Friday, 26 April 2013

A Second Anniversary Waltz

To mark the second anniversary of this blog I thought I'd post some words that have inspired me these last twelve months. I hope that touch your soul, the way they have touched mine.

The first is a short tale on the difficulty of silence...

Four monks decided to meditate silently without speaking for two weeks. By nightfall on the first day, the candle began to flicker and then went out. The first monk said, “Oh, no! The candle is out” The second monk said, “Aren’t we not suppose to talk?” The third monk said, “Why must you two break the silence?” The fourth monk laughed and said, “Ha! I’m the only one who didn’t speak.”

Here are some words by my hero Forrest Church on the courage to be who we are...

"No one needs to try to be unique. Nevertheless, being who we are remains a daily challenge. The three things required – self-acceptance, integrity, and the courage to be – don’t happen on their own.

Self-acceptance demands that we aspire to be, not disdain , who we are; it rejects disguise, knowing that it is neither helpful or necessary. Integrity is oneness – being in harmony with ourselves and neighbour. The courage to be is nothing more and nothing less than a fundamental affirmation of our own uniqueness conditioned by the limits imposed by life and death. Practiced together, self acceptance, integrity, and the courage to be lead to human freedom. In contrast, fear disguises reality, trades in duplicity, and rejects human limitations, thereby making freedom impossible..."

"The courage to be" Forrest Church

I've been thinking of these words by Wordsworth all year. My favourite "spot of time" occurs on the M62 as I travel back to Yorkshire it starts to happen as I pass the White Rose symbol and ascend towards "Stott Hall Farm" 

“There are in our existence spots of time,
That with distinct pre-eminence retain
A renovating virtue, whence–depressed
By false opinion and contentious thought,
Or aught of heavier or more deadly weight,
In trivial occupations, and the round
Of ordinary intercourse–our minds
Are nourished and invisibly repaired;
A virtue, by which pleasure is enhanced,
That penetrates, enables us to mount,
When high, more high, and lifts us up when fallen.”
 William Wordsworth, The Prelude (Book XI, ls 258-278)

And here are some words on the importance of listening...

In “Forgotten Art of Deep Listening” Kay Lindahl asks us to:

“Think of the difference it would make if each of us felt really listened to when we spoke. Imagine the time it would save to be heard the first time around, instead of having to repeat ourselves over and over again. Envision a conversation in which each person is listened to with respect, even those whose views are different from ours. This is all possible in conversations of the heart, when we practice the sacred art of listening. It takes intention and commitment. We need to slow down to expand our awareness of the possibilities of deep listening. The simple act of listening to each other can transform all of our relationships. Indeed, it can transform the world, as we practice being the change we wish to see in the world.”

I recently came across the following story in Bill Darlison’s wonderful book “The Shortest Distance: 101 Stories from the World’s Spiritual Traditions”

It is simply called “Dandelions”...

A certain man took great pride in his new lawn. He mowed it regularly, watered it daily, and sprayed it with all kinds of substances to make it grow thicker and look greener. One day he woke up to find his precious lawn covered in dandelions! What could he do? He dashed into the shed, took out his lawnmower, and gave the grass a thorough mowing, cutting off the heads of all the dandelions in the process. “That should do it,” he thought, feeling very pleased with himself.

Gazing out of his window the next morning he discovered that the dandelions were back! Down he went to his garden, but this time, instead of mowing the lawn, he pulled out each dandelion by the roots. Surely that would be the end of it.

But he was wrong. In a few days, dandelions were there once again; their little golden heads were completely ruining his beautiful green lawn. He hurried off to the local garden centre and told one of the assistants about his problem. “What you need is some weed killer,” said the young man. “Take this”, he said, handing him a bottle.” It is the most powerful weed killer we have. Mix it with water, spray it on your lawn, and tomorrow all your dandelions will be gone.”

The man did as instructed and sure enough, the next day there were no dandelions in his lawn. Success!

But his joy was short lived. Within a week the dandelions were back. He returned to the garden centre. “What can I do about those wretched dandelions now? he asked the assistant. “I’ve tried mowing them, pulling them up by the roots, destroying them with weed killer, but they still keep coming back. Do you have any suggestions?”

“Yes,” replied the assistant. “I suggest you learn to love them!”

I first heard the following by colleague Rev Margaret Kirk at our General Assembly Anniversary service a few years ago...

“Something there is that doesn’t love a wall” by Rev Margaret Kirk

We see barriers erected between people of different lands,
We see sheets of steel and towers of concrete called Protection.
We see boundaries policed,
watch men, women and children running from hunger and persecution,
looking for a gap in the wall………

Something there is that doesn't love a wall…………

We see walls of fear –
Fear of the young, fear of the stranger,
Fear of sexuality that is different, fear of the educated, fear of the poor,
Fear of the Muslim, fear of the Jew –
Fear upon fear, endless and perpetuating,
And we offer our silent prayer that solid walls of fear will crumble to dust.

Something there is that doesn't love a wall…………

We hear the language of separation,
The jingoistic chant, the racial slur,
words of indifference and dismissal,
words arranged for the purpose of exclusion,
words that sting and taunt,
words that lie.
Let us find words that ring with love and truthfulness,
that reach out through the emptiness of separation.

Something there is that doesn't love a wall…………

We see the deluded barriers of the mind protecting self,
We see relationships stripped of affection
as one person becomes closed to another.
We see people trapped in misunderstanding,
old hurts re-ignited,
bricks placed higher on the wall,
goodwill and trust suspended.
and we ask for boundaries that are not impenetrable,
through which light can shine and distance be dissolved.

Something there is that doesn't love a wall………….

And when we need these boundaries for our own well being,
Let us know them for what they are,
Use them wisely and kindly,
Recognising our own vulnerability and that of others –
So each of us can find the space for retreat and succour,
find that peace that passes all understanding
and be renewed with strength and love
for the task of living life joyfully in communion with all others.
The following is by that famous author many of us truly take time to pause...

There is a story told of a workaholic businessman who decided to take an African Safari. He plotted a course and determined a time-table. He hired workers from a local village to carry the various containers and cases. On the first morning, the entire party roused early, travelled very, very fast and went very, very far. On the second morning, they roused early, travelled very, very fast and went very, very far. On the third day, the same. On the fourth morning, the local tribesmen refused to move. The man gestured irately and fumed at the translator to get them going. “They will not move,” the translator relayed.
“Why not?” the man bellowed, thinking of all the time wasted and dollars spent. “Because,” the translator said, “they are waiting for their souls to catch up with their bodies.”

Extract taken from Letters to my Son by Kent Nerburn
"I can measure my life by the moments when art transformed me—standing in front of Michelangelo’s Duomo pieta, listening to Dylan Thomas read his poetry, hearing Bach’s cello suites for the first time.

But not only there.

Sitting at a table in a smoky club listening to Muddy Waters and Little Walter talk back and forth to each other through their instruments; listening to a tiny Japanese girl play a violin sonata at a youth symphony concert; standing in a clapboard gift shop on the edge of Hudson Bay staring at a crudely carved Inuit image of a bear turning into a man.

It can happen anywhere, anytime. You do not have to be in some setting hallowed by greatness, or in the presence of an artist honored around the world. Art can work its magic any time you are in the presence of a work created by someone who has gone inside the act of creation to become what they are creating. When this takes place time stands still and if our hearts are open to the experience, our spirits soar and then our imaginations fly unfettered.

You need these moments if you are ever to have a life that is more than the sum of the daily moments of humdrum affairs.

If you can create these moments—if you are a painter or a poet or a musician or an actor—you carry within you a prize of great worth. If you cannot create them, you must learn to love one of the arts in a way that allows the power of another’s creation to come alive within you.

Once you love an art enough that you can be taken up in it, you are able to experience an echo of the great creative act that mysteriously has given life to us all.

It may be the closest any of us can get to God."

And here is a little more from Forrest Church...

“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.” 

Forrest Church

The following by May Sarton touch me deep in my soul. While our loved ones may no longer be physically with us, they reside with us permanently. There spirits live on in our souls, touching us and speaking through us...

All Souls by May Sarton

Did someone say that there would be an end,
An end, Oh, an end, to love and mourning?
Such voices speak when sleep and waking blend,
The cold bleak voices of the early morning
When all the birds are dumb in dark November -
Remember and forget, forget, remember.
After the false night, warm true voices, wake!
Voice of the dead that touches the cold living,
Through the pale sunlight once more gravely speak,
Tell me again, while the last leaves are falling:
"Dear child, what has been once so interwoven
Cannot be raveled, nor the gift ungiven."
Now the dead move through all of us still glowing,
Mother and child, lover and lover mated,
Are wound and bound together and enflowing.
What has been plaited cannot be unplaited -
Only the strands grow richer with each loss
And memory makes kings and queens of us.
Dark into light, light into darkness, spin.
When all the birds have flown to some real haven,
We who find shelter in the warmth within,
Listen, and feel now new-cherished, new-forgiven,
As the lost human voices speak through us and blend
Our complex love, our mourning without end. 

Another great hero of mine is Viktor Frankl. This is short extract from his essay on "Tragic Optimism" found towards the end of "Man's Search For Meaning"...

 “By declaring that man is responsible and must actualize the potential meaning of his life, I wish to stress that the true meaning of life is to be discovered in the world rather than within man or his own psyche, as though it were a closed system. I have termed this constitutive characteristic "the self-transcendence of human existence." It denotes the fact that being human always points, and is directed, to something or someone, other than oneself--be it a meaning to fulfill or another human being to encounter. The more one forgets himself--by giving himself to a cause to serve or another person to love--the more human he is and the more he actualizes himself. What is called self-actualization is not an attainable aim at all, for the simple reason that the more one would strive for it, the more he would miss it. In other words, self-actualization is possible only as a side-effect of self-transcendence.”

And finally another piece form that famous author anonymous. It talk of that most precious gift, time...

Imagine if you had a bank that credited your account each morning with £86,000 that carried over no balance from day to day...Allowed you to keep no cash in your account, and every evening cancelled whatever part of the amount you failed to use during the day, what would you do? Draw out every pound every day, of course, and use it to your advantage! Well, you have such a bank, and its name is TIME! Every morning it credits you with 86,400 seconds. Every night it rules off as lost whatever of this you failed to invest to good purpose. It carries over no balances, it allows no overdrafts. Each day it opens a new account with you. If you fail to use the day's deposits, the loss is yours. There is no going back. There is no drawing against tomorrow.

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