Tuesday, 30 December 2014

A few more of my favourite things: 2014

This blogspot is a collection of material that has inspired me these last few months...I hope it catches you, in the heart of your souls...You can find the different blogspots that the pieces helped inspire if you spend time searching the last few months contributions...


These first two pieces inspired some thoughts on the question "Can there be a right kind of selfishness?"


"Selfishness and Self-love" by Erich From take from "The Fear of Freedom"

Selfishness is not identical with self-love but with its very opposite. Selfishness is one kind of greediness. Like all greediness, it contains an insatiability, as a consequence of which there is never any real satisfaction. Greed is a bottomless pit which exhausts the person in an endless effort to satisfy the need without ever reaching satisfaction.

Close observation shows that while the selfish person is always anxiously concerned with himself, he is never satisfied, is always restless, always driven by the fear of not getting enough, of missing something, of being deprived of something. He is filled with burning envy of anyone who might have more.

If we observe closer still, especially the unconscious dynamics, we find that this type of person is basically not fond of himself, but deeply dislikes himself.

Selfishness is rooted in this very lack of fondness for oneself. The person who is not fond of himself, who does not approve of himself, is in constant anxiety concerning his own self. He has not the inner security which can exist only on the basis of genuine fondness and affirmation. He must be concerned about himself, greedy to get everything for himself, since basically he lacks security and satisfaction.

The same holds true with the so-called narcissistic person, who is not so much concerned with getting things for himself as with admiring himself. While on the surface it seems that these persons are very much in love with themselves, they are actually not fond of themselves, and their narcissism - like selfishness - is an overcompensation for the basic lack of self-love.


“Voting For Yourself” by (Sadly I have been unable to trace the source)

A friend told me of her entrance into electoral politics when she ran for office in elementary school. One thing she particularly recalled: It was a terrible breach of etiquette to vote for yourself.

That was true in my school too. Whether by show of hands or even by secret ballot, it was considered tacky to cast a vote for yourself. The neat kids would never do that.

This lesson was driven into me with such force that when I became aware of national elections, I wondered: Did the candidates actually vote for themselves? (My suspicion was that Democrats were too humane to do such a thing while republicans probably voted for themselves – just early prejudice.)

In retrospect I wonder why that was such a taboo. If you go through the effort and risk of putting yourself up for office, surely you must think you’re worth your own vote. Why was that so bad? One reason was the dread of being thought ‘stuck up.’ Another was our belief that if we really were good enough. People would know it. We didn’t think we had to deal in self-promotion.

It was an innocent view of the world. But in growing up most of us learn that sometimes we’ve got to vote for ourselves. When no one else will stand up for us, then we’ve got to do it ourselves. When we have a belief that no one else is adequately articulating or defending, then we have to do that ourselves. When we are being hurt and no one seems eager to rescue us, then we have to take responsibility for ourselves. When it looks like no one else is voting for us, then at least we can count on our own vote.

My friend lost that big election in elementary school. She lost, you guessed it, by one vote. (The person she voted for won.)

Never let yourself lose by that one vote you didn’t cast for yourself.


The nest three pieces inspired some thoughts on friendship


Aesop's Fable - The Hare With Many Friends

A Hare was very popular with the other animals in the jungle who all claimed to be her friends. One day she heard the hounds approaching her and hoped to escape them by the aid of her Friends. So, she went to the horse, and asked him to carry her away from the hounds on his back. But he declined, stating that he had important work to do for his master. "He felt sure," he said, "that all her other friends would come to her assistance." She then applied to the bull, and hoped that he would repel the hounds with his horns. The bull replied: "I am very sorry, but I have an appointment with a lady; but I feel sure that our friend the goat will do what you want." The goat, however, feared that his back might do her some harm if he took her upon it. The ram, he felt sure, was the proper friend to ask for help. So she went to the ram and told him the case. The ram replied: "Another time, my dear friend. I do not like to interfere on the present occasion, as hounds have been known to eat sheep as well as hares." The Hare then applied, as a last hope, to the calf, who regretted that he was unable to help her, as he did not like to take the responsibility upon himself, as so many older persons than himself had declined the task. By this time the hounds were quite near, and the Hare took to her heels and luckily escaped.

Moral of the story :

He that has many friends, has no friends.

From "Caring and Commitment" by Lewis B. Smedes

Not even mutual admiration is, by itself, enough to keep a friendship alive that long. For one thing we discover somewhere along the line that even people we admire have feet of clay. The best of us is flawed. Our flaws show through eventually; we disappoint our friends, and sometimes their disappointments hurts enough to wound our friendship. Or even worse, we may discover that the traits we so much admired were put-ons, cosmetics hiding a shabby interior. . . .

Besides, even friends who admire each other a lot drift a part when one moves to another part of the country. If I move away and don’t see my friend for 5 years, and do not stay in close touch, our friendship is likely to die of malnutrition, with dignity maybe, and peacefully, but with the same result of dying. I may still admire him [or her], but I would admire him [or her] as a person who used to be my friend.

I feel a good deal of melancholy when I think of it, but it is true that we cannot count on mutual admiration to make friendships last forever, any more than we can expect friendships to last because friends like each other or are useful to each other. If friendships like these happen to last a lifetime, it is probably because they are more than friendships of affection, or usefulness or admiration. Most likely, they are held together because the friends are committed to each other.


Many years ago I came across the following poem, it is very popular within recovery communities. I remember at the time I dismissed it in my arrogance. Over the years I have learnt to appreciate it and the truth I have discovered within it. It is by that prolific author “Unknown”.

“Reason, Season, or Lifetime”

People come into your life for a reason, a season or a lifetime.
When you figure out which one it is,
you will know what to do for each person.

When someone is in your life for a REASON,
it is usually to meet a need you have expressed.
They have come to assist you through a difficulty;
to provide you with guidance and support;
to aid you physically, emotionally or spiritually.
They may seem like a godsend, and they are.
They are there for the reason you need them to be.

Then, without any wrongdoing on your part or at an inconvenient time,
this person will say or do something to bring the relationship to an end.
Sometimes they die. Sometimes they walk away.
Sometimes they act up and force you to take a stand.
What we must realize is that our need has been met, our desire fulfilled; their work is done.
The prayer you sent up has been answered and now it is time to move on.

Some people come into your life for a SEASON,
because your turn has come to share, grow or learn.
They bring you an experience of peace or make you laugh.
They may teach you something you have never done.
They usually give you an unbelievable amount of joy.
Believe it. It is real. But only for a season.

LIFETIME relationships teach you lifetime lessons;
things you must build upon in order to have a solid emotional foundation.
Your job is to accept the lesson, love the person,
and put what you have learned to use in all other relationships and areas of your life.

It is said that love is blind but friendship is clairvoyant.


The next two pieces inspired an exploration of the subject "Amazement" the second a poem by the amazing Mary Oliver is dedicated to my dear friend and colleague Rev Jane Barraclough who sadly died this year. She signed off ever email she sent with the words   "When it’s over, I want to say: all my life I was a bride married to amazement. I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms."...God bless you Jane, you amazing human being...

Extract from “Alone yet Not Alone,” by David Brooks

…There is a yawning gap between the way many believers experience faith and the way that faith is presented to the world. Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel described one experience of faith in his book, God in Search of Man: “Our goal should be to live life in radical amazement...get up in the morning and look at the world in a way that takes nothing for granted. Everything is phenomenal. ...To be spiritual is to be amazed.”

And yet Heschel understood that the faith expressed by many, even many who are inwardly conflicted, is often dull, oppressive and insipid — a religiosity in which “faith is completely replaced by creed, worship by discipline, love by habit; when the crisis of today is ignored because of the splendor of the past; when faith becomes an heirloom rather than a living fountain; when religion speaks only in the name of authority rather than with the voice of compassion.”

There must be something legalistic in the human makeup, because cold, rigid, unambiguous, unparadoxical belief is common, especially considering how fervently the Scriptures oppose it.

And yet there is a silent majority who experience a faith that is attractively marked by combinations of fervor and doubt, clarity and confusion, empathy and moral demand.

“When Death Comes” by Mary Oliver

When death comes
like the hungry bear in autumn;
when death comes and takes all the bright coins from his purse

to buy me, and snaps the purse shut;
when death comes
like the measles-pox;

when death comes
like an iceberg between the shoulder blades,

I want to step through the door full of curiosity, wondering:
what is it going to be like, that cottage of darkness?

And therefore I look upon everything
as a brotherhood and a sisterhood,
and I look upon time as no more than an idea,
and I consider eternity as another possibility,

and I think of each life as a flower, as common
as a field daisy, and as singular,

and each name a comfortable music in the mouth
tending as all music does, toward silence,

and each body a lion of courage, and something
precious to the earth.

When it’s over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.

When it is over, I don’t want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.
I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened,
or full of argument.

I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.


The following pieces inspired something I created on the lessons that the animals can teach us...


“Dog Days” by Gary A Kawalski

Everyone needs a spiritual guide: a minister, rabbi, priest, therapist, or wise friend. My wise friend is my dog. He has deep insights to impart. He makes friends easily and doesn’t hold a grudge. He enjoys simple pleasures and takes each day as it comes. Like a true Zen master, he eats when he’s hungry and sleeps when he’s tired.

He’s not hung up about sex. Best of all, he befriends me with an unconditional love that humans would do well to imitate.

Of course my dog does have his failings. He’s afraid of firecrackers and hides in the closet whenever we run the vacuum cleaner. But unlike me, he’s not afraid of what other people think of him or anxious about his public image. He barks at the mail carrier and the newsboy, but, in contrast to some people, I know he never growls at the children or barks at his spouse.

So my dog is a sort of guru. When I become too serious and preoccupied, he reminds me to frolic and play. When I get too wrapped up in abstractions and ideas, he reminds me to exercise and care for my body. On his own canine level, he shows me that it might be possible to live without inner conflicts or neuroses: uncomplicated, genuine, and glad to be alive.

Mark Twain remarked long ago that human beings have a lot to learn from the Higher Animals. Just because they haven’t invented static cling, ICBMs or television evangelists doesn’t mean they aren’t spiritually evolved. Let other people have their mentors, masters, and enlightened teachers.

I have a doggone mutt.


“Cat Calling” by Elizabeth Tarbox

The cat entered our lives with her tail up and her eyes alert for possibility, stalking her calling in our home, in our chairs, up the chimney, in every closet, and behind every impossible obstruction.

She stares with magic eyes, inscrutable, all-knowing. She is all cat: stealthy as a winter breeze that skims the top of the snow bank, impertinent as the sudden blast that blows smoke down the chimney and out into the room.

She seduces, lying back in our arms with the wanton abandon of Aphrodite. She exhorts, rumbling like an old volcano or yowling like an exorcised poltergeist.

I am seduced by her unabashed affection, mystified by her eyes which steal my secrets, envious of her unquestioning delight in the warmth of an armchair. It is serious, this partnership between the cat who stalks her calling and we who are called. I am in the presence of Isis, our home is her temple, and we are called to serve.


“How it is with us, and how it is with them” by Mary Oliver

We become religious,
then we turn from it,
then we are in need and maybe we turn back.
We turn to making money,
then we turn to the moral life,
then we think about money again.
We meet wonderful people, but lose them
in our busyness.
We’re, as the saying goes, all over the place.
Steadfastness, it seems,
is more about dogs than about us.
One of the reasons we love them so much.


The next two pieces explored "Circles" and ideas about inclusion...

"As the crow flies" by Elizabeth Tarbox

I aspire to live as the crow flies.

A crow is said to fly in a straight line from point of departure to destination, but that is not what I see. Crows fly in sweeping circular arcs across the apron of the sky, using all the available space from horizon to horizon before settling on the top swaying branch of the tallest tree.

You may think crows caw, that their voices are harsh. But I tell you a crow can whisper to its mate across a density of pines, and its voice is comfortable and reassuring. A crow is mighty in its passion, voracious in its appetite, and fearless in its flight. So I aspire to live as the crow flies and stretch my soul to meet the sky.



"Epigrams" by Edwin Markham

Preparedness

FOR all your days prepare,

And meet them ever alike:

When you are the anvil, bear--

When you are the hammer, Strike.

Outwitted

He drew a circle that shut me out--

Heretic, a rebel, a thing to flout.

But Love and I had the wit to win:

We drew a circle that took him in!

The Avengers

The laws are the secret avengers,

And they rule above all lands;

They come on wool-soft sandals,

But they strike with iron hands.



The next two pieces inspired some thoughts on "Consciousness and Self-Consciousness"

Extract from “Summer of out content” by Forrest Church

Consciousness and self-consciousness are opposites, by the way. When we are self-conscious we are self-absorbed. There is no room for the present, only for our shopping list of fears and grievances, wants, desires, and dreams. Consciousness grows in direct proportion to the retreat of self-consciousness. When conscious, we become a part of everything we experience, not apart from it. We are absorbed not in ourselves, but in others and our work and pleasures. That insight is what underlies my mantra – Want what you have, Do what you can, Be who you are.

The present is not only a dimension of time – it is also a gift. This very moment is the only moment we are surely given to redeem, for the past is over and the future remains uncertain. When we open the present, we enter a world that is completely ours. We receive the gift of life.”

Mirror by Sylvia Plath

I am silver and exact. I have no preconceptions.
Whatever I see I swallow immediately
Just as it is, unmisted by love or dislike.
I am not cruel, only truthful-
The eye of the little god, four cornered.
Most of the time I meditate on the opposite wall.
It is pink, with speckles. I have looked at it so long
I think it is a part of my heart. But it flickers.
Faces and darkness separate us over and over.
Now I am a lake. A woman bends over me,
Searching my reaches for what she really is.
Then she turns to those liars, the candles or the moon.
I see her back, and reflect it faithfully.
She rewards me with tears and an agitation of hands.
I am important to her. She comes and goes.
Each morning it is her face that replaces the darkness.
In me she has drowned a young girl, and in me an old woman
Rises toward her day after day, like a terrible fish.


The next is a beautiful piece of wisdom by Robert Fulgham. I have included this because he is just a genius. I love the way he sees the world and the way he feels, thinks and writes about it. Following it are further pieces about uncertainty...how things are not yet sealed and how it is never too late to begin again...


“Belum” by Robert Fulghum

"Americans, it is observed, prefer definite answers. Let your yea be yea and your nay be nay. Yes or no. No grays, please.

In Indonesia, there is a word in common use that nicely wires around the need for black and white. Belum is the word and it means ‘not quite yet.’ A lovely word implying continuing possibility. “Do you speak English?”

“Belum.” Not quite yet. “Do you have any children?” “Belum.” Do you know the meaning of life?” “Belum.”

It is considered both impolite and cynical to say, “No!” outright. This leads to some funny moments. “Is the house on fire?” “Belum.” Not quite yet.

It’s an attitude kin to that old vaudeville joke: “Do you play the violin?” “I don’t know, I never tried.”

Perhaps. Maybe. Possibly. Not yes or no, but squarely within the realm of what might be. Soft edges are welcome in this great bus ride of human adventure.

Is this the best of all possible worlds? Belum.

Is the world coming to an end? Belum.

Will we live happily ever after? Belum.

Have we learned to live without weapons of mass destruction? Belum.

In some ways, we don’t know. We’ve never tried. Is it hopeless to think that we might someday try? Belum. Not quite yet."



“Rebirth” by Elizabeth Tarbox

When the day is too bright or the night too dark, and your feelings are like an avalanche barrelling down the mountain of events outside your control, when you look down and you are falling and you cannot see the bottom, or when your pain has eaten you and you are nothing but an empty hungry hole, then there is an opportunity for giving.

Don't stay home and cover your head with a pillow. Go outside and plant a tulip bulb in the ground; that is an act of rebirth. Sprinkle breadcrumbs for the squirrels or sunflower seeds for the birds; that is a claiming of life. And when you have done that, or if you cannot do that, go stare at a tree whose leaves are letting go for its very survival. Pick up a leaf, stare at it; it is life; it has something to teach you.

You are as precious as the birds or the tulips or the tree whose crenellated bark protects the insects who seek its shelter. You are an amazing, complex being with poetry in your arteries and charity layered beneath your skin. You have before you a day full of opportunities for living and giving. Do not think you know all there is to know about yourself, for you have not given enough away yet to be able to claim self knowledge. Do you have work to do today? Then do it as if your life were hanging in the balance, do it as fiercely as if it mattered, for it does. Do you think the world doesn't need you? Think again! You cleanse the world with your breathing, you beautify the world with your thinking and acting and caring.

Don't stay home and suffocate on your sorrow; go outside and give yourself to the world's asking.



“I am much too alone in this world, yet not alone enough” by Rainer Maria Rilke


I am much too alone in this world, yet not alone
enough
to truly consecrate the hour.

I am much too small in this world, yet not small
enough
to be to you just object and thing,
dark and smart.

I want my free will and want it accompanying
the path which leads to action;
and want during times that beg questions,
where something is up,
to be among those in the know,
or else be alone.

I want to mirror your image to its fullest perfection,
never be blind or too old
to uphold your weighty wavering reflection.
I want to unfold.

Nowhere I wish to stay crooked, bent;
for there I would be dishonest, untrue.
I want my conscience to be
true before you;
want to describe myself like a picture I observed
for a long time, one close up,
like a new word I learned and embraced,
like the everday jug,
like my mother’s face,
like a ship that carried me along
through the deadliest storm.


“Each New Morning” by Penny Quest

Each new morning two choices are open to every one of us:
The choice to live that day in the joyfulness of Love,
Or in the darkness of Fear.

Each new day, as the sun rises,
We have another opportunity to make that choice.
The symbolism of the sunrise is the removal of shadow
And the return of Light.

Each new morning we have another chance
To rid ourselves of the burdens, sorrows and fears of the past,
To rejoice in the joy of the present,
And to look forward to a future of fulfilment
On every level of our being.

Each sunrise is a fresh opportunity to release fear,
To choose a different life-path,
To commit ourselves to joyful, light living,
To trust in ourselves and in the Universe,
To trust in the forces of Nature and in Mother Earth,
To trust God, the Creator, the all-That-Is.

Amen


I love the next piece which explores the question "What is God's work?"


“God’s Work” by Elizabeth Tarbox

What is God’s work? If God is immanent and transcendent, in and out of everything, then how could it be possible not to do God’s work? Surely all work is God’s work – there is nothing which is not of God. Is there?

But that doesn’t do it, somehow. There are times when what I do is strictly for me. God or no God, I’m working for myself, even during those times when God would probably approve. Mostly what I do for myself is compatible with what I believe I would do for God.

But not always. There are times of conflict, when the prompting and urging of my desire are up against the sentinel of my conscience. They square off, these two strong voices somewhere deep in the thick of me where there is no judge, no referee, and mercifully no spectators. “Do it,” say I. “Don’t,” says God. One of them wins and the other goes grumbling away, threatening and complaining in the basement of my being like a boiler with an excess of steam. And I am left to live with my decision, to forgive or applaud, to bask in my nobility or blush in my shame. And God and I make peace once more.

Then there are times when I can’t tell which is God’s voice and which is my own. What about those times when God seems to be saying “Do it” and I am saying “No.” When god says, “This is the right thing to do,” and I, shaking with fear, confess, “I can’t, I’m just too scared.”

“I’ll be with you.”
“How do I know?”
“You can do it, be not afraid.”
“I might fail, make a fool of myself.”
“Yes you might. Do it anyway.”
“But people might not like me.”
“That’s right.”
“But how do I know this is good? How can I be sure?”
“You cannot be sure. This is a risk.”

Yes, those are the toughest times: wanting to do right without losing my safety, not knowing if I am doing God’s work, or using God to do mine. There is no superhighway named Right Way. There are no signposts, no guides, no promises, no guarantees; only the lonely voice of conscience and the cringing cry of fear wrestling each other in inner space. Those are the times of lying awake at night and staring at the detail of the day through a haze of worry, working and reworking the “oughts,” the “should,” and “yes, buts” of the thing.

And what’s to be done, but to listen to the voice that seems to be speaking a consistent truth, move through the fear to trust the moral judgements we have lived by, and pray for courage.”


The next two pieces inspired some thoughts on how we respond to life, do we "resent or rejoice"


“Moments of Joy” by Lindy Latham

Perhaps one of the most difficult things that we have to do during our everyday lives in this troubled and demanding world is to discover how to embrace and experience moments of joy as they are offered to us. It is possible for them not to be dimmed through our awareness of the pain and demands of others, which can also include a feeling of guilt at our good fortune in the face of their difficulties.

I believe that we can do this without denying the suffering of others, or turning our backs on their needs, or indeed by just leaving them temporarily on the back burner whilst we delight in our own joy.

For me it’s about learning to hold them together, so that by being alive to our own wonders and delights this feeling can flow out to individuals and the world in a way that is both healing and enriching.

Equally as important, during the times when we are feeling overwhelmed and crushed by our own personal situations, is to find a way amongst the chaos to let those glimpses of joy move in. This is not to remove the pain, but to remind us of who we really are, and give us the confidence that “this too shall pass”. In the words of Kahlil Gibran, talking about joy and sorrow.

“But I say unto you, they are inseparable. Together they come, and when one sits alone with you at your board, remember that the other is asleep upon your bed.”


"Joy I want to believe it is something more." by Terri Pahucki

I have been wondering
what the morning glories
know. Is it envy
that compels these vines
to strangle other flowers
arising in their path?

Or perhaps self-preservation,
to climb these walls, forsaking
humbler beings, winding
greedy stems around the trellis
in their hungry pursuit of light.

Still, every morning,
basking in their spiral shadows,
I want to believe it is something more

this fevered yearning
to open purple flowers,
yield bold-throated Glorias
to the sun,
and in the blaze of afternoon
curl petals softly into shyness.

And every morning, I plead
with the dew-moist buds
to know their secret joy:

to open and close without holding,
to surrender all to light,
to sing
I am completely yours
over and over again.


The next pieces explore the "Impermanence of Truth"


“Changing our minds” by Pat Womersley

Countless times every day we make choices: in an emergency urgent action may be called for, and occasionally we find ourselves struggling to make decisions in agonisingly difficult and testing circumstances.

Whilst we may seek advice and support from others, we probably assume that we should be competent to rely on our own judgement. After all, as Unitarians we claim and cherish the right to make up our own minds in matters of religious belief and practice.

Is it always desirable or appropriate, though, to reach a firm conclusion? What are minds for? Maybe they’re not intended so much to be made up, as to be kept open and receptive to change so as to achieve deeper insights, and inevitably experience potent reminders that human life is far more unpredictable, complex and mysterious that our limited and often reductionist explanations have ever envisaged.

In a recently published book entitled Changing My Mind, Zadie Smith reveals that as a writer she has always used as a lodestar a remark made in the film Philadelphia Story by Katherine Hepburn: “The time to make up your mind about other people is never!” That gnomic, paradoxical sentence might, I believe, serve as a useful touchstone not just for writers, but for all of us in every aspect of our living.

If we make up our minds too firmly and conclusively about ourselves and others, the nature of the world we live in, and what it might mean to be more fully human, we risk imprisoning ourselves within increasingly narrow boundaries. Here we may feel safer and more in control, but at the cost of denying the inescapable truth that we are part of a reality which is always in process, offering us new opportunities for developing and growing and discovering previously unimagined dimensions of being.

Zadie Smith concludes that all writing should ‘make a leap into otherness’. As people of faith, who believe in the transformative power of love, how ready are we, I wonder, to make that challenging ‘leap into otherness’ in our daily living?


From “Theology Ablaze” by Tom Owen-Towle

We’re called to live with open hands that both hold those near and serve those afar, and to live with open eyes – or as the Buddhists phrase it: to see life with ‘unfurnished’ eyes . . . that is, eyes empty of clutter and inherited furniture.

Openness means living with minds receptive to surprise inklings of the holy. It also summons us to open our throats: loosening our jaws in order to unleash our voices in singing the wonders of creation, or in bellowing against its wrongs.

As spiritual travellers, we must enter ever-widening circles of respectful, loving engagement. Our Unitarian Universalist faith affirms the supreme dignity of every person . . . trusting in an Infinite Spirit that holds every creature in its loving caress and challenges us to follow suit.

The faith which binds us contends that all of us, in one way or another, are the caves in which others might find shelter and kinship and we in them. Friends and strangers, hosts and guests, constitute one humanity groping toward our essential unity.


These final three next pieces inspired some thoughts on the question "Can we live as one?"


“God Has No Borders” by Rod Richards from “Falling Into the Sky: A Meditation Anthology” 

We humans are the line-drawers. We are the border-makers. We are the boundary-testers. We are the census-takers. We draw a line to separate this from that, so we can see clearly what each is. We create a border to define our place, so we can take care of what's there. We test boundaries to fid if they are real, if they are necessary, if they are just. We congregate within those boundaries in families and tribes and cities and countries that we call us. And we call people on the other side them.


But our minds seek boundaries that our hearts know not. The lines we draw disappear when viewed with eyes of compassion. The recognition of human kinship does not end at any border. A wise part of us knows that the other is us, and we them.

Let justice flow like water and peace like a never-ending stream. Let compassion glow like sunlight and love like an ever-shining beam. The rain, the sunshine, the breeze, the life-giving air we breathe -- they know no boundaries. Neither do our empathy, our good will, our concern for one another.

God has no borders. Love has no borders. Let us lift up the awareness of our unity as we celebrate our awesome diversity on this beautiful day.


Diane Ackerman in “Rarest of the Rare”

Leafing idly through The Home Planet, I stop at a picture of Earth floating against the black velvet of space. Africa and Europe are visible under swirling white clouds, but the predominant color is blue. This was the one picture from the Apollo missions that told the whole story--how small the planet is in the vast sprawl of space, how fragile its environments are. Seen from space, Earth has no national borders, no military zones, no visible fences. Quite the opposite. You can see how storm systems swirling above a continent may well affect the grain yield half a world away. The entire atmosphere of the planet--all the air we breathe, all the sky we fly through, even the ozone layer--is visible as the thinnest rind. The picture eloquently reminds one that Earth is a single organism. –


“Kaleidoscope” by Elizabeth Tarbox

Through a kaleidoscope the world becomes fractured, divided twenty-four ways in symmetrical pieces. A single candle flame becomes twenty-four flickering candles, each a perfect replica of the other. The mundane is made exquisite when it is placed in a pattern of identical squares; the ordinary becomes the mystical when it is seen through a prism.

Is this how life is, if only we step back far enough to see it all – a kaleidoscope of event joining, merging, dancing in rhythmic harmony? Could we appreciate the order of life, if we were not one of the fragments? But we are in it, of it, not observers of the pattern but part of the very texture of which is constructed.

There may be a plan, but we will never be able to stand back far enough to appreciate it. Somewhere life may make sense to a great cosmic someone, but not to us here, not to us, splintered in a struggle to do what is right in a world that presents us with complex, competing options. We may never see the larger picture, creation’s perfected whole; we may be forever flickering fragments, fractured by the raw reality of immediacy from which there is no escape while we are alive.

Well then, let us dance in the flame that we see. Let the arc of our creativity embrace our moments of time, and let us add our light to the kaleidoscope, trusting in the unity of the whole even as we seek symmetry with the part. 

I wish you a fruitful 2015 may it be deep and rich in meaning...

May you know the blessings that life has to offer us all and may you can those blessings with you...May they inspire your every feeling, every thought, every word and every deed...

May God bless us all...

Saturday, 27 December 2014

The Spirit of Winter

So here we stand on the hinge of another year. The winter solstice has passed, Christmas has been and gone and we find ourselves in those in-between days before the beginning of a new year. Yes the day light hours will increase over the coming weeks but still we must face winter. January and February can be difficult as we feel stuck in the cold on these dark winter evenings.

Winter is not an easy time, so many of us want it over as soon as possible. We want spring and the new birth and the life that it brings, but that is not the way to live and we know it. To live, always holding on to the spring yet to come, is to fail to fully experience what is present now. There is such richness in the dark cold of winter and we need to feel it and allow our eyes to adjust to the darkness. There is a beautiful wonder about winter that we would do well to embrace.

...I recently came across the following poem “Winter” by Robert Walsh...

The tree has bared itself to my view.
Its limbs and branches,
its hidden complexity,
exposed.

So this is the frame work that holds the thick leaves.
So many leaves as to block the sun,
the lost sun,
the sunken sun.

Now only the spindly thin wood
casts its shadow on the earth.

Not for me this display of basics,
of skeletal function,
of inner structure and meaning.

Today I seek insulation,
refuge,
boundaries.

I bundle, wrap, cover.

It seems to me that Robert Walsh does not like the bareness, the barrenness, the exposure of the naked trees. Perhaps it reminds him of his own vulnerability, his own exposure. Instead he wants to feel warm and safe and protected. As he says “Today I seek insulation, refuge, boundaries.” I suspect that this is something that we all desire often in life, this sense of being safe and protected. I certainly think that this is something that we seek in religion and spirituality. This sense that we are protected and safe, but is it realistic? He talks of seeking boundaries too. How often do the spiritually inclined speak of these? Me I wonder how often boundaries become barriers and insulation become isolation. If I have learnt anything in life it’s that self-protection just cuts you off and leaves you feeling all alone, once again.

I think that winter has much to teach us about the spiritual life and I suspect that it begins with the trees. I love driving through the countryside, in the north of England in winter time, particularly if there is layer of snow on the ground. The thing I love the most are those seemingly lonely winter trees, stretching out from the cold pale ground.

There is something very beautiful about the trees in winter. These lifeless stick like sculptures stretching out from the ground are stripped right down to the bone. They look vulnerable and exposed, lonely and almost devoid of life but I know that they are not. I know that by the coming spring the land I am passing through will look completely different, it will be bursting with life. The mistake is to fail to see the life there now. Life that is silently waiting to once again express itself.


One of the advantages of ministry is that it really forces you to pay attention to the passing seasons. By doing so you learn to appreciate what each has to offer. Winter has so much to offer if we would but let ourselves appreciate it and not do what Robert Walsh is hinting at in his poem. I think the trees in winter have much to teach we who would prefer to hibernate. If I have learnt anything I have learnt that the spiritual life is about living openly and vulnerably, it’s about accepting the reality of life. It’s about standing their upright, arms outstretch in the cold vulnerability of life waiting for the time of re-birth and renewal in whatever form this takes, just like the trees in winter.

...Greta Crosby writes of winter...

"Winter" by Greta Crosby

Let us not wish away the winter.
It is a season in itself,
Not simply the way to spring.

When trees rest, growing no leaves, gathering no light,
They let in sky and trace themselves delicately against dawns and sunsets.

The clarity and brilliance of the winter sky delight.
The loom of fog softens edges, lulls the eyes and ears of the quiet,
Awakens by risk the unquiet.
A low dark sky can snow, emblem of individuality, liberality, and aggregate power.
Snow invites to contemplation and to sport.

Winter is a table set with ice and starlight.

Winter dark tends to warm light: fire and candle;
Winter cold to hugs and huddles; winter want to gifts and sharing;
Winter danger to visions, plans, and common endeavoring --
And the zest of narrow escapes; winter tedium to merrymaking.

Let us therefore praise winter,
Rich in beauty, challenge, and pregnant negativities.

I’m with Greta Crosby (and not just because we share the same surname) when she says “Let us not wish away the winter. It is a season itself, not simply the way to spring. When trees rest, growing no leaves, gathering no light,”

Yes let’s not wish it away clinging desperately to hope of the new spring, let’s instead appreciate what the barrenness has to offer.

It’s not just the trees in winter that can teach us lessons either, the snow has much to offer too. Mary Oliver wrote a beautiful poem about snow.

"Snow" by Mary Oliver

The snow
began here
this morning and all day
continued, its white
rhetoric everywhere
calling us back to why, how,
whence such beauty and what
the meaning; such
an oracular fever! flowing
past windows, an energy it seemed
would never ebb, never settle
less than lovely! and only now,
deep into night,
it has finally ended.
The silence
is immense,
and the heavens still hold
a million candles, nowhere
the familiar things:
stars, the moon,
the darkness we expect
and nightly turn from. Trees
glitter like castles
of ribbons, the broad fields
smolder with light, a passing
creekbed lies
heaped with shining hills;
and though the questions
that have assailed us all day
remain — not a single
answer has been found –
walking out now
into the silence and the light
under the trees,
and through the fields,
feels like one.

The countryside in the north of England is so beautiful after the snow has fallen. I remember once as a student minister being at Great Hucklow and feeling that we would be stuck there for days as the snow fell and fell. Now as it happens we weren’t going anywhere so it didn’t matter. As luck would have it when it was time to go the snow had stopped falling and we could drive home. Again I remember the beauty of driving through the hills staring out at the blanket of snow that covered the ground.

In her poem Mary Oliver talks of a silence that comes with snow. I get that driving through the snow bound hills. When I do, I do not want to listen to music and I don’t want to speak and when I do, if I’m travelling with someone else, I do so in whispered tones.

Maybe this is the gift that winter brings, especially in these in-between days, after Christmas and before the coming of a new year, maybe its gift is the silence. How often in life do we spend time in silence, just listening to our breath or that of those around us and that of all life around us. How often do we spend time connecting to what is going on deep within us and the life we are surrounded by? Not much I guess. Most folk do not like silence. There is nothing to fear in the silence though. Silence is not merely absence of noise it is space that can be filled with possibility. Sometimes by walking silently out into in the silence of the snow, as Mary Oliver puts it, answers to the swirling questions may come.

So today we stand, silently, exposed at the hinge of the year, in the midst of winter. Maybe we don’t want to stand, maybe we don’t want the silence of the snow perhaps we would rather huddle up and make some noise. We need not be afraid, this is an important time as we prepare ourselves for the coming of a new year. A year filled with potential and possibilities. Who knows what the year will bring. We need to prepare ourselves for whatever is to come and to do so we need to first experience this winter and all it brings. Let’s not wish it all way. Let us instead open ourselves up to the cold and the vulnerability of the silence and let us do so in faith of what this life offers to us.

I will end this little chip of a "blogspot" with these beautiful words by Kathleen McTigue. A “Winter Blessing”

“Winter Blessing” Kathleen Mctigue

The world catches our hearts through its light:
splintering dance of sun on water,
calm moonlight poured through branches,
candles lit on early winter evenings,
a splatter of stars on a clear night,
and the bright eyes of those we love.
But the brilliance never ends,
even when the light goes out.
Mystery shimmers and shines in the world
in even the darkest corners.
It’s there where the roots push life into soil and rock,
in small lives lived under every stone;
there is the silent pulse beneath the tree bark.
It’s in the depth of slow tides as they turn,
there in the sky on moonless nights
when muffling clouds block out the stars.
It’s there in the prison, the hospital,
by hospice bed,
there at the graveside, in the empty house –
something beating in the dark shelter
of our hearts -
the small shine of hope, the gilt edge of kindness.

May we be granted the gift of deeper sight
that we might see – with or without the light.


Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Seasonal Inspiration 5

Happy Christmas. May the spirit of the season be with you this day and in all your days to come.

This is the fifth collection of material based around the Christmas season that has inspired me...I hope it fills your soul to overflowing as it has mine...

The first piece highlights the spiritual importance about waiting, about allowing the season to settle into us and to prepare ourselves for the magic that is to come, but to do so in a watchful and wakeful sense. I have come to believe that in order to truly experience the spirit of Christmas we need to take time to look over the lives we have lived and the world in which we live today; to examine our whole lives, both the light and the dark; to take time in the dark and prepare ourselves fully to open up to what has been, what is now and what might just be; to find the light that we can travel and live by and to not only follow that which is beyond us but open ourselves fully to it and invite it to grow within and through us and to wander on.

“Waiting” by Burton Carley

Teenager Mary waited. She waited to know the meaning of her pregnancy. She waited for the moral judgement and its shunning effect. She waited for the verdict from a man she hardly knew except for his reputation for righteousness.

Troubled Joseph waited. He waited to understand the meaning of Mary’s pregnancy. He waited and he knew not why, for it was clear what was expected of him. He waited to quietly end the planned wedding.

Mary and Joseph waited and both dreamed. Mary dreamed of wanting her child and how that child might have a future. Joseph dreamed of not keeping the letter of the law but keeping Mary. Now they found themselves waiting to arrive at Bethlehem on a journey they did not want to take, compelled by dreams and a census.

In the overflowing town, Mary and Joseph waited for a place to stay. They waited as all parents wait for the birth of a child. They waited without knowing how the mystery of their dreams would unfold. They waited while listening to the cry of the newborn, relieved and strangely joyful.

Mary and Joseph waited and watched as their first-born grew in stature. Mary waited as she saw keener perceptions revealed in his eyes. Joseph waited and watched as he saw in the driving of a nail some grace and strength beyond the rough-hewn skills of a carpenter.

The couple waited as the spirit took their child. They waited in the destiny of dreams and decisions, still wondering what they had done. They waited in hope and fear, as parents do, for him to find his place in the world.

And the child who was theirs and not theirs at the same time, could not wait. He went into the world seeing its wonder and sorrow, and he urged those about him not to wait any more for their place in it. Everywhere he went he carried with him the experience of love that waited for him and would not cast him out. He waited with compassion for the least and welcomed them, giving them a holy place, all the while remembering Bethlehem.

...This piece explores the wandering nature of the Christmas mythos, suggesting that this is a universal experience and that we spiritual seekers today are perhaps still wandering and a little lost...Aren't we all still looking for that star? Aren't we all still searching for Hope?


“Christmas Eve” by Kathleen McTigue

All these centuries after the story of the star,
the wise men, the baby born in the stable
And the angels singing him in with their mysterious alleluias,
we are lost and wandering still.
We stumble at every step over our own greed or need, our ignorance or fear.

Bethlehem is not a gentle city tonight.
Its people are wise in the ways of the clenched fist, the broken truce.
Marked like them with the scars of ignorance and sorrow we come to Christmas baffled as any shepherd by the music that sounds so high above us, the syntax foreign to our sceptical hearts.

Yet we try to speak the language of hope, lifting ourselves toward the future with a dream of what yet may be.

We remember that the heart of Christmas is hope:

hope that a child. Born homeless and in danger, may grow up to be wise and kind;
that the stars, serene in their darkness, have something to teach;
that there are mysteries around us, among us, singing thereal harmonies.

New hope in ourselves rise then, too:

That we will learn, one day,
and in the nick of time, how to walk our paths with truth and justice,
how to bring peace to life on this earth, how to sing for ourselves the angels’ songs of praise, wonder and joy.


This next piece is about discovering what me might really want for Christmas..."What do you want?"

“All I want for Christmas” by David S. Blanchard

This is the time of the year when we ask – and are asked – what do you want? Shall it be another tie, a new pair of gloves, a book? We ask and we answer. We shop, we wrap we ship. And the season usually comes and goes without us ever really answering the question: What do you want?

Some of the things we want we might be afraid to ask for because we can’t be sure what we would do if we got them. Many things we want we don’t know enough to ask for. Most things we can’t ask for because we know no one can give them to us.

Most people ask the question without any interest in really knowing, yet it can be a question for each of us to hold on to for a time in mind and heart. What do we want? Not what would we like, but what do we want to give us a deeper connection with life and to help us give expression to our love? Not a long list of things, but a sense of clarity that illuminates what it is we are doing and why. Not outward signs of generosity, but an internal sense of caring that guides us to give in any season, not just the reflex of always giving, but also the courage to truly answer some of those people who ask us, “What do you want?”

Dare to answer. Think of the things you want, and the things that others close to you would want.

Imagine the ways they might be given and received.

What do you want?


The next pieces are about Angels, they are amongst us you know. The first is an example of how we might become angels. Maybe this is what we really want; maybe this is what we ought to be preparing ourselves for. We can become angels to those we meet in our daily lives and we can hear the angels as they speak in our daily interactions. All we need to do is prepare ourselves. Maybe this is what we are really waiting for; maybe this is what we are truly watching out for. Maybe?

Maybe we become angles by being both watches and waiters, like those shepherds in the ancient story “that glorious song of old”. Maybe we do this by preparing ourselves both to hear those voices that carry that universal message of love and to also become those messengers in our daily interactions. Maybe all we need to do is prepare ourselves each and every day and to be ready, because we never know the next encounter might be the one that changes our lives and or the person which we encounter, just as it for Kent Nerburn in that timeless and universal story that follows.

“The Cab Ride I’ll Never Forget” by Kent Nerburn From Make Me an Instrument of Your Peace: Living in the Spirit of the Prayer of St. Francis

There was a time in my life twenty years ago when I was driving a cab for a living. It was a cowboy’s life, a gambler’s life, a life for someone who wanted no boss, constant movement and the thrill of a dice roll every time a new passenger got into the cab.

What I didn’t count on when I took the job was that it was also a ministry. Because I drove the night shift, my cab became a rolling confessional. Passengers would climb in, sit behind me in total anonymity and tell me of their lives.

We were like strangers on a train, the passengers and I, hurtling through the night, revealing intimacies we would never have dreamed of sharing during the brighter light of day. I encountered people whose lives amazed me, ennobled me, made me laugh and made me weep. And none of those lives touched me more than that of a woman I picked up late on a warm August night.

I was responding to a call from a small brick fourplex in a quiet part of town. I assumed I was being sent to pick up some partiers, or someone who had just had a fight with a lover, or someone going off to an early shift at some factory for the industrial part of town.

When I arrived at the address, the building was dark except for a single light in a ground-floor window. Under these circumstances, many drivers would just honk once or twice, wait a short minute, then drive away. Too many bad possibilities awaited a driver who went up to a darkened building at 2:30 in the morning.

But I had seen too many people trapped in a life of poverty who depended on the cab as their only means of transportation. Unless a situation had a real whiff of danger, I always went to the door to find the passenger. It might, I reasoned, be someone who needs my assistance. Would I not want a driver to do the same if my mother or father had called for a cab?

So I walked to the door and knocked.

“Just a minute,” answered a frail and elderly voice. I could hear the sound of something being dragged across the floor. After a long pause, the door opened. A small woman somewhere in her 80s stood before me. She was wearing a print dress and a pillbox hat with a veil pinned on it, like you might see in a costume shop or a Goodwill store or in a 1940s movie. By her side was a small nylon suitcase. The sound had been her dragging it across the floor.

The apartment looked as if no one had lived in it for years. All the furniture was covered with sheets. There were no clocks on the walls, no knickknacks or utensils on the counters. In the corner was a cardboard box filled with photos and glassware.

“Would you carry my bag out to the car?” she said. “I’d like a few moments alone. Then, if you could come back and help me? I’m not very strong.”

I took the suitcase to the cab, then returned to assist the woman. She took my arm, and we walked slowly toward the curb. She kept thanking me for my kindness.

“It’s nothing,” I told her. “I just try to treat my passengers the way I would want my mother treated.”

“Oh, you’re such a good boy,” she said. Her praise and appreciation were almost embarrassing.
When we got in the cab, she gave me an address, then asked, “Could you drive through downtown?”

“It’s not the shortest way,” I answered.

“Oh, I don’t mind,” she said. “I’m in no hurry. I’m on my way to a hospice.”

I looked in the rearview mirror. Her eyes were glistening. “I don’t have any family left,” she continued. “The doctor says I should go there. He says I don’t have very long.”

I quietly reached over and shut off the meter. “What route would you like me to go?” I asked.

For the next two hours we drove through the city. She showed me the building where she had once worked as an elevator operator. We drove through the neighborhood where she and her husband had lived when they had first been married. She had me pull up in front of a furniture warehouse that had once been a ballroom where she had gone dancing as a girl. Sometimes she would have me slow in front of a particular building or corner and would sit staring into the darkness, saying nothing.

As the first hint of sun was creasing the horizon, she suddenly said, “I’m tired. Let’s go now.”

We drove in silence to the address she had given me. It was a low building, like a small convalescent home, with a driveway that passed under a portico. Two orderlies came out to the cab as soon as we pulled up. Without waiting for me, they opened the door and began assisting the woman. They were solicitous and intent, watching her every move. They must have been expecting her; perhaps she had phoned them right before we left.

I opened the trunk and took the small suitcase up to the door. The woman was already seated in a wheelchair.

“How much do I owe you?” she asked, reaching into her purse.

“Nothing,” I said.

“You have to make a living,” she answered.

“There are other passengers,” I responded.

Almost without thinking, I bent and gave her a hug. She held on to me tightly. “You gave an old woman a little moment of joy,” she said. “Thank you.”

There was nothing more to say. I squeezed her hand once, then walked out into the dim morning light. Behind me, I could hear the door shut. It was the sound of the closing of a life.

I did not pick up any more passengers that shift. I drove aimlessly, lost in thought. For the remainder of that day, I could hardly talk. What if that woman had gotten an angry driver, or one who was impatient to end his shift? What if I had refused to take the run, or had honked once, then driven away? What if I had been in a foul mood and had refused to engage the woman in conversation? How many other moments like that had I missed or failed to grasp?

We are so conditioned to think that our lives revolve around great moments. But great moments often catch us unawares. When that woman hugged me and said that I had brought her a moment of joy, it was possible to believe that I had been placed on earth for the sole purpose of providing her with that last ride.

I do not think that I have ever done anything in my life that was any more important.


...So who was the angel in this story? I suspect they both were...they both encounted an angel, one of God's messengers...

I love the following reflection by Billy Collins on questions we might want to ask about angels...Do we ever ask them?

“Angels” by Billy Collins

Of all the questions you might want to ask
about angels, the only one you ever hear
is how many can dance on the head of a pin.

No curiosity about how they pass the eternal time
besides circling the Throne chanting in Latin
or delivering a crust of bread to a hermit on earth
or guiding a boy and girl across a rickety wooden bridge.

Do they fly through God’s body and come out singing?
Do they swing like children from the hinges
of the spirit world saying their names backwards and forwards?
Do they sit alone in little gardens changing colors?

What about their sleeping habits, the fabric of their robes,
their diet of unfiltered divine light?
What goes on inside their luminous heads? Is there a wall
these tall presences can look over and see hell?

If an angel fell off a cloud, would he leave a hole
in a river and would the hole float along endlessly
filled with the silent letters of every angelic word?

If an angel delivered the mail, would he arrive
in a blinding rush of wings or would he just assume
the appearance of the regular mailman and
whistle up the driveway reading the postcards?

No, the medieval theologians control the court.
The only question you ever hear is about
the little dance floor on the head of a pin
where halos are meant to converge and drift invisibly.

It is designed to make us think in millions,
billions, to make us run out of numbers and collapse
into infinity, but perhaps the answer is simply one:
one female angel dancing alone in her stocking feet,
a small jazz combo working in the background.
She sways like a branch in the wind, her beautiful
eyes closed, and the tall thin bassist leans over
to glance at his watch because she has been dancing
forever, and now it is very late, even for musicians.


The next piece explores the giving of gifts rather than merely presents. It speaks powerfully to me, right in the soul of me. Christmas is about the hope and potential of what human life can be. We can bring that love alive in our lives, but it aint easy. It takes real courage to rise above the cynicism of our age and time. Hope takes real courage. Maybe this is the true gift of Christmas, I have come to believe this to be so.

We can bring the gift of Christmas alive and it comes by giving our whole hearts, whole heartedly. In so doing we can once again truly know and experience joy, but not in childish way, in a childlike and yet mature way.

You see the true gift of Christmas is to truly experience joy, something that can easily be lost in life. Joy you see is at the heart of all of this. Joy is the real gift of Christmas and it is the joy that so many people have given me in my life that I need to bring into being and thus allow the gift of Christmas to incarnate in the present moment.

Whatever I have been given materially in my life has never lasted and has certainly never enabled me to connect to all that is, all that has ever been and all that has ever been. That said the joy and love I have been gifted throughout my days, when I take time to really feel it, has truly allowed me to not only celebrate but experience every precious moment.

This is the gift, to bring joy to our world, because by gum it needs it…I think David Blanchard describes this beautifully in the following piece...

“The Gift” by David Blanchard

Sometimes I think I can teach my children things that will make life better for them as they grow up. I want to believe I can protect them, or that there is some way for me to do their learning for them. This line of thinking is routinely floored, not because I am not always the best teacher. Despite my efforts to avoid repeating mistakes, I’m still learning things I thought I knew. Just last year I mistook a gift for a present.

This gift was a homemade potholder woven of colourful scraps of cloth. It wasn’t perfect. It wasn’t beautiful. It wasn’t particularly unusual. Accepting it as a present, I placed it into service besides the stove.

Four days before Christmas I was called to officiate at a memorial service for a friend. Talking with her five–and nine–year–old daughters, I asked what things they liked to remember about their mom. What things they did together? What had she taught them? They were busy, deep at work on a gift-making project, but they expressed some memories that mattered, and recounted some gifts their mother had shared with them; making cookies…snuggling in bed…being their Brownie leader…planting bulbs. Then the nine year old looked down and said, “And she taught us how to make these potholders!”

Of course! A gift! How could I miss it?

Presents are the sort of things that fit on lists, complete with size and color preference. Presents are the sort of things we are smart enough to ask for. Gifts are altogether different. We don’t usually think to ask for them, perhaps because we think we don’t deserve them, or don’t want to risk expressing the need. Maybe we don’t even recognize the need ourselves. Gifts differ from presents because no matter what form they take, they always represent something greater, something deeper, something more enduring; they are about things like love. Respect and affirmation.

Gifts given are often woven into some simple token. And sometimes protecting our won comfort, we give them in disguise. They can be easy to miss.

Now I try to give more gifts than presents, and without too much camouflage. Be gift bearers yourselves. Give them along with presents, and look carefully for the gifts others are trying to give you.


...Finally here are a couple of pieces that I suspect are at the heart of this day...If we can do it for a season, maybe we can for eternity...


“To Live a Life – Not Merely a Season” by John Haynes Holmes

The wonderful thing about Christmas is that it fulfils all our dreams. It suspends our indifference and selfishness and fears and hates, and makes us for an instant spiritually kin. No one must be hungry or homeless on this day, no child forlorn, no heart forsaken, no race despised, no nation outlawed.

Christmas is the demonstration that no hope is vain, that the highest vision may be made real. It is as tho a spell were cast upon us, to save us...from our cruelties and lusts and make us ministers of love. The spell is fleeting – it passes quickly! But this means not at all that it is an illusion but that, real for this one day, it may be caught by the spiritual conjuration of our hearts and made real forever.

This our task – to seize and hold and perpetuate the Christmastide! To live a life, and not merely a single day or a season, which is delivered by prejudice and pride, hostility and hate, and committed to understanding and compassion, and good will! Then there will be no more Christian and pagan, Jew and gentile, black and white, native and alien, or any division – but only the human family, one as God is one, and heirs of that promise.
“If only for the season” by Edward Searl

If only for the Season…
Let us banish cynicism
and welcome wonder.

If only for the Season…
Let us downplay our differences
and discover the bonds
of common origins and continuing cause.

If only for the Season…
Let us set aside worry
and smile and laugh and sing.

If only for the Season…
Let us deny apathy and indifference
and truly live by loving.

If only for the Season…
Let us subvert covetousness and jealousy
and be both good gift getters and givers.

If only for the Season…
The brief season
of light,
life,
love,

Let us be wise enough to be
a little foolish
about candlelight and children and
matters of the heart…

If only for the season


...I wish you a very Happy Christmas, let's try and keep it's spirit alive throughout the whole year...




Saturday, 13 December 2014

Encountering Angels


Please watch this video clip before reading the rest of the blog...it's a re-enactment of an encounter Kent Nerburn had when he was a taxi driver. He wrote about it in his wonderful book  “Make Me an Instrument of Your Peace: Living in the Spirit of the Prayer of St. Francis"



As each year passes I seem to believe in Christmas more and more. Far more than I ever did as a child. I rejected it all at a pretty young age and became the cynical sniper dissecting it all and saying it’s all humbug…Bah Humbug, Bah Humbug, Bah Humbug…



I believe in Christmas, the soul of Christmas, the spirit of Christmas, the heart of Christmas the religion of Christmas more today than I ever did at any other moment in my life. Today I believe everything about Christmas and a whole lot more than everything that we think we know.

Now don’t get me wrong here I am not suggesting that I believe that everything that the Gospel accounts recounted actually happened. I really can’t answer that, I wasn’t there. Were any of us who argue about it actually there? No of course not. What I mean when I say I believe in Christmas more today than I have ever done before is that I believe in the universal mythos that lies in the soul of the story. I believe in the story and what it has to teach humanity regardless of time and or space.

Waldemar Argow put it near perfectly when he wrote

“Christmas is not a day, really. It is light, I think. It comes when days are shortest and darkest and hearts despair, and it reminds us that winter death is a temporary thing and that light and life are eternal.

And it is hope. For it demonstrates how kind and generous and self-forgetting human beings can be. And we know that what people can be sometimes, they can, if they will, be most times.”

“And assuredly, it is love. Its symbol is a newborn babe, warm and safe in his mother’s arms. To be sure, he was born a long, long time ago. Yet through the ages his influence as he became a man and the truths he taught and the love he incarnated have proved stronger and dearer in matters that matter most than all the kings and armies and governments of history. Oh, whatever else it may be, Christmas is indeed love.”

...this is what I mean when I say I believe in Christmas more today, than I ever did before...

Yes I believe in Christmas more today than I ever did before. I also believe we need Christmas more now today than at any other time before, for we mock the bells at Christmas time probably more today than we ever did before. The problem I suspect is that we do not hear the message at the heart of Christmas…Maybe we have forgotten how to listen or perhaps we have forgotten how to deliver the message…

And who are the messengers of Christmas? Well the angels of course. Now there are angels throughout the Christmas mythos as they are throughout the Bible. By the way they are not just in the Judeo Christian tradition, you will find them in others too.

In Islam they are depicted as messengers of Allah. Belief in angels is one of the six articles of the Islamic faith. The Baha’i faith depicts angels as beings who have been released from the bondages of self and become endowed with the attributes of the spiritual and therefore revealers of God’s Love and Grace. In Buddhism it was a Brahmin angel that instructed the Buddha that after receiving enlightenment he must go teach to others what he had learnt. In Zoroastrianism angels are not seen as messengers of the divine but are instead associated with different aspects of the divine creation, in this sense they are similar to the Hindu Deva’s. Zoroastrians believe that each person has their own guardian angel.

Angels or their equivalent are found in many other traditions too, both ancient and modern. Belief in angels is not some relic from the past that has been dismissed in the modern age. I have met many people in my life who have said that they have had encounters with angels.

So who or what are angels? Well I believe that they are the messengers of that spirit that Waldemer Argo mentioned earlier. They carry the message that light can be found in the darkness, that hope can overcome any despair, that love can incarnate in all our hearts and that peace on earth and good will to all can once again come. Our task is to listen and to look for them, to ensure that “the ears of our ear are awake and they eyes of our eyes are open.”

A friend of mine said something rather lovely to me at 6.30am this Tuesday morning, just before we began our weekly meditation. He said “You know the birds sing much more joyfully and loudly round here.” They do you know and as I left our meditation time together, just after the sun had once again risen I noticed those winter roses in the gardens of the chapel…Messengers of love and hope if there are any.

I went to a coffee shop in town after the meditation as as we talked about all manner of things, some spiritual and some definitely not so I heard in the background one of my favourite Christmas Carols“It Came Upon the Midnight Clear”, by Edmund Hamilton Sears,

Edward Hamilton Sears was an American Unitarian minister from the mid-nineteenth century. He wrote "It Came Upon the Midnight Clear" after meditating on the account of the Nativity in Luke’s Gospel and it would appear it was the angel's message to the shepherds that spoke to him.  He was touched deeply by the message of peace that the angels brought, as he opened himself up to “that glorious song of old”.For him it was a song as much for his time and not merely of the past; it was not just a song for the shepherds or Mary and her babe in arms. Instead he saw contained within it  a song that was a message to those of his time and place who were engaged in war. It was a message of peace and love for all humanity. It was a kind of lament about the lack of peace and goodwill on earth.

I would suggest that this song applies perhaps even more today than it did even then. There is very little sign of peace on earth and good will to all now than even in Sears time. If only we could hear the angels as they sing "O hush the noise, ye men of strife and hear the angels sing."



At the beginning of this blogspot is a re-enactment of an account from “Make Me an Instrument of Your Peace: Living in the Spirit of the Prayer of St. Francis by Kent Nerburn. He recounts a  time when he was a taxi driver trying to scratch a living, of an encounter with a woman whose life was coming to an end and who he was taking on her final journey to a hospice. Nerburn says that he was deeply affected by this fare and described it as perhaps the most important encounter of his life.

Surely this was an encounter with an angel, although it is not exactly clear who was the giver and who was the receiver here. I suspect, like many such encounters it worked both ways. They were both givers and receivers of peace on earth and goodwill to all, both brought hope to the other and both were deliverers of love.

At the end of the short film Nerburn reflects that "Compassion is a learnt skill. Through empathy with another person's situation you can exercise compassion and you can give something too them. People feel they are are living in a mean world. We're selling self-reliance as a virtue and really what we are selling is a kind of selfishness. Giving is ultimately an act of creativity. It's the act of creating something new where there was nothing before. You're loving the world into existence when you give. And that to me is the artistry of ordinary living" Now surely this is the voice of an angel, surely here is being delivered a message of love and hope. Here is the message of Christmas that I believe in more and more each year, nay each day, nay each moment.

I believe that we can all become both the receiver and deliverer of the messengers of love, just as Kent Nerburn was.That said in order to do so we need to be open and alive and awake, to those angel voices however and wherever they speak. We need to prepare ourselves for them. We need to truly become channels of love and peace.

We may not be able to bring peace on all the earth but we can do something about our own little worlds. We can become angels to those we meet in our daily lives and we can hear the angels as they speak in our daily interactions. All we need to do is prepare ourselves.

And how can this be achieved? Well we do so by becoming both watches and waiters, like those shepherds in the ancient story “that glorious song of old”. We need to prepare ourselves both to hear those voices that carry that universal message of love and to also become those messengers in our daily interactions. We need to prepare ourselves each and every day and to be ready, because we never know the next encounter might be the one that changes our lives and or the person which we encounter, just like it did for Kent in that timeless and universal story we heard earlier.

We are here for a reason…each and every one of us…that reason I believe is to both givers and receivers, to become messengers of that universal song of love…We are here to bring hope to our world…so let us become the light of the world…Let us manifest hope in our hearts, minds and souls, let us become the hope of the world…

Let us hear the messengers of love and let us sing “that glorious song of old”

The language of the heart is universal. It can break through any barrier...

The key is to listen for it and learn to express it and to let love have its way...

Saturday, 6 December 2014

Who Needs Presents? The Gift is the Joy

“The Gift” by David Blanchard

"Sometimes I think I can teach my children things that will make life better for them as they grow up. I want to believe I can protect them, or that there is some way for me to do their learning for them. This line of thinking is routinely floored, not because I am not always the best teacher. Despite my efforts to avoid repeating mistakes, I’m still learning things I thought I knew. Just last year I mistook a gift for a present.

This gift was a homemade potholder woven of colourful scraps of cloth. It wasn’t perfect. It wasn’t beautiful. It wasn’t particularly unusual. Accepting it as a present, I placed it into service besides the stove.

Four days before Christmas I was called to officiate at a memorial service for a friend. Talking with her five–and nine–year–old daughters, I asked what things they liked to remember about their mom. What things they did together? What had she taught them? They were busy, deep at work on a gift-making project, but they expressed some memories that mattered, and recounted some gifts their mother had shared with them; making cookies…snuggling in bed…being their Brownie leader…planting bulbs. Then the nine year old looked down and said, “And she taught us how to make these potholders!”

Of course! A gift! How could I miss it?

Presents are the sort of things that fit on lists, complete with size and color preference. Presents are the sort of things we are smart enough to ask for. Gifts are altogether different. We don’t usually think to ask for them, perhaps because we think we don’t deserve them, or don’t want to risk expressing the need. Maybe we don’t even recognize the need ourselves. Gifts differ from presents because no matter what form they take, they always represent something greater, something deeper, something more enduring; they are about things like love. Respect and affirmation.

Gifts given are often woven into some simple token. And sometimes protecting our won comfort, we give them in disguise. They can be easy to miss.

Now I try to give more gifts than presents, and without too much camouflage. Be gift bearers yourselves. Give them along with presents, and look carefully for the gifts others are trying to give you."

When I came across “The Gift” by David Blanchard, it touched a part of me, deep in the heart of me. I just love the way he distinguishes between a gift and present. How the gift has a far more deeply spiritual and heartfelt significance than merely a present.

Now of course the word “present” is something the spiritually inclined are obsessed with in our present age. So many talk of the gift of the present moment, that this is where life is. I’m certainly not one to wish to argue with these thoughts. That said I do wonder if sometimes we become so obsessed with the present that we forget about the gifts we carry with us that we have been given in those many moments in the past. Too often we wish to lose what has gone before in our intense focus on the present that we fail to embrace the gifts that have come throughout our lives. I have come to believe that to truly embrace the moment, to be truly present requires me to be fully engaged with every moment of my life, for there the true gifts of life emerge.

Perhaps to truly live in the present moment is to bring our whole selves, every breath of our lives and perhaps every life that has made our life into this sublime moment.

This year I have reflected much on my life, perhaps more than I have for some time. I suspect that this is one of the gifts of grief. I have thought much about the gifts I’ve been given throughout my days. Gifts I have not always appreciated at the time. In fact many I failed to notice when they were given. Now I’m not really talking about the material gifts here, more the gifts given by the precious people I have shared my life with, some who are no longer physically with me. The things they took the time to show me, how to do things and just how to be; the times they made me laugh and cry; the joy that they brought to my being. Gifts given freely from their heart to mine.

I’ve also been thinking of the many gifts I was simply born with, that I have not always made best use of, the Graces of life. I have been contemplating how can I make better use of these the ultimate of free gifts, not just for myself but for the good of all?

These thoughts started to form as I shared a prayer in worship last Sunday. A prayer I adapted from a source I cannot recall...The following words have been settling deep into my soul this last week...

Now is the moment of magic,

and here's a blessing:
we already possess all the gifts we need;
we've already received our presents:
ears to hear music,
eyes to behold lights,
hands to build true peace on earth
and to hold each other tight in love.

How do we make good use of the gifts we have been given from the beginning and throughout our lives? How do we bring these gifts to life in this beautiful present that is right here, right now? How do we make best use of the gift of life?

Perhaps that is something to ponder in this season of Advent...

For most of us Christmas is about the giving and receiving of presents, but not necessarily about the gifts we both give and receive.

I suspect that the tradition of giving and receiving gifts at Christmas time is linked to the three gifts of the Magi “Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh”. Gifts of great value 2,000 years ago, although only gold has retained its worth today. Now in early Christianity the journey of the Magi was celebrated on the Feast of the Epiphany on the 6th of January, the 12th day of Christmas, hence the Carol “On the first day of Christmas my true love gave to me, a partridge in a pear tree”…etc...

The early Christian church did not celebrate Christmas as we do today. The tradition of giving Christmas presents is really a modern one. By Victorian times the culture of gift giving and the mythos of Santa Claus was beginning to take hold, immortalised in the fiction of Dickens and the like. As the twentieth century moved on into the twenty first this culture developed into mass consumerism. Today it would seem that buying, wrapping and giving gifts has become nothing more than a mechanical chore and one of the worst examples of mass consumerism going. Is this really what Christmas is about? Is this really giving by heart? Is this really the spirit of Christmas?

I certainly do not think so. The spirit of Christmas is found I believe in those simple words from my favourite carol “In the Bleak mid-winter”…

“What shall I give him? Give my heart”

Gordon B Mckeeman once said “Christmas is not so much a matter of explanation and interpretation as it is a mood and a feeling. It is a time in the cycle of the year set apart by hope and fellowship and generosity. Christmas is the season of the heart.”

I agree with Gordon I believe that the true spirit of Christmas is the heart, that this is the gift of the season. Christmas above everything else truly is the season of the heart. When we truly give our gifts to others we are giving them our hearts and as I said only recently I believe, as Desmond Tutu believes, that we each of us possess a piece of God’s heart within us. Therefore when we give from our heart to another we are somehow bringing that heart of God alive and that spirit is once again incarnating in life.

This is the religion, the spirit, that can still be discovered beneath the ribbons and the wrapping paper. This is the spirit that can once again come alive if we engage in the giving and receiving of gifts and not merely presents.

A funny thing occurred to me the other day as I sat in CafĂ© Nero, laptop in front of me, drinking coffee and listening to gentle Christmas songs and taking in all the people all around, it occurred to me that each day I believe in Christmas more and more than ever did before, even more than when I was a child. When I was a child I believed in this benevolent creature that would leave gifts for me in a white pillow case if I was a good enough to receive them. I carried on pretending to believe in this long after I knew it was nonsense. I think the main reason was not to break my older brother’s heart who believed far longer than me. When I look back now by the age of about six or seven I had rejected all magic, I just didn’t let anyone know. Over the years I rejected everything until there was nothing left to believe in, not even myself and certainly not humanity. Nihilism is an ugly state of being, I promise you.

Nowadays I believe in everything and somehow more than everything, but please don’t ask me to explain it. I can’t I can only really experience it. I see the magic, the miracle and the joy in the universal Christmas mythos in everything and more, even the horror gosh and there is so much of that too. I suspect though that the horror is really a result of that rejection of everything, the nihilism that is a part of humanity. That other part of us that mocks those bells at Christmas time.

Christmas is about the hope and potential of what human life can be. We can bring that love alive in our lives, but it aint easy. It takes real courage to rise above the cynicism of our age and time. Hope takes real courage.

We can bring the gift of Christmas alive and it comes by giving our whole hearts, whole heartedly. In so doing we can once again truly know and experience joy, but not in childish way, in a childlike and yet mature way.

You see the true gift of Christmas is to truly experience joy, something that can easily be lost in life. Joy you see is at the heart of all of this. Joy is the real gift of Christmas and it is the joy that so many people have given me in my life that I need to bring into being and thus allow the gift of Christmas to incarnate in the present moment.

To allow the gift of joy to come alive in our lives we have to believe in life, or at least that is the gift that life has kept on teaching as I have kept on journeying on and on and on…not really going anywhere just wandering round the circle of life.

Now this joy I am speaking of is described near perfectly by Carl Scovel in what he has called “The Great Surmise”. In a talk delivered at the 1994 Unitarian Universalist General Assembly he described what he meant by it:

“The Great Surmise says simply this: At the heart of all creation lies a good intent, a purposeful goodness, from which we come, by which we live our fullest, and to which we shall at last return. This is the supreme mystery of our lives. This goodness is ultimate-not fate, not freedom, not mystery, energy, order, finite, but this good intent in creation is our source, our centre, and our destiny...Our work on earth is to explore, enjoy, and share this goodness. Neither duty nor suffering nor progress nor conflict-not even survival-is the aim of life, but joy. Deep, abiding, uncompromised joy.”

Joy I believe is the gift we are meant to bring alive at Christmas time. This is the gift of life to bring this to life in everything we feel, everything we think, everything we say and everything we do…

Whatever I have been given materially in my life has never lasted and has certainly never enabled me to connect to all that is, all that has ever been and all that has ever been. That said the joy and love I have been gifted throughout my days, when I take time to really feel it, has truly allowed me to not only celebrate but experience every precious moment.

This is the gift, to bring joy to our world, because by gum it needs it…