Saturday, 27 September 2014

Autumn: The Inner harvest

A friend recently sent me the following really got me thinking...

A blind boy sat on the steps of a building with a hat by his feet. He held up a sign which said : ' I am blind, please help.' There were only a few coins in the hat.

A man was walking by. He took a few coins from his pocket and dropped them into the hat. He then took the sign, turned it around, and wrote some words. He put the sign back so that everyone who walked by would see the new words.

Soon the hat began to fill up. A lot more people were giving money to the blind boy. That afternoon the man who had changed the sign came to see how things were. The boy recognized his footsteps and asked, "Were you the one who changed my sign this morning? What did you write? "

The man said, " I only wrote the truth. I said what you said but in a different way."

I wrote : ' Today is a beautiful day but I cannot see it.'

As the song goes “You don’t know what you’ve got ‘til its gone”

We do not always notice what we have, the blessings we have been given until we either lose them or truly notice that others do not have them. So much of life is given unbidden, is a real grace a free gift. So much so that we do not appreciate the fruits we are surrounded but.

We need to learn to offer thanks and praise for what we have been given and to use these gifts in creative and positive ways for the good of all.

A good and useful life is one in which we count our blessings, one in which we enjoy our days with a heart of gratitude.

A friend said to me the other day that there had been quite a lot of death this year. I agreed I have certainly found myself being with friends and family as they have come to the end of their lives.

I spent quite some time over the summer months with a friend as his life came to an end. It was an awry experience. Yes it was painful at times, but it was also beautifully moving and definitely awe inspiring. My friend had over the last twenty years lost his sight and had also had to face many other physical difficulties. Finally he slowly succumbed to cancer. What moved me greatly about him was how he accepted whatever happened with Grace. It did not waste his life wishfully thinking that he could have back what he had lost. Don’t get me wrong of course he grieved his losses, particularly his sight, but he adjusted and he accepted. I remember several years ago marvelling at his ability to memories passages from books he had read. His memory was a real marvel as he developed a new gift that he would never have known but for the loss of his sight.

The greatest gift he gave to me as I sat with him over the last few weeks of his life, was listening to his stories. He shared a rich harvest with me. It was both a blessing and a joy to sit and listen to him. He did all the talking. In fact the last thing he said to me, just two days before he died was “The next time you come Danny, I’ll let you do some of the talking”, sadly there was not a next time.

My friend lived a full life. Like any full life there were many things that he got wrong. There was some regret, but not too much. Those last few weeks he passed on much of his knowledge to me. It was a fruitful time as I harvested so much from his life. I hope that I too will be able to pass on what I have gained from his life. That I will be able to nurture these seedlings and bring something to fruit from them.

Yes in some ways this year has been one of personal loss, but I do see seedlings and shoots of hope that can be passed on from those that have been lost. Much of who they were/are lives on.

There is a beautiful chapter in John O'Donohue's book "Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom" "Aging: The Beauty of the Inner Harvest". Below is an extract from it...

"There are four seasons of the heart. Several seasons can be present simultaneously in the heart, though usually, at any one time, one season is dominant in your life. It is customary to understand autumn as synchronous with old age. In the autumn time of your life, your experience is harvested. This is a lovely backdrop against which we can understand aging. Aging is not merely about the body losing its poise, strength, and self-trust. Aging also invites you to become aware of the sacred circle that shelters your life. Within the harvest circle, you are able to gather lost memories and experiences, bring them together, and hold them as one. In actual fact, if you can come to see aging not as a demise of your body but as the harvest of your soul, you will learn that aging can be a time of strength, poise, and confidence. To understand the harvest of your soul against the background of seasonal rhythm should give you a sense of quiet delight at the arrival of this time in your life. It should give you strength and a sense of how the deeper belonging of your soul-world will be revealed to you.”

O’Donohue suggests that “the autumn of our lives.” can be a time of rich harvest, where we can dig deep into our souls and uncover the lessons that are their to be learnt. it is a time to gather in all the moments of our lives, even the ones that have been seemingly lost or even discarded as unpleasant and bringing them in and “holding them as one.” It is a time when we can gather in our inner harvest and thus develop new strength, poise and confidence and therefore enter a "quiet delight" as we harvest our own lives.

I witnessed this with my friend in the last weeks of his life as his spirituality deepened, as his soul bore his fruits and he passed this on to others. We did not do the reaping, we just feasted on the crop that he produced. I hope I can pass on what was so freely given to me. All I gave was my time.

I offer thanks and praise for the life that my friend lived and the harvest that I have shared in. I offer thanks and praise for all the lives I have known and all that they have given to me and countless others, the wisdom that they shared. I offer thanks and praise for all that has been so freely given and I hope I can make the most of it and pass it on to those who follow.

Harvest is a time to offer thanks for all that has been given us. To do so we need to see what has been given to us. It is so easy to see what we do not have and therefore fail to see the gifts that we are surrounded by, gifts that are there for all of us to share in, gifts that are so freely given.

Let us be thankful for what we have and what we have to share and see the gifts we have to give to others. For one day those very gifts may well be gone.

Saturday, 20 September 2014

Living in Grace

I recently came across the following“More Than We Deserve” by Robert R Walsh it is taken from his book of meditations “Noisy Stones” got me thinking and feeling and re-membering

"I heard the Second Brandenburg Concerto played in honour of Bach’s 300th birthday, and I was swept away. I remembered a story about the people who send messages into outer space. Someone suggested sending a piece by Bach. The reply was “But that would be bragging.”

Some say we get what we deserve in life, but I don’t believe it. We certainly don’t deserve Bach. What have I done to deserve the Second Brandenburg Concerto? I have not been kind enough; I have not done enough justice; I have not loved my neighbour, or myself, sufficiently; I have not praised God enough to have earned a gift like this.

Life is a gift we have not earned and for which we cannot pay. There is no necessity that there be a universe, no inevitability about a world moving toward life and then self-consciousness. There might have been…nothing at all."

Since we have not earned Bach – or crocuses or lovers – the best we can do is express our gratitude for the undeserved gifts, and do our share of the work of creation."

...It really got me thinking...

The Sufi mystic Rumi wrote:

"Something opens our wings.

Something makes boredom and hurt disappear.

Someone fills the cup in front of us.

We taste only sacredness."

...The something or someone I believe is Grace...

Grace is one of those words that has kept on cropping up in conversations these last few weeks. It has got me thinking about what it might mean to me personally. What do I think of when I hear the word Grace? What does it mean to live in a state of Grace? What does it mean perhaps to die in a state of Grace?

Grace is something I often think of at this time of the year, later September early October. It was this time of year a long, long time ago when something began to change within my experience of life, something I will never understand…something that when I re-member always brings a smile to my face…a smile that comes unbidden...

When I speak of Grace I mean than something that exist beyond the confines of ourselves, that something more that makes life real, special and alive. That something that exists beyond our individual efforts that makes our efforts almost effortless. I have noticed that when I live in a Graceful state life does indeed seem effortless. Indeed when life seems a slog or a struggle it is precisely then that I feel blocked off from the Grace that surrounds me. Grace seems to exist in the spaces of life, therefore when I am blocked it seems that there are no spaces where Grace can thrive and live. To live in a Graceful state is to trust in that which exists in those spaces and allow it to energise our lives. Over the years I have learnt to trust in this when the hard and dark times have struck. It is Grace that keeps me moving forward.

Grace is the “Wow!” of life that can energise us if we would but trust in it. It is Grace that gives us a sense of belonging to life itself. When I began to live in Grace I became fully a part of life.

Now there are those who will no doubt claim that what I speak of is not Grace at all. That I am just trying to re-invent the English language. Well I wouldn’t be the first now would I?

Etymologically speaking Grace is related to thankfulness, certainly in the Latin languages. Think of the Spanish “gracias”, the Italian “grazie and Latin “gratia”. Both grace and gratitude are linguistically linked. One step beyond is the Latin word “gratus” which means pleasing and from which words like gratifying and gratuity are formed. On the other side of the coin comes the phrase “persona non grata” which means an unwelcome person. Likewise a person who has fallen from grace may be known as a disgrace.

Now in traditional Christianity Grace is concerned with God receiving us, forgiving our sins and redeeming us through the death of his son Jesus on the cross. In many ways it was arguments over Grace that led to the Reformation. Martin Luther taught that Grace cannot in any way be obtained by a person or purchased. Luther was protesting against the Church doing just this as it was selling indulgences. Luther taught that Grace is a gift of God, freely given regardless of merit, due to the sacrifice of Jesus. That said Grace has been understood in other ways throughout human history. It is not merely the domain of Luther and or traditional Christianity

“The Grace of God” is said to be a freely given gift of spirit that is unearned and undeserved; something that comes to us, from beyond ourselves. You can’t touch it, but you can know it. You could say that grace is a favour or perhaps a fortune that comes to us unbidden. It does not come because we have done anything to deserve it or not deserve it, it just comes. The part we can play is in recognizing it when it comes and making the most of what it offers. Life itself is probably the ultimate of graces. Think about it we did absolutely nothing to deserve the gift of life itself, in all its joy and suffering, in all its blessings and curses.

The Sufi mystic Rumi wrote

"You are so weak. Give up to grace.

The ocean takes care of each wave

til it gets to shore.

You need more help than you know."

I have heard it said that Grace is like water in that it flows and moves over and under an obstacle. So maybe I am wrong in thinking I can block myself off from it, although it does feel like that at times. Maybe I am never actually blocked from it I just lose my awareness of it. This brings to mind some of my favourite words from Psalm 139

"Whither shall I go from thy spirit? or whither shall I flee from thy presence?

8 If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there: if I make my bed in hell, behold, thou art there.

9 If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea;

10 Even there shall thy hand lead me, and thy right hand shall hold me.

11 If I say, Surely the darkness shall cover me; even the night shall be light about me.

12 Yea, the darkness hideth not from thee; but the night shineth as the day: the darkness and the light are both alike to thee."

So it would seem that Grace is something you just can’t avoid. It is always there, that said there is a part that we must play. As Ramakrishna said “The winds of grace are always blowing, but you have to raise the sail.” It is our task I believe to receive the wind and the waters in the right way.

You see Grace isn’t just going to come in and save us, to take our material troubles away.It is not going to change the natural world, just for us. Just look at the world at our lives, this just doesn’t seem so now does it?

I believe that grace works in and through us; that it comes to life in and through us when we live in a “State of Grace”. While we need not do anything to deserve it, we must do a great deal to bring it to life. As the Buddhist Joanna Macy observed “Grace happens when we act with others on behalf of our world.” Yes it exists in those spaces between our lives and we experience it as it works through our lives, encouraging others to engage with it too. To dance in the spaces as the music plays.

The Unitarian and Process Theologian Henry Nelson Weiman, while rejecting traditional notions of God, did believe that there was a process which he observed had the capacity to transform us into beings capable of doing good, that can enable us to live up to our ideals and therefore relieve us from what some have described as the meaningless despair of our lives. He called this process “Creative Interchange”. He believed that this “Creative Interchange” comes alive as individuals or groups bring new meanings to life and that as it comes to life the richness of the world expands and a deeper sense of integration occurs. For Weiman this was Grace.

James Luther Adams expanded on these ideas believing that this creative power finds its “richest focus” when we work together to serve the divine reality and bring to birth freedom and justice in our world. He believed that God transforms us with “a love that ‘cares’ for the fullest good of all.” It is this then that compels us to act with it in service and thus re-create Grace.

I see real truth in both Weiman’s and Adam’s view of Grace, they help me make sense of my own experiences.

Grace is not about the things we receive in life. We have all been given life, the ultimate free gift. Grace is about what we do with the gift we have been given; Grace is what we create from what we have been given; Grace is what we bring to the table of life with this life we have been given. My dear friend Rev Jane Barraclough, who died earlier this year, explains this beautifully in the following words:

“We can choose to receive the gift with gratitude or we can decide it is never enough for us, or we can decide that we receive what we receive in life because we somehow deserve it. The last has always been a favourite among those most privileged in society. Those with an overpowering sense of their own entitlement to all the good things in life are also often the most difficult to satisfy. Those who can live their lives in a state of gratitude are more likely to know when they have enough.

To experience grace we have to be open to the possibility of its existence. The winds of grace may always be blowing but we need to have our sails up if we are to make any headway.”

We can experience the grace present in life if we are open to it, if we would just let go of the need to control, to open our clenched fists just a little and dance with it in the spaces that contain life. We just need to pay attention, to notice it in life and in the lives of those who live in a Graceful state. You see all life can become a disclosure of Grace. We can experience it in every moment of life. In the wild embrace of one we hold most dear, in those flocks of wild geese that fly overhead, in an act of reconciliation and forgiveness and in a selfless act as we give of ourselves to life.

May we all live our lives in a state of Grace.

Saturday, 13 September 2014

Emptiness: The Greatest Paradox of the Spiritual Life?

In a recent “Living the Questions” group we explored “Awe, Wonder & Amazement”. As is always the case it was a fascinating conversation as we wrestled with the subject, exploring what the great minds have said about it as well as share personal thoughts and experiences. It was a wonderfulfilling evening. Afterwards I sat and reflected on all that I heard from those present. I was amazed by what I had experienced, it filled me with awe. A truly awful evening (the evening filled me with awe). I felt filled and yet completely empty of fear and trouble. I felt very much at one with myself and yet a part of everything. I felt like a tiny speck in life and yet one in the midst of a greater whole. I felt a deepening sense of love for all that is, all that has been and all that will ever be. I felt deeply that sense of love for life, for that which makes up life, for all that is out there and I felt a deepening sense of love within the soul of me. The following simple words by Forrest Church came back into my mind “God is not God’s name. God is our name for that power that is greater than all and yet present in each.” I experienced this deeply with the people I was connecting with that evening. It also brought to my mind the following beautiful words by Ralph Waldo Emerson,written while reflecting on the wonder of being in the woods.

“Standing on the bare ground – my head bathed by the blithe air, and uplifted into infinite space – all mean egotism vanishes. I become a transparent eyeball; I am nothing; I see all; the currents of the Universal Being circulate through me; I am part or particle of God.”

I love the beautiful paradox here “I am nothing; I see all;” and the last part “I am part or particle of God.” As I thought of these words an image of a "Meme", I had recently seen published through social media, also came to mind. It goes by the title “Serbian Proverb”, and read “Be humble, for you are made of earth. Be noble, for you are made of stars,” These words and that evening certainly humbled me and I live in the hope that they will enoble me too. I know how important it is that I believe the simple message contained in these beautiful words. These two qualities are vital to a fulfilling life, they are not opposing dualities, more complimentary qualities.

A few days later I was chatting with someone who had attended “Living the Questions” discussion. I asked him how he was doing as I knew he was going through some changes in his personal life. He began to talk and it was clear that something was stirring within him and that he was opening up to something new. We both talked about those moments in our lives when things had changed, when life had humbled us and how in those moments something broke both inside and outside and how this had brought about a new beginning, spiritually speaking. I would personally call these profound spiritual experiences, although I know others would give them a different name. In these moments the humility that opened me took me to another level, you could say it began to enoble me. I live in hope that this will continue.

A few days later I was chatting with my Tuesday morning friends. There was a theme running through the conversation. Several of us described recently experiencing a powerful sense of fear present in our lives. While at the same time experiencing a greater sense of faith also present  within us too. A faith that manifests as a deep sense of knowing that by remaining open and connected that we will walk through whatever fear our minds create.

As we shared together the following words from Luke’s Gospel chapter 12 vv 22-27 came to mind.

‘Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat, or about your body, what you will wear. 23For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. 24Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds! 25And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? 26If then you are not able to do so small a thing as that, why do you worry about the rest? 27Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these.

As the conversation continued the following words from the 46th Psalm also came into my mind “Be still and know that I am God”. If I have learnt anything in life I have learnt that somewhere in this stillness in this emptiness a fullness and a strength can begin to grow.

The problem I suspect for many of us is that we are afraid to stop, to centre and to empty out minds. but stop we must if we wish to begin to be filled, it is crucial that we do so. The great spiritual traditions of the east have understood how vital emptiness is in order to experience the fullness and harmony of life. They have claimed that what is required is silence and stillness in order to truly connect to all that is, to truly know you are a part of God. When we are still we no longer locate ourselves in the past or the future or attempt to become something or someone else. In this stillness we can become like the Lillies of the field or the birds of the air. In this stillness a profound silence of the mind is revealed. It is this silence that embraces and connects the present to all times and places. This stillness is what holds and embraces all the movement of life. In  it we become, as Emerson said, “a part or particle of God”

It is emptiness that reveals the greatest paradox of life. For it is often in this emptiness that we truly understand how important everything is; it is the emptiness that reveals the fullness of life. As I constantly say everything matters, every thought, every feeling, every word and every deed. For everything is a part of everything else. The mistake is to fall into the despair of emptiness, although perhaps this is a stage that we may have to go through. This mistake is formed from a superficial understanding of emptiness, that some see as a dismissal of  life as a kind of dream, that doesn't really matter or exist. In doing so we end up dismissing life itself as empty and unsubstantial, that it doesn’t really matter. Such a view can lead one to see the world with contempt and therefore dismiss the very real suffering of others. There is nothing either humble or enobling in this. To me the very point of emptying and going within is to enable us to truly connect with both the joys and sorrows of life, its difficulties and its successes in a very real way and therefore act in a noble way. It is the very stillness that will hold us in the storms we feel or witness and ensure that we do not turn away but live instead in the way of love.

I believe that this is almost perfectly illustrated in the poem “I am much alone in this world, yet not alone” by Rainer Maria Rilke, there is something powerful in these beautiful words especially in the context of the nothing and everything paradox and perhaps the frustrations it brings.

I am much too alone in this world, yet not alone
to truly consecrate the hour.
I am much too small in this world, yet not small
to be to you just object and thing,
dark and smart.
I want my free will and want it accompanying
the path which leads to action;
and want during times that beg questions,
where something is up,
to be among those in the know,
or else be alone.

I want to mirror your image to its fullest perfection,
never be blind or too old
to uphold your weighty wavering reflection.
I want to unfold.
Nowhere I wish to stay crooked, bent;
for there I would be dishonest, untrue.
I want my conscience to be
true before you;
want to describe myself like a picture I observed
for a long time, one close up,
like a new word I learned and embraced,
like the everday jug,
like my mother’s face,
like a ship that carried me along
through the deadliest storm.

“Wisdom tells me I am nothing. Love tells me I am everything. Between the two my life flows”, said the 20th century Hindu guru, Nisargadatta Maharaji. Carl Sagan once wrote "For small creatures such as we the vastness is bearable only through love."

For me in the silence in the emptiness I find the love that connects me to all that is in a truly wonderfulfilling sense. In the emptiness my cup once again begins to runneth over. In so doing I can once again know the fullness of life and live in such a way that is indeed enobling.

By deepening in silence we discover that the apparent emptiness holds no real fear, instead it leads us to true beauty and joy; it leads us to the joy of living. In that space we can discover that we are “a part or particle of God”. In doing so we rest in the infinite space that is life and begin to live in both accord and harmony. This silence brings peace, wholeness and well-being. It humbles us for it allows us to see that we are made of the earth and yet also enobles us for we can see that we are made of the stars.

Sunday, 7 September 2014

Hope & Enthusiasm: A 200th Anniversary Celebration

Today we marked 200 years of our free religious tradition here in the town of Altrincham. 200 years ago they formed this fellowship of love and service in the town and they have continued sailing in it for many generations. They did so in hope and with genuine enthusiasm. I am very aware that today we stand on the shoulders of giants as we look ahead as a free religious faith offering hope to a community and world that does at times seem so divisive…I believe that this free religious tradition that I serve has much to offer our world, as those who came before us did. I live with hope in my heart that we can continue to build on those firm roots that those who came before us planted. A solid trunk grew from those roots and many branches have stretched from it, leading to buds and leaves and fruits that have flowered and nourished so many.

Today we celebrate the 200th anniversary of the Unitarian congregation in Altrincham.

We who live today are connected to both the past and the future, we are links in a chain of history. It is our task to do the best we can with this our link in this time and place. We cannot shape the whole world, but we can do something in this our time and place, in full knowledge that this will influence the whole of history…Everything matters you know, every breath, every feeling, every thought, every deed impacts in some way on the chain of life…Everything matters…

The fellowship of love that we sail in today is a place of nurture where the spirit can grow, but not alone. We do not sail this ship alone we do so in community with one another and with that eternal spirit that is present in all life and yet greater than it all. Our tradition is as much about community as it about individual freedom, something that seems lost in modern spirituality, something that is so needed in our time…We come together in love and to grow and flower in that same spirit…

Here we stand on holy ground. Here the spirit has spoken and been heard, just as the burning bush spoke to Moses. Here the Divine can speak to each of us, as it has for generations and encourage us to keep on moving forward to new freedoms. This though is not holy ground because it is especially sacred. No it is holy ground because we consecrate it with our presence and the spirit that grows in and through us, that we bring to this place. Our task here is to increase the holiness and then take it out into our world where the worst aspects of humanity keep on desecrating.

As Wendell Barry so beautifully put it. “There are no unsacred places; there are only sacred places and desecrated places.” It is the task of this our free religious faith to nurture the sacredness from which we are formed and to carry that out into our world, through our lives…Everything matters you know, every breath, every feeling, every thought, every deed impacts in some way on the chain of life…Everything matters…

Trees and bushes have been speaking to me all this year, as have the beautiful flowers that grow from them. It really began at the end of last year, at a time of loss and pain in my own life and those I hold most dear. My sister, our Mand, told me of a single rose she had seen right in the midst of winter, both physical winter and a personal winter too. This rose lifted her spirit and as she told me of it, it lifted me too. That winter rose brought hope that love will survive any of the biting frost that can threaten our lives. This year I’ve been seeing roses everywhere, the most beautiful I have ever seen…They have become a symbol of hope to me…“And I’ll bring you hope, when hope is hard to find and I’ll bring a song of love and a rose in the winter time.”

Like absence of love a life lived without hope quickly becomes empty and meaningless. Please do not get me wrong I’m not talking about optimism here, they are not the same. Optimism is about an expectation of something to come, whereas hope is more about allowing something to grow from within. It is a form of love incarnating in life, something that begins in our own hearts. Hope is knowing that something beautiful will grow, even from what feels like the worst kind of suffering. Hope always overcomes despair as meaning emerges from the suffering…To paraphrase Vaclav Havel “ Hope is an orientation of the spirit...It is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense regardless of how it turns out.”

Or as Erich Fromm observed “To hope means to be ready at every moment for that which is not yet born, and yet not become desperate if there is no birth in our lifetime, Those whose hope is weak settle for comfort or for violence; those whose hope is strong see and cherish signs of new life and are ready every moment to help the birth of that which is ready to be born.”

I see symbols of hope every day and I am certainly ready to help bring them to birth. I see them on the side of the road as I drive. Just like "The Tree of Lost Soles" I saw one day travelling to Warrington. A beautiful symbol made from the stump of an old tree and old discarded shoes. A symbol that has stayed with me this year as I see folk coming to life in my midst. All souls can indeed be found and can begin life again. I’ve seen it in the eyes of so many this year. So I live in hope. Why? Because even in the midst of winter a rose can grow and bring hope to all our lives.

So what can we do in our time and place, how do we plant seeds of hope in our time and place? How do we take care of our link in the chain of life, in the chain of history? How can we ready ourselves “to help bring to birth that which is ready to be born”?

Well I believe that it begins with two things. The first is to truly see our world and our shared life as a blessing, as a beautiful gift that we are a part of. This begins by first of all understanding that we too are blessings. We need to let this form and grow in our souls, our hearts and our minds and then bring it to life. We need to be filled with this spirit, to be enthused by it. To be enthusiastic. By the way that’s what enthusiasm means, from entheos to be filled with the spirit, with God. We need to be filled with this spirit and to set it free and begin to consecrate our world once more. We need to let hope become an orientation of our spirit and to bless our world with this enthusiasm. And do you know what if we do our world will become overflowing with roses, even in the depths of winter time.

I’m going to end today with a little story, entitled “Building a Cathedral” (Taken from "Concentration and Compassion" by Bill Darlison)

When the great Cathedral of Chatres was being built in the 13th century, a traveller happened to be passing by the construction site. He was amazed at the number of workers involved in the project and the variety of jobs being done. He approached a carpenter and asked, “What exactly are you doing here?”

“I’m sawing wood, what on earth does it look like I’m doing?” came the curt reply.

The traveller then approached a stonemason and asked him the very same question, to which he replied,

“I’m earning a living, I’ve got a wife and children to support.”

However, a third man, an unskilled worker who looked to be sweeping up after the others, said with a beaming smile, “Can’t you see? I’m building a cathedral!”

So I say to you let’s go build Cathedrals in our own hearts, let’s take them out into our world and make every inch of this world holy ground once more…Let us consecrate, let us bless everything and everyone we touch...Everything matters you know, every breath, every feeling, every thought, every deed impacts in some way on the chain of life…Everything matters…

“Cos I’ll bring you hope, when hope is hard to find and I’ll bring a song of love and a rose in the winter time,”

Saturday, 30 August 2014

Breadth and Depth

Last Saturday was a first for Dunham Road Unitarian Chapel Altrincham, as we conducted our first same-sex marriage. In fact it was a first for the whole of Trafford as it was the first to be conducted in a religious building in the Borough. I attended the do afterwards and as is always the case many people wanted to discuss the service and as well as ask questions about the Unitarian faith tradition. Of all the things that were said to me my favourite had to be “I am not a church going, but I really liked that service”. I was also involved in many other conversations with a variety of people as we ate and listened to the speeches. It’s amazing what people tell you about themselves their own faith or lack of faith, their frustrations with previous wedding service that they had attended, whether religious or secular ones held in hotels etc. What touched me the most though was that people were able to connect with what they were witnessing on a deep, deep level whether they were “religious” or not. The service was deeply religious, in a very real sense and yet it was able to touch those hard to reach places of folk regardless of what they believed, or not. The service had both breadth and real depth. I left feeling that I had done my job and done it well.

We say all are welcome here, come as you exactly as you are, but do not expect to leave in exactly the same condition…That was certainly achieved…I offer thanks and praise for this…

For me in many ways this is what lies at the core of the free religious tradition I serve. This coming together as we are, exactly as we but not expecting to always stay exactly where we are or as we are. There is a real openness and humility in this, which I believe are essential requirements for the corporate transformative experience that ought to lay at the core of a free religious tradition.

People constantly ask me what a Unitarian is, they are always trying to pin me and our tradition down. For some this is curiosity and for others I suspect it is in an attempt to be critical, to pick holes. By the way there are many holes and personally I’m very pleased about this. I would hate to feel I am a part of something that looked at itself and believed that it was the perfect embodiment of anything. I do not believe that anything in life is perfect and therefore must be incomplete. I’m aware every week that I am an imperfect minister, but one I also know is growing.

One criticism that people often make of the tradition I serve is that it is seen as being too broad and as a result shallow. They say yes there is plenty of width, but no real depth. That anything goes, we accept people uncritically. Do you know what there may well be some truth in that, but it’s a truth that I see in a positive light and not a negative one. I certainly want to welcome people exactly as they are, warts and all and beauty spots too. I want to welcome their whole selves, even if I’m uncomfortable with some aspects of them. To me this is not shallow at all, actually I believe that it encourages depth. To me this is real depth and not some shallow imposed depth. That said regardless of what I believe many do still see the Unitarian tradition as wishy washy, shallow, and empty.

This brings to mind a story my brother loves to tell of he and his wife being driven around Dallas in a taxi and the driver pointing to a church and saying “That church is a Unitarian Universalist church and those folks can believe whatever they like”, my brother recounts that this was said in an utterly bemused tone. My brother’s response was oh yes “My brother is a Unitarian”. I think for the first time in his entire life the taxi driver went silent.

By the way as a kind of counter to this thought I have heard many Unitarians say "We so not beleive waht we like, we believe what me must."

I also remember seeing an episode of the cartoon series “The Simpsons” in which the church pastor Rev Lovejoy offers the Simpson children a bowl of Unitarian ice cream. When one of the children replies that the bowl is empty his response is that this is the point. The bowl is empty. He is saying there is nothing in it. It is an empty vessel which will not feed or sustain you.

Now I don’t believe and have certainly not found this to be true, but it is certainly how others view the Unitarian faith. Why is this? Well I believe it is because we find it hard to articulate exactly what our faith is about. We can say what it isn’t far more easily, but find it hard to say what we are really about. I know I find it a challenge from time to time. In fact there has been times when I have done all I can to avoid the question.

There are those within the Unitarian tradition who say the same thing by the way, claiming that we need a clear coherent message, so that we can market ourselves better. The problem of course is that no two people can agree entirely as to what that might be.

Now while there are a variety of views as to what it is to be a Unitarian there does seem to be two distinct themes that emerge and re-emerge as to the direction we ought to be taking in articulating what we are about and the way we should move forward in order to grow. The call seems to be either a return to our roots, a more Biblically based Unitariansism and the other to do away with the past completely as if it never happened and to embrace an almost secular kind of religion, an oxymoron if ever I’ve heard one. I have heard this described as the ABC approach. I remember hearing this phrase quite frequently a while back and asked someone what they meant by it. They said ABC, anything but Christianity. The ABC approach is one that says we embrace anything, well anything but Christianity.

My own personal view is that neither of these two approaches necessarily breed depth as opposed to width, they can both easily become shallow. I believe there is a real depth the Unitarian heritage, in where we have come from and I believe it points to an openness that comes from our natural humility that grows from our traditions faithful uncertainty.

You see I think that real the depth of the Unitarian tradition doesn’t come from becoming tied by our roots or by the rejection of it completely. Instead it comes from our approach. This I believe is found in that simple statement “Come as you are, exactly as you are, but not expect to leave in exactly the same condition”. I believe it comes from the humility and openness that is at the core of this approach.

At the core of the Unitarian approach is the principle of none subscription to imposed creeds and dogmas. We claim that the seat of authority lays in the enlightened conscience of the individual and not an external authority? When I first heard this sentiment expressed and first came into contact with the ideas of the Great Nineteenth century Unitarian theologian James Martineau it spoke to me right down deep in the marrow of my soul. The “Seat of Authority” rejects all external authority in matters of faith whether of Church or scripture. It set Unitarians apart in the nineteenth century from mainstream Christianity. Now of course our tradition has broadened and has widened since this time, but I do think that today it is this that gives the Unitarian tradition its depth. For me this is the essence of the tradition. To me this is our unique selling point, to use marketing jargon for a moment. I believe that there is both breadth and depth in this approach.

I believe that the Unitarian tradition is both broad and deep. This is because it encourages people to include all that they are, all their experiences, all that has brought them to place they find themselves at this moment in time. I believe it is a mistake to reject any aspect of our experiences. There is always a temptation to reject the past, both personal and collective, but it is what has made us who we are today. We need to embrace it and see it fully for what it is, warts and all and beauty spots too. We need to share these experiences with one another in order to bring depth to our kaleidoscope of experiences. For no two experiences are exactly alike.

In the four years I have served the beautiful people at Dunham Road Unitarian Chapel Altrincham and Queens Road Unitarian Free Church Urmston I have discovered that one of the greatest gifts of this work I have been blessed with is that people tell you things, they share their experiences. All kinds of people tell me where they have been, what an honour to be blessed with such conversations, they are precious beyond measure, pearls of great price.

I believe there is real breadth and depth in the free religious tradition I have chosen (or did it choose me?), and that this is to be found in the personal experiences of those within our communities and those who came before them. The past should never be rejected as it can reveal so much to we who live today. To find the real depth in life you need to listen to the whole of life, you must let it speak, past, present and future. You must learn to listen to all the voices, for they are voices just like your own. You must be open to all the stories of life both ancient and modern and those of prophesy too, for they have so much to teach. You must be open to all experiences that are available to you. How can this be done? Well it begins with humility, this is the very key to openness, I believe.

Once again I say to you and I say it to myself too…”Come as you are, exactly as you are, but do not expect to leave in exactly the same condition”…For I believe that in these simple words you will know both the breadth and the depth of life...a breadth and depth found in the beautiful free religious tradition I am blessed to serve.

Saturday, 23 August 2014

Are You Awake? Consciousness and Self-Consciousness

It is said that soon after his enlightenment that the Buddha passed a man on the road who was struck by the Buddha's extraordinary radiance and peaceful presence. The man stopped and asked, "My friend, what are you? Are you a celestial being or a god?"

"No," said the Buddha.

"Well, then, are you some kind of magician or wizard?"

Again the Buddha answered, "No."

"Are you a man?" "No."

"Well, my friend, then what are you?"

The Buddha replied, "I am awake"

The Buddha was awake, he was fully conscious to all that is and all that will ever be. He was fully integrated, he did not see himself as separate, well he did not see himself at all.

Now this is not a claim I would or could make about myself. I believe I am more awake these days than I have ever been in the past, but I am very aware of a sense of separation from time to time. That said I am more conscious than I ever was before. There is a simple reason for this I am less self-conscious than I once was. I feel more connected, at one, with all that is, than at any other time in my life. I feel conscious, I feel awake, but I used to be terribly self-consciousness and I suspect that it was this that was the very root cause of so much of that aching loneliness that used to eat away at me. I felt, separate, cut off, alone. How many of us feel like this, it is so much the plague of the modern age.

The other day I was chatting with my mum, it was a wonderful conversation. She was doing most of the talking. This is the case in most of the conversation I have these days. I like it this way. “Now the ears of my ears are awake.”

We got talking about childhood things and what life was like back then. I asked her a question, which I haven’t asked for years about a birth defect I suffered from. She went into detail explaining how when I was born some of the nerve endings at the base of my spine were underdeveloped. It was something akin to spina bifida, but in a less severe form. As a child I had to frequently go for physiotherapy and there was a period when I was not allowed to engage in any sport. I hated the feeling it engendered in me as I looked at the other kids running around in the playground, knowing I wasn’t allowed to join in.

It was a few years later when the pain really hit me though, in my mid to later teens when I was painfully aware of the way I walked. I waddled when I moved, I still do now. When it was my time to be teased at school I would be called "Penguin, cripple, crip, criptic acid and spina bifida." I remember walking down the street of the town I grew up in and whenever I saw someone walking towards me I would stand up straight and attempt to push my feet inwards in the vain hope that they wouldn’t think that there was something wrong with me. I must have looked a right sight.

I was just so terribly self-consciousness. I was just so locked in on what I believed was wrong with me. I’ve been thinking about this over the last few days and do you know what I’m not wholly convinced that the problem was my perceived physical imperfections. I suspect that if I’d been born without this physical difficulty the problem would have manifested in other areas of my life. The problem was the self-consciousness, I was locked in myself and therefore not fully conscious, I was separate and felt alone.

One thing I’ve learnt over the years is that I am not alone in this. So many of us suffer from this from of self-consciouness. We feel lost, lonely and cut off because we are locked in what we believe is wrong with us. Sometimes it is harder to see what is right, than what is wrong. This is a deeply lonely, isolated, way to be.

Socrates said that “The unexamined life is not worth living”. Now while not wishing to argue with the great philosopher I do wonder if the “over examined life” can prove just as worthless. It is so easy to get lost in oneself, wrapped up in our own underwear to such an extent that we do not live at all. We can become so self-conscious that we fail to become conscious of all that is and all that as ever been. It is so easy to become wrapped up in our own perceived needs that we fail to live in the world with others and then complain about feeling lonely. Yes it is important to examine ourselves, to understand who we are and what makes us tick, but that should not be an end in itself, a destination. It is a staging post in the spiritual adventure, but not the final destination.

Some label extreme self-absorption as Narcissism. A word taken from name of a boy of ancient Greek mythology named Narcissus who fell so in love with his own reflection that he fell into the water and drowned. Now I don't believe that it is entirely correct to name the type of self-consciousness I am discussing here as Narcissistic self-love. There seems very little love here at all. Quite the opposite in fact the pre-occupation is with what is wrong. What I'm describing is a deep form of self hatred and or loathing, not love.

When you look at your own reflection in the mirror, what do you see? Do you see someone that you love? Do you see who you really are? While many of us see ourselves warts and all, how many of us see the beauty spots too? The kind of self-absorption that most people I come into contact with suffer from tends to be a deeply ingrained negative type. The preoccupation is often with what is wrong with them, with their shame, rather than how wonderful they are. This is certainly not what Narcissus suffered from.

This kind of self-consciousness can become so consuming that it takes over our every human interactions. I wonder how many of us suffer from the following kind of commentary when we meet up with people. “What will they think of me?” “How do I look?” “If I say something, will they think I’m an idiot?” and then a little later, “He gave me a funny look, he must have thought me a fool. Why on earth did I have to make that stupid remark? Gosh I’m such a freak, they all seem to be staring at me.”

This kind of inner dialogue can be so crippling. It can haunt us from the moment we wake and continue throughout our day, eating away at our every decision. Oh and of course because we doubt ourselves and every decision we make, we assume that everyone else must be doing exactly the same thing. This kind of self-consciousness can be so inhibiting, so much so that it can block us off almost entirely from the world around us. We can become utterly consumed by this kind of self-consciousness, leading to us seeing the world entirely from this point of view. When we do the world does not look like a pretty place at all.

So what can we do about it? How do we wake up to a greater consciousness? How do we break free from this crippling self-consciousness?

In the Gospel accounts Jesus taught his followers that they must lose themselves in order to be found. This beautiful paradox taught that by emptying ourselves of our self-absorption we begin to be filled with the spirit of neighbourliness. So that when we look deeply into the still waters we are not drawn in by narcissistic self-consciousness and loathing at our own reflection, but rather into a deeper contemplation of our shared lives. We become conscious of all that is, all that has been and all that will ever be. By opening ourselves to and for others we begin to shed that debilitating skin of self-consciousness that it is so easy to become imprisoned in.

Gandhi said “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in service of others”

The Buddha talked of Nirvana, of being freed from the suffering that was the blight of humanity. He showed that we all suffered and that it was in seeing our suffering as individual that led to this sense of separation. He suggested that we needed to break through our suffering not only to serve others but to reach a higher state of being, true consciousness, to be awake.

Now please don’t get me wrong I am not suggesting that we neglect ourselves and that we do not need to understand how we tick. All I am saying is that we must not get stuck there, we must not get lost there and we must not see this as a destination, more a staging post on the journey. The adolescent stage I suspect. Sadly for many folk, me included, this adolescent stage often goes on well into adulthood.

So how do we move from self-consciouness to consciousness. How do we lose ourselves so that we can be found? Well Forrest Church in his wonderful book “Lifecraft” offered three simple suggestions, which he called the three “E’s”, “empathy”, “ecstasy” and “enthusiasm”. The key he claimed could be found in the literal understanding of these words. “Empathy”, to suffer or feel with another; “Ecstasy”, to stand outside ourselves; “Enthusiasm”, to manifest the god (theos) within us.

Empathy is a deep felt compassion. When we open our hearts empathically to another we are courageously refusing to allow self-consciousness to stand in the way of a higher consciousness that comes into being as we feel what another is going through. In so doing we serve both ourselves and the other person, as well as that higher consciousness beyond our singular selves.

Ecstasy is one of those words that has often been misunderstood as some kind of hedonistic state and therefore self- indulgent, it is far from this. In its truest sense what it actually does is take us out of ourselves and lifts us beyond our self created confines. In so doing we transcend our self-consciousness and enter a realm in which purpose begins to emerge and meaning is found.

Enthusiasm means to be filled with spirit, with holy energy. Enthusiasm allows us to be fully involved and engaged in whatever it is we are doing. It allows us to see beyond the confines we have created. Forrest himself states, drawing on the imagery of Narcissus, that “Here, once again, consciousness displaces self-consciousness. We escape from our mirrored room. Its mirrors turn into windows. Or the pond grows so still that we can see beyond our own reflection to the trees and clouds and birds and sun. There is, by the way, no higher form of spiritual practice. When we step out of our own shadow, consciousness replaces self-consciousness.”

Experience has revealed to me that in so doing we are set free to walk with others in our own faltering ways. Instead of being lost in what we believe is wrong with us we are set free to do what we can in this our shared world and in so doing we encourage others to do the same, as perfectly imperfect children of God, children of Love.

As I understand it the whole purpose of the spiritual life is to develop a deepening sense of connection. We all have our troubles and our worries either within ourselves, those around us or the wider world. We need to see them for what they are, we need to acknowledge the truth, but we must not get stuck there, for that will paralyse us and stop us doing what we can. We cannot change the way the world is but that need not prevent us from doing what we can do and in doing so we will grow spiritually as we become integrated into all that has been, all that exists and all that will ever.

As a kind of conclusion I’d like to end this little chip of a blog with one final thought, inspired by some wisdom that Forrest Church shared right at the end of his life.

So much of modern spiritually gets it wrong because it is seeking the wrong thing. There is so much talk of finding ourselves, when in actual fact what we ought to be doing is losing ourselves. What we ought to be striving for is integration and to let go of those aspects within ourselves that block this. We all ask the question “Who am I?” when really we ought to asking is “How am I doing? And if we are still feeling utterly dis-connected we need to ask why? And how can I integrate once again? You see if we can begin to integrate with all that is, all that has been and all that has ever been we begin to truly cohere. In doing so we transcend our self-consciousness and become conscious. We become spiritually mature. We become like the Buddha, awake.

So how conscious are you today? Are you truly awake?

Saturday, 2 August 2014

Can we live as one?

Last year I bought a copy of  “Falling Into the Sky: A Meditation Anthology” edited by Abhi Janamanchi and Abhimanyu Janamanchi. There are some beautiful reflections in it, The following “God Has No Borders” by Rod Richards seems particularly pertinent in the current climate.

"We humans are the line-drawers. We are the border-makers. We are the boundary-testers. We are the census-takers. We draw a line to separate this from that, so we can see clearly what each is. We create a border to define our place, so we can take care of what's there. We test boundaries to find if they are real, if they are necessary, if they are just. We congregate within those boundaries in families and tribes and cities and countries that we call us. And we call people on the other side them.

But our minds seek boundaries that our hearts know not. The lines we draw disappear when viewed with eyes of compassion. The recognition of human kinship does not end at any border. A wise part of us knows that the other is us, and we them.

Let justice flow like water and peace like a never-ending stream. Let compassion glow like sunlight and love like an ever-shining beam. The rain, the sunshine, the breeze, the life-giving air we breathe -- they know no boundaries. Neither do our empathy, our good will, our concern for one another.

God has no borders. Love has no borders. Let us lift up the awareness of our unity as we celebrate our awesome diversity on this beautiful day."

John Lennon once sang “You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one. I hope someday you’ll join us and the world will live as one”.

Well looking around at our world at times this does indeed seem a dream. Pick up any newspaper or switch on the news and we see division and violence growing. The idea that we can live as one does seem like a dream at times.

This last week marked the hundredth anniversary of the commencement of the First World War. Over the coming months there will be many events remembering this. While we remember I do wonder if we have ever really learned. Over the last 100 years there have been very few days when there was no conflict taking place in this our world.

Now while death through armed conflict is responsible for the loss of so many lives it is thought that only about 10% of the one million violent deaths in the world each year are due to them. The conflicts and the violence that takes place in this our world is not just between nations, or even groups and individuals. Half of the 1 million deaths are thought to be through suicide and about one third through homicide. How can we live at one with each other if we cannot live at one with ourselves?

Now of course the divisions in human life take many and varied forms. We see them of course in religious context and between nations and ethnic groups. We seem them in political agendas and we see them within communities and even within ourselves. It seems that when human beings come together in any way shape or form division soon begins to grow. It happens in families too and within our individual selves. How many of us can honestly say, hand on heart, that they are at one with themselves and the world around them?

It seems very difficult to imagine a world where we can all live as one.

A few days ago I came across a fascinating article written about  Buzz Aldrin, the second man to land on the moon. The article recounted something that took place during that first moon landing, something that was intentionally kept quiet at the time.

As Neil Armstrong was preparing to take “one small step for man” Aldrin wanted to mark the moment in a way that was deeply spiritually meaningful to him, something that he believed would symbolise the wonder and awe of the moon landings and that transcended the nuts and bolts and mere technology. He felt that a simple communion would be appropriate. So Aldrin brought with him a piece of communion bread, a sip of wine and a tiny silver chalice amongst the few personal items he was allowed to take into space with him.

So just before stepping foot on the moon, Aldrin conducted the service. As he did he called out to Houston

“Houston, this is Eagle. This is the LM Pilot speaking. I would like to request a few moments of silence. I would like to invite each person listening in, wherever and whomever he may be, to contemplate for a moment the events of the past few hours and to invite each person listening, wherever and whomever he may be, to contemplate for a moment the events of the past few hours and to give thanks in his own individual way.”

Aldrin had wanted to broadcast the event globally but had been discouraged by NASA who were at the time fighting a lawsuit brought by the atheist activist Madalyn Murray O’Hair who was suing them over the reading of Genesis by the crew of Apollo 8. So the communion was kept quiet and personal due to fear of litigation.

Years later while reflecting on the incident Aldrin said himself that perhaps he should have chosen a more universal way of commemorating this incredible human achievement. He said;

“Perhaps if I had it to do over again, I would not choose to celebrate communion… Although it was a deeply meaningful experience for me, it was a Christian sacrament, and we had come to the moon in the name of all mankind—be they Christians, Jews, Muslims, animists, agnostics, or atheists. But at the time I could think of no better way to acknowledge the enormity of the Apollo 11 experience than by giving thanks to God.”

So many of those early astronauts, as they looked down on earth, were deeply moved by the experience. They certainly saw the oneness and the interconnection of all life on earth and all of humanity.

Thomas Stafford, while looking down on earth from Apollo 10 famously said:

"The white twisted clouds and the endless shades of blue in the ocean

make the hum of the spacecraft systems, the radio chatter, even your

own breathing disappear. There is no cold or wind or smell to tell you

that you are connected to Earth.

You have an almost dispassionate platform - remote, Olympian and yet so moving that you can hardly believe how emotionally attached you are to those rough patterns shifting steadily below."

From space those astronauts developed a deepening spiritual connection to the earth they had been separated from. They saw the world as one, there were no borders from space.

We are all connected on this our planet and yet we build so many walls, so many borders that separate us. How do we begin to live with a greater sense of oneness and interconnection? Well I do not think that the only answer is to blast off into space. I don’t think we need to do this. If I’ve learnt anything I have learnt that the journey towards interconnection and togetherness, the spiritual journey, is not one of distance, nor is it a journey of detachment, the spiritual journey is one of connection.

For me the spiritual life is essentially about connection. It is about connecting to a reality that is greater than our small selves. Living spiritually is about finding ways to connect to whatever it is that is of highest worth to us, whatever we hold sacred, whatever we regard as holy. It is about finding ways to connect through the daily interactions of our lives; it’s about learning how to live more openly even when the tough times come and those around us are refusing to do so.

This is not easy, especially when we see so many of those around us seemingly living more disconnectedly from all life and putting up barriers towards others. So how do we do this, you may well ask? Well I believe it begins with spiritual practise, it is this that will help us to connect in deeper and more meaningful ways.

I’d like to suggest a simple practise to you, one I came across in a book of meditations titled “Singing in the Night: Collected Meditations: Volume Five” edited by Mary Bernard. It is by David O. Rankin and is titled “Our Common Destiny”

“First, I must begin with my own creation. I must celebrate the miracle of evolution that resulted in a living entity named David. I must assist in the unfolding of the process by deciding who I am, by fashioning my own identity, by creating myself each day. I must listen to the terrors, the desires, the impulses that clash in the depths of my soul. I must know myself, or I will be made and used by others.

Second, I must learn to affirm my neighbours. I must respect others, not for their function, but for their being. I must put others at the centre of my attention, to treat them as ends, and to recognise our common destiny. I must never use people to win glory, or to measure the ego, or to escape from responsibility. I must listen to their words, their thoughts, their coded messages.

Finally, I must value action more than intention. I must feel, think, judge, decide, and then risk everything in acts of gratuitous freedom. I must batter the walls of loneliness. I must leap the barriers of communication. I must tear down the fences of anonymity. I must destroy the obstacles to life and liberty. Not in my mind (as a wistful dream). But in my acts (as a daily reality)."

Can we live as one? At one with ourselves, at one with one another, at one with those people who we see as being different to ourselves, can we live at one with all of life? Well I believe it is possible, I don’t see it as an impossible dream. It begins within our own hearts and souls and in the ways that we conduct our lives. It will not be easy though, as the forces of division are all around us and indeed within us.

Therefore it must begin within our own hearts and souls. in the way we live our own lives. It begins by learning to revere life as the most precious God given gift there is. If we do this we will surely no longer be able to create divisions within ourselves, one another and all life.

I'm going to end this little blogspot with some prayerful words by  Rick Hoyt titled “Beyond Borders”. I invite you still yourselves in a time of prayer…let us pray…

“Beyond Borders” by Rick Hoyt

Go forth
Because we are always going forth from somewhere

Going from our homes
Going from our childhoods and younger selves
Going from our cities and states and countries
Going from innocence to experience to enlightenment

Finding borders
Testing borders
Crossing borders.

Go forth
into the night
Because we are always going into some night,

Going into mystery
Going into questions
Going into the desert
Getting to the other side.

Go forth,
Eagerly or reluctantly
Leaving behind the comfort and joy and community and
familiarity of one place
Go forth, into the anxiety and sadness and loneliness and
strangeness of some other place.

Carry with you the love and laugther of this place
And let it light your spirit and your life and your way
as you make your journey.
Carry with you the wisdom you learned and the good memories of this place
And may they give you strength for your journey.

And when you have been away long enough,
far enough,
Done what you set off to do
Been there so long that
That place too, starts to feel like home.

Come back.
Come back.
Come back to the one, universal,
Everywhere and every when and everyone inclusive home,
This beloved community of all creation
That you cannot ever really leave.