Saturday, 20 July 2013

A Guest of Life

I enjoyed a lovely time, during my week off, mainly with family both biological and none biological. Truth be told though I’ve been enjoying a good few weeks of late. I feel very connected to life, to people, at the moment. I’m looking the world, the people of the world, in the eye and smiling and do you know what they seem to be returning the favour. I feel very blessed...I’m singing joyfully and the world seems to be singing back at me...thank you...

I spent a couple of days with my brother and his family down in Middlesex; I thoroughly enjoyed our time together. This was not the case the last time I visited a couple of summers back. My brother was not in a good place back then and I found this extremely painful. This time he is much better and I feel more accepting of how he is. I have found that the hardest pain in life is that of your nearest and dearest. I suspect that this is not just because you are closer to them and therefore more invested it is also because it mirrors your own suffering. I felt quite a bit of guilt after my last visit. Why? You may well ask, well because truth be told I fled his pain and suffering. This is something I do far less than I used to but I still do so from time to time.

There's no doubt to me that the reason that I've been experiencing a deeper sense of connection these last few weeks is because some more barriers have come down. I am less afraid of life and people and therefore am generally experiencing the joy of living in my daily interactions. Through this I am witnessing the love of God manifesting in life and it is beautiful. How could it not be?

Last week was just so beautiful because I felt welcomed into so many different people’s lives. Now was this because they welcomed me or was it because I embraced the welcome? I cannot be certain; all I know is that I enjoyed my time in the company of so many people. It got me thinking about the time we spend here, our physical lives. It also got me thinking about the intimate relationships we share together.

Our time is always limited. Whether that is in the place we find ourselves or the relationships we form. We are all passing through this time and place. Nothing last forever, no person, nothing. We are all guests of this life. This is perhaps something we ought to consider when we are with one another.

Being a good guest is not as easy as it sounds; I know I’ve not always found it easy. It requires an appropriate level of intimacy between the people involved. It’s about sharing in the life of the person you are with, taking an interest in what they like; it is also about taking an interest in what causes them pain. It’s about entering their world for a short time. It’s about sharing in their loves in a genuine, open and honest way, but it’s also about sharing in their suffering.

I believe that I achieved this last week, as I shared time with people I have known all my life and others I have only known for a short time. Do you know what every moment was deeply meaningful. I also felt the same way as I was wandereing around parts of Yorkshire and Greater London and interacted with a variety of people on so many levels; sometimes merely through eye contact and at others through brief conversations.

The whole week was a delight to every sense as I indulged myself in the indulgences of others. I was a good guest and this is why it was so fulfilling; I was a good guest to the people I shared my time with and I was a good guest to life itself. I fully engaged with everything that came my way, I accepted all that was on offer. I asked for very little, I accepted what was offered and I gave thanks for every morsal.

This may just be the key you know. To ask for very little, to accept what is offered and to give thanks for whatever comes our way. I just need to remember this and when I forget to remember to listen out for the reminders all around me. I need to keep on opening my heart and listening with the ears of my heart.

Now of course there are people places and things that I would rather not listen to; things I would rather ignore, avert from my eyes, than pay attention to. There are things in this world I don’t like and do not approve of. There are actions in my nearest and dearest that I don’t agree with, there are aspects of myself that I wish were different. Should I turn from them? There are those who would say so and I have certainly done so in the past, but I try not to these days. Nobody is perfect, no one is complete, but that does not mean that they should be shunned, they should be locked outside love’s gate.

There is a passage in Luke's Gospel (Ch 18 vv 9-14) that describes a prideful Pharisee, who considers himself better than others, above everyone else. He follows the laws and commandments to the letter. In the same passage a tax collector is also described who recognises his imperfections and does not feel he is worthy of God’s love. In the passage Jesus holds up the tax collector and not the Pharisee as being the exalted one. Jesus says “For everyone that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbelth himself shall be exalted. You see the Pharisee turns from the tax collector and others who he believes are beneath him. He sees their wrongs and thus believes that unlike himself they are not worthy of God’s love. The Pharisee fails to see that by rejecting his neighbour he is also rejecting God. While he is following the laws to the letter he is breaking the "Golden Rule", to love his neighbour as himself.

There is something in this teaching, a theme repeated in the Gospels, about being a good host and good guest. It’s about accepting our humanity and the humanity of one another. It’s about love and acceptance of ourselves and one another; it’s about universal love; it’s about perfect love. I believe that the only thing we can do perfectly is love. This requires us to love all, without prejudice. In my eyes this is how the love that is God comes to life, how it incarnates.

Now of course to truly love someone requires us to get to know them and this can be both scary and at times painful. to know someone requires us to understand what a person loves and what causes them pain. There is a wonderful story told by Madeleine L’Engle in “Walking on Water”, which describes this oh so beautifully.

“(There is) a story of a Hasidic rabbi, renowned for his piety. He was unexpectedly confronted one day by one of his devoted youthful disciples. In a burst of feeling, the young disciple exclaimed, “My master, I love you!” The ancient teacher looked up from his books and asked his fervent disciple, “Do you know what hurts me, my son?”

The young man was puzzled. Composing himself, he stuttered, “I don’t understand your question, Rabbi. I am trying to tell you how much you mean to me, and you confuse me with irrelevant questions.”

“My questions is neither confusing nor irrelevant,” rejoined the rabbi, “For if you do not know what hurts me, how can you truly love me.””

Now of course we cannot know everyone in a deep and meaningful way. It takes time and effort to form intimate bonds. This is exemplified almost perfectly in an ancient Chinese proverb that says: The fifth cup of tea between friends is the best.

I believe that one purpose of religious communities is the development of intimacy, real intimacy, something that is lacking in our increasingly isolating culture. Something that modern day consumerist spirituality does not offer. It does not offer the intimate encounter that community brings. Real spirituality cannot occur in the privacy of our lives or hidden away on mountain tops it can only come to life in real lived encounters with other people. In awkward difficult encounters with people like you and me, perfectly imperfect people who know both joy and pain. In community we practise love; In community love comes to life.

The purpose of community is to welcome the stranger exactly as they are. My Unitarian traditions says that we welcome all, but I suspect we do this imperfectly. We say "come as you are exactly as you are...but don’t expect to leave in exactly the same condition." We say we accept people exactly as they are in their faith, doubt and confusion, in their joy and sadness. This is true hospitality. Welcoming the weary traveller with open arms, whoever they are and where ever they have come from. Welcoming them wholly body, mind and soul; that they leave no part of themselves at the door. All that we ask is that those welcome are good guests and hosts themselves. That they accept we as we are and others who come as they are.

To be a good guest of life is to practise perfect love, I believe it is the only thing that can be done perfectly. I have not yet achieved this myself, but I aspire to it each day. I believe that everyone of us is capable of this. Why don't you give it a try. It can begin with your next encounter. It can begin by you being both a good guest and a good host. It begins by welcoming one another into each others lives, both your joys and delights and your pains. It begins by listening with the ears of your heart and speaking the language of your heart. The language of the heart will break down every barrier...let it speak in and through you.

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