Saturday, 22 September 2012

Give thanks for life: Receiving each day as an invitation

“To Receive Each Day as an Invitation” by John O’Donohue
"One night recently I visited our family farm. A calf had just been born. It had slumped to earth in a wet, steaming mass. At midnight, I went out to look at the cow again; by this time she had licked her new calf dry and he had sucked his first milk. Everything was mild and gentle, illuminated by the moon’s mint light. What a beautiful night it was to arrive on earth. Even if this newborn were a genius, it could never possibly imagine the surprise of the world that was waiting when the dawn would break in a miracle of colour illuminating the personality of mountains, river and sky
The liturgy of dawn signals the wonder of the arriving day. Magic of darkness breaking through into colour and light is such a promise of invitation and possibility. No wonder we always associate the hope and urgency of new beginning with the dawn. Each day is the field of brightness where the invitation of our life unfolds. A new day is an intricate and subtle matrix; written into its mystery are the happenings sent to awaken and challenge us.

No day is ever the same, and no day stands still; each one moves through a different territory, awakening new beginnings. A day moves forward in moments, and once a moment has flickered into life, it vanishes and is replaced by the next. It is fascinating that this is where we live, within an emerging lacework that continually unravels. Often a fleeting moment can hold a whole sequence of the future in distilled form: that unprepared second when you looked in a parent’s eye and saw death already beginning to loom. Or the second you noticed a softening in someone’s voice and you knew that a friendship was beginning. Or catching your partner’s gaze upon you and knowing the love that surrounded you. Each day is seeded with recognitions.

The writing life is a wonderful metaphor for this. The writer goes to his desk to meet the empty white page. As he settles himself, he is preparing himself, for visitation and voyage. Each memory, longing, and craft set the frame for what might emerge. He has no idea what will come. Yet despite its limitations, his creative work will find its own direction to form. Each of us is an artist of our days; the greater our integrity and awareness, the more original and creative our time will become."

“Give thanks for life, the measure of our days,
Mortal we pass through beauty that decays,
Yet sing to God our hope, our love and praise:
Alleluia, Alleleluia!”

This is one of my favourite hymns from “Sing Your Faith”, more commonly known, by many Unitarians, as the Purple Hymn Book or new Hymn book. Words by Shirley Erena Murray set to “Sine Nomine” by Ralph Vaughan Williams. The words offer a simple and yet beautiful sentiment, to give thanks for life itself. After all it is the ultimate of graces. It is a truly free gift. It is given to us and involves no effort, at least at the beginning, on our part. Now what happens throughout our lives, well that’s a different story entirely.

I wonder how often we give thanks and praise for the fact that we draw breath at all; I wonder how often we give thanks and praise for all the things in our lives that are given to us through no real effort on our part. I believe if we saw each second as a precious grace, a free gift, we may just begin to see life as an invitation; an invitation to who knows what?

It is so easy to take life for granted and to just simply consume what is there, without really paying attention to how it got there in the first place. It is often less easy to be grateful, to offer genuine thanks for all that we are surrounded by.

To give thanks, to be grateful for what is here in our lives takes real discipline. To pay attention is a labour in itself, but it is one that truly bears fruit. It begins by paying attention carefully to just one thing, perhaps your next meal or conversation or the people in the street that you pass by. If we are able to pay attention to one thing, our attention will eventually begin to pay attention to everything that is connected to that one thing and that is everything. Everything in life truly is connected and interconnected. This has never been more true than today.

In “12 Steps to a Compassionate Life” Karen Armstrong suggests a mindfulness practise that can help us engage with this interconnectedness. She suggests that we begin by paying attention to our homes and bring to mind all the people who were involved in building them. Not just the team that put them together but those who created the brick, the cement, the timber. Those who installed the plumbing and the electricity, those who created the many fabrics that adorn the interiors of our lives and those who laboured to supply these things. She also suggests that we pay attention and consider where the tea and coffee we consume in the morning comes from, as well as the food on our table. To think of every slice of bread we place in the toaster and consider all the efforts that went into getting it there. She further suggests that as we leave our homes we pay attention to the transport systems we travel by. To think of all the workers who built and maintain our roads, our cars, buses, trains and planes and to continue this exercise as we move through our day, paying attention to everything and offering a moment of thanks for all the labour that has gone into making all that we enjoy possible.

This mindfulness practise brings to mind a talk I recently heard at the R.E. Summer School I participated in at Great Hucklow. It was a talk delivered by Bill Darlison. Here Bill was encouraging us to engage with a variety of spiritual practises. He began by defining what he means by spiritual and spirituality. For Bill spirituality is about increasing our sensitivity to life. One of the many things that he spoke of was the Irish tradition of the Angelus prayer. This has been practiced in Ireland for many years and is a moment when the people are meant to pause for a moment and send a message of good will to everyone on earth; at 6am at 12 noon and at 6pm. He said he was particularly struck by the 6pm one as it preceded the 6 o’clock news and the world’s horrors that followed. Bill suggests that in our daily lives we create our own Angelus moments; moments when we pause, give thanks and offer good will to all. Bill said that whenever he hears a siren in the street he will pause for a few seconds and offer a silent prayer to whoever is obviously in distress.

Life is the greatest gift of all and one that ought to be revered. If we offer simple moments of gratitude for this ultimate of graces, we will notice the many blessings we are surrounded by. I am grateful for the many gifts I have been given. This work I do with you wonderful folk, the home I have in Altrincham, my little black car, my health, physical, mental and spiritual and the love I know in life. Above all I am grateful for the people I know and have known. That said I could do more to appreciate these many gifts. I could pay more attention and could offer more prayers of thanks for all that life offers me. This is why I am committing to the suggestions of Bill and Karen and why I commend them to everyone. I will practise paying attention and I will practise offering little prayers of thanks giving and of concern for those in distress.

Afterall we are all connected; we are a part of the one undivided whole.

Let us all give thanks for life; it is the greatest gift of all.


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