Sunday, 9 July 2017

The Aliveness of Things

Last Friday I had the joy of conducting the wedding of two young women who have been attending worship with us for a while. It was a truly beautiful occasion, full of joy and full of love. At the end of the service many of those present thanked me for the service and told me how much they loved it. Some of the comments will live with me for a long time. One in particular I believe will keep me going for quite some time. I had a long and continuing conversation with one of the guests, but it was the first thing that he said that struck powerfully. He said something like “I gave up on religion 50 years ago, but something happened today. This service has awoken something in me. Thank you.” He thanked me, when in reality the thanks are all mine. It is for moments like this that I do this work. It’s why I’m here I believe. It’s why we are all here, to discover the truth that life is more than mere material processes.  We are called, I believe, to help awaken one another to the aliveness of being, to raise one another’s consciousness.

I love the aliveness of things. I feel that the last few years of my life has been all about awakening to this aliveness of things. This kind of universal consciousness at the core of all life, what the western religions might call God. I witness it in all life, I see it in human creativity too, particularly art. I love the aliveness in words, in art, in music or whatever is creative. We experience the works in the moment, whether individually or collectively and yet, especially the great works, are somehow timeless. They possess a consciousness of their own, as their aliveness is not only in the moment they were written or recorded or created, but continuing on and on into eternity. If life has revealed anything to me it has awoken me to the fact that things are much more than merely the sum of their parts, they have a power beyond the mere limits of the material they are formed from and that they grow in power and meaning beyond the limits of the creators imaginations. That aliveness of course was there before the creation grew in the creators imagination; it is vital to remember, of course. all that has occurred before those moments of creation; all the incredible aliveness that allowed them to be created. I love the aliveness of things; I love the aliveness of my mere thoughts and feelings, knowing that they come from something far more than the mere chemical reactions in my brain or even my singular consciousness; I love the aliveness of things they are so much more than the sum of their parts.

It’s not just in great works of human creation that I witness this same aliveness, I see it in the ordinary in the loving interaction, in the small gesture of loving kindness and I see it manifest in the natural world. I see powerfully a simple loving universal consciousness at work in life, it enlivens and empowers me. It gives my life meaning and makes my life worth living, hey even dying, for.

Now there are many who would dispute this truth, I would have done at one time or another and who knows I may do so again in the future. Many suggest that there is no such thing as consciousness, that it is merely a creation of the brain, a stage of the evolutionary process. What do you think? What do you think about consciousness? Is it merely a creation of the functions of the brain?

In philosophical circles consciousness is considered the “Hard Problem” as it seems impossible to solve adequately. The great minds don’t seem to have come up with a satisfactory answer to what exactly it is and or why it exists. In fact many of the great minds seem to fall out about it all the time. I’m sure that many would scoff at my unscientific conclusion about life and yet it doesn’t sound as crazy as some of the great theories of the so called great minds, who have equated we humans with “lumbering robots” and or asked why we are not just zombies or to quote that wonderful short story of science fiction, simply thinking meat. We are more than merely this though, surely we are. Reductionist world views seem to miss what is so clearly in front of its eyes.

The truth is of course that maybe, just maybe we won’t ever come up with a satisfactory answer, to what we call “consciousness”. Maybe one day we will not know the answer to everything. It is possible, I suppose, that one day we will, and it shouldn’t stop us striving for the answers. Our human consciousness after is the very thing that drives us, compels us to do so. Let’s just never forget to do what Mary Oliver suggested, let’s remember to pay attention to beauty of the daisy and all life for that matter. For I believe that same consciousness is at the heart of it all, connecting it all, bringing the aliveness to life.

Now please excuse me if this next bit is hard to follow but I am going to briefly attempt to summarise three schools of thought about consciousness that have emerged in the modern era. The three being “dualism”, “physicalism” and “pansychism”.

“ Cartesian Dualism” dates back to seventeenth century when Rene Descartes identified the problem that has tied the great minds in knots ever since. He realised, that on the one hand, that there was nothing more undeniably obvious than the fact that we are conscious beings, everything else could be an illusion but not this, as he said “I think therefore I am”. That said he suggested that this consciousness seemingly does not obey the usual rules of science of the physical realm, as it can only be observed from within and can’t really be described except from the one who is conscious of it. From this he concluded that the mind therefore must be made from some special kind of none material stuff that are not ruled by the laws of nature and thus bequeathed by God upon humanity, thus raising us above nature in some special way.

“Dualism” began to be questioned particularly by the secular scientific community that took “physicalism” – the idea that only physical things exist – as its primary principle. The problem was though that although it rejected dualism, for many years, it could not come up a convincing alternative to it. Such views concluded that the mind and consciousness are a result of processes of the brain, but no concrete answers beyond that could be unearthed. As a result the topic became virtually taboo and was referred to as “The Hard Question”. This led in 1989 to Stuart Sutherland writing in the “International Dictionary of Psychology” that with regard to consciousness “it is impossible to specify what it is, what it does, or why it evolved. Nothing worth reading has been written on it.”

There have been developments since, most notably by Francis Crick and others who have suggested that certain neurons firing at particular frequencies are the cause of inner awareness. And there seems little doubt that there is a physical aspect to it, as awareness of who or what we are is affected by the workings of the brain. Brain injury and degenerative disease such as forms of dementia seem to prove this and certainly impact on our perception of consciousness. That said just merely putting consciousness of ourselves and life itself down to impulses within the brain seems wholly inadequate an answer to me. I’m with Sutherland on this one. There is also the problem of free will and the potential to change. It seems that “physicalism” on the whole denies this possibility, claiming we are merely subject to our biological impulses.

In more recent times another theory has developed, which is linked to some more ancient knowledge. The theory has become known as “panpsychism”, which suggest that everything in the universe might be conscious, or at least potentially conscious, or conscious when put into certain configurations. It suggest that consciousness is not merely limited to humans thus rejecting dualism and humanities privileged position.

“Pansychism” does not require a belief in some special mind substance that resides in the brain, nor does it require the suspension in the belief of the laws of physics. Meanwhile nor does it require us deny the reality of our own experiences and the strange acceptance that consciousness doesn’t exist, when it’s so obvious that it does. On the contrary, “panpsychism” suggests that consciousness is everywhere, life it is throbbing with it. It suggests in fact that consciousness is the energy of life.

“Pansychism suggest that there is a connectiveness to everything and that everything affects everything else. It also suggests that consciousness does not actually require a brain at all, that it exists beyond the brain. I would suggest from this that actually the function of the brain is not to create consciousness but to make sense of it and interpret and perhaps communicate this consciousness. Isn’t this what we are doing when we are sharing our own personal experiences of life? Isn’t this what words are for? Isn’t this what creative expression is for? And when we do so do we not somehow increase the experience for ourselves and others and bring about change?

Now you may well ask what is this guy on? And what has this got to do with his work? What’s this got to do with what happened at the wedding? What has it got to with the power of great works of art and loving action etc? Well I believe everything. As I often say I believe everything matters, every thought, every word, every deed, every interaction is interconnected and impacts on everything else. It seems to me that consciousness is everywhere and that life is throbbing with it. The purpose of religion and spirituality is to awaken us to this. If we do we may just begin to live by the “Golden Rule of Compassion” and do unto others as we would have them do to us. How could we not as we are all connected by the same consciousness, we have the same blood flowing through us and we have the same spirit animating us. We are all a part of the aliveness of life. So as we awaken to this consciousness we begin to act on it and incarnate this aliveness in our lives.

Sunday, 2 July 2017

Inspire Wholeheartedness

Last Saturday I was invited, as a guest of honour, to present an award at the “Slimming World Oscars” at the Birmingham International Conference Centre (ICC). It was a lavish occasion celebrating the work of Slimming World consultants and other employees. It was a wonderful night celebrating love, community and transformation. Slimming World inspires, empowers and encourages people to live happy and healthy lives, at its core is community and love. They truly encourage, because they bring the heart alive. They bring to life heart and spirit because they inspire and encourage. So it was wonderful to celebrate those who work so hard to make the communities possible. I had a ball.

It was a day of contrast though, because I also bore witness to another group of people, who were also gathered in the centre of Birmingham, they though were not encouraging and inspiring love, quite the opposite, they were only inspiring hate. I had arrived early and as a result decided to walk down to the nearby library, as it is such a beautiful and fascinating building. As I arrived I heard what sounded like a football crowed. Then I saw them. It was obviously a far right group waving their flags and shouting their hatred. There must have been about 150 of them from all around the country and I heard later from other parts of Europe. I observed their drunken aggression, intoxicated by alcohol and hatred of life. I asked the police officers present and some of the photographers and others present who they were. They were “Britain’s First”. I watched, I bore witness in silence, as they sang their songs of intimidation and I observed their faces. I remember feeling sickened by the sight of young children, even babies in prams among the crowd. I wondered what would happen to those children being brought up in such a way. I thought about much of the hatred and the violence we have witnessed these last 12 months from haters of life and fanatics and I thought about the children who they indoctrinate and inspire or maybe it’s more accurate to say dispirit and discourage, destroy loving spirit and heart. I thought about the people blown up in Manchester attending a concert, the people in London just enjoying a night out, the people breaking fast as a part of Ramadan outside Finsbury Park mosque. I thought about Jo Cox murdered by a fanatic who cried out “Britains First” when he murdered her. That weekend she and her message of unity and love was being celebrated throughout the country, her children had unveiled a plaque in Parliament with her simple message “There is more that unites us than divides us”. A message of love and community which I know will overpower those who hate life. I remembered that despite the real suffering and pain spread by those who have been overcome by hate throughout our world. I also remembered that there are far more encourages of love and inspirers of spirit in this world, it’s just that they tend to be quieter and not aggressive. I thought about this as I enjoyed the wonderful joy filled evening in Birmingham and as I observed the people enjoying music at Glastonbury and those remembering Jo Cox up and down the land. I also observed this carefully in the ordinary interactions with people and the loving conversations I have had this week. They have lifted my spirit and filled my heart. I found it deeply encouraging and inspiring. I will not become discouraged and or dispirited by those who have lost the love for life.

How do we encourage one another how do we inspire one another in these challenging times? How do we fill our children’s hearts with love and their spirits with faith in love and life? Well I believe it begins by allowing them to witness what it is that makes us come alive. Howard Thurman said  “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive and do it. For what the world needs is people who have come alive.”
That is so true. This is what the world needs more than anything, people who come alive, this is how we inspire and thus encourage, by our simple example. This is what I love about the conversations that I have with people. Yes they often tell me about their pain, but also their joy. I am constantly amazed by the conversations I have with people. Even complete strangers tell me amazing things. I don’t ask them to, they just seem to open up to me and tell me beautiful love filled things about their passions and joys, it happened all last weekend. It blew my heart open and I felt that spirit in me coming alive. I see and witness so many people in my life who dedicate themselves to helping others to find what is already within them, I find it beautifully inspiring.

It brought to mind a rather beautiful mantra I once heard. It goes by the title “It’s time somebody told you”:

“It’s time somebody told you that you are lovely, good and real; that your beauty can make hearts stand still. It’s time somebody told you how much they love and need you, how much your spirit helped set them free, how your eyes shine full of light. It’s time somebody told you.”

I remember singing a version of these words in a “Singing Meditation”. I wonder how many of us really believe such words, how we can resist these feelings. Certainly the haters and destroyers of life do not. The truth is that we all need this kind of love and encouragement. I know I do from time to time. I remember a while ago, after attending an old friends 40th birthday party, another old mutual friend saying to me, after we had had another one of those fascinating conversations I love to experience, I remember them saying “Keep up the good work”. I had a similar conversation at the Slimming World Oscars. I got talking to man, he did most of the talking, I found out he was a recently retired senior police officer and he talked about how he gets lit up by the passion in others, he said he wasn’t religious himself but felt it was vital the work that religious communities do and as I left he too said “Keep up the good work” This kind of encouragement is important, it fills mt heart and it enlivened my spirit.

I strongly believe that the purpose of free religious communities is to encourage and inspire one another and the world in which we live. To encourage and inspire is to fill one another’s hearts and enliven one another’s spirits and bring that alive in those we meet and to somehow bring healing to a world in which there are those who want to tear it apart. It is the task pf free religious communities to be a part of the healing and the not the destruction of the world.
These last few days I have spent some time thinking of those who have filled my heart and enlivened my spirit.
Who are the people who have inspired you? Who planted the seeds of love or who nurtured those seeds and enabled them to grow and flower? Who have been your inspirations in your lives? Who are the people who have encouraged you to come alive?
The truth is that we all inspire or dispirit one another, we all encourage or discourage one another. No one lives a neutral life.
But what does it mean to be an inspiration? You may well ask. Well the word inspiration is an interesting one, as so many are. We have, as is our way,  reduced its meaning in power. It’s another one of those words that we have attempted to tame. Why do we always reduce the meaning of things in our attempt to gain control of them? Why don't we attempt to raise ourselves up to them instead. 

Today inspiration means someone or something that gives you an idea for doing something, but originally it meant “immediate influence of God or a god”. It comes from the old French word “inspiriacion” meaning “inhaling in or breathing in from the Latin “inspirare” meaning to blow into or breath upon so as to excite or inflame. This is the meaning in the following verse from Genesis Chapter 2 “And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living soul.” It really meant to infuse or animate to affect to rouse to guide to put life into the human soul. It meant something much more profoundly powerful in the past that it does today.
That said I believe that we can and do inspire in this way and in so doing we can bring the kingdom to life in our own hearts and lives. We can ignite that divine spark.
I believe that this is what Albert Schweitzer meant when he said:
“Sometimes our light goes out but is blown again into flame by an encounter with another human being. Each of us owes the deepest thanks to those who have rekindled this inner light.”
Those who rekindle the light are the inspirers amongst us.
I strongly believe that it is our task, our religious imperative, to enliven the spirit within us, to truly come alive, our world needs it. And as we do to breath out that loving spirit and encourage love within one another.
It is our religious task to both breath in and breath out inspiration, to bring to life that seed of love at the core of our being. To shine as we are meant to shine and to not be afraid to be all that you are meant to be. For as Thurman said, “what the world needs is people who have come alive.”

And how do we do this? Well by simply living the life we love, by simply doing so we inspire those we meet to do the same and all life benefits and in so doing we might just bring the kingdom alive, right here right now. Actually there is no might about it we do bring the kin-dom of love alive within us and in so doing we shine a little bit of light on all those we share our lives with. In so doing we inspire and we encourage others to bring love and life alive.

Sunday, 25 June 2017

Love Service and Radical Amazement: Walking your Path with Joy

“Faith” by Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel

"Faith is not the clinging to a shrine but an endless pilgrimage of the heart. Our goal should be to live life in radical amazement, to get up in the morning and look at the world in a way that takes nothing for granted.

Everything is phenomenal; everything is incredible; never treat life casually. To be spiritual is to be amazed.

Prayer begins at the edge of emptiness. Wonder rather than doubt is the root of all knowledge. Just to be is a blessing. Just to live is holy. We can never sneer at the stars, mock the dawn, or scoff at the totality of being.

Self-respect is the root of discipline: The sense of dignity grows with the ability to say no to oneself. The primary purpose of prayer is not to make requests. The primary purpose is to praise, to sing, to chant. Because the essence of prayer is a song, and man cannot live without a song.

When I was young, I admired clever people. Now that I am old, I admire kind people. Know that every deed counts, that every word is power… Above all, remember that you must build your life as if it were a work of art."

~Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel
(January 11, 1907 – December 23, 1972)

“Help us fulfil what lies within the circle of our lives – each day we ask no more, no less. Untangle the knots within, so we can mend our hearts’ simple ties to others…Free us to walk your path with joy!” by Neil Douglas-Klotz – “Prayers of the Cosmos”

Towards the end of August I have the honour of serving as “Minister of the Week” at “Hucklow Summer School”. The theme for this year is “‘Walk Your Path with Joy’- Finding Hope & Resisting Despair in Turbulent Times”. I will be serving those present and helping them spiritually, mentally and emotionally through what will be a deeply challenging week. It is not a holiday, I am there to serve, to minister to all present.

I am often amused by people’s responses to what I do as a vocation. I’m even more amused by what they call me. A couple whose wedding I recently conducted called me Father and others assume I am a vicar. I have heard of someone else calling me Pastor Dan. I’m sure I’m called many other things too, which I won’t repeat. Now while my title is reverend I am a minister and this is an entirely appropriate name for what I do. To minister literally means to serve and I believe this is what I do, I serve people, I serve life and I serve God. I am a minister and to minister is to serve. I often wonder when I listen to political leaders if they are truly aware of this, they are there purely to serve “we the people” and not the other way round. The Prime Minister ought to see themself as the number one servant in the land. Sadly power can go to anyone’s head.

Now some say I am an unorthodox minister. I remember a congregant once saying that “I was like no minister she had ever met before.” I remember Rev Bill Darlison’s response to this comment. He quipped “Danny you are unlike any minister that anyone has ever met before.”

So it appears true that I am an unorthodox minister and yet to me I simply do my best to fulfil my role, to simply serve life live through love. To show others the way of love and service and hope in the midst of suffering. I cannot take away anybody’s suffering, but I can walk with them and by doing so meaning emerges and despair is dispelled.

To quote Micah (Ch8 v 6)

“He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”

Will you come and walk with me?

So how do we find hope and resist despair in the turbulent times. This is most definitely a pertinent question for everyone right now, we seem to be in midst of incredibly turbulent times. As a nation we are facing the most challenging period in my memory. There are many forces at work that seem to want to divide us. Our political class are at war and economic troubles on the increase, there is violence on the streets from haters of life and extremists of many kinds. Every day the news is filled with chaos and loss of life. Now I am not naive, this is not new. This has been happening all over the world throughout my lifetime, it’s just I’ve never seen it to this extent in this country. It is making us look at life wholly, as of course we should always do so. It is opening our senses to everything and this is painful. It should be painful. If it didn’t hurt then there would be something deeply wrong with us. Hell is indifference.

It is easy to feel powerless against this tide of suffering. How do we keep our heads up and our eyes and hearts open to one another and life, how do we find Hope in the midst of all of this? How do we transcend despair?

Well I believe it begins with what I have already witnessed. It begins in and through service. Rabindranath Tagore said “I slept and dreamt that life was joy. I awoke and saw that life was service. I acted and behold, service was joy.” It begins by baring witness to the love and service and the coming together I have witnessed on the same tv screens and also very close at hand as I have seen ordinary people helping, holding and inspiring one another. People walking together in their suffering, in love. I see it in the little things as well as the bigger things. It doesn’t take away the suffering but it brings to life the love present in each of us, a power that will always overcome the powers that divide us. To quote Jo Cox “There is more that unites us than divides us.” or in the words of Harry Stack Sullivan “ We are all much more simply human than otherwise, be we happy and successful, contented and detached, miserable and mentally disordered, or whatever.” We all live with the same struggles, we are all born from the same earth, live under the same sun and I believe have the same spirit running through us all.

As we serve others meaning emerges and we discover our own true hearts. It does not end the suffering but it creates Hope and meaning from the suffering and in so doing we build a legacy of the heart for those who follow. As we serve others we develop our own hearts and souls, in serving others we are working on ourselves, on our own souls; every act, every word, every gesture of genuine compassion naturally nourishes our own hearts and minds and souls. Service is soul work, it is the heart in action and it brings us fully to life. In so doing we transcend the very real suffering that is an aspect of all life; in so doing we transcend despair.

Through faith in life itself, by giving ourselves fully to life, we know joy. Joy is an attribute of a full, rich and deeply meaningful life. It is radically different to fun, pleasure and happiness, these are merely emotional qualities. Joy is a spiritual quality that is present within us, despite life’s circumstances. Joy is about connection, intimate connection. When I know joy I am at one with life and with myself. Through love and service we can begin to once again awaken to the amazement of life and know joy.

Joy for life itself can be known even during life’s troubles and difficulties. The people Jesus spoke to 2,000 years ago were not living easy and comfortable lives. Those people knew about conflict, oppression, tragedy and almost constant grief. He told them that all that was wonderful, life-giving, life affirming, all that is meaningful was theirs. He said to them “Enter into my kingdom with joy.” And “This is my commandment, that you love one another.”

The kingdom he spoke of can be with us right here right now, we can know and experience the commonwealth of love right here, right now. And how can we know it? Well by fulfilling the commandment to love one another. Love though is not some mushy sentiment, it is an act, it is a way of being. The commonwealth of love comes into being by giving ourselves fully to life, to one another; through giving ourselves fully to life and to one another we truly realise the joy of living. In so doing we will be awakened to the true amazement of what it means to actually be alive.

Tagore said: “I slept and dreamt that life was joy. I awoke and saw that life was service. I acted and behold, service was joy.”

This is the purpose of the religious life to awaken joy through service to and for one another. Joy is about connection, intimate connection. When we give of ourselves to others and to life we know the joy that is truly living. That said when we live only for ourselves and live dis-connected from life, we quickly become joyless once again, we lose faith in God given life, our experience of life becomes dulled and meaningless.

Some people say “everything happens for a reason”, in so doing suggesting it is all part of God’s plan. I have never believed this and believe it simply opens the great theodicy question “How can an all-powerful and all loving God allow suffering? A question that comes into my consciousness constantly as a minister of religion.

My truth is that I do not believe that everything in life is pre-ordained or pre-determined, the future is unwritten. I do believe in the Lure of Divine Love, that all life is given free will and it is our task to bring love alive in life and to encourage others to do the same through our example, in this sense we are not powerless against the tide of despair. It is our responsibility to become beacons of hope to others in their suffering, to become the light of the world. Hope rises from the ashes of suffering and meaning emerges through our living and breathing. This is why everything matters, every thought, every breath, every feeling, every action, and every word. This is also one way in which joy can be found in life, through love and service for others, despite the very real turbulence all around us. I believe in life I am constantly in awe and amazement at it, despite the very real suffering present. I live with my eyes, with all my senses including the sixth sense fully open. It is the only way I know how to live fully alive.

Some may ask how and why can I believe this? My simple answer to this is “This is what my 45 years of living breathing and waking up has taught me.” I believe in life, it constantly amazes me.

Life amazes me, constantly. Despite all the darkness and destruction that is present, that can overwhelm it all, life and love always seems to find a way through. Like that little shoot that finds its way back to life every spring time, finding its way through all the obstacles in its way, insisting on reaching out beyond and finding life. That amazes me; I find that utterly amazing.

Abraham Joshua Heschel said that:

“Our goal should be to live life in radical amazement. ....get up in the morning and look at the world in a way that takes nothing for granted. Everything is phenomenal; everything is incredible; never treat life casually. To be spiritual is to be amazed.”

Through living in love and service I am awakened to the amazement of life. My senses are fully awake. But what is amazement you may well ask? What is radical amazement?

“Radical Amazement” captures those moments, those deeply human moments when we find ourselves intensely connected to the mystery and the majesty of existence. It is found not so much in the big moments, when we mark life’s achievements, it is more about what Heschell himself describes as “the common and the simple” those small things that reveal “the infinite significance” of existence. In many ways “radical amazement” is about paying attention and looking deeply at the routine moments of our lives and experiencing just how incredible they are. There are parallels to mindfulness here, but I think there is more to it than that, there is a sense of eye popping awe and wonder in looking through radically amazed eyes. It’s about seeing the miracle in existence. How many of us truly recognise and acknowledge just how amazing it is that we exist at all?

“Radical Amazement” is about looking into the familiar with what Rumi called “fresh eyes”, it’s about recognising that even the most routine moments are in actual fact outrageous. Just think about our existence here on this spinning planet rushing through a universe some 13 billion years old, or so they tell us. We are formed from stardust and yet made from flesh that are homes to entire eco-systems and billions of cells that are neatly balanced so as to allows us to exist, that are constantly altering and changing and adjusting to all that we experience. We who are made from stardust are more than merely stardust though, we are made up of complex thoughts, emotions and experiences and there is a spirit within each of us. We are more than merely our biology; we are more than merely thinking meat. It is amazing and marvellous to truly be who we are.

We need to look at all life with eyes wide open, through “fresh eyes”, something that can be hard to do when turbulence strikes, when we experience and witness suffering, but we must if we are to live in the full amazement of existence. When we see life through such eyes all this that we are made from reacts in positive and powerful ways, something we can feel with real intensity at times. I know that there are times when our whole make up responds to the whole of the make-up of the universe and that this occurs every time that we see the miracle in existence, in a new way. This blows me away. It is amazing that we exist at all; it’s amazing that everything came from the same nothing.

Bang…and here we are in a fabulous place…what are you gunna do here…in this sacred place, in this sacred time, in these are sacred bodies, in these our sacred lives…

“Radical Amazement” is about looking into life with truly open eyes, it is an ethical act and an intentional decision, it is the ultimate spiritual practise and as such it is one that involves great risk. This is because it opens us up to all that is, as it truly is. This requires courage, because to see the beauty also requires us to see the horror too. This may seem too awful for some, but it is the awe that accompanies vulnerability that is required to be awakened to radical amazement.

To see the world with awakened eyes, fresh eyes, open eyes is look into life in “Radical Amazement”. It is life as it truly is in its awe filled beauty. It is to truly let life in and to fill us to the brim.

It seems to me that “Radical Amazement” is how to live and breathe our human spirituality. At its essence spirituality is about being amazed it is about cultivating greater openness and deeper awareness of the beauty, blessing and mystery of life.

Suffering is an aspect of living, it cannot be escaped. Everybody suffers. Life itself though is not suffering, love and joy are also an aspect of life too. How do we experience love and joy? Well it’s quite simple really. It comes through living with all our senses wide open. It begins by simply opening our eyes and our arms. It begins in love and service. It begins by simply walking humbly with one another and humbly giving thanks that we even exist at all. This is what it means to live in and through Hope and it is this that will lift us from despair despite the very real suffering in life. It begins by simply looking into the eyes of our neighbour and recognising the amazing thing that is their existence and continues as we look at the world in which we live and by simply giving thanks for life, for it truly is amazing that life exists at all.

May love guides us in the weeks ahead, may it lead us to Hope and away from Despair in spite of the very real suffering present in life.

Sunday, 18 June 2017

Hubris & Feet of Clay: A Father's Day Reflection

A few months ago I visited my aunty Catherine for the day. I try to visit her regularly, but not as often as I would like. She and her son Edward are really the only surviving members of my dad’s side of the family, that part of my ancestry. We went for a walk around Morley near Leeds, where she lives, the town where I was born. They actually live in Bruntcliffe which is the hill between Batley where my mother was from and Morley where my dad’s butchers shop was. Towards the end of the walk we went to the cemetery to visit the family grave, where my granddad and grandma, her parents and my dad, her brother, are buried. I read the names and I observed the ages they were when they died. As I looked at my dad’s age something shocking dawned on me. My dad was only 47 years old when he died. I turned to my auntie Catherine in a state of shock and said to her “I can’t quite believe it, my dad was only two years older than am when he died, the same age that my brother is now. Her response was interesting she said something like “No way Danny, he seemed like an old man, not like you.” In many ways he was, he had lived his life and I suspect that he was tired, he had run out of life.

My father was a complex man, certainly not the most responsible. My relationship with him was not the best it could have been, although better than my siblings. He was a charismatic man and was certainly someone you would remember being in the company of, as was evidence by his funeral. That said he could be a selfish man and someone who I suspect never knew who he really was himself. He never found peace within himself and could be a completely different person with whoever he met. One thing I do know is that he loved me. That said one thing I have known in my life is that most people I have known have loved me, even those who have hurt me deeply. My step father, my mother’s second husband, was another complex man and an abusive one too, I lived in utter terror of him as I grew up. Even so despite all this he did love me and all his children in his own way. Again though he was and is a deeply selfish man. He has fathered many children and I will hold all of them in my heart today, as they think of their father. Father's day can be a difficult one for so many people, it will bring up a mixture of emotions and ones that at not always recognised. This needs to be acknowledged and not ignored.

I have known many other role models throughout my life. I think as a younger man I constantly sought them out. All of them have been flawed individuals and yet I have known a certain amount of care from them too. Of all of them, perhaps the one I have always felt a deep love and affection for and from was my granddad who died a couple of years ago. I had a deep love for my other granddad too, it’s just that I didn’t see him after the age of 11 except just before he died. I never saw the flaws in my mum’s dad though, although I know he had many. I don’t ever recall him showing anything but deep love towards me. I will never forget visiting him just a few days before he died, in the hospice, and my heart breaking as I saw him lying there. I also remember pulling myself together as he awoke as I didn’t want him to see me upset. Not because I thought this was a sign of weakness, but because I knew how much it would hurt him to see me hurting. The last thing in the world I ever want to do was hurt him and I believe he me.

Growing up I know I didn’t have the best paternal role models. I know this ever more clearly these days as I have spent time with other families in my role as a minister. I am at peace with this today. I blame no one for any troubles in my life and have truly reconciled myself with my past. I take full responsibility today. That said I recognise that many people struggle with their relationships with the paternal figures in their life.

The problem comes I believe from our expectations of people. We often seen our paternal figures as either God like or monsters, not human beings, as flawed as any of us. The truth is we all have “feet of clay” none of us is perfect. Last Sunday I was extolling the virtues of Gandhi. Gandhi was often considered “The Father of India” and yet much has been written about the flawed aspects of his make-up particularly as the father of his own children. Like every one of us, he had “feet of clay.”

The phrase “Feet of clay” comes from the second chapter of the “Book of Daniel” in the "Jewish Scriptures" the “Old Testament.” The book described the people of Israel being exiled to Babylon for worshipping false Gods. The king of Babylon is troubled by a recurrent dream that none of his wise men can interpret. Now just before the king executes the wise men for their failure, one of the exiles from Judah, Daniel, offers to interpret the king’s dream. He begins by describing the king's dream:

“31 ‘You were looking, O king, and lo! there was a great statue. This statue was huge, its brilliance extraordinary; it was standing before you, and its appearance was frightening. 32 The head of that statue was of fine gold, its chest and arms of silver, its middle and thighs of bronze, 33 its legs of iron, its feet partly of iron and partly of clay. 34 As you looked on, a stone was cut out, not by human hands, and it struck the statue on its feet of iron and clay and broke them in pieces. 35 Then the iron, the clay, the bronze, the silver, and the gold, were all broken in pieces and became like the chaff of the summer threshing-floors; and the wind carried them away, so that not a trace of them could be found. But the stone that struck the statue became a great mountain and filled the whole earth.”

Daniel then continues and interprets the dream. He explains that the rock that struck the statue represented the one true God and that although the king was represented by the gold head of the statue, if he didn’t base his life and his kingdom on the one true God, it would inevitably be shattered and swept away. It is here that the phrase “feet of clay” comes from.

Today we use the phrase in situations where someone or something appears be invincible but, in fact, is actually based on fragile feet of clay. Something that all who believe that they are powerful need to take note of. It is vital to remember that we are all finite, no one is perfect and we are all fallible. We all have “feet of clay.” It is a warning against “Hubris” that so many of the powerful can become consumed by.

Our expectations of others can be too high at times. By the way I’m not just speaking of our father’s or mother’s we can have it of siblings and other family members, of friends and lovers. We can also have the same expectation of public figures, especially the leaders and politicians of the world. The truth is they most certainly have feet of clay and we should never put them on pedestals. This by the way is not excusing anything, we should most certainly hold them accountable. We should treat them as we would anybody else.

Ever since a week last Thursday’s surprise General Election result I have heard my favourite word used repeatedly. The word is “Hubris”. Our Prime Minister Teresa May has been accused of it in calling an early election in the expectation of a result that would strengthen her position. This backfired badly and has left her with less power. It truly is an example of “Hubris”.

The criticism has continued since, following Mrs May's response to the loss of several dozen lives in the horrific fire at Grenfell Tower. One of several horrific events that have happened in recent weeks in Britain, that has the whole nation in a state of numbing shock and despair and looking for leadership that is lacking from our Prime Minister.

Hubris is the Ancient Greek word for over stretching ourselves; it translates as arrogance or overwhelming pride. The ancient Greeks saw Hubris as the very root of tragedy. Their tragic dramas, played out at their religious festivals centred on human beings, often rulers who forgot their human limitations. In these tragedies the audiences were reminded of the dangers of acting like immortals or Gods. They taught the value of knowing themselves, who they really are and to know what it is to be truly human.

Perhaps those that rule our world, our leaders, the financiers and even the celebrities who many of us lookup to in awe in the same way that the ancient Greeks looked at their God’s should take heed of these stories. The Empires do eventually fall, no matter how powerful they believe they are.

Hubris is an insidious beast. We often fail to see it in ourselves. Because Hubris is so well hidden in ourselves it can have a nasty habit of sneaking up on us. Why you may well ask? Well because it is neatly packaged as the virtue of truthfulness and righteousness.

Fortunately there exists a healthy antidote to hubris, humility!

Humility may well be humanities greatest virtue. It is essentially about accepting our human limitations and of course the limitations of others. By doing so we become teachable, we learn from others, which leads not only to us improving our own lives but the world that we inhabit but do not own; which in turn leads us to nurture and develop healthy relationships with other people. By recognising that we are not, nor do we speak for God we will open ourselves up to voice of transcendence as it speaks to us in life. In doing so we will be honouring life itself as sacred, which will hopefully lead to us taking care of what is our responsibility; our own lives mind, body and soul, our families, our homes, our friendships, our communities, our planet.

Hubris can be the most inhibiting and potential dangerous delusion a human being can suffer from. In the end it actually stops us living the best life we can. Humility on the other end helps us to see the truth about ourselves and others “Warts and all and beauty spots too”. From here we can honestly improve our own lives and those who we share this spinning planet with. It achieves more than that though. It draws us closer together not only to one another but to this amazing universe that we play a small but vital role in. The dangers stem from losing sight of this and believing that this universe and rest of humanity revolves around us and is there to do our bidding.

We all have “feet of clay”, even those we exalt and look up to; the ones we put on pedestals, including our parents, especially our fathers. We all have our flaws, we all walk the line between creation and destruction in our daily living. We all have cracks in us, to quote Leonard Cohen, “that’s how the light gets in.” Gandhi who I spoke of last week, considered “The Father of India” had a difficult relationship with his own children. It’s the same with every figure that we hold up as examples to us. They all have and had “feet of clay”.

The heroes of mythology were not perfect. The ancient Greek heroes all had flaws, even their Gods. It’s the same with the characters found in the Old Testament, the Hebrew Scriptures. Yet these very same figures are held up to us as models of faithfulness and bravery. The truth is that perfection has nothing to do with greatness, we are all more human than otherwise, we all have “feet of clay.”

These days I tend to take a more realistic view of both myself and the others in my life. This does not mean I have lost any of my idealism as I know that we can all do better. As I wrote in last weeks "blogspot" we can all aim higher than we ever imagined, in the assurance we will always fall short of the mark. For this reason we must aim higher than our imaginations can even begin to envision. In so doing we will become the best version of ourselves.

We must be careful of the dangers of hubris though, we need to always have our feet on the ground, our “feet of clay”. While always remembering that we all have “feet of clay”, particularly those we exalt, and those we hold up.

As I look back at the father figures in my life, even those I feel let down by I do so with loving and accepting eyes. I see clearly that they had “feet of clay”; I see clearly that they were as human as I am and I can certainly see the love that they had within them. A love that they had for me and others in their own cracked and broken ways. I also see clearly my own “feet of clay” and I intend to keep aiming high while also being wary of falling for the dangers of Hubris.

On this day that honours fathers let us do so honestly and compassionately. Let’s remember that we are all far more human than otherwise, that we all have “feet of clay”. Let us also remember the imperfect love that we have all experienced from the father figures in our lives and the imperfect love we have shown to those who have looked to us and who we have at times let down. Let us also aim higher, in the expectation that we will always fall short of the mark.

Let’s remember that we all have “feet of clay” and whatever love we give and receive will never be perfect but if we aim high and give as much as we possibly can it may well be more than we could ever imagine as possible.

Sunday, 11 June 2017

Gandhi's Seven Social Sins

There are many things that trouble us, all of us, in different ways. If I was to sit and spend all my life focusing on what I see as unhelpful, as wrong in life, no doubt I would never leave the house and even there I wouldn’t feel safe. In so doing I would be committing what I have heard described as the greatest sin of all, to fail to exist, to live and unlived life. I have wasted enough years doing that and I refuse to do so ever again.

Despite its very real troubles I have faith in life, a love for life. I believe in life. To quote William James. 'These, then, are my last words to you: Be not afraid of life. Believe that life is worth living and your belief will help create the fact.' " I have found this to be 100% true.

I was recently chatting with someone I love dearly, it was not an easy conversation, but it was essential. I have had this conversation with them before. The first time I found it almost unbearable it was too painful to hear. Thankfully I love them enough to listen to their pain. What was clear was that they had been ruled by fear all their life; for all their life they had been dominated by fear. Gosh how I wish I could relieve them of it, but alas I cannot. No one can.

Fear is a deeply powerful emotion, it can be crippling in its power, which is why so many of the dark forces of life employ it to control and dominate. In many ways this is perhaps the root of human sin if you like, this use and or instilling of fear to dominate others, it seems to be the root of so many of our human troubles.

No area of life is exempt from using fear in their attempts to get what they believe is right. It has been one of the great evils of religion of course. How often have people been subjugated by fear in so many ways. Modern advertising does it too, in their attempts to sell us a lifestyle that will take all our troubles away and you see it very clearly in politics, particularly around election time. I never saw this more clearly than during last year’s EU referendum and we have seen it again in recent weeks as we have approached last Thursday’s General Election. As each one passes I see the seeds of division being sown and it troubles me deeply, we also see scapegoating too on the increase. This bothers me greatly too and I know I am not immune from this either. I have blamed others for my troubles.

Now of course the temptation is to withdraw, to crawl under some kind of fear based spiritual rock and refuse to engage. This is fear of the highest order, it is selfish and a rejection of life. The spiritual life can only be lived in reality. Its purpose is to bring healing and not to sow seeds of division. We are all in this together regardless of our views about how life ought to be. The spiritual life has to be an ethical life.

If the spiritual life has to be ethical, then how do we live such a life without causing harm and sowing those seeds of division. Well I believe it begins by first of all recognising our one shared humanity. Recognising that we are all formed by the same substance and have the same spirit flowing through us, that not one of us is perfect we all fall short of our attempted ideals, we are all sinners in that sense, we are all driven at times by fear and we are all open to the transformative power of love, no one is beyond redemption. We are all more human than otherwise.

Throughout human history many have attempted to show us ways to live a more ethical life. In recent years Karen Armstrong wrote her “12 steps to a Compassionate Life”, it inspired my early ministry. I spoke of it constantly and I led groups exploring her ideas. It was her attempt to return compassion back to the centre of the social, economic, political and spiritual life. There have been others who have spoken of what has blocked us from living the ethical life. Towards the end of the sixth century Pope Gregory came up with “The Seven Deadly Sins”, which were based on Greek philosophy. The seven were Lust, Gluttony, Greed, Sloth, Wrath, Envy and Pride. Unlike the “Ten Commandments” they contained no “Thou Shalt Not’s”, instead they were designed to aid the individual to examine the state of their being.

Now the main problem with the list is that they were still an examination of our inner life and not an examination of how we live our lives.

During the 20th century Mohatma Gandhi published another list. It was named “The Seven Social Sins” and was published in his newspaper “Young India” on October 22nd 1925. The list is as follows:

Wealth without Work.
Pleasure without Conscience.
Knowledge without Character.
Commerce without Morality.
Science without Humanity.
Worship without Sacrifice.
Politics without Principles.

The list had sprung from a correspondence that Gandhi had with someone who he only identified as a “fair friend.” It is understood that the list comes from sermon first delivered at West Minster Abbey. He published the list without commentary. All Gandhi said was : “Naturally, the friend does not want the readers to know these things merely through the intellect but to know them through the heart so as to avoid them.”

Is that possible? Can these seven been known by the heart, so that we can avoid them in our daily living. The focus of the list is on our conduct in society. It is salvation by not only faith but also works, how we live our lives in our daily interactions. They seem firmly in keeping with his own spiritual ethics of non-violence and interdependence and each one is an example of selfishness overcoming the common good. As he himself said "A person cannot do right in one department whilst attempting to do wrong in another department. Life is one indivisible whole. " It is said that Gandhi believed that these social sins were a greater threat to society than the personal sins listed by Pope Gregory.

Many years later in 1947 Gandhi gave the very same list, this time under title “the seven blunders that human society commits, and that cause all the violence”, to his fifth grandson Arun. Sadly within three months Gandhi had been murdered by a Hindu extremist who obviously had fallen into the trap, that so many do. and made Gandhi the scapegoat for so many of the countries troubles. So often the great and the good are destroyed by the violence that is given birth to by fear, by seeing others as something other than human. Sadly things have not changed in the last seventy years.

What do you think of Gandhi’s list? I like them. I think they are a great model for the spiritual life, for living a life of ethical principle and dignity, by attempting to overcome them. In so doing we can begin to bring to life the loving compassion that Karen Armstrong is promoting, a love that is the essence of all the great traditions. We see this love expressed in the teachings of Jesus, it is worth noting that Gandhi, although a Hindu, read the Gospels every day, believed that the Sermon on the Mount was the model of the good life and saw Jesus as the embodiment of Satyagraha. That his life was an example of how to live the spiritual and ethical life. If we were to adopt the principles that would ensure that we avoid living by these sins or blunders then we would begin to create the society that at its core would be justice, equity and compassion. 

Is this possible can we live the spiritual and ethical life can we live in such a way as to avoid these seven sins or blunders as Gandhi named them? I wonder what do these seven statements bring to your heart, mind and soul? I wonder if you can think of examples, in today’s world, of any or even each of them? What about your own life, where do you fall short? How could you begin to live a more connected life?

We all fall short of the mark, every single one of us. None of us is perfect, perhaps it is this as much as anything that makes us more human than otherwise. It is important to understand that to sin originally meant to fall short of the mark, the word "sinare" was an archery term that literally meant this. By the way when I write of sin here I am not writing of original sin, I do not believe that anyone is born this way, it's just that none of us hit the mark every time. In what ways can we aim higher and therefore raise the targets we reach when we all fall short? By the way it’s worth remembering this when we look at the specks in the eyes of others and fail to see the log in our own.

I firmly believe that to live the ethical life requires us to grow spiritually to take care of our inner life, certainly this was Gandhi’s view too. This leads me to ask you who read this "blogsot" to do me a favour. I'd like you to think of ways that this can be achieved, how can we improve our inner lives so that we can be more effective in our own homes and communities and therefore live more ethically. How do we improve our inner lives so as to see where we fall short and therefore live more ethically?

It is easy to look at others and point out where they fall short of the mark, to scapegoat, to blame; it is perhaps less easy to look at ourselves and to see how we fail to live up to the ideals of justice, equity and compassion. The truth is we all fall short of the mark, we are all far more human than otherwise and that perhaps when we criticise others for their very human shortcomings what we are really doing is deflecting from where we ourselves fall short. The truth is we can do something about ourselves, if we take care of our own spiritual needs, where as we can’t change others. We can inspire them by the way we live, but we cannot change them

We can aim way above these “Seven Social Sins”

Wealth without work.
Pleasure without conscience.
Knowledge without character.
Commerce without morality.
Science without humanity.
Worship without sacrifice.
Politics without principles.

Saturday, 3 June 2017

Another Place: Don't Turn Away

Last Tuesday morning, like so many people, I woke to the horror and disbelief at what had occurred the night before on Monday 22nd May in Manchester. I could hardly believe my eyes as I bore witness to the brutal murder of 22 innocent people and many more injured. There was a part of me that wanted to come back to be the people of the city that has been my home for twenty years, there was also another part of me that wanted to turn away; there was a part of me that just couldn’t bear to look.

I find it hard at the best of times to watch the news. I prefer to read about the suffering in our world on-line or to listen on the radio, than to watch it with my eyes. I find watching the news too much at times, especially the way the rolling news is presented today. I spent the next few days with family and loved ones, which had been the plan as I took a week’s leave. I spent time at home in Yorkshire and I spent time by the sea. The sea is always a place of solace for me.

I noticed that Tuesday morning as I spent some time walking around the place I grew up, Birstall in West Yorkshire, that I found it hard to even look at people; I noticed that as I passed people and they smiled at me, I found it hard to smile back, but after a while I began to do so. As I walked around familiar childhood places memories came into my being, I re-membered, I re-felt old experiences. Some from 30 or 40 years ago and some from this very same time last year when I walked these very same streets again in shock and horror following the brutal murder, by another fanatic, of the MP Jo Cox. I remembered my visit to Parliament just a few weeks earlier, when only a week later another hater of life had committed more brutal acts of murder. I thought of the troubles in our world of the countless brutality that we witness every day. The weekly shootings we hear of in American, how frequently these take place in schools and work places, the deaths of innocents in Syria and Iraq and the streams of displaced people and the suffering they face. I remembered other massacres of innocents, Dunblane and of course Anders Brevik and the mass shooting of 77 people in Norway in 2011 as well as the countless terrorist atrocities we have seen throughout the world in recent years.I woke again this morning to more horror as three more fanatical haters of life attacked murdered innocent people in London, just heart breaking.

 I also remembered the violence and fear I have witnessed and experienced in my own life. I re-felt these feelings as I walked the familiar streets of home, alone. I passed people and I didn’t want to look at them, I wanted to look away. The people though, they would not let me. As they smiled at me, something inside began to wake up once again, I kept on seeing in them love and decency. That evening and over the next few days I witnessed and heard of countless acts of love that occurred that night in Manchester and in the days that followed. Symbols of love and compassion from all kinds of ordinary people. I saw it with my own eyes. I witnessed people coming together in love, as people always do. We see this every day too and throughout the world.

Later in the week I visited “Another Place”. This is a favourite place for me and I went there with one of my favourite people, a dear old friend. I went to Crosby Beach and stood with the Anthony Gormely Statues and I stared out to sea. I love to stand and stare at the sea, to let my eyes just take in the open vastness and simply experience “Another Place”. Whenever I do I feel fully alive and connected to a Power far greater than myself, I feel conscious of this universal consciousness that creates and connects all life; this deeper aliveness which I have come to believe is the consciousness at the core of everything. As I did that day my eyes felt wide open once more and I could look at the world again. I began to see, once again, with renewed vision. It was powerful and it was deeply healing. “The eyes of my eyes”, were once again opened.

I spent most of the day talking and listening with a dear old friend, a person who has seen me at my worst and who I have shared intensely heart breaking moments with, too many for two people. She reminded me of a time when I had been broken by grief, a grief she herself was not yet ready to surrender to at the time, even though it was infinitely more painful for her. She described how my whole body seemed broken as she looked on me that day. Her eyes witnessed this in me and I know how much it hurt her, for there is nothing more painful that to witness someone you care deeply for in such brokenness and also as she could not visit this place yet.

As she spoke I re-membered and I also remembered how this was another moment of healing when I would once again rise as I found the strength to turn back to life. I wouldn’t be a minister today but for this time. I wish it hadn’t happened, if I could change it I would, but so much has come from that suffering. This is the healing that rises from life’s suffering. This is the meaning that rises from the suffering and dispels all despair. It is this that enables me to bear witness to life, love and community.

It matters how we see life, how we look at life, for how we see life will affect how we live in the world. Yes we all turn away at times, it gets too much, but we cannot do this for long, we need to look at the world with loving eyes, for the world needs it. I know I do. We need to see the world through eyes that are fully awake, through conscious eyes. This is not easy by the way, it will hurt, for the awakened eye is the vulnerable eye, but it is the only way to live and it is the only way to see beauty and love. If we turn away, as we are all tempted to do at times, we will fail to see all that makes life worth living for, worth dying for, for that matter.

In the Gospel accounts there are several examples of Jesus healing people of blindness. There are other occasions where he is found criticising the religious leaders of the time for their blindness. You will also find several occasions where Jesus’s gaze, his eyes if you like, are mentioned, the way he looked at people, always with love and compassion even when rebuking them. There is something powerful in these examples from the Gospels; a powerful lesson is being taught here about how we see and look at things; a lesson about how we all should live in love and compassion, with our eyes wide open, bringing healing and love to all, so that they too can see once again through clear open eyes.

The key is to see the world through “Unfurnished eyes” as Emily Dickinson described them, eyes untarnished by the past and wide open. This is like seeing with the eyes of  the Buddha, uncluttered by attachments. If we can we begin to not only vision but create the Kin-dom of Love, the Kingdom of God right here right now. It begins by not turning away, no matter how hard it can feel at times  no matter how much it hurts.

All we have to do is unfurnish our eyes; all we have to do is see through loving eyes. You see, despite what we are told, love in actual fact is not blind, for it is love that truly sees. Just think about the people and the places you love, have you noticed something, you notice greater detail about them. You see more than is often seemingly there in them. When you gaze through loving eyes you become more conscious, life just seems more alive and you feel more awake. I did that day as the people I passed compelled me not to turn away, by looking at me and simply smiling and I did when I went to “Another Place” and simply opened my eyes and gazed at the sea.

Just imagine what might happen if we saw all life and all people through such loving eyes? Well if we do we will see more, which means life will hurt more at times, but we will also know more beauty and love and we will bring more beauty and love into our world. All we have to do is live with our eyes wide open; all we have to do is not turn away.

Don’t turn away and if you do, don’t turn away for too long. Instead let’s look at the world with open eyes.

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

Our open eyes allow us to recognise where we can act in the world, if our minds and our hearts are open. If we live with open eyes we will see clearly how we cannot turn away for our world needs us to look on it with loving eyes.

Let’s turn away no more and look at the world through loving eyes.

“Each New Morning” by Penny Quest

Each new morning two choices are open to every one of us:
The choice to live that day in the joyfulness of Love,
Or in the darkness of Fear.

Each new day, as the sun rises,
We have another opportunity to make that choice.
The symbolism of the sunrise is the removal of shadow
And the return of Light.

Each new morning we have another chance
To rid ourselves of the burdens, sorrows and fears of the past,
To rejoice in the joy of the present,
And to look forward to a future of fulfilment
On every level of our being.

Each sunrise is a fresh opportunity to release fear,
To choose a different life-path,
To commit ourselves to joyful, light living,
To trust in ourselves and in the Universe,
To trust in the forces of Nature and in Mother Earth,
To trust God, the Creator, the all-That-Is.


Sunday, 14 May 2017

Time to inhabit space

Last Saturday afternoon I was out with friends, it was my day off and we wandered together around Dunham Massey, a place I love. I wasn’t quite myself. I could feel it in the core of me. I was not enjoying this time with friends in such a beautiful space. Something just didn’t feel right, my heart wasn’t in it. Not that it showed in how I was with them, but in the core of me I wasn’t quite myself. I was not connecting with them or the nature in which we walked. In fact if truth be told I could feel myself getting increasingly irritated as time went on. So much so that I was half relieved to get home and be on my own. Things got worse there though and I had an awful night’s sleep. I discovered that night what the problem was. I had obviously picked up some kind of bug and spent the whole night up and down to toilet.

I was not happy when the alarm went off next morning as I had such a busy day ahead. It was not just caused by the lack of sleep, I felt lousy, I felt weak. On top the services I had to lead I had appointments all afternoon too. I could have cancelled, of course I could, but I felt duty bound to continue on. I got through the day and did a decent, job as tough as it was. So many people were kind and loving and something carried me through. Love is such a powerful and gentle force. Human love and kindness and the love of God is comforting and sustaining. It kept me going all day, although I can’t claim to have truly experienced the day. I was not fully present.

That evening I went for a short walk with a friend just around Altrincham. We walked through the deserted town which just a few hours earlier would have been buzzing with activity, just around the corner the bars and eateries were crowded and full of life as people enjoyed the beautiful evening. I was just grateful for loving company, the ground at my feet and air to breathe. I smiled to myself as I thought that peace is always available to us if we allow it to be, if we allow ourselves to occupy the space. It’s amazing what a little bit of quiet time in any space can do for the soul. There is even peace to be found in the centre of town, although only on a Sunday evening these days; we no longer observe Sabbath, Sunday rest, these days. I wonder how often in life we find the time to truly experience the space in which we inhabit.

I went to bed that night, exhausted, feeling delicate, but with a sense that I would feel better in the morning.

I was wrong, very wrong. If anything I felt worse. I ate a good breakfast and thought I just need to get going, I know I’ll go to the gym. That didn’t work. I lasted less than half an hour before I gave in. So I came home showered and ate and thought, I’ll do some work. I’ve got so much to do this week I’ve got to make a start. I’ve not got the time to be ill this week, but I couldn’t work either. I just felt exhausted, I felt utterly bankrupt, mentally, emotionally, physically and spiritually. So I went to sleep. All I could do was rest and sleep and find peace in the silence. I dreamed too which is something I rarely am aware of doing. Wow! They were some wild and wacky dreams.

I did nothing that day and nothing that evening. I spent the next few hours in dreamtime. It was a day and night of rest and eating. Did I feel better the next day? No not really. My stomach still felt very delicate, but again I made myself eat. I also went to my usual meditation and in the silence, shared with others, I began to finally revive and reconnect to life. In that time and space I felt held by that all sustaining love and it nourished me. All I had to do was surrender to it. I then returned home and these words just started flowing out of me. I felt alive once again. Not so much physically but most certainly spiritually, emotionally and mentally.

We all need a time for rest, it is vital to living an active life. We all need time to receive love too. I know I’ve been running near to empty recently. I’ve been told off several times for not taking my day off, let alone the two I’m meant to take. I seem to have an increasingly busy life, which I am grateful for, but I do need to find time to rest, in order to truly inhabit the space in which I live. My body told me that last the weekend, it refused to continue on. It was having none of it and I had to obey. It’s interesting that it was in my stomach, the physical home of both love and fear, that it manifested itself. It always seems to be so with me. I remembered the last time this happened a couple of years ago when I got gastric flu. I also remembered another time over ten years ago when I was coming to terms with an intense and heart-breaking grief, around the time of the first anniversary of Ethan’s death when my body just gave in in the middle of Albert Square in Manchester and I had to stop completely. I could not move. I sat down on a bench, for over an hour and wept. This was the last time I suffered a bout of depression in my life, thank God. I was utterly exhausted and my body just refused to move any more. My body forced me to fully experience the time I found myself in. It forced me to stop trying to run from the space of grief. Thank God I obeyed it, because it was in this time and space of surrender that my journey into ministry began.

Last weekend was a warning to me and one I need to take heed of. You cannot run from time. 

Everyone needs a time of rest, a time to fill themselves with love, a time to take in order to give back to life. This is no doubt why a time of rest is so enshrined within the great religious traditions. We cannot live without rest, for without rest we will not appreciate the lives we have, we will not feel the love present and we will be like zombies, live a slow meaningless living death. In Exodus 31 it is said that if a person works on the day of rest they should be put to death. Now this is a bit strong, extreme beyond reason I know, but if you think about, if you don’t read it literally and instead metaphorically, if we live without a time of rest are we not living as if we were dead? Life quickly becomes meaningless and we live like zombies. This seems like a living hell, a fate worse than death, to me.

According to Jewish teaching the seventh day is a time for rest and refreshment, for even God rested on the seventh day and was “refreshed”. The time of rest is needed in order to love whatever it is we create in our lives. For without a time of rest we will not see what we create as good, we will not love those we share our lives with and the world in which we live and breathe and share our being. Such time allows us to live in the space in which we inhabit.

Rabbi Abraham Heschel claimed that “The Sabbath as a day of rest is not for the purpose of recovering one’s strength and becoming fit for the forthcoming labour. The Sabbath is a day for the sake of life.”

We need to take time to rest, to connect to life. This doesn’t have to be a particular day though. I feel frustrated by having to have Friday’s as mine, which to be honest I rarely take these days. My work and life doesn’t allow for this kind of rigidity. In fact I find that such rigidity ends up destroying the spirit of time. It is so easy to find ourselves becoming slaves to such rigidity and resenting the time as a kind of function. This is the problem of prescribed religion in many ways, it kind of destroys the spirit at the soul of the teaching. What I feel Sabbath is really about is a time for sinking into the heart and soul, a time to let go absolutely of all rigidity. It is often called free time, I see good reason for this.

Why are we so afraid to let go of rigidity?  Why are we so afraid to be set free? So many of us are.

During the early years of the twentieth century Sandor Ferenczi, a disciple of Sigmund Freud, discovered a phenomenon that he described as “Sunday Neurosis”. He noticed that seemingly normal healthy successful people would experience extreme mental and physical distress on the Sabbath. Ferenczi believed that these people, having been deprived of their normal busy routine by Sunday began to panic, as they feared that they would lose their usual self-censoring mechanism and therefore their wild impulses would reign. They felt out of control and this terrified them. Therefore this extreme pain and or mental anguish developed as a way of staving off the anxiety.

I see real wisdom in Ferenczi’s discoveries. I suspect that the fear of stopping is somehow rooted in the fear of our humanity, the fear of our animal heart, the fear of the soul, the fear of the spirit and this is why so many of us live in our heads and become slaves to rules. I’m not just speaking of the religiously inclined here either, actually I suspect that this is more of a symptom of secularism and modernism and the worship of the mind. It is a symptom of functionality of not valuing time and space. Time is sacred I have discovered. Life is not just about what we do but the spirit in which we do it. While you may be able to purchase a lifestyle, you cannot buy a life.

Again in “Sabbath” Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote

“There is a realm of time where the goal is not to have but to be, not to own but to give, not to control but to share, not to subdue but to be in accord. Life goes wrong when the control of space, the acquisition of things of space, becomes our sole concern.”

Sabbath is a celebration of life, of love, of our part of the creation. It is a time of liberation and appreciation. Jesus recognised this in the Gospel accounts. He was critical of the way his own tradition was practiced and it’s slavishness to the rules, not because he was opposed to a time of rest of spiritual sustenance, far from it in fact. No he was critical because he witnessed that by slavishly following the rules the pious had lost the spirit and the love at the core of the tradition. Sabbath you see is about Love, the love of life, for it is Sabbath time that allows humanity to bring the spirit of love alive in life. Again as Heschell wrote in the 20th century “The Jewish contribution to the idea of love is the conception of love of the Sabbath, the love of a day, of spirit in the form of time.” In Mark's Gospel (Ch 2) Jesus remarks “‘The sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the Sabbath.” This is the Love that is at the core of Jesus’s teachings, the love of God, the love of life, the love of other and the love of self. I believe that this same spirit is at the core of all the great spiritual teachings, it’s just that at times it gets lost. The spiritual life is as much about the love of time as it is a love of space and place. It’s an appreciation of the sacredness of every moment of time; the love that allows the space in which we find ourselves come alive.

This to me is our religious task, to bring alive the space in which we find ourselves. This is the whole point of Sabbath time

We need Sabbath time. We need to learn to live in the space in which we find ourselves, this a lesson I’ve once again been taught this last week or so. We need to breath in the air all around us, we need to take in life. We need to feel our feet on the ground. We need to allow our senses to awaken to all that is, we need feel the love in our own bellies and those we share our lives with. We need to appreciate the preciousness of this moment and the sacredness of all life. We need to learn to be people of time and not only of place. We need Sabbath time.