Sunday, 2 June 2013

"Thin Places": Reconnecting Past, Present & Future

(This blogspot was originally published in 2013)

Over the last few weeks I have enjoyed reliving re-feeling some old memories. There are two reasons for this. One has been regularly taking the Wednesday lunchtime service Cross Street Chapel, while the minister Jane Barraclough has been recuperating from an operation. The second being the purchase of John Midgley’s book “Wednesday at the Oasis”. John’s book is based on a series of sermons, one for each week of the year, that he delivered at Cross Street while he was minister and I was a congregant there. What has been lovely is that as I have read them I have remembered many of them. These beautiful memories came flooding into my mind as I sat on the tram last Wednesday heading towards Cross Street.

I suspect that Cross Street is one of those “thin places” that the ancient Celts described. A place where there is only a very thin divide between the past, present and future. It certainly feels like that for me or at least it does when I go there on a Wednesday lunchtime. At such times and in this place I reconnect with my past and perhaps get a glimpse into the future which enables me to truly connect with the present. Oddly in those moments time actually feels very “thick”, in the sense that I experience it richly and deeply. In these moments I sense something beyond...

The last few weeks have allowed me to re-feel these memories; it has allowed me to remember them, to rebind my memories. When we remember we rebind our thoughts our memories together. It was not just in my mind though that I recalled these past events that are so vital to my life today. I have remembered through all my senses too; I have re-sensed these memories too. Now of course if I was to say that I re-sensed them you might think I was talking negatively about these memories; you might think that I was harbouring resentment towards my past. Well nothing could be further from the truth. It is another one of the quirks of the English language that the word for re-sensing something only really has a negative meaning. The word resentment comes from the French word “resentir” which meant to re-feel something. Well I’ve certainly been doing that these last few weeks, but not in a negative sense. Oh how I wish we had a word that meant the opposite of resentment, because that’s what I’ve been experiencing. As I sat on the tram last Wednesday I found myself smiling broadly as I remembered oh so much.

Now some may accuse me of being sentimental, nay nostalgic for the past and that this is futile, they may say that you’ve got to live in the present in the now. Now of course to some extent this is true, there is only the now to experience. That said if I’ve learnt anything in life I’ve learnt that you can only live in the present moment if you are peace with the past. You cannot live in the moment if you are plagued with resentment about the past, if re-feeling the past causes you pain.

Why you may well ask?

Well because if you disconnect emotionally from any aspect of your life you tend to disconnect from every aspect. If you are not feeling your past, you cannot feel the present.

Whenever I conduct a child blessing I like to use the following words by Dorothy Law Notte, during the ceremony.

Children learn what they live.
If a child lives with criticism, she learns to condemn.
If a child lives with hostility, he learns to fight.
If a child lives with ridicule, she learns to be shy.
If a child lives with shame, he learns to feel guilt.
If a child lives with tolerance, she learns to be patient.
If a child lives with encouragement, he learns with confidence.
If a child lives with praise, she learns to appreciate.
If a child lives with fairness, he learns justice.
If a child lives with security, she learns to have faith.
If a child lives with approval, he learns to like herself.
If a child lives with acceptance, she learns to find love in the world. 

The early years of our lives are oh so important. If we are not taught how to love and respect and to connect, or if we are taught shame and hate for ourselves or others we can easily become desensitise both to ourselves and to the lives of others. This can lead to a total disconnection from life. It can lead to a sense of alienation that can be deeply destructive. I wonder how many folk wander around feeling unnoticed, as if they don’t belong, completely disconnected from life.

These thoughts bring to mind a quote by William James that a friend recently recounted to me.

"No more fiendish punishment could be devised, were such a thing physically possible, than that one should be turned loose in society and remain absolutely unnoticed by all members thereof. If no one turned around when we entered, answered when we spoke, or minded what we did, but if every person we met 'cut us dead', and acted as if we were non-existent things, a kind of rage and impotent despair would long well up in us, from which the cruellest torture would be relief."

A sense of disconnection and alienation is hell; I can think of no more accurate a description.

It’s amazing how powerful three little letters can be, “D I S” can completely change the meaning of something.

Those simple three letters “D I S” “dis” have been on my mind of late. It’s amazing how powerful those three letters, at least linguistically can be. To “dis” is to pull things apart, to tear asunder, to spoil. Think about words like dis-abling, dis-orientating, dis-ease, dis-appear, dis-connect, dis-miss. When we diss someone we are speaking badly of them we are rejecting them. To diss someone is to isolate them, to lock them outside of the gate, to reject them and if we ourselves diss life, then we reject life we denounce life, we hate life.

Have you ever felt disconnected from life? If so how did you reconnect? How do we help those who experience a sense of disconnection to reconnect?

Well for me this is the task of religion, perhaps its main task. The role of religion is to bind up the broken. One of religions root meanings is “religio” meaning to re-bind, to re-connect. Even those of us who were taught love and worth from our childhoods can still experience the need to rebind with all life, with love. We all feel excluded from love, from life from time to time, no matter how loving our lives may have been. This is why communal worship is so vital, it allows us to begin that process of reconnection.

Those early days at Cross Street, all those years ago, helped me so much. They helped me connect beyond myself, to something more than me. In worship I connected to a power greater than myself as well as the people I was in communion with. Paradoxically by doing so I was able to connect to the greater aspects of my true self and it was this that allowed me to connect with all life, with my past and potential future and to fully experience the present moment, the gift of life.

A few weeks after I began attending Cross Street I spent a few days back home in Yorkshire. One day I decided I wanted to retrace the footsteps of my child hood and revisited places that I use to play and do lots of things young lads do. It was one of the most beautiful and moving days of my life as I re-felt my childhood years. I re-felt some very painful memories and as I did I loosened up so much joy and happiness. It was one of those days that changed me forever. It was one of those days when I began to re-write my own history. It’s not that the pain and suffering disappeared it’s just that they began to be put into proper proportion with all the joy and happiness and love that had always been present, but that had somehow got lost.

I suspect that like Cross Street that little part of Birstall is one of those “thin places” that the Celts spoke of. Certainly when I walk around there today there seems to be only a very thin divide between the past, present and future and that which is beyond time and place. It certainly helps me to reconnect with my past and perhaps get a glimpse into the future which enables me to truly connect with the present. Ever since that day that I revisited my childhood my life has become richer and deeper in meaning.

I suspect that everyone has there own "thin places". I wonder where the "thin places" in your lives are. Places where you are able to fully connect with the past and therefore present and perhaps get a glimpse of the future, of the eternal. Why don't you think about and perhaps revisit and re-feel those experiences.

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