Saturday, 11 August 2012

Olympic Spirit: Is your cup overflowing or does it runneth over?

Watching the Olympics these last couple of weeks I have been deeply moved by the power of the love expressed; I’ve been deeply moved by how this power has lifted up so many of the competitors to a higher level. The power of thousands of people and millions throughout the country backing them to hilt has lifted the level of performance of so many British competitors, especially those from Yorkshire it seems.

This is not a unique or modern phenomena, home advantage is common place in sport. What has been different over the last couple of weeks has been that this has been expressed in a purely loving sense. It’s not that the atmosphere has been intimidating for the non-home based competitors, there has been no semblance of jingoism despite Morrisey's accusations. No it’s more that the British competitors seem to have been lifted to a greater level by the power of love expressed by their own supporters. This abundance of love has not merely filled their spirit but it has been overflowing. Just beautiful!

I have also noticed how many of the competitors go through their own personal routines to prepare themselves before they compete. Many pray or offer praise and many centre down. This seems central to their ability to focus on what is in front of them. As a result many have been able to connect to this abundant love that somehow seems to be able to lift them to a greater level of performance. The reductionists tell us that we are nothing more than flesh, nothing more than chemicals, but is this really so? I have observed an immense power at work these last two weeks; a power open to us all; a power that can lift us up beyond the confines of what we may think we can be. I have witnessed love overflowing; I have witnessed abundant love.

There is a story of a university professor who visited a Japanese master to inquire about Zen. The professor began to ask questions while the master just sat quietly, listening. After a while the master began to pour tea into the professor’s cup. The cup soon filled up, but the master did not stop pouring. The tea soon began to spill over on to the table. Initially the professor just sat there in stunned silence, he did not know what to do. Eventually he could take no more and shouted out “It’s overfull. No more will go in!” The master stopped pouring and simply said “Like this cup you are full of your own opinions and speculations. How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup?”

As I have watched the competitors preparing themselves for their events this image of the empty cup has come into my mind. They have emptied their minds of all distractions as they have prepared themselves. It would appear that a full cup an overflowing cup is not such a great thing. 

But is this so? Well maybe, maybe not.

 The image of an overflowing brings something else to my mind; it brings the 23rd Psalm, "The Lord is my Shepherd" to my conciousness. In the 23rd Psalm David sings of God as a shepherd who will see him safely through the Valley of Death. “Thou prepares a table before me in the presence of mine enemies; thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.” In the psalm the overflowing cup is an excess of goodness, a symbol of abundance, a source of joy. Can we ever be too full of love?

Here we have two images of cups overflowing: One depicting a mind that is too full and therefore unable to focus or learn something new; the other depicting a cup overflowing with love that will enable us to live full lives despite the presence of fear. 

But is this a dilemma? Well only if you get lost in the metaphor, the curse of the literalist. The two images are of course depicting different aspects of our humanity.

The Zen story is describing the mind; where as the Psalm is depicting the heart, it is talking of God’s infinite love. So yes we can be full abundantly with love and yet still have a mind that is clear. I suspect that it is the full heart that enables us to clear our minds, or perhaps it’s the clear mind that enables us to have our hearts filled.

Maybe, maybe not!

Looking at my own life it was only when love began to take over my heart that my mind began to clear. My head use to be full of so much that there was no space for anything else. My thoughts would just swirl round and round and round and go pretty much nowhere. These days my head is pretty much empty most of the time. My head is clear. This is good thing as my mind can be used for its true purpose. It is no longer held back by the regret of the past or the fear of the future. As a result I have peace of mind these days, even in the most difficult of times. The cup (my mind) is no longer overflowing and yet at the same time I experience the cup that runneth over, I know that everlasting and eternal love of God. As a result I can experience this abundant love present in life.

The last two weeks as I have been absorbed by the Olympics I have watched love in abundance. I have seen this power truly manifest in the lives of those competing. As many British athletes have said their performances have been raised up by the love bestowed upon them by those supporting them. These last two weeks we have witnessed competitors lifted to their greatest potential by the love that has been poured all over them.

I believe that we can all live fully aware of the abundance that is open to us in life. We can live as though our cups were overflowing with abundant love. We can give our love freely. We can truly throw caution to the wind and live with true gracious abandon.

Now some folk may accuse me of being a dreamer, a Pollyanna. Well they can think what they like. I do not believe that I am the only dreamer I am sure we have all felt this at times. We have all felt full up with the abundance of life, if only for brief moments.

We can trigger this abundance in others too. It can begin with a smile at a stranger in the street. I have written many times about my belief in the chaos theory of compassion, the source of which is this abundant love. We can pour it out of ourselves and on to others and they can do likewise. I have seen proof of the power of this abundant love these last two weeks as so many British competitors have been lifted up beyond what they thought was their potential.

The wonderful thing about this abundance is that unlike any other resource it is not finite it truly is infinite. The more we express it, the more we give it away, the more our cups are filled. The key is to share it extravagantly to pour it out onto one another.

The image of abundant love brings to my mind a passage from Matthew’s Gospel (Ch 26 vv 6-13). It is a much debated passage primarily because it has been used by some as a justification for tolerating poverty. I believe that to focus on this is to fail to recognise the central message of Matthews Gospel, the abundant blessing of love.

The passage reads: “Now while Jesus was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, a woman came to him with an alabaster jar of very costly ointment, and she poured it on his head as he sat at the table. But when the disciples saw it, they were angry and said, “Why this waste? For this ointment could have been sold for a large sum, and the money given to the poor. But Jesus, aware of this, said to them, “Why do you trouble the woman? She has performed a good service for me. For you always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me. By pouring this ointment on my body she has prepared me for burial. Truly I tell you, wherever this good news is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in remembrance of her.”

This is a story of abundant love. The woman loves and cares for Jesus. She anoints him with oil because she loves him dearly. It truly is an act of loving, nay gracious abandonment. This is in complete contrast to the grumpy disciples who want to preserve and conserve love as if it were a finite commodity.

So what am I trying to say, you may well ask? I am saying that yes we all need a clear mind, a cup that is not overly full in order to focus on what life is offering us. That said in order to do this we need an open heart, we need this to allow this abundant love to fill us up and to flow from us.

Let the love pour on, in and through us. Let's pour it out into our lives. We were all born to love.

Let's sing, rejoice and abandon ourselves to love and anoint one another regardless of the troubles that may come our way.

It's been a wonderful and wonder filled couple of weeks I hope and pray that we can carry this loving spirit into our lives as the Olympic dust settles and normality returns

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