Saturday, 30 March 2013

An Easter Reflection: New Beginnings

"Out of the depths of the experience of death and despair comes resurrection – unexpected, but possible, Easter is the power of inner rebirth that breaks the powers that hold us in bondage. It is the eternal “yes” that shatters every “no.”

Out of the experience of slavery and persecution comes release, new freedom – unexpected, though longed for. Passover celebrates the reality of the New Day of justice, peace, and hope that has lived for centuries in the heart of humanity.

Out of the dreary days of winter comes spring – expected, but not without surprise. Easter marks the power of life’s renewal built into the cycle of birth and growth and death on this our blue planet Earth.

May the spirit of rebirth, of freedom, of release, be with you all this season."

“Easter” by Frederick Gillis

The spirit of Easter is universal; it portrays a truth that can speak to all people in every culture at every time and in every place. It points to those moments in all our lives when something deeper within us, at the core of our being, within the marrow of our bones, that mystery that is the essence that we call soul is called out, is called forth, called to a deeper understanding of life right here, right now, in our world.

Easter is the season of re-birth and renewal. The days are becoming brighter, today officially marks the beginning of British summer time. The seasons are turning, new life is all around us, bursting into existence. Easter raises the question, what will this season this time of re-birth bring forth in us. What has been waiting to come to life within ourselves? What has been forming in this long, cold, dark winter? It seems to have been a particularly long winter this year.

We can be a troubled lot at times. Looking at our world it is easy to lose hope and to get lost in the negativity that is present in life, to become trapped in despair. We have all wandered through our long winters of discontent, we can look at our world and turn away at times from the pain and cruelty we see; we can look at our own lives and think of the pain and cruelty that has been inflicted on us, or that we ourselves have inflicted on others; we can think of the many opportunities we have missed. This can easily force us back into winters hibernation to turn away with indifference from life and love. This though is not all that life is if we look honestly at our own lives and our world we will also see so much light and goodness, freedom and courage and just plain old fashioned decency. Every day when I look at the world outside my window I see so much of this love in the ordinary lives of the ordinary people I share this spinning planet with, I should never allow the beauty of the forest to become obscured by the ugliness of some of its trees.

Easter for me is not about some distant utopia but for we who live right here right now. It’s not so much about hope for some heaven, or nirvana or even Oz in some place beyond our time and space, but about creating the commonwealth of love right here right now. Easter for me is about proclaiming that each and every one of us have our part to play in how the story unfolds, if we are just willing to wake up to all we can be, to find the courage to be all that we can be. All we have to do is listen, to pay attention to our world, to hear that still small voice and when we hear it call out our name to answer it and to bring that spirit of Easter into all that we are and we can be, to bring renewal and rebirth to life. This is our responsibility, our purpose, God will not do it for us, it is we who must build the New Jerusalem, right here, right now. God is with us, but will not do it for us.

“In Praise of Spring” by Dawn Goodrich

What courage pure with which we start
to gather fragments, bits, and parts,
with mindless grace that works and plays
and marks the seasons passing days.

What cause in us to celebrate,
With calendar and special dates,
As we may try to comprehend
Where seasons start, where seasons end?

What humanness to fix a date
And offer praise as if to bait
The inner growth we long to reach
That roots prepare and flowers teach.

What lesson wise on season’s part
To pinch the mind but squeeze the heart
While pelting us with memories
Of icy earth and naked trees?

What gift the bud, the growth, the flowers
That creep in spring and burst in power,
That cast our eyes in modest shame
And longing lust to do the same?

What flower’s strength as if on cue
Forgotten dreams that we once knew,
As winter wishes wake to sing
And feed the soul in praise of spring?

Spring is here, I know that the weather keeps on arguing against this, but it is here. My senses are alive with rebirth, especially my ears. Those birds that I hear from outside my window keep on singing their souls out, they know even if we doubt it from time to time, that we are now in the season of re-birth. Yes spring is springing into life once again. Life is singing out its re-birth.

The longer I’ve lived in my little cottage at Sylvan Grove the more those birds have come to mean to me. They are a constant in my life; they seem to sing regardless of the time of year and whether I want them to or not. Ok some days their songs are louder and perhaps the tune changes with the season, but every morning they sing. And as that little gift that was left on my doorstep the other week read “A bird does not sing because it has an answer; it sings because it has a song”. I’ve been thinking about these words for a few weeks now. What do I need the most an answer or a song to sing? I think I know the answer as anyone who knows me knows the answer, “How can I keep from singing?”

One of my favourite hymns is “A Melody of Love” I particularly love the opening verse “God speaks to us in bird and song, in winds that drift the clouds along, above the din of toil and wrong, a melody of Love.” God speaks to me through life itself, this is why it is so vital for me to stay awake to all of life.

Brings to mind Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself” “Part 48” and those immortal words:

Why should I wish to see God better than this day? I see something of God each hour of the twenty-four, and each moment then, In the faces of men and women I see God, and in my own face in the glass, I find letters from God dropt in the street, and every one is sign'd by God's name, And I leave them where they are, for I know that wheresoe'er I go, Others will punctually come for ever and ever.

I see or do I mean I hear God in those birds that sing outside my window. They have kept on singing even in the coldest darkest winter. They have also become my spiritual barometer. They tell me so much about my own spiritual condition. Some days I don’t seem to be able to hear them as they sing or at least I have to strain to hear. I have noticed those are the days when I have somehow got lost in my troubles and have lost that vital connection to life and to God. Thankfully this rarely last long these days and I soon find myself back in harmony. I often wonder what other people’s spiritual barometers are, I wonder what yours are.

The day of the new beginning is now with us, I wonder what is yet to come? What life has to offer us and perhaps more importantly what we have to offer to life? At the start of Lent I said I was going to focus on what I could give to life instead of what I thought I should give up. Just because Easter has now come, I do not intend to give this up, I will continue. Life gives so much to me, when I have my senses fully awakened, when the ears of my ears are awake and the eyes of my eyes are opened. Therefore it seems only fare that I should continue giving as much as I can back to life. To keep on planting those seeds of hope and love, to leave my own love letters from God wherever I go and whatever I do. If I do I know that I will continue to receive abundantly, my whole life through.

I will end this little chip of a blog with some word by John O'Donohue

For a New Beginning

In out-of-the-way places of the heart,
Where your thoughts never think to wander,
This beginning has been quietly forming,
Waiting until you were ready to emerge.

For a long time it has watched your desire,
Feeling the emptiness growing inside you,
Noticing how you willed yourself on,
Still unable to leave what you had outgrown.

It watched you play with the seduction of safety
And the gray promises that sameness whispered,
Heard the waves of turmoil rise and relent,
Wondered would you always live like this.

Then the delight, when your courage kindled,
And out you stepped onto new ground,
Your eyes young again with energy and dream,
A path of plenitude opening before you.

Though your destination is not yet clear
You can trust the promise of this opening;
Unfurl yourself into the grace of beginning
That is at one with your life's desire.

Awaken your spirit to adventure;
Hold nothing back, learn to find ease in risk;
Soon you will be home in a new rhythm,
For your soul senses the world that awaits you.

~ John O'Donohue ~

Saturday, 23 March 2013

Palm Sunday: Finding the Courage to Be

“Unbound from Yesterday’s Fears”

“If God is the ground of being, as I believe God is, then the only way you and I can worship God is by having the courage to be all that we can be – in the infinite variety of our humanity. Whether we are male or female, gay or straight, transgender or bisexual, white or black or yellow or brown, left-handed or right-handed, brilliant or not so brilliant.

No matter what the human difference is, you have something to offer in your own being. Nobody else can offer what you have to offer. And, the only way you can worship God is by daring to be all that you can be and not be bound by the fears of yesterday”

Words of John Shelby Spong in “Living the Question 2.0”

Today is Palm Sunday the day in the Christian Calendar that marks the “triumphant” entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. It is also the beginning of “Holy Week”, the most important week in the Christian Calendar. This is a week filled with all kinds of emotion and turbulence or so the story says. It ends with Easter Sunday a day of re-birth, resurrection and new beginnings. It is a week of love and betrayal, fear, courage and faith.

Jesus' triumphant entry into Jerusalem was an important stage on his journey, a journey that was to end in betrayal, pain and humiliation. An end that he knew was coming, according to the Gospel accounts. In Luke’s Gospel he speaks of being fully aware of what he was heading towards. In chapter 9 vv 44 he tells his disciples “Let these words sink into your ears: The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into human hands.” So he enters Jerusalem with knowledge of what he is going to have to endure. He knows and accepts that his journey is going to be hard and will cause a great deal of suffering, but he accepts what is ahead of him; he accepts the reality of the situation.

That said this is not without fear and doubt, both are present during this final week of Jesus’ life. In Gethsemane, just before he is betrayed he goes off to pray alone, as he often did to commune with God (Mark 14.36). He threw himself to the ground, wept bitterly and prayed a simple prayer “Abba, Father, for you all things are possible; remove this cup from me; yet not what I want, but what you want.” In these words of desperation he is expressing the inner turmoil he is experiencing; he is expressing the real fear he is experiencing. He is facing his quest alone and he is obviously frightened, that said in this moment he accepts what is in front of him; he surrenders to it and accepts what he believes he must do. He then goes to meet his accusers face to face. He finds the courage to be.

Five days after the triumphant entry of Palm Sunday Jesus is crucified. He accepts that this is part of his journey, but not without fear and doubt. How could there not be fear and doubt? He has had face this agonising death alone, he has been rejected by everyone, even his closet companions. Remember the moments before he died he did not quote the comforting words of the 23rd Psalm “I shall walk through the valley of the shadow of death and fear no evil for thou are with me.” No, instead he quoted the much starker 22nd Psalm  “My God, my God, why has thou forsaken me? Why art thou so far from helping me? He did not quote the comforting words “My cup runneth over”, instead he cried out “I thirst”.

The story does not end there though, the real power in the narrative comes in what he utters next, as he cries out those immortal words “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” In these words lies the courage to be who he truly is; in these words he expresses his faith; in these words he expresses the power of love; the love of God and the love of neighbour as for self. In this moment he surrenders himself to his purpose and to his God as he utters those immortal words “Father, I commend my life unto thy spirit.”

Now it may be difficult for we who live in the 21st century to identify with this. What can the Holy Week narrative teach we who live in our time and place? Surely we will never endure such agony and surely we will never be abandoned by everyone to face our struggle alone?

Well let’s look a little more closely. I’m sure we all experience paralysing fear from time to time and I am sure that we have all experienced that sense of utter abandonment as we have had to face our struggles alone, which in the end we all have to do from time to time. Yes of course we all have love and we have support, but sometimes we have to face the pain and struggle alone. No one else can give us the courage to be who we truly are, this only comes in facing up to life’s vicissitudes.

And where do we find that courage? Where do we find the courage to be, to live open and faithful lives, in spite of all the difficulties? Well no doubt we all understand that differently. For me it is prayer. When I stop fighting life and reconnect through prayer I always find the courage to be.

Now some people will tell us that if we are experiencing fear, that we are not living very faithful lives, but is this true? Well I for one do not believe that for one second. Faith is not diminished by the presence of fear. Quite the opposite actually faith is about finding the courage to be who we truly are, to do what we must do, in spite of the very real presence of fear. As Rabbi Earl Grollman said "Courage is not the absence of fear and pain, but the affirmation of life despite fear and pain."

Fear comes in many forms, but we need not live in fear of fear itself. Fear is a vital part of our makeup, of our animal heart. It sets the pulse racing and heightens our awareness. Fright is a vital instinct. It points to danger, it’s a warning signal. That said there are other forms of fear which are not so useful. Perhaps the most debilitating of all is dread.

Dread and other forms of debilitating fear can overwhelm us and lead to crippling forms of anxiety which can inhibit us from simply living and being. When we are overcome by such emotions everything can appear bleak; our senses become dulled; it drains all the colour and taste from life. This leads to us projecting our anxiety and worry onto everything that we do in life; it takes the very life out of living and leads to abject misery. It drags us into pits of depression and traps us in the very things that we believe protect us from present dangers. As a result we go deeper into ourselves and get lost and trapped in our black holes of doom and gloom. It can be very difficult to find our way out of these black holes. It sucks the life out of us and stops us being who we really are, all that we can be.

So how do we overcome the power of this debilitating fear? How do we find the courage just to be?

 Well it takes just a little faith and a little love to create the courage to just be, to accept what is in front of us. Sounds simple doesn’t it? Which of course it is, but it is far from easy. I believe in love and I believe in life and through living in love and remaining open to life, despite its difficulties I find the courage to truly be, to overcome the power of unnatural fear. Love will always overcome fear; love will always enable us to find the courage to truly be all that we can be.

We will always know the emotion of fear, we will always feel it. We need it, it is a natural instinct. That said we need not be enslaved by it. We need not live in fear of fear itself. To be free all we need do is live with integrity, live in love and the courage to simply be will shine out of us. In doing so not only do we liberate ourselves, we will be a light to others who in turn may be inspired to liberate themselves and others too.

We cannot escape the pain and suffering that accompanies the joy of living. If we want to know the love present in life we also have to accept the pain and suffering we all experience in life too, no one is exempt from this. As we all know only too well.

Just look at the last 12 months of you who reads this blogs life and the lives of those around you. I’m certain you have experienced success and failure this year and that you have also known the joy of new life and experiences, I know that I have. I am certain too that we have all known the pain and suffering of illness and death, if not in our lives, then in the lives of those we hold most dear. Life truly is awry.

When the difficulties come we all cry out in pain and ask why is this happening to me? We ask for our own cup of suffering to be removed, but eventually most of us accept reality, we surrender to it and in our own ways cry out “Thy will, not mine, be done”. We get what we get in life, whether we deserve it or not, we certainly can’t avoid some things and if we try to all we really avoid is life’s beauty. No one can escape the suffering that is present in life. If we attempt to all that we succeed in doing is blocking ourselves off from life’s beauty and then we experience the worst kind of suffering; the suffering within the suffering, the ache of loneliness.

There is a universal message in the Palm Sunday Narrative and I believe that this where the power lies. Jesus enters Jerusalem ready to take on the might of the Roman empire, to set his people free and it appears that everyone is behind him. They lay down their palms and welcome both him and his message of radical love, this continues and builds during the first half of Holy Week. And then what happens? Within days he is betrayed, abandoned, tortured and executed. He is left alone in fear to face his fate. He resists, he fights against it and then he surrenders and finds the courage to be all that he is meant to be and in the end love prevails. From what appears to be utter failure, somehow love shines through in the most unexpected of ways.

This is where hope is found in this place of utter despair, love shines through eternal. Isn’t this what it’s all about? If we live in faith and find the courage to be who we truly are, to live in love despite life’s difficulties, we will be all that we are meant to be. We will know love and we will know what it is to be free.

Remember Easter is nearly here. Easter a day of re-birth, resurrection and new beginnings. Winter is over and spring is singing out it’s re-birth.

I will end this little chip of a blog with the following by Thich Nhat Hanh

 After a long meditation, I wrote this poem. In it, there are three people: the twelve-year-old girl, the pirate, and me. Can we look at each other and recognize ourselves in each other? The title of the poem is "Please Call Me by My True Names," because I have so many names. When I hear one of the of these names, I have to say, "Yes."

Call Me by My True Names

Do not say that I'll depart tomorrow 

because even today I still arrive.

Look deeply: I arrive in every second 

to be a bud on a spring branch, 
to be a tiny bird, with wings still fragile, 
learning to sing in my new nest, 
to be a caterpillar in the heart of a flower, 
to be a jewel hiding itself in a stone.

I still arrive, in order to laugh and to cry, 

in order to fear and to hope. 
The rhythm of my heart is the birth and 
death of all that are alive.

I am the mayfly metamorphosing on the surface of the river,

and I am the bird which, when spring comes, arrives in time 
to eat the mayfly.

I am the frog swimming happily in the clear pond, 

and I am also the grass-snake who, approaching in silence, 
feeds itself on the frog.

I am the child in Uganda, all skin and bones, 

my legs as thin as bamboo sticks, 
and I am the arms merchant, selling deadly weapons to Uganda.

I am the twelve-year-old girl, refugee on a small boat,

who throws herself into the ocean after being raped by a sea pirate,
and I am the pirate, my heart not yet capable of seeing and loving.

I am a member of the politburo, with plenty of power in my hands,

and I am the man who has to pay his "debt of blood" to, my people,
dying slowly in a forced labor camp.

My joy is like spring, so warm it makes flowers bloom in all

walks of life.
My pain if like a river of tears, so full it fills the four oceans.

Please call me by my true names, 

so I can hear all my cries and laughs at once, 
so I can see that my joy and pain are one.

Please call me by my true names, 

so I can wake up, 
and so the door of my heart can be left open, 
the door of compassion.

Thich Nhat Hanh

Sunday, 17 March 2013

Eye of the Beholder

Oasis once sang “Slip inside the eye of your mind, don’t you know you might find a better place to play.”

Quite a beautiful image really.

For reasons that are way beyond my understanding eyes have been on my mind for quite some time recently; actually probably for a couple of weeks, since I had my little elephant exploration. So many people have commented to me about how beautiful and soulful they are. Their eyes are tiny, in comparison to the rest of them, especially their nose and ears and yet it is their eyes that people keep on speaking to me about. Of all of the characteristics of the elephant people talk about, it seems it was their gentle and beautiful eyes that reveal so much about the elephant’s character.

They say that our eyes are the windows to our souls; they say that our eyes reveal our personalities  I always remember my old minister John Midgley would often ask me how I was and as he did he would look intently into my eyes. I found it a little disturbing at first, but I understand why he did so. He wanted to see and not just hear how I was. He wanted to see with his own eyes. After all seeing is believing, or so they say.

It’s a curious phrase “Eyes are the windows to your soul.” I looked up the origin. Some say it comes from The Bible and certainly there are similar references to be found there. Luke chapter 11 vv 33-36 reads “No one after lighting a lamp puts it in a cellar or under a basket, but on a stand, so that those who enter may see the light. Your eye is the lamp of your body. When your eye is healthy, your whole body is full of light, but when it is bad, your body is full of darkness. Therefore be careful lest the light in you be darkness. If your whole body is full of light, having no part dark, it will be wholly bright, as when a lamp with its rays gives you light.”...Certainly sounds similar...

Others have attributed it to Shakespeare, Da Vinci, Emerson, Milton. Still others have said it is an old English folk phrase. I suspect the true author of the exact phrase is the American sculptor Hiram Powers who said “The eye is the window of the soul, the mouth the door. The intellect, the will are seen in the eye; the emotions, sensibilities, and affections, in the mouth. The animals look for man’s intentions right into his eyes. Even a rat, when you hunt him and bring him to bay, looks you in the eye.”

Whatever the exact origin of the phrase it has been around in public consciousness probably ever since we became conscious. Why you may well ask? Well because it reveals a deep truth about humanity. We can hide so much about ourselves, behind a thousand and one masks, but if you look into someone’s eyes and really pay attention, you will see the soul of the person. You will glimpse not merely the crescent, but the whole of the moon. No doubt this is why John looks deeply into people's eyes when he asks “How they are?” He’s not just saying it for the sake of it, he really wants to know.

Recent research at Orebro University in Sweden has suggested that that there is real truth  in the statement that "The eyes are the windows of the soul". Researches looked at patterns around the iris of the eyes of 428 subjects and compared them with their personality profiles. They claim that certain patterns were consistent in individual who had similar personality profiles. Matt Larrson a behavioural scientist at the university stated that “Our results suggest people with different iris features tend to develop along different personality lines...These findings support the notion that people with different iris configurations tend to develop along different trajectories in regards to personality.”... They claim that genetic mutations may be the reason that some people have poor social skills and act impulsively and that this can be revealed through studying the pattern around the iris. Interesting...Maybe, maybe not...

Meanwhile psychologists as Yale University, in America, are suggesting that we believe, even if we do so sub-consciously that our eyes truly are the window to our souls. They conducted visual experiments with adults and pre-school children. The findings revealed that both groups reacted almost identically. Both groups believed that the essence of a character is to be found in or around the person’s eyes. They claimed that this is not culturally conditioned, more that this is something that is felt intuitively.

Christina Starmans of the Mind Development Lab at Yale claimed that

“The indirect nature of our method and the fact that these judgements are shared by adults and preschoolers, suggests that our results do not reflect a culturally learned understanding...but might instead be rooted in a more intuitive or phenomenological sense of where in our bodies we reside.”

They are suggesting that most of us intuitively believe that the essence of the person is located in or around the eyes.

Could this be true?

There is another curious phrase that we often hear uttered, “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder” This phrase suggests that beauty is subjective. Again this is of disputed origin. Some say it was coined in ancient Greece. While others site Shakespeare, “In Love’s Labour Lost he wrote:

 “Good Lord Boyet, my beauty though mean,
Needs not the painted flourish of your praise:
Beauty is bought by judgement of the eye,
Not utter’d by base sale of chapmen’s tongue.”

Benjamin Franklin, in “Poor Richard’s Almanack”  wrote “Beauty, like supreme dominion is but supported by opinion” David Hulme wrote “Beauty in things exists merely in the mind which contemplates them.” The exact phrase though is attributed to Margaret Wolfe Hungerford who in “Molly Bawn” (1878) wrote “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder”

But is it merely beauty that is in the eye of the beholder? Maybe everything is subjective?
I recently came across the following in Bill Darlison's wonderful book of short stories "Concentration and Compassion"

“The Dog in Hall of Mirrors”

"There once was a dog who wandered into a room filled with mirrors. The dog looked around, seeing what appeared to be lots of other dogs, growled and showed his teeth. When he saw the other dogs do the same, he got frightened and cowered. When he noticed the other dogs cowering, he once again growled and started barking. A similar reaction from the others made him cower and become very frightened once again. This continued over and over again until the dog finally fell over, dead from emotional and physical exhaustion.

I wonder what would have happened if the dog had, just once, wagged its tale?"

Bill asks the question is the world merely a reflection of our attitude towards it? Can we change the world by changing our attitude towards it? A question worth pondering I think.

It’s seems that it not only beauty that is in the eye of the beholder. So much of life is about how we see things and how we look at things; so much of life is about perspective. If only the dog in the story had just wagged his tail instead of snarling and cowering he would not have frightened himself to death. Instead he could have lived a happy and carefree life.

So it’s not just about our perspective, it’s about “how” we look at things. The eyes reveal so much. So often we get back what we give off in life.

At a recent Lent Breakfast talk, I attended in Urmston, we were asked what characteristics of Jesus had the greatest impact on us. I said it was his eyes or at least the way he looked at those he came into contact with. The accounts say that when he looked at the crowds of people or individuals, no matter who they were, he “looked on them with compassion”. 

How we look at others is so important. We can look on people with compassion, or we can give them a “hard look”. Think about it when someone gives us a “hard look”, what do we do? Well often we turn away in fear, or respond in anger or aggression. What if someone looks at us with compassion, how do we respond to this? Well usually we look back with compassion. Well we do unless we have fallen so far down into that pit of nihilistic despair that we respond to love with utter hatred. I’m sure most folk have been there at some point. I know that I have.

How we act towards others really matters. But it’s not just about doing what is right; it’s also about the spirit in which each task is conducted. We can appear to be encouraging and loving and doing the right thing, but our eyes may well say otherwise. Think about a smile. We think we smile with our mouths, but we do not, we smile with our eyes. When I smile my eyes almost slant shut. Whatever we do and however we do something our eyes will reveal the truth of our hearts and people will intuitively pick up on this. They will see it in our eyes.

The other week I was walking down the street and passed several friends, one after the other walking on the other side of the road. As they past I waved and offered a greeting to them. They responded by waving and saying hello back. I walked away smiling and chuckling to myself. Then a thought came to me. I wish I had a hat. I wish I had a hat because I could tip my hat to them instead of just waving. I could greet them in what seems to me to be a more reverential way. By tipping my hat I could show reverence to their sacred uniqueness, in much the same way that a Hindu does when they bow, with their hands held together. Wouldn’t it be marvellous if we could find ways to revere one another as we passed each other in the street.

Then this week I thought about it again. We do not need hats to tip, we have our eyes and our eyes reveal our persona, they truly are the windows to our souls. We can show how we feel about one another and life simply by how we look at the world. We can see the world through hard eyes, by giving one another a hard look or we can look on the world with love and compassion. When we walk into the hall of mirrors that is life we can see ourselves reflected back in the eyes of one another and either cower or snarl or we can wag our tails. The choice is ours. Which one do you choose today?

How we see the world matters and how respond perhaps even more so. Life truly is in the “eye of the beholder” How we see one another is vital. Try not to look so hard today and you never known those eyes looking back at you might just be stretched by a smile.

I'm going to end this little chip of a blog with this little reflection by Robert Walsh. It's another example of what I like to call "The Chaos Theory of Compassion"

“Glad To See You!” by Robert Walsh

The drivers on the island of Dominca blow their horns a lot.  I was there for a week and drove a rented car over truly terrible roads, and on the left side too. The roads are narrow mountain roads with no centre lines, no speed limits, and lots of curves.
The car rental guy explained. When they blow their horns, they may be warning whoever or whatever might be around the corner, but more often it’s in the nature of a greeting – they are just glad to see you. I think maybe they’re also glad to be alive, to have a destination ahead, and to have all four wheels on the narrow road, passing through the beauty of the rain forest and the misty mountains.

Soon I got into the spirit of it and began to give a little honk when I met another car. Eventually, I learned to wave at the other driver as I steered with one hand.

At first, I was suspicious of the friendliness of the Dominicans. I assumed they wanted something from me. I assumed they wanted to sell me something, or ask for a handout. Some of them did. But most were just, as the man said, glad to see me. After a while, I began to trust their essential goodwill and relax.

The “kingdom of God” is a mysterious idea to me. I’m not sure what it means. But if it came to be, I imagine as one of its characteristics that people would always be glad to see each other. They would react to the presence of another human being with joy and awe. They would smile and wave and maybe blow their horns or pluck their harps in greeting. Even if the person they met was a stranger, even one of another race or nationality or lifestyle, they would show with their greeting that they really believed that the other person had inherent worth and dignity” 

Saturday, 9 March 2013

Mothering Sunday: Every Birth is Sacred

The following was sent to me by a friend, they thought I might be able to use for Mothering Sunday, they were correct...It is taken from “Spiritual Midwifery” by Ina May Gaskin
"Every birth is holy. I think that a midwife must be religious because the energy she’s dealing with is holy. She needs to know that other people’s energy is sacred.

Spiritual midwifery recognizes that each and every birth is the birth of the Christ child...

By religious, I mean that compassion must be a way of life for her. Her religion has to come forth in her practice, in the way she makes her day-to-day, her moment-to-moment decisions. It cannot be just theory. Truly caring for other people cannot be a part-time job.

During a birthing, there may be fantastic physical changes that you can’t call anything but miraculous. This daily acquaintance with miracles – not in the sense that it would be devalued by its commonness, but that its sacredness be recognized – has to be a part of the tools of the midwife’s trade. Great changes can be brought about with the passing of a few words between people or by a midwife’s touching a woman or the baby in such a way that great physical changes can happen.

For this touch to carry the power that it must, the midwife must keep herself in a state of grace. She has to take spiritual vows just the same as a yogi or a monk or a nun takes inner vows that deal with how they carry out every aspect of their life. A person who lives by a code that is congruent with life in compassion and truth actually keys in and agrees with the millions-of-years-old biological process of childbirth..."

I was recently talking with a young woman who is re-training to be a mid-wife. She is a mother herself and no doubt it is this that has sent her down that root. It was so beautiful listening to her talk of her job and the sense of awe and wonder that comes with being present at the beginning of life. She also spoke of the sense of connection she feels with the woman she works with as they move through the stages of pregnancy. There is a real pastoral nature to the work it seems and this seemed especially true with women who are troubled or who have addiction and mental health difficulties as well as issues such as poverty and homelessness. The job must be extremely painful at times.

We also talked of faith and belief. Conversations that people often wish to have with me. It’s interesting that most of the time I say very little, I tend to listen while they give birth to their own thoughts and feeling. It seems this young woman is going through seem real changes.

I have known here for many years, her older sister has been a friend since I was a teenager and we were out celebrating her sisters 40th birthday that day.

It was lovely listening to her talk about how her work and motherhood had led her to ask those questions about meaning; about her search for a centre and how she admired so many of the Muslim women that she met in her work, who seem to have this centre and purpose and meaning. She said that in contrast this was something that was lacking in the lives of so many of the more troubled young women that she came into contact with. She told me that she didn’t really know what she believed in herself, just that she found this centre in her work. I know what she means. As I have said many times the God that I have come to know really comes to life as I find and give from my heart to another and when I allow another to give from their heart to me. In those moments that loving spirit comes to life.

I love the following “For a Mother” by John O’Donohue. It is taken from "Benedictus: A Book of Blessings"

“For a Mother” by John O’Donohue


Your voice learning to soothe
Your new child
Was the first home-sound
We heard before we could see.

Your young eyes
Gazing on us
Was the first mirror
Where we glimpsed
What to be seen
Could mean.

Your nearness filled the air,
An umbilical garden for all the seeds
Of longing that stirred in our infant hearts.

You nurtured and fostered this space
To root all our quietly gathering intensity
That could grow nowhere else.

Formed from the depths beneath your heart,
You know us from inside out,
No deeds or seas or others
Could ever erase that.

After worship last Sunday I was speaking with a member of the congregation about the hymns we sang in worship. He mentioned one that he believed we had never sung in the two and half years that I had served the congregation. He named the hymn and number and I insisted that we’d sung it recently. I even had it in my mind and sang the first verse back at him. As I got in my car I promised that we would sing it soon, but couldn’t next Sunday as we had already picked the hymns for Mothering Sunday, when the worship group had recently met.

What a fool I am. I got up on Monday morning to make a start on the service, opened the worship group book and there it was. We had decided to sing the hymn weeks ago, as the opener to the “Mothering Sunday” service. This is why it was on my mind and the words and tune were in my head. Just another beautiful example of synchronicity.

I love the opening verse and it is appropriate for “Mothering Sunday”

“Now Thank We All Our God,
With heart, and hands, and voices,
Who wondrous things hath done,
In whom the world rejoices;
Who from our mothers’ arms
Hath blessed us on our way
With countless gifts of love,
And still is ours today.”

So what is motherhood, well it certainly isn’t gender exclusive. It is something we all do and it something that a true spiritual community must be involved in. Remember that one aspect of the original meaning of “Mothering Sunday” was a return to the mother church.

To mother is to serve others. Certainly I see this when I think of the example of my mother and others who have mothered me; when I think of the deep love that they have shown in their actions.

Mothering is about a commitment to love. Not in some soft and mushy way, no it’s about giving of yourself for others. We all mother when we cultivate relationships, spiritually intimate ones, with each other; mothering is something we do when we give ourselves fully to life, to nurture the world outside of our own bodies. Good mothering is also about encouraging others to care for one another too, in deed and word. This to me is the primary purpose of spiritual communities like the ones I serve, for me a spiritual community is a breeding grounds for compassionate living. In my eyes religious communities are the birth places of compassion, the Unitarian communities I have been a part of have certainly helped to nurture that aspect of me.

I believe that we are all called to the sacred work of mothering; mothering that teaches us that real love is part and parcel of that mysterious life force that strengthens us in life’s vicissitudes, that brings us to wholeness both within ourselves and others and enables us to find the courage deep within to be dedicated in thought, word and deed to whatever our task may be.

Mothering Sunday reminds us that we are not here purely for ourselves; it reminds us that we are here to care for and to nurture one another. We are here to bring that invisible force, the love that I know as God, into life through our own human hearts and in our thoughts, words and deeds.

"Prayer for All Who Mother" By Victoria Weinsten

We reflect in thanksgiving this day for all those whose lives have nurtured ours.

The life-giving ones
Who heal with their presence
Who listen in sympathy
Who give wise advice ... but only when asked for it.
We are grateful for all those who have mothered us
Who have held us gently in times of sorrow
Who celebrated with us our triumphs -- no matter how small
Who noticed when we changed and grew,
who praised us for taking risks
who took genuine pride in our success,
and who expressed genuine compassion when we did not succeed.
On this day that honours Mothers
let us honour all mothers
men and women alike
who from somewhere in their being
have freely and wholeheartedly given life, and sustenance, and vision to us.
Dear God, Mother-Father of us all,
grant us life-giving ways
strength for birthing,
and a nurturing spirit
that we may take attentive care of our world,
our communities, and those precious beings
entrusted to us by biology, or by destiny, or by friendship, fellowship or fate.
Give us the heart of a mother today.