Saturday, 25 March 2017

The Spirit of Mother

The celebration of Mother has a long history. It dates back to the time of ancient Greece and Rome. It is not merely, as some would suggest, a creation of the greeting cards company to make money out of us. The celebrations of mother and motherhood has been with us for many centuries. In Britain Mothering Sunday was about returning home either to family and or the Mother Church. Returning to a place of total acceptance and love, a place where the love within us can grow, a place of nurture.

 These days Mothering Sunday in the UK has become known as Mother’s Day, following the American tradition that is celebrated in May, and not the middle Sunday of Lent.

Mothering Sunday, Mother’s Day, whatever its actual true origins is enshrined in this image of returning home, and this sense of belonging to something more than ourselves. Whether that is actually of children returning to the family home having been working away or of people returning to the mother church. Either way it’s about returning home to a place of safety; it is about returning home to a place of renewal, of re-birth, not only for ourselves but for others too; it is about returning to a place of love and total acceptance of who we are, exactly as we, no matter what we have done or where we have been, we are accepted with open loving arms. It’s about returning to that place where love is not only born but nurtured and grown and brought into true being.

Mother’s Day is the celebration of being held and nurtured in the spirit of love. Mother’s Day is about celebrating the spirit of mother.
Today we celebrate the spirit of mother; today we celebrate and give thanks to those who gave birth to our being, but we do more than that. Today we celebrate those who have nurtured and brought to life the love within us whether they are the ones who gave birth to our bodies or helped nurture and bring to life something within us. Today we celebrate the spirit of mother; today we celebrate those who have nurtured our lives whether in body, in mind, in heart or spirit.

Also today in celebrating the spirit of mother we acknowledge our responsibility to one another as individuals and a community to nurture, to bring to life, the love within ourselves, one another and the wider human community.
The truth is that all of us are constantly giving birth to something each and every day. We are all a part of the Divine Creation and re-creation it is really important to recognise this. As Annie Dillard wrote “ We are here to witness creation and to abet it…We are here to bring to consciousness the beauty and power that are all around us and to praise the people who are here with us.”

This is nurture, this bringing alive the spirit of mother, this is what we celebrate this day.
There are many ways to nurture and countless opportunities each and every day to do so. What have you given birth to and nurtured today? Perhaps a new sense of family or community? Perhaps you have held or encouraged another, given them hope? Perhaps something to improve your local community or wider society? What can you give birth to or nurture today? What gift have you been given that could be brought to life or what could you encourage to bring to life in others?

In what ways can you bring to life the spirit of Mother?
Over the last few weeks I feel I have awoken once again to the spirit of Mother, the spirit of nurture. I felt powerfully caught up in it only last week as I attended the parliamentary workshop and reception on combatting obesity. I participated in the roundtable discussion looking at ways to reach men. Many avenues were explored. At one point we discussed children and the role that not only mothers but fathers play in nurturing their children’s eating habits and how this would be one way to reach men to help them live healthier lives. It was reassuring to witness the recognition these days in men’s roles in nurturing children.
During the day I witnessed this nurturing love being expressed and participated in conversations about how we all have a role in bringing it to life. I saw a deep sense of collective responsibility and witnessed numerous examples of ways in which we can all show the way. None more so than in Baroness Benjamin, a wonderful example of mother. I’m not just talking about childhood memories here either. Although I did remember being a little boy and watching with my own mother as she touched so many children’s lives in the 1970’s. What I witnessed and was honoured to be in the presence of, was the embodiment of nurture, such a warm and deeply loving human being who just put you at ease by their presence. Someone who made you feel welcome as you are and someone who by simply being themselves invited you to be yourself. This is the spirit of mother for me and also the model for religious community too, the mother church a place of nurture, love and acceptance, a place where you can be yourself and your spirit can grow.

I felt powerfully the spirit of mother that day.

Subsequently I have felt a sickening sadness this week as only seven days later this very same place was a scene of bloodshed and murder as the Houses of Parliament came under attack from a man with murderous intent. That terror, that fear, will not overcome love though, of this I am certain. The spirit of love, that embodies the spirit of mother will overcome the spirit of destruction that occurred that day. We have seen this spirit come to life as people have come together ever since this appalling atrocity was committed...The spirit of love will always over come...
Today we honour the spirit of mother. Yes we honour the mothers who gave birth to us and raised us but also all the others who have nurtured and brought to life this love within us. We also honour that which lays within us, that spirit of mother that can help bring the very same love alive in others.
All of us have the potential to give birth and raise something in the world. Not all of us can give birth to children, but we can give birth to ideas, to art to music to all manner of creativity, we can all give birth to love through our very being. Some of us raise children, but children are not the only things that we can raise. Some of us can raise animals or flowers and vegetables; some of us can raise those in our community to be the best that they can be; some of us, later in life, find ourselves raising our own parents as they come to end of their lives; some of us can raise interest in a cause that we feel is worthy of working for, for me in recent times it is obesity and issues about our own bodily being. A love that has grown from my own pain and suffering and struggle. If we cannot raise interest we can raise money to support causes or just point out to others where love is needed. We can all raise and nurture love in this world, we can all give birth to love through our being. We can invoke the spirit of mother through our very own human being.

So on this day that honours mothers, let us do so in the true spirit of mother. Let us honour the mothers who gave birth to us and those who raised us. Let us give thanks for all they gave, whilst acknowledging their human limitations. Let us also give thanks for all those who have shown unconditional love and acceptance to us, those who have nurtured that loving spirit within us, who encouraged us to be the best that we could be. Let us also acknowledge that spirit of mother within each of us, that capacity to accept, love, encourage and nurture. Let us acknowledge our responsibility not only for ourselves but for one another and the whole of humanity.

Let’s all of us pay homage to the spirit of mother…

Sunday, 19 March 2017

Love and Fear: What do you feel?

“I bet you feel nervous don’t you?” “No not really,” I said “I feel ok about it. I know why I’m going and it’s a real honour to be asked. Any way I won’t be travelling alone.” “Who are travelling with?” I was asked “Oh I am travelling with love all the way. I only travel first class these days.” Several people have asked me this question or similar ones these last few weeks about my attendance at the Slimming World Policy Workshop and Parliamentary Reception exploring ways to tackle obesity that I would be taking part in and given a speech at, in the Houses of Parliament. The truth is I wasn’t feeling nervous about it at all. I felt good. I knew why I was going and do you know what I knew I belonged there, I knew I had something to offer from my own lived experience. I knew what had got me to where I am and that I could trust in this loving power to guide me through the day. I knew why I was going and I knew it wasn’t about me, it was about being of service to others who struggle with shame about their own physical being. It was about being in love.

Even on the morning as I set off, really early, there was no fear. I felt at ease, I knew why I was going and I knew I wasn’t alone. I was travelling with love flowing through my veins. I arrived at the Houses of Parliament early and walked around the square looking at the statues of the great and the good, David Lloyd George, Winston Churchill, Abraham Lincoln rising from his chair, Gandhi, Nelson Mandella and others. I thought about the history of the place and the people who had spoken there in some form or another. Yes these are great figures but they were no more human than any of us. It was strange there was no fear, love held me through it all. I then went, through security and to the round table discussions on obesity, something I know much about. Again I passed statues of the great and the good and took in the immensity of the place. The only time I felt any fear at all was when I passed through security and I got that weird guilt feeling so many feel at airports and also as I passed the armed police with their automatic weapons, sad signs of the time. I joined in the discussion at my table with a variety of health experts from many fields and Lord’s and M.P.’s from all the parties. I spoke my truth in love and I listened with the ears of my heart, in the room named after the great orator Winston Churchill. Later was the reception when again I listened to speeches first from Baroness Benjamin, Floella Benjamin from my childhood, what an amazing woman, even more wonderful in real life, then politicians and a young weight loss champion and then it was my time to speak. I stood at the podium I opened my mouth and I just let my truth come out. When I had finished speaking the response was amazing and Floella held out her arms to me and hugged me like no one has ever hugged me before. She then spoke so lovingly and glowingly about what I said, saying that she wants me back and telling me that I need to keep on sharing my story. I then mixed with many others and photos were taken and arrangement s were made to speak again and join in the efforts to help so many people out there who are suffering with obesity. I know the truth that love can help anyone overcome whatever it is that is holding them back and stopping them living the life that they are born to live.

I had travelled, spoken and been in love all day, there had been no fear. Perfect love and truly cast out all fear that day...

Fear haunts so many lives. It has certainly done so with mine over the years. We seem to be living in ever more fearful times. Actually I think it is the biggest epidemic that is crippling humanity. I suspect it is at the root of virtually all our human troubles. Fear is on the increase, humanity seems to be increasingly losing faith in itself. This troubles me, because I know it doesn’t have to be this way. I know the power of love can and does overcome crippling fear. The last third of my life is proof of that.

Thankfully I’m not alone in this. I know others who see the world through similar eyes, through the lens of love. It was very clear that Baroness Benjamin is one of them and so are many others I spent my time with that day. If I could have one wish it would be to encourage everyone I meet to look at the world, at one another, and themselves through such lenses. 

Now as a minister of the Unitarian tradition you would perhaps expect me to see life this way. I remember speaking with Rev Jill McCallister at our General Assembly meetings a couple of years ago. She was visiting from the US as a representative of the International Council of Unitarian Universalists (ICUU). I talked with her quite a lot over the days, I enjoyed her company immensely. I remember her telling me of her greatest concern in pastoral ministry, this growing sense of fear and pessimism in the people she served. She told me they were not poor, they were fairly privileged and had lived and were living good lives but still she noticed this growing fear amongst them. She said if she could give them something it would be to give them the loving faith they needed to overcome the fear. Oh how she wished she could give them the love they needed to feed their souls and thus overcome their fear, for if they didn’t they would not live the lives they needed to live in order to live in hope and dispel their growing despair.

 John Lennon said:

 “There are two basic motivating forces: fear and love. When we are afraid, we pull back from life. When we are in love, we open to all that life has to offer with passion, excitement, and acceptance. We need to learn to love ourselves first, in all our glory and our imperfections. If we cannot love ourselves, we cannot fully open to our ability to love others or our potential to create. Evolution and all hopes for a better world rest in the fearlessness and open-hearted vision of people who embrace life.” 

Fear is a powerful force and it comes in many forms. There are of course phobias such as of spiders, or heights or people we can perceive as different. There are internal fears such as commitment and loneliness, the sort of fears that shut us down and close us in. There is fright a healthy kind of fear that kicks in if we nearly get run over or a brick falls from a building being worked on from above. Then there is dread, the worst kind of fear, the kind that stops us living at all.

Love is as equally a powerful force, in fact perhaps even more powerful than fear. It too comes in many form, there is not just the romantic kind that we talk about on Valentine’s Day. There is also a deep sense of happiness that comes from a love for life itself, the opposite of dread. There’s the love we feel for friends and family and community too. There is also another kind of love, the type that David Whyte talked about extensively in his book, “The Three Marriages,” this is a deep engaged love with life whether that be with our inner selves, others, life itself, a work or calling, for nature and of course a love for God. There are many forms of love.

These two forces “Love” and “Fear” pull and push at us constantly, like the great tides and whichever one we feed is the one that consumes us. Fear can stop us functioning, as it shuts us down completely or perhaps worse, it can lead to terrible destruction, as we make wrong choices about life and take wrong action. Fear can block us from experiencing the one thing we all need to live happily in this world, it can stop us from knowing love.

Love though can drive out fear, it does so by nourishing our souls. As John wrote (1 John Ch 4 vv 18)

 "There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love."

 To know love and to share it with others will always overcome fear. It has always done so. I know this from personal experience. By constantly turning to love fear is overcome and cannot take hold and by living in love we become beacons of hope to others of what living in and through love can do. Love gives us the courage to overcome fear, to face whatever is causing us fear and to walk through it and as we do the fear diminishes. As we do we can feel the love flowing again. All we have to do is turn in love and the tide can begin to change direction. Hard to believe I know, but true. It’s up to us, by simply choosing love we can cast out fear and be of service to ourselves and the whole world around us. Fear and cynicism are the easy lazy choices. Love is harder, well actually it’s tougher, but it is most certainly worth it.

So as I set off on last Wednesday morning I did so in faith. I knew what I was engaging in was an act of love. An act not only for the good of myself, but for the good of many. It was an act worthy of engaging in. at the core of what I was doing was love. A love for self, a love for others, a love for life and a love for God. Ever since I have known this love any fear I have known has been easily cast out. This love is at the core of all that I do in life these days. Who knows what adventure it will lead me on next? God only knows.

I’m going to end this little chip of a "BlogSpot"morning with the following “Love Verses Fear” by Sarah Nean Bruce

LOVE IS UNCONDITIONAL (fear is conditional)
LOVE IS STRONG (fear is weak)
LOVE RELEASES (fear obligates)
LOVE SURRENDERS (fear binds)
LOVE IS HONEST (fear is deceitful)
LOVE TRUSTS (fear suspects)
LOVE ALLOWS (fear dictates)
LOVE GIVES (fear resists)
LOVE FORGIVES (fear blames)
LOVE CHOOSES (fear avoids)
LOVE IS KIND (fear is angry)
LOVE IGNITES (fear incites)
LOVE EMBRACES (fear repudiates)
LOVE CREATES (fear negates)
LOVE HEALS (fear hurts)
LOVE IS MAGIC (fear is superstitious)
LOVE ENERGIZES (fear saps)
LOVE IS AN ELIXIR (fear is a poison)
LOVE INSPIRES (fear worries)
LOVE DESIRES (fear Joneses)
LOVE IS PATIENT (fear is nervous)
LOVE IS BRAVE (fear is afraid)
LOVE IS RELAXED (fear is pressured)
LOVE IS BLIND (fear is judgmental)
LOVE RESPECTS (fear disregards)
LOVE ACCEPTS (fear rejects)
LOVE DREAMS (fear schemes)
LOVE WANTS TO PLAY (fear needs to control)
LOVE ENJOYS (fear suffers)
LOVE FREES (fear imprisons)
LOVE BELIEVES (fear deceives)
LOVE “WANTS” (fear “needs”)
LOVE versus fear: what do you feel?

Sunday, 12 March 2017

Good or bad: Maybe, maybe not...Let's wait and see...

“Oh it’s an awful day, truly dreadful.” I wonder how many times I have heard these words uttered. I heard it several times last Sunday. I heard it as folk arrived for worship. I heard it as I chatted with people at the gym and heard it from several friends that evening. Now granted these friends are members of a walking group and it had been pretty wild last Sunday. It certainly didn’t feel like the beginning of spring.

It is said that we British are obsessed with the weather. Oscar Wilde said that conversation about the weather was “the last refuge of the unimaginative”. Bill Bryson, that great observer of this nation, noted that the most striking characteristic of British weather is that there “ain’t much of it.” None British people are puzzled, it seems, at our obsession with talking about the weather. I’ve lost count of the number of storm warnings over the last few weeks and yet if truth be told none of them were severe in comparison to other parts of the world. And yet we never stop talking about the weather. In a recent survey 94% of respondents admitted to having talked about the weather in the past six hours while 38% admitted to doing so in the last hour. Which means according to social anthropologist Kate Fox who performed the study in 2010 for her book “Watching the English” “…at almost any moment in England, at least a third of the population is either talking about the weather, has already done so or is about to do so.”

We British are obsessed with the weather. How many times have you talked about it already today? When was the last time you did so?

Please don’t get me wrong I’m not suggesting that there is anything wrong in this. I actually think it is lovely way for people to connect. The problem isn’t so much that we talk about the weather. No the problem I see is something else. It’s the way that we divide our conversation into “good” and “bad”. We talk about “good” and “bad” weather. It seems to me that we do this with all aspects of life. We divide life into “good” and “bad” and we do it with people too.

How often do we hear the phrase “There are two types of people in this world?” Well there aren’t there are people and people. We are all made of the same stuff, we have the same spirit within us. Dividing up people into different camps helps no one and in my view it is this that leads to the evil that we do to one another, it is this that justifies so many of the wrongs we have commit against one another. When we look into one another’s eyes do we really see someone other than ourselves? Do we really see a different type of person?

Yet we all do it. I do it, I’m no different to anyone else. We all have our scapegoats those we blame for our troubles or life’s troubles. It is not just with people and weather that we do this either, we do it with good fortune and with fate. We talk about good luck and we talk about bad luck.

Of all the stories I’ve told in my time as minister, the one that people seem to remember the most, the one that folk have told back to me more than any other is the following one on good luck and bad luck. A story that the people I serve physically tell back to me by lifting one or the other shoulder. Here it is…

“Let’s Wait and See”

There's an excellent Taoist tale of a farmer who has a balanced view of life. This view often confuses those around him that expect him to react or behave according to the "norm".

The story goes that an old farmer is working hard in the fields. He has a wife and a son, and ekes out a meagre living. One day, his only horse runs away. Upon hearing this, his neighbours comment "Oh, how awful! That is terrible! Such bad news!" to this the farmer replied:

"Maybe, maybe not. Let's wait and see."

A few days later, the farmer's horse returns and with it is another, exotic horse from far away. The horse is a mare, and is of rare value. The neighbours, upon hearing this, exclaim "How wonderful! It's fantastic that your horse returned and brought another horse with it! Such good news!". The farmer shrugged and said:

"Maybe, maybe not. Let's wait and see."

"The farmer's horses gave him many young, prized colts making the farmer very wealthy in the town. The neighbours were very happy for the farmer saying; "This is so fantastic! Your new horses have brought you much fortune! Such good news!" The farmer responded:

"Maybe, maybe not. Let's wait and see"

The farmer's son, now a young man, tried to tame one of the young colts and was thrown from the horse, breaking his hip. This left the son unable to walk. The neighbours came to help and tried to console the farmer saying; "Oh, how awful! Your only son will never walk again! Such bad news!". The farmer, who was not upset, simply said:

"Maybe, maybe not. Let's wait and see"

Later that year, the farmer's country went to war, and the army came by to conscript every able bodied man for duty. The farmer was too old to be taken, and his son could not walk, therefore he was excused. The army simply took the farmer's horses, leaving him just his original horse to allow him to keep farming.

Was the farmer's life good? Maybe. Was the farmer's life bad? Maybe not.

Good luck and bad luck are two sides of the same really depends on the perspective that we choose to view in any given situation.

“Good” and “bad” are aspects of all life and each and every person. Sometimes what we see as “good” and “bad” turn out to be the very opposite. It’s the same with people. There are not two types of people that we divide into “good” and “bad” camps. There is simply one type of person. Division and divisiveness are very dangerous things indeed. Where on earth do we draw the line?

It matters how we speak about life, it matters how speak about one another and it matters how we speak about ourselves. By saying this is “good” and this is “bad” and standing in this judgement we are creating a wall between aspects of ourselves and aspects of each other. This creates division both within ourselves and each other. What we need is reconciliation. We and all life is formed from the same source, we cannot separate any aspect of it from another.  We need to learn to create the environment when the lion and lamb can lie down together. Both the lion and the lamb within ourselves, but also the lion and the lamb in each other and all life.

Our world really needs this now. We seem to live in ever more dividing and divisive times. Our world needs healing and I believe it is the task of free religious communities to take the lead in this. It is up to us and it begins with us, in our own hearts and in our own communities. For it we get this right we can begin to bring healing and reconciliation to our wider world. It begins with how we engage with one another and with life. It begins with how we view life, maybe it begins with how we even view the weather. Maybe it begins by stopping seeing the weather as “good” or “bad”, and simply see it as weather.

The spiritual life is not a passive life. How we live in the world really matters. How we see life, how we see ourselves and how we see one another really matters. How we speak about life, how we speak about ourselves and how we speak about one another really matters. We impact on life constantly we are not just blown and battered by life. We can set our sails and even gain mastery of the elements if we take care our sails. We are not powerless in life and our lives are not meaningless. It is important that what we actually do is recognise our power and responsibility. To truly pay attention to how we impact on life and one another. To live spiritually is to take responsibility and to fully live our lives. We are not all powerful of course not, but we are an important part of the whole and our world needs us to recognise this and to play our part fully in life.

We need to fully recover our true identity, we need to recognise our interconnectedness we need to awaken our true sense of self and embrace fully our being and our inter-being with each other and all life in reverence, in love and in care. In so doing we will begin to embrace an attitude that is an antidote to separating life into “good” and into “bad”, into “them” and “us”

If we do we can begin to create the environment where the lion does indeed begin to lay down with the lamb.

It is up to us. For this we are all responsible.

Sunday, 5 March 2017

Between Winter and Spring a Lenten Journey

“Lent” by Bruce T Marshall

The season of Lent takes place on the Christian calendar for forty days before Easter.

Lent does not exactly catch the popular fancy. Many of the references I hear trivialize it: “This year I’m giving up liver for Lent.” Or treat it as opportunity for commercial promotion. “Macaroni and cheese! The perfect meal for Lent!”

Lent is defined as a time of fasting and penitence in preparation for Easter. In this day and age both fasting and penitence may seem peculiar.

And yet during this season of Lent – when the earth is still barren from winter – our lives too may seem on hold, waiting for a miracle.

It’s a time when I become deeply aware of the suffering in the congregation, the community, the world. On any given day we all look pretty much all right, but beneath the appearances many struggle.

It’s a time when I revisit the sorrows I have caused others. Old memories that hide from summer’s sun and spring’s brilliant colors and the excitement of fall activities – these make themselves known during this fallow time of the year.

It’s a time when “doing without” seems the appropriate way to nourish our spirituality. As the earth still is “doing without,” as we reach the end of our store of energy and spirit that was gathered and packed away during the harvest. Now we do without and await a word of hope – the promise of a future.

Religious liberals sometimes are accused of wanting Easter without Lent or Good Friday. Given our attitude of hope and affirmation, we may skip past the struggles that give birth to new life.

But I have not found that to be true. Suffering and struggle come to us, whether there is room for it in our theology or not. The faith that speaks to this experience is not specifically Christian but universal – that there is meaning in our struggles, that we may be transformed in our suffering. That Easter awaits beyond the barrenness of this season of Lent."

Last Friday evening I attended an event with some friends in Northwich, a part of Cheshire I am unfamiliar with. We travelled there and back being guided by Sat Nav, trusting the voice of the lady in the machine. It is amazing how reliant on technology I have become, I know I am not alone in this. On the way back home there were many diversions, which the machine couldn’t quite cope with. The voice in the machine kept trying to get me to go one way, but I had to ignore it and basically trust my instincts. I did eventually find my way back to Altrincham, although it took a lot longer than it should have. We made the most of it, we told many stories of our lives and enjoyed a lot of fun driving in the dark in unfamiliar territory. I know that this time in the wilderness brought the three of us closer together.

I have driven both of these friends to numerous events over the last few years and it is usually quite a fun adventure. One in particular always brings a smile to my face when I think of the crazy conversations we have had. She is as stubborn and belligerent as I can be. I recall a conversation we had this time last year when she was complaining about the cold. I remember at the time saying “Well it is winter” to which she said “that it wasn’t, winter is November December and January but spring begins in February.” I spent a little time explaining when winter is meant to be and the four seasons in general, but she wasn’t having any of it. Our conversations often go like this. A few days later she finally relented after scouring the internet obsessively in an attempt to prove me wrong. I have lost count of the number of similar conversations we have had over the last few years.

It is now March and we have stepped into the season of Lent, but we are still experiencing wintery weather. It even snowed this week. There have been some signs of spring these last few weeks but it is not quite here yet. I know most of us want winter over and the new life of spring. We want Easter and the re-birth of spring to come oh so soon, but first we have to travel through the barren wilderness of March and Lent. Soon though the new life will be here, we will soon be enjoying that gorgeous pink snow that comes with the cherry blossom, the new life will soon be with us.

We have entered the season of Lent. I hope you all enjoyed your pancakes on Tuesday. On what some still call Shrove Tuesday, or as many prefer to call it “Pancake Day”, or as I prefer to call it “Flat Yorkshire Pudding Day”…How do you eat yours?

The following day “Ash Wednesday”, for Christians, marks the beginning of 40 days of fasting, reflection, penitence and self-sacrifice that lead up to Easter, the day of re-birth re-newal and new beginnings.

Lent is a time of reflection, a time of temptation, a time to observe and find answers. It’s a time of preparation. These forty days or so are meant to be a barren time, where we strip ourselves down of luxuries and distractions to give birth to new treasures that can be symbolically born again at Easter time. Not an easy time and a time to experience a sense of loneliness as we enter our the inner wilderness.

In the account found in Matthews Gospel, Jesus is “led by the spirit” into the wilderness, a place of transformation and temptation. He is taken to the pinnacle of the temple and to the top of a high mountain. Here he is offered the world, but rejects the allure of an easier celebrated more obvious path. Instead he chooses the road less travelled, the heroes path. He is tempted by “Satan” but resists the temptation.

This is a universal tale; many of the great sages went on similar journeys, before embarking on their missions to heal their people. The Buddha had to leave the comforts of home, abandon his weeping family, shave his head and don the robes of a world renouncing ascetic, when he began his journey to discover a cure for the pain of the world. Long before his revelations Muhammad would retreat to Mount Hira, outside of Mecca, where he fasted, performed spiritual exercises and gave alms to the poor. He did this in an attempt to discover a remedy for the troubles of his time. When Ghandi began his mission he left the comforts of the elite in which he had lived his whole life and travelled to India carefully observing the plight of the ordinary people.

During their times in the wilderness the great sages found their answers. Through taking the road less travelled, the hard road, the difficult road, the answers came to them. They discovered the knowledge they needed to impact positively on their people in their time and place.

This is the spiritual life in its essence. It is often the hardest most difficult path and it can certainly appear to be the loneliest, one filled with temptations. That said it is the one where the answers are usually found.

Lent is not just about giving up luxuries whether that be food and drink. or as I have seen with some friends and colleagues giving up their dependence on technology. I know several people who have come of social media and one collegue who has said he has given up “plastic” for Lent.

Lent is also a time of reflection a time to go inward and search out answers to the troubles we face as individuals, families, communities, nations and the world. It is a time for repentance and for re-building relationships with those we share this world with.

Lent shares this focus on repentance with many other religions. It shares a focus on atonement with Yom Kippur the Jewish New Year where prayer and fasting accompany acts of atonement. There are parallels with Ramadan in the Islamic tradition, a time for fasting and spiritual engagement as well charitable works and act acts of atonement. Both have a key focus on putting right relationships with God and the people around us. You see similar rituals in both Hinduism and Buddhism too, where fasting atonement, forgiveness and reconciliation are key components.

You can see clearly two key components in all the traditions that is at the core of Lent. One being fasting, denying oneself of life’s luxuries and therefore connecting with those less fortunate and the other healing relationships with one another and with whatever we believe is at the core of all life. It is a time to go inward, but with a sense of purpose. The purpose being to return outward with the intention of bringing healing to our shared world.

The Lenten journey is not an aimless one...

Lent is not an easy path. If only we could simply see what the problem is and change what needs to be changed. Life holds many distractions both internal and external. Lent recognises this, it is part of the mythos. In the Gospel accounts Jesus is tempted from his path by Satan. Satan means “the hinderer”. Temptation can be understood as anyone or anything that hinders our attempts to live the lives we are choosing. It hinders us from seeing who we truly are, children of life, children of love, children of God as it does the same with those we share this world with.

Temptation is that force that separates us from ourselves, from one another and from all life. A force that seems to be growing in power in our time and place.

We do seem to be living in ever more dividing times. Walls are being built, peoples are being separated and scapegoats are being named. I see this in the people I share my life with and I see it on a local and global scale too. Lent to me seems like an antidote to this.

We need Lent more than we have ever needed it. We need time to slow down and to reflect on our own lives and those who we share our lives with. We need to look inwardly and face our own troubles, to see what can be improved in our own lives. We also though need to look outwardly at the world in which we live and breathe and share our being. We need to see where the barriers are in our lives and those close at hand and we need to bring atonement both to our inner and outer lives. It is so needed. We need to take this time so that we can begin to bring some healing to our suffering world. As Jesus did and as the great sages throughout human history have done. We can follow their example, we do not need to be diverted by “the hinderers” both within and without.

Lent is an opportunity to prepare for a new beginning, a fresh start. The cold winter is coming to end, spring is coming, new birth and new life is coming. We need to prepare ourselves for this. We need to go inwards and reflect in this time to face our own demons, our distractions, the things that hinder us. We then need to turn outward to our world and begin to build bridges in our time and space. To me this is the message of Lent and of Easter that is to follow. It will not be pain free, there will be personal suffering, as there is in all life. Remember before we have Easter comes the horror of Good Friday. This is the example I see powerfully in the life of Jesus and the other great sages too, but particularly Jesus. His ministry was at its core about bringing love and reconciliation to humanity. This is the heart of his life and death and the love that lived on from his death, a love still alive today. If we look for it, we will find it. We can follow this great example we can bring this love alive.

We are responsible for our lives and our world. Are we going to be “the hinderers” to this love, the wall builders or are we going to be the ones who bring this love alive, the bridge builders.

It is up to us.

Lent is about attempting to practise love in life day by day, despite the distraction both within and without. It’s not about giving up sweets or chocolate or plastic or neon, it’s about giving of ourselves to life each and every day in whatever small ways that we can. It’s about building bridges of reconciliation rather than walls of separation, it’s about facing up to our demons, those within and those without and about attempting to build the commonwealth of love right here, right now.

It’s about preparing for the new love that can be born again in our hearts and lives…For this we are all responsible…

Sunday, 26 February 2017

The Essence of the Truth

“Guarding the Rock of Truth” taken from "The Truth in 60 Seconds: 99 Tales to Set Your Clock By" by Art Lester

The Guardian of the Rock of Truth was entertaining his grandson on the mountain top. After several millennia he felt the need of a little company, and it wouldn’t hurt the lad to learn a few things about what grandpa did all day. They sat and watched as various humans below attempted to scale the mountain where the large Rock gleamed in the sunlight. They watched them as they got side-tracked or discouraged. Sometimes people actually fell in their attempts.

“Why do you need to guard the Rock, Grandpa?” asked the boy.

“Because the truth is dangerous to humans.”

“Why is that?”

“I’ll explain another time,” said the Guardian. He was looking closely at a human who was getting very near the summit. They watched as a man scaled the last few feet of the climb and stood unsteadily blinking in the sun.

The Guardian walked over and stood between the ragged and exhausted man and the Rock. “I’m afraid you can’t go any further,” he said.

“But I want the truth,” complained the man.

“Sorry. Out of the question,” said the Guardian.

He turned back toward his grandson, and the man dashed forward. In a second he had picked up a small piece of the Rock and jumped back onto the trail. The Guardian watched him head down with a sigh.

“Another poor fellow,” he said.

“But, Grandpa, he looked happy!” said the boy.

They looked down at the man. He was holding the tiny piece of the Rock of Truth over his head, a look of ecstasy on his face. Far below him they could see a crowd of cheering people who watched as the man made his way down the mountain. The Guardian clucked his tongue and shook his head sadly.

“Are you afraid he will fall, Grandpa? Is that why it’s bad for him to have a piece of the truth?

“No.” answered the old man.

“Is it because it will make him ill?”

“No,” said the Guardian.

“Then why?” asked the boy impatiently.

"Because now he will take that small piece of truth and start another religion.” The Guardian said.

"A little bit of knowledge is a dangerous thing…You can wear a crown, it doesn’t make you king, beware the trinkets that we bring"…"For all that glitters is not gold"…Beware the dangers of shiney things…perhaps the most dangerous being the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth…Or perhaps the delusion that you believe that you hold the whole truth in your hands...

The Buddha reputedly said “Three things cannot be long hidden, the sun, the moon and the truth”. Now while these things are not long hidden we never see the whole of them from where we stand "whole of the moon", despite what the “Waterboys” sang, the whole of the sun and certainly not the whole of the truth.

None of us know the whole truth, we can only get a glimpse of it and even the small aspect that we get to glimpse upon we do not see directly. Any bit of the light we gaze upon is refracted…As Paul said in his famous words on love we only see into the glass dimly. No one sees the whole truth…It is important to remember this and it ought to breed humility…

People can be very funny!!!

I recently posted a comment on facebook, it was meant for my more theologically inclined friends. It read “Has anyone else ever noticed that when ever you type "panentheism" into Word it wants to correct it to pantheism...They are not the same and one is not a mispelling of the other...”

...The responses I received were hilarious, mainly from people who just made jokes about the terms, which they'd never heard of...

Now I’m not going to talk about their differences here, they are vastly so by the way, although one does seem not to be recognised by Microsoft. No the reason I mention this is that I was recently sent a questionnaire by a friend who was asking me for my views on God and Love amongst others things for her thesis titled “Models of God and the Meaning of Love”. The word panentheism had come up in my attempt to describe my own beliefs, as I attempted to share my experiences and my truth. I found the exercise both useful and deeply moving as I recalled and attempted to put into words experiences that are beyond the limits of my language and seemingly way beyond the limits of Microsoft spell checker, or this "Blog" by the way. Google blog keeps on wanting to correct "Panentheism" to "Pantheism" too. I was merely trying to attempt to share my truth from my experiences, my own understanding of the little aspect of the light I have glimpsed upon and only dimly…my partial truth…my imperfect truth...

I was also recently asked a question by another friend about faith, I think she was trying to work me out. She thanked me for my truth but I could tell it made her a little uncomfortable as it didn’t fit into her own model it would seem. I was also asked by someone at the gym, who I’ve been chatting to in recent weeks, “What I was doing later today” to which I replied “Mainly working, got a lot a of visiting today”. They then asked “Oh what do you do?” to which I replied “I’m a minister”. They then asked, with that slightly shocked look that people often give me when they discover what I do, “Oh are you very religious?” To which I replied, “Well it depends what you mean by religious?” We then had a very interesting conversation about matters of faith etc, in which they did most of the talking and I listened and shared a little of my truth. We then carried on with our workouts and I smiled to myself as I thought about the truth I’d just heard.

Truth is an interesting concept, especially in matters of faith, belief and disbelief. So often people see it as a rock that must be clung to, that is absolute and must not be questioned. It can often lead to argument as people find that in order to hold on to their truth they must disprove the truth claims of another that differs from their own. Such reasoning lacks humility, because the truth is that whatever we believe or disbelieve about truth we never see the whole truth completely, instead we merely glimpse through the glass dimly or maybe get a hold of only a tiny piece of the truth. Who can honestly say that they know the whole truth and nothing but the truth? Well I suppose some can say it and even believe it, but that doesn’t make it true. Whether that is a person in the gym or coffee shop or the leader of an institution or nation.

This brings to mind this little snippet from Anthony DeMello’s “One Minute Wisdom”

"To a visitor who described himself as a seeker after Truth, the teacher said: “If what you seek is Truth, there is one thing you must have above all else.” “I know,” answered the student, “an overwhelming passion for it.” “No,” said the teacher, “an unremitting readiness to admit you may be wrong.”

To seek the truth one needs humility and openness and enough self-esteem to see that we are wrong sometimes and of course the capacity to admit to this. If we cannot, we will not be able to see the truth, even when it is right in front of us. It is so easy to become blinded by what we think we know. We need the openness that comes with true humility, it’s a truth that will set us free.

According to the Gospel of Thomas Jesus said, “If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you.”

Whilst Lao Tzu wrote in the “Tao Te Ching”

“Knowing others is intelligence; knowing yourself is true wisdom. Mastering others is strength; mastering yourself is true power.”

You will never bring forth what is within you while ever you are afraid of what is within you. There have been times when I have been afraid to bring forth what is within me and I have witnessed the same fear in others too. After all isn't it a little less scary to receive our truth from elsewhere rather than to let it come forth from within ourselves?

It can appear safer to accept the truth offered to us, rather than to seek it out ourselves. So often in life we want certainty, absolutes black and white and not a thousand shades of grey. So often we seek the illusion of certainty. This though just closes us in, builds those walls and keeps us cut of from what life offers to us.

The key to truth seeking is openness, born from uncertainty and humility. Openness is a way that enables us to experience new previously unseen truth; a truth that will set us free. It will allow us to bring forth what is within us and by doing so we might just uncover what will save us from the delusion of what we think we know about ourselves, one another and life itself. It will build bridges between the walls we build around ourselves.

There’s an ancient Chinese proverb that goes something like this: “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime” I suspect it’s the same with truth. Is it better to be given something that will feed us for a short time or is it better to be given a way that will enable us to keep on feeding ourselves and one another? Do we want to be given a fish that will fill our bellies for now or do we want to be given a method that will keep on feeding us; a method that will enable us to seek the truth that will set us free and continue to set us free?

Do we trust ourselves enough to seek out the truth and therefore to bring forth what is within us or would just rather stick with the safety of what we think we already know of what someone has taught us or told us is the truth.

In John’s Gospel Jesus said “Ye shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free.” when I first read DeMello’s wisdom shared earlier in the "blogspot" these words immediately sprang to mind. What I have discovered is that we are only truly set free by living in the truth. Not by accepting the truth we are given but by fishing for the truth and by seeing that some of the fish that we catch are of no use at least today and throwing them back. As DeMello taught if you want to be a seeker of truth then above everything else what you need is an unremitting readiness to admit that you may be wrong. Remember we only get a partial glimpse of the truth. Can we even trust this? Can we trust our own eyes?

Well we can trust what we unearth if we learn how to truly live in the questions of ours and others truth claims. Trust is vital. We have to learn to trust what we discover, what we unearth, what we catch, whilst not putting a fence around what we see as the truth today; the key is an open attitude whether that’s in finding your own truth or in offering truth to another. Now the challenge of course comes in dwelling in the ambiguity of truth without becoming overwhelmed or paralysed by it; the challenge comes in maintaining a deep commitment to the openness that truth seeking requires and not allowing yourself to become closed down.

This is not for the faint hearted. This takes courage. This is not the easier path, but it is definitely the one worth taking, for it is the one that will set us up to live in and through truth.

You know its ok to get it wrong to make mistakes. It’s ok to feel lost and confused about life at times. That is so human. There is something both glorious and beautiful in this.

If we want to be a seeker of truth then above everything else what we need is an unremitting readiness to admit that we may be wrong. .

The truth is of course. Once you can see you are wrong about something, admit you are wrong about something, do whatever you can to put right what was once wrong, then you are no longer wrong, you are right. The key is to feel right enough in your humanness to be able to admit that you can only ever vision the partial truth and to be open to the truth of others…

The key is in being right enough to be wrong...For that is essence of the truth...

Sunday, 19 February 2017

The Wounded Journeyer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, 11 February 2017

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

Please watch the clip above before reading on...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Imperfection, incompleteness is the energy of life.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They wrote

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

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

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

...Spirituality is about relationships...

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

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

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

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

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

“Life on the Mobius Strip” by Parker J Palmer

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

The curious object pictured is a Möbius strip.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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