Saturday, 25 January 2014

Belonging: What is Your Song?

As regular readers of my blog will know my step-brother Allen is very close to the end of his life due to Pancreatic cancer. I recently visited him in the hospice where he is receiving care. As I sat with him other family members his father arrived and began to sing him lullabies that he sang him as a boy. It was one of the most beautiful moments of tenderness I have ever witnessed, it brings tears to my eyes as I write these words. I could see the comfort that our Allen felt as his father sang to him and I could see that his father was receiving comfort from the words as he sang. Song and the singing of our songs has the power to touch the special hard to reach places in all our hearts; the singing of our songs can bring healing and connection.

A few days later a friend sent me a copy of the meditation “Listening for Our Song” by David S touched a place in my soul...

"On sabbatical in East Africa, I heard a story of a people who believe that we are each created with our own song. Their tradition as a community is to honor that song by singing it as welcome when a child is born, as comfort when the child is ill, in celebration when the child marries, and in affirmation and love when death comes. Most of us were not welcomed into the world in that way. Few of us seem to know our song.

It takes a while for many of us to figure out which is our song, and which is the song that others would like us to sing. Some of us are slow learners. I heard my song not necessarily from doing extraordinary things in exotic places, but also from doing some pretty ordinary things in some routine places. For every phrase I heard climbing Kilimanjaro, I learned another in a chair in a therapist’s office. For every measure I heard in the silence of a retreat, I heard another laughing with my girls. For every note I heard in the wind on the beach at Lamu, I gleaned more from spending time with a dying friend as her children sang her song back to her. What came to astound me was not that the song appeared, but that it was always there.

I figure that the only way I could have known it for my own was if I had heard it before, before memory went to work making sense and order of the mystery of our beginning. Our songs sing back to us something of our essence, something of our truth, something of our uniqueness. When our songs are sung back to us, it is not about approval, but about recognizing our being and our belonging in the human family.

It is good to know our songs by heart for those lonely times when the world is not singing them back to us. That’s usually a good time to start humming to yourself, that song that is most your own.

They can be heard as songs of love or of longing, songs of encouragement or of comfort, songs of struggle or of security. But most of all, they are the songs of life, giving testimony to what has been, giving praise for all we’re given, giving hope for all we strive for, giving voice to the great mystery that carries each of us in and out of this world."

Last Sunday I listened to the congregations I serve sing the following words “Roots hold me close, wings set me free” by Carolyn McDade last Sunday. They are beautiful words that touch those special hard to reach places at the core of my being. As I listened it dawned on me that the roots come before the wings, that we are held close before we can be set free. It got me thinking that in order to fly free we need roots that hold us close.

For much of my life I thought that freedom and the attainment of it were the things of the highest value in life; that liberation meant escaping the shackles that hold us back and stop us being all that we were meant to be. I sang songs about freedom as I left behind all that I saw as unimportant. When I look back now what I see is a man who was a slave to freedom.

Over the last few years I have learnt about love; I have learnt something about what love actually is. I am not talking about romance here. No, I am talking about that unseen force that connects all life and that enables us to form deep and meaningful relationships with ourselves, with each other and with all life. I name this God, others may use different words.

It is love that allows me to connect with all that exists now, all that has been in the time before now and all that will be in the future. It is love that has become the roots that hold me close and it is love that allows me to stretch out the wings that will set me free and allow me to glide in the wind. To know love is to know that you belong and it is this that is perhaps the ultimate freedom.

I have known and experienced a great deal of love these last few weeks as I have felt the pain of grief and loss. I felt it last Thursday as I attended and spoke at my my grandad's funeral, as I joined with others to celebrate the old lad's life and to say our final farewell. These last few weeks I have listened to my nearest and dearest and I have listened to those around me, I have listened to life too and to that transcendent voice that lives in the spaces between life. It has been a tiring time and a deeply emotional time and yet through it all there has been a deepening sense of connection and belonging. Something is changing as I feel those roots that hold me close entering deeper into life’s crust. Life has opened up and increased in meaning as I have felt the wings of life stretching and expanding.

I now know what matters more than anything is a sense that you belong, that you are a part of life. You see what I have learnt is that I was not really singing songs of freedom in the past. No they were not songs of freedom, they were songs of escape.

It is the roots of belonging that give me the freedom to stretch out the wings and fly in the wind, free...This is love...

We all belong somewhere, no one exists completely in a vacuum. Even those on the run, as I once was, are on the run from something. Even the loneliest of souls belong to something. Now this may well be our families of birth, our work and or community commitments or friendship circles our social and political networks. Even if you reject all of this you still belong to the community of rejection. We belong to cultures and nations and perhaps social class. We also belong to something more than all these things. We belong to whatever it is that holds and guides us. For me it is the love that I name God, for others it may be something different. We belong to what we experience at the core of life and what that compels us to believe.

One of the many things that makes me smile these days is that even when I believed in nothing I still belonged at least to some degree, even though I really didn’t want to. I belonged to nihilism.

A sense of belonging is a deeply precious thing. It is belonging that helps us become who we are meant to be. It is a sense of being rooted and being held and loved by these roots that allows us to spread our wings and fly free; it is a sense of being rooted that enables us to not fear the wind, but to embrace it and to let ourselves go. When you feel that you do not belong you cannot thrive, you shrivel up and stop living.

Now of course we do not need to belong in exactly the same way; our roots need not, in fact should not, be identical in order for us to belong. Each root has to find its own way into the soil. To truly belong is to be welcomed exactly as you are warts and all and beauty spots too.

How each person finds a sense of belonging may well be different too; people belong in different ways.

Some people find belonging through action; they belong through experiences and challenges. They are the kind of people who live for today, they are impulsive, spontaneous. Such people do not like to feel that they are constrained by their roots and focus more on the wings that can set them free. They need to experience their place of belonging as a play ground. That said they still need their roots that can hold them close even if it’s just within their own hearts and souls.

Some people find their belonging through improvement, whether it’s of themselves or the communities in which they belong. Such people really find their belonging in the future in what might or should be, on what can be built.

Some people belong through finding a sense of meaning. They exist through a sense of openness to possibilities and potentials. I suspect that I’m someone who belongs in this way. They too belong to some degree in the future in what might be in what is yet to come

Some people just need to belong, to be accepted by others. These people often live through the past. They are motivated by the fear of being rejected of being left out. They find their meaning through others. This ought not to be seen negatively, because once such a person feels that sense of belonging it is they who do most of the community building and it is they who enable others to fly free. They are often the foundation on which everything else thrives. They are the nest builders.

I am sure there are other ways in which we find a sense of belonging and most of us are probably a mixture of all these types. Everyone is a complex mixture of needs and wants. That said there is one thing that holds us together, that allows us to thrive as individuals, that is a sense of belonging.

To belong you need to be yourself, while paradoxically in order to be yourself you must first of all feel that you belong.

I love the idea that David Blanchard speaks of that we each have our own song and that we find this song in all aspects of our lives, whether in the seemingly sublime or mundane. He says that “Our songs sing back to us something of our essence, something of our truth, something of our uniqueness. When our songs are sung back to us, it is not about approval, but about recognizing our being and our belonging in the human family”...(he continues)...“They can be heard as songs of love or of longing, songs of encouragement or of comfort, songs of struggle or of security. But most of all, they are the songs of life, giving testimony to what has been, giving praise for all we’re given, giving hope for all we strive for, giving voice to the great mystery that carries each of us in and out of this world.”

He says that it is good to know our own songs and to learn them by heart. This is because there will be days when we do not feel like we belong and we will not perhaps hear life singing our songs back to us. So sometimes we will have to hum our own songs until we find our way back home to that place where we belong.

What are your songs? What is that you sing that makes you feel that you belong? Maybe that’s something to think about. This is something I am asking the congregations I serve to do as we step onwards into 2014. As I do I am reminding them that we don’t necessarily have to sing in unison; as I do I am reminding them that we are free to sing our own songs, but also that we need to sing them together and that sometimes we need others to remind us what are songs are. We all forget our own songs from time to time. We need to hear our songs from the lips of others from time to time, to remind us what our own songs are.

We need to hear every song by the way, not just one or two. Each voice has something to offer; each reveals something of the truth. Sometimes certain voices dominate and to allow this is a mistake. If we don't listen to every voice we will never hear the whole song.

I was chatting with one of my neighbours the other day. She asked how long I had lived in Altrincham. I told her it was nearly three and a half years. We both agreed that it seemed like only yesterday that I moved here. it is hard to believe that I have served the good people of Urmston and Altrincham for three and half years. I have attempted to build on what my predecessors have done to build a free religious community, open to all. I hope that have helped to create a space where those who come feel that they can belong. a place where visitors and those already present can feel loving roots that hold them close so that they can spread their wings and begin to fly free. A place where they can sing their own songs and if they haven’t yet discovered it, a place where they can find their song and take their first tentative steps to begin singing it; a place where they can hear the songs of others and perhaps begin to blend or harmonise with them; a place where we can discover new songs together.

My dream is create communities where the spiritual traveller can rest a while and find sustenance for their journey. My hope is that they find here a place where they belong, where they can can sing their song not only here but out their in the world for all to share and therefore encourage others to join in with them. My dream is to develop a community where all may feel that they belong; a place where the roots will hold us close so that we can begin to spread our wings and begin to fly free.

I will end this little chip of a blog with the following poem on belonging by John O'Donohue.

“For Belonging”

May you listen to your longing to be free.

May the frames of your belonging be generous enough
for your dreams.

My you arise each day with a voice of blessing
whispering in your heart.

May you find a harmony between your soul and

your life.

May the sanctuary of your soul never become haunted.

May you know the eternal longing that lives at the heart of time.

May there be kindness in your gaze when you look within.

May you never place walls between the light and yourself.

May you allow the wild beauty of the invisible world

to gather you, mind you, and embrace you in


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