Saturday, 25 April 2015

Memory: The Power of Not Only Now

The following appeared on my facebook feed last Sunday evening. It was one of those wow! moments! It seemed to encapsulate near perfectly some of the thoughts that have been forming in my soul of late.

“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."

It's been singing in my soul all week...

A couple of weeks ago, actually it was Easter Saturday, I discovered I had a whole day off. My appointments were cancelled and I announced on “Facebook” that I had a fully open day and wondered if anyone had any suggestions about how I ought to spend it. Many suggestions came my way. One friend suggested I ought to get some sea air in my lungs and I thought to myself, what a grand idea. Anyhow I went to bed that night and thought to myself I will see what the morning brings.

I was awoken very early by a phone call from a dear old friend who said “Why don’t we go to the seaside”, to which I answered yes. How could I refuse? So off we went to Crosby, a favourite place and not just because of the name. I love it because I enjoy joining all those other Anthony Gormley figures staring out to sea. I love staring out into the ocean, opening myself fully to the experience and the great power and mystery of the sea. I stared and I took pictures as I waked along Crosby Beach. I had been instructed to take pictures of my day by another friend. I guess it’s the modern way, you have to take pictures of your day and post them on facebook for the world to see. No pictures, no experience it seems.

It was a day when I was totally in the moment and experienced all that was occurring I felt every drop of life. That said it was also a day filled with memories. I have experienced an awful lot of life with the friend I shared the day with, every emotion really. From the most gut wrenching despair to the most beautiful loved filled hope. I also felt and almost relived my whole life as I walked on that beach. Childhood memories came flooding back. I remembered family holidays, particularly in Scarborough. I remembered the unbridled joy and the sadness of those times.

As a child I would often go wandering off alone. Actually this continued into adulthood. Well one year I wandered off on Scarborough Beach and it seems I got completely lost, not that I realised it at the time, I had wandered off into another place in my mind. The family had to go of searching for me, eventually they found me. I was totally oblivious to being lost and to the fact that I had filled them all with worry and panic. The story of my life really, or at least it used to be. These days when I wander it is not by mistake and these days when I wander I don’t really get lost.

Memories are snapshots of life, whether we physically take pictures or not. It always fascinates me how these memories take shape and form and often reshape as time goes by; it amazes me how these memories seemingly re-incarnate as time goes by. We should not fear our memories, they are precious in so many ways, it is these very memories that make the present moment truly come alive. I have discovered that sometimes you can lose some of the true richness of the moment by becoming purely engrossed in it. That might sound like a counter intuitive thing, but I think not.

I remember in my early days of ministry exploring the “Power of Now” and the idea that life is to be found in the present moment and how the great traditions had taught this for millennia, that there was nothing new in the new age. I remember that after the service a member came to speak and they spoke passionately about the importance of memory and all those memories that she carried with her into her life and how they enrich her daily experience of life. I remember at the time feeling defensive about this, which I did not need to be. What she said has stayed with me and has been forming in my soul ever since. I now see that in many ways to truly experience the richness of the present you have allow the memory of all time to flood into it.

By the way please do not get me wrong, my current truth is no way a rejection of the power of the present moment, quite the opposite actually. What it is really about is bringing the present moment alive by enriching it with our whole selves. It’s a kind of active experience of the present moment. It’s about opening our whole selves up to the present moment and not just passively experiencing what is there. It’s about wholly living in the moment and then carrying that snapshot of the moment into the future. It’s about truly living on the threshold of life. The truth is of course that this is how we are always living, on the threshold of something, as one moment ends another begins.

I love the way that David Whyte almost perfectly encapsulates this in the reading on “Memory”, I shared earlier. The piece ends with the following “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.” It’s not just about living in the moment, but about bringing the moment to life.

Now of course this is fine in theory but what if our lives are filled with painful memories. What if when we sit our minds are just filled with pain from our pasts? It is said that the very reason that people cannot inhabit the present is because it is polluted by painful thoughts and memories from the past and projected fears about the future and that the key to freedom from this is to let go of them and therefore live fully in the present.

Now I am not sure that the proponents of the power of the present moment are actually making such claims; I do not believe that they are claiming that we need to reject the past and future in order to live in the present moment. Instead what the likes of Ekhart Tolle are suggesting, correctly in my view, is that much of our suffering is created from wrong thinking and that the key to being relieved from this self-created suffering is to change our thinking. How is this achieved? Well I believe it begins by truly coming to terms with who we are and by fully engaging with our past present and future. It is not achieved by running from our past and becoming a false slave to the moment, for we all of us carry our pasts with us. By attempting to run from it we allow it to have a false power over us.

I learnt, purely from experience, that to be fully alive in the present I must first of all be alive in my past. I need to come to terms with all that I am and all that I have been as well as all that those I have shared my life with have been too, for none of us live singular isolated lives. This can be scary by the way. It is important to tread carefully when you do and it’s also important to not do so alone. A trusted friend and or guide can help here and spiritual practise is vital here too…prayer has held me through so many frightening encounters in the wilds of my memory. I never go there alone, God is ever present, always with me.

There are so many seams of richness waiting to be mined in our memories, that we can bring into our present moment and can come alive in our lives. Not just for our good either, but also for the good of all. We should not fear them. We should not feel shame about our scars either, we do not need to cover them up and hide them away; we should bring them into the open, into the present and proudly bare them as evidence of life lived well.

This brings to mind a story I once heard about the soldiers who survived the battle of Agincourt. How each year, on the anniversary of the battle would stand up on their tip toes and proudly bare their scars for all to see. Scars of battle, scars of a life fully lived that they brought into that moment and in so doing became fully alive in it; scars they were unafraid of, that they were not haunted by.

There are lessons in all of our lives; lessons waiting to come alive in the golden present; lessons that we can pass on to others too. I am great believer in living in the present, but by this I mean really living in the present. I have learnt, and I hope to God I never forget this, that to truly be alive in the present we have to open our whole selves to our past, our present and our future. We have to let the floodgates open and allow the tide both in and out.

This came to me as I stood and stared out to sea on Crosby Beach; this came to me as I stood as a living breathing example of one those Anthony Gormley statues. That said it came to me in an ever slightly different way. I do not want to adopt their stance. I want to stand and face the sea in another way. I want to stand with my arms out stretch to the world, like one of those Agincourt survivors, unafraid to show my scars and live fully present in this moment. To bring every memory to life. To be fully alive on threshold of everything.

So my message, in this “Golden Moment”, is to see our memories as an invitation to the source of our lives; to bring our memories fully alive, so that they enable us to fully participate in the now; to understand that it is memory that makes the now fully inhabitable. For it is not just about living in the moment, but about bringing the moment to life.

This is the power of memory; this is the power of not only now.


“Spiritual History” by Mark Belletini

Let my body remember.
Let my hands and feet remember.
Let my breath remember those who came before me, those who have come before us.
Didn’t Muhammad wait quietly in his cave?
And didn’t Jesus sigh silently by the blue lake?
And Guan Yin, didn’t she sit in silence thinking that what to do before doing it?
And what was Siddhartha the Buddha doing anyway under that tree if not sitting quietly?
And Susan B. Anthony, didn’t she push back from her desk, and take a breath now and then?
And Florence Nightingale, didn’t she put down her nurse’s hat and think silently about what to write in her essay on mysticism before she actually wrote it?
And Sophia Fahs, didn’t she stop telling stories sometimes and just sit there?
And didn’t Black Elk just notice the sunlight glancing on his chair sometimes?
And Starhawk, does she only talk and write, or does she too keep silence?
Let us remember them all with our bodies.
Let us remember them with the silence they too knew.

Saturday, 18 April 2015

Courage: Living Wholeheartedly

Everyday I receive an extract from the writings of David Whyte. I mostly love and find them thought provoking and inspiring. I received the following about three weeks ago. It struck me at the time and has been singing in my soul ever since.

“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."

...It planted a seed in my soul that has been singing ever since...

Last Monday, as part of “The Sylvan Social Group” get together Gwyneth Roper spoke on the “Hospice Movement”. She talked about its history, how it developed through the persistence and pioneering work of Dame Cecily Saunders. She talked about St Anne’s Hospice which serves the people of Greater Manchester and her own personal experiences of working and volunteering there. It was an informative and deeply moving talk, for many reasons. What struck me was the whole approach to those people that are cared and supported by the many hospices up and down the country. That they see their work as not only caring and relieving suffering but of enabling all those experiencing terminal illnesses to live right up to the end of their physical lives. It would seem that often people discover many things they never knew about themselves, even in those last days and months.

As I sat listening to Gwyneth and remembering my own recent experiences with hospices with family, friends and other acquaintances the word courage kept on forming in my heart and mind. I remember as I sat there, with one or two tears forming in my eyes that I kept on thinking to myself that this is what real courage is. This is truly living with a fully open heart.

Now courage is one of those interesting words. It conjures up the soldier on the battlefield or the figure running into a burning building to rescue those trapped in there, or someone standing up against an injustice and saying no. We only need open the daily paper to see examples of this kind of courage. That said I’m not convinced courage is exclusive to such acts; in fact such acts are probably more akin to bravery and or heroic deeds. Now of course a hero requires courage in order to perform heroic deeds, that said courage can be found in many other quarters too.

The word courage itself is one of those fascinating ones whose meaning has altered somewhat over time. It is formed from the French root “Cuer” meaning heart. To have courage is to have strength of heart. I have learnt that courage is far more than bravery and heroic deeds it is a consistent and sustaining love, it is a spiritual energy that holds us in sickness and in health in loss or disappointment. It is courage that animates our lives and inspires us to truly live, whatever befalls us in life.

Courage is that loving sustaining seed that lays within each of us. Courage is about having faith in something and that this something will hold us and guide us through whatever we experience in the journeys of our lives. Some have described it as the warrior spirit, but not in the sense that we usually understand a warrior.

In “Courage: Overcoming Fear and Igniting Self-Confidence” Debbie Ford claims that:

"Courage is a holy gift that exists within you. It's yours when you are ready to reunite with it. When you awaken to courage, it becomes an exciting, life-enhancing force that will lift you back into your power and guide you home to your authentic nature. The greatest act of courage is to be and to own all of who you are — without apology, without excuses, without masks to cover the truth of who you are. True courage comes not just from feeling confident and strong, but from being the honest, authentic expression of yourself. Think about how audacious it is to really believe in yourself. It takes a warrior's courage to acknowledge that your point of view matters, that your truth matters, that your gifts matter, and that your presence on this earth matters. You don't have to earn this right; it's yours as part of your birthright.”

To live as the true warrior, to live with courage is about living authentically with a cracked open heart, paradoxically this how we live truly wholeheartedly. It’s also about showing this heart to the world. Letting the world know you as you truly are, warts and all and beauty spots too.

One of my many roles as a minister is to conduct funerals and to write or at least deliver the eulogy of the deceased, to tell their story. This is always fascinating and moving, as well as deeply revealing. There is far more to the lives of each and every one of us than we could ever know. I recently attended the funerals of three friends and listened to the eulogies of them all. As I listened I realised how much I knew them and yet how little I knew them too.

It got me thinking about who really knows us at all? How many of us truly reveal our whole selves, our whole hearts? Do any of us have the warrior courage to truly do this, at any stage of our journeys through life?

I know that for long periods of my life I lived in a kind of bubble, in my own little world. I was recently reminded of this during a conversation with a friend. As we were talking a long forgotten memory came back to me - Sadly there are large chunks of my life that I have little or no memory of, although over the years these memories keep on returning. From where, I have no clue - When I was a teenager and at other times in my life I would often take myself off into Huddersfield, or sometimes Leeds and just wander around the streets alone and yet completely surrounded by people in a kind of bubble, not speaking or even communicating with others, looking at them but not really connecting. I did it at times in my twenties too, but thankfully it is not something I need to do any longer. I found the courage to burst that bubble of self-protection, as it no longer serves me. I have found the faith, to live open heartedly, to live whole heartedly.

I wonder sometimes as I sit drinking coffee outside Café Nero, as I did the other day, how many others amongst us live in our own little bubbles? How many of us circle around one another in our own little planetoids, never really connecting to one another. How many of us live lives of deadness, of non-being, closed in, shut down, in our own little jails.

It really does not have to be like this. We can live with courage and it begins by truly knowing ourselves. This is where spiritual practise comes in. Through spiritual practise we can reveal the inner landscape of our own lives, we can truly know who we are. We can reveal our authentic selves, which will enable us to live our lives fully. By doing so we can open our hearts and therefore live wholeheartedly; by doing so, I have discovered, we also begin to see the landscape of our common humanity. By knowing ourselves bridges are built that can help us better connect to lives of others. It helps us to see that whatever our different stories maybe, at whatever stage our lives may be at, the same spirit that animates our lives, animates theirs. We each of us live with the same longings, fears, doubts, hopes and regrets. Yes our stories are all different and yet they are all the same.

We are each of us adventurers on a journey, but it’s a journey that isn’t really going anywhere. The journey is not one of distance at all, but one of depth and one of revelation and above all else deeper and deeper connection. And what do we need to keep journeying on, we need courage; we need genuine sustaining courage, which enables us to live wholeheartedly.

We need to live with the spirit of the warrior, at whatever stage of life we are at. We need to bring this courage to life right to the very end and we can. Things can be revealed to us right up to those last moments before we draw our last physical breaths. We can continue to connect with others on a deeper level, even at the very end, if we keep the courage to live with cracked open hearts, if we live wholeheartedly.

Courage is a way of living and breathing it’s about living openly and vulnerably in the world. It is about living with our hearts cracked open and therefore wholeheartedly. It’s also about bringing this into our relationships with others. It’s about allowing them to truly know us, while we are still alive and therefore encouraging them to do likewise. We can do this at any stage of our lives, whether we are at the beginning or very near the end.

It's about en-couraging them opening our hearts to them and encouraging them to do likewise...

When does life really begin or end? Well I do not know the answer to this, but increasingly it seems that there really is no beginning and or end. We are a part of something that began way before we were born and continues on and on after we are gone. And what of the possibility of an after life? Well I cannot answer that. Whatever happens after our bodies breath their last breath, surely it cannot be any more strangely beautiful than this one we live now. Let's enjoy this beautiful journey, on the Road to Nowhere.

My message, in this little blogspot, is to live with courage whatever stage you are at in life. I say let courage open you to life whatever befalls you. Remember it is courage that is formed in the heart; it is courage that is the ultimate act of faith; it is courage that keeps us open to life; it is courage that allows us to know ourselves; it is courage that builds bridges between ourselves and others; it is courage that allows people to truly know us, no matter what stage of life we find ourselves.

Courage friends, courage…

I'm going to end this little chip of a blogspot with these rather lovely words "“Nothing to Fear” from “A Long Time Blooming” by Marta I Valentin

Go forth young child, and know that you do not walk alone, nor ever have.
You carry with you ancestral bonds that do not sever.
You carry with you familial love that does not end.
You carry with you the scents of sweet friendship a long time blooming…

Go forth, young child, with nothing to fear.
Open your heart to the crosscurrents of living.
Let others enter the circle of your tender loving arms.
Let others know the profundity of your sharp, inquiring mind.

Go, leave your mark upon the world, and continue to lift up your voice, there are many waiting to listen.


Saturday, 11 April 2015

Genius: Nurturing the Kin-dom of Love

“Each of Us Is An Artist” by Arthur Graham

"Each of us is an artist whose task it is to shape life into some semblance of the pattern we dream about. The molding is not of self alone, but of shared tomorrows and times we shall never see. So let us be about our task. The materials are very precious and perishable."

I’ve been reflecting on my experiences of this year’s Annual Meetings of The General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches in Great Britain and Ireland (a mouthful I know) and how much I enjoyed it. This surprised me to some extent, as over the last couple of years I have not. Now it maybe just a reflection on where I am at, both with regard to my own personal spirituality and that of the denomination in general or maybe a reflection on the few days I experienced in Birmingham, or perhaps a mixture of both. I suspect that there were many reasons for this and that I will never reach a clear and defined answer. Thank God.

There seemed to be a real sense of togetherness this year and new optimism too. There was also a seeming absence of ego, there was no one trying to run the whole show and orchestrate everything in their image. This was a real blessings. I felt this right from the start, at the minister’s conference. Where I enjoyed some wonderful conversations and was greatly impressed by the new ministers who are coming through. Amongst them is great evidence of spiritual and theological depth. Listening and engaging with them I was touched in those sometimes hard to reach places, right in the soul of me. During one of the evening services titled “Celebrating Our Vision” each of the newly qualified ministers spoke of their own theological and spiritual influences, again I was touched by what they all said, but there was one that stood out and has stayed with me ever since. Kate Whyman who has recently been appointed to serve the congregation at Plymouth quoted a plaque that she saw at the Divinity School at Harvard University where Ralph Waldo Emerson had delivered his now famous “Divinity School Address”. The plaque read “Acquaint Thyself at First Hand with Deity”…Those words have been singing in my soul ever since…

“Acquaint Thyself at First Hand with Deity”

There were many things that amused and touched me throughout the week. One of those was a moment when I was moving from one workshop to go to another. Rev Keith Hill saw me in the corridor and came rushing towards me and said you’ve got to come with me as Melda Grantham, the Secretary of the Welsh Department in a talk on communication, has just been singing your praises and described you as a genius. Well I almost died of shock on the spot, but I went with him. It seems that Melda is very impressed with the way I write and express through personal stories, theology and spirituality, and that I do so in a way that anyone can connect too. She said “That Danny Crosby is a genius”. Well as you can imagine I blushed somewhat at this. Like so many people I still, at times, feel uncomfortable when someone compliments me and shines the light on my better qualities.

That said I have been having a bit of fun with it ever since, especially with friends. I even posted an update on Facebook on Easter Sunday, as I was relaxing having spent some time enjoying the beautiful Easter/Passover moon. It read “It was said last week I am a genius…I didn’t know…What do you reckon?” Some rather interesting comments followed, some lovely and some hilarious and still others a real mixture of both. What was interesting was that a couple of my friends posted definitions of “genius”. The first read:

“ 'A genius is a person who displays exceptional superior intellectual ability, creativity, or originality', so yes.” and the second suggested “that this sounds like another etymological adventure was on the cards” and then quoted the following “In ancient Rome, the genius (plural in Latin genii) was the guiding spirit or tutelary deity of person. The noun is related to the Latin verb genui, genitus, "to bring into being, create, produce"”

To which I responded “I think you may have planted some seeds.” Now this immediately sent my thoughts back to “The Mustard Seed” readings that were shared during this year’s "Anniversary Service" at the "Annual Meetings" I had attended. By the way the service was phenomenal and again highlighted so much that is truly wonderful about our free religious faith.

So I had this seed of genius planted deeply into my soul and I began thinking and exploring this idea, especially bringing that which is within us into being; to bring that seed of Deity within us to bare fruit. Now this of course requires us to first of all become acquainted with it and to lovingly nurture it. Suddenly Kate’s quotation from Emerson began to take on new meaning.

“Acquaint Thyself at First Hand with Deity”

I do believe that there is that of the Divine within each and every one of us and that it is our task, our duty to bring that to life in our very being. It’s just that I had not previously thought of it the same way that my friends and acquaintances were now pointing towards, through the various aspects of the “Creative Interchange”, we and others were unknowingly engaging in.

So once again it would appear that everything that we need is already there deep within us. We do not need to seek the Kingdom of God, the Commonwealth of Love, because it is already here within us and amongst us. We are each and every one of us an aspect of what I heard someone describe recently as “The Kin-dom of Heaven”. Our task, I believe, is to bring it to fruit and bring it together.

You see the real truth is that we are all genius’s, yes I know that you probably feel uncomfortable hearing this, but none the less it is true. We are all born with this essence and we need to bring it to life in our very being, we need to reclaim our true nature and then share it with our world, because it doesn’t belong to us alone and doesn’t truly come alive unless we share it with others.

Now throughout human history this genius within us has been understood in different ways. Many, beginning with Plato, I understand, talked of each of us being born with a companion, what some might describe as a spirit that remembers our true nature and therefore "calling" and which can guide us back to our greatest animation. It is this that truly brings us alive, that animates our very being that enthuses us. This inner spirit animates our soul, this is the genius within each and every one of us. It has been called by many names such as muse, inner voice, still small voice, higher self, guardian angel or what the ancient Greeks referred to as Daemon.

Now the problem of course is that so many of us suppress our inner genius, we do not let it shine, we do not believe that we are “The Light of the World” or perhaps the opposite happens we keep it selfishly for ourselves alone.

Now I witnessed a wonderful example of this on Easter Sunday evening just before I noticed that beautiful Easter moon. It was during a conversation I and others were having while standing outside unknowingly experiencing the light of that said moon. A friend who is both a juggler and a magician began juggling some red balls, he was in total bliss enjoying his gift that he has nurtured over the years. As he was doing so he began to talk about how even in his darkest days he had always enjoyed the company of jugglers, how they were the most loving and accepting community of people he had ever known. How they were happy to share all that they had with anyone and that they were totally devoid of ego. He contrasted this with magicians who he said were the exact opposite, how they were secretive, closed and suspicious of anyone, that they were not welcoming and were full of ego. As he spoke I thought to myself, you are a genius, you have just taught a beautifully deep truth about the last few days of my life. It dawned on me that these are examples of religious communities and actually all human communities. They could well be metaphors for the “Kingdom of Mistrust” or the “Kin-dom of Love”, “the Commonwealth of Love”

I then went and caught my first glimpse of that Easter moon, I spent quite sometime alone gazing lovingly at it.

A couple of days later as I began to piece worship material together for the coming Sunday's service it became clearer to me what our task truly is. It is to bring our genius to life and share and allow it to spread so as to create the "Kin-dom of Heaven", the oneness of humanity, right here right now…it can be done…if we want it…

We each of us have the seed of genius within us. How it got there I am not sure; who or what planted it there, again, I cannot be certain. It is there though, of that I am certain. Our task is to first of all become acquainted with it, to nurture and to bring to life in all that we feel, all that we think, all that we say and all that we do; our task is to share our genius with one another and our world; our task is to become the light of the world.

Easter Sunday revealed to me that our real task is to become joyful and joy filled jugglers rather than those suspicious and miserable magicians. By doing so we will begin to create that “Kin-dom of love” within and amongst us.

A genius is someone who acquaints themselves, first hand, with the Divine seed that was planted within them before they were even born; a genius is someone who nurtures and brings to fruit, harvests and finally shares this generous love with all they meet; a genius is someone who gives birth to the kin-dom of love.

I am going to end this little chip of a blogspot with a prayer from Rev Cliff Reed, from his wonderful new book "Carnival of Lamps"...I trust it will sing in your heart and soul...


“By Many Different Paths”

O God,
the ultimate, the One.
we, who come here by many different paths,
greet you and bow before you.

We were not just placed here on this planet.
We grew with it, out of it,
yet always in its web of life.

We were many things before we were human.
We were many humans before we were
“thinking man”, as we like to call ourselves.

We are the children of more ancestors
than we can imagine, carry the genes
of many things we cannot name.

We are part of this earth, this cosmos,
and we pause in wonder at its majesty.

Somewhere, some time,
creatures came out of all this that could
love and be kind, and recognise in you
the source of love and kindness.

Who were the first we don’t know,
and never can, but we would be like them.

May it be so.

Saturday, 4 April 2015

Easter: Hearing the voice under all silences

“Rolling Away the Stone” by Sarah Gilbert

In the tomb of the soul, we carry secret yearnings, pains, frustrations, loneliness, fears, regrets, worries.
In the tomb of the soul, we wrap ourselves in the security of darkness.
Sometimes this is a comfort, Sometimes it is an escape. Sometimes it prepares us for experience. Sometimes it insulates us from life.
Sometimes this tomb-life gives us time to feel the pain of the world and reach out to heal others.
Sometimes it numbs us and locks us up with our own concerns.
In this season where light and dark balance the day, we seek balance for ourselves.
Grateful for the darkness that has nourished us, we push away the stone and invite the light to awaken us to the possibilities within us and among us-possibilities for new life in ourselves and in our world.

Amen

Easter is seen through many lenses, some are very clear, precise, they are certain as to what Easter is about. Others amongst us though seem to see Easter through a kaleidoscope of ever changing colours and shapes. What comes to your heart and mind when you think of Easter?

Easter is a deeply universal festival in my eyes, I think there are so many layers to this mythos, that if we allow it to can touch all of us. In order to be touched by the magic of Easter you do not have to believe in the actual bodily resurrection of Jesus, you can believe in Easter without having to accept that this actually happened. In fact perhaps it loses some of its power if we focus purely on this aspect of the mythos. Maybe actually if we view Easter through this very clear lens we will miss much of what it can teach us. Maybe it is better to view Easter through a kaleidoscope or at least partially clouded glass, maybe we see more through the mystery than the seeming clarity.

Over he last few days I have been reflecting on the account of the resurrection in John's Gospel. The reason for this is the rather beautiful reflection titled “Easter Resurrection”, by Kathleen McTigue, that I recently came across. It has moved me greatly.

"Easter Resurection" by Kathleen McTigue

"The Easter story as told in the Gospel of John revolves around the experience of Mary who gets up before dawn on the day after the Jewish Sabbath and goes alone to visit the tomb. Her beloved teacher has died a horrible death, and it was only by the unexpected generosity of a wealthy man that Jesus was given even the small dignity of a real burial place instead of a pauper's grave. Because of the Sabbath, his body had not been cleaned according to tradition, and Mary set out early with her herbs in order to do this last grieving service. But when she got to the tomb she found that the stone blocking its entrance had already been rolled away, and his body was gone.

It isn't hard to imagine her despair and anger at being robbed of even this last farewell. she ran to some of Jesus' other followers with the news, and they came back with her to see for themselves. they probably stood there for a while arguing about what to do, but there was nothing to be done. Who would you complain to when you risked your life even admitting to the authorities that you had known him? Filled with that bitter realization, they finally left him again.

But Mary stayed, alone and weeping; maybe something defiant crept in with her grief that made her brave enough to stay. Then she caught a movement out of the corner of her eye, and turned to find someone standing there. "Why are you crying?" he asked. "Who are you looking for?" Thinking he must be the gardener, she said, as carefully as she could, "sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you've put him and I'll take care of it. I won't tell anyone. I'll just take his body and clean him up so he can rest in peace," Then Jesus - because of course it was Jesus standing there, and she didn't recognise him - Jesus just called out her name: "Mary." And then she knew, and she said back to him, "Rabbi."

For those of us who believe that Jesus was a human like us, the idea of his literal resurrection from death is a leap of faith we can't quite make. We know that when our bodies die, they die. We belong to the earth, and it is comforting and right to know that we dissolve again into the sweetness. But we can believe in Mary's resurrection. When Mary heard her name called, suddenly her eyes were opened to a new reality. She was called out from the blindness of her grief and despair, and from within herself she found a new way to see and to understand what had happened to her.

I take that Easter story as truth. It points to the moments in every life when something within us is called out, called forth, called to a deeper understanding of our world. Easter raises the question: In the bright opening of the earth, in the turning season when new life is pouring out all around us, what will we bring forth from within ourselves? It's a time that calls us to open our eyes in a new way, to see not just what we expect to see but perhaps some bright and mysterious truth we could not fathom before, something completely new and unexpected.

We are a troubled tribe, we human beings. The unfolding story of our time on earth is clouded with pain and cruelty, with missed opportunities, unthinkable heedlessness, and indifference. It is also marked by the bright notes of decency, kindness, freedom and courage. Easter proclaims that we each have a part to play in how the story unfolds, if we are willing to wake up. We listen for what is calling to us, and like Mary, when we hear our name we answer, rising anew to meet the life that will not stop calling our names."

Kathleen Mctigues's reflection truly touched the soul of me. Mary Magdalene was in utter despair, having lost her teacher, who she couldn’t even give a proper burial to. Then she once again heard the voice of hope, born from that same place of total hopelessness. As she did she was able to see life through new eyes, new vision came and she was able to turn away from despair to hope.

This is Easter for me a story of hope for all of us that whatever happens in our lives if we keep on turning in faith new vision will come. Easter time, in the midst of spring, truly is the turning season, it is the day of new beginnings. Easter teaches that we can begin again in love each and every day. This begins by hearing or even seeing new hope and turning from whatever despair may keep us trapped in our empty tomb and turn us toward that voice or light.

So I ask you once again what comes to your heart and mind when you think of Easter?

I have also been inspired by the following Easter reflection by Robert Walsh

“Early Easter” by Robert Walsh

love is the voice under all silences,
the hope which has no opposite in fear
by E.E. CUMMINGS

"Easter arrives in New England while spring is still mostly a promise. If there is anything we can trust, surely we can trust the Earth, in partnership with the sun, to put new leaves on the trees, to coax blossoms from the forsythia. Meanwhile, I watch through the window of a gray chilly day for the warming and the brightening to come.

Easter invites us to trust in something more amazing even than the coming of spring. Can we trust this: that love is more durable than life? Can we believe that love casts out fear? Can we have faith that love is the voice under all silences?

I trust, and I mistrust. From the quiet centre of myself, I hear a trusting of love, a faith that the story about love is true. On the noisy surface of my life, I hedge my bets. I collect things, join organisations, and take out insurance, hoping to be saved.

That’s why I need Easter. That’s why we keep this celebration. It is because we need to hear the old story about love. We need to be reminded about the voice under all silences."

...the voice under all silences...Again this truly touched that place right in the marrow of the soul of me...

Can we hear that voice under all silences, the one that calls out our name? Do we believe in the voice, do we believe that it can know our name? Do we believe that it is the voice of Hope that can lead us out of the dark empty tomb of Despair to the light of new beginnings?"

...Beautiful...

I have an experience of a power that is greater than all and yet present in each of us, in everything. That said I do not believe that it controls all that happens in life. I can turn to it for strength and direction and when I do so my prayers are answered and I can live in the way of love and courage. I can become “The Light of the World”, that Jesus spoke of “On the Sermon on the Mount”. I believe that we all can if we listen out for that voice and keep on turning from the tomb of despair to the light of hope.

Now if we believe that we are “the light of the world” then maybe the resurrection occurs within our very lives. That the love that Walsh is speaking of can come alive in us, can incarnate in our very being if we listen for it, if we engage with it intimately.

Easter is so much more than the coming of spring as Walsh states. There is more here than just the re-birth of spring plants and flowers. There are far deeper truths than just seeing the renewal of plant life all around us. I also think that there is far more going on than the story of physical resurrection too.

The resurrection for me is not really about the physical body coming back alive. What it is really about is the spirit within each and every one of us coming alive. Sarah York claims that Easter mythos is about the resurrection of many souls not from death but from deadness. She writes:

“What do I mean by deadness? I mean the things inside that kept the disciples away from Jesus’ funeral – fear, cowardice, lack of conviction and purpose. And I mean those same things in our own lives that prevent us from feeling alive – things like fear, cowardice, and the lack of conviction and purpose. And things like the loneliness, grief and boredom that numb us to life.”

This is what Easter means to me. It is far more than the resurrection of a body, which just seems impossible. It is also far more than the renewal of nature of spring after winter and of plants rising from the once frozen ground. When I think of Easter what I experience is that sense of spirit truly coming to life, just as it did for Mary Magdalene when she heard her name being called in the tomb. It’s about love coming alive in all our bodies and of that light coming alive and us sharing it with a world that at times seems completely starved of love. It’s about the voice of hope coming alive once again in the tomb of despair and being led out into life renewed. It’s about each and every one of us truly becoming “the light of the world”.

That’s what Easter means to me, but what does it mean to you…why don’t you think about that…I’ll leave you with that one…

I ask you once again what comes to your heart and mind when you think of Easter?

I am going to end this chip of a blogspot with a meditation by Mark Belletini, entitled “Exultet for Easter Morning”

I could say they are beautiful
those stars hemming the blue veil of morning
I could say it gives me pleasure,
that bronze and perfect Passover moon,
or I could say they make me glad,
those laughing daffodils along the lane.

Or, I could just as well say they are lit from within,
Divine, overflowing with what some long to call
Revelation, or even the growing vision of God.
But today, on Easter, I don’t care which words I use to express my
wonder.
I just am glad to be alive, blest with such marvels.

I could say that the earth hanging in space
is an accident in the universe that just happened,
or I could say it’s one more miracle,
in a cosmos full of miracles,
one overflowing with divinity.

But today, on Easter,
For all of my education and life experience,
I cannot tell which word is which.
Accident. Miracle.
They both seem to see each other’s face
in the mirror of my heart.
And so I rise in gladness again,
And sing the marvel that everything is!

When some argue for heaven,
And others argue for earth,
For the life of me I cannot comprehend the
seriousness of the debate.

After all, the heaven I see daily overhead
Never argues with me.
It just tumbles clouds through my eyes and yours
And paints the horizons pink and orange
Come evening or come morning.

And the earth I walk on never argues with me either.
It mostly just explodes with buds and petals
Like some out-of-control fountain.
Heaven and earth remain silent even when people malign
the ancient exclamation “O God!”
by fusing with violence and entitlement.

But now, on this Easter Day, everything grows
beyond words, beyond earth and heaven, into
a necessary vision of harmony and peace for all
humankind who rise into life that is alive.

Amen

Saturday, 21 March 2015

Humility: Grounded in our Common Humanity

I am a follower of David Whyte on facebook, there is something about the way he writes that touches the soul of me. He recently posted the following extract and it chimed with some thoughts I'd been having

“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.

‘Ground’ in “Consolations: The Solace, Nourishment and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words.” © David Whyte and Many Rivers Press 2015

David's words chimed with thoughts I'd had around being at home within our own humanity and that to be fully human is to be grounded in the one earth, to be human is to be truly humble

In my last "blogspot" http://danny-crosby.blogspot.co.uk/2015/03/mothering-sunday-theres-no-place-like.html I explored the idea of home, of coming home, of their being “No Place Like Home”. I talked about being at home in our own being, in our own selves. About experiencing this sense of belonging within our own souls. It has been a theme I explored quite a bit these last few weeks. I made reference to the Operatta “Clari, or, the Maid of Milan”, where the phrase "There's no place like home" comes from. The complete couplet reads “Mid pleasures and palaces though we may roam. Be it ever so humble, there’s no place like home.”

It’s the words “Be it ever so humble, there’s no place like home” that have been gently swimming around in my heart, these last few days, this idea of home being a humble place. About home being this place where we find ourselves and being grounded in the place that we find ourselves. This idea that being at home is being at peace with ourselves. That when we are at home with ourselves we can be at home with everyone else.

Now this got me thinking about what it means to be truly humble.

I suspect that to be truly humble is to be at home in our own humanity, to be grounded in our own reality. I also suspect that humility has something to do with being grounded in our shared humanity too. To be truly humble is to recognise that we are a part of something larger than our singular selves.

I connected with this even more deeply at about 9.30am on Friday morning, 20th May, as I and millions of others stood outside and experienced a solar eclipse. It was a beautiful and eerie experience, that united people up and down the land and others lands too.

I have recently been attending a series of Lent Breakfasts talks hosted by Churches Together in Urmston, during one we explored the subject of “Humility” as a virtue, specifically looking at the concept of humbling ourselves before God. Within Christianity this is enshrined in the image of the humble servant and message of self-sacrifice. Some of the conversation troubled me as it seemed to portray humanity and humility in a very negative light. There is more to both humanity and humility than this I think.

When I think of being truly humble it is a verse from the Book of Micah Ch6 v 8 that always comes to mind “He has told you what is good, to do justice, to love kindness and to walk humbly with your God.” I love these words mainly because they are not about being meek and mild and bowing and scraping, they are not self-deprecating or denigrating. Too often humility is seen in this way, particularly from a religious perspective, as kind of excuse for suffering and or meekness. To me this is not true humility; true humility is about recognising the virtues of doing justice, living in love and recognising our common humanity.

I do not believe that humility is about shrinking and bowing down and becoming servile and scraping. Instead it is about recognising our full humanity and in doing so recognising the duty that this brings both to ourselves, our world, the people we share it with and our God that we walk humbly with.

I believe that  Dag Hammarskjold, the former Secretary General of the United Nations, expressed the true meaning of humility when he said:

"Humility is just as much the opposite of self-abasement as it is self-exaltation. To be humble is not to make comparisons. Secure in its reality, the self is neither better nor worse, bigger nor smaller, than anything else in the universe. It is-nothing, yet at the same time one with everything."

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

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

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

"What if we were to be together and listen to each other's comments with a willingness to expose rather than to confirm our own beliefs and opinions? What if we were to willingly listen to one another with the awareness that we each see the world in unique ways? And with the expectation that I could learn something new if I listen for the differences rather than the similarities?

We have this opportunity many times in a day, everyday. What might we see, what might we learn, what might we create together, if we become this kind of listener, one who enjoys the differences and welcomes in disturbance? I know we would be delightfully startled by how much difference there is. And then we would be wonderfully comforted by how much closer we became, because every time we listen well, we move towards each other. From our new thoughts and our new companions, we would all become wiser.

It would be more fruitful to explore this strange and puzzling world if we were together. It would also be far less frightening and lonely. We would be together, brought together by our differences rather than separated by them. When we are willing to be disturbed by newness rather than clinging to our certainty, when we are willing to truly listen to someone who sees the world differently, then wonderful things happen. We learn that we don't have to agree with each other in order to explore together. There is no need to be joined together at the head, as long as we are joined together at the heart."

Here Margaret captures near perfectly the concept of like hearted rather than like minded people, that I wrote of in a recent blogspot http://danny-crosby.blogspot.co.uk/2015/02/looking-for-like-hearted-people.html

That’s free religion, that’s a humble approach to faith. That’s true humility and humanity. That’s being grounded in my book.

To be humble is to realise our true humanity and to recognise that we are formed from the same earth as everyone else and that we have that same spirit within us as everyone else. It is to recognise the oneness of us all. It is also about standing in the place where we find ourselves and accepting that reality. It’s about living in the mud and muck that is life. This is where life is and this is where we truly belong.

To be truly humble and therefore human is also to recognise our individual finiteness, that our individual lives will one day come to an end. It is to recognise that we are not all powerful and that we need one another and to be a part of something Greater than ourselves. It’s about immersing ourselves in the ground in which we stand and the world in which we live, there is something about a collective wholeness in all of this, it's about how we treat one another. This I hear in those words from Micah “to do justice, love kindness and to walk humbly with your God.”

This is not the passivity that can sometimes come with ideas around humility. Walking humbly with God, is about being grounded wholly in the life in which we live. It’s about opening all our senses to all that we live within, even that which makes us uncomfortable, it’s about total immersion in life. It’s not about trying to control or manipulate life, but about being at one with it all.

To be truly humble and therefore human is to recognise that we are not isolated beings but truly connected and dependent on one another and all life, it is about being grounded in reality. Humility is in some ways a call to action, to fully engage with the reality in which we find ourselves and do what we can to improve the aspect of creation in which are feet are planted. In so doing we will know that we truly belong here.

To be truly humble and therefore fully human is to be at home both within ourselves and the ground in which we stand. It’s about being fully immersed in reality, it’s to be truly connected to the reality that lays within us and beyond and to recognise that there is a oneness in all life, that we play a small and vital role in creating.

Humility is to be grounded in our common humanity.


I will end this little chip of a blogspot with the following words by Ralph N Helverson “Impassioned Clay" followed by “Poem of Perfect Miracles.” By Walt Whitman

Deep in ourselves resides the religious impulse.
Out of the passion of our clay it rises.

We have religion when we stop deluding ourselves that we are self-sufficient, self-sustaining, or self-derived.

We have religion when we hold some hope beyond the present, some self-respect beyond our failures.

We have religion when our hearts are capable of leaping up at beauty, when our nerves are edged by some dream in the heart.

We have religion when we have an abiding gratitude for all that we have received.

We have religion when we look upon people with all of their failings and still find in them good; when we look beyond people to the grandeur in nature and to the purpose in our own heart.

We have religion when we have done all that we can, and then in confidence entrust ourselves to the life that this larger than ourselves.


“Poem of Perfect Miracles.” By Walt Whitman

REALISM is mine, my miracles,
Take all of the rest—take freely—I keep
but my own—I give only of them,
I offer them without end—I offer them to you
wherever your feet can carry you, or your
eyes reach.

Why! who makes much of a miracle?
As to me, I know of nothing else but miracles,
Whether I walk the streets of Manhattan,
Or dart my sight over the roofs of houses toward
the sky,
Or wade with naked feet along the beach, just in
the edge of the water,
Or stand under trees in the woods,
Or talk by day with any one I love—or sleep in
the bed at night with any one I love,
Or sit at the table at dinner with my mother,
Or look at strangers opposite me riding in the car,
Or watch honey-bees busy around the hive, of an
August forenoon,
Or animals feeding in the fields,

Or birds—or the wonderfulness of insects in the
air,
Or the wonderfulness of the sun-down—or of
stars shining so quiet and bright,
Or the exquisite, delicate, thin curve of the new-
moon in May,
Or whether I go among those I like best, and that
like me best—mechanics, boatmen, farmers,
Or among the savans—or to the soiree—or to
the opera,
Or stand a long while looking at the movements
of machinery,
Or behold children at their sports,
Or the admirable sight of the perfect old man, or
the perfect old woman,
Or the sick in hospitals, or the dead carried to
burial,
Or my own eyes and figure in the glass,
These, with the rest, one and all, are to me
miracles,
The whole referring—yet each distinct and in its
place.

To me, every hour of the light and dark is a
miracle,
Every inch of space is a miracle,
Every square yard of the surface of the earth is
spread with the same,

Every cubic foot of the interior swarms with the
same;
Every spear of grass—the frames, limbs, organs,
of men and women, and all that concerns
them,
All these to me are unspeakably perfect miracles.

To me the sea is a continual miracle,
The fishes that swim—the rocks—the motion
of the waves—the ships, with men in them
—what stranger miracles are there?



Saturday, 14 March 2015

Mothering Sunday: There's No Place Like Home

Today is Mothering Sunday or as it is more commonly known these days Mother’s Day. For most of us it is a day of joy; a day set a-side to celebrate the gift of motherhood. That said this is not the case for everyone. For some it will be a day tinged with sadness as they remember the mum’s they have lost, who are no longer here. For some mothers it is a time to remember lost children, either through un-reconcilable differences or deaths dark shadow. This day I will be remembering those mothers too.

I will also be remembering those mothers’s whose children are far away from home and who worry about them every day. I will also think of those of us who have never born children who have never experienced that gift, due to a variety of circumstances. I will also remember those, who for whatever reason, find their relationships with their own mothers or their own children difficult, for who today may bring up painful and difficult emotions...I will pause this morning and hold those for whom today will be a difficult and painful day. I will then celebrate motherhood, perhaps life's greatest gift.

I recently came across the following:

“Where the Heart is” by Jo Ann Passariello Deck

“I used to laugh at my Italian relatives who always wanted to sit in the kitchen. They even built houses without dining rooms. Big kitchens were all they wanted. They lived their whole lives in those kitchen, around the stove, eating, talking, playing cards, reading newspapers, drinking coffee. When they weren’t around the stove, they were in church, in God’s home, but that’s another story.

Home is where the stove is. When I think of all the places I’ve lived, I think of what I cooked in the kitchen: cheese tarts in Cambridge, beet soup in Berkeley, and shrimp curry in Singapore. Home is where I saute the garlic and chop the onion, where the frying pan makes music.

An old Russian proverb says, “The oven is the mother.” Food, warmth, acceptance, I can find it all at the stove.”

Home and food are two places that always conjure up images of motherhood. I don’t wish to get shot down for appearing un-politically correct but that sense of maternal love always brings to my heart images of being fed and of feeling at home in the company of people. People so often express their love through food, they make you feel welcome by feeding you. They offer hospitality by offering food and room at their table. Or at least that’s what they’ve always done with me.

Mothering Sunday, whatever its actual true origins is enshrined in this image of returning home. Whether that is of children returning to the family home having been working away or of people returning to the mother church. Either way it’s about returning home to a place of safety and I believe sustenance, whether that be actual physical food or spiritual food; whether that be Simnal Cake, or the bread of heaven.

They say that home is where the heart is and they also “There’s No Place Like Home”.

Now this instantly brings up two images into the heart of my mind. One is of Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz. In the film she begins by singing of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” a place away from the drudgery, of the mundainity, of life where she could be set free from the confines of home, but at the end she clicks those ruby slippers and says those immortal words. "There's no place like home, there's no place like home, there's no place like like home.” Dorothy has been on a spiritual journey and encountered all manner of fascinating friends along the way. She has also fought off enemies who wanted to destroy her. She has experienced and learnt so much, but in the end she just wants to return home.

Home is where your heart is and it is also where your hearth is. I remember Yvonne Aburrow once telling me that the ancient Romans “viewed the hearth as the centre or focus of the home. It was where the family offerings to the family gods were made.”...she went on to say...”I think a room is incomplete without a hearth or an altar to focus it and in some rooms, the TV is the focus instead of the hearth-fire.”

For many home is the embodiment of safety and acceptance, the heart and the hearth of a loving family. Robert Frost wrote that “Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in."

Home is a tiny word but a powerful word and one so rich in meaning. It is a word that can hold such dreams of possibilities or nightmares of hurt. It is more than a physical place it is an idea, a feeling, a vision. It is something that we carry with us as we journey through life; it is not just something that we seek. For some it is a place that they are fleeing from, a place of repression and not a place of loving possibility. That said whatever it is we are fleeing from in the end we all must return home, just as Dorothy did.


The other image that home brings into the heart of my mind is something that has adorned many homes over the years, something that is usually sown, it’s the following simple words “There’s No Place Like Home”. Now the source of these simple words is the song titled “Home, Sweet Home” from the words of John Howard Payne’s nineteenth century operatta “Clari, or the Maid of Milan”. The full verse reads as follows

Mid pleasures and palaces though we may roam,
Be it ever so humble, there's no place like home;
A charm from the skies seems to hallow us there,
Which seek thro' the world, is ne'er met elsewhere.
Home! Home!
Sweet, sweet home!
There's no place like home
There's no place like home!

These are the words that Dorothy repeats as she clicks her Ruby slippers and wishes to return to that place of safety.

When I think of Motherhood and or the Mother Church this is what I think of, of returning to a place of sustenance of nurture where one feels that they can recharge and renew in safety. These do not have to be physical places or even people. Actually the truth is you need not go anywhere. This place of nurture of sustenance can only really be found in the ground where you stand, in fact the truth is what we really need to do is find ourselves at home within our own being.

This got me thinking of the following I recently came across...

“God Moving Through the Day With Me” by Macrina Wiederkehr


"As the stars again become visible tonight, I am reminded of a feast of leisure from my childhood days. I remember, on summer evenings, sitting outside on a quilt with Mama waiting for the stars to come out. Looking back at that moment with my adult eyes, I understand that God is Someone who has taken the time to sit on a quilt with me waiting for beauty. She is a Mother of Presence. I need only invite her into my moments of leisure. Her presence will empower my presence.

"As I tried to bring a deeper quality of presence to all my works this day, I found God moving through the day with me, like a Mother, opening my eyes to beauty, quietly, joyfully, gratefully, without complaining, I welcomes all the beauty that crossed my path."

“She is a Mother of Presence. I need only invite her into my moments of leisure. Her presence will empower my presence.” These words really struck me as I read them the other day. They sank deep into the soul of me as I thought about the last few weeks of my life. As any regular follower of my blog will know I’ve suffered a couple of bouts of ill health this year, something I’m not used to. In so many ways it has knocked me for six and certainly humbled me as I have not been able to do the things I normally would do. I have had to physically isolate myself for periods of time. I have spent hours, nay days completely physically alone. Do you know what it has done me the power of good as I have sought those deeper resources in the soul of me. I have had to sit, well actually lay with uncomfortable lonely feelings and in the discomfort of this I have connected to those aspects of myself at the heart, at the hearth of my being. It has brought me closer to the God of my own limited understanding as I have not tried to fill the hole in the soul of me with people, places and things. It has brought with it a deeper sense of belonging both within myself, this life and God. It has been a time of nurture and love.

When I think of motherhood and the mother church and mother God for that matter it is nurture that comes into the heart of my mind. For so long I sought in life to feed this hole within when all that I needed was already here I just needed to allow it to come alive, to feed it, to nurture it, to bring it to life. Eileen Caddy of the Findhorn community has said “All you need is deep within you waiting to unfold and reveal itself. All you have to do is to be still and to take time to seek for what is within, and you will surely find it.”

At the beginning of Lent I committed to spending time in the wilderness within; I committed to allow myself to spend time alone so as to come to terms more deeply with who I am and then to be better prepared to truly use the gifts I have and to be of better service to the world in which I find myself. 

Now what Mothering Sunday teaches me is that this needs to be done in a loving and nurturing way. It also reminds me that when I do so I am not really venturing into the wild alone, that eternal love is always present in my DNA, in the marrow of my soul, everything I need is already there. So that if things get too much I can always do a Dorothy and click my own ruby slippers and be transported to the loving arms of “Warm Mother God”.

In “Anam Cara” John O’Donohue wrote “The heart is the inner face of your life. The human journey strives to make this inner face beautiful. It is here that love gathers within you. Love is absolutely vital for a human life. For love alone can awaken what is divine within you. In love, you grow and come home to yourself. When you learn to love and let yourself be loved, you come home to the hearth of your own spirit. You are warm and sheltered.”

It seems to me this is what is at the heart of “Mothering Sunday”. This idea of coming home of truly finding shelter in your own home, which is your own heart. Of returning to that love that is Divine, that is truly a part of who we truly are, of recognising the truth spoken during “The Sermon on the Mount”, that we truly are the light of the world. That we are here to nurture that light from which we are formed and to bring that loving light to life as a loving mother would do.

My simple message this “Mothering Sunday” is let’s learn to truly be at home within our own hearts and our own hearths. Let us learn to truly welcome, love and nurture our own lives. Let us truly recognise that we are the light of the world and let us enable that light shine over all our world. When we let our little lights shine we truly can be of service to this our love starved world.

I will end this little chip of a blogspot with the following words of prayer...

"Prayer for All Who Mother" By Victoria Weistein

We reflect in thanksgiving this day for all those whose lives have nurtured ours.

The life-giving ones
Who heal with their presence
Who listen in sympathy
Who give wise advice ... but only when asked for it.
We are grateful for all those who have mothered us
Who have held us gently in times of sorrow
Who celebrated with us our triumphs -- no matter how small
Who noticed when we changed and grew,
who praised us for taking risks
who took genuine pride in our success,
and who expressed genuine compassion when we did not succeed.
On this day that honours Mothers
let us honour all mothers
men and women alike
who from somewhere in their being
have freely and wholeheartedly given life, and sustenance, and vision to us.
Dear God, Mother-Father of us all,
grant us life-giving ways
strength for birthing,
and a nurturing spirit
that we may take attentive care of our world,
our communities, and those precious beings
entrusted to us by biology, or by destiny, or by friendship, fellowship or fate.
Give us the heart of a mother today.

Amen

Thursday, 5 March 2015

Imperfecting Perfection

A friend recently messaged with something that he thought I would like. It was the advertising tag line for the on-line dating website “Match.com”. It read “If you don’t like your imperfections, someone else will”. He was right I did like it and had noticed it popping up on adverts everywhere, a very clever bit of advertising I thought. It also tapped into that sadness that I see in us at times, our worries and concerns over our seeming imperfections.

On-line dating does not have a very good reputation. I have lost count of the number of tales of woe I have heard from friends who have tried to meet someone through such avenues. That said I know of some really lovely success stories too. My sister “Our Mand” met her husband through this avenue, he is a great guy. Last Saturday I conducted the wedding a dear friend who met the woman he was marrying through the same avenue. They met through one of the less reputable sites too. It worked for them though, after many previous seeming disasters.

Looking for love or the person that fits you and you fit them is no easy thing in the modern age, maybe the problem is that so many of us are looking for the seemingly perfect person, who fits the right profile, who ticks all the boxes. Maybe such a person doesn’t exist, I am fairly certain that they don’t. Even if they did exist, maybe they are looking for mister or miss perfect too.

Brings to mind one of my favourite stories from the vault of Mulla Nasruddin

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.”

I am more like Nasruddin than I would like to be at times.

Perfectionism increasingly plagues our age. This need to get everything right. This need to escape criticism. We put too much pressure on ourselves and on one another. We see it in schools, in the work place, in public services. We have this growing expectation that celebrities and sport stars have to be whiter than white and not fallible humans like the rest of us. People also seem increasingly obsessed with body image and the like, this cannot be good for us. Increasingly we live in an age where all we do is pick at the seeming imperfections in our human make up. I wouldn’t mind but who exactly are we trying to live up to and whose approval are we seeking?

I fall for it myself from time to time and I know it doesn’t do me any good. I am a perfectionist in some areas of my life, but not in others. In the areas where I am I can put far too much pressure on myself and it is not healthy. It is not just about doing a good job either, which is a positive thing, it is about appearing perfect, doing things perfectly and therefore seemingly transcending criticism.

I know this is crazy and un-achievable, but I still put myself through it when locked away researching or writing. Thankfully when I’m out amongst the beautiful people I serve the clown in me takes over somewhat and I am set free from the chains of perfectionism.

"Perfection" is a subject I explored when I candidated for the two congregations I serve, although it was done in a very different way back then. I lead the same service at both congregations. Now things went fairly well at Altrincham,the first service, except when it came to the collection and I froze as I did not know what to do. Thankfully the lovely couple who had received it gently pointed me in the right direction.

Things though went a little bit wrong a couple of weeks later as I lead the service at Urmston. I got a little too engrossed in what I was doing and carried away with it and completely forgot one of the hymns. I only realised what I had done when we got to the third hymn. So I gave them an option, made a joke about it and we sang them together. I was then able to keep on referencing this throughout the sermon which was on "perfection" and that I was far from it myself. Strangely enough we’ve had problems with hymns from time to time their ever since. although thankfully they have accepted me as their Holy Fool.

I was taught many lessons that day…One of them being that people aren’t looking for a perfect worship leader, well they certainly haven’t got one in me…A real one yes, and one who isn’t afraid to appear as a Holy Fool.

I have been reflecting a lot on the "Sermon on the Mount", found in the fifth chapter of Matthew's Gospel in recent weeks. I have made several references to aspects of it in recent "blogspots". These last few days I've been reflecting, once again on verses 43-48 often referred to as "Love for Enemies". Here are the verses below:

43 "‘You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.” 44But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. 46For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax-collectors do the same? 47And if you greet only your brothers and sisters,* what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect."

These words come at the end of "The Sermon on the Mount". Verse 48 reads “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” As I understand it Jesus is speaking of perfect love specifically here, love without prejudice love for all, whoever they are and wherever they have been. I believe that this is the love that the communities I serve are built upon. It is certainly the foundation upon which my ministerial mantra is built “Come as you are, exactly as you are…but do not expect to leave in exactly the same condition.” I believe this is echoing Jesus’s belief in humanity that we are the "light of the world", that I explored in a previous blog You are the light of the world He is highlighting what we are capable of being when we remember who we are and the perfect love from which we are formed. What really gets me here though is the realisation that we don’t need to be perfect in all areas of our lives in order to offer perfect love. In fact if perhaps we thought we were we would not be able to offer perfect love to those who need it the most, for we would perhaps possess a false sense of superiority.

Now for a long time I wrongly believed that there was something fundamentally wrong with me and all humanity for that matter. I believed we were broken or “fallen” people who occasionally do something decent. I believed this when I had no religious belief by the way. Actually when I lost faith in the humanism I once had and descended into total nihilism this became even more deeply ingrained. I no longer see things this way I do believe in “Original Goodness”, or “Original Blessing”. I believe that our problem is that we forget we fall short of what we can be at our best. Sadly some people seem cut off almost completely from this, but I always live with hope. We are not perfect it would seem.

Now perfect, perfection and imperfection are very interesting words to me. I do believe our desire to transcend these states has a lot to do with this fundamental belief that at the core of us there is something wrong. This seems to have intensified in our increasingly secular time as we increasingly worship the God of self or even worse the God of public opinion, perhaps the most jealous of any man made God and certainly one that is impossible to please. That critical voice never stops, whether it is imagined or real.

The problem is that we equate imperfection with there being something wrong with us at our core, when actually what it really means is that we are incomplete. That we are looking for wholeness, with ourselves, our world and God.

The thing about life is that nothing is ever wholly complete, but that does not mean it isn’t any good. Life is constantly, changing, moving and bending into new shapes, it wouldn’t be life if it wasn’t.

When we hear the word perfect today we tend to think of something without blemish, being absolutely 100% pure. Yet the word for perfect in those verses above from Matthew was originally “teleo” which really meant fulfilment, or wholeness or completion. It does not mean what we understand as moral perfection today. Some version of the passage have translated it as goodness.

Now of course none of us are wholly complete. Well this is where love comes in, where God comes in. By returning to God I have learnt that I can better offer perfect love to those who need it. I believe that we can all be like the father in the Prodigal Son parable and offer perfect love. This is an example of perfect love, open to everyone.

I believe, stronger than ever that it is our imperfection, our incompleteness that makes us better able to both give and receive love as it opens us up to the love present in life itself. So maybe those folk at “Match.com” have it right when they say “If you don’t like your imperfections, someone else will”.

The truth is of course we don’t need something or someone to complete us; the truth is that there is nothing really wrong with us at all. We are human beings we all have our gifts and talents and things we don’t do so well and that’s beautiful. We are after all the the light of the world, we just need to remember this. We have to let all that love light shine for our world needs it.

I realised a while back that in order to imperfect our perfection all that is required of us is that we learn to just be at ease with who we who are, just to delight in our very being and to allow others to do the same. I learnt this from observing two very important people in my life. One was from my nephew Johnny who just happily and confidently delighted in who he was. No fear, no self-consciousness he has not yet learn about all that, sadly no doubt he will soon. The other was my granddad who over the years just accepted me as I was, without ever once criticising that I can recall. My sister has said something similar, he loved us without condition. I think that is perfect love. I see it also in people who are just at ease with themselves. The kind who don’t need to prove anything to anyone else, who just get on with the work and life they are given. These are the people who teach me how to imperfect my own perfection.

Who are the teaches in your lives? Maybe that’s something you could think about. Who shows or has shown you that it is ok to be you and have helped you show that perfect love to others.

Remember perfect love is about accepting those we meet exactly as they are and perhaps that begins by first of all accepting ourselves as we are, exactly as we are, warts and all and beauty spots too.

I'm going to end this little chip of a blogspot with the following "Passing Through" by Robert Walsh. I suggest that they are read in a prayerful state...You may notice something familiar in the pattern of these worlds…

“Passing Through” by Robert Walsh

O Spirit that creates us, sustains us, transforms us, and judges us, may your many names be hallowed.
May there come a world that sings with your justice and mercy, your beauty and truth, and may we be your faithful partners in creation to bring that world about.
Accept us in our brokenness, even as we would accept our mortal sisters and brothers, parents and children, spouses and partners, neighbours, and enemies.
Tempt us with life. Try us with growth and change and loss. But help us at last to find the path, through temptations and trials, to wholeness.
For we are but passing through this world. Yours is the creation, and the power, and the glory.

Amen