Thursday, 26 April 2012

An Anniversary Waltz: You keep on inspiring me

I entered the blogosphere exactly one year ago to the day. It began after a presentation at the ministerial conference I attended at the annual meetings of the Unitarian and Free Christian denomination that I serve. I have been a very busy boy since. It seems I have quite a bit to say. I believe that this will be my 80th blog. I am sure I don't go about it the way you are supposed to, but hey who cares. I have found a way that works for me. I hope that these little blogs have helped those who have read them. I know by creating them they have helped me immensely.

I was wondering how I might celebrate "I Dream of the Ocean's" first birthday and then it came to me. I thought I would share words by other Unitarians, Universalists and Free Christians that have spoken to me personally. I will also throw in a bit of music about the sea, well why not?...let me know what you think...

The first piece is by my great hero Forrest is describing what he see's as a 21st century Universalist theology..."The Cathedral of the World":

Above all else, contemplate the windows. In the Cathedral of the World there are windows beyond number, some long forgotten, covered with many patinas of grime, others revered by millions, the most sacred of shrines. Each in its own way is beautiful. Some are abstract, others representational; some dark and meditative, others bright and dazzling. Each window tells a story about the creation of the world, the meaning of history, the purpose of life, the nature of humankind, the mystery of death. The windows of the cathedral are where the light shines through.

Because the cathedral is so vast, our life so short, and our vision so dim, over the course of our pilgrimage we are able to contemplate only a bit of the cathedral, explore a few apses, reflect on the play of light and darkness through a few of its myriad windows. Yet by pondering and acting on our ruminations, we discover insights that will invest our days with meaning.

A twenty-first-century theology based on the concept of one light and many windows offers to its adherents both breadth and focus. Honouring multiple religious approaches, it only excludes the truth claims of absolutists. This is because fundamentalists claim that the light shines through their window only. Some, as we know from painful experience, go so far as to beseech their followers to throw stones through other people’s windows.

Skeptics draw the opposite conclusion. Seeing the bewildering variety of windows and observing the folly of the worshippers, they conclude that there is no light. But the windows are not the light. They are where the light shines through.

We shall never see the light directly, only as refracted through the windows of the cathedral. Prompting humility, life’s mystery lies hidden. The light is veiled. Yet, being halfway in size between the creation itself and our body’s smallest constituent part, that we can encompass with our minds the universe that encompasses us is a cause for great wonder. Awakened by the light, we stand in the cathedral, trembling with awe.

Some people have trouble believing in a God who looks into any eyes but theirs. Others have trouble believing in a God they cannot see. But that none of us can look directly into God’s eyes certainly doesn’t mean God isn’t there, mysterious, unknowable, gazing into ours through the windows of the Cathedral of the World”

The second piece is by Jeffrey Lockwood. Jeffrey Lockwood is a professor of natural sciences and humanities at the University of Wyoming. The piece is titled "Go Fly a Kite". I love this attitude to life...

Wind has a dark power over us, the capacity to trigger depression, despondency, and even - according to eighteenth century physicians - madness. How is it that moving air, an invisible presence, can so deeply disturb the human psyche? We have created our own vulnerability. In an age of technological hubris, we must confront the realisation that the wind is absolutely uncontrollable.
The wind is a wild beast with no regard for our rationality. It mauls our sense of dominion. Umbrellas keep us dry, moisturisers keep us wet, silk keeps us cool, wool keeps us warm, creams keep us from burning, but nothing vanquishes the wind. Those who are determined to dominate the world are antagonised by the wind. But those who accept the untamed forces of nature avoid such frustrations. And it is possible then to move from a mere defence of our sanity to genuine flourishing.

To be sane, embrace the wind. But to be joyous, fly a kite. Dance between caprice and control. The wind pulls the fragile sail upward and the flyer plays out the string. Left to the turbulence, the kite will be dashed to the ground or swept over the horizon. Left on the ground, the kite is moribund, stagnant. But between sky and earth is enchantment.

We are kites, buffeted by the vicissitudes of the spirit, the squalls of fortune, the breezes of intuition, and the glorious gusts of chance encounters. And we are stabilized by a tail - the solidity of the mind, the bedrock of reason, the granite of science. If our tail is too heavy, we never leave the ground. If it is too light, we spin crazily.

The people in our lives - family, lovers, friends, community - are the braided strands, a kite string that sustains the dynamic tension between heaven and earth. They are a lifeline that allows us to be uplifted, to see farther, to live more fully. And the higher we fly, the stronger our string must be. For when our connection becomes worn and frayed it can snap, and we will come tumbling back to earth, landing far from where we left, with nobody to repair our breaks or mend our tears.
and so rejoice in the wind - but attend to your string.

Here's a bit more Forrest Church...on religion...

"I define religion more inclusively than many others do. Religion is our human response to the dual reality of being alive and having to die. We are not the animal with tools or the animal with advanced language; we are the religious animal. Because we know that we are going to die, we question what life means. Death also throws meaning itself into question, for some people rendering it moot. Yet, for most of us, knowing that we are mortal inspires a search for answers that will remain valid in spite of our mortality. If religion is our response to the dual reality of being alive and having to die, the purpose of life is to live in such a way that our lives will prove worth dying for.”

Oh and a bit on God...

“God language can tie people into knots, of course. In part, that is because ‘God’ is not God's name. Referring to the highest power we can imagine, ‘God’ is our name for that which is greater than all and yet present in each. For some the highest imaginable power will be a petty and angry tribal baron ensconced high above the clouds on a golden throne, visiting punishment on all who don't believe in him. But for others, the highest power is love, goodness, justice, or the spirit of life itself. Each of us projects our limited experience on a cosmic screen in letters as big as our minds can fashion. For those whose vision is constricted (illiberal, narrow-minded people), this can have horrific consequences. But others respond to the munificence of creation with broad imagination and sympathy. Answering to the highest and best within and beyond themselves, they draw lessons and fathom meaning so redemptive that surely it touches the divine.” 

I love this little piece by Don Beaudreault. A superb Jazz pianist who served in Merseyside for a short while. It is entitled “Angels Among Us”

I believe that there are angels among us all the time, especially at Christmas. But what exactly is an angel? Here is how I suggest we can tell if we bump into one:

Angels deny they are angels. They don’t all have wings or halos or smiles – those are only the ones who like to dress up. Angels don’t expect anything in return for services rendered. They don’t always tell us what we want to hear.

Oh, yes, every once in a while, we think we see them! Angels aren’t all called Michael or Gabriel. We might even be angels and not realise it.

Yes, angels are here among us – giving us gifts beyond measure. Gifts of humour when we think the sun will never shine again, passion when we believe we are unlovable, inspiration when our life force wanes, confidentiality when we can’t tell anyone else our secrets, forgiveness when we sorely need it, advice when we don’t know which direction to turn, frankness when we try to tell less than the truth about who we really are, and the gift of just being there when we are so very alone.

You see, the angels are the people who care about us. This is their message as they sing over Bethlehem infant, hover at the bedsides of those who suffer greatly, walk hand-in-hand with those whose lives this year have been very tough, and who are there source of strength and understanding when life doesn’t seem to make any sense.

Yes, angels are real, and they can bring Christmas to us every day of the year if only we let them into our lives.

Truly, the angels are among us!

Here's a little more Forrest he discusses the sacredness of our tears...

In contrast to the Buddhist (and stoic) ideal of detachment or dispassion, the ancient Hebrews honoured suffering, viewing it as a sign of a deeply felt experience, a symbol of their passion. I encountered an intimate expression of this on a recent trip visit to Israel.

The Israel Museum in Jerusalem contains a collection of tiny ceramic cups. These were sacramental vessels. People cried into them.

Your mother has just died. Someone you love has cancer. Your spouse has left you. You are struggling at work. More likely, you have simply broken down. You burst into tears. So you pick up your tear cup, put it under your eye, and weep into it. When you are finished weeping, you cap it and put it away again. It is a way to save your tears.

Why save them? Because they are precious. It doesn’t matter why we cried, your tears are precious, for they show that you care. A full cup of tears is proof that you have felt deeply, suffered, and survived. Their value is ratified by this simple parable from Jewish lore. When his student complained that he was suffering and so deeply confused that he could no longer pray and study, Rebbe Mendl of Kotzk asked him, “What if God prefers your tears to your studying?”.

I stumbled across this a short while ago...I love it...I asked a member of the congregation to read it in worship and she loved it is entitled "Old Tree" by Naomi Linnel

To everything there is a season.
And a time for every purpose under the heaven.
Ecclesiastes 3

I am the old tree in the corner of the forest;
Bark crumbling, I watch my dead wood fall;
I am hollow-hopeless, no squirrel enjoys my shelter;
My November-withered strength lies crushed beneath Spring's quiet glory.
Budless branches mocked by lustrous ferns,
I am a thing empty and barren in the midst of burgeoning plenty.

I am the old tree in the corner of the forest;
Around my dried out roots new life escapes the earth,
Oak seedlings and oxslips, hazel and juniper,
Wood sorrel and the common purple mallow;
Yellow-necked mice burrow beneath my rotting leaves,
Beaks full of insects, treecreepers spiral up my fissured trunk.

I am the old tree in the corner of the forest.
Dancing children circle me, singing in the shadowed sun of evening;
They have brought scarlet berries and blue-violet daisies
To decorate my cracked and rotting woody carapace,
Strewn sweet herbs and rose petals about me;
And their song to God the Mother is a Hymn of Praise

 Here's a bit more Forrest he discusses the importance of humility and openness...when I accept the limits of my human knowledge it opens me up to experiences I could never have even begun to imagine...certainly been how I ever experienced life these past few years...

“In every field of human inquiry, ignorance increases as knowledge grows. The Greek philosopher Socrates once said, “I am the most ignorant man in Athens.” He wasn’t indulging in false modesty. He was pointing out that others, knowing far less, had no idea how ignorant they were. Socrate’s ignorance, the knowledge of how much remained for him to learn, expanded in direct proportion to his learning. Of both belief and knowledge, the same is true for us. When reflecting on several years of contemplation on the origins of the cosmos, one cosmologist sighed, “It’s not only queerer than we imagined; it’s queerer than can be imagined.”

“Whether informed by religion or by science, our minds cannot unwrap life’s mystery. This is why, in offering evidence to corroborate religious truth, true believers may more honestly be accused of being too rational than too irrational. They are not alone. We all use our minds to figure out things that can’t be deciphered by anything as small as our minds. On the one hand, the attempt is a noble one. Trying to decode life’s mystery is what makes us human.”

“Balancing these two apparent contradictions. I base my own theology on contrasting principles: openness and humility. No ceiling limits the expansion of the human heart. Yet, humility teaches that when death visits, we will have attained only a flickering notion of what life and death are all about. The light we discover will be framed by darkness. But, when we ponder the nature of our shared mortality, meaning may begin to emerge. Not unlike when we leave a warm, brightly lit room, go outdoors, and contemplate a dark winter sky: one by one the stars come out.”

This piece was written by the first Unitarian I met when a walked through the doors of Cross Street Chapel one Wednesday lunchtime several years ago. This is what Peter Sampson has to say on the Incarnation.

The incarnation is true not of Christ exclusively but of Man universally and God everlastingly. He bends into the human to dwell there and humanity is the susceptible organ of the divine.
James Martineau (1805-1900)

James Martineau’s distinctly Unitarian ‘take’ on the transformation of God into our human – all too human – flesh and blood has been a constant inspiration to me.

Our responsibility for our own lives and necessarily, for the lives of our brothers and sisters throughout the world lays upon us all a duty which cannot be dodged; our humanity is defined by how we serve and care for the needs of the human family. You can’t have faith without works and working for the good of all inspires our faith in God-given life.
It is a small comfort to me to be told that God died for our sins. I see every one of us missing the mark in our lives and whenever a fellow-creature is harmed we must pray for forgiveness for ourselves. We are all culpable but if we are to serve human progress we have to say ‘sorry’ from the bottom of our heart and move on.

When we look around us we tend to focus on what’s going wrong: suffering – often caused by human ignorance – waste, devastation, degradation, contempt, the whole sorry spectacle of “Man’s in humanity to Man”. I see this as a betrayal of our God-given humanity, a trivialisation of our God-endowed divinity.
Resorting to armaments and inflexible war-talk of politicians, shouting at those we don’t agree with and throwing our weight about if we don’t get our own way – I want to say “Come off it! Who do you think you are? There is that of God in every person, in every creature on the planet.

I’m going to end with several extracts from the book Forrest Church wrote as he was dying from Esophageal  cancer, “Love and Death: My Journey Through The Valley Of The Shadows” It may well be my favourite book.

Here he describes how his own faith changed during the latter years of his life and describes a deepening and much more personal relationships with God...Speaks powerfully to me...

"Those who return at times of trouble to the Twenty-third Psalm as a lifeline know the central role God can play in comforting a grief-stricken life. In my journey through the valley of the shadow, God leads me by the heart. When God dwells in my heart, I abide in God's presence. I live in an apartment of the creation furnished by the Creator. However humble my abode, its occupant but animated dust, the whole universe is my dwelling place. God's dominion is my domicile.

It hasn't always been this way for me. For years I dealt with grief and fear less imaginatively: I drank. Shortly after Princess Diana's death and one year before the terrorist attacks. I put an end to my lifelong affair with the bottle. Sobriety didn't change my theology, certainly not the premium it placed on the axis of love and death, but it did deepen it in one significant sense. I now fully felt what before I mostly thought. My heart had always been in play - how could it not with love and death my abiding theme - but now a trunk line opened from my mind straight to my heart, a line that was almost always open. My long standing belief in a distant God slowly transfigured itself into my felt experience of a loving God. Ah, what a world of difference: to feel, not merely know, what one believes.

During the final, most conflicted, decade of my drinking, I paid more lip service to God than I did devotion. My career continued to thrive. I didn't get drunk, I self-medicated. By outwards appearances, my life prospered. But it was increasingly hollow at the core. Delving into this hollowness taught me (as I had heard somewhere once) that when we don't really believe in God, it is not that we believe in nothing, rather we believe in almost anything. Because my wife, Carolyn, refused to look the other way, and because I had grown bone weary of my penchant for evasion, I couldn't live like this much longer. All my excuses and rationalisations had far outrun their expiration date. After several aborted attempts and long experimentation with variously successful half measures, with the turning of the millennium in the year 2000 I quit drinking."

Here he describes the importance of being cautious about our safety and daring to live before we eventually die...he reminds us that we do not sail this ship alone, we are in this ship together all the way..."an overexamined life is not worth living. I know that. some of you who come to me for couselling are so wrapped up in your own and your parents' underwear that I sometimes wonder if you will ever get out, if you will ever get naked. Just remember, you are not alone on the Titanic. we are all here together, on this extraordinary ship - different classes, yes, and not enough lifeboats - but when it comes to death there are never enough lifeboats. the ship is magnificent but one day it will sink. All hands will be lost.

This advice may return to haunt you, but I commend you to ignore life's dangers as readily as you protect yourself from them. Even as an overexamined life is not worth living, an overplanned life lacks wonder and sponteneity. The harder we work to get things exactly right, the more cautious we become, the more careful not to fail. Risking nothing, we stand to gain little beyond the security of battened-down existance. We miss the sea breeze and the ball. We will know little failure, or only little failures, but consider the cost. any sure thing is almost sure to be so carefully packaged that when we unwrap it, the size of the box will turn out to be so many times larger rhan the size of the gift that we cannot help but be dissapointed.

So if you are struggling with a relationship, out of touch with an old friend, unsure of whether to risk a new job, uncomfortably estranged from your father; if you are hiding to be safe, taking care not to be wrong, I suggest you take a chance. Don't wait until you are sure. Don't wait until you have it right. Though waiting till we have it right works for some things - mostly little things - often our most important decisions and actions are so fraught with danger that we will never surely get them right. If we don't fire before we take perfect aim, we may never fire at all.

Life is filled with danger. that's just the way it is. finally, the Titanic always hits the iceberg. Hence this simple, if imprudent, bit of advice. Before it does, pick up the phone. Pick up the gauntlet. Do whatever it takes. take a few chances. Dare to live before you die"

I love this final little piece. I have for sometime talked of a theory I have named as "The chaos theory of Love"...which is a more anarchic and spontaneous version of Confucius "Concentric Circles of Compassion...

"Why is kindness a pure virtue? Precisely because kindness is a gift that demands no response. For each such acts of kindness, you get nothing tangible in return, save the feeling, the sacrament, of human sympathy. Kindness is by no means inferior to love. In fact it is a kind of love, agape, God's love, poured out upon the earth without a quid pro quo - a pure unadulterated gift" 

1 comment:

  1. Thank you Danny , this has helped me with some issues today Came at the right time as always .Jackie KC xx