we make choices that are life giving rather than death dealing?”

Well it really does depend on what we put into the world and what we take in too, to paraphrase Thomas Merton. It is about how we relate to one another, to life and to our inner selves. It’s about relationships. It’s about not trying to draw that perfect circle because that can soon become a wall, a barrier, that cuts us off from everything, unless we agree 100% with it or them 100% of the time, in which case we will find ourselves completely alone.

It’s about becoming the imperfectionist. It’s about learning to dance on the Mobius strip.

I’m going to end this little chip of a "blogspot" with a little meditation written by my imperfect inspiration Forrest Church. This is “The imperfectionsit”

"The reason I’ve been able to produce so much is that I’m not a perfectionist – I’m an imperfectionist. I’m confident that everything I say can be improved upon by others, and that’s my great strength, because I know that it won’t be improved upon by others unless I take the first step. When we only do things which please us, or don’t frighten us, after a while fewer and fewer things please us. Over time, our circle of options diminishes until we are prisoners in gardens of our own making. The more decisions you make in your life, the more times you act, the more certain it is that you will be wrong. To be fulfilled we need to recognize, all of us, that the world doesn’t owe us a living – rather we owe the world a living. And in the brief time that is given us, we must somehow learn to give ourselves away."

So take the first step. Become the imperfectionist. Learn to dance on “The Mobius Strip”

Sunday, 29 January 2017

Be Still & Don't Forget to Breathe

I recently came across the following, taken from “No enemies within” by Dawna Markova. It moved me deeply and tied in with quite a few thoughts that had been forming within me as I breathed...

"When I was in the hospital, the one person whose presence I welcomed was a woman who came to sweep the floors with a large push broom. She was the only one who didn't stick things in, take things out, or ask stupid questions. For a few minutes each night, this immense Jamaican woman rested her broom against the wall and sank her body into the turquoise plastic chair in my room. All I heard was the sound of her breath in and out, in and out. It was comforting in a strange and simple way. My own breathing calmed. Of the fifty or so people that made contact with me in any given day, she was the only one who wasn't trying to change me.

"One night she reached out and put her hand on the top of my shoulder. I'm not usually comfortable with casual touch, but her hand felt so natural being there. It happened to be one of the few places in my body that didn't hurt. I could have sworn she was saying two words with each breath, one on the inhale, one on the exhale: 'As . . . Is . . . As . . . Is . . .'

"On her next visit, she looked at me. No evaluation, no trying to figure me out. She just looked and saw me. Then she said simply, 'You're more than the sickness in that body.' I was pretty doped up, so I wasn't sure I understood her; but my mind was just too thick to ask questions.

"I kept mumbling those words to myself throughout the following day, 'I'm more than the sickness in this body. I'm more than the suffering in this body.' I remember her voice clearly. It was rich, deep, full, like maple syrup in the spring. . . .

"I reached out for her hand. It was cool and dry. I knew she wouldn't let go. She continued, 'You're not the fear in that body. You're more than that fear. Float on it. Float above it. You're more than that pain.' I began to breathe a little deeper, as I did when I wanted to float in a lake. I remembered floating in Lake George when I was five, floating in the Atlantic Ocean at Coney Island when I was seven, floating in the Indian Ocean off the coast of Africa when I was twenty-eight. Without any instruction from me, this Jamaican guide had led me to a source of comfort that was wider and deeper than pain or fear.

"It's been fifteen years since I've seen the woman with the broom. I've never been able to find her. No one could remember her name; but she touched my soul with her compassionate presence and her fingerprints are there still."

...It's amazing what healing can come by simply connecting...The connecting, of course, begins with that one thing that connects all life...the breath...Sometimes, of course, we need another to remind us to simply connect, once again, through the breath...Sometime we need someone else to remind us to simply be still and to not forget to breathe...I offer thanks and praise for the many that do so in my life...Thank you...

I recently began participating in a core-physio class. It’s quite tough due to my troubles with flexibility etc. I’m sticking at it though and it is helping. I'm even beginning to enjoy it. As in so many things in my life these days I try really hard, perhaps too hard. The woman leading the class kept on teaching us various exercises during the hour and kept on having to remind us of something vitally important, I say vital because it truly is life giving and life sustaining, she kept on saying to us “don’t forget to breathe”. She also pointed out when we had our pain faces on and I seem to remember that she called me Elvis a couple of times, due to me curling my lip while attempting the different movements. This brought laughter which of course helps with relaxation and breathing…Mainly though she kept on saying “Don’t forget to breathe.”

 ...Don't forget to breathe...

It brought to mind a favourite film that I had only been discussing a few days before after I had been given the privilege of travelling over to Yorkshire to conduct the blessing and naming ceremony of a dear old friend’s son. Afterwards of course we got talking about the old days and one of the things we reminisced about was going to “the pictures” in Dewsbury. The film “The Karate Kid” came up in the conversation, it was one of my favourites. In some ways I identified with the lead character Daniel, or Daniel-San as Mr Miagi called him. My sister even called me “Daniel-San”. Now in the film the old Karate master Mr Miagi teachers Daniel-San Karate by a strange method which seemed more like household chores “Wax on, wax off” and “paint fence”, while he was doing so he kept on saying to him “Don’t forget to breathe”

 “Don’t forget to breathe” you can’t really, although at times it can seem like it, especially if your mind is so focused on something that your body stiffens up and almost freezes. 

Most of us rarely think about breathing, unless we are attempting some kind of spiritual exercise or your exercise teachers mentions it, or you have some kind of respiratory illness. We breathe without thought we just do it naturally all day every day and at night too while we sleep. We breathe something like 23,000 times per day. It is a natural function of our physical being. We don’t even notice ourselves doing so unless we pay attention to it. We can’t even stop ourselves from breathing, it is beyond our capacity to control. So when the teacher reminded us not to forget to breathe it was not so much that we had stopped breathing it was more that our physical being had stiffened up. We are constantly breathing, we just rarely ever notice it. Breathing is something that we all do unconsciously.

I have been thinking about breathing and the breath a lot recently. Thinking about times when I have had to focus on breathing and it helped me greatly. I remembered a time many years ago when I suffered from a terribly racing mind and was constantly anxious. My mind would flitter from painful memories from the past that would fill me with shame and or anger or fears about the future. I was deeply restless and would often find myself dripping in sweat even in the middle of winter while I would have rushes of feeling running through my body, there was no stillness in my heart. It was at this time that I began to practice prayer and meditation and other spiritual practices including a relaxation techniques that would loosen me physically. I also remembered how serious, or how seriously I took myself in those days. I smiled and laughed as I remembered myself. I shared this with a friend who was also struggling with similar feelings and who I know will also loosen up about these things if they stick with it.

It’s funny but as a result a phrase has been ringing in my ears ever since…”Be still and don’t forget to breath. And when you breathe, do it from way down below…laugh and let your whole being let go…Let yourself loose…”

Brings to mind this little extract from “How to Want What You Have” by Timothy Miller

"I went with my wife to see the opera La Boheme. I wasn’t familiar with the plot, the acoustics in the hall weren’t quite right, and I needed to read the supertitle translations but found them distracting. I was physically and mentally restless; soon my mind was wandering back to problem solving and reviewing tasks I was working on earlier in the day. It struck me that when I was working on them, I was thinking about going to the opera. So I tried using breath-awareness. It was difficult at first because it forced me to confront my restlessness. After a few minutes I figured out a way to glance occasionally at the subtitles, not to worry about every detail of the plot, and to enjoy the beauty of the voices even if I couldn’t understand what they are singing. Pretty soon I was swept into the story. Breath-awareness prevented me from being lured back into pointless fantasizing about other times and places. As the poignant story reached its climax, I wept at least a pint of tears. I left the theatre with a pleasurable sad-achy sensation in my heart that lingered for hours."

...The breathe has the capacity to brings into a fully lives experience of reality...It brings the spirit to life...It brings us fully to life...

Now it should not surprise me that the breath had the capacity to do more to my being than physically keep me alive, that it actually has a healing quality. In the great spiritual traditions this is recognised. It sustains more than merely physical existence but enables a person to be fully alive. Within the Judeo-Christian tradition it was thought that the soul entered the body through the breath. Breath and spirit meant the very same thing. Ruarch in ancient Hebrew meant spirit but it also meant air or wind. It also meant passion and emotion, a state of the soul, thus denoting the passion of God to create life. It gives birth to inspiration which comes to us invisibly much like the air, it seemingly just rushes in. We breathe in inspiration just as we breathe it out on one another. Every word I speak comes alive in my breath and every word I hear is drunk in through my senses.

 You see something similar, to the Judeo-Christian understanding of "Ruarch" in Hinduism where the sound of the divine creation is invoked and chanted on a regular basis. When the Hindu’s chant “Ohm” they are exhaling breath and thus echoing creation. They are merging themselves with all that exists. Similarly to the Abrahamic faiths in Hinduism creation, sound, speech and the breath are bound together. In this there is a recognition that all is sacred, that everything is divine. The Lakota Native American people speak of a supreme entity Wakan Tanka, the Great Spirit, the Great Mystery that exists in everything, that is the fabric of the material world and the unseen source that sustains all life…The air we breathe, the breath of all life, the spirit of life.

We are all united, tied together, by the one breath of all life. It sustains us physically but it does more than this it fills us spiritually. It also humbles us and therefore opens us up to more than we could have ever dreamed of. Not just in the sense that we need to breathe just to live but also it confirms our interdependence on one another, the earth in which we share our being and that spirit of all life that ties it together.

When life gets too much, when the mind races or we feel separate and alone, when something happens that takes our breath away with fear. All we have to do is relax, open up and connect once again with the one breath that sustains and connects all life…Be still and don’t forget to breathe...

Neil Douglas-Kloz wrote in “Blessings of the Cosmos”

“Breathe easily and naturally with the Aramaic word for deep, creative peace: SHLA-MA. By placing one hand lightly over your heart, feel your heartbeat coming into rhythm with this word. Then use the feeling of the word as a doorway into a connection with the peace and potential that was there before the beginning of the universe. Feel the whole sweep of existence — all of the plants, animals, stars, and galaxies that are traveling ahead of you. Find your place in this moving, cosmic caravan of life and affirm that the same potential that began the universe can be felt in your life, here and now.”

 Be still and don’t forget to breathe. We are not alone in life, there is nothing to be anxious about, just pause and connect to that one breath of all life that breathed all life into being.

The Psalmist wrote (Psalm 46 v 10), “Be still and know that I am God!” The being still begins by simply returning to our breath, for it connects us beyond our small selves to the whole of existence. Once the stillness comes we can then act appropriately and bring this love alive in existence. Once we have awakened to the inspiration we can begin to act and begin to inspire those around us. It begins though by being still and not forgetting to breathe.

 It really is that simple. Our lives and all life begins with that first breath. This never changes. Everything begins by returning to that first breath. It humbles us, it opens us and it helps us to connect to all of life and that spirit that runs through it all.

 Do not worry…Be still and don’t forget to breathe…

I’m going to end this little chip of a "blogspot" with these words of blessing by John O’Donohue

“In Praise of Air”

Let us bless the air,
Benefactor of breath,
Keeper of the fragile bridge
We breathe across.

 Air waiting outside
The womb, to funnel
A first breath
That lets us begin
To be here,
Each moment
Drawn from
Its invisible stock.

Air: vast neighborhood
Of the invisible, where thought lives,
Entering, to arise in us as our own,
Enabling us to put faces on things
That would otherwise stay strange
And leave us homeless here.

Air, home of memory where
Our vanished days secretly gather,
Receiving every glance, word, and act
That fall from presence,
Taking all our unfolding in,
So that nothing is lost or forgotten.

Sunday, 22 January 2017

Become what you are

"Do I Matter? "

Standing before the One who is all the world,
can it be that I matter?
Can it be that such a small thing as me
has a place in such a grand scheme?
And yet it is so.

I am empty of permanence.
I don't endure.
My days are limited and too few to fulfill the desires of my heart.
I am so small and temporary. And yet so important.

This pile of dust speaks!
This bag of skin thinks!
This frail body acts and makes a difference!

I am the only me that has ever been.
I am shaken by the knowledge that
I never existed before and will not again.

The Source rebirths, but never repeats.
Infinite possibility demands infinite diversity.

Whatever I must do I must do here and now.
Whatever gift I am to give I must give it here and now.
Whatever purpose I am to fulfill I must fulfill it here and now.

I am what I am here and now.
I am what I do with who I am.

By Rami Shapiro

I like to talk with people, to be with people to listen to people. Generally I don’t do much of the talking. I was like this as a child in the company of family. Mostly I watched and listened. I paid attention. In many ways I suspect this is my natural state, the way I like to be. Now don’t get me wrong I like to talk, I love to be listened to. But the majority of the time I watch and listen. Maybe that is why ministry suits me, it’s mostly about listening and observing, opening all your senses, absorbing it all, digesting it and then bringing something from all of this. It’s almost as if all that I experience in the week feeds into those times when I share with those I serve whether physically or virtually. I offer thanks to those who read and listen. Thank you for listening and reading, but most importantly thank you and all the other people who have spoken with me this week. Thank you to all that I have listened to.

I was listening to someone the other day who was talking to me about identity and how your upbringing shapes who you are, good or bad. He told me something rather wonderful, which I hope is true, but I have not yet been able to verify. He told me that there is a tradition amongst some of the Bantu people of Southern Africa. He told me “that it is said that the Bantu people sneak into the rooms of their children at night, as they sleep, and whisper in their ears, 'Become what you are.'

“Become what you are.” Not become who you are, but what you are. I thought to myself how wonderful it must be to have that song singing in your soul as you grow and develop. It got me thinking about who or what I am? Who or what I have been and who or what I might yet become?…The truth is throughout our lives we never stop becoming or maybe un-becoming…I try not to be too un-becoming these days.

I was out visiting the other day, I again spent most of the day sitting and listening with people. I then drove home and spent another hour or so on the phone catching up with family. Oh I wish I had more time and energy to do more of this. I was on the phone with my brother, someone who has known me from the first day of my life. My big brother. We talked about many things. The state of our lives and what his kids were up to. They actually let him speak, which is not always the case. We talked about music, the world, faith and cricket…mainly cricket (We are good Yorkshire exiles). He then asked me what I was going to be doing that evening. I said I was going to relax and eat and watch the Chelsea v Leicester City game and then watch an Italian football game on BT Sport. He then said something I found a little strange “Where did you get your love of football from? I was never that into it. Our dad certainly wasn’t interested and Dave (our stepfather when we were children) wasn’t into it either.” I remember feeling a little defensive at the time and thinking not everything I did in my life was following you or the other older males in the family. I thought even “Our Allen our older step-brother who was mr super sportsman was more into rugby and cricket than football and even my grandad was more into rugby league than football. That said we talked about football a lot in the last few years of his life, I remember just a couple of days before he died, when he was very weak, one of the first questions he asked me was how “We” were getting on? “We” being Leeds United of course.

I paused for a few moments and considered my brother’s question and retraced where the love for football came from. The truth is though I do not know. It has always been there. It is just something I love and have always done so. As a young boy I was obsessed. As I told him all we ever did at school was play football at break time and dinner time. I was never any good but I loved to play. Interestingly many people these days are surprised when they discover this about me as I don’t go on about it. I love it though. It’s not really very strange either. It is hardly a minority sport…(Muttley laugh)

Now I think what really got to me about the conversation and the questioning of my love is the assumption that I only love and like what I do due to the influence of others. That who I am and who each of us are is based on the influences of the elders in our communities etc. That who we are uniquely is shaped by external influences. That to be who and what we are is based primarily on the senior influences in our lives. It got me thinking and feeling and watching and most of all listening…It awakened my homiletic consciousness. Hence this "BlogSpot"

It got me thinking about who are we, what are we? What shapes us? Is it our environment? Our ancestry? Our culture? How do we become who or what we are? As time went by someone or something kept on whispering in my ear “Become what you are.”

The first thought was from one of my ministerial influences Forrest Church and his little mantra for life “Want what you have, do what you can, be who you are.” It was the last bit “be who you are, or what you are” that was singing in my ears, my song for the week. It brought to mind Rev Peter Friedrich’s reflection on “Be who you are”. He suggested that most of what we learn to be comes from childhood emulation, that despite being rational discerning people we learn most of what we know by copying the elders in our lives like a giant game of “follow my leader”. In many ways our whole culture is based upon this that to be successful we have to look and be a certain way. Just think about the whole advertising industry that is driven by this sense of dissatisfaction because we are not living up to what we’re supposed to be. This is supposedly a good thing, that by seeing what is wrong with us we will somehow become better. We are visually bombarded and our ears are sound blasted by this ideal of what we ought to be. We all of us follow to some degree or another. If only someone or something was whispering in our ears, as we slept at night “Become what you are.” Never mind who you are.

“Become what you are.”

There are two very different ways that most folk seem to view life, either everything matters or nothing really matters. I was once one of those folk who believed, for a long time, that nothing really mattered, that there was no meaning to life. Now I no longer see life this way. In so doing I have become something else. I believe that this is what I’ve become. You see to live in such a way that everything matter is to become what I am. This is the voice I hear speaking to me through all life, whether awake or asleep, that everything matters. That every single one of us matters, as does everything out there. That everything is sacred, every feeling, every thought, every word, every deed matters.

It matters what you are, it matters what you are, it matters what you are…

Each of us belong here, we each have a place here, we each have gifts to offer life, we each have a bliss that we must follow…to me this is becoming what you are, following your bliss…

While we are all part of a greater whole and we all make this greater whole at the same time we are each of us sacred and unique and in order to truly serve life we need to truly become who and what we are. We need to fully embrace what we are exactly as we are. This is not easy and it is certainly not painless, but it is absolutely vital both to ourselves and all life.

We need to truly become what we are; to truly become what we are is to take our place fully in life. You see we never take this journey of becoming what we are alone. We do need others to accompany us, to whisper in our ears, especially when we are asleep “Become what you are”, just as they need us to keep on whispering in their ears “Become what you are”. We do not sail the ship of life alone, we are relational beings we are co-created and we a part of the on-going co-creation which continues way behind our life spans as it began way before we were here. We are all a part of this amazing thing called life, a tiny but vital aspect and the whole of life keeps on whispering to us “Become what you are”, we are needed and wanted and loved by life itself. Life needs us to become what we are. To dance the dance of life, to take our turn in leading and following.

Life needs us to become what we are and put our whole selves into becoming what we are. For in so doing the very ordinariness of our daily living will become truly extraordinary.

Now I’m going to end this chip of a "blogspot"with a short tale from the wisdom of Anthony DeMello, it goes by the title “Most Wonderful Hash”

" 'What's so original about this man?' asked a visitor. 'All he gives you is a hash of stories, proverbs, and sayings from other masters.'

"A woman disciple smiled. She once had a cook, she said, who made the most wonderful hash in the world.

" 'How on earth do you make it, my dear? You must give me the recipe.'

"The cook's face glowed with pride. She said, 'Well, ma'am, I'll tell yer: beef's nothin'; pepper's nothin'; onion's nothin'; but when I throws myself into the hash — that's what makes it what it is.' "

So let’s throw our whole selves in, our whole selves out, in out, in out and shake it all…for if we do we will make something extraordinary…Let’s become what we are…

Saturday, 14 January 2017

Called to care

This "blogspot" explores "care" it begins with a story, versions of which can be found in many cultures and traditions. Following this is a reflection by Henri Nouwen...And finally a reflection, inspired by so many and so much, but written by myself...

Once upon a time...long long Japan, a woman prayed that God would show her the difference between heaven and hell. She wanted to know whether there were fires in hell, and whether the people in heaven sat around on clouds all day playing harps. She didn’t fancy going to either place if that was all they had to offer.

She prayed so hard that God decided to answer her prayer, and he sent an angel to give her a guided tour of both places...angels are good like that...first she went to hell. It wasn’t hot at all; in fact it looked quite pleasant. There were long tables laden with food of all kinds – cooked meats, vegetables, fruit, delicious pies, and exotic desserts. “This can’t be hell,” she thought. Then she looked at the people. They were sitting some distance from the tables, and they were all miserable – emaciated, pale, angry. Each of them had chopsticks fastened to their hands, but the chopsticks were about three feet long and no matter how hard they tried, the people just couldn’t get the food into their own mouths. They were groaning with hunger, and frustration, and anger. “I’ve seen enough of this,” said the woman. “May I see heaven now?”

The angel took the woman to heaven. They didn’t have far to go. It was just next door. It was almost the same as hell. There were the same kind of tables, the same kind of food, and here too, the people were sitting a little distance away from the tables with three-foot long chopsticks fastened to their hands. But these people seemed happy. They were rosy cheeked, and looked well fed. They were smiling and chatting merrily to each other. They couldn’t put the food into their mouths either, but they had discovered how to be fed and happy: they were feeding each other.

The animation below is another telling of the story...from another tradition...

Henri Nouwn on "Care"

"...Real care is not ambiguous. Real care excludes indifference and is the opposite of apathy. The word “care” finds its roots in the Gothic “Kara” which means lament. The basic meaning of care is: to grieve, to experience sorrow, to cry out with. I am very much struck by this background of the word care because we tend to look at caring as an attitude of the strong toward the weak, of the powerful toward the powerless, of the ‘haves’ toward the ‘have-nots. And, in fact, we feel quite uncomfortable with an invitation to enter into someone’s pain before doing something about it.

Still, when we honestly ask ourselves which persons in our lives mean the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving much advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a gentle and tender hand. The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not-knowing, not-curing, not-healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is the friend who cares.

You might remember moments in which you were called to be with a friend who had lost a wife or husband, child or parent. What can you say, do, or propose at such a moment? There is a strong inclination to say: “Don’t cry; the one you loved is in the hands of God.” “Don’t be sad because there are so many good things left worth living for.” But are we ready to really experience our powerlessness in the face of death and say: “I do not understand. I do not know what to do but I am here with you.” Are we willing to not run away from the pain, to not get busy when there is nothing to do and instead stand rather in the face of death together with those who grieve? . . ."

...We are all called to care...

I think one of the saddest words you will ever hear in the English language is “I don’t care” Who amongst us can say that they have never uttered them? If not out loud, so that others could hear them, at least inwardly to themselves. I’ve said it. I said it many years ago and later denied doing so. I said it though and have regretted it ever since. It was at a moment in my life when I had sunk so far into the pain of my lost little self that I did not care anymore. I was in hell and the uttering of those words proved it at that moment in time.

Thankfully, although at times I do feel weariness towards life it has been many years since I did not care; it has been many years since I experienced the pain and loneliness of indifference.

There’s another phrase along this theme, which I often hear spoken “I don’t care what people think of me.” Now while I think I understand what people mean by this, that they are no longer ruled by the views of others, what matters is how they see themselves, there is something in this phrase that still bothers me. I never want to reach the point where I do not care at all what people think of me. I never want to, once again, experience indifference. While I am not ruled by the views of others, it matters to me what they believe about me, about life, about one another and about themselves. I care a lot.

As a child I was considered overly sensitive, that I felt too much and that I took things personally. While it was thought of as a likable quality I know it was seen as a serious handicap too. I remember my step father telling me I needed to toughen up and he certainly tried to in ways that were not healthy. All this really led to was me closing part of my humanity down. This did lead to a sense of indifference at some later stages of my life which led to some horrific feelings of loneliness, isolation and disconnection. Thankfully I eventually saw the truth of this and through love I began to connect and care again. This seeming blight became an asset as I was able to care once more. It wasn’t so much that I lost the sensitivity, that I felt less, it was more that I recognised that these feelings were not about me. I basically took things less personally and it was this that allowed me to begin to serve, to minister.

To minister is to serve and to serve is to care. It is about connection it is about relationship it’s about bringing that loving space alive. I learnt this through the example given to me by John Midgley when he came and tried to be with both myself and others during an horrific time in our lives. John couldn’t heal or change anything. He was as powerless as we were, but he was able to be with us in our shared powerlessness and somehow in this space the healing power held us together.

This is heaven, this is love, this is what it means to care. This is what it means to turn to as opposed to turn away despite the pain, fear and confusion. This is courage. To care takes courage, it comes from the heart, it is the heart alive and on fire. To not care is the way of the coward; to not care is a frozen state, indifference requires a frozen heart.

I have heard hell described in many ways, what it means to be living in a state of hell. I think the most accurate experience of hell is that it is indifference. It is a sense of disconnection from the feelings and concerns of others. Hell is indifference. To live in hell is to be indifferent to sufferings of others. Dante’s Inferno described it thus.

Extract from Dante Alighieri’s “The Divine Comedy” Inferno (Hell), Canto III

"ARGUMENT.—Dante, following Virgil, comes to the gate of Hell; where, after having read the dreadful words that are written thereon, they both enter. Here, as he understands from Virgil, those were punished who had passed their time (for living it could not be called) in a state of apathy and indifference both to good and evil. Then, pursuing their way, they arrive at the river Acheron; and there find the old ferryman Charon, who takes the spirits over to the opposite shore; which, as soon as Dante reaches, he is seized with terror, and falls into a trance."

Hell is indifference. Hell is not fire but in actual fact a frozen state, a state where a person no longer cares and has grown cold towards, others, towards life itself.

In the story that began this "blogspot" “Heaven and Hell” appear exactly the same and yet they are experienced oh so differently. In Hell all go hungry because everyone tries to feed themselves only, they are purely self focused and fail to recognise the hunger in their neighbour sat opposite them. And yet in heaven they attempt to feed one another and are therefore fed in abundance. To me this is as much about the relationships as the food going into one another’s mouths. I believe that we all possess an innate need to serve one another that if we do not do this part of our natural humanity withers away and dies off. By not serving one another we starve our souls.

By living with indifference towards others we live frozen, unfeeling lives…Yes hell is not a firey place, but a frozen state of being…One where nothing touches. Where one is cut off from others, from life itself…Yes hell is indifference, but it is also dis-connection…Hell is a place where nothing connects.

You see something similar to the "chopsticks" story happening in the feeding stories told in the Gospels. Accounts that are more about the relationships between Jesus, his disciples and the people in the crowds, not whether a few loaves and fish could feed so many. There is a deep truth being revealed in the universal mythos found in these stories. They are talking about abundant love being poured out in these deeply connective and connecting relationships. The key phrase in the account found in Mark (Ch 8 vv 1-9) are the words “They ate and were filled”. In this account the crowds hunger is acknowledged, compassion is recognised and care shown. The crowd are invited to stay and sit and the disciples are asked to feed them face to face. Thus they are truly cared for, their common humanity is cared for, they eat and they are filled. They mattered, every single one of them.

This is what it means to truly care…To recognise one another face to face, this is just like heaven in the story that began this "blogspot"…Heaven is to care and Hell is to be indifferent. Heaven is connection and Hell is disconnection. It is heaven that is the warm place and hell that is frozen over.

Following the "Heaven and Hell story" is a reflection by Henri Nouwen on the word “care”. He highlights it’s origin from the old English word “caru” meaning “sorrow, anxiety, grief” as well as "burdens of mind; serious mental attention," from the Proto-Germanic word “karo” meaning "lament; grief, care". To really care is to truly feel another’s sorrow to cry out with them and to truly be with them. To care is to truly empathies and not merely sympathies. To truly care is to be with another, it is about meeting another in common human relationship. This is why indifference, to not care, is hell as it is about breaking that sense of relationship, it is emptiness it is loneliness. It hurts to care, which is why so often we turn away. No one likes to feel powerless and to care is about recognizing our singular powerlessness at times. It’s also about recognising the healing power that can begin to grow from this powerless state, as the common grief is recognised and shared and the healing comes in that very space. This is the power of love. This is the miracle of healing that is recounted again and again in the gospel accounts and it is the same love that comes alive once again when we recognise one another and truly care. We make heaven. We create the kin-dom, the one-ness of love right here, right now. For heaven is a place where everything connects

Many people say they feel lonely, that they experience a sense of disconnection. This can become even stronger at this time of the year, early January. The weeks, in the deepest part of winter, following the Christmas festivities. These are cold, frozen days. Sometimes these frozen feelings are not caused by the temperature of the air.

So how do we overcome this? How do we warm our own hearts and those who we share this world of ours with. Well it begins in and through care. It begins by recognising what we have in common. It comes in recognising our shared sense of powerlessness at times, for here is where the power comes alive, in this deep relationship of care.

It begins by reconnecting in and through care…Let’s not become frozen people, indifferent people, let us live in and through care…For in so doing we will bring warmth to our lives and those we share our lives we…

Let’s care a lot…

Saturday, 7 January 2017

Well-Being, Health & Humour

I had a bit of a lie in on Monday morning. I needed it, I was following doctor’s orders actually, as Aled Jones (retired doctor) commanded me to do so. The last four weeks of Advent, Christmas and New Year have been the busiest I have ever known. I have loved them for their fullness, but they have taken their toll physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. So I went to bed on Sunday night and decided not to set my alarm. I awoke naturally the next morning at 9am, and I felt great for it. I showered and ate a good hearty breakfast. As I did I turned on my computer and instantly read a post on Facebook pointing to an article in Daily Mirror featuring myself and the other Slimming World Awards winners and our top tips on weight loss. Top Tips from Weight Loss Champions It is obviously aimed at those attempting to be healthier for the New Year, following the over indulgence of Christmas. I then received a text message from my personal trainer saying he was back working following his back injury and asking if I wanted to book a session. I did and booked in for the next morning. By 11am I wandered down to the gym to get started back into fitness. Well when I arrived I was utterly overwhelmed, I’ve never seen the place so full. I felt this strange first day at school feeling, very uncomfortable. I tried to get going but couldn’t really and left before too long. Thankfully I felt different the next day and soon got back into things. I also know that very soon attendance at the gym will return to its normal levels.

At the beginning of the year so many of us resolve to live healthier lives, gym membership sores at this time of the year. As does attendance at slimming groups and their like. General physical well-being is often on our minds during the winter months, especially early January. We all seem more vulnerable to ill health at this time of year. I remember well two winters back when I, along with many others, suffered a severe bout of illness, gastric flu in my case, which took over a month to fully recover from, I have never felt so ill. So yes physical well-being is definitely on my mind as it is on so many of our minds at this time of the year.

Now while there is a great deal of talk of improving our physical well-being, which is of course vital, there seems to be less talk of taking care of our spiritual well-being, which actually may well be more important. If I have learnt anything in life I know that my emotional, mental and physical well-being rests on my spiritual health. I discovered that if I take care of my spiritual well-being, as a result, the rest just seems to take care of itself. I never forget the importance of first things first.

Now this might sound a little funny to some, but one of the many measures of my spiritual well-being is my sense of humour. I know that during the most barren periods of my life I was almost completely devoid of humour, I was utterly self - absorbed and took myself far too seriously. I was weighed down by life, by myself, everything just seemed so heavy going. Improving my spiritual well-being has enabled me to lighten up or maybe lightening up has helped me to become spiritually healthier. As Forrest Church stated “"Angels can fly because they take themselves lightly," wrote the English author G. K. Chesterton. By the same token, surely the devil fell on account of his gravity. What works for angels can’t help but be good for us. Levity addresses worry’s tendency to obsess; scoffs at the demon of perfectionism; and exposes (as our enemy, not our friend) the self-absorption that lies at the root of insecurity and unhappiness. When we laugh—especially at ourselves—we fill the present with instant joy.”

Life is far too serious a business to be taken too seriously. I remember at school an old biology teacher telling me that a man who cannot laugh at himself will always struggle. It is something I have never forgotten. I hated him for it at the time, because I knew I took myself far too seriously and just couldn’t free myself from this blight. I just took everything so personally. Thankfully I learnt a long time ago that if ever I want a good laugh I just have to listen to myself.
More and more I see clearly that one of the key barometers of my spiritual well-being is the health of my humour. When I am in good humour I find that I am in good health.

It seems I am not alone. To be in good humour is to enjoy good health or at least this is once what “good humour” literally meant. The very word “Humour” is actually derived from a medieval medical term for fluids of the human body. It has its roots in the ‘old’ French word ‘humor’, derived from the Latin ‘umere’. Physicians of the day believed that we had four different types of internal fluids that they called ‘humors’ and it was these that determined our physical and mental health. Therefore if a person became ill it was believed that their humors were out of balance. So to be in good humour is to literally be in good health, or at least that’s what it used to mean.

Now I’m not someone who is very good at poker. Why? You may well ask. Well because I don’t have a very good poker face. How I am feeling and experiencing life is written all over my face. You can tell just by looking at me if I’m a bit too lost in myself and my seriousness and whether I’m living openly and in life, in the joy of life, in good humour, good health. I know I aint much fun to be around when I’m not in very good humour.

I love the human face, especially when it is caught up in laughter in humour. There is something beautiful about the comedic face. It seems I’m not alone in this. John O’Donohue, who died this very week in January 4th 2008, loved the human face, he saw in it a Divine quality and loved it when it was caught up in laughter.

He said that:

“There’s something really subversive in laughter and in the smile on the human face. It’s lovely and infectious to be in the company of someone who can smile deeply.

I think a smile comes from the soul. And I also love its transitive kind of nature—that if you’re in the presence of someone who has a happiness and a laughter about them, it’ll affect you and it’ll call that out in you as well.

Your body relaxes completely when you’re having fun. I think one of the things that religion has often prevented us from doing is having really great fun. To be here, in a way—despite the sadness and difficulty and awkwardness of individual identity—is to be permanently invited to the festival of great laughter."

Like John I see a quality of the Divine in humour and laughter. I believe that this is because it is a quality of being fully alive. It is an expression of unguarded abandonment and it is infectious in a healthy and loving way. It encourages this aliveness in others too. Laughter comes from that eternal spirit that is a part of our common humanity.

Humour can not only brings healing but it can also bring people can be infectious...Here are a couple of wonderful examples...One from Test Match Special


I have heard it said that God is the greatest comedian of them all and that if you truly want to experience God it is through laughter. I’m sure that you’ve all heard the expression “If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans.”

This brings to mind that old Depeche Mode song “Blasphemous Rumours”, “I don’t want to start any blasphemous rumours, but I think that god’s got a sick sense of humour”. Many see God as a creative mishevious artist and that it is through such activity that we ourselves can become intune with the Divine. As Sara Maitland wrote in “A Big-Enough God”

“God is not careful. Theology is careful, and it ought to be; but God is not careful, is not bound by rules. This double-dealing magic-weaving careless God, this God of strange codes and complex twistings of imagery and power, this God whose sense of humour so often seems to outweigh any sense of ethical propriety, this playful God: this is the God of the artists.”

This brings to mind a Meme I recently saw posted on facebook, which mischievously asked the question: “How enlightened are you?”


If you can live without caffeine,
If you can be cheerful, ignoring aches and pains,
If you can resist complaining,
If you can understand when your loved ones are too busy to give you any time,
If you can take criticism and blame without resentment,
If you can ignore a friend's limited education and never correct him or her,
If you can resist treating a rich friend better than a poor friend,
If you can face the world without lies and deceit,
If you can conquer tension without medical help,
If you can relax without liquor,
If you can sleep without the aid of drugs,
If you can honestly say that deep in your heart you have no prejudice against creed, color, religion, gender preference, or politics,
Then you have almost reached the same level of spiritual development as your dog!

How many of us can honestly say we are as enlightened as our dogs, as spiritually healthy? There is something humbling and beautifully amusing about this little bit of wisdom. Made me laugh too…It came at a perfect time when I was getting a little too serious and lost in my own and the underwear of others…It doesn’t help getting lost in such things…
It;s a bit messy and not very pleasant...

Humour is so vital, remember it means to be in good health and it is healing too…It’s amazing what healing comes when I’m in good humour or maybe actually when I’m in good humour it is surely a sign of good health…

Voltaire wrote “The art of medicine consists of keeping the patient amused while nature heals the disease.”

He recognised, as my biology teacher did, that humour and laughter are good for your health. We all feel better after a good old laugh, it must be because those humours are really flowing. The problem is though that our sense of humour can abandon us often when we need it the most.

If only we could get our “humours” flowing again. If we could our bodily health would improve immeasurably. To quote Josh Billings "There ain’t much fun in medicine, but there’s a heck of a lot of medicine in fun." We would relax more and as a result our stress levels would lessen and as a result it would seem that our immune systems improve. Research has revealed that laughter has a positive influence on our immunoglobin levels and immune system in general. As I look back at my last bout if real ill health, two January’s back it was at a time when I’d lost my sense of humour somewhat, I’d gotten a little too serious and self absorbed and had worn myself out with “stress of it all”. I became really ill and once again had to surrender to it all. This did eventually lead to positive things as I began to look after myself better. Included in this was to play a little more and spend a little more time doing activities that bring me joy, that make me happy.  This helped me on my general getting physically fit and healthy journey. I know I would not have been able to sustain it with out first of all getting spiritually fit.

I have discovered that spiritual freedom brings with it the ability to laugh and not to take yourself too seriously, or is it laughter that helps bring about spiritual freedom? Life is a very serious business, far too serious a business to be taken too seriously in fact. Now please don’t get me wrong I’m not suggesting that we ignore the troubles present in life, my word I certainly do not. What I’m actually saying is that we must be careful not to get too caught up in them or weighed down by them. In order to be of service to life and others requires us to be in good health and good humour. We need to take care of ourselves wholly, body, mind and spirit. It begins with spirit I have learnt. To enjoy good mental and physical health requires good spiritual health and a healthy spirit requires air to breath. It enjoys freedom and aliveness and it often begins with laughter.

I’m going to end this little chip of a "blogspot" with a story…I hope it leaves you in good spirit, in good health, in good humour…

A burglar broke into a house one night. He shined his torch around, looking for valuables, and when he picked up a CD player to place in his sack, a strange disembodied voice echoed from the dark saying, "Jesus is watching you."

He nearly jumped out of his skin, clicked his torch off, and froze. When he heard nothing more after a bit, he shook his head, promised himself a holiday after the next big job, then clicked the torch back on and began searching for more valuables. Just as he pulled the stereo out so he could disconnect the wires, clear as a bell he heard, "Jesus is watching you."

Freaked out, he shined the torch around frantically, looking for the source of the voice. Finally, in the corner of the room, his torch beam came to rest on a parrot. "Did you say that?" he hissed at the parrot.

"Yep," the parrot confessed then squawked, "I'm trying to warn you."

The burglar relaxed. "Warn me huh? Who are you?"

"Moses," replied the parrot.

"Moses?" the burglar laughed. "What kind of stupid people would name a parrot 'Moses'?"

The bird answered, "Probably the same kind of people that would name a Rotweiller 'Jesus'."

I wish you good health and good humour.

Saturday, 31 December 2016

New Years Day

Happy New Year. 

Today is the first of January, the beginning of a new year, New Years Day.It is a day on which traditionally we are meant to pause and evaluate our lives, the state of our own being, and perhaps the state of the world in which we live. A day when we are meant to assess what can be done better and also perhaps what needs to change, what needs to be let go of. Perhaps today, more than any other day, we are meant to practice discernment, to sift through our lives, like prospectors panning for gold, we are meant to separate what is of use and what is not. We are meant to sort the wheat from the chaff. In so doing we may well find the most precious gem stones of our lives.

On this day, as we sift through our lives, we may note the size of our waistlines or other measures of our physical well-being? We may well assess our bank balances, how expensive has Christmas been this year? We may well take a look at our wardrobes. Perhaps we will look at the state of our relationships, with lovers and spouses, with families and with friends. We may also look at the state of our employment.

This time of year is often one when people commit to make changes. I know my gym will be over populated this week, no doubt groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous and Slimming World and other organisations I know intimately, will have much higher attendance rates over the next few weeks. I also know that by February things will have returned back to their normal rate.

Yes this time of year, for so many of us, is a time of assessment, a time when people often feel dissatisfied with aspects of their lives and as a result commit to change, believing that if they change certain aspects of their lives, their troubles will come to an end and everything will suddenly magically be different.

For better or for worse today is a day of measurement; today is a day where we assess where we have been and perhaps where we are going. In Ancient Rome it was the day of worship of the God Janus, the God with two faces, one looking into the future and the other into the past. The God of gateways, of thresholds of the space of change. Today is meant to be the one when we make decisions about what needs to change. The truth is though, that it is a day just like any other day and every day, just like every in moment, everything changes and yet somehow everything stays the same.

Life has taught me many lessons One of the most important being that the only thing permanent in life is change. “Nothing ever lasts for ever” as Echo and the Bunnymen once sang. Life is impermanent. We are all guests in life. We cannot cling to anything. Whatever we are feeling or experiencing right now, “This too shall pass”.

Impermanence is the beauty and the energy of life. Life is forever changing and transforming and turning into something new. Nothing ever stays exactly the same and nothing is ever repeated in exactly the same way again. This was wonderfully expressed by the ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus some 2,500 years ago. Who said, among many other things, “Everything flows, nothing stands still.” “No one ever steps into the same river twice.” And “Nothing endures but change.” He was saying that the only constant in life was and is change, that life was constantly in flux and that everything is impermanent.

So often in life we try to cling to things, to hold on to things to maintain things exactly as they are. This seems to be going against life and the nature of things. Nothing stays exactly as it is in its current nature, everything changes from moment to moment and to resist this is to resist life. Yes everything changes but life goes on.

The mistake we often make is to try to cling onto things, whatever that might be, in fear. In so doing we fail to experience life itself. We resist the beauty and the power of life.

 As I look back at the year, that has passed, so much seems different and yet if truth be told much is still the same. Much has changed in regard to my own experiences of my personal life. 2016 may well, on a personal level, have been the greatest of my life. If you had told me what was to come at the beginning of last year I would not have believed you. I’m not talking about my personal awards and achievements either, what I’m really talking about is my own experience of my own physical being and how this has opened me up to new and exciting experiences I would never have dreamed possible. I have been set free from so many shame filled chains that for so many years had bound me. So personally speaking 2016 was one of unimagined wonder. I could not be more grateful. I also know if I continue the way I have lived for the last 13 or more years that greater personal freedom will come. Many years ago I learnt the power of living by faith and hope and love and I will continue to do so; I will continue to follow this simple and beautiful way of living.

That is not to say that 2016 was all beautiful and wonderful. As I look around at the world in which I live I witness much that disturbs me. Division and fear does seem to be on the increase as does instability. The political landscape has changed these last 12 months and has left an increasing sense of fear for many of us. And yet as I walk around the town in which I live everyday, life is much the same. People are much the same as they have always been. Yes everything changes and yet somehow everything still seems much the same. People are the same as they have always, let us not become victims of our own bad dreams.

Life is constantly changing, nothing ever stays exactly the same and no moment is exactly like any other. We all experience these moments differently too; we each bring our pasts with us into each moment and this always impacts on the present.

That said despite the changing nature of our material lives there are things that do seem permanent, that do not change. There are some things that hold us and sustain us despite the constant changing nature of life. The last thirteen years of my life has proven this to me, there have been three unchanging things that have held and sustained me and kept me open to life despite its uncertainty. Things that have held me even during some deeply painful experiences. The three are faith, hope and love.

It was Paul of Tarsus, in the 13th Chapter of his first letter to the Corinthians who named these three that have held me and led me these last thirteen years. I have seen many others held by them too, through many storms in their lives. There is something eternal about them, something universal and they were at work long before he wrote about them. We can rely upon these three, but only if we nurture and strengthen them. We can depend upon these three faith, hope and love. But what do these three mean?

Faith is about trusting in life itself; it is about living as openly and honestly as possible; it is about accepting that there is pain in life, but that there is also so much joy; it is realising that the mere fact that we exist at all is life’s greatest gift. This allows us to sing the joy of living, in all its mystery. It is also about seeing that we are all in this together, that we all live in the one lifeboat. We need to connect as much as possible to the boat of life in which we share. We need to ensure that our lifelines are secure and not worn or frayed at the edges. This is something we need to hold onto and not let go of. Why, you may well ask? Well because it sustains us through the vicissitudes of life. Life does not offer much certainty, but we need not despair at this, or at least not stay in despair.

Hope is the second of those eternal, universal truths. Hope is rooted in despair; it grows from the same place. To live in hope is to believe that if we live with conviction and compassion that we can effect positive change in our world, even if we ourselves do not get see to see its full fruition. Hope is about planting those seeds when and where ever we can.

To live with hope is to live with the attitude that the future is genuinely open. The God of my understanding works with us and guides us but leaves life open, it is not pre-ordained. “The Lure of Divine Love” draws us out of ourselves, but it also allows life to develop freely. I accept that the past does have power, I have a strong sense of history, this is very important. That said I do not believe that the past defines the future, not everything is inevitable. The future is unwritten.

Life is definitely a journey worth taking, even during its toughest moments. Yes we all despair at times and we all live with uncertainty, but the beacon of hope is always there. The writer of the book of proverbs reminds us “Where there is no vision (no hope) the people perish.” Hope is a vital lifeline it both holds and sustains us. It is an eternal and universal principle and one that also requires nurture.

What about love? How can it sustain us? By the way I am not talking of romance here, I am talking of spiritual love. Spiritual love is that power that connects us to our true selves, one another, the life we share and whatever it is that connects all life. What I myself call God; that power that is greater than all and yet present in each. It is love that powers the lifeboat, that puts wind in its sails. Love is about caring deeply and passionately about life itself. This of course requires attention; it is a life line that requires nurture. Love reminds me that we do not live for ourselves alone or by ourselves alone. “no man is an island” or as Kurt Vonnegut once put it “one human being is no human being”. The universal and eternal truth is that we need the love, the care, the companionship of others in order to fully experience what it is to be alive. By ourselves we are never fully alive.

If we live by these three faith, hope and love we will know what it means to truly live and experience the joy of living, even in the dark days.

Today, New Year’s Day, is a day of new beginnings; today is a day when if we want to commit to anything perhaps we ought to commit to beginning again in love.

New Years Day is a time for new beginnings, a time for hope of what might be and a time to reflect on what has been before us. And yet it is just a day, much like any other day really. The sun has risen, as it has always risen and in a few hours time it will set, as it has always set.

So let’s look forward with new eyes, with fresh eyes. Let’s look back and commit to learn from our pasts. Let’s learn to live with increased faith, hope and love.

Whatever this year brings us, let us resolve to build lives of faith, hope and love.

 Let’s begin again this day and every day in love.

I will end with some words of beginning by Edward Searl

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

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

Nothing is ever lost
in the many changes
time brings.

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

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

From “We Pledge Our Hearts” by Edward Searl