Saturday, 27 June 2015

Either everything matters or nothing matters

A little phrase has been on my mind for quite some time now “Either everything matters, or nothing matters.” I’ve been talking about it and writing about it for quite some time now. “Either everything is sacred, or nothing is sacred.” Or another variance “Either everything has meaning, or everything is meaningless.” I have lived on both sides of these divides during my 43 years of physical existence. These days I believe in everything and that little bit more than everything. I have noticed that since I turned this way that life has become sanctified and every single breath has become meaning filled.

Everything matters to me and yet the world outside of my window increasingly tells me that there is no meaning to anything and that religion and all forms of spirituality are merely delusions to give us consolation in an indifferent universe. They tell me that the rituals that we engage in are just futile attempts to give our lives meaning.

Is this so? What do you believe?

21st century Britain is on the surface a secular country and yet you see ritual and spiritual activity going on everywhere. A classic example has occurred on the other side of the road to Dunham Road Chapel where I live just a last few weeks ago. A young mother Natalie who worked in the dress shop just round the corner from the chapel was tragically killed on her way to pick up her child. The response to this tragedy has been incredible as all kinds of floral and other tributes have been left at the spot where it occurred. Many have come and marked this passing. This is a deeply meaningful activity where people are connecting beyond themselves and joining together to support one another. There is a real power at work, a power that is greater than all and yet present in each and every one of us. Some may call this Love and others call it God. It is far more than mere symbolism though and it is deep and rich in meaning.

You will see examples of this everywhere. In every town it would seem. Such road side activity is not just about death and tragedy either. Ever since I first saw the “Tree of Lost Sole’s” on the road to Warrington I have noticed other road side symbolism all over the place. It seems to me that they are no different to those Holy Shrines of ancient times, perhaps they too may one day become “Thin Places”, where the barriers between this world and the other world are narrowed. I have noticed that these things are deep and rich in meaning. They have certainly brought meaning and transformation to my life as they have brought me into closer contact with a reality greater than myself.

I believe in everything and that little bit more than everything, that all life is sacred and I also believe that it is our task to sanctify all life; I believe it is our task to realise the sacredness of everything. Everything matters. Every thought, every feeling, every breath and every action.

The Buddha reputedly said “ Whereever you live is your temple if you treat it like one.” All ground is holy ground if we sanctify it. As Wendell Barry so beautifully put it. “There are no unsacred places; there are only sacred places and desecrated places.” I believe it is our task to nurture the sacredness from which we are formed and to carry that out into our world, through our lives…Everything matters you know, every breath, every feeling, every thought, every deed impacts in some way on the chain of life…Everything matters.

Pierre Teilhard De Chardin claimed “This world this palpable world, which we are wont to treat with the boredom and disrespect with which we habitually regard places with no sacred association for us, is in truth a holy place and we did not know it. Venite adoremus."

All ground is holy ground. We all stand on holy ground. We can consecrate it with our presence or we can desecrate it with our presence in how we live on the ground on which we live and breath and have our being.

This is why ritual, worship and acts of remembrance are so important because they remind us of the sacredness of all life, including our own and those of our neighbours. If nothing matters, then nothing matters. If nothing is sacred then any act of barbarism can begin to be justified. When we begin to deny the sacredness of life, we fail to recognise the sacredness of one another and we can begin to deny that we are all part of one human family, we begin to separate ourselves from one another and from life itself.

John O'Donohue described this void beautifully in his book "Bendictus: A Book of Blessing" in piece titled "The Loss of Ritual Leaves us Naked in our Rites of Passage" he wrote:

“A threshold is a significant frontier where experience banks up; there is intense concrescence. It is a place of great transformation. Some of the most powerful thresholds divide worlds from each other: life in the womb from birth, childhood from adolescence, adulthood from middle age, old age from death. And on each side there is a different geography of feeling, thinking and being. The crossing of a threshold is in effect a rite of passage.

Our culture has little to offer us for our crossings. Never was there such talk of communication or such technology to facilitate it. Yet at the heart of our newfound wealth and progress there is a gaping emptiness, and we are haunted by loneliness. While we seem to have progressed to become experts in so many things – multiplying and acquiring stuff we neither need nor truly want – we have unlearned the grace of presence and belonging. With the demise of religion, many people are left stranded in a chasm of emptiness and doubt; without rituals to recognize, celebrate, or negotiate the vital thresholds of people’s lives, the key crossings pass by, undistinguished from the mundane, everyday rituals of life. This is where we need to retrieve and reawaken our capacity for blessing. If we approach our decisive thresholds with reverence and attention, the crossing will bring us more than we could ever have hoped for. This is where blessing invokes and awakens every gift the crossing has to offer. In our present ritual poverty, the Celtic tradition has much to offer us.”

...Ritual helps us to sanctify life and therefore recognise and experience the sacredness of existence...

Either everything matters, or nothing matters. Either everything is sacred, or nothing is sacred. Either everything has meaning, or everything is meaningless. We are all part of the one human family, the family of life. When we no longer recognise we begin to fail to acknowledge one another’s sacred mystery. We begin to separate one another, we begin to dehumanise. We are not all exactly the same we have different qualities, different characteristics, different gifts to offer as well as different needs. That said we are all made of the same substance, the very same substance that the whole universe is made of, or at least the matter we have knowledge of and I believe that the same spirit runs through all life. I do not personally believe it controls all of it, but it is certainly present, always there offering the lure of its love. It is our task to choose this love, because if we do not then we will begin to separate and alienate and I believe that it is this that causes the distrust and fear that leads to hatred and dehumanising violence.

The solution is simple, I believe, as solutions usually are. The solution is a reawakening to this sense of sacredness of all life, all existence.

You see either everything matters, or nothing matters; either everything is sacred, or nothing is sacred; either everything has meaning, or everything is meaningless.” What do you believe? Do you believe that everything ought to be sanctified or that life is devoid of any meaning at all? What is your choice to be?

Saturday, 20 June 2015

Return to Love

“The Map and the Man” taken from "The shortest Distance: 101 Stories from the World's Spiritual Traditions" by Bill Darlison

It was a particularly rainy Saturday afternoon. Two children, John and Rebecca, were becoming increasingly bored, and their father, who was under strict orders to keep them entertained while their mother went shopping, was running out of ideas. He wanted to watch the sport on television and to read his newspaper, but the children had demanded his attention. He’d tried them with paper and coloured pencils, but this barely entertained them for five minutes. He’d tried the television, but didn’t even want to play on the computer. And there were still a couple of hours before mother returned!

Suddenly, he had an idea. Picking up a magazine from the table, he quickly flicked through the pages until he came to a map of the world. “Look at this, kids,” he said. “I’m going to cut this map into pieces - a bit like a jigsaw puzzle – and if you can put it together again, I’ll take you both to McDonald’s for tea! Is it a deal?

The children agreed to give it a try. Their father cut up the map, gave them a pot of glue, and set them to work on the kitchen table. He meanwhile, put on the kettle, made himself a cup of coffee, and sat down with his newspaper in the living room. He was feeling very pleased with himself. “It’ll take them at least an hour,” he thought with a smile.

But barely ten minutes later he heard, “finished dad!” He couldn’t believe it. He went through into the kitchen table and there, sure enough, sitting on the table, was the completed map. “How on earth did you finish it so quickly?” he asked.

“It was easy,” said John. “The map of the world was complicated, but on the other side was a picture of man. We just put the man together.”

“Yes”, said Rebecca. “If you get the man right, the world takes care of itself.”

...There is some real wisdom here...If we get the man right, the world takes care of itself...I hear the wisdom of "First things first here...I here the wisdom I was taught many years "If you are spiritually well, the rest will take care of itself...

Last Sunday was one of life's redemption days. Days I seem to experience increasingly as time goes by.

I had been invited to lead worship at Wakefield Westgate Chapel, back home in West Yorkshire. Little did I know when I began the journey that it would turn out to be one of the most beautiful days of my whole life. One of those days when fruits were finally born. Now as I set off you would not have called it beautiful. The rain was falling and the traffic was heavy. That said once I got on the M62 proper the roads began to clear, if not the weather. No that got decidedly worse as I hit the highest point of the motorway, just as you are leaving Lancashire and entering Yorkshire and approaching Stott Hall farm. It’s always a magical time for me, this sense of coming home. Emotion always begins to build and memory takes over as I re-feel so much. As I drove I had a feeling that something special was going to take place that day. There was a calmness over me as I felt held by the eternal hand of love. It was a strong and reassuring feeling. A feeling I have grown to know so well over the years. A silent kind of strength, not boastful or loud but loving and sustaining. Paul understood it perfectly in the famous words on Love in his letter to the Corinthians. That strength that holds and guides, as you do the things you are there to do in life, your duty for the want of a better word. Some have called it the loving hand of a father and I can understand that, although of course it transcends all human created gender boundaries.

Well amazing things occurred that day. One’s that even for me are too personal to share publicly. All I can say is that they were beautiful and moving deeply redemptive, as I once again witnessed the power of Love at work in human lives. As I drove home that day I wept with both joy and gratitude.

Of all the stories that Jesus told I think it is the “Parable of the Prodigal Son” (Luke Ch 15 vv 11-31) that speaks most powerfully to me. It is a universal tale that speaks on so many levels about the blessings and troubles with forgiveness and reconciliation. There are three characters in the tale a father and his two sons. The youngest son squanders his inheritance on a hedonistic lifestyle, he loses everything. In desperation he sells himself into slavery and due to a great famine finds himself close to starvation. It is at this point of utter despair and hopelessness that he remembers where he has come from, he remembers his father and reasons that even his father’s slaves have a better life than him. So he returns home to throw himself on his father's mercy, not as his son but as a slave. On hearing he is returning his father rushes to meet him. Now even before his son atones his father does more than forgive him. He kisses him, a beautiful touch of intimacy and then as he son throws himself at his father’s feet he orders that the fatted calf be slaughtered and a huge party of much rejoicing be held, to celebrate the return of his son who was once lost but now is found.

The parable of "The Prodigal Son" is a beautiful tale of redemption and forgiveness, but is it a realistic one? If only it was that easy. Well actually there is so much more to this story than has already been discussed, there is another character who does not find forgiveness so easy to come by. There is the other brother who refuses to rejoice and celebrate the returning of his long lost sibling. Quite the opposite in fact, he is angry, he is indignant, he will not reconcile with his brother and is now at odds with his father. In fact he does not even refer to the "prodigal" as his own brother. Instead he names his as “This son of yours” and by doing so disowns him emotionally. He tells his father all he has done for him and yet has received nothing in return for his good and virtuous life. His father pleads with him and then utters the immortal words, “Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.” He tells his older son that all that is his belongs to him and also reminds him that this brother of his has returned from the dead. He reminds him that he is his brother and therefore a part of him. They were all three of them once bound together and now need to be once again reconciled, they need to be re-bound. Now this to me this is the essence of religious living. For I have come to believe that reconciliation is a deeply religious act.

I wonder sometimes if I myself have become like the older brother who really would rather not recognise the younger brother who is a part of me. It is not easy to forgive ourselves for our failings. I think sometimes I would prefer to disown that aspect of myself, but I know that this is not the right way, the loving way. I know if I want to truly be of service to this world I need to be fully reconciled with all that I am, so as to be able to love without prejudice. I also need to recognise that in each and every person exists each of the three “Prodigal Son” characters. The one who is returning seeking forgiveness, the one offering forgiveness and the one who can feel rejected and neglected by this expression of love. Reconciliation is a process and one that takes time; it is a long journey but one that is certainly worth embarking upon. It is far from easy, but it is without a shadow of a doubt worth embarking upon.

It brings to mind the following wonderful reflection "Mending the Broken World" by Kathleen Mctigue taken from her book of meditations "Shine and Shadow"

“Mending the Broken World” by Kathleen McTigue

In early September I stop to watch my neighbour at work repairing a stone wall that lines the road perpendicular to ours. Built as all the old field walls of our region have been built, the stones are held by balance and judicious choice rather than by mortar. The wall was built well, but the weight of many decades has broken it here and there, with some stones fallen out of place or carried away for some other use.

As I warm myself in the autumn sun and watch him work, I see about half of what he does is simply look at these stones in their haphazard piles, stroking his chin in thought, Then from time to time he rolls one from the pile onto the ground and turns it from side to side, pondering, or walks back to study again the place in the wall he’s trying to mend. When he finally makes his choice, he’s sure. Each stone waits for the right opening, the place where its particular heft and shape fit as though cradled. Once in place it is no longer merely a stone, but an essential piece of the wall, part of a larger thing taking shape as naturally as a tree flows from root to trunk to branch.

My neighbour is an ordinary working man, I know his name, and sometimes we talk together about life and horses and his willingness to help me haul manure to my garden one of these days before the first hard frost. But on this sunny September afternoon as I watch his eyes and hands become familiar with each stone and then lift it to shape the wall, it’s easy to imagine God at work in the immense universe, quietly humming, pulling our lives together into something strong and useful.

I don’t mean we’re mute or helpless, waiting passively for the great Stonemason to lift and move our lives or tell us where we belong. I mean only that there is a place for us, that our gifts – the shape of our minds and talents, the angles of our interest and concern – fit the needs of the world the way my neighbour’s stones anchor themselves in the lengthening wall. I mean that the world’s possibilities shift and change each time we put ourselves into building something large and strong and beautiful. Whether or not we find room in our theologies for the word God, the world itself calls us to imagine ourselves essential to this engaged holiness, bringing forth what is ours to give of creation and strength, toward mending the broken world.

...I hear so much in these words that concept of building or perhaps re-building the "Kin-dom of Love right here right now in and amongst us...

Now of course this no easy task. If I have learnt anything it is that this rebuilding begins with forgiveness. An easy word to speak perhaps but a difficult state to achieve and the reconciliation that it brings with it even harder. That said I suspect it is the purest act of love we can engage in. Now the reason it is so hard, especially with old hurts, is that when we engage in it we bring these painful feelings right up to the surface. Forgiveness is an act of remembrance. In order to forgive we have to truly re-feel all that has happened. We don’t really forgive and forget. What we actually do, if we are to truly forgive is re-member. We re-bind the past to the present and can then begin to reconcile. This is why I say that reconciliation is a deeply religious act, because we are re-binding together what has been separated. That said by so doing we do truly begin to heal our world one stone at a time. It is so easy to look at the world in despair and say I am powerless, there is nothing I can do. The truth is that if we look at the world in this way that is true. That said if we look in our own hearts, in our families and our communities there is much that can be done. Perhaps if we begin here and reconcile ourselves with those closest to us there is much to be done. I wonder sometimes if by focusing on the bigger picture, the whole world, we lose sight of picture on the other side. As the story at the beginning of this "blogspot" teaches, “If you get the man right, the world takes care of itself.” And if we do so we begin to build "the kin-dom of Love" right here right now, what Jesus called the Kingdom of God, which I see as being one in the same.

It is said that “God is Love” and for me this portrayed perfectly in the Parable of the “Prodigal Son”, something that is not always portrayed within the Judaeo/Christian tradition and its imagery of the hard paternal father figure and not really the Abba that Jesus spoke of in the Gospels. Now of course if God is understood in a literal sense, when discussing this parable it is easy to see why God has been seen as a patriarchal figure and I see this as a mistake. Seeing God as Love is to see God not as super human figure, but instead as a way of being and doing and living and breathing. God as Love is to see God as the name for that which we hold of greatest value, for the mystery of existence. This is something surely theists and none theists can adhere to, unless of course they view life as being without meaning. And to see life as meaningless is to deny even the existence of love

When I think of this parable what I witness is a story of Love coming alive. It is a return to Love if you like. To me this is what is at the essence of spiritual living. It is about reconciliation. It is about turning away from merely ourselves and connecting with all. Not just with all that is now, but all that has ever been and probably ever will be. It is a story of turning or if you prefer returning to Love and once again coming alive. This comes alive as we begin that journey of reconciliation, almost immediately. As it did in the "Parable of the Prodigal Son". Remember as soon as the father heard the son was returning and even before he asked for forgiveness the father embraced him, he even kissed him and in so doing that powerful eternal Love came alive.

Here for me is the message in this story. In that beautiful intimate act is everything. The parable is about this power coming alive that can heal our wounded and often broken world. It is something that happens on an intimate and individual level, between each of us. It is also something that I believe we are all responsible for.

It begins here in our own individual lives. It begins in our own hearts as we reconcile ourselves with our whole lives. It begins with those who we have shared our lives with. It begins by focusing on the little picture. If we get that right the bigger picture will begin to take care of itself. Remember as the little girl in the story said “If you get the man right, the world takes care of itself.”

It begins with you and it begins with me. It begins by returning to Love.

Now I am going to end this little chip of a "blogspot" with some words by Robert T Weston entitled “If Love Be There”.

“If Love Be There”

This day, setting aside all that divides me from others;
This day, remembering that the world is beautiful
To him who is willing that it be so
And that into the open, eager heart
The beauty enters in, if love be there.

This day, I will make a part of the song of life.
There may be grief, but if there be love it will be overcome.
There may be pain, but it can be borne with dignity and courage.
There may be difficulty, but it can be turned to strength.
Remembering that the world is beautiful
If I will let it be so for others whom I meet,
This day I will make a part of the song of life.

Sunday, 14 June 2015

Lessons in Living

“Were I to Teach a Course on God” by Nancy Shaffer

Were I to teach a course on God I would begin with a plate of persimmons – the sweet, crisp kind, the ones more orange than red; the hard, squat Fuyus I eat each November morning on hot wheat cereal with almonds.

I would slice the persimmons gently across their fat centers, then hold them out. See the star shape? I would offer them, so all might wonder.

I would slice brown Bosc pears straight down their middles, so the threads of each stem trace wisply down to that rounded place where dark seeds lie, tear-shaped and wet in white, firm flesh. I would hold these halves silently forward, their bottoms smooth in the curves of my palms.

I would teach God with plates of pomegranates, both before they were opened and after. I would bring wet washcloths. We would bury our faces and eat; all that luminescent purple-red, those clear-bright kernels fitted in tight rows on small and tumbling hills – and all that juice, so easily broken, sweet and pucker at once. We would say nothing.

I would teach this way; with plates of fruit, a knife; many washcloths. With my eyes very large; my mouth mostly silent, so all might eat.

...I love these words, they speak to that special place deep down in the soul of me...Been singing in my soul for some time now...If you want to know about God you have to delve into life and just taste those sweet juices in the messiness of will love it...I do...

There was a time in my life when my mantra was “Avoid, everything, avoid everything, avoid everything.” Hardly what you would call a mantra for living, more one for not living. Thankfully those days are long gone. These days if I have a mantra it’s “embrace everything, embrace everything, embrace anything.” As I often like to say “I believe in everything and that little bit more than everything.” That which lies at the core of everything and yet somehow transcends everything. That which allows us to see, to hear, to touch, to taste, to feel, to laugh and to love. The true seven wonders of life. Yes I believe in everything and that little bit more than everything.

Life has so much to teach us if we would just be awake to it, we just need to have our senses open to it. We just need to be here now. Not waste our time wishing we were here, but actually be here bringing this moment fully to life; wanting what we have and not wasting our time wishing we were some place else or living some other life; not wasting our time like the character in the film “Postcards from the Edge”, based on Carrie Fisher's semi-autobiographical book about an alcoholic Hollywood star,   who sends a card home while on holiday that read “Having a wonderful time. Wish I were here.”

I used to think that nothing mattered, that life was meaningless and empty and without value. I now know that the opposite is true, that everything matters, every thought, every word, every feeling, every breath, every moment. Everything matters. I no longer need to go seeking anything in life I just need to be alive to everything and avoid nothing. I have a growing and increasing sensitivity to everything and that little bit more than everything. Now please don’t get me wrong I’m not saying I am more sensitive that I take things increasingly personally, no what I mean is that I have increased my sensitivity my openness to everything.

I think it was Bill Darlison who claimed that if we wish to live life more spiritually we need to increase our sensitivity to life. I believe that if we do we will know experiences beyond our imaginings and life will become our constant teacher. We will grow in deeper understanding and most importantly we will become more effective in our daily living and truly become of service to life and those we meet in life. Certainly this is the lesson life has taught me.

Life is the greatest teacher of them all and we as a part of life can teach just by our presence in this world. People have taught me many things, in so many ways without ever really realising it. I have often only realised those lessons many years later. Lessons I have tried to pass on to others. I remember many years ago my grandma once saying to me “Why do you always say you are sorry, when you don’t really mean it.” I remember at the time going silent and taking it deeply into myself. It was only many years later when I understood what she meant. I used to say sorry all the time not because I was genuinely sorry for what I had done and had the intention not to do it again. No I used to say the word “sorry” as a way of controlling the potential anger of another. It had little or nothing to do with putting right what was wrong. The truth is that I didn’t really mean it at the time. A lesson it took me many years to learn.

I have learnt many things from many seemingly ordinary people throughout my life. One of my greatest teachers was an ordinary man, from Oldham of all places, who taught me , amongst many other things, how to listen. This all began by practising and noticing when I wasn’t listening, especially when others were talking. He taught me to observe when my mind wandered off or to notice when I was listening how much of my time was spent on working out what “brilliant” response I was going to make, in an attempt to refute what the other person was saying. He taught me that when we are listening to another we are extending ourselves to that person, we are giving them a gift; a gift that we can both share in. In making space for the other, we create a sacred space, we make space for God and we get a taste of heaven.

This truly opened me up to people in way I had never been before; it brought me alive to life in ways I had never been before. Now of course not all the great sages come from Oldham. Those of ancient times taught similar lessons to this ordinary man. That said I am not sure that I could have accessed what they taught eleven or so years ago. It required simple language from an ordinary man. He spoke the language of the heart and I was prepared to listen. I learnt a valuable lesson that day; I learnt that the language of the heart is universal, it can break down any barrier. Those simple words opened me to experiences I never knew were possible. Those experiences opened my senses, particularly my ears, I finally had ears that could hear and I began to finally hear so much more than mere words.

There are teachers all around us, as there has been throughout human history. Some have specific names such as masters, gurus, crones, rabbis, elders, sages, priests, sheikhs, even ministers and they have played vital roles in revealing spiritual truths. They have done so both directly and or indirectly through parables, koans, stories, sermons and their personal example and they have recommended methods that can lead us to enhance our spiritual lives and therefore open us up to everything and that which is more than everything and yet can be found in everything. Sometimes we need such people to get us started on our jounrney, just as I needed that ordinary man from Oldham who taught me how to listen, how to open my ears how to have ears that could hear, so that I could finally hear and my other senses could open too. This led to the realisation of the truth that everyone and everything in life can and is a teacher, even seemingly negative and painful experiences, if we remain open to them. In fact perhaps I have learnt more from suffering than joy, from getting things wrong rather than getting them right for these experiences have humbled me and therefore opened me up to more than I could ever have even begun to imagine.

All this speaks to me of the nature of God. My understanding of God is a kind of panentheistic one, not pantheistic, panentheistic. For me there is this something more than everything, that is present in everything and yet somehow more than everything, that is both transcendent and imminent. That said this sense, this spirit, does not control everything, but does communicate through everything. I experience what I would describe as some kind of universal will calling life to be in harmony with it. Calling always calling, what I have heard described as “The Lure of Divine Love”, which I have come to believe communicates through all life and I have discovered that the more awake and open to life I am the more I have a sense that it is communicating with me. When my senses are fully open and awake I feel that life is constantly communicating with me.

I hear this in the words of one of my favourite hymns “God speaks to us in bird and song, in winds that drift the clouds along, above the din of toil and wrong, a melody of love." Something that is echoed in the following beautiful words from Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself”:

I hear and behold God in every object, yet understand God not in the least,
Nor do I understand who there can be more wonderful than myself.
Why should I wish to see God better than this day?
I see something of God each hour of the twenty-four, and each moment then,
In the faces of men and women I see God, and in my own face in the glass,
I find letters from God dropt in the street, and every one is sign'd
by God's name,
And I leave them where they are, for I know that wheresoe'er I go,
Others will punctually come for ever and ever.

Everything, all life can be our teacher if we are open to it. If we have ears that can hear, if all our senses are awake to everything and that something or perhaps nothing that is are the core of everything and yet beyond everything.

Either nothing matters or everything matters; either life is meaningful or there is no meaning at all in everything; either you should avoid everything or experience everything. For me I have come to believe that everything matters, every thought, every word, every feeling, every breath, every moment. Everything matters. We don’t need to seek anything, nor do we need to run from life either. All we need to do is to be alive to everything and avoid nothing; all we need to do is increase our sensitivity, our openness to everything and our lives will become rich in meaning. We will find our place in everything. We will know that we belong, we will find our place in life and give what we have to life which will give back to us in turn, abundantly.

Listen you have ears that can hear. Listen life is speaking to you. You can open yourself to it and if you do it will begin to speak to you and through you.

I’m going to end this little chip of a "blogspot" with these words of wisdom by Rabbi Rami M. Shapiro, from “Wisdom of the Jewish Sages.”

"Consider a jigsaw puzzle. Each piece has its place, and no other piece can fit that place. Yet no one piece makes sense on its own. Each piece needs the whole for its integrity and coherence. And the whole needs each piece to fulfill its purpose and bring meaning and order to the puzzle. Once a piece is in its proper place, its separateness is surrendered. We know a piece is in its place when it blends with the whole and disappears. What is true for a puzzle is true for Reality, with one exception: There is no hand putting us in our place. We must do that for ourselves. We must discover our place and take it. And when we do this, we discover the integrity and meaning of the whole; we discover the divine energy that flows through all things that links each to the other and all to God."

Saturday, 6 June 2015

We Believe in Human Kindness

“Kindness: The First Gift” by John O'Donohue

There is a kindness that dwells deep down in things; it presides everywhere, often in the places we least expect. The world can be harsh and negative, but if we remain generous and patient, kindness inevitably reveals itself. Something deep in the human soul seems to depend on the presence of kindness; something instinctive in us expects it, and once we sense it we are able to trust and open ourselves…

The word kindness has a gentle sound that seems to echo the presence of compassionate goodness. When someone is kind to you, you feel understood and seen. There is no judgment or harsh perception directed toward you. Kindness has gracious eyes; it is not small-minded or competitive; it wants nothing back for itself. Kindness strikes a resonance with the depths of your own heart; it also suggests that your vulnerability, though somehow exposed, is not taken advantage of; rather, it has become an occasion for dignity and empathy. Kindness casts a different light, an evening light that has the depth of color and patience to illuminate what is complex and rich in difference.”

...John O'Donohue had such a beautiful way of catching the deeper meaning of everything...

“We believe in human kindness” I was told by a lifetime Unitarian that for her these simple words speak of her faith. She says that we believe in human kindness.

Kindness is one of those words that is often derided these days. In fact I’ve heard people mocked for claiming a belief in it. I’ve heard the claim that it is not much of a foundation on which to build a faith. The more cynical and critical may also claim that there is no such thing as human kindness.

Is this so?

I have just spent a week where I have experienced nothing but kindness. Ok so for most of it I was with my nearest and dearest. That said I still noticed kindness, simple human kindness being shown towards me. It was lovely, truly beautiful and I enjoyed it immensely. It refreshed and revived me as I enjoyed the kindness of “kin”. I spent a week truly bathing in “The kin-dom of love”.

Now as it happens this is something I experience in most of my interactions I enjoy with other people. People show me affection and kindness and offer a welcoming space to me. Not everyone of course, but most. Do you know what I rarely even notice these days when folk aren’t and when do I am increasingly learning not to take this too personally. I know today that most of the time when people are unpleasant toward me it is more about where they are at than anything to do me.

Yes most of these days I am shown kindness and experience it in my daily living. I do experience that all-encompassing kin-dom of love both within myself and amongst the people I share my life with. I offer thanks and praise for this.

Now I can’t claim that this has always been the case. Now is this because the world has changed? It would seem not. No, more than anything it due to my experience of life changing. There was a time when I found kindness hard to take and accept. I often rejected it and turned from it. I didn’t trust it and thought to myself “What do they want, you can’t trust kindness.” I grew quite cynical of those who were seemingly kind. I sometimes feel sad about this, as it was a horribly lonely and unfeeling way to live.

I do hear that same tired, lonely voice in the world in which we all live and breathe and have our being. Cynicism is a disease. Kindness is a word that is often scoffed at. How often are the so called “do-gooders” in the world seen as foolish? We do seem to be living in times where the “Kin-dom of Love” is just the idealists dream, or religious nonsense.

I think that they are wrong and it does not have to be like this. We do not have to live in the cynic’s nightmare. If you look around you and look carefully, paying attention with an open heart you will become aware of kindness all around. Our task is I believe is to be both open to it and to allow it to radiate from our being.

“May we be filled with loving kindness, may we be well.”

Now the cynic’s will say I’m merely a dreamer, but I know I am not the only one.

Anita Roddick, the founder of the Body Shop is one too. She has often spoken of her belief in human kindness and the need to develop it as a spiritual practice, something she has seen as the essence of all the great religious traditions of the world. In her book "A Revolution in Kindness she wrote:

"To me, kindness is one of the most important words in the English language. It's enormously resonant and life-enhancing. And yet, over the past generation or so, it has begun to disappear from polite discourse. It's considered insipid, almost embarrassing. People are not praised for their kindness anymore. It is often viewed as something sanctimonious, patronizing and unrealistic — as if being kind somehow ignores the basic causes of a problem in the first place. Kindness carries with it implications of noblesse oblige, even snobbery . . .

Kindness is lumped along with “nice” as unrealistic and not possessing the power to bring about real change in the world, that it is simplistic, syrupy and worse still cowardly. Roddick though suggests the opposite claiming that kindness requires real courage as it goes against the grain of the times and does bring about change on a very human level. She further states that “…kindness doesn't have to be insipid or random to be effective. Far from it: deliberate kindness can be fierce, tenacious, unexpected, unconditional and sometime positively revolutionary…These qualities give kindness its power to create change, to make things happen. And in a period of human history in which we are obsessed with change — personal or political — and are unsure whether it is possible at all, kindness could be our salvation."

Could Kindness be our salvation. Could we actually bring about “The Kin-dom of Love” right here, right now.

John Lydon once sang that “Anger is an energy” and it most certainly is, that said so is kindness. It is a power if not an obvious one, as it does not shout or boast and operates at a simple one to one human level.

We have often heard it said that “Love makes the world go round”, well Forrest Church begged to differ. He claimed that “Love doesn't make the world go round; kindness does. Plus, it's a purer virtue. When you're kind to a taxi driver or check-out person, you expect nothing in return. And yet, if you make kindness a habit, others may find it contagious.” Church saw “kindness” as the purest virtue and the purest form of love, which he equated with agape love, self-giving love. This is the love spoken of in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians chapter 13. Where he states those immortal words. “Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”

Kindness is at the core of the great religious traditions. Now in our ever increasing secular age this is just another reason to reject it. I had a conversation with someone I have known all my life about this very subject recently and their response was “That sounds a bit religious” and do you know what I believe that they are right, in fact its more than a bit religious. Kindness it is how to be religious in its most basic and simplest form, which is no doubt why that lifetime Unitarian says that “We believe in human kindness”

Kindness is the purest virtue and yet it is one we have seemingly forgotten, but it is there in the great faiths, at their core, in their essence.

Plato said “Be kind “for everyone you meet is fighting a harder battle.” An ancient Arabian proverb claims that ”Blessed is the person who speaks a kindness; thrice blessed is the person who repeats it.” And in the Talmud it is said, “Deeds of kindness are equal in weight to all the commandments.” The book of Micah states “What does the Lord require of you? To act justly, to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” Kindness is the first of the three great treasures advocated by Lao Tzu. The Buddha taught that generosity is a primary quality of an awakened mind. Muhammad regarded kindness as an essential sign of faith. Kindness is at the core of Christian ethics, it is considered the purest virtue.

Kindness is at the core of Buddhism. In contemporary times the Dalai Lama has said that “There is no need for temples; no need for complicated philosophy. Our own brain, our own heart is our temple; my philosophy is kindness.” While the Buddha’s Metta Sutta taught “even as a mother protects with her life, her child, her only child, so with a boundless heart should one cherish all living beings: radiating kindness over the entire world spreading upwards to the skies, and downwards to the depths; outwards and unbounded, free from hatred and ill-will.”

This is religion in its basic and simplest form. As the hymn goes “To worship rightly is to love each other; each smile a hymn, each kindly deed a prayer.”

Kindness is a power, it truly is an energy and it can be a transformative one. It can spread and take over and can begin to bring about the “Kin-dom of Love” right here right now. It begins right here, right now in our simple acts, words and deeds. That said it does so quietly and humbly, it does not shout it does not boast. It is the purest virtue.

Every day is a day when we can bear witness to a Power Greater than ourselves. We do this when we practise loving kindness, when we love one another, when we are glad to see each other, when we play, when we are light-hearted, when we can laugh at ourselves, when we live with exuberance and enthusiasm, when we grow from dust and become truly animated and live life. When we do this we recognise the Divine in one another and we see it in our own reflection, looking back at us in the glass, in our own eyes. We do not need to seek God, for God is already dwelling amongst us in each of our hearts. We just need to bring that Power to life. We know God’s blessings in our interactions with one another, when we bless one another with loving kindness through love and laughter. The way we look at one another, face to face has the Power to make God’s presence known on earth, right here right now. This is the “Kin-Dom of Love” and it begins with our acts. It begins with a belief in human kindness. It begins by worshipping rightly and to worship rightly is to simple love each other “Each smile a hymn, each kindly deed a prayer.”

I believe it is our task to bring the “Kin-dom of Love” to life, right here right now, in so doing we allow God to incarnate through our lives. It begins by simple human kindness. It is shown in our love for one another; it is shown in our laughter, our playfulness and our love for life.

I’m going to end this little chip of a "blogspot" with a story from the Desert Father’s, who were earlier Christians who tended to live apart from society and in community although sometimes alone.

There’s a monk who will never give you advice, but only a question. I was told his questions could be very helpful. I sought him out. “I am a parish priest,” I said. “I’m here on retreat. Could you give me a question?”

“Ah yes,” he answered. “My question is, ‘What do they need?’”

I came away disappointed. I spent a few hours with the question, writing out answers, but finally I went back to him.

“Excuse me. Perhaps I didn’t make myself clear. Your question has been helpful, but I wasn’t so much interested in thinking about my postulate during this retreat. Rather I wanted to think seriously about my own spiritual life, Could you give me a question for my own spiritual life?”

“Ah I see. Then my question is, ‘What do they REALLY need?’”

Do you believe in human kindness? Do you believe that this is what we the people really need?

I do!

Saturday, 23 May 2015

The Language of the Heart: A Pentecost Reflection

“Spirit of the Wind” by Richard S Gilbert

There is nothing more refreshing than the feel of a brisk wind on the face.
It helps if I am at the same time watching sunset over a lake – The sky peach, purple, red, gold, blue, white, and orange at the same time.
It helps if the same wind that refreshes my face and cleans the air also take me sailing across the narrow bounding main.
But the wind – what is there about the wind?
We cannot see it – only feel it – only observe what it does. It has power, unseen power, a power that re-invigorates.
That cools on a hot day, that fortells a change in the weather – outer or inner.
The wind reminds us that the most powerful things are hardly tangible.
There existence we doubt not.
Their power is not in question.
So it is with us.
So may it be with you.
I could not touch the wind, but it touched me, and that was all I needed.

A friend of mine, who has occasionally attended worship at one of the congregations I serve, recently told me that another friend had asked what it was like and what happened and what we believed. She said oh “They believe in everything” and then she said she tried to articulate what she meant by that and struggled. I remember thinking, well at least she did say you can believe anything that you want.

I have much sympathy with my friend’s struggle. I have identified as a Unitarian now for the best part of ten years, been a minister for getting on for five years and I still find it hard to articulate exactly what it means to be a Unitarian. In fact in some ways I find it harder today than I did say eight years ago. I often wonder if I am a very good Unitarian, whatever that means.

It got me asking myself what it means to me to be a Unitarian and why I found and continue to find a home amongst these free religionists. I have identified three things.

One is authority. We say that authority lays within the enlightened conscience of the individual, that we are not only free but encouraged to seek our own truth in matters of faith. That personal experience and reflection upon these experiences is our final authority that no one can tell us what we ought to believe. That does not mean that we can believe what we want, more what we must. We believe what our experiences teach us.

The second is respect and celebration of difference. Now some describe this as tolerance, but I don’t think that is enough. I’m not decrying tolerance, if only we human beings could be more tolerant of one another. That said I still hear judgement in the word tolerant. As if in claiming this word what people are saying is “I am tolerating you and your view, but I still think you are a crank.” I don’t see respect and celebration in this. If I accept that I have freedom to reach my own conclusions and believe that this is a wonderful thing, then to judge or merely tolerate another for the conclusions they reach is neither truly respecting or celebrating this approach. Also such judgement seems to lack humility.

This leads me to the third aspect, which I see as humility and the openness that this breeds. This stems from the idea that whatever conclusions I have reached today I have not sealed this truth. Again this is something to celebrate, the openness that true humility brings. That by rejoicing in the truth that others may reach I can myself experience a deeper revelation if I listen with an open mind, heart and soul. Truth is always subjective. I know myself that my view on faith and many things has shifted at times in my life. This is because my experiences have changed, as have my reflections upon them and my ability to listen to others experiences and their honest reflections upon them too.

These three “freedom, respect and humility” are key to my understanding of my chosen Unitarian faith. These three little words “freedom, respect & humility” just about sum up my understanding of my chosen free religious tradition.

I have been reflected on these three “freedom, respect and humility” as I have contemplated Pentecost and the recounting of these events in the book of Acts Ch 2 vv 1-13, which describes the events known as “Pentecost”, regarded as the birth of the Christian Church. Today is the feast day of Pentecost. Pentecost is not something that is universally celebrated, at least not these days, amongst many British Unitarian congregations. Some do still participate in what are known as "Whit Walks", but very few. This is not the case in Transylvania, which is really the birth place of denominational Unitarianism. For the Transylvanian Unitarians Pentecost may well be the most important day of their liturgical calendar, it is certainly up there with Easter. Perhaps our friends in Transylvania have remembered something important that we have somehow either forgotten or rejected. Perhaps we could learn something from them, for there is something very powerful in this "mythos".

So for the last few days I have been reflecting on Pentecost, especially in light of my own understanding of my chosen free religious tradition. As I have done so I have discovered something beautifully universal in it. The account describes the first time that the Spirit is revealed to more than just a select few of seemingly chosen people. According to the Gospel accounts Jesus gave the spirit to the twelve disciples on Passover night, the night before he died and yet fifty days later at the Jewish festival of Pentecost this same spirit is offered to all, as the Disciples, Galilean speakers began to speak in languages that all people can understand. Is this not Universalism? Now of course some present were amazed and moved by this and began to ask what it must mean, while others just sneered and thought they they had gone mad or were drunk saying "They are filled with new wine."

As I have reflected on the account in Acts 2 vv 1-13 conversations I have had with many people about their own personal transformative experiences have came to mind. Now the words they used to describe their experiences have been different and often less dramatic, that said the effect has been very similar. So many people have described to me moments in their lives when something has got a hold of them and changed them in positive ways. This in some way has helped me make sense of what is described as Pentecost, I no longer see it as a some fanciful tale, rather as mythos or metaphor for the universal life giving spirit, it has taken on a new meaning that actually makes sense to me. It brings to mind the hymn “Spirit of Life”, especially the line “Spirit of Life, come unto me…” In that hymn, so loved by Unitarians I hear this call to the spirit to come unto all of us and bring about transformation, freedom, vitality and creative life giving energy.

When I think of Spirit in this way I think of the God of my limited understanding, but ever expanding experience. I also suspect that this is the same for many Unitarians in Transylvania and why Pentecost is so vital to them. Cliff Reed captured this beautifully in his book “Unitarian what’s that?” in answer to the question “Do Unitarian believe in the Holy Spirit?” Here he claimed that,

“Unitarians do not see any differentiation between the Holy Spirit and God, and use the words more or less interchangeably. We conceive of the Spirit as the active divine presence in individuals and communities, as the divine breath that gives us life, as that ineffable factor that binds us together.

The Spirit, for many Unitarians, is the divine mystery moving among us and within us as we work and worship. Indeed, for many, God as loving, creative Spirit is the primary concept of the divine.”

That beautiful loving, guiding, creating power that is Greater than All and yet present in each, in everything. Some of course simply name this Love and others call it God.

People experience and understand the spiritual aspects of their lives in different ways and when they try to explain these experiences they often articulate them differently.They often use different words to describe the same thing. Or use the same words to talk about different things. The words themselves can often get in the way of describing the experiences that people all have. That said what else do we have to describe what often cannot be fully understood.

One of the great blessings of my job is that people, often complete strangers, tell me about experiences that they do not understand; often experiences that their rational minds don’t believe in and yet they have experienced them all the same. Experiences that have changed them for ever.

There seems to be two common themes to these experiences. One has been the transformative nature of them and the second that they have never dared tell another soul about them, for fear of ridicule. It truly is a humbling blessing that they feel that they can speak to me about them. They must see in me someone who will not think that they had become intoxicated by “new wine”.

I remember one such occasion last year when I went to buy a new laptop computer. I explained to the shop assistant that I needed something that was mobile and suitable for a lot of writing as I often like to write in coffee shops. During the conversation I revealed what I do for a living and as I did it took a completely different direction. He began to recount an experience that happened many years ago, that had totally transformed him and his experience of life. He made me smile as he insisted he wasn’t a religious man, as he couldn’t get along with dogma and the like but he experienced something that day that had transformed him and that he was now able to experience this in every aspect of his life. As he spoke I just smiled and listened and told him how many people have had similar experiences including myself and how the two characteristics he described were common - The fear of speaking about them and the transformative nature of them - I also told him that the “Religious Experience Research Centre of the University of Wales, Lampeter would be interested in his account. This is an archive of some 6,000 spiritual and psychic experiences that was begun by Sir Alister Hardy in 1969 at Manchester College Oxford, a Unitarian foundation. Hardy was both an eminent Unitarian and marine biologist. For years Hardy scientifically researched such phenomena. Research that continues to this day at Lampeter.

Now while there has been these two themes - the fear of speaking about them and the transformative nature of them - prevalent in many of the conversations I have had, I have also noticed many differences too. I suspect that this due primarily to each individuals religious backgrounds, which must influence the conclusions they have come too. What has struck me though has been the honesty and integrity in which what has been described has been recounted. I have never spoken to many of these people again and yet what they have said has been permanently etched on the soul of me. I have also noticed that each time I have listened to others and shared my own experiences something in me has opened up and I have felt that spirit once again. How many times have I smiled and been warmed and yet shivered at the same time? God only knows.

This to me is how the language of the heart operates, this is the transforming energy of the spirit coming alive in our tongues. That said I am sure I was only truly able to hear what was being said because I was myself listening with the ears of my heart. To truly hear what someone is saying we have to actually care for and respect them as a fellow human being and not dismiss any aspect of them, even that which might seem a little strange. Here I see clearly those three aspects I identified earlier as central to my chosen free religious faith in action, freedom to believe as our conscience dictates, respect and celebration of one another and our perspectives, and humility as well as the openness this breeds.

As a free religious community Unitarians may not always understand the language each of them speaks, for each comes from a variety of theological perspectives and life experiences. This I believe is something to be celebrated and when it is done so with humility I see it transforming those individuals present and the whole community.

This I believe is the heart of Pentecost. Just as those people, 2,000 years ago were transformed into something more so can everyone; everyone can be transformed by the language of the heart. It begins by learning to listen with the ears of our hearts and to speak with the tongues of our hearts. For it is the language of the heart that carries the voice of transformation. It can bring about transformation not only in all lives who are touched by it, but also the lives that they themselves touch, propelling each and every one into a new stage of development, with new energy, vision and purpose.

With this in heart and mind and in the spirit of freedom, respect and humility I believe that a new world can begin to be born. We can all begin to live with a new vision, new energy and new purpose. Let us not be held back by what we think we know. Let’s open all our senses to the spirit present in all life. Let our ears be opened to the language of the heart, spoken from every tongue and let us speak the language of the heart in our every interaction.

For the language of the heart, like Pentecost, is Universal it breaks down any and every barrier and touches and transform all who have ears to hear…

I'm going to end this little chip of a blog with these beautiful words by Kristen Harper

“Reformation: The Spirit of the Wind”

Some say the spirit of the wind is in the trees.
You can see it, they say, if you close your eyes and stand real still.
Some say that the same spirit lives in the hills forging mountains and plains.
I smelled it the other night. 
Lying in my bed, my window cracked it crept through the moonlight up under my blanket and wrapped its arms around me.
Entering my blood through my skin I felt alive with an age I had not yet reached.
Made me knew again in a form I’d never known.
I cried out in pain and joy mingled, fear and expectation.
Ecstasy it has been called, I call it reformation.
There was forgiveness in that spirit.
Compassion for my wounds, strength for my weaknesses.
It was no miracle, nor nirvana.
I just closed my eyes and saw the spirit.
The spirit in the wind.
The spirit in the trees.
The spirit that lives in me.

Saturday, 16 May 2015

“Beauty awakens the soul to act”

I recently received a new blessing. Through the post came a new book, by David Whyte “CONSOLATIONS: The Solace, Nourishment and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words.”. It truly is wonderful. Below is the reflection on "Beauty", from it.

"The harvest of presence, the evanescent moment of seeing or hearing on the outside what already lives far inside us; the eyes, the ears or the imagination suddenly become a bridge between the here and the there, between then and now, between the inside and the outside; beauty is the conversation between what we think is happening outside in the world and what is just about to occur far inside us.

Beauty is an achieved state of both deep attention and self-forgetting; the self forgetting of seeing, hearing, smelling or touching that erases our separation, our distance, our fear of the other. Beauty invites us, through entrancement, to that fearful, frontier between what we think makes us; and what we think makes the world. Beauty is almost always found in symmetries: the symmetries seen out in creation, the wings of the moth, the airy sky and the solid earth, the restful, focused eyes of a loving face in which we see our own self reflected: the symmetry also, therefore, of bringing together inner and outer recognitions, the far horizon of otherness seen in that face joined to the deep inner horizon of our own being. Beauty is an inner and an outer complexion living in one face.

Beauty especially occurs in the meeting of time with the timeless; the passing moment framed by what has happened and what is about to occur, the scattering of the first spring apple blossom, the turning, spiraling flight of a curled leaf in the falling light; the smoothing of white sun-filled sheets by careful hands setting them to air on a line, the broad expanse of cotton filled by the breeze only for a moment, the sheets sailing on into dryness, billowing toward a future that is always beckoning, always just beyond us. Beauty is the harvest of presence."

...It got me thinking about "Beauty". The rest of this "blogspot" is a reflection on beauty, inspired by wiser and holier fools than I...

Now as if by chance, or not, the very same day that the book arrived a friend of mine posted a “meme” on social media which read “Beauty awakens the soul to act”, it is a quote by Dante. It struck me powerfully and got me thinking and feeling. I opened my new book and the first subject I happened upon was the piece above on "beauty". I've have been contemplating the word ever since as I have witnessed, and remembered the beauty of nature as life has been delighting in its own being once again.

My soul has reawakened has engaged with and appreciated the beauty of nature whether by night or day. I remembered the Passover moon that moved me over the Easter weekend and of course the cherry blossom that delighted my eyes and heart and so beautifully moved me to engage with so many friends recently. I also contemplated the beauty of the many people I have come to know and the joy of watching and listening to them as they have just simply gone about their daily business, as they were just simply being themselves. As I have watched the people around me I have constantly been reminded of the following words by Walt Whitman.

“I have perceiv’d that to be with those I like is enough,
To stop in company with the rest at evening is enough,
To be surrounded by beautiful, curious, breathing,
Laughing flesh is enough,
To pass among them or touch any one, or rest my arm
Ever so lightly around his or her neck for a moment,
What is this
I do not ask any more delight, I swim in it as in a sea.”

To be surrounded by beautiful, curious, breathing, Laughing flesh is certainly enough to awaken my soul. All this beauty whether natural or human has awakened my soul to act in more loving and open ways and thus pour out my own love on the world in which I live and breathe and move and have my being.

In “Notes on the Need for Beauty: An Intimate Look at An Essential Quality” J. Ruth Gendler wrote:

"Beauty doesn't mind questions and she is fond of riddles. Beauty will dance with anyone who is brave enough to ask her. When I first wrote these words twenty-five years ago, I had only begun to imagine how we could invite beauty into our lives. I had no idea how deeply they would lead me into an exploration of beauty.

"Writing about beauty feels like drinking water out of the cup of my hand from a clear spring. As I bring this water to my mouth, so much spills away. The water tastes delicious; the freshness and purity startle me. I have been drinking water that was mediocre for so long. I have forgotten how good water can taste. Like water, beauty is ordinary and essential, as well as extraordinary and magnificent.

"Beauty, like water, takes many forms and permeates our environment. Just as water travels across the world and pools in everything from our cells to underground streams to magnificent storms, beauty also travels, gathers, concentrates. It is beautiful to look at and listen to the way the world changes with rain, to trace the path of the river by foot or from an airplane window, to talk at the ocean's edge, swim under the waterfall. Beauty rinses our eyes. Sometimes beauty moves us to tears. We bathe in, drink the presence of beauty.

"Slowly I have come to savor the beauty of the unknown, the unnameable, the contradictions and paradoxes. Beauty is simple and complex, obvious and elusive, superficial and profound, spontaneous and achieved with great effort, impossible to define and essential to articulate. Beauty is allied with the radiance of fire, body and soul, vision and music, movement and stillness, the daily cycles of night and day.

"Beauty refuses to yield to analysis, refuses to be perfection. Beauty moves within and around us, rearranging our moods, taking us home. Beauty is always moving and beauty is very still, the light in the dark, the dark in the light, the subtlest shades of pale white and blue, the richest tones of indigo and black and deep brown, the brightest reds and oranges and golds. We find beauty at the intersections, the edges, the center of so many experiences. Although we keep trying to talk about beauty as inner or outer, that language is too static, trying to fix beauty in a single location. Beauty is an energy, not an image, and that energy can go anywhere; that energy takes on an image, a form, many images, many forms.”

...Just beautiful...She captures beauty, so beautifully...

Oh yes indeed beauty awakens the soul of me in so many indescribable ways and it compels me to act in such a way as to pour out that beauty within on to all I engage with.

Beauty manifests itself in so many ways in the world in which we live and breathe and move. It awakens all our senses and thus feeds and nourishes our souls; it awakens our souls and it fills our hearts to overflowing. We not only drink from the well of beauty, we also fill it too. Beauty truly is about the heart, about filling the heart to overflowing. In "Beauty: The Invisible Embrace" John O’Donohue  wrote 

"The heart is the place where beauty arrives; here is where it can be felt, recognized and shared. If there was no heart, beauty could never reach us. Through the heart, beauty can pervade every cell of the body and fill us. To use a word that feels like it sounds: this is the thrill of beauty through us. Perhaps this is why we sometimes feel the absence of beauty in our lives; we have allowed the prism to become dull and darkened; though the light is near, it cannot enter to have its inlay of beauty diffused. Sometimes absence is merely arrested appearance. Compassion and attention keep the prism clear so that beauty may illuminate our life. Prayer of course is the supreme way we lift our limited selves towards the light, and ask it to shine into us. "

Beauty not only awakens the soul, but also fills the heart to overflowing, it certainly compels me to pour my heart out on the world in loving ways.

Matthew Fox claims that “The universe is in the habit of making beauty. There are flowers and songs, snowflakes and smiles, acts of great courage, laughter between friends, a job well done, the smell of fresh baked bread. Beauty is everywhere”

It is beauty that awakens our souls and compels us to act in loving ways. In fact perhaps true beauty, certainly in a human sense, is to act morally. As John O’Donohue has pointed out Plato believed that Love was born of beauty and that it tapped into our basic human drive and desire for Good, that it was not a private or self-indulgent act of pleasure and that “the ability to love beauty has created all the good things that exist for gods and men’. He quotes Pseudo Dionysius the Aeropagite who said, "For beauty is the cause of harmony, of sympathy, of community. Beauty unites all things and is the source of all things. It is the great creating cause which bestirs the world and holds all things in existence by the longing inside them to have beauty. And there it is ahead of all as…the Beloved…toward which all things move, since it is the longing for beauty which actually brings them into being."

It is beauty that awakens our souls and inspires us to act lovingly in the world and thus inspires us to pour out our love on the world. How do we do this you may well ask? Well I believe it begins with our neighbour the very people we interact with on a daily basis.

Below is a passage from Matthew’s Gospel (Ch 26 vv 6-13). It is a much debated primarily because it has been used by some as a justification for tolerating poverty. I believe that to focus on this is to fail to recognise the central message of Matthews Gospel, the abundant blessing of love.

6 Now while Jesus was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper,* 7a woman came to him with an alabaster jar of very costly ointment, and she poured it on his head as he sat at the table. 8But when the disciples saw it, they were angry and said, ‘Why this waste? 9For this ointment could have been sold for a large sum, and the money given to the poor.’10But Jesus, aware of this, said to them, ‘Why do you trouble the woman? She has performed a good service for me. 11For you always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me. 12By pouring this ointment on my body she has prepared me for burial. 13Truly I tell you, wherever this good news* is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in remembrance of her.’

The power in this story is in its recognition of abundant love. The woman loves and cares for Jesus. She anoints him with oil because she loves him dearly. It truly is an act of loving, nay gracious abandonment. This is in complete contrast to the grumpy disciples who are definitely of the  glass half empty brigade. At least they are consistent though as they appear this way throughout the Gospels. The woman though is overflowing with love and wants to anoint those she loves with this. This is beauty in action. This is a soul awakened by beauty and inspired to act lovingly. Her heart is over flowing with love and she wants to pour out this love onto Jesus who will soon no longer be with her or the disciples.

This is something we can all do we can all pour out this attentive love on one another and all life. We can offer care and attention to each and everyone around us. In so doing we will help create beauty all around us. It brings to mind the following little anecdote by William McNamara:

“I once lived near a mansion where only one of the many gardeners employed had succeeded with every one of the roses. I asked him the secret of his success. He told me that the other gardeners treated all the roses not unwisely, but too generally. They treated them all in precisely the same way; whereas he himself watched each rosebush separately, and followed out for each plant its special need for soil, manure, sun, air, water, support and shelter.”

Beauty is all around us. We are surrounded by it. If we open ourselves to it, it will fill our hearts, awaken our souls and lead us to act lovingly and morally. This is beauty in action. If we create beauty with our own hands we will touch each individual soul we meet and they will grow and flower to their own full potential. We are here to enjoy the beauty that we are surrounded by and to pour out the beauty that lays within us and thus bring it to fruition in the world around us.

As Desmond Tutu has said:

“We were made to enjoy music, to enjoy beautiful sunsets, to enjoy looking at the billows of a sea and to be thrilled with a rose that is bedecked with dew…Human beings are actually created for the transcendent, for the sublime, for the beautiful, for the truthful…and all all of us are given the task of trying to make this world a little more hospitable to these beautiful things.”

Let beauty awake for beauty's sake. Awake from slumber and awake from dreams. Let beauty awake from deep within us, Let beauty pour from us and be lavished upon our world.

Saturday, 9 May 2015

A Fourth Anniversary Waltz

This blogspot is a collection of material that has inspired my blog writing this year. With each piece I will add a link to the blogspot it helped inspire. I am putting this together to mark the fourth anniversary of "I Dream of the Ocean"...I hope it speaks to you

This first piece ended the first "spot" of the year, titled Do not fear the future: It is unwritten

“Beginning again on the continuous Journey” by Marta I Valentin

By the grace of the Divine Power,
which is larger hearted than we can ever imagine
we are constantly given the opportunity
to begin again
as the signposts along the continuous journey
suggest twists and turns we had not brought into view,
for the focus was on the mountain just up ahead
beyond the ridge….

By the faith of the Divine Power
that lives through the trust of our human ability
we are constantly offered the challenge to test the waters,
not just smooth the inevitable ripples
to a satiny gloss finish as if
that were the goal in life,
losing all character by not realizing:
the swells are what make life
interesting, intriguing, and indescribable.

By the law of the Divine Power,
whose very core is compassion
for our earthly missteps on this journey,
we are constantly given an opening
to remember that we each have a place
in the kin-dom* of humanity,
and the knowledge”
and courage to begin again toward a faith-filled,
loving grace that is our birthright.

*from Ana Maria Isasi-Diaz

The second "spot" explored the importance of maintaining spiritual well-being Spiritual Well-Being

It ended with the following by John 0' Donohue

At the End of the Day: A Mirror of Questions" by John O’ Donohue

What dreams did I create last night?
Where did my eyes linger today?
Where was I blind?
Where was I hurt without anyone noticing?
What did I learn today?
What did I read?
What new thoughts visited me?
What differences did I notice in those closest to me?
Whom did I neglect?
Where did I neglect myself?
What did I begin today that might endure?
How were my conversations?
What did I do today for the poor and the excluded?
Did I remember the dead today?
Where could I have exposed myself to the risk of something different?
Where did I allow myself to receive love?
With whom today did I feel most myself?
What reached me today? How deeply did it imprint?
Who saw me today?
What visitations had I from the past and from the future?
What did I avoid today?
From the evidence – why was I given this day?

The following "spot" is titled There are tears of laughter too

The following helped inspire it...

“Tears” by Frederick Buechner

They say that whenever the great Protestant theologian Paul Tillich went to the beach, he would pile up a mound of sand and sit on it gazing out at the ocean with tears running down his cheeks. One wonders what there was about it that moved him so.

The beauty and the power of it? The inexpressible mystery of it? The futility of all those waves endlessly flowing in and ebbing out again? The sense that it was out of the ocean that life originally came and that when life finally ends, it is the ocean that will still remain? Who knows? . . .

Maybe it was when he looked at the ocean that he caught a glimpse of the One he was praying to. Maybe what made him weep was how vast and overwhelming it was and yet at the same time as near as the breath of it in his nostrils, as salty as his own tears.

“Create Laughter Memories” by Donald Altman

Start a laughter memory journal to record your laughter memories. Write down your laughter memory at the end of the day or when the memory is fresh. Having these stories will help prime your laughter pump when you need a lift.

Here are several suggestions for locating laughter memories. Share funny articles or comic strips with others who like to laugh. You can also seek out "laughter yoga" clubs, where movement and laughter are combined to create daily, communal laughter memories. Another useful way to create a laughter memory is to simply recall a hilarious film or TV show. Make a list of your top-five funny films and watch them again. You can also combine a problem you are experiencing with laughter. By doing this, you are integrating two apparent opposites and creating an entirely new mind-body feeling state. Since no situation is completely bad, this laughter memory can help you develop a broader and more humorous perspective on almost anything.

At the end of the week, look over your journal and review your laughter memories.

The next went by the title Somebody To Lean On

And was inspired in some way by the following...

“Telling Secrets” by Frederick Buechner


I remember sitting parked by the roadside once, terribly depressed and afraid about my daughter's illness and what was going on in our family, when out of nowhere a car came along down the highway with a license plate that bore on it the one word out of all the words in the dictionary that I needed most to see exactly then. The word was TRUST. What do you call a moment like that? Something to laugh off as the kind of joke life plays on us every once in a while? The word of God? I am willing to believe that maybe it was something of both, but for me it was an epiphany. The owner of the car turned out to be, as I'd suspected, a trust officer in a bank, and not long ago, having read an account I wrote of the incident somewhere, he found out where I lived and one afternoon brought me the license plate itself, which sits propped up on a bookshelf in my house to this day. It is rusty around the edges and a little battered, and it is also as holy a relic as I have ever seen.

This "spot" explores the idea of looking for people who don't so much think alike, but do love alike. It goes by the title Looking for like hearted people

The following are pieces that helped inspire it...

“Love” Stephen Lingwood from “The Unitarian Life: Voices from the Past and Present

Freedom, reason, tolerance and pluralism aren’t enough, not on their own. We need a message to give to people, good News to preach. What good News can Unitarians give to the world? Just this: Love. A Holy Love that transforms, that is powerful and prophetic and justice-seeking. This message has always been at the heart of our faith: from Francis David, who said “you need not think alike to love alike”, to the Universalists who knew that nothing will ever separate anyone from the love of God, even to today when Unitarians work to support the rights of gay couples because we know that love is always a blessing, regardless of gender.

From "Bringing God Home: A Traveler's Guide" by Forrest Church

"Universalism is an exacting gospel. Taken seriously, no theology is more
challenging-morally, spiritually, or intellectually: to love your enemy as yourself; to see your tears in another's eyes; to respect and even embrace otherness, rather than merely to tolerate or, even worse, dismiss it. None of this comes naturally to us. We are weaned on the rational presumption that if two people disagree, only one can be right. This works better in mathematics than it does in theology; Universalism reminds us of that. Yet even to approximate the Universalist ideal remains devilishly difficult in actual practice. Given the natural human tendency toward division, Universalists run the constant temptation to backslide in their faith. One can lapse and become a bad or lazy Universalist as effortlessly as others become ice-cream social Presbyterians or nominal Catholics."

This "spot" has been central to my whole thinking and feeling for the last few weeks and months. It comes from the line spoken by Jesus on the "Sermon on the Mount"...The words are "You are the light of the world" The whole "spot" can be found here You are the light of the world

Matthew 5 vv 3-10

3 ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 ‘Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
5 ‘Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
6 ‘Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
7 ‘Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
8 ‘Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
9 ‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
10 ‘Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11 ‘Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely* on my account. 12Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
13 ‘You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot.
14 ‘You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hidden.15No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.

This "spot" explores belonging, asking who or what we belong too Belonging: Be-Your-Longing 

The following helped to inspire it...

“The Trap of False Belonging” from Anam Cara by John O’Donohue

The heart of the matter: You should never belong fully to something that is outside yourself. It is very important to find a balance in your belonging. You should never belong totally to any cause or system. People frequently need to belong to an external system because they are afraid to belong to their own lives. If your soul is awakened, then you realize that this is the house of your real belonging. Your longing is safe there. Belonging is relating to longing. If you hyphenate belonging, it yields a lovely axiom for spiritual growth: Be-Your-Longing. Longing is a precious instinct in the soul. Where you belong should always be worthy of your dignity. You should belong first in your own interiority. If you belong there, and if you are in rhythm with yourself and connected to that deep, unique source within, then you will never be vulnerable when your outside belonging is qualified, relativized, or taken away. You will still be able to stand on your own ground, the ground of your soul, where you are not a tenant, where you are at home. Your interiority is the ground from which nobody can distance, exclude or exile you. This is your treasure. As the New Testament says, where your treasure is, there is your heart also.

This "spot" explored perfectionism and imperfectionsism Imperfecting Perfection

The story taken from the vault of Mulla Nasruddin helped inspire the "spot"

One afternoon, Nasruddin and his friend were sitting in a cafe, drinking tea, and talking about life and love. “How come you never got married, Nasruddin?” asked his friend at one point. “Well,” said Nasruddin, “to tell you the truth, I spent my youth looking for the perfect woman. In Cairo, I met a beautiful and intelligent woman, with eyes like dark olives, but she was unkind. Then in Baghdad, I met a woman who was a wonderful and generous soul, but we had no interests in common. One woman after another would seem just right, but there would always be something missing. Then one day, I met her. She was beautiful, intelligent, generous and kind. We had everything in common. In fact she was perfect.” “Well,” said Nasruddin’s friend, “what happened? Why didn’t you marry her?” Nasruddin sipped his tea reflectively. “Well,” he replied, “it’s a sad thing. Seems she was looking for the perfect man.”

This blogspot explore humility and humanity and the importance of being grounded in reality Humility: Grounded in our Common Humanity

The following by David Whyte helped inspire the "spot"

“Ground” by David Whyte

Ground is what lies beneath our feet. It is the place where we already stand; a state of recognition, the place or the circumstances to which we belong whether we wish to or not. It is what holds and supports us, but also what we do not want to be true; it is what challenges us, physically or psychologically, irrespective of our hoped for needs. It is the living, underlying foundation that tells us what we are, where we are, what season we are in and what, no matter what we wish in the abstract, is about to happen in our body, in the world or in the conversation between the two.

To come to ground is to find a home in circumstances and in the very physical body we inhabit in the midst of those circumstances and above all to face the truth, no matter how difficult that truth may be; to come to ground is to begin the courageous conversation, to step into difficulty and by taking that first step, begin the movement through all difficulties, to find the support and foundation that has been beneath our feet all along: a place to step onto, a place on which to stand and a place from which to step.
This "spot" made the claim that we are all genius's that we each have the seed of genius within each and everyone of us and that it is our task to bring that to life Genius: Nurturing the Kin-dom of Love
The following helped inspire the "spot"

Matthew Ch 13 vv 31-32

31 He put before them another parable: ‘The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; 32it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.’

Matthew Ch 17 v 20

20He said to them, ‘Because of your little faith. For truly I tell you, if you have faith the size of a*mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, “Move from here to there”, and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you.’

“On the Parable of the Mustard Seed” by Denise Levertov

Who ever saw the mustard-plant,
wayside weed or tended crop,
grow tall as a shrub, let alone a tree, a treeful
of shade and nests and songs?
Acres of yellow,
not a bird of the air in sight.

No, He who knew
the west wind brings
the rain, the south wind
thunder, who walked the field-paths
running His hand along wheatstems to glean
those intimate milky kernels, good
to break on the tongue,

was talking of miracle, the seed
within us, so small
we take it for worthless, a mustard-seed, dust,
Glib generations mistake
the metaphor, not looking at fields and trees,
not noticing paradox. Mountains
remain unmoved.

Faith is rare, He must have been saying,
prodigious, unique—
one infinitesimal grain divided
like loaves and fishes,

as if from a mustard-seed
a great shade-tree grew. That rare,
that strange: the kingdom
a tree. The soul
a bird. A great concourse of birds
at home there, wings among yellow flowers.
The waiting
kingdom of faith, the seed
waiting to be sown.

This "spot" explore courage and how to live from our whole hearts Courage: Living Wholeheartedly 

The following by David Whyte helped inspire it

“Courage” by David Whyte

Courage is a word that tempts us to think outwardly, to run bravely against opposing fire, to do something under besieging circumstance, and perhaps, above all, to be seen to do it in public, to show courage; to be celebrated in story, rewarded with medals, given the accolade, but a look at its linguistic origins leads us in a more interior direction and toward its original template, the old Norman French, Coeur, or heart.

Courage is the measure of our heartfelt participation with life, with another, with a community, a work, a future. To be courageous, is not necessarily to go anywhere or do anything except to make conscious those things we already feel deeply and then to live through the unending vulnerabilities of those consequences. To be courageous is to seat our feelings deeply in the body and in the world: to live up to and into the necessities of relationships that often already exist, with things we find we already care deeply about: with a person, a future, a possibility in society, or with an unknown that begs us on and always has begged us on. Whether we stay or whether we go - to be courageous is to stay close to the way we are made."

This "spot" explores memory and how memory brings the moment to life Memory: The Power of Not Only Now

The following, also by David Whyte, inspired it

“Memory” by David Whyte

"Memory is not just a then, recalled in a now, the past is never just the past, memory is a pulse passing through all created life, a wave form, a then continually becoming other thens, all the while creating a continual but almost untouchable now. But the guru’s urge to live only in the now misunderstands the multilayered inheritance of existence, where all epochs live and breathe in parallels. Whether it be the epochal moment initiated by the appearance of the first hydrogen atoms in the universe or a first glimpse of adulthood perceived in adolescence, memory passes through an individual human life like a building musical waveform, constantly maturing, increasingly virtuosic, often volatile, sometimes overpowering. Every human life holds the power of this immense inherited pulse, holds and then supercharges it, according to the way we inhabit our identities in the untouchable now. Memory is an invitation to the source of our life, to a fuller participation in the now, to a future about to happen, but ultimately to a frontier identity that holds them all at once. Memory makes the now fully inhabitable."

This final piece explore the beauty of Cherry Blossom and seeing the world as it really is Cherry Blossom: With Eyes Wide Open 

The following helped inspire the "spot"

Open Eyes by Victoria Safford

To see, simply to look and see, is an ethical act and intentional choice; to see, with open eyes, as a spiritual practice and thus risk, for it can open you to ways of knowing the world and loving it that will lead to inevitable consequences. The awakened eye, is a conscious eye, a willful eye, and brave, because to see things as they are, each in its own truth, will make you very vulnerable.

Think of yourself as a prism made of glass, reflecting everything exactly as it is, unable to exist dishonestly -- reflecting beauty where there is beauty, violence where there is violence, loveliness and unexpected joy but there is joy, violation where there is violation.

Here's the front page of the paper; here's that seedy, gossipy conflict at your job; here's a memory, unblurred by wishful thinking; here's a perfect afternoon in spring, and buds now on the trees, and blackbirds in the marsh. Here's the world, just as it is -- now look!

That kind of seeing is a choice, and it is sacred practice.

And then there is refraction -- taking into yourself, as a prism takes in light, the truths of what you see and hear and transforming it somehow, changing its direction, acting on it, rendering it somehow, anew. That again is holy work. The spring day, received, comes out again as gratitude (dispersed into a spectrum); a sorrow, yours or someone else's, fully realized and received, not denied, not covered up, not justified or explained away, ignored -- some sorrow clearly, previously seen is taken in, absorbed and felt, and reemerges, bent now into compassion. To see clearly is an act of will and conscience. It will make you very vulnerable. It is persistent, holy, world transforming work.